Welcome to worship with the
Barwon Heads & Ocean Grove congregations
This service was streamed live via Zoom on December 5th 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.
“Where there is peace, God is.” (George Herbert)
CALL TO WORSHIP
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.
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.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
God of time and eternity, help us realise the significance of these moments together, that they may open our eyes to the blessings of the past and the promise of the future. Grant us courage for today and tomorrow. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation: “The Advent Spirit” by Donna Morrison-Reed
Fill your heart like a vessel with the Advent spirit. Take the time to let your vision clear and your concern deepen. Allow your heart to overflow with all the authentic gifts this season of preparation has to offer. The blessings of Advent preparation can overflow from each of our hearts, if we take the time to fill our hearts first. Let us stop the rush and allow the spirit of the season to enter our being. Let us clear our vision and deepen our concern. Let it move us away from an isolating concern for self, to a relationship of love and care and wonder and joy with all of life around us.
Let there be a quiet time among us. (Pause) Here in this time and in this place is our chance to live like we wish the world would live. May we find within ourselves the courage to be who we are. May we trust one another and know there are many ways to go through life. Together we can make possible justice and love. We are all connected. We are one body.
(30 seconds silence)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
L: Holy Friend, we confess that we want to have more of you in our lives, without the discipline and pain of preparing to receive you;
R: please forgive our evasions and cowardice;
R: please forgive our liking for cheap substitutes.
L: Holy Friend, we confess that we even we fool ourselves into believing that our rough ways and crooked paths are justified;
R: please forgive our excuses and defiance.
L: By your grace in Christ Jesus, deal with us with whatever steeliness or gentleness is required, so that we may wholeheartedly return to you and thus come to our own senses. For your name’s sake.
L: The eye of God is upon all those who put their hope in him. By the prophets, God declared loving kindness in the morning and mercy through the darkest night. By the coming of Christ Jesus, amazing grace is released among his people, including even us. In the name of Emmanuel, let us embrace grace, mercy and peace. For I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE MYSTICS – “Longing for God” By Mother Teresa.
We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means Loving as He loves, Helping as He helps, Giving as He gives, Serving as He serves, Rescuing as He rescues, Being with Him twenty-four hours, Touching Him in his distressing disguise.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 3:1-6
John is portrayed as the last and greatest prophet: the messenger of whom Malachi spoke. He also fulfils the role of Elijah (1:17), and his place is in the desert where Yahweh made his covenant with Israel. He comes to prepare the way, preaching a baptism of repentance that people may be ready to receive the Lord.
3 1-6 In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius—it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
Every bump smoothed out,
The detours straightened out,
All the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God’s salvation.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Imagining the Way of the Lord”
Peter Gomes, a minister at Harvard University, in his book, The Good Book, wrote of the Bible as “a book of imagination.” A book of imagination! Not a book of rules and regulations, not a book of history, but a book of imagination. Think of the Bible as a book meant to stoke, to fuel, the imagination.
From what I see, imagination is in short supply these days. Modern folk tend toward mostly facts and figures; more into statistics than symbols. We like to keep close to that solid stuff we call reality. If one also begins with the assumption that “real” only refers to that which can be touched, heard, seen, smelled or tasted, then reality shrinks, and correspondingly, our expectations for what can and cannot be done is scaled down considerably.
Neil Postman, in his book, Technopoly, sees our preoccupation with computers as evidence of our paucity of imagination. He says that the modern world has convinced itself that we have a scarcity of facts, and is hungry for data. Isn’t that why some of our leaders, particularly those in the Federal opposition don’t want to do anything about climate change. “The science isn’t proven yet,” they say, or “We need to wait and see what other countries do before we do anything.” “We need more facts.”
More data. So we invent and feed computers that eat massive amounts of data, shuffle it about, and send it across the world on the the so-called “information highway.”
Postman says flat out, “We don’t need more data. We have more facts than we can possibly consume. What we are dying of is a lack of courage, a lack of dreams, a failure of nerve, and no computer gives us that.
Computers may one day be able to speak, even to think; no computer will ever be able to dream.
I’m getting into all this because I have a problem with this world, with its politicians, with its businesses, with churches…really with people like us: modern, thinking folk who like our reality straight up and unadorned, in the words of that famous TV lawman of the late 50’s, Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
I’ve got this problem because, as Gomes says, the Bible is a book of imagination. And what Scripture could be more imaginative than this Advent season’s texts that speak of strange occurrences and unexpected things. Yet we modern people have a love affair with the ordinary, the natural and the expected.
It makes us suspicious of claims of Christmas angels, expectant virgins and songs in the night, because we are rational, analytical, skeptical people by nature. But I’m wondering if it is more correct to say that we are limited.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Seeing is believing.” We can only live in a world we can see. I can only believe that which I can conceive, so seeing precedes believing. Yet we have this word, imagination – image-ination. Imagination involves allowing certain images to enter our consciousness before they are ever seen with the eyes, or even if they can never be seen with the eyes.
“Faith,” says theologian James Whitehead, “is the enduring ability to imagine life in a certain way.” While the world says demeaningly, “It’s only your imagination,” those who know better say, “Everything is only imagination.” That is, there is no world prior to our image of what ought to be in the world. We cannot live without dozens of mental images of things not present to the senses.
For example, daily, black marks on a page may move me to deep emotion. Just words. Just images. But such images make the world. Jane Addams, founder of a great movement for justice early last century, said of the world in which she worked in inner-city Chicago, “Much of the insensibility and harshness or the world is due to a lack of imagination.”
Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, says that Scripture “funds the imagination.” Think of Sunday this way. Church is where we gather to listen to the Bible, the book of imagination, so that we might more luxuriously fund our imaginations. Especially at Advent time, the texts keep trying to pry us loose from our tight grip on the present and push us to stand on tiptoes to greet God’s impending future.
In the humdrum world in which we normally make our way, poor, unmarried mums and their babies face bleak prospects, the already drought-ravaged landscaped out west is further parched by the sun and hot winds, Christmas carols arrive via FM radio rather than angels, and God stays safely aloof from the world.
But here in church in December, our otherwise thin imaginations get assaulted, funded, stoked, poetically pushed by a much richer fare than is normally offered by the prose of the Geelong Advertiser. Come here in Advent, and you will be loaded down with metaphors, your thoughts will be enriched, and your settled notions of what can and can’t be will be considerably broadened.
Imagination means having the sort of mind that is hospitable to facts that are usually ignored. Imagination is a willingness to take risks that the world is not as it seems. In imagination, thought takes wings and rises above the mere storing of facts, and becomes adventure.
I’m saying this because there are people here who are asking yourselves question like, “Will my cancer heal?” “Will this Christmas be the time when my painful family divisions are mended?” Perhaps you have some difficult decision to make that is on hold until after the holidays or maybe there is a change that you need to make in your life, but this move is so risky, so tough, you are paralysed by fear.
People tell you to face facts, but you wonder. People reassure you, but you are not sure. An a poor woman named Mary breaks into song. A baby cries in the barn out back. Herod the king gets nervous. Imagine a whole new world. Imagine that tomorrow is not closed, but open to the incursions of a living God. Imagine your life caught up in something bigger than you. Imagine.
SONG – “Imagine” by John Lennon (click here to listen)
AN ADVENT LITANY – “Clear the Way”
L: God of surprises you call us from the narrowness of our traditions to new ways of being church, from the captivities of our culture to creative witness for justice, from the smallness of our horizons to the bigness of your vision.
R: Clear the way in us, your people, that we might call others to freedom and renewed faith.
R: Clear the way in us, your people, that we might call others to wholeness and integrity.
L: Holy, transforming, Spirit you call us from fear to faithfulness, from clutter to clarity, from a desire to control to deeper trust, from the refusal to love to a readiness to risk.
R: Clear the way in us, your people, that we might all know the beauty and power and danger of the gospel.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
For the arrogant people in politics, business, education, and religion: that they may be brought low enough to recognise their dire need and bold enough to trust the adequacy of the Saviour Christ.
For the lowly folk and the unthanked people, those easily forgotten and marginalised; the unjustly treated, and those falsely accused: that they may receive the justice of Christ and the dignity of the children of God.
For the rough people, some who injure people without realising it and some who take a perverse pleasure in making others miserable: that they may become more aware, repent and learn the gentle strength of Jesus.
For the crooked characters, the common criminals that break into our homes, and the respectable ones who often escape the courts: that they may be confronted with the Saviour who can make the crooked straight and the lost found.
For the church everywhere, and for this congregation gathered in this house of hospitality: that we may allow the Spirit of Christ, through comfort or discomfort, to complete the work so wonderfully begun in us.
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…
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
WORD OF MISSION
L: May we go forth in the certainty of faith, in the knowledge of love, and in the vision of hope.
R: And in our going, may we be blessed with all good things on this day and forever more.