Advent 1C (28-11-2021)

Welcome to worship with the
Barwon Heads & Ocean Grove congregations

This service was streamed live via Zoom on November 28th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use. Even though public worship is once again available in the church buildings,   the service continues to be streamed live for people who cannot be at church. Those who are unable to participate online can 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 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.

-oOo-

“The gospel is not only what is said, but how it is said” 
(John Tinsley)

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

L: 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.

R: Peace be upon all who enter this house.   Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in God’s company.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Let us acknowledge the awesome mystery embodied in every person.

R: Through us God comes to unique and personal expression.

L: Let us give thanks for the abundance of life on this earth.

R: Through it we and all people may be nourished.

ACT OF AWARENESS

Marvel at life! Strive to know its ways!
Seek wisdom and truth, the gateways to life’s mysteries!Wondrous indeed is life!

HYMN 272 – “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”  (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Reflection – “Prayer of the Earth” by Andrew Hill.

Space-hanging Earth, fragile as a Christmas babe
delicate as a Christmas Tree ornament:
nurture us as a mother nurtures children,
like Mary nursing Jesus.

Forgive our hurtful ways. Help us to fairer sharing.
And so may you sustain all earth’s children and all earth’s beings
even your Earthly self
unto all generations and into all time to come.

     Silence

In this familiar place, listen: to the sounds of breathing, creaking chairs, shuffling feet, clearing throats, and sighing all around.Know that each breath, each movement, holds a life within it.   (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: He was careless about himself,

R: we are careful.

L: He was courageous,

R: we are cautious.

L: He trusted the unworthy,

R: we trust those who have good collateral.

L: He forgave the unforgivable,

R: we forgive those who do not really hurt us.

L: He was righteous and laughed at respectability,

R: we are respectable and smile at righteousness.

L: He was meek,

R: we are ambitious.

L: He saved others,

R: we save ourselves as much as we can.

L: He had no place to lay his head and did not worry about it,

R: we fret when we cannot have the last convenience to hit the market.

L: He did what he believed to be right regardless of the consequences,

R: we determine what is right by how it will affect us.

L: He feared God but not the world,

R: we fear public opinion more than we fear God.

L: He risked everything,

R: we make religion a refuge from every risk.

L: He took up the cross,

R: we neither take it up nor lay it down, but merely let it stand.

L: Forgive us, God, and in the freedom of your forgiveness,

R: may we climb to the threshold of our belief in you,
take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

THE ASSURANCE

L: My Friends, stand up straight, lift up your downcast eyes, your redemption is at hand. In Christ our we are forgiven and the final victory is assured, so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

L: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all people,

R: that we may be holy and free from shame at the coming of our Lord.

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Jer. 33:14-16

Jeremiah had predicted that the Davidic dynasty would be restored shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  But the years in exile were prolonged, and the promise went unfulfilled.  The exiles were tempted to abandon their ancestral religion and adopt the religion of the Babylonians.  It is this situation which is being addressed in this passage, repeating the promise to restore the line of David to the throne of Israel.  Christians have adopted it as a reference to Jesus who is considered to be the fulfilment of this promise.

14  ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:

15  ‘In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

16  In those days Judah will be saved,
And Jerusalem will dwell safely.
And this is the name by which she will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’

FROM THE EPISTLES – 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This reading is included in the lectionary for the first Sunday of Advent because of the reference to the second coming of Christ (v.13).

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

FROM THE GOSPELS (1) – Luke 21:25-36

Luke’s apocalyptic teaching is chosen for the same reason as the epistle:  to keep people focussed on the future. A certain slackness has been setting in among Christians who expected a quick return of the Christ.  In this situation, Luke calls upon his contemporaries to watch and pray.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

FROM THE GOSPELS (2) – John 1:1-18

John does not think of incarnation as a combination of two abstract entities: humanity and divinity, merged in a divine-human person.  For John, the preexistent Word of God was in process of becoming flesh throughout human history, but culminated in the life history of Jesus of Nazareth.  Beginning with Jesus’ baptism, the Word’s self-revelation in Jesus evolved as Jesus surrendered himself completely to God’s will, to the extent that Jesus’ words became God’s words, and Jesus’ works became God’s works, so that throughout Jesus’ life, the Word continually became flesh.

1-2 The Word was first, 

the Word present to God, God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.

3-5  Everything was created through him;
   nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
   and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:

Every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

14  The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

15  John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

16-18 We all live off his generous abundance,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.

HYMN 271 -“The Advent of Our God” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  “The Creative Future”      

     Part 1

 “The time is coming when I will fulfil the promise that I made to the people of Israel and Judah”  (Jer.33:14)

The purpose of all religion is to evoke hope. The basis for such hope is founded in the promises of God. However, it must seem at times that all we get are promises: promises and more promises. The world remains mired in its own filth and decay. People still suffer and hurt one another, and death and disease are ever present. We are still stuck in the “Between” time of which I spoke last week. When will things change?

For us here, it may not be all that bad: another church year has ended; we all have grown older together and we’re still here, but sometimes as we age our visions and dreams may grow dimmer. Nostalgia for the past ever threatens to replace hope for the future. We can get anxious about the present and weary in well-doing. We might well wish we had a clearer picture of what God has still to accomplish in and through us. The Easter Mystery seems so long ago that we wonder if it has lost its power to do what all faiths must do if they are to survive: evoke hope.

The lectionary readings for today reflect the fact that Paul, Luke and Jeremiah all had to contend with the frustration, anger, resignation and despair that comes from waiting too long for promises to be fulfilled. But then, that’s what Advent is all about: waiting expectantly and patiently for that which is to come. It is a time of preparation for that which is expected.  It is not a preparation to celebrate a past event: the birth of Jesus; but rather preparation to receive the future that is yet to be. Today we are encouraged to look away from Jesus’ birth and life to the end for which he came in order to recapture the promise that is held out for us.

It is common wisdom that what we do in the present creates the future, but it is probably more important to recognise the less obvious, but equally true, fact that the future creates the present – for better or for worse. What we expect tomorrow has a dominant effect over what we choose to do now; hence, in a very real sense the future creates the present.

A priest in California recently told of a late-night phone call he received. The woman caller had asked: “What happens when children who are baptised and haven’t reached the age of reason die through no fault of their own?” Suspecting that there was more to the question, the priest asked the woman to tell him more.  She had two children, 3 & 5. She had only six months to live, and all the female members of her family had in recent years died of cancer, leaving no one to care for the children.  She had visited several orphanages and concluded that “Nobody wants to adopt black children.” Not wanting her children to grow up institutionalised, she was determined to kill them and then commit suicide.

Here was a woman without hope, with no promises of a bearable future.  The bleak expectations of her future were in the process of creating for her and her children a very bleak present.

No matter how rosy our own futures, each of us, if we look far enough into our future cannot avoid the reality that death is the end which waits for us, and that, with every day that passes, the ultimate end comes closer. The quality and style of life lived in the face of death in the present is derived from the strength of the hope with which you are blessed. In fact hope is required to live at all. The great poet, Dante, wrote: “If death, why life?”  Because there is no answer to that great mystery of our existence, there must be something which will create a purpose for life even in the face of extinction.

     Part 2

Martin Luther said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by the hopeful.” If you had no reason for hope in the face of death, there would be no reason to do anything, even to live at all.

The future is the prime creative force in this world. The future takes the present, no matter how bleak it may be, and shapes it according to a vision of that future. Immediately, that vision starts to become reality through the actions of those who see it.To be given hope is to begin the process of transforming the present.  As we look around at our society, at Australia, we can look from two perspectives: We can see the present state of drought-burdened farmers, dying rivers, failing businesses, growing poverty while the rich get richer, broken families, violence in the streets and abuse in the homes, and imagine the future which will issue from the present: namely more of the same and worse. But we can also start with a vision based on promise and, from there, begin to act out of a belief in that promise so that the promised future is, in fact, created.  A society of people so transformed by hope will no longer accept the seemingly inevitable, but will do what is required to change course. 

The economy is an excellent example of this.  Ultimately economies rise and fall, not on indelible laws of economics, not because of the actions of government (despite claims to the contrary), but according to the psychological frame of mind of the people.  When people are optimistic, they buy, they invest, and industry plays happily along in rhythm with the market. All it takes to bring an economy out of a recession is for people to believe that it is already coming out. The reverse is also true, an economy will go into a recession when the majority of people fear that it is happening.

If you accept that one’s expectation of the future creates the present, you will also understand the quality of the present that is created today will depend on the quality of the hope which is behind it.  

A husband was seen a the gift counter of Myers buying a ball-point pen. “I’m buying this for my wife for Christmas,” he told the sales lady. 

“A surprise, huh?” replied the sales lady.

“It sure is,” said the customer, “she’s expecting a new car.”

It is essential to have a hope that has a solid foundation.  However potent a given vision may be, a hope founded on God’s promises is infinitely better than the promises of politicians, economists, scientists and all the others who have become gurus to our modern society.

Advent is a time to feel the stirrings of hope that grow from the expectation of God’s transforming presence.  Jesus’ reference to the fig tree reminds us of the budding and blossoming new growth that is going on all around us in nature at this time of year, and of the buds in our lives, too, just waiting to burst forth, needing only the faith in God’s promises to bring them to life.

Jeremiah can say with confidence, “The time is coming when the Lord will fulfil his promise to his people,” because he knows that as soon as they believe it – really believe it – it will transform their attitudes, their actions and their whole being.  This transformation will create that which they expect.  Once again we come to the cornerstone conclusion of the Christian faith:  we are indeed saved by our faith.  A faith that assures that God keeps his promises will result in a hope that will create a new person, a new Australia, a new earth.

HYMN 273 – Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”
(click here to listen)

AN ADVENT LITANY

L: Among the poor,
Wm: among the proud,
Mn: among the persecuted,
Wm: among the privileged,
Mn:   Christ is coming.
All: Is coming to make all things new.

Mn: In the private house,
Wm: in the market place,
L: in the wedding feast,
Wm: in the judgement hall,
Mn: Christ is coming.
All: Is coming to make all things new.

L: With a gentle touch,
Wm: with an angry word,
Mn: with a clear conscience,
Wm: with burning love,
L:   Christ is coming,
All: Is coming to make all things new.

Mn:   Within us,
Wm: without us,
L:   among us,
Wm:  before us,
Mn: in this place,
L:   in every place,
Wm: for this time,
Mn:   for all time,
L:   Christ is coming,
All: Is coming to make all things new.

OFFERING OUR CONCERNS AND JOYS 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;

R: that they may receive the justice of Christ and the dignity of the children of God.

L:  For the rough people, some who injure people without realising it & some who take a perverse pleasure in making others miserable; 

R: that they may become more aware, repent & 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, ….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 and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen

HYMN 269 Hark the Glad Sound!” (click here to listen)

THE SENDING OUT

L: Celebration need not cease.

R: It can echo in our lives, in our words, in our deeds,
in our moods, in our dreams.

L: Carry wonder and celebration with you wherever you may go.

R: We will be a blessing in our going out and our coming in.  

BENEDICTION

May the God you see in all the colours of creation
 arouse in you a sense of awe and wonder.
May the God who is a sacred presence be real to you.
May the God who is a source of inspiration and courage
keep calling you forward.
May your God go with you, and bless you.

An open, virtual door to the world