December 11, 2022
3rd Sunday of Advent
Covid protocols are beginning to be eased. We begin to move beyond the Covid protections. This morning the offering will be taken in the pews as our ushers pass the plates. We will pause for the Passing of the Peace, but ask that you avoid shaking hands due to the virulent nature of the flu, as well as covid. Communion for this day will continue as before with the pre-ordered communion kits. We continue to ask any who are not vaccinated to please wear a mask for the protection of our more vulnerable members.
Fellowship. Please join us after service for fellowship in Calvin Hall.
Annual Congregational Meeting will be held immediately following our worship.
Please join us for Worship on Christmas morning—9:30 AM
PRAYER REQUESTS: Joan Pinkston, Dr. Dykstra, Harlan Marx, Karla Trude, Kolleen Klemmedson
*CALL TO WORSHIP
L: God is making the final preparations for an amazing thing! Now is the Advent of the long-awaited Messiah, our bringer of hope, our Prince of Peace, our leader of love.
P: We wait, we prepare, we make straight the way.
L: We celebrate the coming of Christ with the lighting of the Advent candles.
P: We are a people of hope, a people of peace, a people of love.
L: At first there was the frail light of a single candle of hope, daring to pierce through the darkness of despair and sin,
P: Then there was a candle of peace, the gentle and persistent fire, the one that calls out the violent forces and lets in God’s deep and tranquil Spirit.
L: Today we light the candle of love. No other word so adequately captures the spirit and goal of our faith. No other word so completely describes what we know of our God.
P: For God so loved the world….
L; For God so loved the world that a child was given. A savior was made in the form of Love Incarnate. And Love was allowed to live on….
P: We gather, then, in Christian Love;
L: We give thanks for a love that passes understanding, and we await the dawning of God’s pervasive and enduring love once more this Christmas season. Amen.
Lighting the candles of Hope, Peace and Love.
We come, Gracious Lord, to be awakened from our lethargy, to be roused from the dullness of our routine, to be filled with the assurance of your hope and life. May our eyes be opened this day as you set prisoners free and lift those who are bowed down. Happy are we for the God of Jacob is our help. Amen
*HYMN O Come, All Ye Faithful #41 (You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
Along with the Holy Family, we travel the roads to Bethlehem. Soon we will be seeking the stable that houses a savior. Let us prepare our souls for the coming of our Christ. Please join me in confessing our shortcomings and failings to our God of peace that we, too, might become a part of God’s healing this season.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Precious Lord. How busy we are preparing for your entrance into our world! Buying gifts, baking cookies, decorating and planning our parties. We hardly have time to reflect upon the meaning of your arrival. Forgive us for the mundane busyness which keeps our hearts and minds from the important work of the season. Forgive us for concentrating on our own agenda instead of asking how we can join with your spirit of love. Help us to rejoice with the angels and to do our part to make peace on earth a reality in our world. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
The angels’ songs floated above the hillside. It came to everyday shepherds who, like us, had failed and fallen short of God’s design. God announced his greatest joy to these sinners! Today the grace of God still falls on sinful souls, and his forgiveness still opens doors of healing and love. This is the gift of the season. Let us receive God’s grace and know we are forgiven. Amen
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you. (Please take a moment to greet one another.)
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
O Lord, we too ask, “Are you the one?” As we prepare to hear the scriptures and to consider your word this day, whisper into our hearts. Assure us again that in you hope and healing blooms forth in our world. Let us open our hearts to you, Loving Savior. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Luke 1: 46 – 55 NRSV
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Matthew 11:2-22 NRSV
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples, and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
Who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
SERMON: Is He the One?
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Doesn’t that seem a strange questions coming from John the Baptist? After all, it was John who encountered Jesus out in the wilderness at the Jordan River. At that point Jesus had come to be baptized. John replied, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John had recognized Jesus as being that one about whom he had previously spoken, “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.”
Jesus was known to John then. He was the Messiah sent from God! What happened? Why the question now?
But if we consider John’s experiences, maybe it’s not so strange. It’s the difference between the theoretical that is expected and the lived experience. On a theoretical basis, John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the one God had promised who would come to save the people. The Spirit of God had given him that insight even before he was born. When John’s mother, Elizabeth saw her cousin, Mary, approaching the baby in this older woman’s womb jumped for joy. Even before their birth the two knew one another and God’s intent. We don’t know if those two boys knew one another in their growing up years, but when John was out at the Jordan River, preaching, proclaiming, calling for repentance, Jesus arrived. At that point the Spirit once again interceded to make John aware of Jesus’ identity.
But that was some time ago. A lot had happened since then. The paths of these two men of God had gone in different directions. Perhaps John was aware of some of Jesus’ doings—maybe not.
But John’s own situation had changed dramatically. We learn from the Gospels of Mark and Luke that John had come afoul of King Herod. John had criticized the king for marrying his brother’s wife! And for that he’d gotten thrown into jail. We can assume that jail was not a comfortable place to be. Mark tells us that Herod liked to listen to John, so he had that going for him, but not much else.
I’ve not been to jail, but I would imagine there’s a lot of time to think—to second guess one’s self. He perhaps wondered if things were happening in accord to God’s design. In other words, did he get it right in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah? John had a very specific idea of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. Baptize with fire. Judging and dividing the wheat from the chaff, burning that chaff with unquenchable fire. Those were the predictions of John. Do you hear judgement, even harsh judgement? Do you hear that this Messiah would have the power to make himself known to all of Judea?
But that didn’t seem to be what was going on. If John knew anything about Jesus’ ministry thus far, it was about a sermon preached to crowds of people on a mountainside. He might have heard that Jesus had called disciples, was going about healing people, cleansing a leper, raising a little girl to life or restoring sight to two blind men. Where, he might ask was the fire, the judgement, the power to make all of Judea turn back to God and repent of their sins?
“Are you the one or should we wait for another?” It’s a very real question and aren’t we still asking it?
We live in a world where God is mentioned more as an exclamation, “OH GOD!” or as a curse than as a loving force that has any claim upon our lives. If we start talking about God at our card club or at Kiwanis, they will think we’ve gone over the edge!
But that’s not the case with John. He’s in the God business. Claiming God and working to bring in God’s kingdom is his life mission. He’s in jail. Jesus is out in the world but not acting as John had expected. So this servant of the Lord grows impatient. “Are you the one or should we wait for another?”
But do you hear how Jesus answers? There’s not a succinct, “I am he.” Instead he tells John’s disciples to return and report what they have heard and seen. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good new brought to them.” And finally, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus is asking John to carefully consider the words of Isaiah as that prophet defined what the servant of the Lord would be and do. And what is that? From Isaiah 61: “The Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus invites all of us to consider what it means that the Messiah has come. That’s how we will know him—when we see these things being done in Christ’s name. They are centered, not in judgement and vengeance, but in caring, love, relationship and justice.
That’s still how we recognize Jesus in our midst. And the people who recognize Jesus as Savior and Lord will be about these things! That’s the beauty of this season. It’s a time when people are especially aware of caring for those in our community. Toys for Tots, An angel tree gift to adopt a child or family to give them some important things that they need, the many food drives to make sure that people have a nice meal at Christmas, donations to our favorite charities, time spent volunteering on behalf of our community. These are things that mark the season, but perhaps they should be things that mark our lives in general as disciples of Jesus Christ.
That’s what Mary’s song lifts, I think. This young maiden who has lived a righteous life is chosen to do a VERY difficult thing. To bear the Son of God when all those around her are lifting eyebrows, assuming that this unmarried girl who finds herself pregnant has committed a sin that in many circles would have gotten her kicked out of the community if not stoned to death at the city gate! How frightening that must have been! She will live in the shadow of that suspicion her whole life while also trying to do her best by this son who was destined to bring God’s love into our world.
Mary in the midst of this traumatic news sings a song of praise which also defines what her baby son would be and do. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She has a choice to make. God has invited her to offer her body and her future to his cause, but she can say, “No thank you.” God always gives us a choice. She accepts the invitation and proclaims as she repeats what she has heard from the Angel Gabriel. “Future generations will call me blessed because God has done great things for me.” How frightening that must have been, but she moves forward into God’s plan for her. Then she lists the ways this event, this baby will right the wrongs of society. That;s the focus, not about making her life comfortable.
God has shown strength with his arm.
He’s scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. ( in other words, he has cast them into confusion.)
He’s brought down the powerful from thrones while lifting up the lowly. (There’s a sharing of resources and blessings.)
He’s filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. (Maybe they need to understand what it feels like!)
And He’s helped Israel according to the promises made to Abraham and his descendants.
Isn’t Mary’s song about God fulfilling the promises he made, not only to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also by the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos and them all.
God will re-order society. God will bring about a more just society. God will wipe away tears and offer healing and hope. And not just to those who have resources. God will send his Son to be the resource for millions! This baby who will form inside of Mary will call all of us to be a part of God’s care for our world.
That’s what this baby whom Mary will bring into our world will be all about. That was what Jesus asked John’s disciples to report back to their boss.
And when we ask, “What is this time of year all about? What are we to be about as the people of Jesus Christ? These things become our agenda, too.
Peace on Earth. That was the angels’ songs. But peace on earth isn’t a magic thing that transforms us into calm and caring souls overnight. Peace on earth arrives when all God’s people, folks from every corner of the earth have the things they need for life and well-being. Peace comes when the distribution of resources is such that everyone gets a piece of the pie—maybe not a completely equal piece, but a piece that offers life.
Jesus arrives into our world to offer that peace and hope and healing.
Jesus, are you the one? Of course he’s the one. That’s what our faith tells us. That’s what John’s disciples reported back to him once they had an opportunity to think about it. That’s what we are called to be about.
John might have been the first to ask the question, but it’s been asked millions of times throughout the ages. It continues to be asked, and now we come together to live that answer. To be a part of God’s healing and hope in our world to sing our own songs of praise and peace into our community. Come Lord, Jesus. Amen.
*HYMN Gentle Mary Laid Her Child #27
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO OFFERING
RECEIVING OUR GIFTS
PRAYER OF THANKS AND COMMITTAL
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*HYMN We Come as Guests Invited #517
(You may be seated.)
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
Leader: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
People: Emmanuel, Messiah, Savior, Lord, Jesus.
Leader: All of these names and titles are for the Son of God who comes to us, a people who walk in darkness.
People: You come, O Lord, to shine the light of God into our lives and to offer us the gift of joy and peace and fulfillment.
Leader: From the stable in Bethlehem, lit with starlight, filled with the wonder of shepherds, you journeyed through the land spreading God’s love to all who would receive you. For our sins you suffered. For our failings you were nailed to that cross on Golgotha. But God lifted you from the grave and now you come to us, your people where ever we gather in your name, even to this small church in Clinton, Iowa.
People: Come, Lord Jesus to this place, to this table, to our messed up, upside down lives.
Leader: Come, Lord Jesus and offer to us that peace that was promised so long ago.
People: We come to your table eagerly, and we joyfully drink from the cup of life. We feast on the bread which is your body broken for us.
Leader: Help us to stop and listen. Help us to hear you in the silence of our hearts. Help us to release our tight grip upon the illusion of our control.
People: We invite you to take the reins of our lives. Help us to sing your praise and to follow where you will lead us, always knowing your presence along the way,
Leader: Welcome Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
People: Welcome Emmanuel, Messiah, Savior, Lord, Jesus.
All: Thank you, Lord. Amen
RECEIVING THE BREAD AND CUP
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.
HYMN Joy To the World #40
*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.
Presbyterians practice open communion which means anyone who seeks to be in a relationship with Christ is welcome at the table regardless of denomination, age, or status. The communion elements are already in your pew, and you will be instructed when to eat the wafer and when to drink the juice.