December 20th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeOf the Father’s Love BegottenChris Johansen, piano
OpeningPastor Linda
Gathering SongPeople, Look East
#248
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
GreetingPastor Linda
Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 141from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 1: 26-56Pastor Linda
Gospel Canticlefrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
SermonPastor Linda
HymnAll Earth is Hopeful
#266
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Advent CreedPastor Linda
Prayers of Intercession
Lord’s Prayer
Blessing
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing HymnJoy to the World
#267
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
PostludeO Come, O Come, EmmanuelChris Johansen, piano

Part I

Part II


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Welcome

Opening

P: We gather in the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

O Lord our God, we stumble as those lost in the night.

C: unexpected and mysterious is the gentle word of grace

P: We live burdened by our sorrows and sins, by the cares of this world.

C: ever loving and sustaining is the peace of your embrace

P: We hear the promise of you Word made flesh, bearing your love for all, and to all, and in all:

C: your compassion for each fragile human life

P: We long for the light of your redemption for this earth, her creatures and people.

C: We watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth. Amen


Gathering Song – People, Look East

1.
People, look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table. 
People, look east and sing today,
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

2.
Furrows be glad, though earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there. 
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
that in course the flower may flourish. 
People, look east and sing today. 
Love, the Rose, is on the way.

3.
Stars keep the watch.  When night is dim,
one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together. 
People, look east and sing today,
Love the Star is on the way.

4.
Angels announce with shouts of mirth,
him who brings new life to earth. 
Set every peak and valley humming
with the word, the Lord is coming. 
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.


Greeting

   P: May the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, be with you in grace and hope.

     C: And also with you.

   P:  And may the light of the Christ shatter the darkness and shine on God’s people here.

Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving

Holden Evening Prayer


Lighting the Advent Wreath

We praise you, O God, for this wheel of time that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent. As we light the candles on this wreath, open our eyes to see your presence in the lowly ones of this earth. Enlighten us with your grace, and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ with joy – whose coming is certain and whose day draws near.  Amen

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Create in us new life. Transform us so that we may reflect the light of your Son in acts and attitudes of goodness, kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, patience, and peace. May we receive Jesus with joy, whose name brings deliverance and life to all the world.   Amen

Psalm 141

Holden Evening Prayer


Scripture Reading – Luke 1: 26-56

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, who was of the house and lineage of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of          his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will  overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

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.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.


Gospel Canticle

Holden Evening Prayer


Sermon

Gabriel – the angel – appeared first to the old priest, Zechariah, in the temple. When Zechariah saw him standing on the right side of the altar, he was terrified and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been answered.” Later, we are told about shepherds out in the Bethlehem fields, keeping watch over their flock by night when an angel of the Lord appears to them and the glory of Lord shines around them, and they are terrified. The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news…” And suddenly there were countless angels. The skies were filled. It is completely understandable that the shepherds were terrified. 

But Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  We aren’t told that Mary was terrified or overwhelmed. Instead, she eyes him quizzically. “She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be,” it says.

I think that difference is interesting. I wish we were told a bit more. Did Gabriel tuck in his wings, pull in the glory, damp it down to be less alarming? Did he appear more casually, somehow – gradually? When Gabriel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,” my guess is that she wasn’t in danger of fainting or running away.  There’s energy and intelligence and adrenaline behind her perplexed pondering.

Somehow, Mary quiets her racing thoughts and fears, and she listens. She listens to what is being proposed, to what will happen to her – she will conceive in her womb, she will bear a boy, she will name him Jesus….   That might be about all she took in of Gabriel’s speech, because when he pauses, she doesn’t ask about the throne of David or reigning over the house of Jacob forever – she asks (simply, incredulously, earnestly),  “How can this thing be?” It’s not a question of doubt, like Zechariah’s question that rendered him mute for nine months. It’s more a question of logistics. She is not married. She’s not experienced.  She is not that kind of girl… How will she conceive and bear a child? How is this possible? She is told:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God

In your imagination, what is the expression on Mary’s face right now? Is she looking submissive, pious, all-a-flutter, scared?

Mary’s gears are spinning. God shows her favor for some unknown reason. I like to think that it has something to do with her eyes – that she meets the angelic face eye to eye; that it has to do with her ability to ponder and question and debate a holy being. It has something to do with her ability to bear God’s presence without fear, within her own body without melting away. It has to do with her ability to love this child of God as her own son, to help create an Incarnate Word – and then listen to this Word, debate with him, teach him, stand up to him, defend him.…to bear the sword that will one day pierce her heart, too, as old Simeon will prophesy to her just eight days after she gives Jesus birth.

Luke goes right on with Gabriel’s speech, telling Mary that this shall be a sign unto her – that she will find Elizabeth, her kinswoman six months along – in spite of being old and barren – that Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a forerunner of the marvelous deed… He tells her that “nothing is too wonderful, nothing is impossible for God.”  And he stops…. and he awaits her reply…   

The next line of biblical dialog belongs to Mary.….

                  … but it is at this point that I like to conjecture.

How much silence do you suppose comes between these two lines of dialog? How much time lapses in that pregnant pause while Gabriel looks on expectantly, eyebrows raised?       

I like to think that Mary got up from her bench and walked slowly, deliberately around the patio, never exactly turning her back on this red-robed angel with resplendent wings, but keeping an eye on him as she considers his words. Gabriel declared that Mary has been favored by God, no reason is given for this choice, just chosen – by God’s grace. That’s…. something!

On the other hand, becoming pregnant while not married is risking not only her engagement and marriage to Joseph, but risking her life – being publicly denounced. She could be stoned, killed for infidelity. 

On the other hand, look at that marvelous Being, that messenger from God…  the clarity, the substance… surely this word is to be trusted.

But, on the other hand, think of the scandal, the dishonor an unmarried pregnancy will bring to her family, to Joseph – who would believe her about Gabriel? How do you tell them about a fatherless baby?  Is this news the fulfillment of her life? Or the downfall?

I see her stepping off the patio – wandering around the perimeter of the garden, absentmindedly picking a sprig of rosemary and twirling the pungent leaves between her fingers as she observes this  Being out of the corner of her eye. I imagine her thoughts, her emotions swirling as she searches her mind – the strength of her will, as she weighs her options, tries to remember some of the prophetic scriptures she might have been told…

And that when she comes back to her bench and slowly sits before him, she is collected, if not at ease… collected enough to utter – with heart pounding – perhaps the most powerful line of dialog in all of scripture: “Here I am; let it be with me according to your will.”

Faith requires radical acceptance of things that we can’t understand or explain. We have to allow suspense – recognize that knowledge, logic, discovery can only get us part of the way there. We can’t figure out or reason through the invitation – but must each allow the unexpected and mysterious into our lives. Wonder must be allowed to reign in some chamber of our heart, traverse some pathways of our brain. 

As Mary demonstrates, though, faith does not require willing ourselves to ignore, deny, or gloss over things that perplex us. Faith calls for questioning, calls for more depth of thought, more perplexed pondering, not less. Trust in God is not an act of being overpowered or struck dumb. Gabriel did not come sword in hand (like Michael does, who appears for battle) in order to force the matter to a successful, pre-ordained conclusion. Gabriel came prepared to wait. Mary had the power to ponder, to question, to slow this conversation down.

Mary had the power to say, “No.”

So do we all.

This year has provided much to ponder. It has highlighted the deep fissures in American culture, startling depths of cynicism and distrust and disregard.  It has also highlighted the hard work of loving kindness and sacrifice in medical workers’ response to the pandemic; the startling ability of the earth to regenerate when humans stay home; the remarkable ways in which we are all connected – exemplified by a virus.

The complicated interplay of natural systems speaks to me of God’s creative patience; of God, like Gabriel down on one knee before Mary, waiting expectantly with eyebrows raised, waiting for our response.

I think there’s something that stands in for Gabriel in each of our lives. Something, some presence, that asks us to attend to more than our own self-interest, that asks us if we’re ready to be a “Theotokos,” a God bearer and birther in our own small, non-divine realm.                  

Mary’s words help us navigate a radical transformation by faith in these three short verses. Her story help moves us from who we think we are, to what God has called us to be; from observers minding our own business, to one pregnant with God.

If we collapse, “How is this possible” too quickly into “Here I am,” then we reduce Mary’s struggle  – and our own – in discerning and responding to God’s call.

We live in a time and place where there is very little risk associated with accepting God. We are rarely called to transformative, difficult, meaningful faith. We can keep it all in our heads – hardly ever allowing God to take up residence in our bodies, in our actual lives. Very rarely do we consider smuggling God into our world. Very rarely are we called to join Mary’s song that turns the world upside down.  And hardly ever do we consider that we are the proud, wealthy, well-fed, and powerful ones in her song.

Our risk may not be prophetic or heroic akin to Mary’s. But it can be as world changing. Gabriel – however Gabriel appears – might be asking us to love and nurture a Word of God, a word of peace and reconciliation and hope and forgiveness and inclusion – to bring that word of life to birth for the sake of others, for the sake of God who is known only through human action and human love.

If we’re serious about it, if we’re honest about it, loving our neighbor of different beliefs, different skin color, different political views, different economic goals – giving yourself and your cherished self-interest away for the sake of that love – as the cost of that love – may be the biggest risk and the best news of all.

“Let it be with me…” we are to say, “according to your will.”


Hymn – All Earth Is Hopeful

1.
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last!
Furrows lie open for God’s creative task:
this, the labor of people who struggle to see
how God’s truth and justice set ev’rybody free.

2.
People of Israel, you heard the prophet tell:
“A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel”;
she conceived him, “God with us,” our brother, whose birth
restores hope and courage to children of this earth.

3.
Mountains and valleys will have to be prepared;
new highways opened, new protocols declared.
Almost here! God is nearing, in beauty and grace!
All clear ev’ry gateway, in haste, come out in haste!

4.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib.
This same Lord Jesus today has come to live
in our world; he is present, in neighbors we see
our Jesus is with us, and ever sets us free.


Advent Creed

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Spirit, Thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory evermore and evermore. Amen

~verses 1,3,5 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” – Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413 AD

Prayers

Holden Evening Prayer


Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen


Blessing

Holden Evening Prayer


Closing Hymn – Joy to the World

1.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let ev’ry heart prepare him room
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3.
No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

4.
He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.


Postlude

Chris Johansen