December 6, 2020 – Second Sunday in Advent
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A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
This, the second Sunday in Advent, is traditionally the Sunday of Peace. As we worship together, yet apart, may God’s peace be in our hearts and minds. You may want to get a candle ready to light during the Presbyterian World Service and Development candle lighting liturgy with which we begin our service.
Rev. Helen Smith
PWS&D Candle-Lighting Liturgy
This is done as a call and response. The preacher says the words in regular text, and all say the words in bold.
In this season of Advent, we celebrate God’s peace.
Jesus Christ, born the Prince of Peace,
calls our community to justice
and leads us in the way of peace.
We call one another to honesty and humility
and respond to each other with abundant grace and forgiveness.
Our community values relationships.
We live in harmony with one another even when we disagree,
and strive to glorify God in everything we do.
Our community longs for unity.
We work together with other churches and organizations,
and live out God’s reconciling love for all the world to see.
Together, we are a sign of God’s peace in the world.
(The candle is lit)
Let us pray:
God of all people and all nations,
you break through the cynicism of our world
and lead us like a gentle shepherd.
Open our eyes to see the signs of your coming kingdom
and inspire us to participate in all you are doing
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Book of Praise – 109 “All earth is waiting”
- Video with on-screen words; differences from the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
- Music and original Spanish words (1972) by Spanish priest and musician Alberto Taulé (1932–2007); English translation by Gertrude C. Suppe (1911–2007); harmony by Mexican-American organist and composer Skinner Chávez-Melo (1944–1992). English translation © 1989 United Methodist Publishing House; music © 1993 Centro de Pastoral Litúrgica; harmony © 1988 Skinner Chávez-Melo.
- Performed by the Chancel Choir of Hockessin United Methodist Church, in Hockessin, Delaware. Recorded on November 27, 2011.
Amnesty International – more news
Prayers of Approach and Confession
O Holy God, we acknowledge that we have domesticated and downsized you, turned you into our own cuddly teddy bear. But, today, you pass out hard hats and roadside warnings that we are entering a construction zone in preparation for the prophet’s announcement: “Every mountain and hill be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight.”
Keep us safe, O God. Even now, the dynamite of the prophet’s proclamation is lodged in the granite of our hearts; O Holy One, break us open. Let the roadwork begin. Be to us as a bulldozer of the spirit. Clear your road in us, clear a path through the garbage of possessions and obsessions. Throw aside our divided aims and devious moves. Smooth down the mountains of our pride and lift up the valleys of our doubts. Open a path in the wilderness of our lives that we might find our way to you again.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our sovereign and our saviour, who taught us to pray together:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon
In Jesus Christ, God says to us: “Come with me, your sins are forgiven; don’t be afraid, I love you.” Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Book of Praise – 119 “Hope is a star”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- “Hope is a Star”. Hymn 119 in the Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997).
- Words (1989) by English hymnwriter Brian A. Wren (1936–); music (tune “Moon Beams”; 1989) by Joan Collier Fogg (1949–). Words and music © copyright 1989 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Keyboard and vocals by Rachelle Risling, Music Director of GCPC.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Prepare the way of the Lord. That’s the message God gave through his prophet, Isaiah, to a shattered, scattered people in the wilderness of exile in Babylon. They want to be home for Christmas, as it were, but what is home to them? Families are divided, many have died in the camps, or been separated from each other. Their cities lie in ruins. Warfare has reigned for a long time. First they were conquered by the Assyrians, then this last defeat at the hand of the Babylonians, where they lost everything. They are weary, despairing.
We want to be home for Christmas, but what is home to us? We too can find ourselves in the wilderness. Families are divided. Loved ones live far away. And even for those who are living close to us, the threat of COVID 19 over our heads stops us from getting together. We mourn the passing of those with whom we once shared all the joys of Christmas. Over the past year, jobs have been lost, incomes decreased. Small businesses are squeezed. We can lose sight of who we are. Today’s anniversary of the Montreal massacre reminds us of how far we as a society are enslaved, of how far we have missed the mark of being disciples and knowing the truth that makes us free.
In the midst of all of this, hear the words of God to the prophet Isaiah: Comfort my people, comfort them, encourage them, tell them they have suffered long enough. And then the voice cries out: “In the wilderness of your lives prepare a road for the Lord, because the Lord is coming.”
The wilderness. It is a place of uncertainty, of fear, of lostness. And it is here that the Lord will come. Both John the Baptist and Isaiah use the image of the wilderness. It is not only a place of barrenness. It is in the wilderness that the cry comes, “prepare to meet God”. The wilderness of our lives is where God comes.
Biblically speaking, it isn’t an empty place, devoid of life and hope and meaning. It is a place of renewal where God meets and speaks. It is the place God leads us through with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. It is the place where God leads us from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land.
In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Both Isaiah and John the Baptist emphasize the certainty of the coming of God into our lives. The coming of God is not something that occurs because we have met the requirements and prepared correctly. It’s not a flow chart with “if this, then this” statements like “if you do such and such, God will come”. God’s coming is God’s own free, unqualified act.
Isaiah and John proclaim, “God is coming, so let’s get ready,” not “if we get ready, God will come.” It reminds me of the children’s game, Hide and Go Seek. “Ready or not, here I come.” Ready or not, here God comes.
God’s advent is sheer gift. God has announced that God will come: “Behold your God – Behold your God comes!” “The One who is more powerful than I is coming” says John the Baptist.
We are not to prepare something so that it will happen, like preparing food for a banquet. We are to prepare ourselves to receive and experience that which God has already announced God will do. We are to get dressed for the banquet that is going to happen.
So how do we do that? How do we prepare ourselves to receive and experience that which God has already announced God will do? As the hymn puts it, “How shall I receive Thee?”
Isaiah and John give us some guidelines. They tell us what to expect: a God of strength and great tenderness. God comes with might (Isaiah). The one who is coming after is more powerful than I (John). God will feed God’s flock like a shepherd, gather the lambs in God’s arms, God will gently lead their mothers, God will baptize with the Holy Spirit. The ruling, guiding, strengthening, comforting hand of God will be upon us. God will do a new thing. God will bring a transformation for people struggling in the wilderness of exile or obscurity. (Isaiah 43: 19) That is what we are to watch for.
And the prophet tells us to make ready the road for the Lord, get out the bumps, the rough spots, straighten out the curves, open up the road. It may be the equivalent of rolling out the red carpet. Prepare the way of the Lord. Open up our hearts so God can enter. John the Baptist calls it repentance, which is not a routine confession of sins. It’s a flexibility, a turning around, an admission of vulnerability and imperfection, of our need for something greater than ourselves.
Prepare by clearing the road, get the boulders out of the way, those things we value more than our faith, those things that take a higher priority than God in our lives, those things over which we fret and stew, that in the long run are not really that important.
Martin Luther King quoted these verses from Isaiah in his “I have a dream” speech to declare his hope for the elimination of all barriers to social justice, mutual respect and compassion.
God’s messengers have been inspired to speak Isaiah’s prophecy as an instructive and relevant message of transformation so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. In this Advent season, to what transformations are we committed to prepare the way of the Lord. What barriers do we need to eliminate?
This new thing, the advent of God, it happens. To a young, unmarried girl it meant bearing a child, and proclaiming “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has regarded the low estate of God’s handmaiden. The one who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is God’s name. That from a person of an age we often feel has nothing worthwhile to say, but we are wrong.
The advent of God on the Damascus road to a strict Pharisee, named Saul, breathing threats and death on this new sect known as the Christians, transforming him into Paul, our greatest missionary, who then went on to write such things as the great hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13, or that splendid passage in 2 Corinthians 6: “We, the Christians, are treated as dying, and behold, we live, as sorrowful, yet we are always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing everything.
The advent of God to a slave trader, bringing people from Africa to America, John Newton, transforming him into the one who would write those beloved words, “Amazing Grace, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
The advent of God to each one of us.
God still comes into the wilderness, the wilderness of pandemic, the wilderness of your life and mine. God still comes into the doubts we have about our human relationships, about whether or not we are treating our families, our work associates, ourselves in the best way. God comes into our fears of failure, our anger at the injustice of life, at the inhumanities we see around us. God comes into our despair, our health or our relationships, or our careers at our feet, shattered into a million pieces. God comes into our enslavement to habit, our imprisonment in a social system that insists we fit into a mindless mold, our exile from the way God would have us live. God enters our deserts, our wastelands and promises to do a new thing, to bring us out of the wilderness to the place where we belong. God brings us home, to our place as God’s children, free to be ourselves. God brings us into the fullness of life.
That is the message of the prophets, from Isaiah to John the Baptist. It is the message of God incarnate in a baby in Bethlehem, of God on a cross, pulling us back to God’s self, and of the witness of the lives of countless disciples down through the ages, many of whom are reading these words today.
The Lord God comes. In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Hope
O God, you call us to repentance, to service, to prepare a way in our own lives for the Saviour to enter into our lives. We give thanks for this call, and for the touch of your mercy and the rest and relief of your forgiveness. For your faithful prophets and your Living Word, which means life to us, we give you thanks.
Hear our prayer for those rough places in our lives and in the lives of others that we name before you. Fill the valleys with your light, level the uneven paths with your grace, and grant that your Spirit might so move us and others, that your saving presence might be visible to all.
On this Sunday of preparation, this Sunday which celebrates your peace, may there be peace in our lives and peace in our churches, and peace in the world. We pray for the Middle East, for Iran, for other areas of conflict, for refugees.
We pray for victims of violence, terrorism, poverty, neglect, abuse. Help us to reach out in your love to those who are hurting. On this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, we pray especially for women and girls who are victims of violence. We pray for their healing, and for the healing of the perpetrators of that violence.
We give thanks for the work of Amnesty International in addressing human rights abuses around the world and we pray for the Write for Rights Campaign.
We pray for those who are ill of body, mind, soul. Heal them, O God, heal them of all that hurts them.
We pray for those who are dying, may they know your peace. And we pray for those who mourn. May they know the comfort of your presence with them in the midst of the changes thrust upon them.
We pray for the essential services workers. We give thanks for them and we pray for their health and safety.
We pray for the scientists and public servants working on vaccines and their distribution. Grant them your wisdom. And grant to us patience and hope as we wait.
We pray for those who are struggling financially, those who have been laid off, for small business owners, workers who were in the service industries. We pray for parents and teachers, for students trying to cope with new ways of learning. Help all of us to work together as a community of hope and peace, to support one another, to keep one another safe.
These prayers we offer in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Book of Praise – 126 “On Jordan’s bank”
- Video with no on-screen words; some differences from the words in the hymnbook — use the words printed just below.
- Original Latin words (1736) by French teacher and writer Charles Coffin (1676–1749); English translation by English vicar and translator of hymns John Chandler (1806–1876); music (tune: “Winchester New”) first published in 1690 in Hamburg by Georg Wittwe; arrangement by English clergyman and hymnwriter William Henry Havergal (1793–1870). All words and music in the public domain.
- Recorded at an Advent service at Salisbury Cathedral.
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings glad tidings of the King of kings.
Then cleansed be every breast from sin; make straight the way for God within;
prepare we in our hearts a home where such a mighty guest may come.
For thou art our salvation, Lord, our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace, we waste away, like flowers that wither and decay.
To heal the sick, stretch out thine hand, and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thigh light restore earth’s own true loveliness once more.
All praise, eternal Son, to thee, whose advent won thy people free,
whom with the Father, we adore and Holy Ghost, for evermore.
Go in peace.
Love and care for one another in the name of Christ.
And may the power of the Holy Spirit
make the rough places in your life smooth.
May the dark valleys of your hearts
be filled and the rugged mountains leveled,
and the way of the Lord be made ready in you,
and may God come unto you
and bless you and shine forth from you
both now and forevermore. AMEN.
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2020-12-06 at 22:24: added musical meditation video link and associated information.