November 29, 2020 1st Sunday in Advent
This Worship at Home Guide is a supplement to our worship services. For your convenience, a printable PDF is available toward the bottom of this page. In addition, the weekly preaching and teaching guide of Embodying the Challenge of Being A Matthew 25 Church is included in the PDF. For those using this page as a worship guide, please download the guide separately.
Gathering Question/Gathering Music
Music Improvisation on the Advent tune “Abertstwyth”
Prayer of the Day
Faithful God, your promises stand unshaken through all generations. Renew us in hope, that we may be awake and alert as we watch and wait for Jesus, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen
Hymn #105 “People Look East”
People look east. The time is near of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able; trim the hearth and set the table. People look east and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather, bright as sun and moon together.
People look east and sing today: Love, the Star, is on the way.
Angels announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming with the word, the Lord is coming.
People look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.
Text ©1960 David Higham Assoc. Ltd. Reprinted with permission. CCLI #120092 All rights reserved.
Prayer of Confession
God of the past, present, future, you are present to, for, and with us. We
confess that we have not welcomed your reign. Hear our prayers of confession…
In your mercy forgive us. Amen.
Lighting of the Advent Candle Isaiah 2:4
This candle is a sign of the light of Christ, the Lord has promised, in days to come:
The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Let us walk in the light of the Lord! Amen.
Hymn #85 “Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah”
Light one candle to watch for Messiah: let the light banish darkness.
He shall bring salvation to Israel, God fulfills the promise.
Text ©1984. Fortress Music Press. Reprinted with permission. CCLI #120092. All rights reserved.
The text, written by Wayne Wold, underscores the “waiting” theme of the season and concludes appropriately with reference to Matthew 25:1-13. The new tune, Chapel Lane, written by Jan Sutherland, commemorates a difficult time of waiting due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is named after Chapel Lane Presbyterian Church.
Scripture/Meditation Isaiah 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has hear, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
Questions for Reflection and Discernment
1. What questions do you have for Isaiah, the prophet?
2. What questions do you have for God?
3. From what attitude/perspective does the prophet address God?
4. Have you ever been a potter or known one? What intrigues you about this image?
Anthem “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
Text/Music Public Domain 5th C. Latin/Plainsong
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
A voice is crying out in the wilderness: let us prepare the way of the Lord.
Gracious God, hear our prayers for the world…
Gracious God, hear our prayers for our communities…
Gracious God, hear our prayers for our loved ones…
Gracious God, hear our prayers for the church…
Gracious God, hear our prayers for ourselves…
Almighty God, whose Word we trust, whose Spirit equips us to pray, we continue to
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 debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Hymn #123 “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to all, from heaven’s all-gracious King”:
the world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
and we at war on earth hear not the tidings that they bring;
O, hush, the noise and cease the strife to hear the angels sing!
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:
O, rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.
Text/Music Public Domain.
The ‘it’ of the first line of this text by a Unitarian minister does not refer to the birth of Jesus, but to “that glorious song of old”, the angelic tidings of peace on earth. The restored third stanza laments how often the noise of human strife has obscured that message.
Mission Moment: Matthew 25:31-4
For this week's guide, Embodying the Challenge of Being A Matthew 25 Church
Hymn #92 "While We Are Waiting, Come"
While we are waiting, come; while we are waiting, come.
Jesus our Lord, Emmanuel, while we are waiting, come.
Text and Music ©1986. Word Music LLC. Reprinted with permission. CCLI #120092. All rights reserved.
Sharing of the Peace:
Sharing Jesus’ invitation to his disciples:
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you!
─Resources from the Book of Common Worship and Glory to God Hymnal, PCUSA
Interpretation of Isaiah 64:1-9
Advent begins with a prayer of the prophet Isaiah that is both a lament and a plea. The heavens will open and the God of Sinai will come down with a righteous power to stun the enemies of Israel with his presence, bringing shock and awe to his adversaries. Even though the people of God have sinned and feel God has hidden God’s face from them, they still trust God in their spiritual exile. In spite of it all, they know that they are clay and the works of the hand of the Almighty Potter.
It is a strange way to begin this time of Advent. Beginning Advent with weeping and a lament? This is unusual. And powerful. This is where we need to begin. The coming of Advent jolts the church out of Ordinary Time with the invasive news that it’s time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Peace, the peace of shalom/salaam, is at the heart of the promise born at Advent, becoming vulnerable along the way. It is difficult to set out on the journey without repentance and forgiveness. WE can feel the tears glistening on our cheeks as we upon the brokenness of our world.
“No eye has seen any God besides you,” Isaiah pleads, “who works for those who wait” for the forces of hate and evil to be overthrown, the people to be restored, and the house of David to be revived. A righteous branch will emerge to execute justice, hope, and possibility for God’s people. Hold on to the promises of God, encourages the prophet, even though the circumstances are bleak and seem nearly impossible. We pray for the hope of Advent: that God will break into the ordinary, bringing the promise of peace, hope and restored life.
At Advent, God’s people summon the courage and the spiritual strength to remember that the holy breaks into the daily. In tiny ways, we can open our broken hearts to the healing grace of God, who opens the way to peace. May that peace come upon us as a healing balm, as a mighty winter river, gushing and rushing through the valleys of our prideful fear and our own self-righteous indignation.
The hymn, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” is apropos for this time, for this season. This peace is a gift from God, the same God who broke into the ordinary, flooding us with hope for peace and making our hearts strong again, so that we could—and can—move into the world with courage and compassion.
And so we do not lose heart; rather we live with our hearts broken open so that compassion, caring, and God’s reckless love can find a way into our hearts and the heart of the world, making straight in our hearts a highway for the possibility of peace.
─ from Feasting On The Word, Preaching the Revised Commentary Year B, 1st Sunday in Advent, Patricia E. De Jong
Meditation on Isaiah 64: 1-9
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Blessings in God’s name on this 1st Sunday of Advent, this first Sunday in another new Church year. Happy New (Church) Year! Advent, a season of four weeks of preparation, sometimes referred to as “Winter Lent” given how it presages Christmas as Lent presages Easter. In the early life of the Church, Easter was THE day that Church/church worked its way towards and away from. Christmas was a minor day in the holy days of the Christian faith, a reality that was true for a long time, even into the early days of the United States before it became prominent. Christmas is a month away. Advent is now here: a time of preparation, of re-membering. This Advent season we will be focusing on the prophetic lectionary reading each Sunday.
For much of this season that will mean Isaiah, including Isaiah 64:1-9 today, part of a larger text that begins in Isaiah 63:7. It is an interesting combination of lamenting, weeping, and pleading. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”, the prophet implores God, reflecting the understanding of the day that the heavens were above the earth and permeable by God, the creator of the heavens and the earth. “O that you would…come down.” The people need God’s presence and presents, and God is absent, or seemingly so, “For you (God) have hidden your face from us.” “O God, where are you, why are you hiding?”
A lament is a complaint, a mourn-full statement expressing angst over what is happening, a crying out with a deep desire for an answer. As a people of faith, we are not as familiar with the practice of lamenting beyond common forms of grieving at the time of a death. This was one common form of lament for the people of Israel as well, but not the only form, because a lament became a formalized expression not only of grief but of complaint.
In this case, the lament begins with a petition (invitation or request?): “O that you would…come down…”. The people of Israel had experienced God’s presence and presents in expressive and forceful ways in the past—leading them out of the bondage of slavery from Egypt—and in the present—the text dates to the time when the people of Israel had been released from Babylonian captivity but before they have had the opportunity to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem—so, why is God waiting now when the people are still in need? The people desire—need—God to act demonstratively in such a way that they can’t miss it.
We as a people today know this desire, this wish. We have lived for nearly nine months in a state of uncertainty with what is and amidst the holiday season in an increasing angst over what we cannot do or what we are told we should not do. Why doesn’t God simply eradicate the Covid-19 virus and all of the ramifications of it? Why doesn’t God write in the sky (the heavens) clearly telling us that the 11th commandment is that we should wear masks and refrain from socializing? Why doesn’t God present God’s self in such an inarguable way and fashion so that we could all just get it (God’s Word, not the disease) and that would be it? Why doesn’t God act? Can’t God see that we’re in pain, that we’re not doing well, that we’re in conflict—even crisis—in our individual and collective, in our physical and spiritual, lives?
Not unrealistic questions, either for the prophet or for us, to direct to God. Is it because of sin, the prophet not so much asks as admits, that God has chosen to remain separate? Not an unreasonable assumption, since a common—and very useful—understanding of sin is simply—and profoundly—separation from God. Our sin has stained us—like a filthy cloth—the prophet states, and the ultimate sin is not that we will die, but that we have stopped calling on God’s name? And so, the prophet seeks to do so: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
So, why doesn’t God act as God has acted before? Or is in fact God acting? One way to faith-fully approach this question is to acknowledge that God does not simply respond to human needs in a vending machine fashion: we put in a request and our request is granted. Another way is to acknowledge that while God has acted in meaningful and majestic ways in the past, that is not the only way that God has acted. Of course, we want God to act in an outwardly demonstrable fashion: “so that the mountains quake…and fire causes water to boil…and nations quake at your presence(!)...”. We want God to act the way we want God to act, and yet God could not, would not, be God if God, the LORD, did not have independence.
God acted in the person of Jesus as equally as God acted in releasing the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt and Babylon, after all. And yet the demonstrative aspect of it was a bit more subtle, a bit less earth-shaking metaphorically. We are once again in Advent, a time of preparing to celebrate God’s gift in Jesus, this humble embodiment of God in person, with not only a voice but a vision, with not only flesh but a fixation on what God’s reign in the world can look like but should look like if one wants to listen to God in not only the preaching but also the practices of this one we call Messiah, or anointed one.
God acted in the person of Jesus in a way that was down-right frustrating for many of his day as well as for many since. Jesus was the son of David and yet was not a warrior and did not embody political power. Jesus’ birth is retold in ways that speak of triumph over adversity rather than triumphalism itself. Among those Jesus invited to “follow” him: the young and the old, healthy and dis-eased, poor and wealthy, women and men, insiders and outsiders. If we were to imagine ourselves overhearing Isaiah’s conversation with the LORD—an interesting and intriguing way to seek to listen to this text, we might tell Isaiah that his desire had been fulfilled, that “God (had) come down”.
God did in fact, as the potter, shape with the same flesh that we have, a person named Jesus, one who did not condemn us for our sin(s) but invited us to return to the LORD who not only forgives sins but absorbs them. God did “come down” allowing the people of God to not only expand their understanding of God’s ways, but to expand the people of God to include you and me. After all, how much more demonstrable could God be? The challenge? To not just lament that God needs to act as we want God to act (now as well as then), but to honor how God has “come down” and invited us to actively witness to how God continues to act in the name of Jesus through the powerful passion and purpose of the Holy Spirit.
"Embodying the Challenge of Being a Matthew 25 Church" will parallel the preaching and teaching this Advent Season.
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