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Sermon (2) and Liturgy For Advent Four - Year B
II Samuel 7:1-11,16; Luke 1:47-55; Luke 1:26-38
"How Can This Be?   Nothing Is Impossible For God!"


READING:  II Samuel 7:1-11,16; Luke 1:47-55; Luke 1:26-38
SERMON :  "How Can This Be?   Nothing Is Impossible For God"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-ad04sn 707000

   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:  The children's story is based on an idea in Children's
   Sermon Plus - Cycle B,Vol.27, No.1.  Some sermon ideas come from
   notes sent to "Sermonshop" in 1996 by Carol Hosler, Sid Burgess,
   and David Taylor.  The opening story is based on one by King
   Duncan, "Advent 4b 1996" in Dynamic Preaching.


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 - LOVE
     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     The Lord our God will fulfill all his promises to through
               him.  He will receive the throne of David and his Kingdom
               will endure forever.   Through him and in him we will have
               rest from all our enemies.  His love will vanquish the power
               of sin and death.  

     VOICE     He will be known as the Light of the World.  All who dwell
               in Him will dwell in everlasting love and no darkness will
               be in them.   He is our hope, our peace, our joy, and our
               love.

          Light the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Candles  

     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.  As you visited Mary and promised
               to her to bring forth from her the Promised One from of old,
               so visit us this day and give us eyes to see and hearts to
               welcome your presence.  Make us a people who receive and
               give birth to your love in the world.  Amen
 

ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: "A Candle Is Burning"  (VU 6, verse 4)
          A candle is burning, a candle of love,
          a candle to point us to heaven above,
          A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth,
          for Jesus is bringing God's love to our earth.


CHILDREN'S TIME 
Theme:    God's Visit
Object:   Christmas Tree Angel
Source:   Based on an idea in Children's Sermon Plus - Cycle B - Vol.  27,
          No.1

Good morning.  Can anyone think of why today might be a very special today? 

Today we are only three days from Christmas - and we remember today a very
special visit that was made many years ago to a young woman in the land
known as Israel - a visit that was made by an angel.  Angels are to be
found all throughout the Bible - and throughout the Christmas story we
remember every year.  Can you think of some places where Angels appear in
the Christmas story...????   (Zecheriah - the uncle of Jesus while he is in
the temple; Angel to Mary; Angel to the shepherds; many angels to the
shepherds)

Angels are messengers from God.  They do special things.  And angels have
names just like us.  Can anyone think of the name of some angels
(Michael... Raphael... Uriel... Gabriel)
     
Today I want to talk to you about the angel Gabriel.  Gabriel is the most
important of all God's angels.  He is known as an archangel because he,
with Michael arches above all the other angels.  He leads all the other
angels when they go do something very special in the world.  Sometimes,
when he appears - he looks just like a man - but a man who is nine feet
tall, with wings, and a sword.  Gabriel can appear very frightening until
you realize that he comes from God - and that God is full of love - and so
are his angels.  Other times Gabriel can appear just like you and me -
because angels can change how they look - and still other times  it seems
that they have wings and fly - kind of how our Christmas tree angels look..
     
Anyway - many years ago the angel Gabriel - the most important of all the
angels, came from God to deliver a very important message to all the world. 
Now - if you had a very important message to give to the whole world -
where would you go to deliver it...??? 
     
Gabriel came not to the Emperor of Rome - who ruled the whole world in
those days - nor even to the King of Israel - who ruled over God's people. 
He didn't even go to the biggest city with the biggest newspaper and TV
station - to deliver his message - but instead he went to a tiny village
and to a very young woman that no one had ever heard of.  Her name was
Mary,  and she was poor and didn't have a lot of education.  Most people
would have thought of her  as being very unimportant.
     
But God thought she was important.  And God sent Gabriel to her.  And do
you know what God wanted Gabriel to say to her...??? 
     
God told Mary, through the angel Gabriel, that she was to give birth to the
Saviour of the whole world - that she would be the mother of Jesus. 
Gabriel told Mary that through her and  her child the whole world would be
changed.  And it was.  Things have never been the same since.
     
One thing I think this story tells us is that every person is precious to
God.  God could have chosen anyone to give birth to Jesus - but God choses
a person that everyone else thought not important - and through her did
some very important things.  And that is the way it is with us too.  God
chooses us - not always with an angel's visit - but God still chooses us  -
to bring the good news of Jesus and his love to the whole world.   That is
part of what Christmas is all about - telling the whole world about the
special things that God has done - and is still doing - through the one who
was born of Mary and of God's own Spirit.


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
     Dearest God - thank you so much - for visiting Mary - and thank
     you for the child she bore. - We thank you too oh God - for how
     you love everyone - even those who seem unimportant - and for how
     you call us to do the same - through Christ Jesus your Son - the
     Son of Mary - 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:  "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks"                       - VU 75


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


A READING FROM II SAMUEL 7:1-11,16
     (NIV)  After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given
     him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the
     prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God
     remains in a tent." 

     Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and
     do it, for the Lord is with you."  

     That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:  "Go and tell
     my servant David, 'This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to
     build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the
     day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day.  I have been
     moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.  Wherever I
     have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their
     rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, 'Why have you
     not built me a house of cedar?'  Now then, tell my servant David,
     'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and
     from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.  I have
     been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your
     enemies from before you.  Now I will make your name great, like the
     names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place
     for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home
     of their own and no longer be disturbed.  Wicked people will not
     oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever
     since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel.  I will also
     give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord declares to you that the
     LORD himself will establish a house for you: Your house and your
     kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established
     forever.'"

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Luke 1:47-55 (VU 898) and The Gloria Patri (Sung) 

     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 LUKE 1:26-38
     (NIV) In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a
     town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named
     Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin's name was Mary.  The angel
     went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The
     Lord is with you." 

     Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of
     greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid,
     Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give
     birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be
     great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will
     give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the
     house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 

     "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 

     The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power
     of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will
     be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to
     have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in
     her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God." 

     "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have
     said." Then the angel left her.

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


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


SERMON: "How Can This Be?  Nothing Is Impossible For God"

     Bless O God the words of my lips and the meditations of our
     hearts, and when we go from this place help us to continue to
     hear and to see and to do and be all that you would have us hear
     and see and do and be.  We ask it in the name of the promised one
     - Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

A story came across the Internet recently.  Whether it is true or not is
unknown.  It is allegedly a report on Global Organized Crime from the
Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 

     According to this report, FBI agents conducted a raid of a
     psychiatric hospital in San Diego that was under investigation
     for medical insurance fraud.  After hours of reviewing thousands
     of medical records, the dozens of agents had worked up quite an
     appetite.  The agent in charge of the investigation called a
     nearby pizza parlour with delivery service to order a quick
     dinner for his colleagues.  The following telephone conversation
     took place and was recorded by the FBI because they were taping
     all conversations at the hospital: 

     Agent:         Hello. I would like to order 19 large pizzas and 67
                    cans of soda. 

     Pizza Man:     And where would you like them delivered? 

     Agent:         We're over at the psychiatric hospital. 

     Pizza Man:     The psychiatric hospital? 

     Agent:         That's right. I'm an FBI agent. 

     Pizza Man:     You're an FBI agent? 

     Agent:         That's correct.  Just about everybody here is. 

     Pizza Man:     And you're at the psychiatric hospital? 

     Agent:         That's correct.  And make sure you don't go
                    through the front doors.  We have them locked. 
                    You will have to go around to the back to the 
                    service entrance to deliver the pizzas. 

     Pizza Man:     And you say you're all FBI agents? 

     Agent:         That's right.  How soon can you have them here? 

     Pizza Man:     And everyone at the psychiatric hospital is an FBI
                    agent? 

     Agent:         That's right.  We've been here all day and we're
                    starving. 

     Pizza Man:     How are you going to pay for all of this? 

     Agent:         I have my checkbook right here. 

     Pizza Man:     And you're all FBI agents? 

     Agent:         That's right.  Everyone here is an FBI agent.  Can
                    you remember to bring the pizzas and sodas to the
                    service entrance in the rear?  We have the front
                    doors locked. 

     Pizza Man:     I don't think so.  Click. Bzzz.

The feeling that the Pizza Man had as he participated in that conversation
must have been something like a teenaged girl named Mary felt that first
Christmas.  An angel, Gabriel, had come to her and said, "Greetings,
favoured one! The Lord is with you!" 

Was it a dream?  Was she hallucinating?  She could not be sure.  And she
pondered on this and what the greeting of the angel meant.  And as she
ponders the angel says to her:

     "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And
     now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will
     name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of
     the Most High, and the Lord will give to him the throne of his
     ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
     and of his kingdom there shall be no end." 

The bewildered Mary then says to the angel, 
"How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 

How can this be....???

This is surely the question that rests upon so many of our hearts - not
just at Christmas, when we hear the story of Mary - and of Joseph and of
and of angels and shepherds and virgin births, but at other  times of year
as well.

How it can it be that God can come to this world and save it?
How can it be that God can come to this church and use it?
How can it be that God can come to me and make a real difference to me, and
through me to others?

We know how the angel answers Mary's question.... 

     The angel said to her, "God is pleased with you and you will have
     a son.  The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the
     Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born
     will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.... for nothing is
     impossible for God" 

Could it be that the answer to our individual versions of Mary's question
is somewhat the same?  That God is pleased with us - that he favours us -
and that his power will overshadow us and conceive in us and work through
us that which we think to be impossible???

I don't know what you find most impressive in the Christmas story.  There
are so many things to choose after all.  But for me one of the most
impressive parts of the Christmas story takes place right at the end of
this story - when Mary answers Gabriel's announcement, when she responds to
the call of God, with these words:
 
     "I am the servant of the Lord; 
     let it be with me according to your word."

What faith Mary had.  What incredible trust.  

If I were in her shoes - and in a sense I am  and so are you - I'm not sure
how I would react. Perhaps my response  might be more like the pizza man's
reaction in the story at the beginning of this sermon - and less like
Mary's reaction.

How can this be 
- that I have found favour in God's sight?
How can this be 
- that God would do something impossible through me?
How can this be 
- surely it is but a dream, 
something not to be taken seriously in the light of day.

But not Mary!  
No for Mary, though she asks the question, "How can this be?"
she is also fully prepared to accept the answer:
- the answer that nothing is impossible to God, 
and that yes, God is with her;
- and that God wants to bless her and through her to bless others, 
     and not simply to bless them with some loving, with some kind deeds,
     with the sort of things anyone can do, 
but to let actually let loose upon the world the full power of God
Almighty, to actually be an instrument in making God's promises of healing
and of wholeness, and of vindication and salvation come true!

Mary lacks all the credentials that most humans think important for anyone
making such a dramatic change in history.  Indeed almost everything is
against her: age, inexperience, gender, marital status, powerlessness. 

But what Mary has in her favour is something that the gospel tells us that
each one of us also has in our favour - namely the grace and favour and
love of God.

Through Christ - the child of Mary and of the Holy Spirit - each one of us
here - has been approved  by God, chosen by God - to do mighty works - to
bear fruit pleasing to God - to do things, Jesus tells his disciples -
"that are even greater than the things that he himself did".

The question is - do we have the other thing that was in Mary's favour?
 - her willingness to let herself  be the servant of the Lord, 
- her willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to come upon her, 
- her willingness to believe that yes,  it is true that with God nothing is
impossible!
- and that yes, God is indeed with me!

We know so well our inadequacies,
and deep down many of us say to ourselves 
- How can God work through such a person as me?  
- If  God really knew the kind of person I was - then God wouldn't even
speak to me!

And it is true that all of us have lived lives that are less than what God
hopes for, but God does not give up simply because we are weak.

God sees beyond our limitations to the wonderful possibilities that can
happen if we trust in Him. 

"Nothing is impossible with God"

It is God who will be a creative force working through Mary.  
Mary is not called to fulfill this birth on her own - she can't.  
Nor can we.

But the God who created heaven and earth, the animals and birds, the trees
and flowers, the seas and all that is in them - that God - that Creator -
can do anything.  

Answering yes to God's call may not be easy 
- there are so many things to ponder,
yet Mary is able to make that leap of faith and to go ahead with God, 
- to go ahead even though all the answers, and indeed even though all the
questions are far from clear.

As it was for Mary, so it is for us.  The life of God is conceived and
nurtured in each of us when we are willing to let it be so.  It happens
through God's power, not our own.  

The transforming presence of Christ is not just for Mary - nor just you or
me.  When we become God's willing servants we become part of a larger hope
for all God's people: that hope we heard about in Mary's song;  
- the hope, indeed the reality, of God's acts of mercy and justice on
behalf of those who love Him in every generation, 
- the hope that sees God acting to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry
with good things. 

The fact of the matter is, another unlikely choice has been made here
today.  

The God who spoke to Mary through an angel now speaks to us through Holy
Scripture, announcing that we too have been chosen to give birth, 
- to give birth the "coming again" of the Christ child. 

I could have told the story of Mary today in a very distancing way,
as a story about something that happened a long time ago,  
as a story about a once and for all event,
about a virgin giving birth, 
surrounded by  shepherds and kings from afar..  

But it's not that kind of story at all.  It's a story about me and you and
about our letting the Holy Spirit touch us so that the Christ begins to
stir in our bellies.

We have been chosen.  Comes now our choice.  
Our choice to prepare to receive this gift of new life, or ignore it.

That, in the end, is what Christmas is about.  It is a story about today
and about how each has the opportunity to answer the angel as did Mary. 

The Angel is telling each of you this morning, 
and will continue to whisper in your ear: 
Greetings to you, O Favoured One, the Lord is with you.  

And you know what that means:  It means being part of the project that Mary
was called to be a part of.  It means being an entry point for God's love
to come into the world and to deliver people from the power of sin and
death.

There is nothing more wonderful than that opportunity, the opportunity to
bear the Christ - the Saviour - the promised one - into the world. 

That's what each of us is called to do according the grace given to us. 
And in the end that's the only thing that will give us joy or happiness or
peace. 

And thanks be to God, it doesn't matter where you are at now for God is not
bound by our limitations.  

With God nothing is impossible.
And God is with us.
Blessed be the name of God, day by day.  Amen


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE 
Loving God - as we approach the day of Christ's birth help us to throw wide
the doors of our hearts in preparation.  Help us to sense the importance of
what happened so long ago when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, to
remember the words of the angels and the prophets and the teachers of old,
and to celebrate all the promises that you made through them.  Help us to
take firm hold of the meaning of all these things and to know in the depths
of our being that even now you are seeking to work in us and through us to
fulfill the promises you have made....  Lord hear our prayer....

Lord - may this Christmas season be for us and for those around us a season
of healing, may it be a season of hope and of love and of joy, may it be a
time of true sharing and of rejoicing in all the earth....   Lord hear our
prayer...

We pray O God for those in need around us: for those who need a second
birth, for those who need a tender touch and a healing word....   Lord,
hear our prayer...

We pray too, O God for the children of our world - and all those of tender
faith, all those who have no home to call their home, all those who are
hungry and thirsty.  Bless we pray the innocent of the earth and all those
who trust in you.  Bless the humble and the powerless and bring down from
their thrones those who full of pride and those who are indifferent... 
Lord, hear our prayer....

Bless we pray, too, each special one we name before you now...  (BIDDING
PRAYER)....  Lord hear our 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


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* 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
 
     O God, by your promise we have received the gifts we now share
     before you.  By your grace we are here to offer them for your
     work in this world.  May all our efforts, supported by all your
     gifts, help fulfil your will through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN: "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear"                 - VU 44


* 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 the Lord keep you endlessly in his love
- may the Spirit of God fill your lives with light and wisdom,
- and may the faith and the hope and the peace and the joy of God be yours 
both now - and forevermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, 2002 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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