Worship Service for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Hi everyone,

Here is our worship service video, ready to go live at 10am on Sunday, December 20, 2020! We are at the end of Advent now and we together look forward to Christmas that happens in just a few days!

The worship bulletin for this service can be found here. As always, the words are also embedded in the video and the full sermon can be found below.

As we have been doing with almost all of our services, if you want a fuller worship experience I ask that you have some elements ready to assist you. A bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle for the whole service that can be extinguished when the altar candles are near the end of the service. These are optional, of course, but meant to enhance your experience at home.

God be with you this day and always!

If the video is not working, try clicking here.

Good and gracious God, send your Spirit upon us as we await the coming of Jesus our Lord.  Fill us with good things, that might be able to recognise and reflect your love in and around our communities and lives, through Christ, the Word become flesh.  Amen.

So it’s crunch time.  We are just under a week before Christmas, and things are getting buuuusy.  I know, some of you are thinking, aren’t you getting Christmas off this year because of the pandemic?  Well, technically yes, this won’t be a usual Christmas where I’m here early in the morning for a worship service, and I will be taking the Sunday immediately after Christmas off as well.  But as it is in all the other years before this one, and I’m sure it is for most of you, Christmas Day itself isn’t the busy time… it’s the days leading to it that are.

As many of you know so well, there is a lot of preparing that needs to be done.  A lot of planning, a lot of lists to check off, a lot of things that need to get into place.  Sure, this year because of the pandemic there aren’t too many parties, school pageants, or fighting for a parking spaces at the malls, but this pandemic year there has been a lot more mouse scrolling and clicking, a lot of grocery shopping at the most inconvenient times in hopes to avoid the crowds, and a lot going to the door to bring packages inside before someone runs off with them.  And yes, we have fewer services this year and more of a loose schedule as to when we can “attend” the services, but that just means there is a lot more thinking and worrying about how to make this Christmas special in spite of all the changes that had to take place this year.

Now, I’m not complaining at all, I’m just stating the fact of the time constraints that I and many of you are facing.  I still enjoy my work and being able to be part of your lives in this way, but it’s just some days, you know what I mean?  Oh… those days.  Those extra special, extra busy, extra stressful days.  You all probably know what I’m talking about.  Just those days when things don’t go your way, those things that happen that were unplanned and completely catch you off guard, those times when you just want to curl up in a dark corner and think if you sit there long and quietly enough, then maybe this day would just leave you alone.  Those days when you just have to sigh, “why me”. 

We’ve all had those days.  We all have those days.  And if logic serves me right, we probably will have many more of those days, pandemic Christmas or not.  It is just the way life goes.

And so when I look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and this story of how the angel Gabriel appears to her and drops this news, I imagine that she would be having one of those days as well.  I know, we all like to romanticize the story, pretty it all up, take away the realism of the story, making Mary is this 20-something, white, middle class woman receiving the best news of her life that she will be carrying the son of God in her womb.  We like to clean up the smells, the dirt, the controversy.  Because if you think about it, Mary was actually an under-aged, coloured, poverty-stricken girl that just found out that she is unwantedly and illegitimately pregnant, just shortly before she is due to be married.  That is the kind of news that could end someone’s life.  That is the kind of news that have ended people’s lives.  And so at this point in Mary’s mind, she probably was thinking that her life is ending.  Why would her case be different?

Well, except for the fact that an angel told her the news.  I mean that’s pretty different than a blue line on a stick.

Anyway, I would imagine that Mary’s first reaction to be like how any woman hearing such life-changing news would react: full of fear, trepidation, and anxiety.  Maybe she was asking what she could do now. How can she support this child? How would they ever survive?  Surely her betrothed wouldn’t want her anymore, she’d be considered as damaged goods.  She won’t be able to find a job as a single mother.  She would have no place to live, no place to raise this child, no place to even be.  I mean she’s not just having one of those days, she’s having probably the worst day of her very short life so far. 

But her reaction isn’t that.  Well, maybe a little at first, but it doesn’t stay that way.  Not by a long shot.  This young, innocent girl, probably just hitting her teen years, didn’t cringe with fear, she didn’t cower in a corner, she didn’t even throw her hands in the air and scream out “why me”.  She starts with a little confusion, perhaps a little bit of denial, but once it sunk in she, sort of like a high school musical, breaks out in a song.  And not just any song.  A really, really happy song.

She joyously praises God for this gift that she’s been given.  She recognises God being with her through this very likely scary time and accepts her situation.  She realises that even though her life has changed forever, she is still dearly and wholly and unconditionally loved by God. 

And we might think, how on earth?  In the midst of everything, how could she even keep it together?  Where did she find the strength?  How did she see the good news in her situation?  What was she even thanking God for?  I mean we’ve already established how this news probably wasn’t good for her.  In fact it was probably really bad.  So how did she have it in her to sing?  To have joy?  To even remember that she is loved?

See, it isn’t because she is having this strange, life-altering day that she comes to the conclusion that she is loved, rather it’s because God had already promised to love her that she is able to handle the day.  It isn’t her current situation that reminded her of God’s promise, but it was God’s faithful and just nature that filled her with strength and confidence.  It isn’t this drastic change in her life that brought her joy, but it is her looking back at her life and seeing and recognising all the ways that God has already shown her love, all the ways that she was able to see God present in her life, all that ways that she felt God’s providence and protection that reassured her that God wasn’t going to abandon her now in her time of need.  Rather God will continue to strengthen her, provide for her, and of course love her throughout any hardship.

So she remembered all this, cherished it, and drew strength from it, and was driven to face this hardship not with unwilling reluctance, but with joy and hope and peace in the Spirit.

And it is the same with us.  It is in our knowing that God had already loved us from before we were even born that allows us to face the situations that we might have to face.  It is in God’s promise of love for us that drives us, motivates us, and gives us strength to do the things we do in spite of whatever problems or unwanted changes or those days we might have.

So yes, this Christmas will be different, but it is ok, because we are still loved.  This Christmas will be perhaps difficult, but we are still part of God’s wide and inclusive family with our community and all the saints.  This Christmas could be one that is unlike any Christmas that we’ve known in our lives, but it is still the day on which we remember love coming down to us to be one of us in the midst of great hardship and turmoil, to remind us that even when the world seems to be against us, we are not alone but have God on our side holding us, strengthening us, and filling us with joy, peace, and love.

So in these final days of this Advent season, may we be reminded of God’s love in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in, may we be strengthened to face whatever unwanted or uncomfortable change that might be happening in and around our lives, and may we be driven to sing praises and magnify God’s love in response to God’s presence and providence freely given to us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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