1. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 12, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram                                                                                    ADVENT 3, HOLY COMMUNION

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

 

Call to Worship:  Advent liturgy on joy from PWS&D

 

Lighting of the 3rd Advent Candle  (Hymn:  Hope is a star 3rd verse)

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

God of Grace,

You fill us with awe, for you are beyond our comprehension.  To conceive of a love so deep and vast, so perfect and unending is beyond us.  You came as a newborn baby giving up the glory of heaven and entering the world not as Lord of all Creation, but as a helpless infant.  Throughout your life, you did not seek power but sought to serve. You lived under an oppressive regime and were scrutinized by the religious authorities.   In hate they plotted against you and killed you.  Having left behind the entitlement of your Divine sovereignty, you went to the cross like a lamb to the slaughter.

Through your death you saved us.

Through your resurrection you are with us.

You have called us by name and chosen us to be people through whom your light shines.

We praise you.

We confess that we do not always realize the fullness of your sacrifices.

We do not appreciate your love.

We take your grace for granted.

We do not hear your call to us, and we live in ways which block your light.

We think of a time this week when our sin blocked your light.

 

Forgive us.

 

We worship today with people at home and around the globe.  We pray for your blessings on them and on us.  We pray all our worship will bring you joy and glory through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon

You’ve been cleaned up

and given a fresh start

in the name of Jesus, our Master, our Messiah,

and by our God present in us by the Holy Spirit.

 

Hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful

 

Children’s Time

 

Exchanging the Peace of Christ

 

Prayer for Illumination

Loving God, as you speak your word to us through the scriptures and the sermon, help us to hear the name of Jesus so that we may be encouraged in our faith and bring glory to his holy name. Amen. 

 

Scripture Readings

Genesis 2: 19

Ephesians 2: 7 – 10

Matthew 1: 18 – 25

 

Hymn:The First Noel

 

Message:  Getting Closer – What’s in a name?

 

I begin today with the worst jokes ever:  What do you call a man in shark infested waters?  Chum.   What do you call a woman who sets fire to her Visa bill?  Bernadette.   What do you call a man with seagulls on his head?  Cliff.  What do you call a man with scratches on his face?  Claude.  What do you call a man building a wall in a river?  Adam

 

So, speaking of Adam and names.  In the book of Genesis, after God creation was (almost) complete, God took Adam aside and gave him the task of naming all the creatures.   This was humanity’s first task.  It was part of a larger process – God was looking for a mate for Adam and set up the first a speed dating event, Adam needed to meet everyone out there.  After the typical “how are you?” the first thing we do when meeting someone is ask their name.   No name, no introduction.  So, names were high on the priority list.  What’s interesting though is that God didn’t name the animals – he gave Adam the honour.  Why?  Why was it important for Adam to label creatures – wallabies, blob fish, armadillos, sparkle muffins, smews?   I imagine it was a lot of fun and maybe God wanted Adam to have fun.  But naming something is also a significant and serious act.  Knowing or giving a name gives a level of control over that person or creature – we can get its attention, call it closer, talk about it.   But it’s not all about power.  Naming something also brings us into relationship.  When we learn each other’s names, we’re no longer strangers. Knowing another’s name is the first step to intimacy.  We don’t belong to one another, we can’t say “you’re my person” before we exchange names.

 

With relationship comes responsibility.  Not only did Adam name the animals, he cared for them and for the ground they walked on.  Anyone who has a pet knows you need to call it something, even something as banal as “dog”, so it will learn its name and respond.  But along with naming a dog, you need to feed it, walk it, play with it, love it, train it, and take it to the vet.  We are responsible for what we name.  Of course, the greatest act of naming is when a baby is born.  First thing the nurse asks you is the child’s name.   Parents put a lot of energy into naming a baby.  Right off you rule out the names those of whom you hold a low opinion.  You might consider family names.  My mother is named Rina and my mother-in-law was named Philomena and when I was pregnant, I joked that if I had a girl I’d name her Rina Philomena – they thought that was lovely.  You look at popular names and unique names.  You reflect on ways they may be tormented because of their name – there’s a reason you don’t meet many Waldo’s.  You consider how it sounds with your last name.  I knew a woman named Grace Divine and another named Rose Meadows.   A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but if it’s called a stinking hellebore, a lungwort, or a snake plant, I’m not apt to find out.

 

Because names are important, there’s often a story behind why we have the name we have.  I was named after an Audrey Hepburn movie.  My cousin Ronnie got his name because my grandmother wanted to name her son, Ronaldo but under Mussolini only certain names were permitted.  My grandmother named her son Raymondo, instead. My Aunt chose the name Ronald as a way of healing my grandmother’s heart.  On the other side of the family, some variation of the name Allen has been given to all the firstborn males for 4 generations.  Why Allen?  No one knows but its tradition.  Sometimes names are symbolic.  Friends of mine came home pregnant after their honeymoon in Lake Louise and named their baby “Lynn” which means “lake”.

 

Sometimes people are known by various names.  In the Bible, Abram was renamed Abraham; Sarai, Sarah; and Jacob, Israel.  Names change when children are adopted, when people transition or, traditionally, when women marry.   Sometimes people decide they’re name doesn’t suit them.  I knew a Dorothy Louise who was Dot until, at the age of 3, she insisted on Louise.  A Maddie who is now Brianne.  A Tiffany who decided she preferred Tyler.   A fellow named Rob who is now Zephyr.  I remember several years ago, an “unchurched” friend of my son’s came to a Christmas Eve worship service.  Later I asked her how she liked it.  She said it was nice and she liked the music, but why are there so many names for Jesus?  I couldn’t deny it.  “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Messiah, Christ, Master, Son of God, Son of Man, Lord, Logos, Lamb of God.”  I had to admit, it was a good question.  Apparently, having many names goes along with being the most important person in history.

 

In today’s reading from Matthew, a virgin named Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  Her fiancé Joseph doesn’t know what to make of this but instead of exercising his right to stone her to death, he decides to quietly break the betrothal.  Feeling good about his decision, Joseph falls asleep.  In a dream, he’s visited by an angel who tells him, “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus —‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1: 21 & 22).   As a post-script, Matthew, goes on to remind us, “this would bring the prophet’s embryonic revelation to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us)”.

 

Of the many names for this Spirit-conceived baby, the angel mentions two.  The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew name “Yehoshua” meaning “God is deliverance”.  From this we get the name “Yeshua”, in English “Joshua”, in Greek “Iesous” from which comes the name Jesus.  The name itself was not unusual, but the reason for the name is important.  Jesus means “to save” in the sense of “to deliver; to rescue”.  Not many people recognize their need for salvation.  Many would say, “my soul’s just fine, thank you very much”.  Others don’t know they have a soul.   An anatomy professor asked her class, “What does a dead body do?”  While others thought, one student called out, “stink”.  Whether we’re speaking of a dead body or a dead spirit, the answer is the same.    One day our bodies will decompose but already our spirits are dying.  Dead things decay, rot, and stink.  We are right now spiritually decaying, rotting, stinking.   We are in dire need of salvation.

 

In the Church, the word “save” is used a lot.  I wonder if it’s been sanctified to the point that it’s lost its oomph; its impact; its urgency; its power.  We’re too used to placid pictures of Jesus on the cross sweetly suffering for our salvation.  It’s almost nice, pretty even!  But think of the word “rescue” and what comes to mind?   A helicopter airlifting people from a flood?   Search teams looking for avalanche survivors?  A bomb squad deciding which wire to snip to keep a city block and those in it from destruction?  A SEAL team taking out a terrorist cell?  These actions have something in common.  Without this intervention, death is certain.  The rescuers aren’t placid, they’re heroic!  They have determined to risk or lose their lives for those they seek.

 

And what comes to mind when you think of the word “deliverance”?  (I’m not thinking of dueling banjos).  Deliverance is a blood-drenched, grieving country fighting a civil war so a freed slave can find dignity.  Deliverance is the battered spouse who leaves home for good and the prodigal son who returns to a loving embrace.   Deliverance is the smiling face that greets the newly landed refugee.  Deliverance is when the police break up a sex ring and tell a frightened teenager she’s safe.  Deliverance is the fresh air the prisoner breathes when their sentence is over.  Deliverance is new life.  What’s in a name?  In the name of Jesus, there is all this and more.   There is holy power in the name of Jesus.  Unlike our human efforts, the rescue mission, the deliverance, the new life, and the salvation of Jesus are eternal.

 

Matthew offers a second name for this Spirit-conceived baby.  He quotes Isaiah 7:14, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.”  “God with us.”  If one believes, as Christians do, that the baby of Bethlehem was God incarnate, then we’re certain God was with humanity during the years of Jesus’ life.  But Jesus life didn’t end on the cross.  God’s presence wasn’t limited to a mere 33 years.  Resurrection means that he lives on.    Often when we hear the word “eternal”, we think of another time and place – something beyond this world and this lifetime.  For the Christian, eternity begins now.  God is with us.  And that means, we are with God.  In Christ, there is nothing that separates us from our Creator.  Sin no longer has the power to create a permanent chasm between ourselves and God.  God is no longer a remote authority figure.  God is Abba, our Father.   God is the nursing mother who doesn’t forget the child of her womb.  In Jesus, God is with us.  God is with us now and tomorrow and forever.  Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  No matter what we endure, what hardship we face, what illness we fight, what heart ache we suffer, what violence, oppression, persecution, or cruelty is inflicted, God is with us.  As Paul put it, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38 – 39).   What’s in a name?  In Immanuel there is the constant, enduring presence of a faithful and loving God.

 

What’s in a name?  In the name of Jesus dwells the fullness of God’s grace.  He comes to save us, rescue us, deliver us and be with us.  He comes with a gift that gives us a fresh start, and a second chance at life.  What’s in a name?  In the name of Jesus there is absolute hope and unending joy.  As we come to Christ’s table, as we receive the symbols of his body and blood, we remember the name of Jesus and all that it means.  We say, “thank you” for our salvation, our rescue, our deliverance.   And when we rise from Christ’s table, we go, with “God with us”.

 

Silent prayer and reflection

 

Holy Communion –

Words of Introduction; Great Prayer of Thanksgiving; Consecration of the Elements; Partaking of the Elements; Exchange of Christ’s Grace; Closing Prayer.

 

Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High

 

Invitation to mission

We go from here with renewed in spirit

to celebrate Christ’s gift of salvation.

We do not leave along

God is with us.  Amen.

 

Benediction        May the Triune God bless you and keep you.  Amen.

 

Postlude Hymn:  Somewhere in Your Silent Night