December 19, 2021 - Advent 4

December 19, 2021 4th Sunday of Advent – LOVE

Morning prayer Holy God, Your prophet Micah foretold with faith that a new ruler would come forth from Bethlehem – today we celebrate the fulfillment of Your promise; Your daughter Elizabeth proclaimed with faith that her cousin was to be the mother of her Lord – today we celebrate the fulfillment of Your promise; Your servant Mary proclaimed with faith that she would be called blessed by all generations – today we celebrate the fulfillment of Your promise.  Make us bold enough to proclaim with faith.  May we sing out the good news of Your salvation, trusting in the fulfillment of Your promises.  In the name of the One who comes.  Amen.  (Ministry Matters)

Hymn #234 O Come, All Ye Faithful

1. O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.

Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

Refrain:

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

2. True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, lo, He shuns not the Virgin's womb;

Son of the Father, begotten not created;

(Refrain)

3. Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation; O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

(Refrain)

4. See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle, leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;

we too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;

(Refrain)

5. Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger, we would embrace thee with love and awe.

Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

(Refrain)

6. Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning, Jesus, to thee be all glory given.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:

(Refrain)

Lighting of the Advent Candle – LOVE

Micah 5:2-5a

5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

5:3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;

5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

We light this candle as a sign of the love we receive from Jesus.

Light three PURPLE candles and the PINK candle

Children’s message – Talking to the prophets – Mary, mother of Jesus

Luke 1: 46-55

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

We have been talking about prophets over this Advent season and today we get to talk about Mary, Jesus’ mother. The lesson we just read is sometimes referred to as Mary’s song or the Magnificat. The message she is delivering is what God is doing through her for all of creation. It is her mighty yes! to God. She is willing to be the mother of God’s son and she tells of what God has done for her and what God will do in the sending of His Son. Her praise is that God has noticed the needs of this world and how this new Kingdom being ushered in by the birth of Jesus will turn everything upside down. Jesus will show us what true leadership, true love, true justice, true mercy and true peace will look like and we, like Mary are invited into the Kingdom of God.

This text, Luke 1:46-55, answers the question of Mary did you know? Yes, she can say- maybe she didn’t understand all the ramifications in that moment, but she knew God to be faithful and God had chosen her. And, God chooses us, everyday to be messengers of His love for us. He is asking us to be faithful to Him and to Jesus and we are able to do that through the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, use us to turn Your world upside down. Help us to always choose the side of mercy and justice. Keep our eyes open to You in all the people we meet and let us greet them with the birth of Jesus in our hearts. Through Jesus we pray, Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You most gracious and forgiving Father for hearing the cries of 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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass 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:  The John Buck Memorial Community Food Bank is a sponsored mission of Lightstreet United Methodist Church.  The missions team has designated $500 to the food bank in 2022 and many of you spend your time serving the community through this mission.  If the Lord is speaking to you to give more, you can designate a portion of your offering to be given to The Food Bank. 

Offering prayer:  Magnificent God, as we focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, we are reminded that You do great wonders and signs through the most humble and obedient of Your children. As we give our gifts to You this day, give us ears to hear the whispers of the angels speaking to us; give us eyes to see the needy and the unloved all around us; and give us faith to offer our lives to Your plan of saving love. In Christ, our redeemer, we pray. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Preparation Hymn: #242 Love Came Down at Christmas

  1. Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, Love divine;
    Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
  2. Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;
    worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
  3. Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;
    love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.

Message scripture: Micah 5:2-5a

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

Message:  “GOD LOVES ORDINARY PEOPLE AND ORDINARY PLACES”    Rev. Ron French

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent and I would like to celebrate small towns. Janelle White’s family moved to a small town. She decided to check in with the police and fire departments – just in cast her family ever had an emergency. She dialed the number listed for the police department and a woman answered, “Courthouse.” “May I please have the police department?” Janelle asked. “He isn’t here right now,” the woman replied. Now that’s a small town.

          An ad for a general store in Loretta, Wisconsin, listed its location like this: “Across from the phone booth.” That’s all that was needed for everyone in Loretta to find the general store: “Across from the phone booth.” I wonder what they are doing now that there are no more phone booths.

          The reason we are celebrating small towns today is, of course, because Jesus was born in a small town. Today we should remember Phillip Brooks’ beautiful hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Brooks wrote these words in 1868 following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the surrounding hills of Palestine, especially at night. His church organist, Lewis Redner, wrote the melody. The hymn catches our imagination. You can almost see Bethlehem in your mind’s eye.

          Jesus was born in a small town to fulfill a prophecy found in Micah 5, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:4, 4-5a) In Hebrew, the word Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” For believers it is significant that the “House of Bread” is where he, who the Gospel of John calls, “the Bread of Life” (John 6:48) was born.

          Bethlehem today is a city of approximately 50,000 people, but when Jesus was born it was a tiny village. It has been referred to as a “sorry, poor village, scarce worth an apostrophe…” It is located about five miles south of Jerusalem, about a two and a half hour walk. Joseph and Mary, residents of Nazareth, went to Bethlehem for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. That journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is much more arduous than the journey from Jerusalem. It was about 80 miles. The message of Christmas would have been just as powerful if Christ had been born in a great metropolis, but somehow this tiny village seems to capture the essence of the Christ event.

          Bethlehem reminds us that God loves ordinary people and ordinary places in an extraordinary way. Each year we have to fight to maintain the simple nature of Christmas in a world of glittering materialism. You may have seen the reports of the news reporter who was interviewing people on the streets of Tokyo, Japan at Christmas time. Much as in our country, Christmas shopping is a big commercial enterprise in Japan, even though Christians are a tiny minority in that land. The reporter stopped one young Japanese woman, loaded down with packages, and asked her, “What is the meaning of Christmas?” Laughing, the young woman replied, “I don’t know. Isn’t it the day that Jesus died?” Well, maybe it is. We have to maintain a constant vigil to ensure that the birth of the Messiah doesn’t denigrate into the worship of Mammon, or material possessions.

          Maybe you and your family will gather around the television this Christmas season to watch one of my favorite classic motion pictures, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in the film, offered this reflection on its meaning, “The character I played was George Bailey, an ordinary kind of fella who thinks he’s never accomplished anything in life. His dreams of becoming a famous architect, of traveling the world and living adventurously, have not been fulfilled. Instead he feels trapped in a humdrum job in a small town. And when faced with a crisis in which he feels he has failed everyone, he breaks under the strain and flees for the bridge. That’s when his guardian angel, Clarence comes down on Christmas Eve to show him what his community would be like without him. The angel takes him back through his life to show how his ordinary, everyday efforts were really big achievements. Clarence reveals how George’s loyalty to his job at the building-and-loan office has saved families and homes, how his kindnesses have changed the lives of others, and how the ripples of his love will spread through the world, helping make it a better place…”

Stewart continued, “Today, after some fifty years, I’ve heard the film called ‘an American cultural phenomenon.’ Well, maybe so, but seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply a movie about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonder life.”

Sisters and brothers there were no superstars in the Christmas story. Even the Savior comes into the world under the most inauspicious of circumstances. A stable, a manger, shepherds in the field, a humble couple with no place to lay their heads. Bethlehem reminds us that God loves ordinary people and ordinary places in extraordinary ways.

Bethlehem also reminds us that we are a part of a sacred history. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy. This is important. The coming of Christ was part of God’s covenant with the people of Israel, and subsequently with all people everywhere.

          Bethlehem was no accidental birthplace. Bethlehem was where Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel was buried and where Israel’s greatest king, David, was born. Samuel anointed David king in Bethlehem, (I Samuel 16:1-13). David was a descendant of Ruth and Boaz, who were married in Bethlehem. The messiah was to be of the house and lineage of David. We are a part of a sacred history that extends all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

We often hear Christmas called a tradition, and it is. Tradition is from the Latin word “traditio” which means the “action of handing over.” Over the centuries Christians have been “handing over” from one generation to the next the songs, the stories, the rituals that have come to mean Christmas to us. This is a vital part of our lives. We treasure that which has been handed down to us. Bethlehem reminds us that God can use ordinary people and ordinary places in extraordinary ways.

One final thing: most important of all, Bethlehem reminds us that God is with us. Listen again to the words of Micah: “And he will stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:4-5a) I love those words: “And he shall be the one of peace.”

Brothers and sisters, Christ doesn’t simply bring us peace. He is our peace. Where Christ is, there is peace. Perhaps your life is filled with conflict, unhappiness, emotional pain this Christmas season. That is true for many people. All the happiness of this season of the year can make the desperate hurt that many people really feel. The appropriate prayer for this season of the year is not “bring me peace, bring me happiness, bring me hope.” The appropriate prayer is, “Christ Jesus, give me Yourself. Come into my heart Lord Jesus. Be born anew in me.” For where Christ is, there is peace, happiness, and joy.

          Sue Monk Kidd in her book From When the Heart Waits writes about her visit to a monastery around Christmastime years ago. She passed a monk walking outside the church and said, “Merry Christmas.” And the monk replied, “May Christ be born in you.” At the time Sue thought this was a very peculiar greeting: “May Christ be born in you.” But with time she came to realize the power of that simple greeting: “May Christ be born in you.”

          When Christ dwells within, there is peace. John Paul II, in his message of December 19, 1999, explained that Christmas is not simply the remembrance of the Event that took place 2000 years ago when, according to the Gospel, the power of God took on the frailty of a baby. It is really about a living reality that is repeated every year in the heart of believers. “The mystery of the Holy Night, which historically happened too thousand years ago, must be lived as a spiritual event in the ‘today’…” the Pope clarified. “The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person…” Bethlehem reminds us that God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

          You know as well as I do that small towns are a little bit different that the big cities. And Christ was born in a small town. “O little town of Bethlehem/How still we see thee lie…”  Bethlehem reminds us that God loves ordinary people and ordinary places in an extraordinary way. Bethlehem reminds us that we are a part of a sacred history. And most importantly of all, Bethlehem reminds us that God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. And here is what Christ wants – to be born anew in our hearts in this Advent/Christmas season. It is my prayer sisters and brothers that He be born in your heart today.

 

Closing Hymn #230 O Little Town of Bethlehem

1. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king, and peace to all on earth!

3. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

4. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Benediction:  Go into this week with the blessings of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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