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Sermon and Liturgy for Advent Four - Year C
Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45,47-55
"Celebrating God's Love"

READING:  Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45,47-55
SERMON :  "Celebrating God's Love"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ad04su.y-c 909399

   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:  Elements of the Call To Worship and the Prayer of
   Dedication as found John Maynard ( "Prayers
   and Litanies For Advent 4C"as sent to the PRCL List, December 18
   2000.  The Eucharistic Prayer is based on that of Nathan Nettleton
   (, "Eucharist prayer for the Feast of the
   Nativity" as sent to the PRCL List, December 1999.  The Children's 
   time is from Charles Kirkpatrick (, December 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  We gather to bless the Lord our God.
P  He has come to the help of his people and has set them free.
L  He has provided for us a mighty Saviour, Christ Jesus Emmanuel.
P  Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
L  Blessed are they who trust in the promises of God 
   and wait patiently for the revealing of his glory.

* INTROIT: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (verse 1)                        - VU 1

VOICE  - Last Sunday we lit the candle of joy.  We light it and the candles
       of hope and peace again as we remember that Christ, who was born in
       Bethlehem, will come again to fulfil all of God's promises and bring
       us everlasting peace and joy.  (a person lights the candles of hope,
       peace, and joy)

VOICE  - The fourth candle of Advent is the Candle of Love.  God's love is
       a perfect love.  It holds nothing back.  God, in love, gives us
       everything we need to live a life of hope and peace.

VOICE  - The bible says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only
       Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have
       eternal life."  Jesus shows us God's perfect love.

VOICE  - This is what love is like: Love is patient, love is kind and
       envies no one.  Love is never boastful or conceited, rude or
       selfish.  Love is not quick to take offense, it keeps no records of
       wrongs, it does not gloat over other people's troubles, but rejoices
       in the right, the good, and the true.   There is nothing that love
       cannot face, there is no limit to its faith, to its hope, to its

VOICE  - Love never ends.  We light the candle of love to remind us that
       Jesus brings us God's love and shows us how to love others.   (a
       person lights the candle of love)

VOICE  - Love is like a light shining in a dark place.  As we look at this
       candle we celebrate the love we find in Jesus Christ.

VOICE  - Let us pray: Thank you God for the love you give us.  We ask that
       as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to
       come again, that you would remain present with us.  Help us today,
       and everyday, to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will
       by sharing your love with each other.  We ask it in the name of the
       one who was born in Bethlehem.  Amen.

CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: Verse 4 of "A Candle Is Burning"               - VU 6
       A Candle is burning, a candle of love,
       a candle to point us to heaven above.
       A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth,
       for Jesus is bringing God's love to our earth.

CHILDREN'S TIME:   "The Gift of Love"
Theme:     We have received the greatest gift of all - the gift of God's love.
Object:    Two packages, one beautifully gift wrapped and one wrapped in plain 
           brown paper.
Source:    Charles Kirkpatrick (, December 2003.  Used with 

      And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my 
      Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now 
      on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great 
      things for me -- holy is his name." Luke 1:46-49 (NIV)

One of my favorite movies is "The Sound of Music." In that movie, there is a song 
called "My Favorite Things." Some of you may have seen the movie and you may know
that song. If so, you will remember that the character named Maria, sings about 
her "favorite things." One of the things that she mentions in  that song is 
"brown paper packages tied up with string." A package like this one I am holding. 
(Hold up the package wrapped in brown paper.)

We are just a few days away from Christmas and I imagine that there are a lot of 
presents under the tree at your house. I am sure that the packages under the tree 
are wrapped in beautiful paper like this package is wrapped. (Hold up the 
beautifully wrapped package.) If there was a package under the tree that was 
wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string mixed in with all of the 
beautifully wrapped packages with their colorful bows ... and if that package 
had your name on it...would that be the package you would choose to open first? 
I don't think so! After all, a gift is supposed to come in a beautiful package, 
isn't it?

You know, I think that is why a lot of people have missed out on the gift that 
God sent to them. You see, God's Gift didn't come in a beautifully wrapped 
package. God sent Jesus, His only Son, as His gift to us. Jesus' mother was 
a young virgin...his earthly father was a poor carpenter...he was not born 
in a beautiful palace...he was born in a manger. Not a very pretty package, 
is it? But do you know what? It was the greatest gift the world has ever known. 
It was the gift of salvation and it had your name on it...and yours...and 
yours...and mine!

The Bible tells us that when Mary found out that she had been chosen to be the 
one to deliver God's gift to the world, she was filled with joy. She sang a 
song glorifying God for choosing her.

"The Mighty One has done great things for me," she sang.

Well, the Mighty One has done great things for us too. He has sent us the gift 
of His love, but some people are so busy unwrapping the beautifully wrapped 
packages that this world offers that they have missed out on the greatest 
gift. Maybe it is because it came wrapped in brown paper tied up with string.

Today we light the candle of love. It reminds us of the greatest gift we have 
ever received... the Gift of Love...from our Father above.

     Dear Father, we are thankful that you love us so much - we thank you for 
     coming to us in Jesus - we thank you for being present in the world.   Amen

     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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass 
     against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
     For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

CAROL:  "Angels We Have Heard On High"                              - VU 38


  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!

   (NIV)  "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the
   clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over
   Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." {3}
   Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in
   labour gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the
   Israelites. {4} He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of
   the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they
   will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of
   the earth. {5} And he will be their peace.

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

CAROL:   "O Little Town of Bethlehem"                               - VU 64

   (Heb 10:5-10 NIV)  Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
   "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for
   me; {6} with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
   {7} Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I
   have come to do your will, O God.'" {8} First he said, "Sacrifices and
   offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor
   were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be
   made). {9} Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He
   sets aside the first to establish the second. {10} And by that will, we
   have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ
   once for all.
L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God

CAROL:   "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"                              - VU 58

   (Luke 1:39-45 NIV)  At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town
   in the hill country of Judea, {40} where she entered Zechariah's home
   and greeted Elizabeth. {41} When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the
   baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
   {42} In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and
   blessed is the child you will bear! {43} But why am I so favored, that
   the mother of my Lord should come to me? {44} As soon as the sound of
   your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. {45}
   Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will
   be accomplished!"

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

RESPONSIVE READING: The Song of Mary (VU 898 with refrain)

HOMILY  "Celebrating God's Love" 

   O Lord,  we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
   thoughts we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen.  Amen.

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times.

These oft-quoted words are the words that begin the book, A TALE OF TWO
CITIES, by Charles Dickens and I repeat them to you today because they are
words that are true about the times in which we live - just as they were
true in Dicken's day, and indeed in the days of Mary and Joseph.

It was, and is, the best of times,
And it was, and is, the worst of times.

Today as we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent and we look at the
candles that have been lit, the candles of hope, peace, love and joy;
   I want to ask you all to remember that in these times there is much to
and that this is always true, that there is always much to celebrate,
   no matter how bad the times are and no matter how much worse we think
   the times may become.

The Christmas message is that God is with us - Lord Emmanuel,
and no matter how many Grinches may try to steal our Christmas,
   no matter how many negative forces may try to rob us of the hope, the
   peace, the love and the joy that God intends for us
nothing can take from us that which is good, and true, and pure, and
lovely, and gracious.

Jesus was born in a world like ours,
   in fact, in a world even worse than ours,
it was a world in which tyranny ruled everywhere,
   and poverty and hunger and suffering was overwhelming for all but a
very few.

When you look at the time of Jesus realistically you might easily think
that it was the height of foolishness for Mary to sing for joy to God as
she did: what after all was there for her to celebrate but some strange
dream, some vision; and a pregnancy that had almost led to her being
rejected by her betrothed one, by Joseph?

The times were bad - and everyone knew that they were going to get worse. 
This was as plain to see as Caesar's armies and Herod's tax-collectors,
and the crosses that so often appeared along the roads and highways.

What was there to celebrate in Judea 2000 years ago?

And what today, here in Golden - is there to celebrate?

People we love get sick and die,
   our jobs and our security are continually threatened,
   our children's futures are uncertain,
   and around the world newly won freedom is turning to into anarchy and
chaos, even as millions starve in the midst of plenty.

It was then, and it is now, the worst of times.

But my friends, it was then, and it is also now, the best of times.

I say that because the Spirit that took hold of Mary, and conceived within
her a child, is here today.

And just as the Spirit, working in Mary,
brought forth life and light to the world in the person of Jesus -- so
it still brings forth life and light to the world through its working in us
and in those around us.

That light and that life cannot be destroyed - no matter how bad the times
are.  In fact that light and that life often appears stronger the worse
things get in the world.

The Grinch who stole Christmas in the Dr. Seuss story,
   tried to steal Christmas by taking from the villagers
       all their Christmas decorations, all their trees, 
          all their presents, all their food,
              all the exterior things that they enjoyed so much 
- and yet Christmas continued despite this theft because the villagers had
Christmas inside them.

And as it was with the villagers in Who Town,
so it was with Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zechariah,
and so it is and so it can be today with us.  So it should be for us today.

I have listened patiently for a number of years as people have told me how
Christmas is not like it used to be.

These people, these grinches, keep on trying to steal Christmas by looking
at the bad things and forgetting that good things exist too,
      and that good things exist not in some kind of splendid isolation,
but in the midst of all that is,
and that goodness shine brightest in those places where it is most needed 
- right next to the bad things - indeed - often right in the middle of

As it says in the Gospel of John - The Word became flesh 
and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
Where is Christmas today as it used to be?  

Where it has always been - among the humble and lowly,
and with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
and with those moved by the Spirit of love,
the spirit of Christ.

It is found in the story of the welfare mother back East, a woman with
three boys, who some three weeks ago just after cashing her mother's
allowance cheque lost the money while looking after her infant son.  

   She faced an incredibly bleak Christmas - so desperate in fact that
   her oldest child, a seven year old, tried to get a Salvation Army
   worker to give him his donation kettle one afternoon and then
   suggested later to his mother that he could steal some flowers from
   a local stall to brighten things up.

   "They have so many they'll never miss them," he told his mother.

   The story of the woman's loss appeared in the newspaper, and two
   days later a man appeared at her bank, carrying the news clipping,
   and deposited, without giving his name to the clerk, the sum of $540
   in her account.

   When the bank called the mother the son jumped up and down for joy
   and shouted "We're rich, we're rich" - and indeed, in a sense that
   only they can appreciate to the fullest, they are - as is the man
   who blessed them with his caring.

Where is Christmas to be found?

It is to be found in the Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts who collected items for
the Food Bank during the Christmas Parade and in the children and adults
who brought extra last week for those in need as we had our Pageant and
White Gift service.

It is to be found too in those cartoonists, who give us in the Saturday
Funnies some beautiful messages to remind us what Christmas is about - 

   In Family Circus for example - where Billy, after having wandered
   through various stores and seen signs that say "Don't forget
   Christmas Candy;  don't forget wrapping paper, don't forget to visit
   Santa, don't forget last minute gifts", and so on, goes home and
   draws a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus and the star and writes on
   it "Don't forget"

And it is found in B.C.  - where Johnny Hart treats us to a poem:

   in olden days lost souls besought sweet solace from the gloom, 
   of all the sin that man had wrought, in conquest of his doom,
   and then one night a ray of hope shone down from one bright star, 
   and in that morn, a king was born, who loves us as we are.

And it is found even in the most commercial of all places, our Shopping
Malls.  In one such last week a couple was taking their little girl out of
the mall near closing time, and she spied Santa Claus and the elves getting
ready to go home for the night.  

   She had never met him before and was so excited by seeing him that
   she literally shook and trembled at the sight.  The elves glared at
   her and her parents, making it clear that closing time had come and
   gone and further visitors were not welcome.  The little girl tried
   to break free to run and see Santa, but her parents held her back
   and tried to explain to her that Santa had a long day and that he
   had to get back home, but despite all this discouragement the girl
   just kept shaking and trembling and staring at Santa and struggling
   to see him, and this too despite the real dangers posed by the
   swinging around of the camera equipment and rope barriers that was
   occurring as the photographer packed his equipment.

   And then, suddenly, Santa Claus pushed past all his elves and his
   photographer, and swept the little girl up into his arms.  And she
   stopped trembling, and she was speechless.

   He asked her if she had been a good girl - Good Girl, she said.  He
   asked her if she wanted a doll.  A doll, she said.  A few more
   questions - and the meeting was over - and the girl went away with
   her parents and she could not stop talking as she left about what
   she had seen.

Christmas is found wherever there is caring and sharing,
   and caring and sharing my friends exists all around us.
       and nothing and nobody can steal this from us,
          even when, and if, we live in the worst of times.

God chooses to dwell in the midst of his people,
his son was born in Bethlehem, 
   one of the least of the towns of Judah,
and he was born to be the servant of many,
   rather than to be a king.

He spent his time with ordinary people,
and he healed and he helped those that others ignored,
and he was killed.

But his life was not destroyed.  
He rose, and he bestows upon all who would receive it his spirit,
   the spirit of love, and of hope,
   the spirit of joy, and of peace,
and this makes Christmas what it is...
   it makes this the best of times,
   for those who believe.

The spirit of Jesus - the spirit of Christmas 
- is alive this year everywhere.

So many - so very many - are giving birth to hope, to love, to joy and to
peace in this way - so many are giving birth to Jesus Christ.

This Christmas ponder the events around you
              - consider what God has done
              - consider God's very great promises to us   
              - accept his commands
              - act on the promises
              and you too will give birth to Jesus.

Through you, as through Mary, God will come to bless this world 
and we will be able, with joy, to say with Mary:

   "Our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our

and with Zechariah:
   "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed
   His people!"

Let us pray in silence to our God and thank him for all his benefits....  

Our souls praise you, O God, and spirits rejoice in you, our salvation -for
as you did unto Mary, you have done unto us: you have been mindful of us,
and of our humble state, and you have been merciful to us.  So, O Lord,
like Mary, we declare, the greatness of your name.  We proclaim your might,
and the wonderful deeds you have done.  We affirm your power, we herald
your dominion, and we tell of the glory of your love and grace towards us
and towards all people...  Thank you God for coming unto us - for taking on
flesh and walking among us - for leading us into the warmth and safety of
this sanctuary and of your own tender heart.  Thank you for the babe of
Bethlehem - thank you for the Spirit that dwells within...  Lord, hear our

Help us each day, O God, to rely upon your promises and to put our trust in
you anew.  Grant us wisdom and discernment and a faithful keeping of
Christmas - a keeping in which we give that which is most important - your
love, your hope, your peace, and your joy  - help us to pass on these gifts
in deeds of caring and sharing, make us your instruments - your vessels -
your flesh....   Lord hear our prayer...

Grant O God, to those who have gathered from far off places safe a time of
joy and peace with their families and friends and safe travel when they
return - and grant too O God that those who are alone may be visited and
cheered.  Help us be mindful of them.... Lord hear our prayer...

We remember too O Lord, those who are homeless and those who are hungry
this day...  Lord hear our prayer....

We remember, O Lord, those who mourn today....  Lord, hear our prayer...

We hold before you, O God, those whom you have especially placed in our
hearts this day, we lift them to you in silence - and with the words of our
lips...  BIDDING PRAYER...

O Emmanuel, hope of the nations and their Saviour: blessed be thy name. 

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

   With these gifts we offer our praise to you, O God.  For you are Christ
   Emmanuel:  "God With Us".   As shepherds and wise men bowed before you,
   so do we, O Lord.  We offer our gifts here on these plates so that the
   work of your Church in this community and beyond may bring love, joy
   and peace to peoples' lives.  We dedicate these offerings to you for
   the work of your Kingdom.   And we dedicate our hearts and our lives to
   you.  May all that we're on about in life truly reflect your Love and
   your Glory; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

* PASSING 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 those who hear and do his word. 

* CAROL:   "Gentle Mary Laid Her Child"                             - VU 46

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.
Lord, with the woman who gave you birth, with the man who took you on his
shoulders, with the shepherds who found you in a manger, with the magi who
knew of you from the silent stars, and with the prophets who saw in you the
redemption of the world, we praise you.

With the angels and archangels who envelop us, with all the saints before
us and beside us, with brothers and sisters, east and west, north and
south, we thank you.

And with our loved ones, separate from us now, who yet, in this mystery are
close to us, we proclaim your righteousness.

Blessed are you, O God.  You are the midwife of our lives, who pulls us,
kicking, into life and breathes Spirit into us.  Blessed is your servant
Mary and blessed is Jesus, the holy child of her womb, delivered as one of
us, a baby, needy and naked, wrapped in a woman's blood; born to proclaim
good news to the poor and freedom to all who are oppressed.  Blessed is he
who emptied himself of power and became foolishness for our sake: heaven's
child laid in a manger; God's anointed laid in a tomb.  Born again from the
shuddering earth, he is seated at your right hand in glory - from whence he
shall come again to judge the living and the dead.  

We praise you and thank you for how, while we await the time of promise, he
is found incarnate in the people he won for you - and in these elements of
the creation that he redeems with all the saints - bread and wine blessed
by the Spirit - that Spirit which overshadowed Mary and first brought him
into the world to deliver us from the power of sin.

Truly he is Emmanuel, God with us.

So it that, in accordance with his commandment, we remember how, on the
night he was betrayed, he took bread - and thanked you - as we now thank
you O God  - 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, took the cup, the cup of blessing, and gave it to his disciples
saying, "take and drink, all of you, this is my blood, the blood of a new
covenant - poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  As oft as you
do this - do it in remembrance of me."

Eternal God, through long generations You prepared a way in our world for
the coming of Your Son Jesus.  By Your Spirit you are still bringing the
light of the Gospel to darkened lives.  Oh, loving God, we thank you for
coming unto us in Christ Jesus and we pray you to send your Holy Spirit
upon us and what we do here that this bread and this wine may be for us
communion in his body and his blood and that we may be transformed into his
image and likeness as we await his return in glory.  We ask it in his name,
praying as he taught us:

   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 trespasses, as we forgive those who
   trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
   from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever
   and ever.  Amen

THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS (coming forward up the centre aisle to one
   of the two stations and returning to your seats via the side aisles).

L  We give you thanks and praise O God for this day.
P  We thank you for the holy sacrament we have received.
L  Father, as we look forward to this most blessed night, 
   we thank you for all you have done through the one born in Bethlehem.
P  As we welcome the Christ Child, may he truly come into our hearts.    
   And may we, the ones you have made his brothers and sisters,
   sing in glory and tell of his great wonders, 
   that all the world may truly know and believe.  Amen

* DEPARTING CAROL:  "Jesus, Our Brother"                            - VU 56

* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of

Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ, 
- and may the hope, the joy, and the love of God dwell richly within you; 
- may God grant unto you a humble spirit and an a compassionate heart, 
- and may his strength, his tenderness, his wisdom and his grace guide you
and support you 
both now and forevermore.  Amen

SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                                  - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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