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Sermon and Liturgy For Advent Three - Year B
Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; Luke 1:47-55; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
"The Joy of The Season"


READING:  Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; Luke 1:47-55; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
SERMON :  "The Joy of the Season"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
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   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. 

   Sources and A Note: For more years than I can count in the
   various churches I have served the Third Sunday of Advent has
   been a time when the children present their "White Gift"
   Christmas Pageant to the congregation.  The result is that I have
   not preached a sermon or otherwise followed the normal lectionary
   and liturgical pattern.  Much of what follows below is, therefore,
   the work of folk linked to our web site and who have given us
   permission to use their work.  The children's story is that of
   Charles Kirkpatrick at www.Sermons4Kids.com.  Charles site is
   one of the best free sources of children's stories on the Net. 
   The sermon is entirely that of Deacon Sil Galvan (www.deaconsil.com).
   Sil's site is subscription based.
     

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME
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.
                    

* ADVENT INTROIT
L    Let us Sing our Advent Introit - "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord" from
     Voices United #10.   (As Introit is sung the candle lighters and
     readers comes forward)  

          Prepare the way of the Lord!
          Prepare the way of the Lord!
          Make a straight path for him, make a straight path;
          prepare the way of the Lord!


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING - JOY
     VOICE     A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots
               a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest
               on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the
               Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and
               of the fear of the Lord.

     VOICE     He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide
               by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he
               will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions
               for the poor of the earth. 

     VOICE     He will provide those who grieve a crown of beauty instead
               of ashes, to those who mourn he  will give the oil of
               gladness, and upon those who live in sorrow and despair he
               will pour out a spirit of praise.     

     VOICE     As the soil makes the sprout comes up and a garden causes
               seeds to grow, so the Lord will  shine forth upon us and
               bring to us and our world everlasting joy.  

          Light the First, Second, and *Third Candle  (* the pink candle) 

     VOICE     Let us Pray  - Loving God, we thank you for the light that you
               have sent and are sending into the world, the light that even now
               lights our path.  Come among us and fill us with the joy that you
               want all your children to have. Make us ones who by word and
               action bring praise and glory to you and your chosen one, the
               Christ who redeems all people.  Amen.


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: "A Candle Is Burning"  (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.


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Who Is The Greatest" (John 1:27)
Theme:    We are to be witnesses to the light.
Source:   With permission - Charles Kirpatrick, www.sermon4kids.com 2002.
Object:   A baseball and a bat.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be the greatest singer in
the world, or the greatest athlete in the world?  Have you ever thought
about what it would be like hear the cheers of people as they watched you
perform?

I heard a story about a little boy who walked out into the backyard wearing
his baseball cap and carrying a ball and bat. "I'm the greatest hitter in
the world," he said.  Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it,
and missed.  "Strike One!" he yelled.

He picked up the ball and said again, "I'm the greatest hitter in the
world!"  Again, he tossed the ball into the air, and again he swung at it
and missed.  "Strike Two!" he cried.

The boy looked at his bat and ball, straightened his cap and said again,
"I'm the greatest hitter in the world!"  A third time he tossed the ball up
in the air and swung at it.  He missed again.  "Strike Three!"

The little boy picked up the ball, looked at it, and cried out in a loud
voice, "I'm the greatest pitcher in the world!"

I guess all of us at some time have dreamed of being the greatest.  This
morning I want to tell you about a man who had no desire to be thought of
as being the greatest.  In fact, he wanted to make sure that everyone knew
that he was NOT the greatest.  The man's name was John.

John was very popular in his day and people would travel for miles 
to see John and to hear him speak.  He was so popular that many people
began to think that he might be the Saviour that had been promised -- or
that he must at least be Elijah or one of the great prophets who had come
back from the dead.

John assured people that he was not the Christ, or even one of the great
prophets.  He told them that he was just a man who had come to tell them
about one who was coming who truly was the greatest.  "The one who is
coming -- why, I'm not even worthy to unbuckle his sandals," John said.  Of
course, the one he was talking about was Jesus.

Most of us will probably never be known as "the greatest anything," but we
can, like John, tell others about the One who is The Greatest.  We can tell
them about Jesus.  I can't think of anything that we could do that would be
greater than that!   


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
     Dear Jesus - you are truly the greatest. -  During this season -
     when we celebrate your birth, -  may we eagerly share with others
     - the true meaning of Christmas. - Amen.
          
And together let us pray the prayer that Jesus 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; and lead us not into
     temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom,
     the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN:  Go Tell it On The Mountain                                 - VU 43


TIME FOR SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 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 they will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM ISAIAH 61:1-4,8-11
     (NIV)  The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has
     anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind
     up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release
     from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's
     favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown
     of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
     and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be
     called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display
     of his splendour.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the
     places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have
     been devastated for generations.

     "For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.  In my
     faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with
     them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their
     offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that
     they are a people the LORD has blessed." 

     I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has
     clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of
     righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a
     bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the soil makes the
     sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign
     Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Luke 1:47-55 & the Gloria Patri (sung)
L    My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the
     humble state of his servant. 
P    From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One
     has done great things for me - holy is his name. 
L    His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to
     generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has
     scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
P    He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the
     humble. 
L    He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away
     empty. 
P    He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to
     Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."

          Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
          As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
          World without end.  Amen


A READING FROM I THESSALONIANS 5:16-24
     Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,
     for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the
     Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test
     everything. Hold on to the good.  Avoid every kind of evil.  May God
     himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your
     whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our
     Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do
     it.

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


* HYMN: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You"                             - VU 232


A READING FROM JOHN 1:6-8,19-28
     (NIV)  There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He
     came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through
     him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only
     as a witness to the light.

     Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests
     and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but
     confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." 

     They asked him, "Then who are you?  Are you Elijah?" 

     He said, "I am not." 

     "Are you the Prophet?" 

     He answered, "No." 

     Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to
     those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 

     John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of
     one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'" 

     Now some Pharisees who had been sent {25} questioned him, "Why then do
     you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"

     "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do
     not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose
     sandals I am not worthy to untie." 

     This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where
     John was baptizing.

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

SERMON: "The Joy of The Season" (by Deacon Sil)

     Let us Pray - Lord God, Creator and Maker of us all, speak in the
     calming of our minds and in the longings of our hearts, by the
     words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak O Lord,
     for your servants listen.  Amen.

If we were still using Latin at Mass, the first word we would have heard in
today's liturgy would have been "Gaudete", or "rejoice".  The word is
sprinkled throughout today's readings: in the first reading from Isaiah,
the prophet proclaims that God has sent him to bring "glad tidings to the
poor" and "I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my
soul".  The psalm of the day is taken from Mary's Magnificat, in which she
exclaims "My soul rejoices in my God, my spirit finds joy in God my
savior".  The second reading from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians begins
with the words "Rejoice always".

These readings have their basis in the Hebrew language, which has more
words for joy and rejoicing than any other language and this from a
language known for having few words.  In the Old Testament, 13 Hebrew
roots, found in 27 different words, are used primarily for some aspect of
joy or joyful participation in religious worship. 

1) Hebrew religious ritual proclaims God as the source of joy. 

2) In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite
worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. 

3) The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy
of his life. 

4) As noted in our readings, pure joy is joy in God as both its source and
object, like a circle: God gives joy to us and we return it back to God. 
The Old Testament is a book of joy!  The New Testament is a book of Good
News!  This is God's will for us to be joyful, to pray continuously and to
give God thanks in all circumstances. 

There is a story told about a man from Louisville, Kentucky, who had to
travel to St. Louis on business.  This was years ago when Christians still
kept Sunday as a very special day.  For this man, "keeping the Sabbath"
meant not riding the trains on Sunday.  Thus, after he finished up his
business late Saturday night, he had to stay over in St. Louis until the
following Monday morning.  On Sunday morning, he left the hotel looking for
a place to worship.  The streets were quite deserted, but finally he saw a
policeman and asked him for directions to the nearest Protestant church.
The stranger thanked the policeman for the information and was about to
walk off when he turned and asked the policeman: "Why have you recommended
that particular church?  There must be several churches nearby that you
could have recommended."  The policeman smiled and replied: "I'm not a
church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the
happiest looking church-people in St. Louis.  I thought that would be the
kind of church you would like to attend." (1) 

One thing many people have forgotten in their Christian pilgrimage the duty
to be joyful.  Maybe one of the reasons that Jesus used a little child as
the sole embodiment of the kingdom of God is the innate joyfulness of
children. 

One writer tells of her trepidation at seeing the slums of Bombay.  The
poverty was overwhelming and hygiene all but lacking.  Nonetheless, the air
was filled with the laughter of children at play. 

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross speaks movingly of an even worse
situation.  Visiting a children's barracks in one of the German death camps
after the Second World War, she had expected to see evidence of horror.
Instead, the walls were covered with drawings of butterflies, a universal
symbol of joy. 

For those of us who are adults, one of the things that make Christmas so
joyful is seeing the wide-eyed expressions of wonder on little faces. 
Children know about joy.  Somehow we adults seem to lose that awe and
wonder somewhere along the road to grownuphood.

There's a story I read to which some of you may be able to relate about a
woman's remembrances of her grandmother, Gagi.  At the time of her
grandfather's death, at 90 years of age, her grandparents had been married
for over 50 years.  Gagi felt the loss deeply.  The central focus had been
taken from her life, and she retreated from the world, entering into an
extended period of mourning.  Her grieving lasted nearly five years, and
during that time, her granddaughter visited her every week or two. 

One day, she visited Gagi expecting to find her in her usual state of
quiescence.  Instead, she found her sitting in her wheelchair beaming. 
When she didn't comment quickly enough about the obvious change in her
demeanor, Gagi confronted her: "Don't you want to know why I'm so happy?
Aren't you even curious?"  She went on to explain: "Last night I got an
answer.  I finally know why God took my husband and left me behind to live
without him.  Your grandfather knew that the secret of life is love, and he
lived it every day.  He had become unconditional love in action.  I have
known about unconditional love, but I haven't fully lived it.  That's why
he got to go first, and I had to stay behind.  All this time I thought I
was being punished for something, but last night I found out that I was
left behind as a gift from God.  He let me stay so that I too could turn my
life into love.  You see, you can't learn the lesson after you die.  Love
has to be lived here on earth.  Once you leave, it's too late.  So I was
given the gift of life so that I can learn to live love here and now." 

On one of her subsequent visits, Gagi told her of something that had
happened to her that day. "This morning, your uncle was upset and angry
with me over something I had done.  I didn't even flinch.  I received his
anger, wrapped it in love and returned it with joy."  Her eyes twinkled as
she added, "It was even kind of fun, and his anger dissolved."
 
Though age continued on its course, Gagi's life was vigorously renewed.  In
the last days of her life, the granddaughter visited her often in the
hospital.  As she walked toward her room one day, the nurse on duty looked
into her eyes and said, "Your grandmother is a very special lady, you
know...she's a light."  Yes, love and joy lit up her life and she became a
light for others until the end. (2) 

The nurse in the story speaks of Gagi as a light.  In John's gospel, when
our Lord receives news of John the Baptist's death, he comments to his
disciples: "This man was a light, consuming and revealing, but you wished
to rejoice exceedingly for a while in his presence." 

That one verse has stayed with me for many years and I have tried to live
it to the best of my ability.

If we were to take Gagi's theory to heart, we would realize that obviously
we're not ready to go yet either.  We are still "works-in-progress".  I
know for myself, I've had three close encounters with death.  When I was
two years old, I was hit by a car which left only a small indentation in my
forehead. (Some of my "friends" say it did a lot more damage than that.)
Then I was almost run over by my own car on my honeymoon. (Try to arrange
that sometime.)  And then I fell 25 feet off a roof and lived to talk about
it.

At this time of year, we need to let joy into our hearts.  If your heart is
aching this Advent season for any reason: the loss of love in a marriage,
the memory of someone you love who is now with God, concern about a teenage
child, concerns about your health, don't let despair defeat you.  If you
have recently lost a loved one and that person could come back and stand
before you right now, they wouldn't tell you to continue to grieve for
them.  They would tell you: "I am at peace; you be at peace also.  That is
my wish for you."  If something stands in the way of joy, let it go.

One of the things which I have seen stand in the way of joy is people
taking themselves or what they do too seriously.  We need to laugh at
ourselves, because others will be more than willing to do so for us.  When
I believe someone is being too serious, I will often joke with them in the
hope that laughter will bring them back to reality.  We are eminently
laughable at - I know that I am - and what we do is just a job or an
appointed position, something that in the big picture is not worth getting
upset about with another person and something which could be taken away in
the twinkling of an eye. 

Enjoy life, relish every moment, for we know not the day nor the hour. 
Find someway this special season to defeat the blues.  Consider doing
something for shut-ins who have no one to care for them.  Do something
positive, something heart-warming, something that will bring someone else
joy.  For joy has a way of boomeranging and giving the person who gives it
more joy than the one who receives it.  I read recently that we ought to
"practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty". 

Next week we celebrate the second most important feast in the Church's
liturgical year after Easter.  It is a day of rejoicing and of "joy to the
world".  Love came down at Christmas, as one seasonal song goes, and with
it came joy, the ability for us to overcome sin and sadness, because our
Lord loved us enough to become one like us.  As in the chorus of the song
we just sang last week, "Rejoice and be glad. Blessed are you, holy are
you. Yours is the kingdom of God."  

May joy be yours this Christmas season.

     References
     1. From Be Joyful. Dynamic Preaching for the Third Sunday of
     Advent. Copyright 1996 by Seven Worlds Corporation, Knoxville,
     TN. [This modestly-priced subscription service ($29 annually by
     e-mail or $35 by disk or in print) may be purchased through the
     Homiletic Resource Center. But I highly recommend it, if for
     nothing else than the great illustrations it contains every
     week!] 

     2. Grandmother's Gift. Copyright 1993 by D. Trinidad Hunt. She is
     an educator, speaker, consultant and corporate trainer. She may
     be reached at Elan Enterprises, 1-800-707-3526. Reprinted with
     the author's permission from A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for
     the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, pp. 60-62.
     Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. (This resource,
     as well as many other Chicken Soup books, and a specially-priced
     package of them, is available at a discount through the Homiletic
     Resource Center.)(See also What Ought We To Do?). 

     (Copyright 2002 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a
     little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely
     granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For
     permission to use in writing, please contact the human
     intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net) 

	 
* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering, including White Gifts is
     brought forward and placed on the Offering Plates and under the
     Christmas Tree as is appropriate,  music will be played.  When the
     last person has come forward we will stand to sing the Doxology
     (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and to pray the
     Prayer of Dedication which includes Prayers of the People
          
     - Hymn:  "In The Bleak Mid-Winter"                             - VU 55
     - Doxology "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow           - VU 541


PRAYER OF DEDICATION, THANKSGIVING & INTERCESSION 
Gracious God, you have given so much: life and breath; food and shelter and
all those things we call our daily bread.  You have given us all this and
more yet - for without our asking, or in any way deserving, you have also
given to us the supreme gift of your Son Jesus Christ;  and the love and
the hope that we need for this life, and for the next.  We thank you, O
God...

Bless we pray, Most Gracious One, the gifts we have offered for thy glory
and for they work this day, and hear our prayers for those in particular
need.   We pray for your church that it may shine brightly with the eternal
light of your son; for your world that those who dwell therein may wake and
sleep in peace, and that every person may have health in body and soul, and
feast on the bread of heaven as well as the bread prepared by mortal man;
and we pray for those whose special needs and whose special joys we hold up
before you at this time....  (Bidding Prayer)

We ask these things O God, with hope and praise in our hearts, our minds,
and our souls, through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Hark The Glad Sound"                            - VU 29


* COMMISSIONING:  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; love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may God the Father bless you richly, 
- may Christ the Son pour the riches of his grace upon you, 
- and may the Holy Spirit, our comfort and our support, lead you in the
path of hope, and of peace, of joy and of love.
both now and forevermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild and Deacon Sil Galvan 2002 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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