Introduction & Welcome
Welcome to worship today, God’s gift to us because God is good! all the time!
and all the time! God is good!
Cradle and cross are inextricably connected on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Between a lovely tribute to the little town of Bethlehem and Mary’s magnificent song of praise, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us in no uncertain terms that Christ’s advent is for “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is the kind of tension in which the church always lives as when in holy communion—with high delight—“we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
Confession and Forgiveness
All may make the sign of the cross, the sign that is marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.
Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God,
who alone does wonders,
who lifts up the lowly,
who fills the hungry with good things.
Let us confess our sin, trusting in the tender mercy of our God.
Silence is kept for reflection.
God for whom we wait,
in the presence of one another,
we confess our sin before you.
We fail in believing that your good news is for us.
We falter in our call to tend your creation.
We find our sense of self in material wealth.
We fear those different from ourselves.
We forget that we are your children
and turn away from your love.
Forgive us, Blessed One,
and assure us again of your saving grace. Amen.
God, in Christ Jesus, has looked with favor upon you!
Through the power of the Holy Spirit,
☩ your sins are forgiven.
You are children of the Most High,
inheritors of the eternal promise,
and recipients of divine mercy.
God strengthens you anew to follow the way of peace. Amen.
Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
The prophet Micah, having pronounced judgment upon Judah, speaks of a future shepherd-king who, like David, will come from the small town of Bethlehem. (Ephrathah refers to the area around Bethlehem.) This king will restore Israel and bring peace. New Testament writers understood this passage to be referring to Jesus.
2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
3Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5aand he shall be the one of peace.
Psalm: Luke 1:46b-55
You, Lord, have lifted up the lowly. (Lk. 1:52)
46bMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
47my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
49you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
and holy is your name.
50You have mercy on those who fear you,
from generation to generation.
51You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
52casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
53You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
55the promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
The author of Hebrews uses the image of religious sacrifice to convey the significance of Christ’s coming. Through obedient acceptance of God’s will, Christ allows his own body to become the greatest sacrifice of all, one through which we are made a holy people.
5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
6in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Alleluia. Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Alleluia. (Luke 1:38)
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Elizabeth, John’s mother, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are two women filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. In Elizabeth’s inspired greeting and Mary’s song of praise we hear of a saving God who remembers, scatters, lifts up, and fulfills all things.
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
[46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]
Meditation by David O’Brien
There are days when I feel that this world has lost its way so very badly. I’m writing this meditation shortly after the week where a 15-year-old took a gun into a high school in Oxford, Michigan and killed five of his classmates. This tragedy is worsened by the fact that there seems to have been clear signs ahead of the shooting that this kid was very troubled. Apparently, he had drawn various pictures depicting scenes of slaughter, one even saying he can’t get the thoughts out of his head and asking for help. His parents not only declined to get him the help he was asking for, but apparently enabled his act of murder against others in his class by buying a gun days before the shooting and giving him free access to it. I don’t pretend to know what was going on inside of that family, but it sure sounds like they weren’t giving that child the love that he needed. Now that child is probably going to be spending the rest of his life in prison, where the care he will not receive will only harden his heart even further. I grieve, not just for the families of this kid’s victims, but for him as well. How did he get so lost when there were so many signs pointing to the impending disaster?
I contrast this family with Mary and Elizabeth, two women who apparently cared very deeply for the children they were each carrying. Elizabeth, whom we know was well beyond childbearing age, and whose husband, Zechariah, was elderly, had never had a child. Nobody, least of all Elizabeth, expected her to become pregnant. When she did, however, she was both amazed and overjoyed. She knew that she was blessed and that her son would go on the be a big part of God’s plan in the world. I’ve read some articles that compare Elizabeth’s pregnancy to Sarah’s when she and Abraham were both old. I think that makes an interesting connection between the Old and New Testaments, but I’ll leave that for another time.
Mary, who was Elizabeth’s cousin, had also conceived a child, but the circumstances were much different. Mary was engaged, but not married to, Joseph. She had not yet been with a man, and yet she was pregnant. Of course, we know that this was the work of the Holy Spirit and that the child she carried was Jesus Christ, but how was Joseph to know this? When the angel came to Mary to tell her about the miracle of her pregnancy and that she would bear the Messiah, she said yes, despite the dangers. In Mary’s culture, an unwed, pregnant woman could be stoned to death. The fact that the child was not Joseph’s could have resulted in his family committing what has been called an “honor killing”. (I’ve always found that term to be an oxymoron.) Yet, despite the danger, she loved the Lord so much that she agreed to His plan for salvation for His people. Because she also loved the child she was carrying, she undertook a journey of three to four days, to her cousin’s house, so that she and the child might be spared until a solution could be worked out.
When the two women met, we’re told that they were both so joyful that they each praised God, Elizabeth exclaiming to Mary “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, which has become part of the Rosary, a popular prayer said by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Mary also exclaims her joy saying that her “spirit rejoices in God, my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant”.
Soon, both John and Jesus will be born. We don’t know much about John’s childhood, but we are told that his parents were good people that wanted to please God. We can probably assume that he studied the Scripture with his parents and learned about the coming Messiah from them. We know at least a little more about Jesus early years, from His parents’ flight to Egypt in order to save Him as an infant, to His presentation by them at the temple. It seems clear, from the little we know that they must have loved Him very much.
May we all learn to value the children in our lives. After all, aren’t we all God’s children and as such all of us valuable, especially the youngest of us? If we all could show but a fraction of the love for them that Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah showed to their children, perhaps we would see a day when they will treat each other with love and respect and can pass that onto their children. Then, maybe, things like school shootings will become something children are only exposed to in history books when they’re a little older.
Prayers of Intercession
In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.
A brief silence.
Nurturing God, you give us life and care for our every need. Use the church’s gifts and ministries for your service, bringing your word to all who seek your transforming grace. Send your Holy Spirit to inspire Elizabeth & Daniel, our bishops, and Howard, our pastor, so that they can, with Your help, proclaim that grace to this congregation, that we might carry it out into the world. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Creator God, you proclaim your boundless love for all that you have made. Renew barren lands, polluted waters, and melting ice caps. Make us servants of your creation that brings forth abundant life. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Righteous God, you bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly. Strengthen those who seek justice. Bless the work of community organizers, activists, journalists, public defenders and all who call our attention to imbalances of power. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Compassionate God, you proclaim your love and mercy. Show your loving kindness to teen parents and those who are pregnant. Comfort any struggling with infertility and those who await test results, are in treatment and hospice care, and others in need especially those whom we remember on our prayer list. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Gracious God, you fill the hungry with good things. Bless the feeding ministries of this congregation and community. Guide us to share your bounty with those who hunger or live in poverty. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Merciful God, be with the families and community members in the Oxford, Michigan area, as they struggle to put their lives back together and make sense of the terrible tragedy that has befallen their community. Comfort all in this world who suffer from violence. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.
Faithful God, you stir up the hearts of those who love you. We give you thanks for those who, like Mary, were courageous in their witness. Give us such courage until that day when you fulfill all things. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Together, let us profess our faith using the words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
And now, as our Savior, Christ, continues to teach us, we boldly pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing,
so that we may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
through Christ Jesus for whom we wait.
Go in peace. Christ is near.
Thanks be to God.