People of God,
The Lord of Love opens wide his arms to you today.
We are the biggest stumbling block in our relationship with God.
Let us get out of our own way.
Let us see God in the love born this Christmas.
Go with Love birthed in your hearts.
Go with the Christ-Child, Amen.
LIGHTING THE HOPE CANDLE
This year has been devastating…
Wildfires, hurricanes, shootings, turmoil
It would be so easy to give in to apathy,
to let our hearts grow dark with despair.
But there is a light shining in the darkness.
(the candle is lit)
A single candle, a small voice, a still reminder…
Hope in the Word proclaimed by the prophets.
Hope in the Promise of Emmanuel.
Hope in the birth of our Savior.
LIGHTING THE LOVE CANDLE
She places a hand on her belly to feel the kicking from within as they journey down the road toward Bethlehem…
a Babe will be born, a Savior will arrive, Love will come down.
The lost world pushes on drudgingly, slaves to a never ending care-less-ness.
It would be so easy to give in to apathy,
But there is a light shining in the cold winter.
(the candles are lit)
A simple hope, a wonderful gift…
Love nurtured by a Mother’s embrace…
Love shared from the Father’s strength…
Love in the birth of our Savior.
LIGHTING THE JOY CANDLE
Cheerless faces marching in the land of misery…
Chained to our desires, held captive by our regrets, slaves to our brokenness.
It would be so easy to give in to apathy,
to let our hearts grow deaf, our open lips mute with pain.
But there is a song shining in the silence.
(the candles are lit)
A simple hope, the gift of love, a song of joy…
Joy brought the Angel’s song to the shepherds.
Joy inspired the Wise to follow their starry dreams.
Joy in the birth of our Savior.
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE
War affects more than those who are fighting.
Men, women, children, babies, refugees.
Turning a blind eye, pretending it isn’t our problem,
It would be so easy to give in to apathy.
But there is a light shining in the night.
(the candles are lit)
A simple hope, the gifts of love, a song of joy, the peace of Christ…
Peace born in a prince lain in a manger.
Peace waging in our hearts, seeking justice, offering mercy.
Peace in the birth of our Savior.
LIGHTING THE CHRIST CANDLE
(all the advent candles are lit)
She gives him a nod; he realizes it is time,
There is no room in the inn.
It would be so easy to give in to the apathy that surrounds them,
Yet they don’t give up, pressing on to the stable.
Light is born in the darkness. A child is born unto you.
(the Christ candle is lit)
A simple hope, the gift of love, a song of joy, the peace of Christ…
His name is Jesus.
He is Emmanuel – God with us.
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,
He is the Christ child.
Wellspring of Hope, Whisperer of Wisdom, ceaseless Winds of Change:
You, Lord, have spoken everything into being in love,
You have weathered the storms and shifting sands of culture,
You have conquered depression and death.
We are so thankful as your people today.
Mighty God, we need your strength today.
Defend us when we are attacked by cancer, illness, and disease.
Reach into the pits of despair and pull us out of our darkness.
Hold us, Lord, as we grieve the loss of loved ones.
There is so much to fear today – yet your Kingdom is not a Kingdom of Fear,
But one of Love.
Send your courageous Spirit into our hearts
Send your resurrected Church into the world
Send us as we pray, Amen.
Prince of Peace, Comforter, Creator –
while we placing offerings in the plate,
a shooter was putting a bullet in the chamber;
while we were counting attendance,
he was sizing up ammunition;
while we came to pray, giving thanks for life,
he came to kill.
The people gathered in the sanctuary,
yet evil ripped through hymnals, pews, and people.
God have mercy.
Comfort your people’s pain.
Help us lay down our fears and weapons of massacre.
Aid us as we unload our anger and guilt.
Wipe the tears from our eyes so that our aim might be as true as your aim.
Gently trigger us into a holy conversation about peace
so that we might lead through this tragedy,
so that we might prevent another from occurring.
All in the name of the innocent crucified Savior, Jesus, Amen.
Love is the only Torch we carry
By Nathan Decker
O, Virginia… watching the events of this weekend in Charlottesville brought me pain. To see torches again used as beacons of hatred in my lifetime, Lord, have mercy on us. When a group of white nationalists with anti-immigrant beliefs rapes the torch of Lady Liberty, the irony should not be lost. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has once again been trampled on by members of the Know-Nothing party of the 1800’s. We shouldn’t be afraid of the light. The flame of torches usually represents people coming together. In the past, I have proudly watched the torch represent efforts for peace at the Olympics, hope for new discovery in Education, and the eternal flame of Wisdom guiding us. Shame on us for making it symbol of division and fear!
Much of what transpired this weekend was based in fear and grief. The city of Chartlottesville’s decision to take down a statue ripped off the band-aid on the surgical wound our nation has been dealing with ever since the Constitution told African-Americans they were 3/5 human. Our nation’s history is complex and up for interpretation and retelling. Each generation takes up the momentous task of looking back with guilt and pride in an effort to plow a new path into the future. There are always attempts at shouting the loudest to diminish the voices of others.
As we stand up against the evil of white supremacy, we have to acknowledge the grief that is being expressed. The way history is told in this nation has mostly been from a white perspective as if whites were the only leaders and contributors. In recent years this wrong is being righted. Those who were silenced and oppressed have had the opportunity to add their story to the history of our nation. White nationalists and supremacists see this as diminishing white history. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Adding missing slices to the pie only makes the pie more full and does not require us to make other slices smaller. Yet, this is the fear I see in the eyes of those carrying torches of darkness and yelling hate. They believe they are losing their part of the story.
We can bravely shine brighter than the faces of fear. We can learn to build relationships with those carrying torches of hate so that we might show them light, love, and the Christ who welcomes all tribes and nations together. We can, as friends of mine did in Charlottesville, have peaceful conversations with those with whom we disagree. We can listen to their concerns as well as make our concerns heard. Through the conversations that lead to relationships, we can admit that all lives matter to Christ, we are one nation made up of many, and love shines brighter. Love is the only torch we are called to carry into the dark night of hatred and apathy. We shall overcome by letting peace on earth begin with each of us lifting up love. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
“Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”
-Bp. Desmond Tutu
Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28
Needs four readers, one off-stage, three on. One has luggage, one has a hammer, and one has a camera.
Voice off stage: As you Go-
Reader 1: “Yes! We’re going on a trip! I wonder where God is sending us. I can’t wait!”
Reader 2: “I hope it’s exotic! I’ve always wanted to travel overseas!”
Reader 3: “I’ll bring my camera and some dough, you know souvenirs will be so cheap there!”
Voice: <Clears throat until they listen> As you are going, Make-
R2: “YES! It’s a construction trip! I wonder what God will have us build!
R1: “I bet it’s a church or a school or maybe even a hospital!”
R3: “I’ll bring my old shirts from college! We can hand them out to the poor children! We can even get the kids in church to collect happy meal toys to hand out! Those kids will be so blessed by our presence!”
Voice: <Clears throat again> As you are going, make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I’ve taught you.
R3: “What’s that mean?”
R2: “Disciples? How do you build those?”
R1: “All nations… including this one? Does that mean we’re not going anywhere?”
Voice: As you go about your life where ever you happen to be, share what you have been given. Invite people to see my love in you. Bring them to me to experience my love in the baptismal waters. Teach them to follow the my path of peace.
R1: “This isn’t going to be easy.”
R2: “Yeah, I mean, folks around here already know me.”
R3: “But they don’t all know Jesus.”
R1: “Do you think we can share Christ here, in our homes and at our jobs?
R2: “Do you think they will see Jesus in me?”
R3: “Do you think I can still get a souvenir?”
Voice: You don’t have to go anywhere to share the Gospel. God has already placed you where you are an expert on the culture, language, and people.
Make disciples, immerse them in Christ’s love, and teach them the way of peace. Amen.
Great Whirlwind, Burning Bush, Still Quiet Voice, LORD;
who hovered over the chaos of creation,
who breathed inspiring spring life into all creation,
who walks among us still in this fragile and tattered garden.
Challenge us to learn from one another,
so that we may recall your Spirit speaks through all creatures,
so that we may experience your presence and light in one another,
so that your voice will be in the tones of our conversation.
Jesus, Emmanuel, Wisdom Come Down in the Flesh, Amen.
from Isaiah 60:1-6
Harry was terrified of the light. It wasn’t the light itself, but rather what if the lamp went out. Harry worked in an old lighthouse, the kind that ran on oil. The great light came from an Argand Lamp. The oil was put in the reservoir at the top, and then it came down through a sleeve to the wick in the glass cylinder. That meant to light it you had to lift up the glass. All the fumes from the oil mixed with the air. When you lit it, “WHOSH,” it came alive with light reflected through the lens and out to sea.
Harry’s job was to keep the light lit. To keep the light lit, you had to refill the reservoir every four to five hours. Harry rarely missed a refill, in fact, he was usually early. He hated relighting the lamp. The whosh always scared him. Harry was scared of the light.
A lot of us are scared of the light. We don’t mind basking in it, feeling the warmth and the comfort. But don’t ask us to reflect it into the world. Don’t ask us to allow the light to shine in the dark places in our lives. Don’t ask us to have the light shine bright enough that we stand out. And many of us are afraid of sharing the light with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
In our passage from Isaiah, that was the issue with the city of Jerusalem. She had been so long in the darkness that she was now afraid of the light. She had seen good times. Remember back in King David’s and Solomon’s day the city had been a jewel for all Judah. The temple had been built alongside the palace. Trade was booming, everyone was filled with good feelings
She had seen bad times. She had seen times without gold and frankincense. Times that were as dark as they had ever been. Exiled from their land, the temple had been destroyed, and the dynasty of King David had come to a disastrous end.
She had seen ugly times of darkness. It felt as though God’s light no longer shined. Adrift at sea. Alone. I don’t have to tell you, in today’s world, the darkness is real. In the midst of all of this, God commands Jerusalem to reflect his light, his glory, his grace.
God created us to reflect God’s light into the world of darkness. That means we feel the warmth and the comfort of Emmanuel. But that also means we have to “Arise or Get Up and Shine.” It means we have to allow the darkness within our own lives to be found out by the light. It means we have to be brave enough to stand out in our spirituality. It means we shine the light for others.
Harry was terrified of the light. One night during a storm, Harry found himself snuggled so deep in sleep that he slept through the time to refuel the lamp. He awoke with a start to the sound of a ship’s bell. Over the waves, the wind carried it’s clanging sound. As Harry ran up the spiral staircase, he could almost hear the worried yelling of the captain to his men on board the ship. “Find the light! Search the horizon! The shore must be near!”
Harry shook and quivered as he quickly refilled the reservoir. He took the glass cylinder off of the wick. The smell of oil mixed into the air. Harry looked beyond the lens out into the darkness. There was a world of darkness counting on him to share his light. Counting on him to be brave, to have courage. What was it the preacher had told him when he confessed of his fear. “There is a world of darkness out there, arise and shine! You will see and you will be radiant, filled with joy!”
Harry lit the light. Whosh! He carefully put the cylinder back onto the wick. He bravely walked out onto the catwalk from where he could see the light piercing the darkness and reaching out to warn the ship of the shore rocks. In spite of the cold rain and chill of the wind, Harry found himself warm and comforted. The light was shining. The boat was safe.
Arise and Shine is God’s call on us. God shines light upon us all, just as the Star of Bethlehem shined upon all humanity. Bringing together the multitudes, bringing together the diversity that is our nation and people. It would be so easy to bask in the warmth of that light and continue about our business as usual.
The Wisemen did no such thing. They saw the light. They reflected it back into the world through their actions. They couldn’t remain where they were (they had to find the Christ child). The light caused them to worship and the light caused them to share (they brought gifts, offerings, generosity).
Church, it is too easy to be a dim wit Christian or a low watt disciple. When we lay down on the beach of our spirituality and simply absorb all the rays of sunshine God is sending us, we are not fulfilling our calling. God called us to be mirrors: to reflect his love, to reflect his grace, to reflect God’s light to the world in darkness.
For a mirror to do what it’s intended to do… it has to let the light shine on all of it – no dark hiding places. It has to let the light be reflected – it doesn’t keep it for itself. The mirror has to be willing to be a bright spot in a crowd of dark spaces.
For us as Disciples of Jesus Christ, it is very much the same. We have to be willing for the light to shine on our own darkness. We have to be willing to let the light be reflected. We have to be willing to stand out in the crowd. We have to be willing to welcome the multitudes.
We’re called to be like the Wise Men… to see God’s light, to be changed by God’s light (we can’t stay where we are), to worship and share God’s light. Don’t be afraid of the light. “Arise, Shine!” Isaiah says. “God’s light is on you. See it and be radiant!” Amen.