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Sermon and Liturgy for The First Sunday of Advent - Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13-11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
"Being Prepared: Keeping The Vision Alive"


READING:  Isaiah 2:15; Romans 13-11-14; Matthew 24:36-44 
SERMON :  "Being Prepared: Keeping The Vision Alive"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-ad01se 455000
 
     The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
     for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
     found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

     The Children's time is based on one from Children's Sermon 
     Service  Plus (Dec 95, Jan-Feb 96). 
     

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                       (* = please stand)


* GREETING AND CALL TO WORSHIP
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you
L  Let all people and all nations turn to the source of their salvation.  
   Let them bow together in praise and seek the blessing of God.
P  Here we will seek the light God offers us; 
   here we will prepare to walk in God's path.
L  Christ is the light of the world, his way the path for our feet.
P  We await his coming in glory and in power.
L  We wait with a holy hope for the time when he will redeem all
   of creation and 
   vindicate all of those who have lived by faith in him.


* INTROIT 
  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.
                        

ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING
VOICE  - Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope.

VOICE  - Our hope is in God, and in his son Jesus Christ.  He is
       the one appointed by God to be judge of all things.  He is
       the one through whom God has promised to save and redeem his
       people.

VOICE  - We light this candle today to remind us that he is our
       hope and the hope of the world.  We thank God for the
       promises he has made to us and for the light he has brought
       into the world.

Light the First Candle

VOICE  - Let us pray: O God of Hope, Emmanuel, God with Us -- we
       pray you to send your light into our hearts.  Help us to be
       ready for the day and the hour of Christ's  appearing.  Live
       in us and help us to live in you.  By the power of the Holy
       Spirit, touch us.  Transform us so that our worship, our
       celebration, our time of preparation, may be pleasing unto
       you - both now - and forevermore.  Amen.

SONG:  A Candle is burning, a flame warm and bright,
       a candle of hope in December's dark night.
       While angels sing blessing from heaven's starry sky,
       our hearts we prepare now for Jesus in nigh.             (VU 6)


WELCOME, ANNOUNCEMENTS, AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
 Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
 and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
 Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
 Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!      (VU 371 v. 2 & refrain)


A READING FROM ISAIAH 2:1-5 
   (NRSV)  The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning
   Judah and Jerusalem. {2} In days to come the mountain of the
   Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the
   mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the
   nations shall stream to it. {3} Many peoples shall come and
   say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the
   house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and
   that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go
   forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
   {4} He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate
   for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into
   plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation
   shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they
   learn war any more. {5} O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
   in the light of the LORD!

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


CHILDREN'S STORY TIME
Theme:    Preparing For Christ's Coming
Object:   Alarm Clock 
Sources:  Based on Children's Sermon Service Plus (Dec 95, Jan-Feb 96)

Good morning...  Who can tell me what is special about this day??? 
We have begun the countdown for Christmas - anyone know how many
days are left till Christmas Day???  Are there any special things
that you are doing to get ready for Christmas???

There are a lot of things that people do to get ready for Christmas
Day -- special things that will help us all celebrate the birth of
Jesus Christ - the first time he came into the world.  The Bible
tells us that he is going to come again to our world - and that
there are some special things we should do to get ready for his
second coming -- can any of you think of some of the special things
we might do???

Those are all very good things to do.  But first of all - Paul
tells us in his letter to the Romans that we should wake up and
remember that he is coming.  When he comes he will judge all the
countries and all the people in the world - to see if they in fact
love him and each other.  If we love him and are really trying to
love each other - he will reward us beyond anything anyone ever
dreamed about - and if we are asleep - if we don't show our love
for him and others - that we will miss out on all the good things
that he will do.  That is why I brought an alarm clock today -- to
remind me - and you - that if we fall asleep - if we forget that
Jesus is coming again - and forget to do the things he commanded us
to do - the things that make us shine - that we will miss all the
joy he has made ready for us.

I know that none of you will sleep through Christmas Day - that you
will be very busy from now until then getting ready for it.  I hope
that all of you will awake for his second coming as well.  Let us
pray...

   "Lord Jesus -- Help us be prepared -- for the day of your
   coming.  Help us to be alert and ready -- so that we may not 
   miss -- the good things you will do. --  Amen"


* HYMN:   "Jesus, Friend of Little Children"                  - VU 340


A READING FROM ROMANS 13:11-14
   (NRSV)  Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now
   the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer
   to us now than when we became believers; {12} the night is far
   gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of
   darkness and put on the armour of light; {13} let us live
   honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not
   in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and
   jealousy. {14} Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make
   no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: "Saviour of the World" and The Gloria Patri
(sung)
L  O Saviour of the world, who by your cross and precious blood
   have redeemed us: 
P  Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.
L  You saved your disciples when they were ready to perish:
P  Hear us and save us, we humbly beseech you.
L  Let the fullness of your great mercy release us from our sins:
P  We humbly beseech you.
L  Make it appear that you are our Saviour and mighty deliverer. 
P  O save us that we may praise thee, we humbly beseech you.
L  Draw near according to your promise from the throne of your
   glory:
P  Look down and hear our crying, we humbly beseech you.
L  Come again and dwell with us, O Lord Jesus Christ:
P  Abide with us for ever, we humbly beseech you.
L  And when you appear with power and great glory, 
P  May we be made like unto you, in your glorious kingdom.
L  Thanks be to you, O Lord: 
P  Praise be to your name - now and forever.  Amen

-- Gloria Patri (sung)


CHOIR ANTHEM:  
       

A READING FROM MATTHEW 24:36-44 
   (NRSV)   "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither
   the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. {37}
   For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the
   Son of Man. {38} For as in those days before the flood they
   were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,
   until the day Noah entered the ark, {39} and they knew
   nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too
   will be the coming of the Son of Man. {40} Then two will be
   in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. {41}
   Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken
   and one will be left. {42} Keep awake therefore, for you do
   not know on what day your Lord is coming. {43} But
   understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what
   part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed
   awake and would not have let his house be broken into. {44}
   Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is
   coming at an unexpected hour.

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "Prepare The Way"                                    - VU 882
      

SERMON:  "Being Prepared: Keeping The Vision Alive"

   Lord, quieten our hearts that we may listen to Your still
   small voice, so that in hearing Your Word we may respond in
   fervent faith.  As Jesus led disciples of old, so lead us
   your children today.  We ask it his name.  Amen.

Throughout all of the scriptures there is one common refrain,
a refrain echoed over and over again - the refrain that says that
the final act of God's salvation of the world is coming,
   - that time when the lion will lie down with lamb,
   and nations shall be beat their swords in ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning hooks
   and God himself will judge between the nations.

This idea is expressed in many ways:
   - it is expressed by the prophets who speak throughout the old
   testament of the coming day of the Lord - that day which bring
   the destruction of the evil and the vindication of the good,
   - it is expressed by Jesus who speaks in each gospel of the
   coming of the Son of Man on the clouds with power and many
   signs to bring peace to the earth and to separate out the sheep
   from the goats
   - and it is expressed by the Apostles, who speak of the day of
   the Messiah's return and the triumph of the righteous.

Today - this time that we are in - is further represented by almost
all of the prophets, and by Jesus and the apostles, as a time of
darkness: 
   - a time in which we must wait for the day to come,
   - a time in which we must nourish the vision we have been given
   - a time in which we must stand by faith on the promises of God
   and be prepared for them to be suddenly brought to fulfilment.

Indeed this is the theme of Advent
being prepared for the coming to pass of all of God's promises
being prepared for the time of peace, the time of justice, 
the time when none shall hunger or thirst anymore.

It is about being prepared and about the vision of the prophets and
the apostles, and of Jesus himself, that I want to speak to you
today.

Many centuries ago a rabbi once asked his students how they could
tell when the night was passed and the day was on its way back
again.

   One suggested - "when you see an animal in the distance and
   you can tell if it is a sheep or a goat."

   Another said: "When you can see a tree in the distance and
   you can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree."

   But the rabbi was not impressed with these answers.  He
   finally told his students - it is when you can look at the
   face of any human being and see there the face your brother
   or sister - because if you cannot do this, then no matter
   what time it is - for you it is still night."

The vision of salvation that we have is very important,
without an adequate vision,
we are inadequately prepared to live this life as God wants us to live,
without an adequate hope,
we are inadequately prepared to deal with the world.

Today's industries recognize the principle behind what I have just
said - and most of them now have extensive orientation programs for
new employees:
   - in addition to the usual lectures on safety in the work site,
   they give tours of the entire operation to the new worker
   - they show films on how the product they are making is
   designed and used,
   - they speak of the firm's philosophy and market strategy
   - they stress the care and attention that the firm pays to all
   its people 
   - they attempt, in one way or another, to show where all the
   efforts made by the workers fit in and just how important they
   are within the total plan of the company..

The theory is that if the employee feels that what they are doing
makes a difference,
   - if they feel that is important and that they, as persons, are
   truly valued in it, 
   - if they catch hold of the company's vision 
then they will work harder, be more committed, happier, and
ultimately more productive.

Vision is important in every area of our life, not just in our
workplaces.

A couple of years back I was preparing a young man and woman for
their wedding.  I asked them, as I usually do, what kind of gifts
they brought to each other.

The young man looked at his fiancee and said - 
she brings me a sense of meaning and purpose.
I was struck by his response and asked him to say more.

He told me that before he had met her he had kind of drifted along,
   he had worked hard - but could not really see any purpose in it,
   but now - with a wife, and hopefully children entering his life,
he had a reason to live - he had someone to care for and someone
who would care for him.

What had happened to this young man happens to many people when
they come to love someone and are loved in return by them -
they catch hold of vision - 
and that vision feeds their lives and brings light to every step
they make.

What vision sustains us in our Christian walk?

What helps us face the darkness,
the times when we are hurt by others,
the times when we and those around us suffer,
the times when peace seems so far off
and justice seems to be just a dream?

What vision of God and of God's salvation do we have?

To many the world has become a terrible place, an awful void, an
appalling wilderness.  Yet many Christians, if they do not actually
join in the chorus of complaints that are heard all round, remain
silent, passive, and apathetic.

They do not nurture the vision of the prophets and the apostles
within them.  They do not - it seems - believe in the promises made
through them anymore.

And so they - with all who dwell in darkness - suffer without hope. 
Indeed they add to the suffering of the world by denying that world
the hope that God intends it to have.

Why is this?  Why have people let go of the vision that God gives
to us in virtually every page of the bible?

Some would say that it is because the promises of God are nothing
but dreams.  Others would say it is because - even if those
promises are true their fulfilment is too far in the future to make
any difference.

I know that many of us are tired of promises that have no substance
to them.

We have come to realize that buying a new car does not make us
happier; that the new brand of soap does not really bring us a
brighter bright; and that the deodorant that promises us confidence
all day, does not really make a difference when we have to speak in
public or meet someone who is important to our future.

The promises of God are not empty however, 
nor are they without substance.
In fact many of them have already come to pass,
they have already been fulfilled.

Remember the question the disciples of John the Baptist asked
Jesus?  "Are you the one who is to come - or should we wait for
another?"

Jesus answered them this way: 

   "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind
   receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,
   the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good
   news brought to them.

Someone once estimated that over 150 separate prophecies or
promises of God came true with the birth, death and resurrection of
Jesus.

God has kept his promises - those made for days of old,
   - those made to Abraham concerning the creation of a mighty
   nation from his seed,
   - those made later on concerning the rise and fall of Jerusalem
   as his chosen city 
   - and those made concerning the birth of the messiah in the
   line of David

God has kept his promises made for days of old
And God keeps his promises - those meant for today 
   - those which concern his presence among those who believe,
   - those which concern peace and comfort and support to those
   who have faith,
   - those which concern strength - even in weakness - to meet all
   adversity,
   - those which concern forgiveness and healing of the soul.

God has kept his promises, God keeps his promises
And God will keep his promises - those meant for that day, that day
which will surprise us in the future -    the day of Christ's return:
the day of peace for all nations and peoples, the day of judgement
and of vindication.

Vision is essential to our life
Without it, and without the hope that vision provides,
we turn as black as the night around us - we begin to die.

Vision needs to be nurtured however if it is kept alive.  It needs
to be clung to, especially when the darkness threatens us.  It
needs to be used - to be used as the filter through which we see
all of life.

We can keep the vision alive,
   - by remembering - all that God has done
   - and by thinking of what God is doing,
   - and out of this foundation, by believing that God will indeed
   bring to pass all that he has promised.

Martin Luther King - once said "I have a dream" and he shared that
dream with others.  And though he is now gone - the world has
changed because of that dream, and it continues to change because
of those who hold onto it.

We too have a dream - a promise - a vision - 
and if we choose to hold onto it,
if we proclaim it to ourselves and to others, 
without ever letting go of it,
the world will also change around us -
The light will come and we will see the face of our brothers and
sisters.
Our lives will have purpose and meaning,
And we will see what God has promised come to pass - in this life -
and in the next.  Praise be to God - Amen.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
We thank you, O God, that you have given us an enduring hope
- one which cannot disappoint us or mislead us.  We thank you,
that through our faith in you and in your Son Jesus Christ, you enter
into every believing heart and make new lives that have been torn
asunder by the darkness of this world  - by the darkness of human sin.

We pray today O God that those believers who are asleep may awake
and know that salvation is nearer now than when they first believed.
Help them, and us, to lay aside the works of darkness  and to put on
the armour of light that you bestow upon those who actively seek you day by
day.  Grant that their faith and ours may be fully alive so that the joy
of Christmas which so many seek in  the giving of gifts and the gathering
of family and friends may be ours all the year round.  Lord, hear our
prayer...

We ask today, O God, for those whose hope rests in Christmas,
rather than in Christ.  We pray for those who teach their children
that Santa Claus is the giver of all good gifts and that their family and
friends are the most important things in life instead of teaching
them about the things that endure - the gifts we give to strangers
- the love we shower upon our enemies - the compassion we show to
those in need - the obedience we render unto your will.   We ask that
you might give to those who place their hope in economic recovery,
in constitutional reform, in better jobs, or bigger homes, or in
anything else that is human rather than divine - the vision to see
you working in the lives of others and the ears to hear your gentle
voice calling them to rest themselves  in your grace and to trust in
your saving power.  Lord hear our prayer...

Lord God, we thank you for your Son Jesus, he who is the true
light of the world - and the real reason for this season.  We thank
you for the mercies you have shown us in him and for the promises you
have made through him - the promises that we have experienced the truth
and fulfillment of already - and the promises which we know will be
fulfilled on the day of his return.  Help us ready ourselves for that
time by being children of light in this time - we ask it in his name.
Amen.


* HYMN:  "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus"                      - VU 2


MINUTE FOR MISSION: WELCOMING MEMBERS                            
- A Word about Welcoming and Mission
- Receiving Brenda Cox, Gil Cox, and Sharon Smith
- Extending the Right Hand of Fellowship and Prayer


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541)
and Prayer of Dedication

   Accept O God these tithes - the portion you have asked us to
   give as a sign of our trust in you and our hope in your
   promises - and receive these offerings - our free gift of
   gratitude for all that you have done.  Bless them in your
   work - a work in which life triumphs over death - and light
   over darkness.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* SHARING THE PEACE:  We greet those around us with a sign of peace
    (handshakes or hugs) and words like "The peace of the Lord be 
    with you".  This ancient tradition is an appropriate response 
    to the peace that God gives to those who hear and do his word.
 

* COMMUNION HYMN  "All Who Hunger"                            - VU 460


COMMUNION LITANY:
L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.


EUCHARISTIC PRAYER
L  Loving God, in many and various ways you have visited and
   redeemed your people - finally sending to us your Son, Jesus. 
   We thank you Lord God for sending him to us: As one of us he
   came, at first a tender infant, then a child, a youth, and an
   adult.  He rejoiced with those who rejoiced, he wept with those
   who wept.  To the despairing he spoke a word of hope, to the
   sick he gave healing, to the rejected he was a friend.  And yet
   he was betrayed and nailed to a cross.  But you lifted him from
   the grave and restored him to life that he might be with us and
   we with him - alive - for evermore.  Therefore with all the
   saints and with the angels in heaven we praise you and we
   say/sing:

P  Holy, holy, holy, Lord,
   God of power and might,
   Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
   Hosanna in the highest.
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
   Hosanna in the highest.

L  Eternal God, King of heaven and earth: the life and death of
   thy Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we proclaim; his
   resurrection from the dead and his ascension we confess; his
   coming in triumph we await.

P  Come Lord Jesus, come.


WORDS OF INSTITUTION AND THE BLESSING OF THE CUP AND THE BREAD
L  So it is, O Lord,  as we gather in praise and thanksgiving at
   this time, we remember how on the night before his passion he
   took bread and gave you thanks, saying: "Take and eat: this is
   my body which will be broken for you."  We recall as well how,
   in the same way, when the meal was over, he took the cup, and
   gave it to his disciples, saying: "This is my blood, which will
   be shed for you.  When you do this, you do it in memory of me."

L  Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith:

P  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

L  Loving God, we pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit upon us and
   what we do here that we, and these gifts, touched by your
   Spirit, may be signs of hope to us and to all the world.  Give
   us the mind of Christ that we may follow him faithfully in this
   world as we await his return in glory.  We ask it in his name -
   praying together as he taught us, singing: Our Father...


THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS: The congregation is invited to
come forward up the centre aisle, then return to their seats by the
side aisles


DEPARTING PRAYER:
L  Let us pray  (silence, then when the Leader starts, say)
p  We give you thanks, O God, for the strength and the hope that
   you have poured out on us through Jesus.  By your grace we are
   better prepared to meet darkness with light, anger with love,
   and strife with peace.  We pray you now, send us forth with a
   joyful purpose in our hearts that we may do your will in all
   things until the day our Saviour comes in power and might to
   transform the entire world. Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:   "Jesus Calls Us"                     - VU 562


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go
   forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of
   God, the body of Christ.
 

* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace,
- and may God bless you with a living hope,
- may he draw your minds to the inheritance that has been won for
     you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
- and by the power of God and by your faith in it  
     may you be kept safe until the day of salvation.  Amen
  

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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