Advent 4B (20-12-2020)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 20th 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. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.


Christmas brings heaven to earth


Advent is about the birth
of something sacred.
For something sacred
needs to be born:
born from the mating
of what is and what might be.
It needs a manger, so let us prepare a manger in our hearts
for the birth of the sacred.


L: Today we are to light the Fourth candle in our Advent wreath.  Remember the gifts symbolised by the three candles which we will light now:  the first for HOPE (Light the 1st candle).
 the second for PEACE
(Light the 2nd candle)…
 the third for JOY (Light the 3rd candle)…
This fourth candle serves to remind us that God is love. Jesus came to show how great is that LOVE.
(Light the fourth candle)

R: God, thank you for loving us, and for sending us Jesus to teach us about your love.  help us to remember that your love will never come to an end. Strengthen us to love others as you love us. Amen.

HYMN 323“Born in the Night” (Click here to listen)


L: It’s almost time for Emmanuel.

R: Time for renewed wonder and awe.

L: Time for gratitude and joy.

R: Time for celebration.

L: Time for loving.

R: Time for adoration.

L: Look!  A Virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means, God-with-us.

R: It’s almost time. Emmanuel, God is with us! Hallelujah!


God of surprises, startle us with truth we do not see, amaze us with your power and grace, beckon us, and lead us far above restricted hope and narrow faith.  May it be so.


     Meditation  “For Birth” from Times of Life by Huub Oosterhuis

Break the membranes.
Draw us out.
Tie our navel cord.
Open us.
Let us flow full of living breath
and cry born at last.
Let us flow full of living breath
and laugh born at last.
Let us flow full of living breath
and know born at last.


Let there now be a silence among us, and let us yield to that silence which gives the greater understanding of that mystery which is life.       (30 seconds of silence)


L: God and Saviour, our Holy Friend, you bring down the arrogant and lift up the fallen, please deal with us according to our diverse needs, for the power of evil is pervasive, and we need a Saviour. If we have filled our minds with vain imaginings, or puffed up our souls with pride, confront us and decontaminate us, redeeming God.

R: Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

L: If we have openly professed you, yet inwardly preferred our own crooked ideas and  prejudices to your Word in the Son of Mary, confront us and decontaminate us, redeeming God.

R: Let your face shine, that we may be saved. 

L: If like the foolish rich we have surrounded our lives with what the world calls good things, and have reaped insecurity and discontent, confront us and decontaminate us, redeeming God.

R: Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

 L: If we have spent so much time among our own broken vows and failed visions, that we have made a cynical pact with greed and injustice, confront us and decontaminate us, redeeming God.

R: Let your face shine, that we may be saved. 

L: Merciful God, by your relentless compassion, forgive our sins and deliver us from all evil. Take that shining likeness to Christ that is deep within us, and which too often becomes denied or defaced, and by your saving grace restore us. Give us the faith to leave the past behind, and to again name ourselves as your children. In the name of Christ Jesus, your True Word. Amen!


L: My friends, hear the good news: “Mary will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  You have inherited that promise, and become a part of the story of Jesus. And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.


Prophet Micah by Jan van Eych

Micah concentrated on the denunciation of social injustice in 8th century (B.C.) Judah, but like the book of Zephaniah (last week’s O.T. reading), Micah was later edited and more positive promises, such as today’s passage, were added.  It expresses the expectation that David’s monarchy would be restored and, with it, the fortunes of the nation.  It is not a continuation of the present dynasty, but a completely new beginning. Unlike the contemporary kings, who lacked a sense of justice toward the people, the promised king would be like a good shepherd, obeying God and caring for his people.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”

3  Therefore He shall give them up,
Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth;
Then the remnant of His brethren
Shall return to the children of Israel.

4  And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;

And this One shall be peace.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 1:26-45

The story of the annunciation is Luke’s way of establishing the beginnings of God’s final intervention in history.  He uses the theme of the miraculous birth, which was a common means by which story tellers of the ancient worlds indicated that their heroes were very special persons.  The birth theme also highlights the important role in God’s plan played by human beings.  The birth of God into the world requires a human mother.  If God is, in fact, to be incarnated into our lives, then there must be a willing, open, obedient, mothering attitude to that which is to be born.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” 

29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 

35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

HYMN 287 – “No Wind at the Window” (Click here to listen) 


   Part 1

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!…  Blessed is she who believed…” (Lk.1:42)

Let us set the stage.  Mary has been given the news of her pregnancy, and this is her response.  I read from Luke 1:47-55

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

Hold on to Mary’s response, while you listen to poem by T.S. Eliot:

You bring me news of a door that opens
at the end of a corridor, sunlight and singing;
when I had felt sure that every corridor
only led to another, …or to a blank wall.

When thinking about appropriate Australian symbols of Christmas, I looked out my bedroom to one of those trees that sheds its bark, that rough, dry covering which at first conceals and protects, but which finally gives way to the smooth new skin of the tree.

The peeling bark of some of the native Australian trees is analogous in the animal world to the snake, of which Australia has an abundance, which regularly sheds its old skin as it outgrows it.  The snake has long been a symbol of new life in many cultures because of its regular change of wardrobe.  People see in the renewing of the snake’s skin, the process of renewal of life – of rebirth – in which the old dies, is discarded and is replaced by the new.

At Christmas we celebrate a birth, not simply of a boy child – Jesus – but the birth of God into our midst, bringing new hope for the rebirth of the world.

In our Gospel reading today, Mary is called blessed, not only because she carried this new birth, but because she believed in it.  Because she believed in it, she nurtured it into reality, thus providing the basis for a new world.  “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Her belief gave her hope, expressed in that part of our reading today called the Magnificat.  In today’s jargon it is an expression of liberation theology: a promise for the weak, the oppressed, the poor.  

This tradition suggests Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and an example for us all, including us men, was nothing less than a radically subversive revolutionary.  No wonder her son grew up to be one, too.

She is a prototype for all people of faith, young and old, male and female. Here we have a believer, who in spite of the greed, apathy and despair of the world, embraces the revolutionary Word of God. She is the vanguard of those who make God’s new world the top priority:

      • Who seek first the kingdom of God.
      • Who are willing to suffer for their faith.
      • Who are prepared to be the unpopular prophetic voices.
      • Who are the loving revolutionaries of God.

   Part 2

Mary, the Holy Mother, was open to God, open to God’s future, even though it can often be a  frustrating, painful and frightening way to go. She was open to God and joyful about it. The Magnificat is a psalm of sheer joy!

Accordingly, this birth includes empowerment of the powerless: in our society that would include women, refugees, victims of violence, children, the unemployed, the homeless; and brings about the toppling of the powerful: the politicians, the business tycoons, the military leaders.

It also means a significant redistribution of income.  The billionaire giants of industry will fall, while the hungry are filled with good things.

Is this just a fantasy trip for the poor and powerless?  Or is this birth something which will occur this Christmas, maybe in a humpy in the outback, bringing the reality of God’s kingdom to this country.

If Christmas is not to be an increasingly irrelevant excuse for a birthday party, then it must speak of a reality for Australia now; a reality to the downtrodden, the destitute and the down-and-out.  

Trying to find in bark an Australian symbol of Christmas has not been just an attempt to find an interesting gimmick to get your attention.  I hope the point has been conveyed that Christmas is not the celebration of a past event somewhere in the Middle East.  It is a current event set here in Australia.

And if God is to be born in reality in Australia in this time, then God needs a mother; the kind of revolutionary that Mary’s Magnificat suggests.  And God’s mother is you.  (I can imagine your response like Mary’s, ” Who, me?”  Yes, you!)  God is waiting to be born in your life.  If God is to bring good news to the poor, heal the broken hearted, deliver the captives, give sight to the blind and liberate the oppressed, then God needs to be born in human lives; in yours and mine.

There are plenty of people who would not want to see this birth happen, just as in Jesus day: the rich, the powerful.  Just as you are potential mothers of God, you, like Herod, are potential killers of God.  Both options reside in each of us:  the choice is ours. To believe that you carry God in you and choose to let that God be born, is to see the kingdom laid out before your eyes and to live for it.  

This is what incarnation is all about: about God manifest in every human life; every life that allows the new birth to take place, and nurtures it and lets it grow up to take over one’s life.  St. Anthanasius wrote, “For he was made man that we might be made God.”

All of the Christmas wishes we have for Australia come to pass as God becomes incarnate in Australians.  Australia does not need grand economic plans, more exports, smarter leadership so much as it needs Australians to echo Mary’s response to the annunciation: “Let it be.”

A blessed new birth to you.

Let us pray: 

Overshadow us, O Holy One, as your spirit overshadowed Mary, announcing her role as a key player in the Christmas story.
Overshadow our sense of insignificance with the mystery
that you chose us to give birth to the Holy.
Overshadow our low estimation of ourselves with Spirit’s esteeming presence.
Overshadow our fear that you are calling us with Spirit’s empowering grace.
Our small selves relax in the shadow of your grace. We regain our full stature and accept the leading role in this drama of sacred birth. We are reminded that with you, all things are possible. Amen.

WE HONOUR THE IMPENDING BIRTH      (A silent time of meditation)

HYMN 307“The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy” (Click here to listen)

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH   (all say together)

Today I look into my own heart and all around me, and I sing the song of Mary.  My life praises the Lord my God who is setting me free.  He has remembered me, in my humiliation and distress!  From now on those who rejected and ignored me will see me and call me happy, because of the great things he is doing in my humble life.  

His name is completely different from the other names in this world; from one generation to another he was on the side of the oppressed.  

As on the day of Exodus, he is stretching out his mighty arm to scatter the oppressors with all their evil plans.  He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and he has lifted up the despised; and so will he do today.  He has filled the exploited with good things, and sent the exploiters away with empty hands; and so will he do today.  His promise to our mothers and our fathers remains new and fresh to this day. Therefore the hope for liberation which is burning in me will not be extinguished. He will remember me, here, now and beyond the grave.   (Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta, Namimbia)


Most Holy Friend, we lift up our hearts in prayer for others, not because our prayers are potent, but because you are! You are the grace-giver who can bring triumph out of disaster and seed joy in the stony fields of suffering and sorrow.

We ask you to show your grace by scattering the strutting arrogant people, in governments, industry and commerce; that injustice and bullying in every form may be put to shame, and replaced by humility, justice, and consistent compassion and respect for all.

We ask you to show your grace by lifting up the lowly; those who have been crushed by the ruthless and exploited by the greedy. Wherever people this day feel forgotten and badly misused, may they find your angels of mercy standing with them and for them, bringing hope into their desolation.

We ask you to show your grace by rebuffing the rich and sending them away empty, and by filling the hungry with good things. Bless your servants who share their daily bread, and may all those international agencies who are working among the hungry and homeless, find the wisest ways to use their resources for the maximum good.

We ask you to show your grace by ministering to the disheartened or grieving among our neighbours and friends, family and work colleagues. May they discover that your mercy is with all who trust you, from generation to generation.

And if any of us, Holy Friend, are equipped to be your agents of justice of mercy in specific situations, please guide us and use us, we pray. May all our prayers be a creed for action. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen.


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.

HYMN 295 – “Saviour of the Nations, Come” (Click here to listen)  


L: Never put faith your worldly status, and never underestimate your heavenly importance.

R: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

L: Let your trust in the coming of Christ soar within you like wings of joy. Go out into the world and serve one another as God-bearers.

R: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.


Go now in joy, building, living in, and enjoying a community full of welcome and equality. Go in peace.

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