First Sunday in Advent
During the four weeks of Advent we will be lighting a candle on the Advent Wreath. The four themes are: HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and PEACE. Christmas Eve/Day we add the White Christ Candle standing for the Light that has come into the world.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Edward Mote 1834
On the first Sunday in Advent we light the first candle-the candle of hope. “Hope is our assurance that god will finish all that the Creator has started. Hope is our confidence that God will complete all the promises made. We see the promises fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. Jesus is our hope, today and forever! (2nd. Corinthians 1:20)
Hymn of Gathering “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” verses 1 & 7, #88
O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O Come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind.
From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
CALL TO WORSHIP:
ADVENT IS: a path to our God, winding through the ordinary, weaving through the busyness, overcoming roadblocks and detours. ADVENT IS: a way to go home, leaving the past in the past, moving from darkness and exile. Coming into the light, a discovery of God’s voice.
ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING “HOPE”
Leader: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness. As we come to worship, we begin the Advent Season familiar with darkness and hungry for hope.
People: So today we light the candle of hope as a prayer, a protest, and a reminder that darkness does not win. Gun violence, cancer, death, bigotry, racism, terrorism will not win.
UNISON: LOVE WILL WIN! (Light Candle)
Thanks be to God.
Response: (Verse 1)
We begin this season of Advent, physically distant from each other at North Church, yet united in our thoughts and prayers for each other. We had hoped to be in our sanctuary but the greater hope is our trust in You, merciful God. May we be guided to THE Light at the end of the tunnel that will free us from the anxiety and fear, anger and mistrust, raging storms and uncertain future. We’re in good hands. May this truth guide us this day and forever. Amen.
Glory to the Creator, the Christ, the Holy Spirit, Three in One; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination:
God, your Word is a lamp to guide us. May this reading of your Word bring us a new understanding of your purpose for us in our lives this day. Amen.
“But in those days, after the suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Hymn of Preparation:
HOPE of The World The Rev. Art Yost
We’ve all been there. You’re driving along the highway when some maniac on the road comes speeding up in back of you riding your bumper. You pull over to let the driver pass and you watch them go merrily on their way weaving in and out of traffic, driving like they own the road or at least driving like they’re at the Indianapolis speedway. And you may not say it aloud, especially if you’re alone in the car, but you’re thinking-where is the State Trooper when you need one. You’re hoping the maniac will get pulled over-one, because you’re mad and two, because you are fearful the driver may hurt someone. Glorious is the day when your hope comes true and you see the car pulled over a few miles down the road.
If you can identify with this scenario then you have a sense of what is happening in the prophetic reading from Isaiah. Scholars believe that the Book of Isaiah is actually two, probably three, different books written by different authors, covering different time periods in the life of the Jewish people. The period in this section is when the Jewish people are returning from exile. They have suffered greatly, accepting some responsibility for their situation. They and their leaders have been way less faithful than they should have been. They were also immoral in many of their practices and, in their belief system, God has been distancing from them as a kind of punishment. So today’s lesson begins with an appeal-that God would reenter their lives and make their enemies tremble.
This diatribe ends however with the metaphor of God being the potter and the people the clay. We are the work of God’s hands. Do not be angry with us.
Looking at our world situation, ravaged by COVID-19, tropical storms/hurricanes whose names have exhausted one alphabet and well into the Greek names. Large swaths of our country have been scorched with fire. Countries have enough weapons to kill every man, woman, child and animals that inhabit land, water and air. Demonstrations against authority are occurring globally. Our hopes are often dashed- hopes for peace, hope for health, hope for reasonable leaders. Where is God?
Way back in the early 1960’s,I was in seminary in Manhattan, there was a theology labeled “death of God.” They didn’t really mean God was dead but our antiquated understandings about God had to change. My seminary was just outside a very tough neighborhood which resulted in some humorous student writing graffiti on the dorm elevator wall the words “God is not dead- God has moved to a better neighborhood.”
The situation I have described has caused some people to question their faith, lose hope, stop trying to change the situation, or to think that these are the “end of times” spoken about in segments of Scripture known as apocryphal writings. We see a sample of that kind of writing in the passage from Mark. A lot more of it is in The Book of Revelation which has been treated by some Christians as a prophecy of what is coming. And, throughout history, there have been many dates chosen that were to coincide with Christ’s coming again or the beginning of The Rapture. Yet here we are.
I used to meet a gentleman at Krauszers every day when I would pick up a newspaper and buy coffee for my wife and I. With the pandemic, I’ve been having the paper delivered and making coffee (Keurig) at home so I have not run into him. He was a very nice man. He had a wife who needed help all day long and he only had a short time to be away from her. He knew I was a pastor so he’d greet me with his belief that the world was ending soon- that Christ would be coming any day now. My response was to quote one of the verses that is included in our Gospel reading this morning- “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
So here we are-at the start of a New Year-liturgically speaking. The Season of Advent is when we celebrate the coming of our Savior, historically born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago and now waiting and watching for the return of the Savior. We can look at our world situation but it would be, in my opinion, a waste our time trying to figure out when that will take place. Mark reminds us that Jesus said our job is “beware, be alert and hold on to the words Jesus spoke.”
When I was in college, working in shipping and receiving at Sears Roebuck in the Bronx, it was hard work. All deliveries for all the departments came into shipping and receiving. We had to open the shipment, check the invoice, price the articles and get them out to the sales floor. Then, some customers would want to pick up their items and take them home with them and they wanted us to load the articles purchased. Yet there were down times-slow business, no shipment coming in and we had nothing to do. We knew our hours would be cut if the store manager came into shipping. So- we had to look busy. We practiced subterfuge-pretend work and if we couldn’t do that we’d hide somewhere above in the stacks-figuring out of sight-out of mind. The store manager, in suit and tie would not be likely to climb ladders up to the storage areas.
Sometimes our faith journey is like that. For many different reasons, we cease to do what is expected of us. We are to be preparers of the way for the reign of Christ on earth as in heaven. While we may hope for a nice day, or a pay raise, or a workable vaccine, none of these hopes reach the level of the spiritual hope that Paul speaks about when, to the church in Corinth. He lists the three greatest gifts that God has given us-faith, hope and love. Faith sees us through every moment of our existence, hope assures us that God will fulfil the promise that we will never be apart from God’s presence going forward into the future and that God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for others and ourselves are the essence of why we have been given the miracle of life.
We are singing only two verses of Georgia Harkness’ hymn “Hope of the World” #734 but let us take a moment to open our hymnals and scan all the verses of the hymn because it really helps us understand the hope that holds us in this beginning of the Advent season.
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Loving God, as we enter into this Advent season, help us to remember what is truly important in our lives. In today’s scripture, Jesus instructs us to be on guard and stay alert. Too often we become complacent and find ourselves drifting away from your life giving, life affirming Word. Keep our eyes open to your arrival and inspire us each day to live as if each day was our last. Let our focus be on preparing our hearts and homes for your coming. Let us care for one another and be mindful of those who enter this season with concerns that tear at the delicate fabric of their existence- illness, emotional distress, hunger, job and financial insecurity, broken dreams, addictive thoughts and behaviors, death of a loved one. In silence, we take a moment to reflect and be in this moment of your grace.
We pray now the prayer our Lord taught us saying, Our Father…..
Prayer of Dedication
Gracious God, it is time we give recognition to the hope that lies within us that you will bring all under the rule of your love and grace. We dedicate our time, talent, and service to help prepare the way in this season of Advent. Amen.
Gracious God, it is time we give recognition to the hope that lies within us that you will bring all under the rule of your love and grace. We dedicate our time, talent, and service to help prepare the way in this season of Advent.
(Although we are not gathering in the Sanctuary during this Advent Season, your commitment to the mission and ministries of North Church can be expressed with the mailing of your contribution to North Church P O Box 307, New Hartford CT.)
Hymn of Journey # 734 verses1 &5 “Hope of the World” – sung to Great is Thy Faithfulness (without refrain)
Hope of the world, thou Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent;
save us, thy people, from consuming passion,
who by our won false hopes and aims are spent.
Hope of the world, O Christ, o’er death victorious,
who by this sign didst conquer grief and pain:
we would be faithful to they gospel glorious;
hour art our Lord! Thou dost forever reign!
As we go forth, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.” Amen (Philippians 4:8-9)
Go forth as faithful believers who extend God’s welcome to a waiting world. Be the hope that God has placed inside your hearts and mind. Go with peace. Amen.