Advent 4C (19-12-2021)

Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove & Barwon Heads congregations

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 19th 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.

-oOo-

Christmas brings heaven to earth

 

ENTRY INTO 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.

 

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 AWARENESS

Spirit of God,
you are the breath of life within us.
You call us to be one with you.
You breathe among us in all of creation.
Give us the strength and courage to live in your love. Amen.

HYMN – “Mary’s Boy Child” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

   Meditation:  “You are Christ’s hands” by Teresa of Avila. 

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which he looks outwith compassion to the world

Yours are the feet with which he walks about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

     Silence

Let there now be a quiet time among us. 
Hear and feel your quiet breathing.  Hear and feel the quiet of this place and this community of people. I invite you look at your hands. They’ve been through a lot, those hands.  

They have strengths, scars, beauty. I invite you to remember that it is your hands that do the work of love in the world: 

hold another’s hands,  type emails to politicians,
sign cards of consolation and congratulation,
write words urging peace,
bathe children, feed elders, nurse the ill.

These hands are God’s hands, your hands, our hands.
A great mystery of flesh and intention;
a great potential of embodied love.
(At least 30 seconds silence)

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Sisters and brothers of the church, we come to repent, not only our open sins but those underlying attitudes and biases which leave us open to slow corruption. Let us pray.

Loving God, forgive us that we have frequently been negative and defeatist in the face of new challenges offered by the Holy Spirit.

Forgive us that we have worried too much about what friends, neighbours, or workmates think, and not enough about your will for us

Forgive us that we have been slow to obey, reluctant to admit our errors, or too proud to seek your grace.

Gracious God, you offer forgiveness to the repentant and new strength to the weak, we pray for these graces in our mind and soul today. Please wipe away our shame, mend our brokenness, and help us to amend our goals and the means of attaining them. Through Christ Jesus, the One who comes among the meek and the poor and the merciful. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: My fellow disciples, hear this: God has done great things for us; God humbles the proud and lifts up those who are cast down. Those who think themselves rich are sent away, but the hungry are filled with good things. Great mercy is on those who honour him, from generation to generation and forever, so I can declare to you: the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 1:39-55

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46  And Mary said,
47  “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48  for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49  for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50  His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51  He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53  he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55  according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

HYMN 161 “Tell Out, My Soul”  (click here to listen)

CONCEPTION

This Creator-Spirit is not cramped in rooms nor caught in its own story,  but moves untamed, free to raise up prophets from barren wombs.

This Creator-Spirit shapes its own law; ever mothering a fractious world and preparing ways untrod before.

This Creator-Spirit seeks a new-world Eve; graces young Mary  with a Gift and a task that the strong and proud could not conceive.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “Say Yes”

     Part 1

The countdown to Christmas is into its final week; Advent is drawing to a close.  Like Lent, this time of preparation can be a long haul if one takes it seriously, so my hope is we might still be able to pause, to ‘stay awake’, just a bit longer, and hear the message of this day, the 4th Sunday of Advent, because the Advent story of two special women needs all the encouragement and attention it can get.

First my usual warning for such stories: it is the story that is important, not whether or not it is historically factual. The Truth in the story is the same whether it is a factual account or a figment of an author’s imagination or something in between.

And the story goes: When she was just a child herself, Mary said ‘yes’, and plunged headfirst into an adventure that would take her to the very edges of life and faith.

She said ‘yes’, and entered places of the heart and soul where few have ever been. On that journey, she walked with God through valleys of exile and pain. She looked on the face of poverty and explored the mysteries of an ordinary life made extraordinary by faith. She was willing to risk everything she ever knew so that God’s mercy could reach from age to age.

When Elizabeth was old and tired; i.e. when her family and friends saw her as barren, useless, an object of pity or scorn, she also said ‘yes’ to God.  Elizabeth said ‘yes’, and in a world where women could not legally testify, in a world that often dismissed their words or forgot their names,  Elizabeth became God’s witness.

When she embraced Mary, Elizabeth knew that everything had changed; that everything for which her people longed – for freedom, salvation, hope – was now alive and living among them. Elizabeth looked out at a world where people could be enslaved, but knew that she had just encountered the one who could set both slave and master free.

In today’s story, the meeting of these two women has shaped Christian imagination and inspired Christian art through the centuries. Artistically, their meeting is often depicted with these two women in a wordless embrace, sharing like all mothers-to-be, the mystery of new life within themselves, and with a sense of mutual awe over what God has done.

In Luke’s story Mary and Elizabeth represent the ‘nobodies’ who are empowered by the coming of Christ. This mere slip of a teenage girl, is a very strong character. She breaks out into the magnificat, a hymn of praise to a God who uplifts the downtrodden and neglected. It is one of the most revolutionary statements in the whole of the Bible.
(read Magnificat again, Lk. 1:47-55)

People who are oppressed, and cannot speak out because they’ll be imprisoned or shot or retribution will be made against their families, say they understand this Mary.  For many homosexual  and transgender people in our society, Mary, an unwed mother in an extremely traditional society, understands what it feels like to carry the awful burden of ‘otherness’.

But unlike many oppressed and downtrodden people, Mary does not see her otherness as a reason for despair. She sees through the identification, the stigma, and recognises that God is working through her otherness to transform the social structures that dominate the world. 

Women, who are among those commonly reckoned as the powerless her society, are now chosen to help God set in motion the great drama of salvation. These are the ones who have faith. They believe. They trust the God who is doing amazing things.

Christ has a special place in his purposes for all those folk (male, female, Jew or Roman, adult or child) who have been pushed to the margins of society or denigrated.

As Professor Rosemary Radford Ruether writes:

Poor women and despised men, widows, unclean women, prostitutes, Samaritans and the Syro-Phoenecian woman: these are those in whom the messianic prophet {Jesus} finds the faith that is absent among the ‘righteous of Israel.’ The story of the widow’s mite, the forgiveness of the prostitute who has faith, the healing of the woman with the flow of blood, the defence of Mary Magdalene’s right to discipleship, are among the Lucan stories that lift up the typology of women as people of faith

     Part 2

Like Matthew and Mark, Luke proclaims that the new age has dawned with this wonderful Jesus. But more than the others writers, Luke reminds us that for Jesus, women in this new age had a large part to play. God has “exalted those of low degree.”

When I read again the lovely story of young Mary going up into the hill country to visit, and stay with her much older relative Elizabeth, I take courage.

When I picture those two pregnant women spending hours together in fellowship, it is much more than a mere sentimental binge I am having. I can enjoy the sentiment too, but let it not get in the way of the message of Christmas

I see there, in the home of Elizabeth, the first of the countless ‘nobodies’ whom the Spirit of God will bring together by the Christ event.  I see them believing, rejoicing, giving God a glad obedience. I thank God for the women of the church, but even more; for the feminine at work in both women and men within the church.

I am also most grateful that I am also a part of this gathering that we call the church. The community where the weak and the obscure and the outsiders are called, welcomed and empowered by the Spirit of the living God.  Here, among those who seek, Mary’s role is played out over and over in every place in every present time.

In Catholic circles Mary is often referred to as the “Mother of God,” a phrase that tends to jar our protestant sensibilities, but I do believe the description is apt, and it is particularly apt as it plays out today. For it is a tale that unfolds within every person, which is why I emphasise the importance of the story.

A Mary exists within each of us: a feminine, virginal (untouched), creative, nurturing, fertile part of our psyche where the Holy Spirit plants a seed.  Each one of us has been called to be a handmaiden of the Lord, and to bring to birth that seed of God in our souls that yearns to be born into the world.  God is incarnate in each of those who believe and say, with Mary, “Let it be according to your word,” who say ‘yes!’  We are all potential mother’s of God.

That first line of the Magnificat sets the stage for the incarnation: ”My soul – MY soul – magnifies the Lord. The Lord is not doing the magnifying here, but Mary. “MY soul magnifies the Lord.”  My soul – your soul – is the means by which God is brought under the microscope and made visible.

And how will that God be visible?  Through us – incarnate in us – God will be seen to be exalting those of lowly estate: the nobodies in our society.  God will be seen, though our actions, to be filling the hungry with good things.  

And the proud and the mighty and the rich?  We know where our allegiances properly lie, and it is not with those who believe that might makes right, or who support structures in which the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.  If God is to be born in and through us, we will be on the side of the oppressed: abused women and children,  boat people who come to our shores for sanctuary,  the poor, the struggling, the ones who labour under the burden of racial, religious and sexual prejudices in our society, the marginalised, and with all of the non-human lives with whom we share this world.

So, today is the last Sunday in the Season of Advent. The season of preparation where we have been invited to ‘stay awake’ to the unexpected presentness of Creativity  – ‘God’ in the ordinary human business of living.

Why? Because human business is holy business, frequently a messy business, but holy business none-the-less. Because Advent and the sacred are rooted in everyday experiences in the everyday lives of all who would believe and obey.

Today, the voices of Mary and Elizabeth challenge us to be faithful, to be open, to be brave, to work for justice, to embrace a future that the world might deny.

Their voices give witness to God’s faithfulness, even when the world says, ‘You are too old.’ ‘You are too young.’ ‘You are black.’ ‘You are scandal.’ ‘Your words don’t count.’

They remind us that we are wholly loved, wholly blessed, wholly redeemed. They remind us that God’s glory still shines on people and places that the world might ignore and that sometimes,  God surprises us.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH

I believe in the Living God who is directly involved in the affairs of the world.
I believe that God chooses the meek and the poor to shame the proud and the rich.
I believe in the incarnate Word, leaping in a woman’s womb, cradled in poverty.
I believe in Jesus, true son of Mary, true Son of God, who came among us in weakness, that we might come to know the profound strength available to common people
who turn to God in trust and with love.

HYMN 302 “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”
(click here to listen)

WE SHARE GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE WORLD

By your Spirit, most glorious Immanuel, please continue to come among us, honouring our bodies, sharpening our minds, and nurturing our spirits.

Loving God, please do not weary of our adulation of science and its vaunted theories, but continue to nurse us as a mother nurses her children, that we may be led by your Spirit from illusions to truths, and from lesser truths to the greatest truth of your love.

Do not weary of our injustices or despise our political attempts to right wrongs. Please foster all that is good in our nation, rebuke all that is evil, and by your Spirit enable our political parties to achieve far more than they deserve.

Please do not weary of your inept and divided church, merciful Immanuel. Please go on cherishing our small faith and enlarging our love. Let the Gospel of Christ Jesus shine out from the common, earthiness of our lives.

Do not weary of the many prayers with which we bombard you, loving Immanuel. Please continue to console the sorrowful, soothe the disturbed, heal the diseased, encourage the timid, support the persecuted, guide the bewildered, feed the hungry, sustain the courageous, lift up the fallen, bind up the broken hearted, and comfort the dying.

Loving God, give us the mind that was in Mary, the mother of our Lord, that we may offer you our very body, mind and soul, to achieve your loving purposes on planet earth. In the name of the one 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.

HYMN 268 – “Joy to the World” (click here to listen)

WORDS OF MISSION

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.

BENEDICTION

May the God who dances in creation,
who embraces us with human love,
who shakes our lives like thunder,
bless us and drive us out with power
to fill the world with her justice.
A blessed new birth to you.

An open, virtual door to the world