December 13, 2020 – Third Sunday in Advent
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A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to this service of worship for Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church as we come together (sort of) on this third Sunday of Advent in anticipation of the birth of a Saviour into our midst. As each day and week go by, we are struck by how different this Christmas will be, but maybe that can remind us of the unfolding of the story which is at its centre, and which not even a pandemic can prevent us from telling again.
May God bless you and yours in the sacred season, and may our returning to the record of an angel appearing to a young girl with astounding news bring hope to us all.
Again, our service begins with the candle-lighting liturgy from Presbyterian World Service and Development. We invite you to join in the responses which are in bold print, and even to light a candle of your own on this day of joy.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
PWS&D Candle-Lighting Liturgy
You can watch a video of the liturgy by clicking the link immediately below, speaking responsively with Rev. B. Smith when the sub-titled words appear on-screen; or celebrate yourself using the text printed just below the video link.
Candle-Lighting Liturgy Text
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 joy.
Knowing that Christ is coming
to bring healing and wholeness to the world
is a source of delight!
When we gather for worship it is a celebration,
an opportunity to rejoice in all that God is doing
among us and beyond us.
We welcome our neighbours and celebrate God’s goodness.
Even when we face difficulty and trouble
we sing a song of faith,
confident that Jesus is able
to redeem our suffering world.
Together, we are a sign of God’s joy for the world.
(The candle is lit)
Let us pray:
God of transformation,
we rejoice that you lift up the lowly
and bind up the broken hearted.
We marvel at your power to change hearts and lives.
Fill us with your Spirit this season
so that our voices declare your goodness
and our lives proclaim your mercy
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Book of Praise – 135 “Christians Awake”
- Video with on-screen words; differences from the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
- Words from Luke 2:8–17, paraphrased in 1749 by English poet John Byrom (1692–1763); music (1750; tune “Yorkshire”) by English composer John Wainwright (1723–1768). Words and music in the public domain.
- Part of the Christmas Day Service of Eucharist at Westminster Abbey, broadcast live on BBC One on December 25, 2013.
Prayers of Adoration, Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Great God, who made us, who loved us, who came to us and comes to us still, we praise you. With your son as our friend and guide and saviour, each moment of life is filled with wonder and surprise. Keep us watchful, we pray, in this season of Advent, as we await the coming of Christ, so that we might recognize him when he comes. Keep us awake to your ways in the world and rejoicing in the newness of the life that you bring.
Merciful God, we confess to you that while we profess our faith with our mouths, we are often not so ready to have your son born in us. We hesitate to take him with us into our schools our workplaces, our circle of friends. We are reluctant to pay the cost of carrying Jesus into the world, or to give ourselves to him as completely as he did to us. Forgive us, we pray. Help us to accept his calling to follow in his way, and may we bow in love and adoration and worship before his manger. It is in his name we pray, and join together in the prayer he taught us:
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
Hear the good news. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. Arise, shine for our light has come. We are forgiven people. Our future awaits us with hope. Let us walk in the light of God’s grace. Amen.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you
(And also with you.)
Book of Praise – 156 “The angel Gabriel from heaven came”
- Video with no on-screen words; there are differences from the words in the hymnbook — use the words printed just below which match what is sung in the video.
- Traditional Basque folk carol; English words paraphrased by English Anglican priest and hymnwriter Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924); music (tune: “Gabriel’s Message”) is a traditional Basque melody arranged in 1892 by English organist Edgar Pettman (1866–1943). Words and music in the public domain.
- Recorded in 2009 by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,”
most highly favoured lady: Gloria!
“For know a blessed mother you shall be,
all generations laud and honor thee,
thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,”
most highly favoured lady: Gloria!
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“my soul shall laud and magnify His holy name,”
most highly favoured lady: Gloria!
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
most highly favoured lady: Gloria!
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”(Luke 1:26–27)
Don’t those words bring back memories? All I have to do is hear them, and I am back in the auditorium of the church my family went to as a child, trying to remember my lines for the Christmas pageant. We are lined up back-stage. The big kids are pushing and shoving.
The teacher is trying valiantly to keep us in the right order. That’s crucial, you see, because we are to file on stage each holding a big letter. We turn them over, one at a time, and gradually spell out “Merry Christmas”, except that, despite the teacher’s best efforts, the ‘C’ and the ‘H’ in Christmas end up being out of order.
As each of us turns over a letter we say a little poem.
M is for Mary,
radiant and bright,
who gave birth to Jesus,
that first Christmas night,
or something like that.
E is for evergreen,
R is for the road to Bethlehem,
another R is for remembering that Holy night…
all the way through our message.
They love us, of course, and no one seems to mind that we spell Christmas wrong because it is not about this performance — it is about the wonder of that message that fills the hearts of young and old, that God has come to us in Christ. There’s a magic to how we have celebrated this great event that connects with us deep in our souls. But the real power is in the story itself, and we know, when we read it again, that we are in the presence of something sacred.
Even the Peanuts Christmas special — which we are sure to watch each year —even it gets it right. Charlie Brown is frantically trying to find some real meaning in Christmas, and Linus says very simply. “I’ll tell you the real meaning of Christmas. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
One line, and we are taken back there, to that same country, to the manger, bowing with the shepherds and wise men. The stories fill us with the warmth and the joy of the season — with a feeling of goodwill to all people that could melt the heart of the most cynical old Scrooge or exhausted shopper.
So let’s go back before the addition of the carols and turkey dinners and pageants, to try to recapture some of what happened on the first Christmas. The passage we read centres on Mary. She is a young woman — really just a child — probably 15 or so — an ordinary girl living in an ordinary town. She is engaged to Joseph, an ordinary young man, with an ordinary trade in carpentry. Their lives are full of wedding preparations, guest lists, dresses, flowers and plans for their life together.
One day, on her way to the well to get water for her mother, Mary puts the pots down to rest for a minute. Suddenly she realizes that she is not alone — a figure stands before her, an angel, Gabriel, who speaks to her. “Greetings, Mary. The Lord is with you.”
Young Mary is so shocked and afraid she is speechless. It’s hard to know what to say to an angel, and she has a feeling that he hasn’t got to the good stuff yet. “Don’t be afraid.” the angel says. “God has noticed you and a job for you to do. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you will name Jesus. He will be great, he will be called the Son of the Most High, and his reign will be forever.”
Unbelievable news! Of all the young women God could pick it is Mary, in the first blush of her emerging womanhood, to be the mother of the child who would be the saviour of the world.
“Wait a minute. There’s something wrong.” Mary knows where babies come from, and something’s missing. She looks over her shoulder to make sure no one is listening in on this conversation, like her mother. “This can’t happen. I’m not married yet. And I certainly have not slept with a man.” It’s a fair enough objection. This has all just been dropped on her, and she’s having a bit of trouble getting her head around the news.
Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will conceive, so the child you bear will be holy. You want some proof that God can do this kind of thing, Mary? Look at your cousin, Elizabeth. Have you heard that as old as she is, she has conceived as well? Everyone thought she couldn’t have children, and here she is, now in her sixth month. God can do anything.”
This is news to Mary. Can God really do such a thing? There is a long, long pause before the next verse. All of heaven and earth holds its breath, waiting for Mary to answer.
She has to think. Luke tells us she is troubled —now there’s an understatement. This doesn’t fit in very well with their plans — she and Joseph have talked about children, but that’s supposed to be a long way off yet.
The angel said, “You have found favour with God.” Some favour!
What does God do to those who are out of favour? She has watched other women go thought their pregnancy and she knows it’s not a lot of fun — pain, illness, danger.
And how will she tell Joseph? What will he say? Will he believe her? Will he still love her? And even if he does believe her and stay with her, what will everyone else say?
She can hear them now, “Right, Mary, that’s a new one. The Holy Spirit, you say? Was that Joseph’s idea? Is the Holy Spirit going to change the diapers?” She’ll be the laughing stock of the town. Some favour, God.
All this is running through her head, while Gabriel stands before her, arms folded, tapping his foot, waiting for her answer. She is bewildered, her head is spinning.
Why her, why now, why this way? But scared and uncertain as she is, she is slowly given an overwhelming sense of God’s goodness, and that the affairs of her life, and indeed the whole world, are ultimately in God’s hands.
She responds, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it happen to me as you have said.” A few simple words, but words that open a door from heaven to earth, that pave the way for Almighty God to come down in the person of the child she will carry.
A little “yes” from a frightened young girl in Nazareth, that echoes throughout heaven, where all the saints break into song. Her answer is just one line but let’s not take her acceptance lightly. Her eyes are wide open. It will mean agony and shame. There will be a high cost to Mary to bear Jesus, not to mention following him through the trials of his ministry, but she will pay it. As crazy as God’s way seems to her, she will cast her lot with her Lord, and follow in that way.
So what can Mary teach us? She can be a model for us of how to be an effective instrument in God’s hands. She shows us how to respond when God wants to accomplish some miraculous new thing through us. She is a nobody, in a nowhere corner of the world, called to the bearer of the Saviour.
Let’s not miss the fact that God uses particular people, in particular places, at particular times, to bring about spectacular things. We are not told that there is anything special about Mary — but maybe that’s the point. This is more about God, and how God works in the lives of ordinary people. To us nobodies, in the ordinary routines of our lives, let’s not rule out the possibility that Gabriel might be waiting for us on our next trip to the grocery store or post office.
What might his message be? What might that miraculous new thing be that God needs us to bear into the world? What angel voice has nagged away at you, or at us a congregation, of a new way for God to speak a word of love through us? Some new way to serve others. Some new word to proclaim, the good news that Christ has come. Some new way to build up Christ’s reign among his people.
Don’t rule anything out just because it’s not feasible or even reasonable. For an unmarried young girl to bear the saviour of the world was hardly reasonable. Mary knows all the reasons why it can’t work. She has all the excuses not to be a part of God’s plan — good excuses, logical excuses, excuses everyone can understand and accept.
But she looks beyond them to the goodness and power of the one who wants to do a new thing, who calls her to this special service. And she agrees to bear Jesus into the world, to be a part of this bizarre plan, whatever the cost.
Maybe God wants us to be Mary, to conceive in us some new expression of love, and all that God needs is our willingness to go along with it, our readiness to allow God’s plan to be formed in us. It may cost us a lot — the weight of bearing even a holy child can wear us out — ridicule from those who don’t understand, scorn from those who are more sensible, contempt from those who are too afraid to come along.
Sure, there are lots of excuses not to, and everyone would understand. But what will we have lost? A chance to be a part of a holy work. And what will God have lost? An opening to bring a message of love and hope, peace and joy to a hurting world. No one will blame us, but the progress of building the reign of God will falter.
Maybe our response to the good news of Christmas this year will be to look again at how we can be a part of God’s ongoing project of looking for openings to be born in the world again. Maybe we can be the ones who are prepared to pay the price to bear Jesus again into a world which so desperately needs to meet him. Maybe God is calling us to place ourselves in today’s version of that Biblical story, to be an active agent in bearing God’s love into the world so that others can come to meet and honour the Christ-child.
This part of the story ends by saying the angel left Mary. Angels always do. The heavenly vision fades, and we are left still standing on the way to the post office.
Things around us look the same, but something has changed — we have been touched by God, invited to be part of this story.
There is a seed growing in us, that God will someday bring to fruition. And although we cannot always see them, God’s angels are with us still to encourage us as we bear our burden, to strengthen us when the world around us does not understand, and to rejoice with us when God finds a new way to be born into the world and to dwell among God’s people.
- “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”. Traditional Polish Christmas carol. Attested to 1908, but the tune may date from the 13th century.
- Performed on the piano by Rachelle Risling, Music Director of GCPC. Prepared for the December 13, 2020, virtual worship service.
- Arrangement © copyright 2020 Rachelle Risling, used by permission. This recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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 Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Loving God, who has come to us in Christ, we praise you for all you have done for us and given us. In this season of giving, it is our privilege and our joy to place at his feet these gifts of ours, so that the world may come to know that he has come.
Holy God, we rejoice in the joy of this season, as we welcome the birth of the holy child Jesus. He is God-with-us, the abiding mystery of the divine spirit, woven into our lives. He comes to teach, to heal, to save. He comes as light in our darkness. He comes as a shepherd to protect and guide us. We are drawn to him through whom the love and mercy of God are poured into our lives. We thank you for this Christmas season, for the joy of family, of gift-giving and feasting, even in a time of pandemic restrictions. Open our hearts in gratitude, O God, that we may love all people as Christ. Hear us as we give thanks for those whom we cherish and all that gives us joy.
Loving God, you sent your son Jesus into the world to save and redeem, to bring hope and peace. And yet, even in the days leading up to Christmas, the divisions and despair among your people remain. Couples quarrel and families are divided. Those who are sick suffer, and loneliness and poverty are problems that never seem to go away. Nations live in tension, and a pandemic casts a shadow over us that will hinder our ability to celebrate as we might like. While many are filled with Christmas joy, many others have heavy hearts and troubled lives.
Living Christ, we need your love today to shine in the dark corners of our world, where loneliness and hatred, war and suffering, greed and illness destroy. Come to us, and shine in our lives, that we may more perfectly love you and reflect your love on earth. Enter in a special way into the lives of any who are troubled or anxious, any who will feel loneliness or grief more deeply in this Christmas season, and whose poverty or lack of work seems to separate them from the ability to celebrate and rejoice. Be with them, lift them up, sustain them and provide for them through the presence of your son’s body the church at their side. And comfort them with the assurance that it is for them that your son came, and ministered, and died and rose again.
Eternal God: through long generations you prepared a way in our world for the coming of your Son, and by your Spirit you are still bringing the light of the gospel to darkened lives. Help us to be willing to have him be born in us, to rule our thoughts and claim our love, as Lord of lords and King of kings, to whom be glory always. Amen.
Book of Praise – 147 “Angels we have heard on high”
- Video with on-screen words; very minor differences from the hymnbook
- Words from Luke 2:6–20, traditional French carol; English words paraphrased in 1862 by Anglo-Irish Roman Catholic priest James Chadwick (1813–1882); music is a traditional French melody — the tune is known as “Gloria (Iris)”. Words and music in the public domain.
- Sung by the Yoder Family in a video created in 2013 by SE Samonte.
Commissioning and Benediction
May the Holy Spirit fill us with new life and hope
and overshadow us with power and grace,
so that, like Mary, we might be servants of God,
bearing witness to the promise of God’s Word.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2020-12-13 at 11:35: added musical meditation SoundCloud audio link and associated information.