You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Image: Mosaic Angel, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Thank you to Brenda Barnes, Carolyn Dunlop, Judy Kennedy, Mary Parlee, Steve Spencer, Up Ahead, and Paul Toner for sharing the gift of music.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’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.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 1: 26-38
Music: O Little Town of Bethlehem, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Gabriel’s Message
Have you ever thought about how you would react if suddenly the Angel Gabriel, or for that matter any other angel, showed up in front of you? Think about it. We’re told that Mary was perplexed and pondered his greeting. I suspect she might have been a little bit more than perplexed. Personally, if an angel suddenly appeared in front of me and started to pass on a message from God I would probably be wondering if I was in the midst of a psychotic breakdown or alternatively if the end was at hand. . . . We’re told Mary was perplexed. Really? A young teenager has an angel show up and start talking to her about how she was blessed and we’re told she was perplexed and wondering what his greeting meant. Come on Luke, I know you weren’t there but surely her reaction would have been a little stronger than perplexed and ponderous.
What surprizes me the most is not Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s sudden appearance, it is her reaction to the news he is bringing. “Pregnant? Me? No, don’t think so. I may be young but I know how these things works. How is this possible?” So, Gabriel gives her a more detailed explanation. Instead of panicking around how she is going to tell her parents and Joseph, she echo’s the words of Isaiah, “Here I am Lord. I am your servant. Let it be with me according to your word.”
This is a wonderful story. It is filled with mystery, awe and wonder. We occasionally hear about angels in the scriptures, Gabriel appears a few times, usually as a messenger from God. Today, he comes to tell Mary about how she has been chosen.
The people who were originally reading this story and who were familiar with the scriptures would have known about the passage in Isaiah that talks about a virgin birth. So when Mary using the words from Isaiah of, “Here I am Lord” this was what was truly important, that link back to the prophet and his message of being ready to serve God.
I’m not worried about the biological aspects of this story; the Bible was never meant to be a book about science. It is about relationships between God and the people and how they react to God’s presence in their lives.
So young Mary, in the midst of what would normally be a crisis trusts that she has been called by God and that all will be well. She embraces her situation and decides to move forward in the best way possible.
Mary’s story doesn’t end there, she is transformed from a young teenager into a servant of God who is prepared to speak the reality of God’s vision, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. God’s mercy is for those who respect him from generation to generation. God has shown strength with her arm; and scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Those words, her words, have helped untold millions realize that our God stands not with the rich and powerful but rather with those in need; pretty amazing for one so young to be able to transform the reality of how the world is to how it is supposed to be. Her words have been read and sung for almost 2,000 years and have brought hope and inspiration to light across the centuries.
In the footsteps of Mary, we have seen young women in our time inspire people to see beyond their own self interests. Greta Thunberg has helped the world realize that the greatest existential threat to future generations is the environment. Across the globe young and old alike have been transformed to speaking out and advocating for a better future for the coming generations. Malala Yousafzai transformed the attack on her into a global movement to support the rights of girls to go to school so they can reach their full potential. Here, Becca Schofield inspired us as she fought cancer to become more selfless and to act with kindness and generosity toward others.
What impresses me the most in Mary’s story is that she was facing a difficult situation. Being young, unmarried and pregnant 2,000 years ago was filled with taboos. Yet, she decided to accept the reality and bravely faced the future.
Friends, these have been difficult months and we are weary. Yet, we know there is a light on the horizon.
But, it may be awhile before we return to normal. Mary was able to see what most would consider to be trouble in a very different way, she saw it as a time to give voice to God’s love and call for a better world.
The situation we are is not something that God has caused but how we react to it helps us to understand how God is present in our lives and the lives of others. Mary chooses to see her reality and focus on God’s call. We can choose to try to transform our feelings from negativity and being restricted to an opportunity to responding out of a sense of love and caring.
Wearing a mask is not always comfortable but we can understand it as an act of love for others. We would love to gather in large crowds but we restrict ourselves out of love for others.
This is a different time but what is constant is God’s love for us and God’s call to love others.
May this season be filled with a recognition of God’s love, grace and strength for us gives us the courage to transform our difficulties into acts of love.
Community at Prayer
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
God of Hope, of silent prayers and urgent cries, we pray for your world and its people…
for those who will spend these days alone;
for those who will not have enough for a feast;
for those whose tables will have an empty place this year.
Lift our hearts in anticipation of your vision. Shine a light in the darkness of fear.
Sing a song of rejoicing in the lonely heart.
God of Peace, on this Advent Sunday we pray
for the people of Bethlehem, of Israel and Palestine;
for refugees who have nowhere to lay their heads,
for those who find themselves in strange lands.
Watch over and protect them, God of the morning star.
Guide all people in the ways of mercy.
God of Joy, open our hearts, that we might receive you and hear your voice. Open us to the possibility of true change, in us and in others. Remind us of your promise, made again to each generation, of your forgiving and transforming love. May things on earth be as they are in heaven.
God of Love, heal the wounded heart, humble the proud and lift up the down-trodden,
Reconcile us one to another, in our homes, our families and our communities. Remind us this Christmas season of your love for us, revealed in the child of Bethlehem, and revealed again in all our hearts.
We pray these things in the name of the One who comes, Jesus Christ. Amen.