SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
· Attendance was taken by Ushers as you entered.
· Masks are required by those not vaccinated as well as social distancing
· Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
· Please write your prayer request on the Yellow cards. An usher will pick them up during the 1st hymn.
· Please join us after service for fellowship in Calvin Hall
We will be Hosting the Santa Clause event December 3rd along with the Gateway Community Center.
Also mark your calendars for December 11th for our annual meeting right after church in the sanctuary.
PRAYER REQUESTS Bob Bock, Joan Boyd, Wanda Hirl, Marilyn Neymeyer, Joan Pinkston, Maxine Wagner, Annette Conzett, Jo Lefleur Judy Welcher, Dr Dyke, Harlan Marx, Lois Seger, Jon Ryner, Abagail Niles, Helanah Niles, Kay Werner, Ukraine, Arlene Pawlik, Angela and Tristan, Bonnie Pillers, Deb Weller and Joyce Chamberlin and family as they mourn the passing of her father.
LIGHTING THE ADVENT CANDLES
L: The season of Advent continues. Four thousand years of waiting for the Messiah, commemorated by the lighting of four candles.
P: We join with a hopeful throng in the lighting of the Advent candles, symbols of our faith and signs of God’s love.
L: We are a people of hope. Last Sunday the frail light of a single candle dared to pierce through the darkness of desolation and sin.
P: Hope lives in us and will abide with us.
L: Today we will light the candle of peace.
P: This light, too, must brave great darkness.
L: In an age when people so seldom find peace within themselves, and when all the earth stands under threat of total annihilation, we light a fire called peace.
P: Peace that is not merely the absence of war and conflict, but peace that is the fullness of blessing for all--that is the peace for which we dare to hope.
L: The Christ comes to bring peace to those who have been separated from God and one another.
P: In the name of that Child born so long ago, we light the candle of peace as we also seek to follow Christ’s teaching lifting up our hope for peace for our world today.
Lighting the candles of Hope and Peace
We come to worship today bearing the Hope of Advent in our hearts. We come seeking Peace not only for our own spirits but for our world that envy, strife, and discord may cease. We come to find the light that still shines in the darkness dispersing our gloomy clouds and dark shadows. As we worship, Emmanuel, may your light and peace fill us to overflowing, that we may offer hope to those around us. Amen.
*HYMN O Come, O Come, Emmanuel #9
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION Philippians 1:9-11
9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Let us confess our sins and weaknesses to the Son of God.
Lord Jesus, this is the season when we expect love to overflow as we reach out to help our neighbors, give to charities, bring gifts and goods to our family and friends. But this is also the season when we feel overwhelmed, overtired, overcommitted, and overspent. Help us to truly understand what is MOST important as the scripture says, and to let go of that which is unnecessary or not helpful. Let our character, our actions, and our words speak of your goodness and bring you much praise and glory. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE Philippians 1:6
I’m convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.
Through Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
(Please greet those around you as we all say these words in unison.)
May the peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
As we come before you, Prince of Peace, may our ears and minds and hearts be open to your Word for us this day.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON Malachi 3:1-4, NIV
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
GOSPEL LESSONS Matthew 3:1-12
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”’
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
SERMON Be Alert!
I was in 7th grade when my Sunday School teacher asked if our class would assist with a dinner that the church was hosting. Pouring coffee, picking up dirty dishes, helping people carry their tray. These were the types of things with which we could help. It sounded like fun and I was in!
After the meal everyone was invited to the sanctuary where a new film was to be shown. “A Thief in the Night.” I still remember the name. Trauma can do that to a person! The film was presented from the perspective of a teen aged girl. Her dad was shaving in the bathroom and Mom was making pancakes, but suddenly they were gone. Just vanished. The electric razor still hummed in the sink. Pancakes bubbled on the griddle, but her parents were no where. All over the city it was the same. Cars had crashed because the driver had vanished. The newspaper stand was vacant. People were rushing around looking for a friend or parent. And then the story got REALLY scary with all that happened next. I was so happy to see my Mom when she came to pick me up.
That night I lay in my bed thinking about that movie. At one point I snuck to my parents’ bedroom just to make sure they were still there. Whew, they were!
The movie presented “The Rapture,” which is only two verses in our reading for today, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. And then the admonishment: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” It’s a concept that has tickled people’s imaginations for centuries. It’s spawned movies like the Left Behind series, and it has frightened many—including my 7th grade self!
But I want to suggest that this fear is not a very good vehicle for teaching God’s love, or for helping people to offer their lives to Jesus Christ. We can’t scare people into belief! But eventually that fear goes away and so does their commitment to Christ. We can’t scare them into a relationship with our Lord.
I don’t think that was Matthew’s purpose for writing this, though. By the time he wrote the story of Christ, his world had already been turned upside down. A Jewish revolt had attempted to force Rome to abandon their iron grip on Judea and Jerusalem. But Rome had too much to lose if they allowed this one small region to rebel. It would encourage other people to take up arms. So Rome stomped on the Jewish people like one might stomp on a bug. They sent armed forces in massive numbers, and the city was obliterated. The temple was destroyed, and people were slaughtered. The survivors fled the land, leading to what is called the diaspora. The scattering of both Jews and Christians. (Of course this was what allowed the Christian faith to spread to other lands!)
Matthew was writing to those Christians who were suffering from the persecution they were experiencing at the hands of the Jews. You, see the Jews believed that God had allowed this catastrophe because he was unhappy that these Christians had lifted Jesus as one who was equal with God—in spite of the absolute rule that God’s people should have only one God.
“Hold the faith,” Matthew warned, and he lifted words from Jesus that not only predicted the chaos and persecution they were now experiencing, but which also promised that Christ would return to welcome the faithful into a new Kingdom of righteousness and love.
This chapter is a treatise in how to be a Christian in times when all the forces seem to be against the faithful. How to trust that God has even this crisis in hand and can manage it. That’s the key that people needed. They needed it then, and don’t we need it now, too?
So what do we take from these verses? After all, it’s been over 2000 years and Jesus has not yet returned, at least not in the manner predicted here. Does that mean he’s not going to return? There’s been no rapturing away of millions of people in the blink of an eye. At least not in supernatural ways.
I want to suggest that Jesus’ first appearance in our world might give us a hint. People had been waiting for a Messiah, one who would come in the likeness of King David to reclaim the throne and bring peace and justice to God’s people. They had been waiting for a very long time.
But do you notice that instead of charging in with an army of angels, Jesus arrived into our world in the most unlikely way—a tiny baby who had no cradle or comfortable nursery. He was born in a stable. He was greeted by shepherds, the despised of the day. He was offered gifts by gentiles, men who would never be accepted in a good Jewish Synagogue.
God’s son came to us quietly, unobtrusively, under the radar and without fanfare. If people weren’t paying attention they might never have recognized him for the Messiah which God had promised. But lucky for you and I, some of them were paying attention!
Is it possible that Jesus’ second arrival comes in a similar way? Is it possible that he comes to us quietly, individually by virtue of the people we meet, the experiences we encounter, the love we feel and the questions we ask? And then, if we are paying attention, if we discern Christ’s presence, then we are invited to be a part of that presence in our world. We’re invited to share God’s love with others so they, too, can experience Jesus’ arrival. They, too, can see the way he transforms our world. It’s a divine pyramid plan in the most positive kind of way. 1 becomes 2, become 4, becomes 8, becomes 16, becomes 32 and so forth. It might not be as dramatic as in the movies, but doesn’t it feel more Christ-like? More loving? More respectful of our right to say no thank you?
These passages offer us important words. Our response to Christ’s arrival is SO vital. We can’t go on as before—or as if nothing has changed. Our lives have been changed. The trajectory has shifted. Now our goal is to live Christ’s love and graciousness. Now we are called to be a part of the peace that is God’s desire for our world.
Isaiah lifts up an image in which Jerusalem and the temple become the epicenter of God’s activity. People from all over the world stream to the Temple to learn, to absorb this holiness, to get direction for their lives. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths.”
What would it be like to substitute First United Presbyterian Church for the mountain of God? It would go like this, “Come let us go to First United Presbyterian church, the place of our Lord’s Spirit, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” How does that sound to you?
There might have been a time when people would wander in our doors just because we are a church in the community, and it was assumed that this would be a place of God. But that time is no more. Our culture has shifted. Now we need to demonstrate to people that the Spirit can be found here. We need to be about the work of Christ that invites others to come and experience Jesus here. That means not only taking care of one another, but also working to lift up hurting people out there.
This church has decided to call a full time pastor. To make that feasible, we need to grow our congregation into a size that better fits this wonderful building that has been gifted to us. To invite people into these doors means we have to show them that we have something to offer, something that they need, something that is precious and will help them grow into Christ.
The first thing we can offer is community. To walk with one another, to support one another, to be present together in the struggles of life, to celebrate together and to ask questions together, to laugh and to cry and to know that these others have our back. That they will go out of their way to be there for us when we need them. People crave community and we live in a world where community can be a hard thing to find. Jesus said love one another and this is exactly what he’s talking about. We need to practice community and work at enjoying and loving one another.
The second thing people want is a way to offer their gifts to make a difference in our world. People want to be relevant. They want to make a difference in people’s lives, to leave a positive impression on our world. To be a part of something good and joyful and healing is a wonderful blessing for us. When we offer those opportunities in the name of Jesus Christ, we are giving a gift even as we receive a gift. It fills hearts and souls. It makes our community a better place for us all.
We have the ability to be that mountain of the Lord, but it will take all of us. It will require that we step out of our comfort zone and offer something special and sacred to our neighbors. It means we open ourselves to God’s Spirit and experience Jesus a little more surely in our own lives.
And if we can do this, we will become a part of Christ’ arrival here in Clinton, Iowa. We will know the joy of the kingdom in which mechanisms of war are transformed into tools that sustain our lives and our community.
Let’s be alert. Let’s watch. Let’s prepare ourselves to be a part of Christ’s coming. He comes as a babe in a manger. He comes as a force for goodness and life. May we be a part of his arrival and in the process blessing abound and peace grows and blooms.
Come Lord Jesus.
*HYMN Benedictus #601
(You may be seated.)
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.
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, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR LIVES
As we move through this Advent season, may we be mindful of those in need around us, that we might be your messengers of hope and help. Amen.
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
L: It is through Christ’s reconciling work that we are the church,
united to God and to other believers.
P: As the church, we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.
L: We are entrusted with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ.
P: As the church, we are witnesses by both word and deed.
L: We proclaim the new heaven and the new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
P: As the church, we proclaim that God’s life-giving Word and Spirit
has conquered sin and death.
L: God conquers irreconcilation, hatred and bitterness.
P: As the church, God’s life-giving Word and Spirit enable us to live in a new obedience, God opens new possibilities of life for society and the world.
All: We declare ourselves ready to venture out on the road of obedience and reconciliation-- servants of the God who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people.*
*HYMN Go, Tell It on the Mountain #29
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.
The Affirmation of Faith was written by Barbara Hedges-Goettl and included in worship resources for the Belhar Confession on the Presbyterian Church USA website under Office of the General Assembly.