Advent 3C (12-12-2021)

Welcome to worship with the
Barwon Heads & Ocean Grove congregations

This service was streamed live via Zoom on December 12th 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-

“It is easier to walk your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of walking.”
(Jesse Jackson)

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.

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.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy One of many names, whose presence we most often recognise only in retrospect,  may we be blessed this day. In this season of Advent, may we become more aware of your presentness.  May we see you in each other, hear you in the music, hold you, as we give and receive gifts of love. Amen.

HYMN 152 – “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Reflection   “The Moment of Magic”  by Victoria Safford

Now is the moment of magic,
when the whole, round earth sits warm under a summer sun,
and here’s a blessing: the days are longer and brighter now. 

Now is the moment of magic,
when people beaten down and broken,
with nothing left but misery and candles
and their own clear voices,
kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music,
and here’s a blessing:
the universe is suddenly illuminated
by the lights of Christmas,
and the whole world is glad and loud with summer singing. 

Now is the moment of magic,
when an eastern star beckons the blazing sunset
to linger a little longer,
and here’s a blessing:
they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby,
born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby’s cry,
like bells ringing, makes people wonder
as they wander through their lives,
what human love might really look like,
sound like, feel like. 

Now is the moment of magic, and here’s a blessing:
we already possess all the gifts we need;
we’ve already received our presents,
ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights,
hands to build true peace on earth
and to hold each other tight in love. 

     Silence

Let there now be a quiet time. This moment of silence is an invitation to be calm in the midst of the noise of the world and our over-busy lives; to bring together thought and feeling, mind and spirit, and to find some centre – some still point, of perspective and peace.  (30 seconds of silence).  

REPENTING AND TRUSTING GRACE

L: Let is confess, not as frightened servants, but as children of the household of God. Whenever we live like losers, without the faith-optimism of those who have received grace upon grace; Lord have mercy.  

R: Lord have mercy.

L: Whenever we serve slavishly, forgetting the glorious liberty of those who have been named children of God; Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy.

L: Whenever we only laugh sarcastically, mocking human faults instead of participating in the joy of the redeemed; Lord have mercy. 

R: Lord have mercy.

L: God our Saviour-Friend, by your grace, please bring us to true repentance, and by the infusion of your Spirit, help us to recover the joy for which we are created. Amen.

THE ASSURANCE

L: Most wonderful God, you have called us not to slavery but to liberty, not to grief but to joy. You have renewed that call in our minds and hearts today, reminding us that the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NKJV)

14  Sing, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!

15  The Lord has taken away your judgments,
He has cast out your enemy.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
You shall see disaster no more.

16  In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak.

17  The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

18  “I will gather those who sorrow
over the appointed assembly,
Who are among you,
To whom its reproach is a burden.

19  Behold, at that time
I will deal with all who afflict you;
I will save the lame,
And gather those who were driven out;
I will appoint them for praise and fame
In every land where they were put to shame.

20  At that time I will bring you back,
Even at the time I gather you;
For I will give you fame and praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I return your captives before your eyes,”
Says the Lord.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 3:7-18  (The Message version)

7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”

11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

12 Tax men also came to be baptised and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”

14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He told them, “No harassment, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”

15 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”

16-17 But John intervened: “I’m baptising you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

18 There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message

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.’

FROM A GOSPEL OF OUR DAY – “Dipper John” by Bruce 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.

HYMN 270 “On Jordan’s Bank” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS“Walking the Path to Christmas”        

     Part I

“Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.'” (Lk.3:8a)

This is the season of Advent, a time of anticipation of, and preparation for, that thing which, in the jargon of the church, we call the incarnation – that is, the coming of God in human form, the birth of God into human reality.  But, really, what are we to expect?  What does it mean in down-to-earth, everyday things that impinge on our lives?  This is the question that the world asks.

The Old Testament reading expresses one answer?  When God comes into our midst we will be safe from those who oppress us, and we will be filled with joy.  The lost and lame will be rescued and gathered together, and together we will prosper.  Joy is the theme for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. 

The final sentence in the Gospel reading for today also speaks of joy: in the more familiar translation, “So with many exhortations, John preached good news to the people.”

Good news. Rejoice. Joy is a special happiness that wells up from deep springs. It is not superficial or fickle.  Joy overflows in time, yet is the stuff of eternity.

But how do we discover and experience this joy? If I were to ask my fellow Australians: What gives happiness, many of their answers are likely to reflect the slick assumptions and illusions of the community; things like wealth, youth, good health, popularity, a good marriage, having children. et al.

I suggest to you that these would rate highly on the list of Aussie assumptions that are held about the sources of happiness. You might wish to add a few more like “career success”, “power”, and “good sex”.

Before I proceed any further, let me not acknowledge the good in most of these assumptions. They have some validity, for they often bring much happiness. I am not knocking these things. But are they the lasting source of that deep, undercurrent of happiness which we call joy? Can they be relied on to deliver what we imagine they promise?

Luke tells us that John, with many exhortations, preached the good news. Well, he certain used an exhortation or three, but good news?! In the passage leading up to this summary, we hear how John the Baptist thundered at some of those gathered around him by the Jordan:  (again in an older and more familiar translation): 

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  And a little later he speaks of the Messiah who will come: His fork in his hand, to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the silo. But the husks and rubbish he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Good news?  Does it not sound (on first hearing) more like bad news for a heap of people?

John’s tough words were not spoken to the merely curious, nor to those who came to scoff, nor to spies who came to gather evidence against him. His words were spoken to those who had asked to be baptised by him. It is to these that he says: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Somewhat caustic, huh? I don’t think John ever read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Here it is not the ones who rejected John, nor the pious religious establishment, but the prospective converts who are getting a blast from the desert preacher.  What do you make of this?  These people whom John is raging against are the ones like you and me, who come this Advent to greet the coming one

Let’s return to the verse with which I began. “Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.'” What does it mean to ‘have Abraham for a father’?  What is John warning the people of?

We might imagine, in order to get across the same point, John might say to a Christian today something like, “Do not presume to say to yourselves we have Christ as our Saviour.”

The secular Australian equivalent of a ‘child of Abraham’ might be a citizen of the lucky country.

How do you resort to claim ‘Abraham as father’?

If, as John says, it will do us no good to claim a relationship to Abraham or to the lucky country or to Jesus, what must we do according to John?  Choose to take responsibility for our lives.

     Part 2

Walter Rauschenbusch, the social reformer of the first part of last century, once commented on this gospel reading, saying:

The baptism of John cannot be separated from his preaching; the former received its meaning and content from the latter.  His preaching called men to repent of their old way of living, to quit grafting, and to begin to live in fraternal helpfulness.  Baptism was the dramatic expression of an inward consent and allegiance to the higher standards of life that were to prevail in the Messianic community. It was the symbol of a revolutionary movement.

When those who heard John the Baptist asked, “What then shall we do?” John’s answer was specific.  It was not simply, repent of your sins, but repent of your callousness, your grafting, your intimidation and violence.  In today’s world – in your life and mine – the call to repentance must be similarly specific.  The path to Christmas has to be unblocked, that which gets in the way of the birth of God must be removed.  We must name the issue to be transformed – and there are no shortage: self-interest, racial discrimination, the claim of absolute national sovereignty, the use of products which affect the ecological balance, the reliance on weapons for security, et al. What John is saying amounts to this:  Baptism is not enough!  The outward form is not enough. Just because you have been baptised does not mean you have really repented.

Nor is your heritage enough.  Don’t tell me you are the sons of Abraham, that’s not enough!  God can make sons out of the wilderness stones if God so wishes. God is not dependent on your favour. Don’t put your trust in religious heritage, it is not enough.

Not surprisingly they then ask him: “What then do we have to do?”

John’s answer is to call for repentance; but not that kind of penitence that is sentimental whitewash.

Penitence can be limited to feeling sorry.  For some, it can be just be a self-centred indulgence. Feel sorry, weep a little to justify yourself, then do nothing to change. Penitence can be easy; “nice” news.

Repentance is the bad good news.  It is the pain that can heal. It involves taking drastic action; it is usually difficult. It means a fundamental about turn; a painful turning away from self-interest to face God and God’s interest. Repentance means a drastic ‘sea change’ resulting in a changed direction and a new kind of behaviour. Repentance means new deeds.  

John the Baptist demands that they bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.  To the ordinary people he says:  “If you have two suits, share with the person who has none.  If you eat well, share with those who go hungry.”  I wonder how far we are prepared to hear that hard word that still happens in our midst?

But why?  What has repentance got to do with the question with which we started: What does the Advent expectation of the Messiah have to do with anything in my life or anyone else’s?  Is it simply that my life is to be led in guilt or in fear of judgment and damnation?  Where is the joy we are to expect?

Religion often tells us how to behave, and it is easy to think that we have to act in a certain way simply because it makes the kind of world God wants. Our actions thus become either obedient or disobedient; and this becomes the basis for the judgment that will be handed down to us.  We also think in terms of changing ourselves so that our actions will be the actions that God wants. We might even pray for an inner transformation, becoming good people so that our actions will be good.  

We know that as we are, so will we act.  This is true, but we often neglect the reverse: that as we act, so may we become; that the call to obedience is not simply so that world will be a better place, but that our actions will effect an inner transformation, and so we thereby become better people.  Hence Jesse Jackson’s statement, “It is easier to walk your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of walking.”

     Part 3

M. Scott Peck begins his book, The Different Drum, with a story called “The Rabbi’s Gift”, which illustrates the kind of personal and social transformation that is possible when people choose, for whatever reason, to start acting differently. 

There was once a thriving monastery, filled with monks serving the Lord.  In recent times, however, as the church lost its relevance and popularity, not many men were choosing the religious life, and the monastery had only an ageing remnant of its former glory.  The Abbot of the monastery, despite trying many strategies, had been unable to halt the decline.  One day, feeling depressed and in need of comfort, he visited his old friend, a Rabbi who was taking one of his regular retreats in a cabin in the nearby woods. 

Over a cup of the Rabbi’s superb coffee, the Abbott talked to his friend of the monastery’s predicament, and after listening to the long, sad story, the Rabbit said, “Alas, I do not know how to help you, my friend, but I do know one thing.  The Lord has made it known to me that the Messiah has returned and is, at this very moment, living in your monastery.”

The Abbott was surprised, to say the least, but as he had great respect for the Rabbi’s wisdom and faith, he took his words to heart.  Upon returning to the monastery, the Abbott, acknowledging the unlikeliness of the Rabbi’s tale, related the story to the other monks.  Despite the notion being far-fetched, the monks could not totally rule out the possibility.  What if the Rabbi’s dream was true?  This led to the question that weighed upon all their minds: who could the Messiah be?  

Was is Father Bernard, they wondered; for he was known for his understanding of the Scriptures and his theological insights, even though he was known to drink a bit more wine than was appropriate?  Then there was Father Lawrence, who, although a wee bit dim, was always doing kindnesses for everyone. And what about Father John?  Whenever anyone had a problem, he was there with a solution, despite his crotchety demeanour.  And of course, there was the Abbott.  He could be a bit harsh at times, but there was no doubting his leadership ability.  

The brothers could come to no certainty about the probable identity of the Messiah, so they all began treating each other with the greatest respect and admiration, just in case they were addressing the Lord.  As a result, the atmosphere of the whole monastery changed.

On weekends there had long been a tradition of people from the nearby village picnicking on the grounds of the monastery. They began to notice this change of atmosphere among the brothers, and they found it very attractive.  Some of the young men who experienced this new environment, inquired about joining, and as the news of this spread to the surrounding countryside, even more were drawn to monastic life.  In time, the life and work of the monastery not only returned to its former glory, it surpassed it…all because of the Rabbi’s gift.

For what do we prepare at Advent? The Messiah, Immanuel (meaning “God with us”).  What would it mean to understand that event as God becoming human in you?

It would mean judgment, yes; we would be faced with our past, our inadequacies, and we would be brought to a point of choice (that’s what judgment means: to come to a point of choice), and we would have to choose to reflect, in our living, the incarnate God within us, or to go on as we have.

But it would also incorporate Zephaniah’s expectations, for if we choose to live out of the God-centre within, we and the world we live in, would be set free for joy and peace.  The answers to the question of relevance would be self-evident as isolated individuals were gathered into community, and no one was left to starve or suffer oppression or endure pain alone.  There would be no more fear and such things as the Christmas Bowl would become unnecessary.

No, this vision is not yet – the Christmas Bowl is still all too necessary – and so we celebrate in anticipation. But it is possible for the birth of God into the world to begin again now – indeed it is dependent upon people making the choice now, as Jesus did, to live out of the yearning of that God inside; to live now what is expected in the future: peace on the earth and good will to all people.

A LITANY “We are People of All Ages”

L: We are people of all ages who enter this space bringing our joys and our concerns. 

R: We come together in hope. 

L; We greet each other warmly with our voices and our smiles. 

R: We come together in peace. 

L: We share our growth and our aspirations. 

R: We come together in wonder. 

L: We share our losses and our disappointments. 

R: We come together in sorrow. 

L: We share our concern and our compassion. 

R: We come together in love. 

L: We sing and pray and listen. We speak and read and dream. We think and ponder and reflect.  We cry and laugh and centre. We mourn and celebrate and meditate. We strive for justice and for mercy.

R: We come together to worship God. 

HYMN 276 – “There’s a Light Upon the Mountain” (click here to listen)

WE SHARE GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE WORLD

It is written: See here, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors; and I will save the lame and gather the outcaste; and I will change their misery into praise, and their honour shall be worldwide.

Let us pray. God our holy and unshakeable Friend, we seek your undergirding joy for the people of planet earth.  Where there is conflict, terrorism and war, bless all those who work for peace and reconciliation. Come Advent God./ Bring your peace and joy, loving Friend.

Where there is exploitation of the weak and the poor, bless those who work for emancipation. Come Advent God./ Bring your judgement and joy, loving Friend.

Where there are refugee camps, prison compounds, and ethnic discrimination, bless those who work for justice and liberty. Come Advent God./ / Bring your rescue and joy, loving Friend.

Where there is addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling, bless those who provide programmes for rehabilitation. Come Advent God./ / Bring your healing and joy, loving Friend.

Where there is hunger, malnutrition, disease, and despair, bless the agencies that bring compassion and practical help. Come Advent God./ / Bring your hope and joy, loving Friend.

 Where there are the lonely, the suffering and the sorrowing, bless the merciful who are lovingly there for them. Come Advent God./ / Bring your comfort and joy, Loving Friend.

Where the church is weak and struggling against big odds, bless all those sturdy souls who keep the faith and practice the love. Come Advent God./ Bring your abundant grace and …In the name of Jesus of Nazareth 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)

WORDS OF MISSION

And now may the rhythms of our coming together:  the melodies of our worship, and the harmonies of our farewells, make musical our living, soothing our spirits and uplifting our souls this day, and into the beckoning future. 

BENEDICTION

Go into this week, held together by the love of God, clothed with the nature of Jesus our Companion, reinforced by the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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