Advent 1B (29-22-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on November 29th 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-

As this  was the first worship service in a church building for a few months due to Covid restrictions, the congregation met in the carpark  to begin, and then marched into the church in an act of reclaiming it; taking it back.

“It’s good to hope; it’s the waiting that spoils it.” (Yiddish proverb)

ADVANCE PREPARATION

For those reading this at home, perhaps you might like to set up your own advent wreathe and have a bowl present to bless as your own Christmas bowl, especially if you are going to continue to stay home during Advent and Christmas.

WE TAKE BACK THE CHURCH BUILDING

When you enter the church, you will step over a threshold.  It’s an interesting term for that step: ‘threshold’.  In medieval times the kitchen was covered with ‘thresh’, the stems and husks of grain.  Refuse, such as kitchen scraps, were thrown on the floor.  The thresh was shovelled out once a year.  The ‘thresh-hold’ was a barrier put up to keep the dirty thresh from being tracked into the rest of the dwelling.  As we begin this Advent season, we step over an imaginary threshold, leaving past baggage behind, including some of the restrictions the pandemic has forced upon us, and enter into this time that God prepares for us.

We take back our church buildings and step forward into the future that lies beyond.

HYMN 666 “We Are Marching in the Light of God”
(Click here to listen)
 

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: Let us celebrate life! Let us worship God!

LIGHTING THE ADVENT CANDLE  

(You may like to have an Advent wreath at home, and take part in this lighting ceremony)

L: Today is the first Sunday of ‘Advent’, which means ‘the coming’. Our Advent wreath holds some symbols.  The wreath is in the shape of a circle, no beginning or ending; God’s love toward us is unending.  The green leaves are a sign of new life. The candles tell us of the light which came into the world with Jesus, coloured to symbolise hope and anticipation. The white candle which we will  light on Christmas day signifies the coming of Jesus. In the stillness of our worship here we light this candle, watching it burn and glow, our light of  hope.    (The candle is lit)  

R: The first is for God’s promise to put the wrong things right, and bring to earth’s darkness the hope of love and light.

BLESSING THE CHRISTMAS BOWL 

L: We bring our Christmas Bowl.
(A bowl is placed on the table near to the wreath.)

R: God of hope we pray a blessing on this Christmas bowl,  on all who give to it,  and all whose lives will be affected by  it. May our hearts burn within us enabling us to show God’s love and hope in the world.    Amen.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: The spirit of God is among us, breaking down old barriers, building a new world. Make ready a way for God:

R: Make ready a way for God.

L: The Spirit of God is among us, seeking out truth new and old, creating a just world. Make ready a way for God.

R: Make ready a way for God.

L: The Spirit of God is among us, moving in the air, the land, and the waters, making our world whole. Make ready a way for God.

R: Make ready a way for God.

MOMENT OF AWARENESS

L: Now is the moment of magic, when the whole, round earth celebrates the sun. So here’s a blessing:  days will continue to get longer and brighter. 

R: And here’s another 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.

HYMN 264 “Hark! A Herald Voice is Calling” (Click here to listen) 

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE 

During this time of silence, I invite you to consider what parts of your life you would like to leave behind you (in addition to worries about Covid-19).  What new things do you anticipate coming into your life this Advent?  May God’s stillness and peace rest upon us. May God’s presence permeate all our living. May God’s blessing bloom around us.

(30 seconds silence)

God of all time bless this season of Advent, May we recognise your presentness, rather than merely scuttle to and fro in a frenzy of cooking and shopping, parties and glitter. For this season is a precious time… of waiting, of hoping. Amen.

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: My friends, in our prayers of confession we face up to ourselves. But not alone. We do it together, knowing that all have sinned and fallen short of the beauty God intended. Yet our God is one who knows us and loves us far better than we know and love ourselves. Therefore with confidence we offer our prayers:

R: God our Holy Friend, we confess to each other and to you that we are creatures of both success and failure. Our performance is much lower than our ideals. We are often impatient and thin skinned.

We rush into condemnations without understanding. We take our family and friends for granted. We receive good will from strangers with scant gratitude. Our church leaders are expected to mirror our biases. Our Bible is selectively used to buttress our opinions. Our hope is often centred on our personal ambitions. Our faith is measured by whether we get what we want. Our love is selective and intermittent. We constantly need a strong, determined Saviour. 

L: God our Holy Friend, with the saving grace of Christ Jesus, please continue to have mercy on us, save us from our many follies and our besetting sins. 

R: Loving God, we thank you that we are not complete failures. We thank you for the successes, both small or large, that have followed our efforts. We thank you for the faith that has sustained us, and for courage in the hour of temptation. We thank you for the love we have shared, and seen growing in the lives of others. We rejoice that your grace has not been in vain. Through Christ Jesus our Brother. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: My friends, you do well to step free of all shame and give thanks to the Lord, for the gospel declares that the door to life has opened to us.  

R: Thanks be to God.

FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT – Isaiah 64:1-9 (NKJV)

     Introduction

Advent is a 3-D holy season; that is, it seems to be born from those three Ds of life: Disappointment, Disillusionment and Despair. These provide the context for our readings today.  The three Ds are nothing new.  We hear them all through Isaiah, who, if anyone, is the prophet of Advent.  Actually Isaiah was not one prophet but three.  The first wrote in the 8th century BC in Judah, warning people to change their unjust ways or feel the wrath of God.  The second came a couple hundred years later in Babylon when the first Isaiah’s prophecies were realised and the Hebrew people were taken into exile in Babylon for generations. The third Isaiah, from whom you will hear shortly, lived in Jerusalem after the exile, when people had been allowed to return home after decades of captivity, looking forward to a future of freedom and prosperity.  One would think that the 3-D lives they had been living would be over, but instead of finding the glory of God in a new Jerusalem, all they found was drought, crop failure, inflation, and infighting: not at all what they expected.  It is to these people that third Isaiah addresses his advent sermon.

     A Prayer for Help

1 Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You would come down!
That the mountains might shake at Your presence—

As fire burns brushwood,
As fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!

3  When You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.

For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.

You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved.

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.

And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.

But now, O Lord,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand.

Do not be furious, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!

FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 13:24-37  (The Message)

      Introduction

The passage we will hear from Mark is part of what scholars call the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalyptic literature, such as the books of Daniel and Revelation, usually come from a community that feels under siege: oppressed by political, religious or military leaders, suffering the ravages of the 3-Ds, and believing that its only hope can come from divine intervention. Mark’s writing reflects the uncertainty of the times in which the early church lived, embattled on every side, hoping for the advent of the kingdom of God, without realising that it was in their very midst.

24-25 “Following those hard times,
Sun will fade out,
moon cloud over,
Stars fall out of the sky,
cosmic powers tremble.

26-27 “And then they’ll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky—no one will miss it! He’ll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.

28-31 “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

32-37 “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.”

HYMN 447 – “Lord, Your Almighty Word” (Click here to listen) 

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “This Very Day”

    Part 1

Advent is the beginning of a new year. A new church year. But with a beginning there is also an ending.  An ending of a year, and for some, if not for many, the past year has been a difficult year:

      • The fighting in conflicts around the world continued to claim lives in such senseless ways.
      • Innocent victims of climate change, now and future, continued to despair over uncaring, ideological or ignorant governments.
      • The ‘religious right’ – especially overseas – continued to insist that God is on their side, wars are just, especially Middle Eastern wars, and torture should be permitted as an option in the treatment of prisoners of war.
      • Refugees seeking sanctuary, especially in Australia, were still packed off to concentration camps, out of sight, out of mind, where they are detained indefinitely with little hope for the peace they risked their lives to find.
      • And although Covid-19 was well-controlled here in Australia, it has ravaged much of the rest of the world, and is still doing so.

Closer to home: Loved ones got ill.  Some moved away from here, or died.  And all of us continued to struggle with ‘the vicissitudes of time’ and we tried to ‘stay alert but not alarmed’ through a pandemic. 

So where’s the ‘good news’ we are called to proclaim?  The answer to this question, I suggest, is exactly where it has always been: in us.

The New Testament readings on this first Sunday of Advent arise from the problem that, though Christ had come, little had changed. People then, as we today, continued to have difficult years. The expected onset of the Kingdom of God didn’t happen; or, rather, it didn’t happen in the way people expected.  The solution of the early Christians was to say that the Kingdom was still in the future; that Christ would come again; hence,  Advent means not only the advent of Christmas, but also the advent of Christ’s return.

I have no doubt Jesus would have been dismayed by this turn of events.  His whole ministry was about proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God and, throughout, he was met by the inability of people, even his own disciples, to understand and partake of the Kingdom.  In fact, there was then, and there is now, no need to await a second coming, because the Kingdom of God is here, it is now, just as Jesus taught.

For me, part of the ‘good news’ of Advent is to become more aware of, more sensitive to, the God moments in our ordinary daily events, especially as these moments sneak up on us, almost incognito.  This is the first day of the new church year, and the gospel storyteller of mysteries and warnings, whom we call Mark, has set scene one for this new year: ‘Stay awake!’ Ears tuned. Eyes open. Aware of, sensitive to, not to some terrorist threat or supposed future event or time, but to now, the present moment when Christ comes to this place, among this people.

Another, the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says:

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion”
(from Earth Prayers).

     Part 2- “‘Twas the Beginning of Advent”

I want to read to you a poem that is based on a rather famous poem about Christmas, but this one is called, Twas The Beginning of Advent.

‘Twas the beginning of Advent and all through the Church
Our hope was all dying– we’d given up on the search.
It wasn’t so much that Christ wasn’t invited,
But after so long, we were no longer excited.
Oh, we knew what was coming– no doubt about that.
And that was the trouble– it all was ‘old hat.’
Last month brought the first of a series of pains
With carefully-planned advertising campaigns.
There were gadgets and dolls and all manner of toys.
Enough to seduce even good girls and boys.
Unfortunately, no one was exempt,
For this seasonal virus did all of us tempt.
The priests and prophets and, for sure, all the kings
Were all too consumed with desire for just ‘things!’

T’was rare, if at all, that you’d hear of the reason
For the origin of this whole holy-day season.
A baby, it seems, to a maiden been born
In the east in a manger that first Christmas morn.
But what does this mean for folks just like us,
Who are totally lost in the hoopla and fuss?
Can at last we relearn to wonder and wait;
to hope and to pray, and anticipate?
Can we let go of all of the things and the stuff?
Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough?
Can we open our eyes and open our ears?
Can we find him again after all of these years?
Will this year be different from all of the rest?
Will we freely be able to offer our best?
So many questions, unanswered thus far,
Like magi seeking the home of the star.
Where do we go– how do we start
To make for the child a place in our heart?
Perhaps we begin by just letting go
Of our limits on hope, and the stuff that we know.
Let go of the shopping, the chaos and fuss,
Let go of the searching, let Christmas find us.
With him he brings wholeness and newness of life
For brother and sister, for husband and wife.
The Christ-child comes not by way of  our skill,
But rather he comes by his own Father’s will.
We can’t make him come with parties and trees,
But only by getting down on our knees.
He’ll come if we wait amidst our affliction,
Coming in spite of, not by our restriction.
His coming will happen– of this there’s no doubt.
The question is whether we’re in or we’re out.
“Behold, I stand at the door and I knock.”
Do you have the courage to peer through the lock?
A cot on your porch, a child in your reach.
A baby to love, to feed and to teach.
And he’ll grow in wisdom as God’s only Son.
How far will we follow this radical one?
He’ll lead us to challenge the way that things are.
He’ll lead us to follow a single bright star.
But that will come later if we’re still around.
The question for now: Where’s the child to be found?
Can we block out commercials, the hype and the malls?
Can we find some peace in our cathedral halls?
Can we keep watch, keep hope, stay awake?
Can we receive this child for God’s sake?
From on high with the carolling host as God sees us,
God yearns for the prayer, “Come now Lord Jesus!”
As Advent begins all these questions make plea

The only true answer: we’ll see, we will see. 

   Part 3

And what we will see!!  It won’t all be pleasant, for this very day Christ comes in glory to bring into the light our double standards, divided loyalties, our elaborate self-justifications and the way that we have hid the Kingdom with our religion.

He comes to expose our lip service to God and our devotion to possessions, life style, and ephemeral pleasures. Christ comes among us to lance the abscess of guilt which many people cover up with harsh criticisms of others.

He comes to locate and remove the stubborn cancer of racism and all those other malignant prejudices that ruin lives. Christ comes with tough mercy to confront the deceit of our selective consciences and our many smug rationalisations. He comes to challenge our slide into apathy, and to awaken us again to the neglect or abuse of minority groups in our nation. 

But make no mistake, the kingdom of God is here! For this very day Christ comes in glory to uncover and reaffirm the true worth of loyal, ordinary followers, who are indeed the salt of the earth. He comes to bless and reinforce the faith that motivates loving souls to forgive their enemies and pray for their persecutors.

This very day, Christ comes to lift up those extremely timid and self-effacing folk, who have too little faith in, or respect for, themselves. He comes to lift up the fallen and bruised souls who have tried valiantly yet have too often stumbled or been tripped. .

This very day, Christ comes to still the storms of fear that terrify those whose course must be set across troubled waters. Christ comes to still the stress or the panic of those who feel they are pushed or stretched to the very limit.

This very day, Christ comes to give a helping hand to the overburdened, and to bestow his own special peace and rest on those who are most weary. He comes to give forgiveness to the repentant, bread to the hungry, and a cup full-and-running-over to the thirsty. All this and more is happening …this very day. Amen.

I will leave you with a question, and I hope it stimulates some discussion over morning tea. When in your life have you the reality of Christ’s presence? Another way of asking would be: When have you experienced the Kingdom of God of which he taught?  In other words, when has the good news the church proclaims been more than just a nice story for you?

HYMN 265 “Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (Click here to listen) 

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH 

L: The creativity of God fills the universe. Like rain falling upon the earth and sun warming the rocks,

R: the heart of God flows over us all in renewing grace and love.

L: The generosity of Jesus fills our lives. With company on the journey and mercy in understanding,

R: The Bread, the Way and the Truth set us free to live again.

L: The faithfulness of the Spirit fills our future. It surrounds us with a cloud of hope and lifts our tired feet once more.

R: In courage born of costly life, it calls and sings and dances on.

L: We are the people of freedom.  We lay down our past in God’s forgiveness.

R: We will walk on into God’s new day.  

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Let us pray for all who have waited a long time for help, and who are still longing for:

      • the opportunity of gainful employment;
      • rescue from neglect or abuse;
      • reunion with loved ones;
      • adequate food and housing; 
      • the end of war & terrorism;
      • a friend in whom they can confide;
      • the healing of mind, body or spirit;
      • a faith that lives and works;
      • a church where they can feel accepted.

Loving Lord, please continue be with each member of your human family, that no crisis or suffering, no rejection or grief, may see them without the support of your everlasting arms.

Holy Friend, help each of us who are committed to respecting and loving others, to put that love efficiently and compassionately into practice during this Advent, so that none of your suffering children may ignored or not be kept waiting for the justice and compassion which is your will for them.

And for ourselves we pray, too: How many times, Lord Jesus, have you come to us unwelcomed? How often have you visited yet we have been too busy to notice, spoken yet we have been too full of ourselves.

Change all our insensitive habits and help us to do better during this Advent. Make us so sensitive to your immediate comings in the ups and downs of each ordinary day that we shall be w sell prepared to welcome your coming each and every day, praying as you taught us: 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 212 – “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”(Click here to listen) 

WORD OF MISSION

L: Time has now come for us to leave this sacred time. May you live forever

R: in the name of love.

L: May you love forever

R: in the name of life.

L: Called by God,

R: filled with the spirit,

L: compassionate and faithful,

R: rejoicing always,

L: may you live in love

R: forever. Amen.

BENEDICTION

The time for keeping alert is with us.
The hour has arrived for us to stop sleeping and wake up.
Now is our full salvation nearer than when we first believed.
The night is almost over
and the dawn is in the sky.
So let us throw off the trappings of darkness and dress ourselves for the light.
Jesus, the brightest star of the morning, gives us his promise:
“Look! I am coming quickly.”
The Spirit and the church say “Come!”
Let every one who hears answer, “Come!”
Come, Lord Jesus!
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ.Amen!

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