Worship Service for December 20, 2020

December 20, 2020 – Fourth Sunday in Advent

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A message from the Rev. Helen Smith

Welcome message in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the worship resources for December 20, the fourth Sunday in Advent.  As we read, sing, listen, light candles, may we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, uniting us in worship, bringing us together, when we are apart.

Rev. Helen Smith

PWS&D Candle-Lighting Liturgy

You can watch a video of the liturgy by clicking the link immediately below, speaking responsively with Rev. H. Smith when the sub-titled words appear on-screen; or celebrate yourself using the text printed just below the video link.

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Click to watch and/or follow along with the Candle-Lighting Liturgy at YouTube.

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 love.

Soon we will welcome
the beautiful and radical love of God
as Jesus Christ comes to live among us.

We embrace our identity as God’s beloved children
and let this truth guide our decisions and relationships.

In our homes and in our church
we offer hospitality,
welcoming those we don’t know, those who are in need,
and those who are different from us.

We demonstrate our care for creation
in real and tangible ways through the products we buy,
the food we eat, and the way we live every day.

Together, we are a sign of God’s love for the world.

(The candle is lit)

Let us pray:

God of extravagant generosity,
in Jesus we discover the depth of your care
and the lengths you will go to save us.
Forgive us when we ignore those in need,
trample your creation
and refuse to share all that we receive from you.
Teach us to love our neighbours, caring for each other
in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Opening Hymn

Book of Praise – 159 “O Come, All Ye Faithful

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Click to listen to or sing along with the hymn at YouTube.
  • Video with on-screen words; some differences from the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
  • Words and music attributed to many sources. Follow this link to the Wikipedia article on the hymn for more information.
  • Famous musical arrangement in the video created in 1961 by English conductor and composer Sir David Willcocks (1919–2015)
  • Recorded in 2013 by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Prayers of Approach and Confession

Prayers of Approach and Confession, The Pardon and The Peace in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

In our hopes and in our fears, come, Lord Jesus.  In our homes and in our world, come, Lord Jesus.  In our watching and our waiting, come, Lord Jesus, be our light.

Too often, we close our doors to your light, afraid to give you room in our midst.  Still, your light shines; your mercy refuses to let our rejection quench the light of your love.  Forgive us for denying you due honour.  Lift us by your Spirit to join angelic hosts in anthems of joy and peace, brought to us in your advent. It is in your name we pray, and continue to pray with the prayer you taught your disciples:

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.

Assurance of Pardon

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 5). Thanks be to God for forgiveness and new life.

The Peace

The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.


Book of Praise – 149 “Away in a manger

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Click to listen to or sing along with the hymn at YouTube.
  • Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
  • Words are from several American sources dating to the 1880s. The music setting used here (1895; tune “Cradle Song”) is by American composer William J. Kirkpatrick (1838–1921). Follow this link to the Wikipedia article on the hymn for more information.
  • Musical arrangement in the video created by English organist and music director Sir Stephen Cleobury (1948–2015).
  • Recorded by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.


Scripture reading of Luke 2: 1–14 by Rev. Bob Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Luke 2: 1–14 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible

Click here for additional scripture readings from today’s lectionary. Links courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.


Times are hard. It is during the Depression of the 1930’s and William is twelve years old. Families are losing their homes. Everywhere across the country, men travel in search of work.

They beg food, sleep wherever they can find a little shelter, get around by hopping on boxcars, led on always by the hope that in the next town they will find a job and money to send to their families back home.  They travel in these broken-down box-cars, trusting in the kindness of strangers to keep going. This is the world of William’s childhood.

At least William’s family still has their home, out on the prairie.  He is grateful for this as he looks out his window one December night at the snow, which the wind is mercilessly blowing down and around on their farm.

At about 11 o’clock, he goes from the warm kitchen of the farmhouse, up the dark staircase to his bedroom where it is so cold he can see his breath. He quickly strips down to his long-johns and hops in between the sheets.  They are like ice. He pulls the covers up over his head. He curls up in a ball like he is a hibernating animal.  Gradually he warms up enough to relax and stretch out.

As he drifts off to sleep, his mind goes back over the day’s events. In school that day, they began rehearsals for the Christmas pageant.  They practised singing ‘Joy to the World’:
“And heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing.”
The words still ring in his head.

And at Sunday School that week the teacher told them the story of a child born to a Jewish family almost 2000 years before, born in a stable far away in a town called Bethlehem.  He was a very special child.  That’s why, even though he was born in a stable, all kinds of people came to see him, the skies opened up, and choirs of angels sang,
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

As William falls asleep, the events of his life that week and his history and geography lessons get mixed up with the Christmas story, and he has his first Christmas dream.

The dream is about the far north, maybe because his nose is sticking out from under the covers and breathes the cold bedroom air.  In his dream, he sees a frozen landscape of ice and snow, the northern lights dancing in the night sky. A glow comes from a half-built seal hunter’s igloo, and there William can see the holy family.  They are all bundled up in heavy furs.  Mary is holding the baby Jesus, who is cuddling a husky pup for warmth.  Joseph is tending the sled team outside the igloo.

Throughout that December, when William is twelve years old, he has a whole series of Nativity dreams.  Some of them come to him as a long, unfolding scene, others more like a quick snapshot.  The dreams place the holy family in different settings all across the country: inside a box-car in a rail yard in Winnipeg, in a fish-drying hut in Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland, in a hay shed in Alberta’s cattle country, in the night watchman’s shed at a big city construction site, at a crowded table in an inner-city hostel, across the Ottawa River from the Parliament Buildings.  And each dream begins and ends with two questions:
If it happened there, why not here?
If it happened then, why not now?

These dreams were true dreams.  William was William Kurelek, renowned Canadian artist.  His nativity dreams that December when he was twelve later became a series of paintings that have been published in a book called ‘Northern Nativity.’

On these canvasses, he makes an astounding claim about what it meant when Jesus Christ was born so long ago in a stable in Bethlehem.  Through his art, Kurelek is saying that Christ is present anywhere and everywhere, present in all our joys and struggles, born right under our noses, not just in a stable in Bethlehem, but in the most commonplace nooks and crannies all around us.

In the first nativity story, the angels made a wonderful announcement to the shepherds:
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.

This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth
and lying in a manger.”

Imagine the shepherds, out there in the fields that night, as they hear that announcement that this good news is for all people.  Do you suppose for a second that they do not include themselves in that group in a profound and personal way?  You bet they do.  If a saviour is born these shepherds want to be there. This will change their lives.  So, they get up off their behinds, leave the sheep behind, and head off to find this baby.

The same announcement comes to us. In the birth of Christ at Christmas good news has come to you and all people. But do we take it personally?  Do we step out of our routine to check it out?  Or do we think it’s the most generalized ‘you’ you could imagine?  Like, to the world, or to humankind, but nothing that will touch me or change my life at all.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the gospel of John talks about how the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.  Does it change the story at all if we put ourselves in the shepherds’ shoes but in a modern setting?  What if Christ is born in Kurelek’s boxcar or fishing hut?  What if the announcement is “to you is born this day in the City of Toronto, a Saviour.”

And this will be the sign, you will find a baby born on that heating grate where some homeless people are camping out, or at Queen’s Park, or on that vacant lot in the downtown east end, or in your corporate boardroom or office cubicle, or at the hockey rink, or at the mall, or in your school, or amongst your friends.

Wherever people work, and struggle, and just get by, and study, and are laid off, and succeed, and love, and dream, and get sick, and get inspired, and get discouraged, there Christ is born, and he is born for you and for me.

Do you ever find yourself wishing that you had been there in that stable, to lay your gifts at the feet of the Christ-child?  Not a leading role, maybe just to be the second shepherd’s assistant, or someone sent from the inn to check on the progress of the birth.  And quietly you slip your gift in together with the others in front of the manger, and you are able, just for a moment, to pay him homage.

Maybe what William’s Christmas dreams can remind us is that Christ is born today in some other stable maybe not nearly so far away as Bethlehem, waiting for us to seek and find him, and to bring our gift there.

It may take some looking, some watchfulness and devotion on our part. We may have to go out into the dark and cold to find him but he is there.  It may be an unlikely setting, but it will be filled with the warmth of the love and grace of God.  What is your dream for the place and situation where Christ may come today?  May Kurelek’s dreams become our own, and be taken up in God’s vision of wholeness and peace.

God’s dream became reality in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who moves into our neighbourhoods, full of grace and truth.

If it happened there, why not here?
If it happened then, why not now?

Musical Meditation

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“What Child is This” performed by Rachelle Risling. Click to listen to the piece on YouTube.
  • What Child is This?”. Christmas carol from 1865 with words by English hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix (1837–1898) which was set in 1871 to the traditional English tune “Greensleeves”.
  • This arrangement by David Lantz, copyright © 2003 Hal Leonard Corporation. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
  • Performed on the keyboard by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
  • Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.

You can enjoy all our previously recorded music on our Music playlist on YouTube (our videos with audio) or on SoundCloud (our audio-only pieces).


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.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Gracious God, at this time when we celebrate the gift of your Son to us, we bring our gifts for him, so that the good news of his birth can continue to be proclaimed.  May our gifts work to glorify his name, and be an expression of our desire that he might be born in us.

O God, your love blesses and unites us, and we come before you with hearts gladdened by this season, its lights, its colours, and most especially, its message of peace and good will to all people.

In the birth of Jesus you have given our weary and struggling world reason to rejoice.  In the cry of an infant, you have given hope to all who cry.  By the light of a star, you have helped us find our way again.

We thank you, good and generous God, that in Jesus Christ, you have made yourself known and have invited us to join you in the creation of a world where wolf and lamb dwell together and justice rolls down like waters.

Give us the courage to allow the Christ-child to be born in us and in our world.  Create in us hearts devoted to shaping that world and bless especially those for whom such a world seems only a very distant dream, the poor, the imprisoned, the ill, the lonely, the despised.  Open our hearts, Spirit of Life, to the news of angels and the wonder of shepherds that these days may renew us for the days to come.  Be particularly with those for whom the joy and merriment of the season rubs salt in the wounds of their brokenness and loneliness.

We pray for the essential service workers who will be working over the holidays.  Give them your energy and your strength.

Lift up those who hearts will be heavy this Christmas with the memory of saints whom they have loved, who have gone to be with you.

In this time when family gatherings and big parties are not possible, remind us that we are working to keep each other safe.  Give us hearts that may discern how to make meaningful the gospel which we cherish.  Grant that those whose lives we touch may hear in our words and see in our lives that you truly are merciful and gracious, and overflowing in steadfast love.  These things we ask, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Closing Hymn

Book of Praise – 139 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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Click to listen to or sing along with the hymn at YouTube.


Benediction in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

If it happened there, why not here?
If it happened then, why not now?

We are looking for God in our world.  May we see what God wants us to see.

We are looking for God in our lives.  May we be who God wants us to be.

And may God our Creator, God our Redeemer, God our Comforter, bring God’s light and life into our lives.  Amen.

Choral Amen

Danish Choral Amen. Book of Praise 780. Music director Rachelle Risling (keyboard); Robert Quickert (vocals). Click triangle at left to begin listening.

Copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church

Last updated on 2020-12-18 at 21:00: first published version.