This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 13th at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“We are all strings in the concert of his joy.”
CALL TO CELEBRATION
The season of Advent challenges us to see God’s vision of what is yet to be, to hear God’s voice calling anew, to smell the scent of God in our world.
LIGHTING THE ADVENT CANDLES – ‘Source of Light’
Today we light a third candle, the candle for JOY. The Angel announced to the shepherds that Jesus had been born, and told them, “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great Joy to all people.” (Light the 3rd candle)
L: The presentness of Creativity God is among us in the wilderness of our cities,
R: furrowed by freeways and shaded by skyscrapers.
R: in the wilderness of our countryside, where farmers eke out a drought-feed existence.
L: Prepare a way. The presentness of Creativity God is among us,
R: moving in the air, the land, and the waters, making our world whole.
L: Prepare a way.
R: Smooth the rough places, move the mountains; let Creativity God’s glory be displayed.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
May we give thanks for the opportunity we have to worship and celebrate this day.
May we be surrounded with a very real sense of the presentness of Creativity God as we spend this time together. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Once long ago, a star outshone the night,
Guiding the wise to where a baby lay
In lowly stable, cradled in the hay.
The simple shepherds
trembled in their fright,
But singing angels
put their fears to flight
In strange new world
where night was turned to day.
And in a wond’ring joy they knelt to pray
beneath that blessed star of love and light;
May hatred into tenderness dissolve,
And we attain by faith, not just a living,
But life itself, starlit the whole year through,
With heart and mind filled with a pure resolve,
Each selfless act is song of praise to you.
Be with us, Christ, in love and in giving.
Let us now take a moment to settle into the silence with some thoughts from Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century mystic: Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things.
(30 seconds silence)
FROM THE EPISTLES – 1 Thess. 5:16-24
16-18 Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.
19-22 Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.
23-24 May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 1:6-8, 19-28
A man came, sent by God. His name was John. John came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. John was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.
‘Well then,’ they asked him, ‘are you Elijah?’
‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
So they said, ‘Who are you? ‘We must take back an answer to those who sent us. ‘What have you to say about yourself?’
So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied: a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for God.’
Now these priests and Levites had been sent by the Pharisees, and put this further question to John, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ and not Elijah, and not the Prophet?’
John replied: ‘I baptise with water. But there stands among you unknown to you the one who is coming after me. And I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’
This happened at Bethany, on the far side of Jordan, where John was baptising.
FROM CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
– “Dipper John” by Rev. B. Prewer
It was a weird place to choose
from which to launch his mission to the nation
and get himself in the six o’clock news.
Why not a cathedral, or maybe
a theatre, town hall or music bowl,
or a midday show on the TV?
Or if John had his heart set
on the outdoors, with sand and water,
wouldn’t Bondi or Surfers Paradise
be a much more profitable bet?
Instead, this preacher chose a small space
a long way from the seas,
on a bend of the old inland river,
where the clay coloured waters meander
between weathered trees
hoping one day to find the ocean.
As I said, a most weird place
from which to launch his mission.
But then, John himself is a very odd bloke,
wearing faded army camouflage pants,
a battered akubra on his head,
and eating witchetty grubs and honey ants.
But for me the really big surprise
is that his mission is working!
First the curious and a few local guys,
then a bigger mob from the river towns,
now bus loads from ‘the big smoke”
drawn by a feature on “Sixty Minutes”
that had treated John as a joke.
One of the Murdoch newspapers
sort of christened him “Dipper John,”
because converts who want
to make a new start, full on,
let the preacher dip them in the stream.
The word is out that even ex-crims
have got their act together like a dream..
He is a weird bloke, this Dipper John;
instead of cashing in on his fame
he keeps saying that he is not worth a flipper
compared with another fella, a big name,
whom he’s expecting to arrive and catch on–
a super star who’s already on the way.
I tell you, if the new fella is bigger than Dipper,
then he’ll be something worth seeing, heh?
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Sent for Joy”
(Thanks to the late Rev. Bruce Prewer for the essence of this sermon)
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)
Joy is the resounding note for this week. Wait! “Resounding note” can never be an adequate metaphor for joy we are on about today. Much better to say as ‘resounding chord.” This joy is profoundly complex and rich. In this sermon I intend to link this chord of joy with the notion of being sent. They belong together in the Christian experience.
John the Baptist was sent with a message of joy. You may recall from last week’s reading that John knew that something better was coming. His listeners were urged to make an abrupt about-turn and face the dawning of the new thing God was about to do.
When this new thing happened, in the baptism of Jesus, John was willing to stand aside and point his followers to Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” Some of his disciples heard this and followed Jesus.
What a wonderful person! Remarkable, mighty John! Not like us. We cling to disciples and friends like mad! But John relinquished them. He had been sent for a specific task, and when he knew the task had been done, he accepted his decline.
Think about the word ‘sent.’ Sent people are apostles. The word apostles means the sent ones. All of us are apostles. We like John are the sent people. We are sent to bear witness to the Light. It is a message of joy. Sent with joy. Is that how we look to others? People on a mission of joy? Here are two incidents worth pondering.
Incident 1: Some time ago, I was in the company of many ministers at a synod, which had set aside other business to hear from a noted visiting lay evangelist from overseas. This evangelist made his entry. In came the most doleful looking person you could possibly imagine. A person near me immediately saw the irony and “stage” whispered: “Now there’s a happy character!” Believe me, it was hard to contain (out of courtesy) the laughter that wanted to surge from our bellies.
The visitor read from the Scriptures and then spoke fluently. But not once did he even come near to smiling. His message was dour, his appearance was sour. The Light he was on about in no way reflected through him. Where was the good news? He seemed to be devoid the of that is so marked in the New Testament.
Was this fellow just having a bad day? He may have done wonderful things elsewhere, he may have been a thousand times more effective that any of us, but that day in our presence he seemed the very antithesis of an evangelist. I put it to you: Can the sent people, those sent from God to bear witness to the Light, afford to have many such bad days when our face and body language deny the good news we hold in trust?
Incident 2: Now to the second example. Some time back our UCA newspaper, Crosslight, (Yes, it was a newspaper back then) had an item about a new book published by the Rev. Dr Andrew Dutney of Adelaide. It mentioned a determining incident in that theologian’s earlier life. As a young man, Andrew was at a public session of the National Assembly of our denomination. he was profoundly intrigued by the countenance, attitude and words of the preacher (Rev Dr Rolly Busch) so that Andrew wanted to know: “Where did all the joy come from.” How about that? “Where did all the joy come from?” That question led Andrew on the journey into the joy of faith.
John was not himself the Light. Nor are we! Never! Our little flickering candle will never do! But we are bearers of the Light and if nothing or little of it shines through us, then something is drastically wrong.
We are sent. Sent to be joyful. We are ordered to share happiness. As St Paul says into today’s reading: “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances.”
But joy is an emotion, is it not? How can we command an emotion? Is that possible? My understanding of human psychology tells me, “No!” Emotions come unbidden. Wanted or not, we have to deal with them.
But maybe joy is deeper than mere emotion; maybe it is the whole of one’s being responding to grace with persistent dedication. Maybe we do have a choice in whether we are people of joy or grumpiness. Maybe what we choose to think about and aim for, does profoundly effect our state of well being. Maybe the things we talk about with others, and the things we keep whispering to ourselves, do shape us. Maybe effort is required to live joyful lives. Maybe the feelings of joy are be the result of obedience to the Light.
Certainly the evidence would suggest this is so. Look at others and see whether circumstances determine their joy or something deeper. Why is it that, with many Christians, joy seems to underlay, and break through, grief, pain, disappointment, failure, tragedy? There seems to be a deep chord that is in no way dependant on either outward circumstances or inward dilemmas? Think about Jesus, the ultimate example of Light and joy. Jesus, when facing a most horrible death, spoke to his friends about his joy being in the them through the trauma ahead.
This kind of joy is a commitment to live in the Light, to enjoy the Light, to revel in the Light, to share the Light. It is not ephemeral, transient. It is primeval Light. In fact, it is deeper than the depths of the universe, deep as the very soul of God. For us it requires a decision. This decision for Light precedes any emotion of joy. It is a life stance. It is a pledged way of living, with hope, not pessimism, with love not self-interest, with faith not cynicism. It is a decision that must be made every day of our lives. We are sent to be joyful.
Here is the joy that is sometimes seen on the faces of prisoners of conscience, the joy seen shining through grief at a funeral, joy that greets us from a patient in a hospice for the dying, the joy that is most profoundly presented when we are given a morsel of bread and a sip from a cup: ‘This is my broken body. This is my shed blood.”
The Light and joy of Christ and his new world, takes into account all the negativity, the sufferings, the betrayals, the cruelty of the world! And still triumphs in the Light! “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Sent. That’s what is about. Sent to be people of joy in this anxious, self-protecting, cynical era.
As we approach Christmas please think about the two incidents I mentioned earlier. Use them as a measuring stick:
1: The doleful lay evangelist: The ironic comment: “Now there is a happy soul!”
2: The older church leader: Andrew’s comment: “Where does the joy come from?”
Which are we?
WE PAUSE FOR REFLECTION
A FAITH LITANY
L: With those who are poor,
R: We believe in life before death.
L: With those whom nobody notices,
R: We believe in life before death.
R: We believe in life before death.
L: With those who can’t rely on government, or armies, or the world community to help them,
R: We believe in life before death.
L: Because you, O God, came among us as one of these,
R: We believe in life before death.
L: As we plan and make decisions,
R: God be our way.
L: As we learn and ask questions,
R: God be our truth.
L: As we grow and as we change,
R: God be our life.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
L: For the arrogant people in politics, business, education, and religion:
R: that they may be brought low enough to recognise their dire need and bold enough to trust the adequacy of the Saviour Christ.
L: For the lowly folk and the unthanked people, those easily forgotten and marginalised; the unjustly treated, and those falsely accused:
L: For the rough people, some who injure people without realising it and some who take a perverse pleasure in making others miserable:
R: that they may become more aware, repent and learn the gentle strength of Jesus.
L: For the crooked characters, the common criminals that break into our homes, and the respectable ones who often escape the courts:
R: that they may be confronted with the Saviour who can make the crooked straight and the lost found.
L: For the church everywhere, and for this congregation gathered in this house of hospitality:
R: that we may allow the Spirit of Christ, through comfort or discomfort, to complete the work so wonderfully begun in us.
L: God of faithfulness, your promises can always be trusted. Help us to trust you now and always, that as we try to love both neighbours and enemies, and do good to both the just and the unjust, we may be emboldened, guided, and love-sourced by your Holy Spirit. Though Christ Jesus our Advent hope, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
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 and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
I see a twinkle in your eye, so this shall be my Christmas star, and I will travel to your heart: the manager where the real things are. And I will find a mother there who holds you gently to her breast, a father to protect your peace, and by these things you shall be blessed. And you will always be reborn, and I will always see the star, and make the journey to your heart: the manager where the real things are.
A WORD FROM THE MYSTICS (Bede Griffiths)
This earth and all that is in it, and the whole cosmic order to which it belongs, has to undergo a transformation; it has to become a “new heaven and a new earth.”
Modern physics helps us to realise that this whole material universe is a vast ‘field of energies’ which is in a continuous process of transformation.
Matter is passing into life and life into consciousness, and we are waiting for the time when our present mode of consciousness will be transformed and we shall transcend the limits of space and time, and enter ‘the new creation.’