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SERMONS & SERMON - LECTIONARY RESOURCES

Hanging of The Greens: A Celebration of The Advent Season
by Denzel Nonhof (dnonhof@mo-net.com)
posted with permission


    As presented on the First Sunday of Advent, 1996 
    Prepared for Community Church of Fairfield and Hanover Prebyterian Church
    by the Rev. Denzel Nonhof copyright 1997.
    
    The Rev. Denzel Nonhof
    HC 3, Box 3580
    Shell Knob, Missouri 65747-9114
    
    This material can be used without permission when used in
    the local church.  No permission is given to reprint any of
    this material for profit.
    
	------- preparation ------
    
    AN ADVENT MOBILE: Needed
       1)A mobile with a Star of David, a descending Dove, an
    Alpha and Omega, an Angel with a Trumpet, and the Babe in a
    Manger.
       2)Before the service, someone needs to hand the mobile
    securely from the ceiling in the Sanctuary. 
        
    THE MEANING OF ADVENT: Needed
       1)Wreath holder already in place in front of the sanctuary.
       2)Basket to hold items.
       3)One Advent Wreath.
       2)Three Purple candles.
       3)One Rose candles.
       4)One White Christ candle.
       5)Holly, mistletoe, etc. for the decoration of the wreath.
       6)A lighter.
        
    PLACING OF THE EVERGREENS: Needed
       1)Two people to put evergreen in the windows.
       2)Two people to hold the basket for the two who are placing
	the evergreens.
       3)Two baskets.
       4)Enough evergreens for the windows and around the Bible in 
    front of the sanctuary.
       5)Tie bows and ornaments for accents in the greenery.
        
    THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE: Needed
       1)Christmas tree assembled ahead of time, with lights, star
    and garland.
       2)Gold or white tree skirt already in place.
       3)Ornaments.
       4)One person to help people down the stairs, (if needed)
       5)One person to hand people an ornament.
       6)One person to stand near the tree to provide assistance
    to smaller children to hand ornaments on the tree, or help
    place ornaments on the higher branches.
    
    THE LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA: Needed
       1)Poinsettias in red and white, foiled in gold, about 25
    in all.  These will be stored in a cool place until they are
    placed in the sanctuary.
       2)Members of the Sunday School classes to assist in
    placing the poinsettias throughout the sanctuary.
       3)Plastic plant holders with red or white dots so the
    "placers" can locate the correct color and location to place
    their poinsettia.  These plastic holders must be in place
    the day before.  There should be enough poinsettias to be
    impressive and they are purchased by the congregation and
    the memorials are printed in the bulletin.  After the
    "placers" have positioned all the poinsettias, the people
    should return to their seats.
        
    SAINT NICHOLAS: Needed:
	(omitted in 96, but included in the Appendix for future years)
       1)One man dressed in an old robe and stocking-style hat.
       2)One small boy to walk around with Saint Nicholas.
       3)Burlap bag with potatoes and boxes of raisins to be
    handed out.
       4)An old robe and stocking hat for Saint Nicholas to wear.
    
    THE SCRIPTURES: Needed
       1)Sculpted Nativity set.
       2)Blue, green, white, or gold cloth draped in front of the
    Bible.  Greenery and poinsettias will already be in place.
    
    CANDLE LIGHTING: Needed
       1)Two children to be the candle lighters, and two
    teenagers or women to lift the hurricane candle glasses to
    light the candles.  It would be a good idea if the two
    assistants have a lighter in case the acolytes forget and
    extinguish their candle lighters.
       2)One person to turn up the lights when each hymn begins.
        
    CANDY CANES: Needed
       1)Candy canes in sufficient quantity that everyone who
    attends worship can have one to take home.
       2)Baskets to put the candy canes into.
       3)Two people to distribute candy canes at the door of the
    church.
    
    ----- Service -----
	
THE MEANING OF ADVENT By the prophet Isaiah it stands written: "Here is my herald whom I send and he will prepare your way." Prepare the way. Prepare the heart and mind. Let everyone stand silent. Let the stars and moon cease to move. Let the leaves of the trees and the tall browning grass cease to rustle in the wind. With expectant hush, and long awaiting yearning, we herald the coming of the long awaited Christ Child, the coming of the infant to Bethlehem. Advent. A Latin word for "Coming." Prepare the way. Prepare the heart to receive. Prepare the way. The Christ is coming. Let us prepare for the advent, the coming of the Christ Child. On this first Sunday of Advent, this first of four Sabbaths, let us prepare with repentance. Let us prepare with hope. Let us prepare with faith. For the light will come into this world, as God has promised. The Christ Child will come into the Bethlehem stable. The Christ Child will come into the world, into every life that waits, and into every hopeful heart. The Messiah comes to bring the Christmas to every waiting believer. Let us now prepare to receive Him. Let us now begin our service of preparation. Come let us begin - our expectant waiting, for Christ, the Messiah. We acknowledge the prophesies and celebrate the coming with renewal of traditions, with remembered worship, with reverent waiting. There are many symbols of waiting, of preparation. There are many practiced customs to hail the Advent, the Coming. Foremost among the symbols is the Wreath of Coming. The circle of the Wreath has no end. A wreath is like the Eternal with no end and no beginning. A circle of evergreen, a circle of meaning, a symbol of that which is as eternal as God, as victorious as the coming Christ, and as everlasting as the promises. The Advent Wreath is a symbol of hope, a symbol of four Sabbaths, four Sabbaths of waiting. Four candles light the wreath. Three are purple. Each purple candle is a symbol of waiting; repentant waiting, a symbol of our preparation, longing, and waiting. One for each of three Sabbaths of repentant preparation. On the third Sunday of Advent, the rose candle is set aglow to symbolize hope; deep longing, fervent expecting hope rooted in promises made long ago. The center candle is white. Pure symbolic white. Lighted when the Christ is come. The wreath is made with carefully chosen materials, each a symbol of the Christ. Palm leaves symbolize the Peace he extolled. Palms for the Prince of Peace. Holly is used to symbolize the crucified Christ. Legend tells us holly was used to fashion the crown of thorns for the head of the crucified Christ. Legend has it that the berries were yellow until stained red by His blood. Mistletoe symbolizes Christ the everlasting. Ancient Druids noted when all other trees were bare, Mistletoe was green. Thus it came to be in Christian legend a symbol of eternity; Christ the Everlasting, Christ the Eternal. So in the wreath, we symbolized the coming of Christ, the Victorious Christ, the Prince of Peace; Christ, the Eternal; Christ, the Revelation of God. He comes! Let us Prepare for His coming.
PLEASE STAND and sing the first verse of our Advent Hymn: "Oh Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel." 123/542 THE NATIVITY MOBILE (this could also be a series of banners hung during Advent) STAR OF DAVID At the top of the mobile is the Star of David. God is acknowledged to be the Creator of all stars, planets, and constellations. As well as knowing their names and numbers, Biblical writers knew many of the constellations. The Lord asked Job, "Can you bind the chains of Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?" Individual stars are mentioned. Probably the most famous and intriguing of all the stars mentioned in Scripture is the star of Bethlehem, told of in Matthew 2. Many theories have been posited regarding its identity. Scripture does not name the star. It is one of many miracles that attest to the power of our God and is similar to the pillar of fire used to demonstrate God's presence and might to the children of Israel as they made their way to the land of Canaan. In the final book of the Bible the Lord Jesus is called "the bright and morning star." The star we have is a six-pointed star, commonly called the star of David. God promised David that his throne should stand forever. In Jesus Christ, God fulfills this promise. Let us ever remember that Jesus was Jewish. Jesus was born a Jew to fulfill the law in perfect obedience. DOVE The term "dove" is applied rather loosely to many smaller species of pigeon. The first mention of the dove in the Bible occurs in Genesis 8:8- 12. Noah released a dove from the ark to determine if the flood waters had subsided from the earth. All four Gospels describe the Spirit of God descending like a dove upon Jesus after His baptism. This familiar bird with all its rich associations was chosen to symbolize God's Spirit. The term "turtledove" also is applied to any of the smaller varieties of pigeon. The turtledove played a significant sacrificial role in the Bible. For those who could not afford a lamb, the law prescribed that two turtle-doves or pigeons be offered for the sacrifice of purification after childbearing. Mary brought such an offering after the birth of Christ. The dove in the mobile is placed there to remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit of God. It was by the Spirit that Mary became pregnant. The Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism and by the Spirit of God, Jesus could do miracles. This Spirit, God and Jesus Christ gives to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are Christians only because we are anointed with the Spirit of the Lord. ALPHA AND OMEGA The ALPHA AND OMEGA are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and are used in Revelation to describe God or Christ. The Alpha looks like our letter "A," while the Omega has the appearance of a horseshoe on end. "Alpha and Omega" refers to God's sovereignty and eternal nature. God and Christ are "the beginning and the end, the first and last." Thus, they control all history and all humans of all generations. He who is beyond all time entered time. At Christmas it is appropriate to remember that Jesus came to give us eternal life. This is symbolized by the holly which is green and has berries of red. Life eternal is symbolized by the green, and the red berries remind us of how he gave his life on the cross for our salvation. ANGEL The term "angel" is derived from the Greek word angelos which means "messenger." Angelos and the Hebrew equivalent, malak (which also means "messenger"), are the two most common terms used to describe this class of beings in the Bible. In general, in texts where an angel appears, the task of the angel is to convey the message or do the will of the God who sent him. Since the focus of the text is on the message, the messenger is rarely described in detail. The angel's function as messenger or agent of God is acted out in proclamation, revealing the will of God and/or announcing key events. An angel announced to Joseph that Mary would have a child. Mary received a special messenger who told her that she would have a son and name him Jesus because he would save the people from their sins. At the end of time, the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Allow God to use this mobile to remind you we await the coming of the angels of the Lord. They who sang glory to God in this highest when Jesus was born, shall also escort us into heaven. THE BABE IN THE MANGER A Manger is a feeding trough used for cattle, sheep, donkeys, or horses. Archaeologists have discovered stone mangers in the horse stables of Ahab at Megiddo. They were cut out of limestone and were approximately three feet long, eighteen inches wide, and two feet deep. Other ancient mangers were made of masonry. Many Palestinian homes consisted of one large room which contained an elevated section and a lower section. The elevated section was the family's living quarters, while the lower section housed the family's animals. Usually a manger, in the form of a masonry box or a stone niche, was located in the lower section. Mangers were also put in cave stables or other stalls. The manger referred to in Luke 2:16 may have been in a cave stable or other shelter. There Jesus was laid to sleep after his birth. What wondrous love is this that God should come to live among us, to be born as a human being, to experience all which we have experienced? What wondrous love is this which came down from heaven? This love of God in Jesus Christ is unique in all the worlds, and when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, the love of God comes into us in a unique and special way. SPECIAL MUSIC: What Wondrous Love Is This #177 PLACING THE EVERGREENS When all the earth is brown, when the leaves have departed the trees; Evergreens stand in lonely vigil until the earth again is green. Evergreens shout to us about the hoped for coming of green again. Evergreens stand ever ready to remind us of joyous hope. The joyous reality of the eternal presence of the Christ Child; the eternal presence in all the world. Legend tells us that long ago, the evergreens were not forever colored with verdant leaves. Before the birth of the Eternal One, before the coming, the evergreen was bare like other trees around. Let us begin this legend with the recorded event written in Scripture and recorded by Matthew. The Gospel writer says, An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. And the angel said to him: "Rise up and take the Infant Jesus and his mother and escape with them to Egypt. Stay in Egypt until I bid you return. You are no longer safe. Go, for Herod sends his soldiers to seek out the Child and destroy Him." So Mary and Joseph and their Infant Child left the warmth and security of their land and journeyed into Egypt. Hastily, they gathered their meager belongings. Into the dark of night they stole away. Escape, they must, the jealous wrath of Herod and his men. Escape, they must, from the death decree handed down by Herod. No word could be said of their hasty departure; no notice of a planned destination. Friends and family could not know of their going, lest they too come under the decree of death. Over rocky hills and dusty roads, they traveled wearily; Mary and the Infant on the back of a donkey; Joseph, alert and watchful, walking beside them. With heavy saddened hearts and fearful weary bodies, they made their way all night long and into the following long day. Mid-afternoon, dust in the distance behind them came. Fast riding soldiers came, soldiers sent from Herod, sent to carry out Herod's dreadful mission. Where could they hide? Where could the Holy Family find protection? The hillside was barren, offering no shield. Quickly, a frightened Joseph guided Mary and her child into a clump of cedars on a hill. Immediately, the bare cedar twigs greened with color, thickened with growth to shield the Holy Family. The white berries of the cedar tree turned to sapphire blue to match the robe that Mary wore that day. So Mary, mother of Jesus in a robe of sapphire blue could blend with cedar trees, and go unnoticed by passing, hunting soldiers. Past the Holy family, went the band of Herod's men; never seeing, never knowing Mary, Joseph, and Infant Jesus were safely sheltered in a clump of green cedars with berries of sapphire blue. Since that day, cedars and plants like them have never shed their leaves; never lost their green; for they sheltered the Holy Family. Forever green, to honor the day they received the Infant Christ Child. Evergreen, everlasting, eternal, green branches are a part of our preparation, our waiting: a symbol of hope, a symbol of eternity, a reminder of love received. Evergreen is a symbol of the eternal promise of renewal, a symbol of the eternal and everlasting God. STAND WITH ME to sing the first and third verses of our hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing. 133/537

THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE During this reading, we invite you to come forward and place an ornament on our Christmas Tree. The Christmas Tree is widely used in our celebration of Christmas. Green trees, blue trees, frosty snow-covered trees, inside a warm room. Lighted trees, living trees, all are trees of Christmas. Our use of Christmas trees is so widespread, we have forgotten the beginning. Hear the legend of the first Christmas Tree. Seven hundred years after the birth of Christ, Pope Gregory wanted to send a Christian missionary to the pagan tribes of Northern Germany. He called on Winfred of England (later known as Saint Boniface) to go to Germany for a three-year period to teach Christian ways to the pagan tribes who lived there. One day, as Winfred was traveling among the people there, he came upon a gathering for a pagan ceremony in the forest. With the ritual about to take place, the spirit of the forest was being worshiped with a human sacrifice. The usual ceremony involved the blood of an innocent child sprinkled around an oak tree to please the god of the forest. Winfred begged that the ceremony be stopped, but his words were ignored. In a desperate act to stop the ritual, Winfred grabbed the ceremonial ax and cut down the oak tree. The people were furious, but their anger turned to amazement as they saw a small fir tree spring up to replace the fallen oak. A shaft of light caused each twig on the fir tree to glisten and the people listened and believed when Winfred told them the tree was a symbol of the birth of life through Christ. Thus, began the custom among German people of using a fir tree as a symbol to acknowledge the birth of Christ. It was another seven hundred years before Martin Luther put lighted candles on his tree to recapture the glistening twigs of the tree in the forest which Winfred had seen. He also topped his tree with a star to commemorate that star which was in the Bethlehem sky as recorded in scriptures: "Behold, there came wise-men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and we have come to worship Him.'" Green trees, blue trees, frosty snow-covered trees, lighted trees, living trees; all are trees of Christmas. THE LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA In the past two hundred years, a new element has found its place in our Christmas celebration. It is from the Christian practices and symbols in Mexico that we have adopted this tradition. In the very early part of the 19th century, an American who served the United States as an ambassador, spent a tour of duty in Mexico. He admired the dramatic beauty of the bright red poinsettia that grew rooftop high and bloomed profusely at Christmas. He was awed when Mexican Christians told him why the bright red poinsettias were a part of their celebration of the birth and life of Christ. In Mexico, the story goes like this: The Bethlehem star shone over the manger where Jesus was born. Its light so bright the earth responded, reflecting that star light, receiving that star light, mirroring that star light with a beautiful flower. Star shaped, radiant shaped, pure white petals, golden star centers. In Mexican lore, it was always the Flower of the Holy Night. It grew on earth as a creation to glorify and commemorate that Holy Night "For the stars shout forth the glory of God." Then came the tragic day when Jesus dies on the cross and the blossoms changed. Pure white petals remembered the sacrifice of the Christ born when the star was over Bethlehem. Flower of the Holy Night, star shaped, radiant shaped, blood red petals, star flowers for the Holy Night. Now, everywhere, on cards and on trees, in churches and in our homes, the poinsettia takes its place; reminding us of a Holy Night, pointing to a Good Friday. (The Section for Santa Claus can be inserted here. See Appendix) THE SCRIPTURES (ADAPTED FROM LUKE AND JOHN) In the beginning was the Word. In the very beginning was only the Word and the Word became the presence of God and came to live among the people of the earth. Hear the story of the birth of the Word - made living flesh as it has been told by those who followed the Word. The coming of the Messiah had long been prophesied. And there were many who longed for His coming. For the people of God were oppressed and the land was troubled with hunger and slavery and cruelty and oppression. And fear hovered over God's people. Emperor Augustus ruled the Roman Empire with a cruel hand and Quirinius, the governor of Syria, was a tool of the Roman tyranny. More taxes were needed, more taxes to support the Roman rulers. So the decree went out that a new census would be taken, and everyone must go back to his birthplace to be counted for tax purposes. For this purpose, everyone made his way to his own town. So Joseph went up to Judea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to be registered at the city of David, called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent. And with him went Mary who was betrothed to him. She was expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her child to be born, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him 'round, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them to lodge in the inn. No room for a child in the inn. Now in this same district there were shepherds out in the field - keeping watch through the night over their flock. When suddenly there stood before them an angel of the Lord - and the splendor of the Lord shone 'round them. They were struck with terror! But the angel said, "Do not be afraid. I have good news for you. There is great joy coming to the whole people. Today, in the city of David, a deliverer has been born to you; the Messiah, the Lord. And this is your sign; you will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling." All at once, there was with the angel, a great multitude of angels singing the praises of God. "Glory to God on high - and on earth, His peace and good will to all people!" After the angels had left them and gone into the heaven - the shepherds said to one another, "Come, we must go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with all speed, they found their way to Mary and Joseph, . . . and the baby lying in a manger. When they saw him, they recounted what they had been told about this child. And all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds said. But, Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them. Ponder we also over the birth of Jesus, For the Bread of Life is the Word- Made-Flesh. Born again is the nurture of life, the Bread upon which all may feast. WE STAND NOW to sing the first and second verses of Silent Night, Holy Night! 147/530 LIGHTING THE CANDLES The birth of Jesus and the life He lived brought many changes to the world. The life He lived, the truths He taught, the example He gave, the love He generated; His life, His teachings, His truth. These are the guide posts for all. We symbolize these truths, by the use of two candles. One candle to symbolize the life He lived; the example he gave, the wholeness of His life, words, and deeds. One candle, a constant symbol of the human life Jesus lived. The flame reminds us of his teachings, the truths He shared, the Parables He told, the Wisdom he gave. One candle reminds us of the man, Jesus. The other candle reminds us that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He was with the Father in the Beginning. He is Very God of Very God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus came from God, dwelt among human beings, giving his life for the sins of the world, to be resurrected on the third day. Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father. The second candle reminds us that Jesus is God. These two candles stand as symbols of Jesus the Christ, whose coming brought hope to human kind in the life and teachings of Jesus. He brought hope to the world. As these candles give their light for others to see, may we bear the light of Christ to others. As light comes from Christ and so travels throughout the world, so light is taken from the candles which always remind us of Jesus, son of Mary and son of God. We carry the light, that others may bear the light. Amen! Jesus, light of the world. Jesus, the truth of the world. Jesus, the life in the world. Jesus, the light of all lights! STAND TO SING our hymn of Gladness: "Joy to the World" THE STORY OF THE CANDY CANE A CANDYMAKER'S WITNESS A Candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White symbolizes the Virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hardness symbolizes the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God. The candymaker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd" with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray. Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life. Unfortunately, the candy became known as a Candy Cane a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who "have eyes to see and ears to hear." I pray that this symbol will again be used to witness To The Wonder of Jesus and His Great Love that came down at Christmas and remains the ultimate and dominant force in the universe today. end see below for appendix --- end AN APPENDIX FOR SAINT NICHOLAS: This may be included after the Poinsettia Section, but another section or two sections must be omitted to make room for it. For many Americans, Christmas is Santa Clause, that jolly old elf. But, Is Christmas, Santa Claus? Does Santa Claus belong? He has many names: Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, St. Nick, Saint Nicholas. Once upon a time, there was a real Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas, the most human of the early Saints. Saint Nicholas, remote, elusive, mystical, reflecting the hopes and needs of people since earliest time. Born in the area where Jesus was born, Nicholas became bishop of Myra while still a young man. The stories of his deeds are factual from records of the fourth and fifth centuries. He calmed a stormy sea and became the patron saint of sailors. He saved three boys from death and became the patron saint of children. He gave a dowry to three young women and became the patron said of the poor. He convinced the captain of three grain ships to give part of their cargo to the poor. They gave and gave to feed the hungry, but their ships remained full. He became the patron saint of the hungry. He became the symbol of giving. Giving to those in need, sharing with others, a symbol of human longing and fulfillment of human need. The tradition of giving and sharing was kept alive by those who remembered Saint Nicholas. From father to son, from sailor to shopkeeper, from priest to alter boy, the story was told. Then - Santa Claus is real. He's not just American, created by Madison Avenue, packaged and marketed along with Christmas merchandise. Santa Claus, as we know him, was revived in Holland in 1508, on December 6, the anniversary of the birth of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. The Dutch were at war with Spain; fighting a long hard war for their independence. The Spanish blocked their seaports and destroyed their fields. The people were hungry, the people were starving, a terrible famine was over the land. Bishop Nicholas, Bishop of Spain, came to Holland on a boat. Leavening his boat at the dock, he rode over the countryside on a white horse, directing his Moorish servants to give potatoes to the people. He gave potatoes to the starving Dutch. He gave figs and raisins to the children. In the Dutch language, Saint Nicholas is Sinterklass (pronounced, "Center- Claws") Each year since that day, December 6 is Sinterklass Day; a day for giving, to meet all human needs. A day when Sinterklass comes again on a boat from Spain; and rides his white horse to every home with embellished potatoes and gifts, simple, but rich in symbolism. Dutch settlers came to our shore. With them came Sinterklass, who has grown with the years. Changing with the years, Santa Claus now comes with reindeer. Santa Claus, of the North Pole; Santa Claus, a secular elf, a jovial, jolly, St. Nick. But the symbols of giving, giving to the needy, giving of self where there is want is the true meaning of Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas, from Myra, to Spain, to Holland, to America, every Christmas for seventeen hundred years. The spirit of Saint Nicholas lives when we give, give of ourselves, giving to meet to the needs of other. copyright - Rev. Denzel Nonhof copyright © 1997 - 2006. - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1997 - 2006 use only with proper acknowledgement

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