God you know between the last minute shopping for rosin (yes for a violin) and milk and eggs.
Between the accounting for presents, preparing for communion and making sure every single thing is in the car that we need for Christmas Eve (please God please) that all of this is my very human yearning for Christ.
We mix and clean and shop and sometimes forget to rest (oops) because this is some of the things we know to do to prepare for people coming.
And as we pray tonight, and then try to sing safely the carols in the car, I think of how worship is never beautiful or perfect, but it is always yearning for Christ.
And as I try to remember all of the things and take care of all of the people, let that stand as a yearning for Christ too. The scratchy zooms, the struggling uploads, the handwritten promissory notes for gifts, the wrapping, the decorating, the house that will never be free of crumbs this year.
Lord I’m praying: Let all that I have done and all that I have left undone. Let every word and thought and deed, yearn for Christ. Let it show every time I love my neighbor as myself, Let all of the imperfections in my heart bespeak my need and love and yearning for Jesus Christ.
Stretch my heart towards Jesus, I pray, because it’s the Christmas thing to do!
A gentle reminder that Christmas is not cancelled. Because it can’t be.
It’s never been about the presents (Grinch) or the to do lists (Charlie Brown) or even the beautiful worship (Best Christmas Pageant Ever).
It has never been dependent on family being able to make it: there has always been weather and travel delays, there has always been illness and other unforeseeable hurdles (Skipping Christmas).
It has never just been about being joyful (Blue Christmas worship and song).
It hasn’t even been about being home (I’ll be Home for Christmas).
Or being perfect (A Christmas Carol, Gift of the Magi).
And sometimes it’s just chaos! (Mixed Nuts, “A Lot Like Christmas” by Connie Willis).
And reaches out unexpectedly (Dear God).
Why do we have all of these stories and songs and movies about how Christmas happens anyway?
Jesus was born in the middle of the first census, in the middle of an unjust system, where his people were occupied and oppressed, where the powers and principalities only cared about their own comfort and wealth.
Jesus was born unexpectedly, in a weird place, to an unmarried self-possessed woman and an open minded and understanding father. He was born far away from his home, and had to flee to Egypt where he probably lived with distant relatives for a while.
Jesus comes in the most imperfect circumstances to remind us, Christmas is not dependent on us.
Just like we said at the beginning of the pandemic the hope and love and family is not cancelled; Christmas is not cancelled, it can’t be.
And if you feel overwhelmed, or mournful that’s ok. Those are legitimate feelings for Christmas.
And if you need to tell yourself one of the many, many Christmas Stories to comfort yourself, do.
Look at how many disastrous Christmases we’ve thought of, because disaster is a part of Christmas, but it’s ok because Christ is too.
Christ is not cancelled, and neither are we. Let us mourn, be lonely, love and celebrate in whatever way we can this year, because I promise God understands.
That’s why Jesus is coming in the first place.
Feel free to share/use with Credit to Pastor Katy Stenta
Lord, you bring glad tidings to the poor. Let us hear.
You heal the brokenhearted. Heal us too.
You free the prisoners from their jails. Free us from ourselves.
Loving God, please come to us, and send us out, forgiven, to the poor, the brokenhearted the imprisoned.
Hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn 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 newborn King!”
Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (interlude)
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n 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 newborn King!”
Call to Worship (Isaiah 9:2, John 8:12, Malachi 4:20)
One: The people who walk in darkness will see a great light
ALL: O Lord, be our light!
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
O Lord, be our light!
Jesus said “I am the Light of the world; those who follow Me
will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
O Lord, be our light!
For you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise
with healing in its wings.
O Lord, be our light!
Call to Confession Jesus did not worry about what others thought.
He did not avoid conflict, but confronted head-on what needed to be changed. Let us confess how hard it is to do the same.
Prayer of Confession
God, sometimes we are more interested in the approval of others than in what you want us to do and be. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we play nice, avoiding conflict even when your gospel of love would call us to speak out. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we substitute a different kind of preaching for the preaching of good news that you offer the poor. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we preach a gospel of self-reliance instead of the freedom offered by your grace. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we want the blind to see the same way we do,
instead of taking the log out of our own eyes. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we want the oppressed to just be a little more patient,
instead of letting them go free. Forgive us, Lord.
Assurance of Pardon
God offers us God’s very self, granting us grace and new life.
Thanks be to God for the Good News: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Holy One, this Advent season we come with joy, and we give in love: Love in return for you loving us first,
Love experienced through your presence with us. Receive and use these gifts and our very lives
to share your love with the world.Amen.
Prayer for Illumination Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 61:1-11
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; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 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.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
5 Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 6 but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. 7 Because theirshame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
New Testament Lesson: Luke 4:16-21
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Sermon: What Do You Do While You’re Waiting?
Affirmation of Faith(John 1, NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines
in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Closing HymnGo Tell It On the Mountain
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born! (repeat chorus)
While shepherds kept their watching O’er silent flocks by night Behold throughout the heavens There shone a holy light
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born!
The shepherds feared and trembled When lo! Above the Earth Rang out the angel chorus That hailed our Savior’s birth
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born!
Barb’s sister Beth started posting numbers in decreasing order on her facebook without explanation. Eventually it became clear that she was counting down to the beginning of Advent. It is not unusual for people to count down to Christmas, which is a big event, but Advent is typically considered a time of waiting… waiting and anticipating Christmas. So I asked, rather incredulously, “So are you waiting for when you will start waiting?” And she laughingly said “That’s right.”
But now that we are in the midst of Advent, is it a time of waiting and anticipating? Or is it something more than waiting and anticipating? Mr. Rogers used to sing a song on his TV show “What do you DO while you’re waiting…while you’re waiting for something else to do?” The scriptures today lead me to believe he was actually saying something profound about Advent, because it was not sufficient to say we are just “waiting.” Just waiting is boring and difficult. Barb and I stood outside in a line with masks on six feet away from others waiting to be allowed into an outdoor market where the number of buyers were strictly limited. We were anticipating what we would find and could not leave the line or we would lose our place. It reminded me of when I work with young children who have a terrible time waiting and I tell them “waiting is hard, but it is part of growing up.” But Mr. Rogers points to an important difference between waiting while doing nothing, and DOING something while waiting. For him, and in the scriptures today, waiting is a time to DO something. A time perhaps, to truly prepare for the event we are waiting for.
The Isaiah passage was likely written upon the return of the Israelites from exile. They faced the rebuilding of a crumbled society. They needed to rethink how government was done, how education was done, how gatherings were done, how family was done. 2020 was also a year of exile, a year of crumbling infrastructure. So, first in Isaiah, and then in Luke we hear a challenge for what we could do while we’re waiting… waiting for Christmas, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for a New Year, waiting for a new, reconstituted life together to begin.
This Advent, this waiting time is an opportunity to DO while we wait and anticipate all these new events. In Isaiah, the power to DO comes from the Spirit that falls upon him. In Luke, Jesus proclaims that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And indeed, we believe that the Spirit of God has already fallen upon all the people God claims as God’s own… that includes you and me.
So the Scripture begins by telling us that we have the power, and the responsibility to DO the work we are called to do while we wait for Christmas, while we wait for a vaccine, while we wait for a new reconstituted life together, while we wait for the New Year. What do WE DO while WE are waiting?
TODAY this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us…eventually it specifies that this anointing of the Lord has “named ministers of our God.” We are ALL anointed by the Spirit and we are ALL ministers of our God, so we have a ministry to DO while we’re waiting.
The ministry we are called to is a ministry that captures and embodies the Spirit of Christmas. We are anointed to preach GOOD NEWS to the poor. But this is not empty preaching that smiles and says things will be fine, this is GOOD NEWS accompanied by action, by what we ministers are DOING while we are waiting. It is the work we are challenged to DO now, and it’s a pretty tall order (good thing we are all named ministers so “many hands can make light work).
We are to reach out to the brokenhearted and bind them up with our support. The brokenhearted whose lives have been crushed, whose losses have been so great, who were so ravaged by this past year of exile. Can we think of at least one person whose heart has been broken by this past year? Can we accept the challenge to reach out and help bind up their broken heart while we are waiting?
We are to offer a release from darkness to those imprisoned by the circumstances of their lives. Poverty imprisons some, hunger imprisons some, addiction imprisons some, bondage to sin imprisons some. Can we offer the light of Christ as we provide tangible help instead of feeling repulsed or judgmental to those whose life prisons have shrouded them in darkness? Can we contribute tangible help for some imprisoned person while we are waiting?
We are to comfort those who mourn. We don’t need to force a “merry” happiness on those who are grieving. Can we reach out to someone who just can’t celebrate this Christmas and offer a listening ear, a loving heart, and comfort for them in their mourning while we are waiting?
We are called to rebuild the ruins of our society and restore the gatherings long devasted. Do we dare to look beyond individuals and extend the work of our shared ministry to acknowledge the brokenness and devastation all around us? Brokenness caused by greed, devastation caused by bigotry, racism, and injustice. Can we reach out in even one small way to rebuild and restore a society that rejects the devastation while we are waiting?
We are waiting but we are not waiting alone. We are waiting with so many other ministers anointed by God. And we are waiting and ABLE TO DO because the Spirit of the Lord, the true Spirit of Christmas is upon us while we are waiting.
And the hope that is promised is a hope fulfilled by the work of God through our meager actions as God’s ministers. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the hope is that God’s faithfulness WILL reward us with an everlasting covenant. And together we will proclaim the New Year, the year we are waiting for, a year of God’s favor!
Dear God, we admit that it is a wonder that babies can be born right now. As we look at the little eyes and noses, we think how can this happen right now?
Joy flashes, followed immediately by prayers for all those who have been working in the midst of a dumpster fire.
The doctors, nurses, administrators, chaplains and custodians.’
As we sit here, on this lone noel, we miss those family and friends we cannot see,
and grieve all the lives lost to a pandemic. We cry and mourn with all of those missing parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, for whatever reason. We also lift up those communities that have been especially hard hit. Communities of color, communities in poverty, communities that work as essential works. Be with them this Christmas.
We grieve that we are in a universe that values money and jobs over people, and we grieve too all the jobs and homes and work that has been lost, because they affect people.
We grieve for all of those who are struggling: the homeless, the hungry, the almost homeless, the ones drowning in medical debt, those who are living off credit card for lack of a community structure that helps. Please help us to do a better job of caring for one another as a community.
Lord, we feel like we are caught in the fire and in the world. Help us as we muddle through.
Remind us that Jesus too came into a dumpster fire of the world. He was born and cried, and suffered huger and marginalization and loneliness. Jesus knew the world was on fire,
And Jesus came anyway.
As Mary, who knew all the pieces of what was to happen, pondered at the wonder of a baby being born in the middle of this. Give us permission to ponder and wonder as to how this happens. And lift our prayers to Jesus, helps us to feel and experience Christ’s love somehow in the midst of all of this.
God, I confess that sometimes I don’t have it in me to pour myself out in front of you.
It’s hard to find the time, or the place or the emotiona energy.
And I confess, God, that I don’t want this to be intergral to the advent season. Why must I empty myself before you?
How can I empty myself for your?
But I know, that before I breathed my first tremolous breath, before I screamed out my first cry, before I even was formed in the womb–you made room for me.
You emptied yourself enough to make room for every single person in the world.
Mary made room for God, she cleared a space to become a magnification of God’s work in the world. A beautifully, justice screaming, baby carrying, patriarchy challenging woman who fully embraced it all and poured herself out to make room for the magnificat dreams.
So as I try to pour out, and I can’t, or I won’t or I only half-ass it….If I find myself stuttering over justice, or acquiencing to hetereo-normative white colonial Cis-Patriacrchies as I tumble through advent to do lists and forget what it was I was supposed to do next…
I pray that in those moments you will hold space for me. I pray that you will send dark and beautiful time and space and room upon the wings of the Holy Spirit.
I pray that it will sing to my soul, and sound through my body, and tremor in the stillness before me.
I’m praying for holding space, and pouring out, and stillness all to find pockets within the mess (after all we women love pockets).
I am praying for all of this, because I am convicted and convinced that this is how Christmas will come.
Alleluia to the stillness and the space-i-ness and the dark.
Alleluia for the mess to, for you were born in the mess of things, so alleluia anyway.