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Sermon and Liturgy For the First Sunday of Advent - Year B
Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
"While The Teacher Is Away"

READING:  Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
SERMON :  "While The Teacher Is Away"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-ad01sm 518000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC. 

   Sources:  As noted in the text.  The sermon was inspired by 
   Gifts Before Christmas by Russell Metcalfe, 1996.  
   "A Candle Is Burning" is by Sandra Dean (1986) and is found in 
   Voices United, the hymn book of the United Church of Canada. The
   tune is "Away in A Manger".  The words are reproduced here by 
   permission of the Author.  If you use this song in worship, 
   please acknowledge her authorship amd date.  Sandra Dean lives 
   in Ottawa, Canada and is Director of Music at Southminster 
   United Church.  She is delighted to share the song with you.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)

L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, 
   and in his word I put my hope.
P  My soul waits for the Lord 
   more than watchmen wait for the morning, 
   more than watchmen wait for the morning.
L  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
P  For with the Lord there is unfailing love, 
   with him there is plenteous redemption.

   Prepare the way of the Lord! 
   Prepare the way of the Lord!
   Make a straight path for him,
   Make a straight path;
   Prepare the way of the Lord.

  VOICE  - Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday in
          which we recall the hope we have in Christ.

   VOICE  - The prophets of Israel all spoke of the coming of
          Christ, of how a saviour would be born, a king in the
          line of David.  They spoke of how he would rule the
          world wisely and bless all nations.

   VOICE  - On Christmas day the Christ of our hope was born. 
          On Good Friday the Christ of our hope died.  On Easter
          day the Christ of our hope rose from the dead.  He
          then ascended into heaven.  On the last day, the
          Christ of our hope will come again to establish his
          kingdom over all things on earth.

   VOICE  - As the follower of Christ, we await his return.  We
          light this candle to remember that as he came to us as
          humbly in the manger at Bethlehem and gave light to
          the world, so he is coming again in power to deliver
          his people.
   VOICE  - We light this candle to remind us to be alert and to
          watch for his return.

   Light the First Candle

          VOICE  - LET US PRAY - Loving God, we thank you for the hope
          you give us.  Help us prepare our hearts for the
          Lord's coming.  Bless our worship.  Help us live holy
          and righteous lives.  We ask it in the name of the one
          born in Bethlehem.  Amen.

CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: "A Candle is Burning" (VU 6, verse 1)       
   A Candle is burning, a flame warm and bright,
   a candle of hope in December's dark night.
   While angels sing blessing from heaven's starry sky,
   our hearts we prepare now for Jesus in nigh.

- Announcements and Sharing Time         
- Gathering Prayer Joys and Concerns

* HYMN: "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"                    - VU 2

CHILDREN'S TIME: "T'was The Beginning of Advent"
Theme:    The Meaning of Advent
Source:   Poem by Todd Jenkins - with permission.
Object:   None

Good morning, boys and girls.  Does anyone know what season this

Today I want to read to you a poem that is based on a rather
famous poem about Christmas - called 'Twas The Night Before
Christmas" This is by a friend of mine - Todd Jenkins - and it is
called  Twas The Beginning of Advent.  It will tell you a
little bit about this season we celebrate.

'Twas the beginning of Advent and all through the Church 
Our hope was all dying-- we'd given up on the search. 
It wasn't so much that Christ wasn't invited, 
But after 2,000 plus years we were no longer excited. 
Oh, we knew what was coming-- no doubt about that. 
And that was the trouble-- it was all "old hat." 
November brought the first of an unending series of pains 
With carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns. 
There were gadgets and dolls and all sorts of toys. 
Enough to seduce even the most devout girls and boys. 
Unfortunately, it seemed, no one was completely exempt 
From this seasonal virus that did all of us tempt. 
The priests and prophets and certainly the kings 
Were all so consumed with the desire for "things!" 
It was rare, if at all, that you'd hear of the reason 
For the origin of this whole holy-day season. 
A baby, it seems, once had been born 
In the mid-east somewhere on that first holy-day morn. 
But what does that mean for folks like us, 
Who've lost ourselves in the hoopla and fuss? 
Can we re-learn the art of wondering and waiting, 
Of hoping and praying, and anticipating? 
Can we let go of all the things and the stuff? 
Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough? 
Can we open our eyes and open our ears? 
Can we find him again after all of these years? 
Will this year be different from all the rest? 
Will we be able to offer him all of our best? 
So many questions, unanswered thus far, 
As wise men seeking the home of the star. 
Where do we begin-- how do we start 
To make for the child a place in our heart? 
Perhaps we begin by letting go 
Of our limits on hope, and of the stuff that we know. 
Let go of the shopping, of the chaos and fuss, 
Let go of the searching, let Christmas find us. 
We open our hearts, our hands and our eyes, 
To see the king coming in our own neighbours' cries. 
We look without seeking what we think we've earned, 
But rather we're looking for relationships spurned. 
With him he brings wholeness and newness of life 
For brother and sister, for husband and wife. 
The Christ-child comes not by our skill, 
But rather he comes by his own Father's will. 
We can't make him come with parties and bright trees, 
But only by getting down on our knees. 
He'll come if we wait amidst our affliction, 
Coming in spite of, not by our restriction. 
His coming will happen-- of this there's no doubt. 
The question is whether we'll be in or out. 
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock." 
Do you have the courage to peer through the lock? 
A basket on your porch, a child in your reach. 
A baby to love, to feed and to teach. 
He'll grow in wisdom as God's only Son. 
How far will we follow this radical one? 

He'll lead us to challenge the way that things are. 
He'll lead us to follow a single bright star. 
But that will come later if we're still around. 
The question for now: Is the child to be found? 
Can we block out commercials, the hype and the malls?  
Can we find solitude in our holy halls? 
Can we keep alert, keep hope, stay awake? 
Can we receive the child for ours and God's sake? 
From on high with the carolling host as he sees us, 
He yearns to read on our lips the prayer: Come Lord Jesus! 
As Advent begins all these questions make plea. 
The only true answer: We will see, we will see. 

   LET US PRAY - Dear Lord Jesus - help us to see you - to be
   prepared for when you come again - and help us now - to
   celebrate this season - with hope and peace - and with joy
   and love.  Amen

* HYMN: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"                         - VU 1

   (NRSV) O that you would tear open the heavens
   and come down, so that the mountains would quake
   at your presence-- {2} 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! {3} When you did awesome deeds that we did
   not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your
   presence. {4} From ages past no one has heard, no ear has
   perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works
   for those who wait for him. {5} 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. {6} 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. {7} 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. {8} Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
   we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the
   work of your hand. {9} Do not be exceedingly angry, O
   LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever.  Now consider,
   we are all your people.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.

CHOIR ANTHEM: "O Day of God, Draw Nigh"

   (NRSV)  "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun
   will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
   {25} and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the
   powers in the heavens will be shaken. {26} Then they will
   see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and
   glory. {27} Then he will send out the angels, and gather
   his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth
   to the ends of heaven. {28} "From the fig tree learn its
   lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts
   forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. {29} So
   also, when you see these things taking place, you know
   that he is near, at the very gates. {30} Truly I tell you,
   this generation will not pass away until all these things
   have taken place. {31} Heaven and earth will pass away,
   but my words will not pass away. {32} "But about that day
   or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor
   the Son, but only the Father. {33} Beware, keep alert; for
   you do not know when the time will come. {34} It is like a
   man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his
   slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the
   doorkeeper to be on the watch. {35} Therefore, keep
   awake--for you do not know when the master of the house
   will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow,
   or at dawn, {36} or else he may find you asleep when he
   comes suddenly. {37} And what I say to you I say to all:
   Keep awake."

L  This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ

* HYMN: "Hail To God's Own Anointed"                      - VU 30

SERMON: "While The Teacher Is Away"

   Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the
   words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow
   thou in us and show us your ways and inspire us to live by
   your truth.  Amen

I imagine that each of us can remember what happened when we were
students back in school and the teacher announced that she was
just going to step out of the class for a minute.

I am sure you can remember words like 

   - "Now class, I'm going down the hall to the office to
   make a call.  While I am gone I am going to trust each one
   of you to act like ladies and gentlemen.   Each of you
   have your work to do - I am going now and I'll be right

And I am sure you can remember what happened 
after she got out the door.

When the teacher is away, there is a test,  
a test that many people flunk.

In my school days I remember vividly that all heck broke loose. 
Some kids worked - or tried to - while other kids made spit-
balls, paper air-planes, and other missiles; others wandered
around between the desks - talking to one, poking another, and so

Sometimes the whole affair got organized -
one or two kids would stand near the door, listening for the
teachers return, while their buddies ransacked the room, wrote
notes on the board, or did something to one of the teachers

My friends, right now the teacher is away -
we are living between times,
in the times between Christ's first coming 
-as a babe in the manger 
and his second coming 
- as Lord and Judge.

We live between beginnings.  And the question that the gospel
poses for us today, while we are in this state is quite simply: 

   are we going to pass the test set for us by our teacher's
   absence?  Or are we going to flunk that test - just as so
   many of us did back when we were in school?

The way I figure it - most of the New Testament is concerned with
the problem of God's absence.  When Jesus was here with us in the
flesh - that was one thing.   But in his absence, in the time
between his first Advent and the next - what of our discipleship?

Things between us and God tend to be fine, when we are in here,
at worship, eating the bread, drinking the wine, touching and
tasting the goodness, the near presence of God.  But what about
later, when you walk out the church door and you are back in the
world?  What then?

Isn't a little bit like it was back in our school days?
Some do their work - some can be trusted,
and some can not.

You know - the amazing thing about our faith 
- is the faith that God puts in us.

Especially when you consider how so many of us behave.

Yet, even so, God has put us in charge of the classroom,
each with our own work to do,
and all he says to us as He does this is 
"do a good job - behave well - and be alert for my return."

Christ is coming again,
and we need him to come again,
too many of his class have become unruly.

But, while we long for his return, 
   as Israel longed for his coming in the Old Testament reading
   this morning,
while we long for the time when the classroom will be a place of
harmony and peace
   - for the time when all things will be finally straightened
   out, the time when the wicked will perish and the faithful at
   last receive their reward,
while we long for this time, 
we need not be overly concerned about just when it will come
   we need not worry because we have our work to do in the
   meantime and because we can trust God to honour that work,
   and to keep his promise to be merciful and kind to those who
   have lived by faith in him.

The teacher will come,
and the faithful and the unfaithful alike will see him coming,
   they will see him coming with his angels in the clouds with
   great power and glory -
        and the angels will be sent out to gather his elect from
       the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of
and there will be justice,
and there will be peace,
   - a peace greater than that which came when our earthly
   school teachers returned to their classes,
   - a justice more just than that which was meted out when the
   teacher opened her classroom door to behold what her students
   had done.

This is our hope,
This is our Christian faith,
And this is the time in which we show our Lord that we can be

O God help us today to live as you would have us live; help us to
honour the trust you have placed in us; help us do our work and
to behave as your followers ought to behave... Lord hear our

Lord - we pray today for all those who are labouring at the task
you have set them, bless them and let them know their
blessedness, build in them an ever greater hope... Lord hear our

Lord, we pray for those who are being afflicted by others during
your absence; minister to them by your Holy Spirit, minister to
them by us; heal their wounds; bring justice to their cause; and
help them find new joy and new hope.... Lord hear our prayer...

We remember too O God those who lie sick today,
those who hunger and thirst,
those who are lonely and those who grieve,
bless them, by us and by all the members of Christ's body, that
they may inherit your promises,
and taste even now the sweetness of your invisible presence,
the healing power of your indwelling Spirit.... Lord hear our

Finally O God, as we approach the table of your Son, 
   remind us all of how you are with us in things that are
   visible, and things invisible,
       remind us how you have acted to save and deliver us from
       our enemies,
          of how you have blessed and watched over us in this
          time between beginnings,
               and of how we will one day see face to face, and
              know fully, even as we are fully known.
We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
541) and Prayer of Dedication

   Lord Jesus - we offer these gifts to you.  Bless them and
   us in your service as we wait in hope for your return. 
   Make, we pray, all that we offer fruitful in the work of
   your most glorious kingdom.  Amen

* SHARING THE PEACE:  We greet those around us with a sign of
peace (handshakes or hugs) and words like "The peace of the Lord
be with you".  This ancient tradition is an appropriate response
to the peace that God gives to thoe who hear and do his word.

* COMMUNION HYMN: "Here, O My Lord, I See You"     - VU 459 (1-3)

L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give him thanks and praise.

L  Loving God, in many and various ways you have visited and
   redeemed your people - finally sending to us your Son,
   Jesus.  We thank you Lord God for sending him to us: As
   one of us he came, at first a tender infant, then a child,
   a youth, and an adult.  He rejoiced with those who
   rejoiced, he wept with those who wept.  To the despairing
   he spoke a word of hope, to the sick he gave healing, to
   the rejected he was a friend.  And yet he was betrayed and
   nailed to a cross.  But you lifted him from the grave and
   restored him to life that he might be with us and we with
   him - alive - for evermore.  Therefore with all the saints
   and with the angels in heaven we praise you , saying:

P  Holy, holy, holy, Lord,
   God of power and might,
   Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
   Hosanna in the highest.
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
   Hosanna in the highest.

L  Eternal God, King of heaven and earth: the life and death of
   thy Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we proclaim; his
   resurrection from the dead and his ascension we confess; his
   coming in triumph we await.

P  Even so, come Lord Jesus, come.

* Words Of Institution
   Gracious and Loving God, we remember with this bread and
   this cup the pain and the sorrow of the world - the pain
   and sorrow Jesus took upon himself when he suffered and
   died for our redemption.

   We recall how, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took
   bread - and thanked you - as we now thank you O Lord  -
   and then broke it and gave it his disciples, saying, "Take
   eat, this is my body, broken for you".  We remember too,
   how when the meal was done he also took the cup, the cup
   of blessing, and gave it to his disciples saying, "take
   and drink, all of you, this is my blood, poured out for
   many for the forgiveness of sins.  As oft as you do this -
   do it in remembrance of me."

L  Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith:
P  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
L  Loving God, we pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit upon us and
   upon this bread and this cup that we, and these gifts, that
   they may be for us the body and the blood of our your Son,
   Christ Jesus our Lord. Give us, as we eat and drink, the
   mind of Christ and help us to follow his example as we await
   his return in glory.  We ask it in his name - praying
   together as he taught us, singing....
P  Our Father...

-- The Distribution of The Elements

L  Let us pray:
P  We give you thanks, almighty God, 
   that you have refreshed us at this table.  
   Strengthen our faith, increase our love for one another, 
   and send us forth united in courage and peace, 
   and rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, 
   until Christ our Saviour comes again 
   in power and might to judge the world.  Amen

* DEPARTING HYMN: "Here, O My Lord, I See You"     - VU 459 (4-5)

* COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go
   forth into the world to fulfil Your calling as the people of
   God, the body of Christ.

Go in peace -love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
And may the Lord bless you and keep you, 
make he make his face shine upon you, 
may he lift up his countenance upon you 
and give to you a transforming hope and a joyful faith 
till the time of his coming in power and glory  Amen

* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                    - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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