O that you would tear open the heavens and come down
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, 29th November 2020.
Isaiah 64:1-8 (abridged)
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
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.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
Today we enter into the season of Advent. Advent means arrival. Arrival of what you may ask. Actually, it’s not an arrival of what but rather who. We are waiting for the arrival of the Prince of Peace, God who is love, Jesus the Christ. Jesus has many names and titles. One of them is Emmanuel, which means, God is with us. Just for a moment think about the journey towards an arrival of someone you love, whether it is meeting them out in the arrival gate at the airport, whether it is at home. We wait. There are things to be done, to prepare. But we essentially wait. We hope of their arrival with anticipation, for they will surely arrive. But we essentially wait. We hope of the joy that will attend us as we embrace. But we essentially wait. There may be Covid-19 that stalls the arrival, our embracing, our meeting of loved ones, hope is dashed for a moment but joy of the day of being together keeps us going, keeps us waiting, keeps us preparing, keeps us hoping, until we can say Haere mai, welcome home.
Just as we have read in Isaiah, from ancient days there has been a longing for the arrival of God to enter our world that by God’s presence we shall be transformed. God to be with us. The desire for transformation is great for as wonder-full and delight-full this world is, it is awful and mournful too. We look forward in hope to the joy we shall celebrate at the arrival of God whose love brings peace and wholeness to our world, our home. Hear the cry of the people, hear the painful longing for a world put aright. So let us pray our life, live our prayer, for we are the people of this hope, for we have tasted the joy that attends us in Christ dwellig in our hearts, for we know the love of God so faithful, even unto death until there is peace, true peace, coming together of world fragmented, relationships broken, for wholeness that shall last, until home truly arrives, until truly heaven and earth unite, truly our world is Emmanuel.
Lighting the Advent Candle – Hope
Reader One: If ever there was a year we needed Advent, this is the year. We hardly know how to describe the year we have lived through. We hesitate to reflect on all the mess around us in 2020. All we know is that nothing seems right, nothing seems like it used to be, nothing. We need Advent!
Reader Two: The prophet Isaiah cried out for us, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down … To make your name known … so that nations might tremble at your presence.” So tear through the mess, O Lord, and come down to us again. We long to be your people, a people of hope.
Reader One: We light this first candle as a sign of our hope. Hope that you can meet us, even in the mess of our world. Hope that you still see us, though we feel we are lost in the rubble. Let this light be the guide that brings us to Emmanuel once more.
Reader Two: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Song: O Come O Come Emmanuel
Welcome and Notices:
Praying the Psalm
Please respond with the words in bold
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Colouring in Joy
Music: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Wilder Adkins
On Friday evening, families from the community gathered around the tables as family and friends to build and decorate their Ginger bread house. As part of this we decorated our Christmas tree. This year’s theme was Joy. We adorned it with our creativity and with the joy we anticipate for this world as Christmas arrives, as we look forward to the day when home arrives that lasts. Let’s give our world some colour and joy, we need it! Can I invite you to do the same?
[You would have with you colouring pens and three pieces of paper. Take the one that has the word “Joy” on it. Take the time to prayerfully colour it in with the joy of arrival.]
Prayer for others
[Now we will be led in a prayer for others]
We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:
Offering and Dedication Prayer
Song: Come O Long Expected Jesus
Scripture: Mark 13:24-33, 37 New Revised Standard Version
24 “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.
37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Sermon reflection: What a year this has been? We spent Easter behind closed doors. At the height of different clusters coming to light and numbers peaking as individuals were tracked and traced, I did wonder for a moment whether we would be gathering under one roof to celebrate Advent and Christmas together. It was as if the sun, moon and stars dimmed away and darkened. Sun, moon and stars are those things we expect to be there. They are the very things that mark regularity, normality, stability, seasons in our lives. What other sun, moon and stars did you have that dimmed away and darkened during the lockdown? What did you long for?
However, in the midst of the lockdown, it wasn’t all gloom and doom. As the physical proximity of community became a threat, due to a pandemic, another sense of community shone a ray of hope. Many took the message of kindness to heart and found ways to be together without physically gathering. People took on board the new circumstances and rules and within it they sought to shine the light of kindness. Different to what we are used to, different to the Sun, moon and stars we expect, yet through it light still shone.
We were on the phone as we could, even bringing the phone lines down for a moment. We learnt a new technology to zoom us in and out of cyber space to see and hear one another on screen. We displayed teddy bears on our windowsills for our neighbours going for a stroll to spot and grin at. We opened our windows to play an instrument together to make music for our neighbourhood. We reacquainted with friends from long ago through email, we felt compelled to connect with our neighbours if we hadn’t.
If ever we had taken it for granted, we rediscovered the importance of being connected, a sense of connection, under threat, under new circumstances, a connection that runs deeper and essential was awakened in us. We are neighbours. We are community. The form it takes can be different but what is essential is the reaching out and connecting. I remember your stories of being yelled at expecting a hooligan, only to be surprised to see a smiling face across the road, a stranger yet who became a neighbour in reaching out and saying hi and wanting to know how you are doing. I remember your stories of picking up the phone expecting a sales person, then to be greeted by a neighbour’s voice. We were surprised by joy – the joy of connection.
Personally, I remember going for a walk and spotting teddy bears and colourful drawings on a windowsill in the neighbourhood. I would not have taken notice of them under normal circumstances. My life would have been full, my hands full, my mind full, no space in the heart to even care and appreciate it. This time I smiled and felt joy welling up. It made my day. I felt their heart. It was a ray of light. They reached out without a reward or recognition, I received it without feeling like a needy, helpless and weak. There was a joy of connection that runs deeper. We rejoiced together unawares.
Of course, this was always an anticipation for the joy of the day arriving where we could once again celebrate the joy of embracing, the joy of holding hands, the joy of sharing food. We longed for this. As numbers of community transmission declined, hope steadily rose for the arrival of the day we could reunite with our family, with our friends, with our loved ones. Of course, for some of us, with our borders closed and the escalated cost of travelling overseas we still cannot reunite with our family overseas.
What was it like for you to reunite with your loved ones? Will you recall the joy of reuniting? With that – can I invite you to colour in the piece of paper with two people embracing?
Unfortunately, that joy doesn’t last. It wasn’t long before the sun, moon, and stars that had marked our normality was reinstated. The new found rays of light were packed away, teddy bears removed from our windowsills. Once again hooligans were the only ones who yell across the road. Sure enough it’s the salesperson on the phone sounding like they care but really they only want us to buy something. If once we had space to look out for our neighbours, we return to the busyness of the ways we are used to. We enjoyed the glimpse and a taste of the deeper sense of connection, the joy it brought, yet we go back to routine, familiarity, comfort. We were once awakened to the treasure of connection, the crowning joy of humanity, yet we allow routines and old habits to rob the joy of what life is all about connection.
Christmas is coming. The day of Christmas will arrive. Until then, we have things to prepare. In the preparing, let us be awake to what is important. Let our preparation always build up our anticipation for the arrival of connection. Let us keep awake so that we resist the silly busyness of Christmas that hinders and clouds what Christmas is really about – the joy of connection. Let us clear space for receiving the arrival of what truly gives us joy.
This is why we mark Advent, the waiting for the arrival of God. It is a Christian ritual to resist the habits of busying ourselves with things that are not essential, fretting over things that miss the essence of it all, those unimportant things that actually rob us of the joy that awaits in the arrival. It is actually living out faith. Our Sun, moon, and stars that give light, that regulate our life, that even give meaning to our life, as wonderful as they are, they can become gods. We live into our faith as we mark Advent that God of Jesus Christ is the only light that can bring true joy, lasting joy. This God comes to us as one of us in Jesus to take us with him on the journey of reawakening to the joy of connection, with God and with one another.
So on Friday night we put on the Ginger Bread House making evening for the community. What’s this got to do with it you may ask? Well, families gathered together to take time out from their busy schedule to make something together. They constructed a wall connecting them with pins as nails and strengthening them with icing as glue. They put a roof over the walls. They decorated it with colourful things and sweet things. As they did this, they talked with one another what brings them joy. To be more specific, what is the cause of that joy? What actually makes us joyful?
They enjoyed making a Ginger bread house together. There was joy. The making of it was important but not the point. It was an occasion that helped them to experience the joy of family, the joy of connecting. And now that it is made, it becomes a reminder of the home that they long for, for their family – a home where joy is in the embracing, joy is in the connecting. This becomes a practice that anticipates the joy in the arrival of home, that when it arrives they will recognize it, they will enjoy it, they will treasure it.
What are the practices of home that you do with your family? Also, what practices we do together as a church family for the home we hope for? What do we have as our ritual that longs for a home in which we belong together? What brings you and I joy? What is the cause of that joy? What actually brings us joy? May we find joy as we await and long for the joy to arrive as heaven and earth come together, as God is born to us in Jesus the baby, as who is our Emmanuel, God with us.
Music: Behold, I make all things new by Alana Levandoski
[Please colour in the one where two people are embracing, the joy of coming together, arrival of home. Once you have finished it, come up to the table here to have them glued and stringed into an ornament for our Christmas tree.]
Song of Sending: Now As We Go AA #99
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The Love of God
The Communion of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all now and forever. Amen