Isaiah 9:2, 6
Luke ch. 1, various verses
Welcome! We’re glad you could join us – electronically, if not (for the moment) in person.
First Christian and all of Valparaiso lost a friend last week when Myron Knauff passed away. There will be a post-Covid celebration of his life sometime next summer or fall, but the family held a small private funeral on Friday and copies of the eulogy are available on our website under the “sermons” tab.
In less-momentous church-related news, we are continuing to collect food for the food pantry and winter coats in the black bins just outside the doors to our sanctuary. And advent devotional booklets are available in the small black mailbox attached to the wall next to the education wing entrance or you can call the church office and we’ll mail you one. We have a blood drive coming up on December 9th, and our women are selling pecans through the church office to help finance any number of worthy ministries.
Finally, as you probably know, in recognition of the dangerous spike in Covid cases, our elders have decided to cancel in-person worship for the time-being. However, worship during Advent, including a Christmas Eve service will be offered on-line and we hope you’ll continue to join our web-worship community in the coming month. It’s just one of many ways that Christmas will be different this year. Thanks to the epidemic, the season is arriving on the winds of change, winds that can blow open the door on feelings of hopelessness, uncertainty, sadness and disappointment – feelings that undoubtedly accompanied the FIRST Christmas so long ago. Together, though, we join Christians around the world in seeing – through worship – that the door opens instead …on …hope, a hope grounded in the God we meet in Jesus Christ. To that end, elder Mickey Koehler will now call us worship.
Call to Worship
Leader: Brothers and Sisters, today begins our Advent journey to the Christ Child’s birth. This is a challenging time, living in the pandemic of 2020. Let us seek the Christ Child together. May hope lead the way.
PEOPLE: Dear God, we need this season now more than ever.
Leader: Thank you for being a god who loves us and offers us shelter in the midst of fear and uncertainty.
PEOPLE: Thank you for loving us when we give in to despair and hopelessness.
Leader: Thank you for being a god who is faithful and just. Thank you for sustaining us today and tomorrow. You provide for our needs in abundance even when we don’t understand.
PEOPLE: Please help us find you, as we learn to listen in new ways, adapting to the changes life brings.
Leader: Amen! Now, please join in singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Hello all of you out there who have decided to be part of this worship service that we have recorded here at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). May God bless each and every one of you
Wherever you are, let it be known that you are loved by an amazing God!
We here at First Christian Church thank you for joining us in this service and even though you may not be viewing (or reading) this service at the same time, we believe that it is within each of us to love one another even now as this service is recorded. We can feel the love that comes from you by watching/reading this service no matter where you are or what time of day it is. Together, we find strength and hope in knowing that God is love. Thank you for your love.
However you choose to pray – with eyes closed or wide open, with head bowed or not bowed – even though this is a recorded service, know that when we are gathered in God’s name, God is there. That is what we believe here at First Christian Church, that God is an ever-present God who we can have a relationship with just by praying, either from inside the church building or from wherever we are
Please join me now as I lead us in a prayer to our amazing God…:
O Lord God, we come to you now because we believe in the stories of the Bible of how you created the earth and all that is in it out of nothing; how you created men and women, and with just your breath gave them life. It is with every breath we take that we come now to you in prayer and thanksgiving
As you know Lord, in your church this is considered the first Sunday in Advent, a season in which we begin to examine and celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is with the shepherds and angels that we sing to you – wherever we are – the songs of the Christmas season and praise your name. These songs and the Christmas story bring joy to our hearts, O Lord. We learn from this story that there is evil in the world, but there is also love…, the love of God born in a manger. We learn from the heavenly hosts of angels who descend upon the shepherds at night and tell them to not be afraid, and to seek out the one who was born in that manger, FOR UNTO US A SAVOR IS BORN!
The lesson to “not be afraid” and to “seek out the savior” are lessons you continue to teach us, O Lord, throughout the Bible as that baby in a manger becomes Jesus, the man who teaches us what it means to love one another and to love you, O God. We must celebrate Advent a little differently this year, but the message is still the same and maybe that is the lesson: THE MESSAGE IS STILL THE SAME, a message of hope and love. We just need to come up with new ways to show you, O God, that even in these times of not being with each other in person, we can still love others and give them hope, and in doing that we find our hearts filled with your love, for God you showed us that you loved us so much by giving your only son
Your message — TO LOVE OTHERS BY DOING SOMETHING GOOD FOR THEM – is what gives each of us meaning in our lives and fills us with hope and love. Does it give you joy to see us doing good, Lord? When we ask the questions “Why am I here on earth?” and “Why was I born?” you reply that we are here to love you, O God; and to love one another; and to show that love, your love, by doing something good for one another. Even what we may consider a small thing may be life changing in another’s eyes if it shows that we care.
May your Holy Spirit reach into our hearts, dear Lord, with hope and love and help us do your will on earth even as now, O Lord, we say the prayer Jesus taught his disciples by saying: “Our Father, who art in heaven…. Amen!”
Lighting the Advent Candle
The use of the Advent wreath began in 16th century Germany. But its use didn’t spread to the United States until the 1930s. So it is a relatively new tradition here. The evergreens of the wreath represent everlasting life through Jesus Christ. The circular form represents God with no beginning and no end. Lighting of the first candle today marks the beginning of the liturgical new year. The candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. One candle is lit each Sunday in Advent as we count down to Christmas. The larger central candle is the Christ candle which will be lit on Christmas Eve. The blue color of the candles represents hope and expectation. It is a royal blue to represent Christ the King’s coming. Today we light the candle of HOPE.
Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ: he is Emmanuel, God among us, hope of all people. He is the wisdom that teaches and guides us. He is the Savior of every nation. Lord God, let your blessing of hope come upon us as we light this candle. May the wreath and its light be a sign of God’s promise to bring us salva-tion. May we wait patiently and hopefully for Christ’s coming. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sermon (by Kathy Light, Minister of Spiritual Care)
KATHY: Preparing for Christmas is looking very different this year. We are still knee-deep in a pandemic. Many of our lives have been turned upside down with losses of all kinds. Many are afraid of what might yet come. Many relationships have been damaged. We are tired of the changes. How can we look beyond the negativity, the loss and stress, and find the place where hope lives? Let’s tackle that question by considering our worship space. Back in August, our Worship Servant Group chose The Winds of Change as our Advent theme for this year.
Think of a door. As we confront the Winds of Change that are affecting our lives, how we deal with these changes will in large part be determined by what happens on the other side of this door: that is, within your heart. This door represents the door to your heart and mind – the core of who you really are. We each control our door from the inside – that’s where the lock is. That is where your feelings and attitudes live. Right now, this very plain door – solid, with no windows – is shut tight and locked. That represents what is going on within many of us right now. And we might not even recognize it. Here’s one person’s personal experience:
MARY YELTON: Back in August our small Advent Worship Planning team met to discuss possible themes for 2020. Deep into a pandemic and all the longing for normal, how could we convey the possibility of peace, love, joy and hope in the midst of change and fear? Hence: Winds of Change. They are blowing. We need to be still. We grew up watching the Grinch on TV; he thought “stuff” was the key to Christmas, but we all remember how his “heart grew three sizes that day.” Two years ago, we drew attention to the Redemption of Scrooge. Again, another great depiction of how somebody else found a deeper meaning of Christmas beyond gifts, ribbons, bows and, well, stuff. So I asked myself what expectations and demands of life can I let go of to be more prepared for the coming of Jesus? What needs to be changed in MY heart?
My life, like so many of you, is full of struggles. Opposing forces of good vs evil, joy vs sorrow, peace vs fear, openness vs stubbornness, and relationships vs isolation. How can I be still be open to the winds of change? What paths are before me that I haven’t walked down yet?
My “door” of isolation existed well before any pandemic. Underneath my smile and genuine love and compassion for others is a vault door, much more imposing than this lovely wooden door, keeping out others. Still no windows…can’t have anyone peering inside. Still fairly closed off, but I am trying to change. I am trying to LISTEN for that still small voice. It’s hard and I fall back sometimes, but sometimes it opens enough for me to hear the quiet whispers of God in my life. Sometimes a window appears for ME to see the world more clearly, to see the awesome creation of God, to see the good around me, to calm my fears and insecurities.
My heart needs to be released from chains of fear and anxiety; and, yes, God is working on me and I am much more open to LISTENING now than ever before. I believe because I have heard Him and felt His presence, walking right in front of me and protecting me in all things. I felt the love that brought Him to us at Christmas and on that cross. It has become much more than a Hallmark card. Now it feels like a personal love note addressed to me.
I encourage each of you to take time to LISTEN, to open your hearts to the possibility of something so much more this Christmas. This can be a new and remarkable season of love if we let go of the need for “normal,” and hope for a Christmas filled with so much more, a Christmas leading us to a deeper relationship, a deeper love and a deeper commitment to God. May God bless all of us on our Advent journey to Christmas, an may we be made new again this year. Amen.
KATHY: Over the course of the next few weeks, as we journey through Advent together, hopefully we will begin to feel and see differences in ourselves and others. As you join us for worship each week, look for visual changes in our worship space to represent the changes taking place within us.
The visual images in our worship space representing the wind are the tulle sweeping across the backdrop and on around the evergreen tree, and the snowflakes that move about on the wind, going wherever the wind takes them. The opening image as our worship began, is a picture of a tree bending to the strength of the blowing wind. It is the flexible trees that can withstand heavy wind; others will often break. Change in our lives is represented by the wind.
The movement of wind gets us back to our gospel scripture reading this morning. By the time this story takes place, God had been silent about 400 years. Prior to that God spoke through the prophets. People were given hope God was coming to save them. And then silence. Now, 400 years later, that silence is broken.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout Israelites – God’s chosen people. Why then were they punished by God (which was the common belief back then) and not given the gift of children? Now in their older years an angel from God confronts Zechariah in the temple and turns his world upside down. He is told he and his wife will finally have a son. Now? It’s not possible. It’s too late. They are too old. Then BAM!…out of the blue he is given silence.
Sometimes God’s gifts come that way: when you least expect them. Often when it’s not practical. Quite often God’s gifts are confusing – we don’t know how to deal with them. Sound familiar? What if this pandemic contains within its difficulties and stresses a gift from God?
Zechariah probably had a tough time with the silence. He couldn’t explain to people what happened to him in the temple. It was labor intensive to write much back then – no paper and pencils or keyboards. For at least nine months he was steeped in the silence where God dwells. Silence not just for Zechariah, but also for his wife Elizabeth who no longer had the sound of her husband’s voice at home – for nine months!
But the word ‘silence’ can refer to more than absence of sound. Zechariah was stricken with silence: he was unable to speak. Meditation and Centering Prayer teach a person to silence their mind, or in other words: quiet down their thoughts. Silence can refer to letting go of busyness and distractions. And just maybe during pandemic times of house confinement or semi-isolation, silence can mean simplifying one’s life.
And guess what? Silence is a language of God. We have a hard time listening these days. Our brains flit about so rapidly, it makes most of us physically uncomfortable to be in silence. Even though it is good for the body, the mind and the spirit…we still give in to stimulation. Even as Christians, we avoid silence because it makes us uncomfortable, and besides, we think we already know about God.
When we don’t talk, we become better listeners. In his season of silence, Zechariah learned to listen to God and in the silence he learned to trust God. That is where Hope comes from. Hope is born and develops through silence. It gets us out of our heads for a while. It’s one thing to read, study and learn about hope and it’s another thing to be still and let it settle into your mind and heart through silence. It’s like the difference between learning about God and experiencing God.
As we open ourselves more to God’s presence in silence, our hearts will begin to change. God’s good at that. Jesus’ stories are all about transformation aka change. Change helps us become better versions of who we are. As change happens we begin to let go of fear as we find what we’re really searching for: hope, peace, joy, and love: in other words: Emmanuel – God with us, God within us. AMEN!
Please join us in singing Come, O Long-expected Jesus.
Dear Lord, we bow humbly before you, in love and gratitude. We return to you the love you share with us, hearts full and open. Here, at your feast, we remember the sacrifice you made of your earthly life, on our behalf. You stood in for each of us, for people of all times and places, taking on the sins that separate us from God and from one another. We cannot imagine what that burden must have been like for you, and still is, as we continue to put ourselves first, sinning as we go, and for all the yet unborn who will join us in our human sinful nature. Forgive us, Lord. We try to let it all go, but somehow pick it all up again very quickly. Please bless this bit to eat: may it be for us your body broken on our behalf. Please bless this sip to drink: may it be for us your blood shed for our forgiveness. May these sacramental elements wash us clean, raise us up, and sustain us for the journey. Amen.
Now may the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, enabling us to share true hope with a world that knows too little of it. In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, amen!