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Sermon and Liturgy for The Third Sunday of Advent - Year A
Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
"Being Prepared: Giving and Receiving The Gift of Joy"


READING:  Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
SERMON :  "Being Prepared: Giving and Receiving The Gift of Joy"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-ad03sn 811000

     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.
     Please note that this is a White Gift / Sunday School Pageant
     Service and so is missing some of the elements you normally look
     for each week.
     

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  Come once more, with eager longing, to receive the promises of God.  
P  Out of the desert places of our lives we gather with joy and gladness.
L  Happy are those who help is the God of Jacob, 
   whose hope is in the Lord their God.
P  Our God has promised that lonely places and deserts will be glad 
   and blossom as the rose.
L  The Lord has promised that the blind will be able to see,
   the deaf will hear, the lame will leap and dance, 
   and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.
P  Our God, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them, 
   keeps faith forever.  
   He sets the prisoners free nd brings healing to those who seek him.
L  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down 
   and watches over strangers.  
   He upholds the orphan and the widow.
P  Our God executes justice for the oppressed 
   and gives food to the hungry.
L  Come once more, with eager longing, and bless the holy name of our God.


* 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 third Sunday of Advent - the Sunday of Joy.

VOICE  - Our joy is in God and in his son Jesus Christ.  Like hope and
       peace, joy is a gift from God.  It overtakes us and fills us when we
       remember what God has done and what he has promised to do.

VOICE  - We light this candle today to remind us that Christ came, and  is
       coming, so that all people might have a rich and abundant life.  We
       thank God for the hope he gives us, for the peace he bestows, and
       for the joy he pours into our hearts.

Light the First, Second, and Third Candle

VOICE  - Let us pray -- O God of Joy, Emmanuel, send your light into our
       hearts.  Help us to be ready for day and hour of Christ's appearing. 
       Fix our hearts and our minds upon those things you have done and
       those you have promised to do that we may have the joy you have
       promised.  As we worship you, strengthen us so that we may always do
       your will and so bless you and the world you have made.  Amen.


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING SONG  (VU-6, verse 3)
   A candle is burning, a candle of joy.
   A candle to welcome brave Mary's new boy.
   Our hearts fill with wonder, and eyes light and glow
   as joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow.


WELCOME, ANNOUNCEMENTS, AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns
   

TIME OF SILENCE & AND INTROIT FOR THE WORD   (v2 of 371)
 
  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! 


A READING FROM ISAIAH 35:1-10
   (NRSV) On that day the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall
   blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.  The glory of
   Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. 
   They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 

   Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to
   those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear!  Here is
   your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.  He
   will come and save you."  Then the eyes of the blind shall be
   opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap
   like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  For
   waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the
   desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground
   springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the
   grass shall become reeds and rushes. 

   A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the
   unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no
   traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.  No lion shall be there,
   nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found
   there, but the redeemed shall walk there.  And the ransomed of the
   LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy
   shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and
   sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

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


YOUTH CHOIR PRESENTATION
Today, the Youth Choir brings to us four songs - progressing from the
secular to the sacred.  Let us welcome them with our applause:

  Skate Board Song
  Clouds
  Take These Wings
  First Noel

            
A READING FROM MATTHEW 11:2-11
   (NRSV)  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he
   sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is
   to come, or are we to wait for another?" 

   Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

   As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John:
   "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?  A reed shaken
   by the wind?  What then did you go out to see?  Someone dressed in
   soft robes?  Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.
   What then did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and
   more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written,
   'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your
   way before you.'  Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one
   has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the
   kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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

CHOIR ANTHEM:  "When Will The Little King Come"


HOMILY:  "Being Prepared: Giving and Receiving The Gift of Joy"

Today is the Sunday of Joy.  The joy of God.  As we saw in the last two
week, in preparing for the coming of the Christ - we are called to keep
alive the vision which provides us with hope and to seek the Peace of God -
that peace that only God can give - that peace which comes when we turn,
and walk in the path that Jesus has shown us.

Joy is not something that we can seek,
it is something that overtakes us when while we are working to keep the
vision alive
and walking on the path that Jesus has set before us.

As we walk that path - joy happens to us,
we gain glimpses of what it is that God is about
we encounter situations where we see God's promises coming true,
and we have, suddenly this great joy in hearts.

Imagine if you will for a minute John the Baptist, in prison,
Herod is about to kill him - and undoubtedly John is aware of this
though the particular circumstances of his death are still to be shaped by
Herod's wife and daughter

John is uncertain about whether his ministry is completed or not,
uncertain about whether or not Jesus is the Messiah that he has proclaimed
the coming of.
And he sends messengers from prison to ask Jesus -
"Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another"

And imagine if you will for a minute how he heard the answer 
  the feeling that must have overcame him when his disciples reported to
him what Jesus said:

   "Go and tell John what you hear and see.  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. 
   Blessed  are they who take no offense at me."

Imagine how John felt when he heard that all that he yearned for as a child
of Abraham was in fact happening,
   that God was working a great work through through Jesus, the child of
   Mary, the kind of work that Isaiah spoke of in our first reading this
   morning.

Joy.

Joy should not be confused with happiness, 
   which, according to their constitution, the citizens of the great
country south of us pursue;
for it is not happiness - nor even contentment.

Joy rather is something rather overwhelming,
it is what happens when we witness God at work,
whether it is in our family relationships,
in our church,
or in our community and in the wider world.

I called today's homily "Being Prepared, Giving and Receiving The Gift of
Joy", not only to as a means of keeping together our Advent theme,
   that theme suggested by the light of the candles upon our wreath,
but to highlight one of the realities of the gift of joy -
   that reality which relates to the fact that while it cannot be sought,
the gift of joy can be given and received by us.

When we see the works of God being done - we receive the gift of joy.
And when we allow God to do his works through us - we give the gift of joy
or at the very, very least - it's possibility.

That is part of what White Gift Sunday is about -
its about doing the works of God
the work of caring,
and praying joy may come with the giving,
that the hand of God may be seen.

Joy is a wonderful thing,
a thing that overtakes us when we are on the path shown to us by Christ.

It is not continuous - at least in this world -- but it pops up whenever we
see God at work healing the sick, curing the lame, giving sight to the
blind, and proclaiming good news to those who are poor.  It pops up when we
do the work of God - and understand that God is doing his work in the
circumstances around us.

Everlasting joy comes, so testifies Isaiah on the day of Christ's second
coming, 

   On that day, he testifies, the wilderness and the dry land shall be
   glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall
   blossom abundantly, on that day,  the ransomed of the LORD shall
   return, and come to Zion with singing; and everlasting joy shall be
   upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and
   sighing shall flee away.

There is a day coming which we are called to be prepared for, 
   a day coming, of an eternal joy, 
       a joy which we receive a taste of in the here and now when we
       receive the gift of seeing God at work, 
          and when we do the works of God and thereby make it possible for
          others to have the joy of seeing him.

Blessed be the name of God, day by day.  Amen


* HYMN:   "It Only Takes A Spark"                                  - VU 289


WHITE GIFT PAGEANT PRESENTATION                             - Sunday School
As our White Gift Sunday Pageant presentation assembles I want to take this
opportunity to thank Wendy Oszust, Mickey Balas, and all the members of the
Sunday School and their helpers like Maxine and Polly for the work they
have done since mid-summer.  Our Sunday School is growing - our children
are happy - and the Lord is being praised.  We have needs for more helpers
in music, in teaching, and in the nursery - and we ask that you would pray
on those needs - and give thanks to God for how he has answered us thus
far.  Let us show a sign of appreciation to our God - and to our Sunday
School.
   
- - Pageant - -  


* HYMN: "Once in Royal David's City"                                - VU 62


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE          (first intercession based on a prayer of
                               Henri Nouwen from "Be With Me Lord: Prayers
                               and Reflections For The Advent Season)

Gracious Lord, born in a manger, now our King above - when you walked among
us and shared our life in all its good and evil, you said - "take my yoke
upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart".  How
often Lord, we complain about our yokes and hear others complain about
theirs.  So often we consider life and its many tasks burdensome and we
spend much time and energy expressing our annoyance and irritation.  Help
us, dear Lord, remember that you did not say "I will take your burdens
away", but "I invite you to take my burden".  Your burden is real.  It is
the burden of all human sin and failings.  Your carried that burden and
died under its weight.  You make it into a light burden.   O Lord, let us
carry your burden in union with you.  We know that only then will we
overcome the temptations of bitterness and resentfulness and begin to live
joyfully and gratefully in your presence.   Lord, hear our prayer  

Gracious Lord, we heard the scriptures speak this morning about John the
Baptist being in prison, and we will hear later of how Jesus and Joseph and
Mary were forced to become refugees in a strange land due to the violence
that was in their land.  We pray today, O God, for the prophets and the
saints were are imprison this very day - and for all those forced to flee
from their native land.... Lord hear our prayer...

Compassionate God,  there are many in our world - and indeed in our
community, who have difficulty in naming their blessings this day -
difficulty because the external circumstances of their lives are far more
harsh than our own, difficult because their hearts are weighed down with
tragedy and grief.  We pray O God for these less fortunate ones at this
time:

We pray for the older people who pension cheques cannot stretch far
enough...
  
For the single parents who are forced to choose between paying rent and
buying food...  

For men and women who find themselves without work...  

For employers who barely make the payroll from month to month...  

For employees whose brave smiles hide their fear of getting a pink slip...  

For families forced to abandon their homes for a new community where no one
knows their names... 

For all others who circumstances we do not know - but who need a special
blessing at this time....  Lord hear our prayer...

Lord, hear our prayer as well for those particular persons and situations
who were lifted up by this congregation of your people in our time of
sharing   Lord, hear our prayer...


Life Giving God, we ask you to unleash your abundant life among all your
people.  May your Spirit give us the faith and the courage to live as
visible signs of the new life you offer.  Help us to receive the gifts that
Jesus offers us - and to offer the gifts that Jesus would give through us. 
We ask it in his name.  Amen.
 

ANTHEM:  "Away in A Manager" 


MINUTE FOR MISSION:
In the year 1904 the wife of a Methodist Episcopal minister in Paineville,
Ohio was thinking about the White Gift Legend of Kublai Khan, the ruler of
Cathay in the thirteenth century.  Despite his reputation as a great
warrior, he was loved by his subjects, whom he treated well.  In addition
to building the city of Peking, he also improved the public works in much
of his kingdom - all to the benefit of his people

To celebrate his birthday one year all his subjects agreed to hold a great
celebration and bring gifts wrapped in plain white paper.  That way the
simplest and the most elaborate gifts looked the same and the intent of the
giver, rather their gift, became the most important thing.

At the suggestion of the minister's wife, the church in Painsville asked
the children to bring gifts to Jesus, wrapped in white paper, which would
be distributed to the less fortunate people in the community.  

So began the tradition of White Gift Sunday - a tradition that has gone
everywhere in the world.  Herbert Wernecke, in his book "Christmas
Traditions Around the World" writes this about White Gift Sunday in Brazil

   While many of the people are poor, they generally know of others
   ware are in still greater need.  So each person brings a little gift
   of food, a bit of rice, a potato or two, if he can spare no more -
   anything to help make a Christmas dinner for some poorer person in
   the community.  Children and adults come with enthusiasm and joy. 
   All gifts are wrapped in white paper and there, in the front of the
   church, around a crude little manger filled with straw and a small
   light, symbolic of "the light of the world", they walk to the front
   with their gifts, singing as they go!  The learn and express that
   not receiving but giving is the real spirit of Christmas.

So it is.  As it was in 1902 in Painsville, so it is here today.  The white
gifts you bring will help those who are in still greater need than
ourselves.  After our prayer litany for the offering, I ask you to come
forward, as do our brothers and sisters in Brazil and other places, with 
enthusiasm and joy and make your offering to Jesus.  Here today - we will
sing as our offering is completed.
                 

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: A Litany For Our Offering
L  Many children do not have bread.
P  We want to share our bread with those who hunger.
L  Many children do not have clean water to drink.
P  We want to help find clean water for those who thirst.
L  Many children are cold.
P  We want to share our warm clothing.
L  Many children do not have homes.
P  We want to help them build homes.
L  Many people do not have seeds to grow their own food.
P  We want to share our seeds.
L  Let us share now the gifts of God that we have brought this day.
            
       Please bring forward your tithes and offerings to place on
       the plates on the Communion Table - your white gifts all
       around it and return to your seats and remain standing.  When
       the last person has returned to their seat we will sing the
       Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541)
       and continue with the Prayer of Dedication.

L  We give these gifts, O God - in thankfulness for your love.
P  We offer these offerings, O God, for the work of your kingdom.
L  We ask you to bless them on their way.
P  We ask you to use them and us in your service.
L  Through Christ our Lord we ask it - praying as he taught us.
P  Our Father...


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "I Am The Light Of The World"                    - VU 87


* 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, our three in one, the source of true hope, peace and joy,
gift you with open hands so you are able to both give and to receive his
blessings,
- may he impart unto you an open heart so that you are able to welcome him
in whatever form he takes
- and may he grant you an open mind, so that you are able to recognize his
presence even in the midst of this world's darkness,
this both now and forevermore.


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964
  

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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