December 17, 2023 - Advent 3

For the week of December 17-23 – 3rd Sunday of Advent – JOY

Morning prayer: Merciful God of peace, Your work, spoken by the prophets, restores Your people's life and hope. Fill our hearts with the joy of Your saving grace, that we may hold fast to Your great goodness and in our lives proclaim Your justice in all the world. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary prayers)

Hymn: #211 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

  1. O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
    that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:  Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

  1. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh;
    to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. Refrain:
  2. O come, O come great Lord of might, who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height

In ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe.  Refrain:

  1. O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of Thy people be;

Before Thee rulers silent fall; all people on Thy mercy call.  Refrain:

Advent Candle Lighting (Light three candles; if you have three purple candles and one pink candle, light two of the purple candles and the pink candle)

When God’s people were surrounded by hardship, suffering, and grief, Isaiah proclaimed,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3a).

We come today as people who are also surrounded by suffering and grief. And yet, the Spirit hovers among us, tending and anointing, inspiring freedom where there is captivity, declaring blessing in places the world has cursed, and igniting fierce joy where mourning and heartache prevail.

We wait as people who experience hardship and pain, yet we are called to witness to the persistent joy that sustains our life as God’s people.

We light these candles as signs of our shocking hope, just peace, and fierce joy. May our lives shine with the fierce, tenacious joy of the Light who lives in our hearts as we wait and work for the coming of God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Children’s Time JOY – Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Children’s Message

Joy! It’s easy to think about joy when we talk about Christmas, it is everywhere because we pair joy with excitement and Christmas is exciting. There are traditions, visitors and food and experiences we only enjoy at Christmas. Think about the things that bring you joy at Christmas.

The thing that brings me the most joy at Christmas is the music. I attend a lot of concerts. I go to the university, to the schools, our sister churches, but my favorite is to attend the Quaker meeting house in Pennsdale on the Sunday evening before Christmas. By candlelight we sing winter favorites and hear a retelling of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and then we sing some hymns and hear the Christmas account from the gospel of Luke. The songs are always the same, but each year the people are different and I get a glimpse of the depth of God’s creating power.

Joy’s essence is a lasting emotion that comes from the choice to trust God will fulfill God’s promises. One of God’s promises is that we are created in God’s image and I get to see and experience that image in a myriad of faces and voices when I attend these concerts. The gift of music is one in which I experience God with my senses of sight, hearing and touch. It then becomes a memory and a prophecy that God will continue to reveal Godself as God has in the past, is currently and will be in my future and yours. This sustains me and sustains my joy.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlight: 2024 church offering envelopes have been prepared and can be picked up at the ScripPro table or the front entrance of the church building.  If you do not currently use the envelope system of designating and tracking your giving, please see Amy Dent. Envelopes and ACH bank account transfers are avenues to designate your offering to the general church expenses, missions, and the building fund.  Statements for IRS purposes will be issued for tax purposes. 

Offering prayer: God of hope and compassion: Just as John the Baptist came long ago in Judea to witness to Your light, we remember that light He heralds is the Savior of hope. Sometimes it seems our world is determined to extinguish hope and light. We admit that there are times when we feel the darkness is just too prevalent, too strong, and hope is just wishful thinking. May we witness through our giving not scarcity and despair but fierce joy, hope, and compassion. May we also witness through what we say and what we do. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen. Discipleship Ministries)

Hymn of Preparation: #89 Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

  1. Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
    hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
    Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away.
    Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
  2. All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
    stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
    Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
    chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in Thee.
  3. Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
    well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
    Thou our Father, Christ our brother, all who live in love are Thine;
    teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
  4. Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began;
    love divine is reigning o'er us, binding all within its span.
    Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife;
    joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.

Message Scripture:  John 1:6-8, 19-28

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of His sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Message: The Making of a Prophet                  Pastor Becky Cuddeback

Christmas is a conversation, one between God and creation. God is speaking God’s vision and creation, or more precisely, God’s people hearing and seeing the vision which is the Kingdom of God.

Historically, when a king began his reign – whether that was in the United Kingdom of Israel or after the split into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – he had a prophet sent from God. This prophet was one who would speak God’s truth alongside the king and whether the king wanted one or not, God sent him a prophet. The prophet was an encourager and a corrector. Every recorded king had a prophet.

       King Saul had Samuel.

King David had Samuel and Nathan.

King Ahab had Elijah, King Joash’s prophet was Joel. Isaiah was the most prolific prophet as he served 4 kings: Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. The kings ranged from wholly obedient to God all the way to denying God and their prophets always spoke truth to them, whether they wanted to hear it or not.

The prophet not only spoke to the king, but also the people. He was to point them to the right path and correct them., He was also instructed to pray for them and the peoples.

Our King – Jesus, also had a prophet. John was also Jesus’ cousin and their stories rely heavily on each other. But there relationship was different from the historic relationships of kings and prophets in that John and Jesus were both given the same message. It was first given to their parents as witnessed in the angelic encounter in the temple for Zechariah and the angelic visit to Mary in her home. It was then instilled in John and Jesus. John was a partner, the one who make a way and readied people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus.

John was to do this 2 ways, 2 ways were to bring preparedness:

1- to turn the hearts of parents to their children

2- the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous

Ultimately this was to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Let’s take a look at these 2 ways.

The heart turning isn’t because children were being abused or neglected; they were getting fed and clothed. John was calling the parents to turn to the future of what the Kingdom was to be.

For a moment, rest your thoughts on the remembrance of the impending birth of a child. Do you remember bearing witness to one of their birthdays and seeing them blow out their candles? What did you wish for them?

Health, prosperity, peace? There are thousands of dreams and wishes we hope for children. A future without war, childhood cancer and illness, or going to school without fear. In those tiny drifting moments, the real moments of our hearts, there isn’t anything we wouldn’t give up or sacrifice in the face of this child. We have made promises as we’ve held new babies. We swear no one will hurt them, they will never go unloved, and they will be cared for and I’m quite sure you can add to the list. But we get sucked back out of those moments of promise and in return we compromise and lean on traditions, loyalties, affiliations and institutions hoping they will hold up the promises we make. The trouble is they can’t. They all serve opposing purposes and aren’t aligned with the Kingdom of God. They are aligned with earthly power, the power of authority, accumulation. They support the status quo and continue only because we have been taught to wait, instead of living toward the Kingdom Jesus ushers in and John is instructed to reach the parents for the good of the future.

John’s next way was to call the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. Well, that is all of us, the message of God’s Kingdom is meant for all. Humanity falls under the label of the disobedient. We are to mirror God (the only One righteous) by being righteous in ourselves in the observance of God’s will and our behavior towards each other.

We come up short; we miss the mark and John is call all of us into repentance. Repentance is more than just I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again. Repentance is turning from who we once were and what we used to do that was not aligned with God’s Kingdom. John is calling us to move toward God, who is the source of all righteousness. It is to lean heavily into God’s ideal of us, how we are to be known and Leviticus 19:36 gives us a glimpse of that: “You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin.” Our interactions with others are to be honest. It is more than treating others as we want to be treated, it is treating others better than how we desire to be treated.

John is looking to us and the future. He isn’t looking to redeem the past but to begin in the moment, this moment. The impending birth of the King’s prophet is to begin clearing the hearts and minds of those who are waiting and those standing in the way of the Kingdom to make a people ready.

Yet, remember I said Christmas is a conversation between God and creation. We read this account, we see ourselves in the story of redemptive love, and have to ask ourselves – does it change us? Do we only use Christmas to look back and only be moved for a moment or do we resolve to live out the truth of Jesus’ coming? This should cause us to look at the future we have given our children and change what doesn’t support justice or sustain abundant life. What in each of our lives, individually and corporately have we embraced but puts us in opposition to the Kingdom? Christmas has to mean something about our future, not our past.

Closing Hymn: #240 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

  1. Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King,
    peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"
    Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies;
    with th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
    Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"
  2. Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord;
    late in time behold Him come, offspring of a virgin's womb.
    Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th' incarnate Deity,
    pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
    Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"
  3. Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
    Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.
    Mild He lays His glory by, born that we no more may die,
    born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.
    Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.