Christmastide 1C (26-12-2021)

Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove & Barwon Heads congregations

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 26th 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-

“We are not human beings
having a spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings
having a human experience.”
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

CALL  TO CELEBRATION

With faith to face our challenges, with love that casts out fear, with hope to trust tomorrow, we accept this day as the gift it is: a reason for rejoicing.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION

God of our yesterdays and God of our tomorrows we ask that you be with us now, God of our today.  

God of vision and new possibilities, open our hearts and minds to the reality of your presence. 

Creator of all times and seasons, and of all the seasons of our lives, we gather in this sacred place, thankful for the days that have been, and hopeful for the days that shall be. 

May we become one with ourselves and you in all the seasons to come. Amen.

HYMN 274 – “The People That in Darkness Walked”
(click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE   “Recognising the Sacred”

L: On this last Sunday of the year, let us recognise that we gather in the presence of an ‘everywhere God’, source and ground of all that exists.  Please stand and face east.  (People stand and face the East)  We face the East where the sun rises, for a blessing. We call on the energy of new beginnings and new life. The gift of the east is truth, for it speaks of the breath of new life on earth. The Spirit of Truth teaches us to see clearly.

R: Spirit of Truth teach us  to see new possibilities more clearly.   (Silence)

L: Please turn to your right. People turn right and face the South) We turn to the South, for a blessing. We call on the energy of winter, the place of deep silence. The gift of the South is mystery, for it speaks of the unknown, the unseen.  The Spirit of Mystery teaches us to be silent and listen

R: Spirit of Mystery teach us the gift of silence, and to listen.  (Silence)

L: Please turn to your right again. (The people turn right and face West) We turn to the West for a blessing. We call on the energy of the place of the setting sun. The gift of the West is beauty, for it speaks of peace and serenity. The Spirit of Beauty surrounds us at all times.

R: Spirit of Beauty you surround us at all times, at our beginnings and at our endings.

L: Please turn to your right again.(People turn right and face north) We turn to the North the direction of heat and warmth, of bushfire and drought, for a blessing.
We call on the energy of the season of summer, to sustain us. The gift of the North is fortitude, for it speaks of great endurance. The Spirit of Fortitude teaches us the power of strength in adversity.

R: Spirit of Fortitude teach us the gentle power of strength in adversity.   (Silence)

L: Bless us with a sharpened awareness of this Presence.

R: Bless us with open minds and hearts…

L: Bless us with a desire to praise in song and poetry.

R: Bless us in ways beyond our imagining.

L: Bless us with deep compassion.

R: Bless us with dreams of a better humanity.Amen.

     Silence

Let there now be a quiet time among us.  How good it is to be alive! Yes, we feel the beat of our own hearts, the pulsing of life in our veins, the rhythm of our breathing. We come into the silence of this time with gratitude for this day.  ( 30 seconds Silence)

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: Most loving God, we admit to you and to each other, that we are beings in whom light and darkness are uncomfortably mixed.

R: We are beings of cleverness yet foolishness, faith yet much unrest,  strength yet frailty, yet compassion yet self interest. We want to be close to you yet we ignore you, we praise you yet defy you, we serve you yet evade you, we love you yet deny you.

L: God of liberation and healing, through your grace in Christ Jesus, we ask to be cleansed and made young in the Spirit once again.  Amen.

THE ASSURANCE

L: God hears our prayer. Those who come without reserve shall never be turned away. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, the peace to which you are called as one body, and be thankful.” so I can declare to you: the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS   Luke 2:40-52

The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably.

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances.

When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere. Three days later, they found Jesus in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. And all those who heard were astounded at Jesus’ intelligence and replied.

They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said, ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

‘Why were you looking for me?’ Jesus replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what Jesus meant. Jesus then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus precocious as he was, continued to excel in learning and gain respect in the eyes of God and others.

FROM OUR CONTEMPORARY RELIGIOUS TRADITION

“The Child is Missing” by Heather P. Bencavel. 

The child is missing – a moment’s inattention, then the lurch of the heart, the sinking of the stomach. ‘I thought he was with you.’

The child is missing – the ache of longing, even after years even when you know he is safe, even when there are other children, ‘I wonder what he’s doing now?’


The child is missing – wandering the streets without a home: home is where blows are struck, and darkness brings abuse and now. ‘She’s gone – good riddance!’

The child is missing – he slept last night in this shop doorway till they came with guns, street cleansing, and he died. ‘They got Carlos – tonight it might be us.’

Parent God, Hannah knew where Samuel was, and missed him. Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the end, safe in the Temple learning (as well as all the teachers’ knowledge) what agony of fear his parents feel, how much they love him.

Children disappear every day and are not always found though they are often missed. We remember all missing children and their parents: children kidnapped and afraid, the runaways, the disappeared, children given for adoption. May we learn how to build homes where everyone is valued, communities where everyone is safe, and a world where all children are able to grow strong in mind and body as Jesus did.

MORE FROM OUR CONTEMPORARIES

 “Coming of Age” by Bruce Prewer 

He was not thoughtless,
but in the year of his bar mitzvah he went missing,
while parents with fear went anxiously looking.
He was not thoughtless;  a greater kin had caught him up;
his search was on among the big questions priests founder in. He was not thoughtless, but was on track for that Divine
Friday of squander when all heaven would weep in wonder.

HYMN  312 – “Once in Royal David’s City” (click here to listen) 

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  “Growing Up”

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)

This story from Luke’s gospel today is the only mention we have of Jesus’ boyhood. The prime question we must ask of this story is not, is it historical, but why is it told at all, historical or not?  What does the gospel writer want to say to his readers by telling this story?

In the first place, the story is almost expected. It was not unusual in ancient times to tell stories of renowned people who at the age of twelve or so gave an indication of their coming stature, so we can assume that this story plays the same role in the Jesus story as it did in the stories of the Buddha, Osiris, Cyrus the Great, and the Emperor Augustus of Rome.  Age 12 was the age at which boys made the step into adulthood. In Judaism, it is the age of the Barmitzvah, the rite of passage to manhood, so the story takes us through the transition from miraculous baby to miraculous man.  Luke is saying to the reader, “Keep an eye on this boy, because he is going to be a very special person.

Whether Luke knew it or not, he was constructing a myth, i.e. he created a story that runs deep in the psyche of ever person.  Remember, the Jesus story is a story of incarnation – God with us – and, at the mythic level, not just God in Jesus, but God in you and in me.  So the second question we must ask about the story is, what does it say about our lives; about our responsibility for our lives?

We are all in a process of growth from childhood to maturity, and this process does not stop just because we reach a particular age, whether it be 21 or 91.  We continue to grow psychologically, ethically; in all sorts of ways, including in our faith.  No part of us, including our faith is a finished product dropped from the sky. Our spiritual growth is a lifelong experience of questioning, and Jesus models this.  Jesus had to struggle to think about who he was and who he should be. 

But there’s more to this than simply figuring out who we are or what we must do. There is the question of maturity, and the challenge for us at the New Year may be to resolve to deepen our maturity in faith. For example, would anyone find us in church, like Jesus, discussing the things that really matter?  

Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature! The late Prof. Bernard Loomer spoke of ‘size’ as the most significant value in theology and spirituality. ‘Size’, or what Luke calls “stature,” or largeness of spirit, is at the heart of a growing and healthy person. Size: that is how much of the world, in its wonderful variety and challenging contrast, you can embrace without losing your personal centre.

Persons of stature have large images of God and God’s presence in their lives, and see God’s work as cosmic, over billions of years and in billions of galaxies, rather than simply focused on the earth and human beings. Persons of stature in religion, politics, and business, look beyond their own interests and the even the interests of their country to the good of the whole. What happens to others is almost as important as what happens to them!

On the edge of a new year, our lives feel new in this moment, and we too are still young, still growing, still seeking God’s guidance and wisdom, not only for our personal growth, but for the direction of the life we share together in our congregation, community, nation and world. Where are the places, and when are the moments, when we may be called away from the safe and the familiar to new and risky experiences of faith in order to be, like Jesus, on about our Father’s business?

Jesus’ temple experience serves as a call to follow him in the pursuit of wisdom and stature.  Jesus grew in spiritual stature by claiming his religious tradition faithfully, and then extending its experiential and theological boundaries to new horizons.

Growing in wisdom and stature calls us to take our faith seriously enough to study scripture, wrestle with traditional theological doctrines, explore new images of God, Christ, and salvation, and spend time in prayer, meditation, and then express our growth in service. A growing faith is not accidental, but requires going to our own spiritual “temple” regularly to listen, ask,  share and risk.

Finally, as Paul said, “let the peace of Christ dwell in your hearts.” Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead noted that peace involves the expansion of the self beyond its typical boundaries to embrace the well-being of others and the planet. In the peace that passes understanding, we participate in eternity, growing beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’ by befriending the universe. Today, growing in wisdom and stature, experiencing a larger self,  is not just a matter of personal joy, but planetary survival.  

If anything came out of the series of international conferences on climate change this century, it was how immature – how ‘small’ – we are as a species, and how few people of ‘size’, in Prof. Loomer’s use of the word, were present. All these leaders from different countries around the world, gathering to save the future from the ravages of runaway climate change, and repeatedly proving themselves too small; unable to get beyond their own narrow parochial self-interest, even to prevent a global environmental collapse.  

In the face of the world’s continually expanding refugee crisis, politicians in both our major parties have demonstrated a similar ‘smallness’, giving priority to the politics of fear over the needs of hurting, desperate people.  Can we expand the boundaries of our hearts to embrace life beyond our national self-interest? Can we see global well-being and security as important as our own national security? 

Yes, what we need at the turn of the year is greater stature, more ‘size.’ Can we commit ourselves to daily practices of stature: to daily meditation, to radical hospitality and to service that changes the world?  Then, perhaps, we will grow with Jesus, and we will feel the spirit of the incarnation throughout the year, for we will, “grow in wisdom and stature and favour with God and humankind.”

A LITANY FOR THE PAST YEAR  (Using 7 candles)

L: First candle is lit We light this candle remembering all the children who were baptised this year:and whom we in our own congregations have baptised.

R: This light beams so that all children may be able to grow up receiving affection and protection.  (Silence)

L: Second candle is lit  We light this second candle bearing in mind all those married couples: who have celebrated wedding anniversaries this year, those who are newly wed, and especially those who have celebrated silver and golden jubilees.

R: This light beams for their mutual happiness, and for their strength to uphold each other even in difficult situations.  (Silence)

L: Third candle is lit We light this third candle remembering all those who have experienced grief and loss this year: the death of a loved one, the ending of a significant relationship, the loss of employment.

R: This light beams for their continuing comfort and support.  (Silence)

L: Fourth candle is lit  We light this fourth candle commemorating all the people, near and far, who had to live under wars and have suffered violence and anxiety this year.

R: This light beams that we and they may have a real and lasting peace. (Silence)

L: Fifth candle is lit  We light this fifth candle remembering all those who have visited our congregation for a first time and decided to call that congregation ‘home’ this year.

R: This light beams in order that we continue to explore and enjoy everything we have received, as a gift.  (Silence)

L: Sixth candle is lit   We light this sixth candle mindful of the people who have often put their lives at risk to maintain our freedoms, reconciliation and peace this year.

R: This light beams as a symbol of hope even in the midst of experiences of powerlessness and suffering.  (Silence)

L: Seventh candle is lit   We light this seventh candle having each and everyone of us in mind, bearing each other in our strengths and weaknesses, anxieties and hopes.

R: This light beams on the pathways we have welcomed and where we didn’t want to go. It will continue to shine for each and everyone of us on the new pathways we will tread.

HYMN 609 – “May the Mind of Christ My Saviour” (click here to listen)

WE SHARE GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE WORLD

Loving God, as we get ready welcome a new year, we pray for both the world at large and for the intimate world of our family, friends, church, neighbours and workmates..

For those for whom the New year will bring success, and those who will experience discouragement and failure. Help us to use both success and failure for your glory, Lord Jesus

For those who in the coming year will enjoy good health and buoyant spirits, and those who will suffer, injury, disease, increasing handicap, or mental disability. Help us enjoy the strong and encourage those who are weak, Lord Jesus.

For prominent people who govern nations, negotiate for peace, and struggle against injustice, and counter terrorism; and for the people in the background who quietly go on loving their neighbours without receiving any recognition. Help us to appreciate great gifts and to celebrate small ones, Lord Jesus.

For the many in the coming year who will rejoice in birth and growth, and for those who must endure decline, decay or be plunged into the anguish of sorrow. Help us to laugh with the happy and to grieve with the sad, Lord Jesus.

For churches that will seem to flourish with new members and programmes, and those who will appear to shrink and struggle to maintain their mission. Help us to walk humbly when strong and faithfully when weak, Lord Jesus.

Most patient and generous God, please continue to deal graciously with this congregation, and enable us as individuals and as a fellowship to serve you boldly in times of doubt and to go gently in times of confidence.For the healing of the nations, the love of the least and lost, and to  the glory of your wonderful name, we so pray, God of unfailing love 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: After the words, a quiet. After the songs, a silence. After the crowd  only the memory recalls the gathering.

R: Peace and justice have need of us after the words, the music, and the gathering.

L: God grant you the depth for dedication to justice.

R: God grant us the will to be apostles of peace.  

BENEDICTION 

May the love that gives to life its beauty, the reverence that gives to life its sacredness, and the purposes that give to life its deep significance be strong within each of us and lead us into ever deepening relationships with all of life.  Amen.

An open, virtual door to the world