You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Thank you to Terri Croft, Aaron Billard, Allie Billard and Andy O’Neill for sharing the gift of music.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
A Children’s Time video can be found here:
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Third Sunday of Advent
Scripture: John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Music: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “What Child is This”
Today, we hear from John. Well, two Johns, actually. The first John is the ascribed author of the Fourth Gospel which begins not with Mary and Jesus – like the more familiar Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke – but with a cosmic intonation, “In the beginning was the Word.” A Christmas pageant based on John’s Gospel would likely feature one child, speaking one line, in front of a curtain of black velvet. It would probably be about as fun as reading French existentialism, but it would also save a lot on costumes.
The second John we meet today is the one who’s story we hear – the one sometimes called the Baptist – who lived centuries before the author of John’s Gospel, but whose voice is no less stark. Reported to eat locusts and honey, and wear a hair shirt, the Baptizer is reported to have been both wild and enigmatic. And yet, he comes to a desert and a people thirsty for life. And he will offer life, by soaking people in the River Jordan and guiding them to look within and be healed.
The authorities interrogate him. They want him to say more about who he is, but all he offers is blunt rejections of their guesses. No, not the Messiah, the anointed one; no, not Elijah, the salvation of Israel; no, not the great leader awaited since Moses.
Instead, he simply quotes Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” His message is immediate and clear: this is the first step of God’s vision for the world. Come, prepare yourself: body, mind and heart. And then, he simply leaves his pulpit of sand and returns to his baptisms, for he is not the song; he is merely one of the singers.
The responses to his message and his ritual are polarized: the religious leaders feel it stirs up the wrong sort of zeal and dedication, and they want him to stop; but others, especially those longing for hope and peace, joy and love, seek healing by making their way to the River Jordan, some of them on their knees. And because of the simplicity and clarity of his message, they come, not for John, but for what he promises: the one who comes in the name of the Lord; the counselor, the prince of peace, God who is Love.
Many of you already know that, each Christmas, I watch one of two versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – either the 1951 Alistair Sim version, or the 1984 George C. Scott version. Although it’s a long-standing, and therefore comforting, Christmas tradition in my family, it’s also a story that has taken on spiritual and emotional depth for me as I grow older.
You’ll recall that the story is about the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from greedy miser to loving guardian of the poor. His is a heart broken by grief, which has made him cynical. We see that he has everything – health, wealth and family – yet he is miserable. In Bob Crachit – Scrooge’s sole employee and the target of the miser’s taunting about Christmas – we see the exact opposite of cynicism; we see joy.
Cratchit has very little to be happy about: he is poor and his youngest child is sick and wasting. Yet, he is also irrepressibly optimistic, a proud father and husband. He has a deep well of joy, which springs from his assurance of blessing in the midst of it all. Scrooge’s nighttime journey through past, present and future, helps him to recognize the joy present in his own life, and prompts him to mend his relationships, which begins to mend his heart.
Each version of the story strikes its own balance of commentary on capitalism and sentiment about Christmas. But there can be no doubt that Scrooge’s transformation is a powerful story of awakening and rebirth – the joy of seeing life anew. Where before his misery had matched the worst of everything he had experienced of life, now every person and moment is charged with God’s gift of joy.
This is only possible because Joy is not a replacement of pain and loss, but is an abiding and fervent prayer that sustains us in the midst of pain and loss. The joy of John’s Gospel testifies to the light that cannot be overcome. The joy of the Baptizer prepares the way for peace with justice, which on a personal level is kindness, mercy and grace. This is what God ushers into our lives through Jesus: the child of joy who arrives in the midst of trouble and grief; then, as today. The Joy of Advent is to prepare for and welcome transformation – now and always, here and everywhere.
Our traditions help. The family meal, the glow of tree and candlelight, familiar carols on cold nights. These help to open the warm and familiar channels of memory. So that, by the season’s glow, even the commonplace takes on an aspect of devotion and can reflect God’s joy in ours.
This year, the Sunday School shared Advent-in-a-Box, a special project for children and their families to prepare for Christmas through story, prayer and crafts. It was such a joy to deliver boxes to some of our families, to see some them (from a distance of course) and to talk, in–person, for the first time in nine months! It was also a joy to see happy, smiling faces joining in the activities, knowing that we were reading the same scriptures, lighting the same lights, and sharing the same story of faith at our tables.
It’s the simplest of things that help us to prepare the way for God, to anticipate that joy is around the corner, and to appreciate the ways in which it’s already here. Mary prepares by making room within her own self for the gift of a child; Joseph makes room in his heart to raise a special child as his own; even the fabled innkeeper makes room in the unlikeliest of places.
And we, who hear the story – that God is the singer and the song, the truth of joy with us and within us – we prepare for God’s presence in our lives, by making room for joy, for change, and for each other. Amen.
God of Advent joy, pour your Holy Spirit on us as you did so long ago, so that we may be bearers of your good news to all people. Anoint us with your spirit of hope so that we may heal the broken hearted. Fill our hearts with joy so we may declare the good news of justice and peace for all.
During these times we pray that you might transform each of us and the world. May we become people who see the light that shines on truth and not merely opinion. May we become open to searching for new ways where all might benefit rather than a privileged few. May our eyes and ears be open to hear the stories of others and their needs.
On this Sunday when we focus on joy, help us remember;
the joy in the transformation of the land that comes with snow,
the joy we find in playing with a child or in playing like a child,
in listening to music or in singing out loud,
in spending time reading or working with our hands,
in learning something new or rediscovering something long enjoyed,
in going for a drive or a walk to see the lights that brighten this dark season.
And help us especially remember and feel the joy we experience when we give of ourselves for others.
Holy One, many of us watched with joy when Margaret Keenan became the first to receive the Covid vaccine and that many of us smiled when William Shakespeare became the second.
Help us to breathe a little easier and with a sense of gratitude and joy for those who have worked and are still working on solving this issue.
Bring peace and reconciliation where there is unrest, wars and fighting. Bring peace especially to the people of Bethlehem and Palestine, the refugees around the globe and especially the people of Ethiopia facing both war and food shortages.
During this season embolden us to be more like John, pointing to your goodness and grace and joyfully proclaiming the news of your birth.
May we spread your good news all around us for all to hear.
May we let people know how much they are loved by you.
May we declare your good works in our lives forever.
We know there are many in need during this time when joy is felt more fully but the pain of life can also be a little deeper. We pray for those who feel frightened and alone during this time, for those who are dealing with major changes in their health, their economic circumstances, their family situation or other parts of their life. Bring comfort to your people and help us to be sources of comfort to those in need.
God of joy, remind us of the glad tidings of great joy that come to us as a baby in a manger. Open our eyes to the good news of Christ’s presence in our lives and in the lives of all people, especially those who suffer and are in need. Fill us with joy in the glorious future of your coming kingdom, when your justice shall reign and your love shall transform the world.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem, the light of the world. Amen.
Benediction and Commissioning
Go now into the world to prepare the way of the Lord,
to proclaim hope, peace and joy during this coming week as we wait for the birth and rebirth of the child born under a star to bring love and light into the world. Let us go in peace, to love and serve our God.