STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 20, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Advent 4
Lighting of the Advent Candle
Music – Away in a Manger
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
At the beginning of time you spoke, and your Word brought all things into being, creating order from the chaos of nothing.
You called Moses from a burning bush, bringing freedom to your enslaved people.
You ordered through the Commandments and Law to guide your people into obedience.
You declared your intention through the prophets, bringing hope to the lost and weary.
But in Jesus, your Word was personified.
Through him you showed your nature, your character, your Self.
Through him you offer salvation to the hopeless
Healing to the wounded
Liberty to the captive
Dignity to the down-trodden.
Lord, next to your glory, our words of praise are hollow.
We confess that we do not want to hear your words
We remain deaf to your will
Your Word became flesh for us and for our salvation, yet your own people didn’t receive him.
We receive you, but we don’t let you fully into our lives.
We want to direct ourselves and we want to save ourselves.
We do not want to see God; we want to be God.
Forgive us, again. Speak your Word. Open us to listen and to welcome you.
As we worship together today, we give thanks for one another.
May our words today express the fullness of our gratitude and wonder for your Word, spoken in love to bring us to life. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon James 1: 16 – 18
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.
The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.
He brought us to life using the true Word,
showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
Prayer for Illumination:
Amazing God: you spoke your Word into the abyss and all creation came into being. You spoke your Word again in Jesus Christ and all creation was redeemed. Speak your Word again to us, so that we may hear it’s message and be saved. Amen.
Hebrews 1: 1 – 3 & 4: 12 – 16
Luke 2: 8 – 14
Message: Christmas in the time of CoVid: Messages
Christmas is a time of messages. It’s the time of the year we hear from old friends. The Christmas cards pour in with messages of love. Sometimes, there’s a picture of the sender’s family – we see their happiness, their health, the maturing of the children and the expansion of the family as kids get married and babies are born. Sometimes, there’s a letter – a brief newsy thing about how the past year has treated them; what trials they’ve faced and what blessings they’ve received; news about what the kids and grandkids are doing. As well, there may be a phone call from a loved one – my Aunt calls at Christmas to ask how everyone is doing, relay her news, reminisce, and share a laugh or two. These messages bring us joy because they stir our memories and re-awaken our love. They connect us.
Of course, there are other messages at Christmas. We’re bombarded by flyers and advertisements trying to lure us into buying whatever is being offered. There are messages from friends who want to get together; from family trying to make plans; from children about what they’d like from Santa. There are messages from churches reminding us “Jesus is the reason for the season”. There are societal messages, often unspoken, telling us what is expected of us at this time of year – things like parties, décor, presents, even smiles. Then there are hostile messages. A woman in Minnesota who had put up her Christmas lights received a letter from a group of neighbours stating, “… twinkling, colourful lights are a reminder of continuing societal divisions and of systemic biases against our neighbours who don’t celebrate Christmas or who can’t afford to put up lights, and letting her know, “An outward facing display like yours can have a harmful impact.” The upside of this is that people are acknowledging Christmas as a Christian holy day, set apart from all others; one which they want to obliterate, but at least it’s not just about Santa, stuff, food and alcohol. In this year of CoVid, we’re getting a whole pile of messages warning us of the rising numbers of cases, begging us to stay home, reminding us that our hospitals can only accommodate so many people and telling us not to cross the colour zones.
The first Christmas, as we’ve seen, also had many messages. “You will become pregnant”. “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife”. “Go to the city of your ancestors to be counted in a census”. “There’s no room here”. And of course, the message of the angels to the shepherds, “A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. (Luke 2: 11). The message was an announcement that the long-awaited liberator who is the Saviour, Messiah and Lord, has arrived. To the shepherds this spoke of a mighty, majestic King, something like King Arthur in the legend of the Celts, who would conquer Israel’s enemies and set up a kingdom of peace –This is great news to the shepherds! The message would have thrilled them, energized them, strengthened them. But the next words out of the angel’s mouth just don’t fit. “This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (vs. 12) What?! In what world is a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough the King of All Ages? What’s the message in that? To us, a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough is disturbing. What kind of mother places a newborn in such unsanitary conditions? A poverty stricken, dirty, poorly cared for infant says, “rescue me”, not “I’m here to rescue you.” He is more like a neglected one than the chosen one. The only thing he compels us to do is call Family and Children’s Services. Yet, the Almighty God chose a baby in a feeding trough as his voice.
Marshall McLuhan was a professor of media who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” In other words, the form of a message (such as whether it is in print, or it’s visual, or musical, or an angel choir, or a baby in a manger …) determines not only how the message will be perceived, it is the message. The medium affects us not by it’s content, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. Not by what it says, but by what it is. How we get information is the information itself. McLuhan writes, “a medium is not something neutral—it does something to people. It takes hold of them. It rubs off on them, it massages them and bumps them around”. That was a paradigm shifting concept in McLuhan’s day, but I’m not sure it’s always true. For an army family, I imagine the content of the telegram is more important than the paper it’s on. My hand sanitizer is more important than the bottle it’s in. McLuhan wrote books, I’d be pretty sure his students needed to read the book to pass the exam; simply owning and holding it, wouldn’t cut it. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t on to something.
McLuhan’s uses a light bulb to helps us understand this: “The electric light is pure information. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles, or a television has programs, yet it’s a medium that has an effect on it’s environment and the people in it. A light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. A light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”.
It’s interesting that in John’s gospel, Jesus is repeatedly described as “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the light of all people” (1:4) and “the light that shines in the darkness” (1:5). Just as a light bulb is a message in itself, so Jesus not only declares God’s message, he is the message. Unlike the burning bush, which was an object through which God spoke, this Word – Jesus, the Light of the World – isn’t an object, a bush, a spiritualist, a puppet or even a prophet through which God speaks. He is The Word. He did not come to tell us what God is saying; he is what God is saying. He is the Message in human form. He is pure information. He not only embodies God’s words, he personifies God himself. The author of Hebrews tells us, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1: 3). In other words, he is the mirror image of God, God’s thumbprint, the mold of God’s character. God’s Word in the flesh.
As the Message, Jesus affects us. There is no question that the baby in the feeding trough does something to us. His light comes into our darkness. He creates an environment by his mere presence. That environment is a throne room where the King of Glory enters to claim his rightful place. It is a stable, where all entitlement is cast off and we see the willingness of God to identify with humanity in the lowliest way. It is a manger where God chooses vulnerability and helplessness. It is also a cross where forgiveness and grace are realized, and a baby becomes a Saviour. The Message, that is Jesus is love, alive and active, living and moving. Not a concept but movement and action. Still today, Jesus intersects our lives and interacts with our spirits. Jesus takes hold of us. He rubs off on us, he massages us and bumps us around.
The Message of God is not a monologue. It’s a dialogue. The coming of The Message demands a response. For some, the response is silence. The refusal to engage. A rebuttal which says they will not receive him or to accept the mercy he gives. For others, our response comes in the form of a confession; not so much a creed that is rattled off by rote, but a continual renewal of acceptance, gratitude, and faith. Our response is expressed in our love for Christ and our loyalty to him. Our response is the faith and consistency with which we live. Our response is the faith and consistency with which we live. Our response is declared in the story we tell others about what he has done for us. Our response is spoken in our acts of kindness and care we show to others. I heard a lovely story recently of an occurrence at a Dairy Queen drive thru in the USA. It’s not a profound story. I do think it occurred because people tend to be more thoughtful in the Christmas season (Jesus takes hold of us whether we know it or not) and CoVid can bring out the best in us. At this drive-thru a man paid for his order and then paid for the order of those in the car behind him. When that person discovered there meal was covered they decided to pay it forward – or backward as the case may be. They paid for the person behind them. The next car did the same thing. At the end of the day, the last person handed the cashier $10 and told her it was to cover the order of the first car the next morning. This went on for 2 days. 900 people paid it forward.
Just as the Word rubs off on us, our words also impact the world. They have the potential to bring the light of Christ into a world shrouded in darkness.
The author of Hebrews encourages us, “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4: 16). Don’t let the Message slip through your fingers. The essence of Christmas in the time of CoVid is a King in a cow shed, a Redeemer in rags, a Messiah in a Message.
Silent prayer and reflection
Through the living Word, Jesus Christ, you invite us to approach the throne of grace with boldness. With these gifts we declare that Jesus is Lord. May our words reach out to others, so that they too may receive mercy and find grace. Amen.
Music – Go Tell It on the Mountain
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Holy God, we are so thankful for your Jesus, your message to us. Through him you tell us you are endlessly loving and eternally patient. Through him you call us back to you.
In this silence, hear our words of gratitude.
We thank you for your grace and for your offer for us to receive your mercy, not only for a future time but also to help and guide us through our lives.
Hear our needs at this point in time.
We thank you that Christ is a two-edged sword who cuts to the core of who we are, dividing and judging so that he might save.
Hear our plea for your salvation – for our world, for those we know and love, and for ourselves.
We thank you for creation, so filled with beauty, made through your Word. We thank you for the balance of nature, through which your Word, sustains all life.
Hear our desire to be good stewards of the Earth and of all you give us.
We thank you for your blessings, for all you provide and for our wealth.
Hear us as we remember the poor and help us to be generous.
We thank you for our freedom and safety.
Hear us as we express our desire that this be true for all people. Make us co-workers with you in the coming of your kingdom.
We thank you for our health, our peace, and our life-giving relationships.
Hear us as we pray for those whose bodies are ill, whose souls are anxious and whose hearts are grieving. We think especially of ….
We thank you for hearing these and all our prayers as we come boldly before your throne, saying…
The Lord’s prayer
Music – Mary’s Boy Child
Invitation to Mission
We go from here
With the excitement of the shepherds
To praise God and to tell our story
So that Christ, the Word may live in the hearts of everyone we meet.