November 28, 2021

First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday in Advent
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Watchman Tell Us of the Night
Performed by Larry Davis

Let the heavens be glad;
Let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar;
Let the fields exalt;
Let us praise the name of God.

Holy God, we enter Advent with humility. We prepare ourselves to witness the birth of the child by whom salvation comes. In this season of preparation, we move our attention toward the needs of others. As we prepare in the days ahead, help us receive you in this precious child of heaven and earth. Amen.

The sunrise of your presence illumines the hidden places of our lives. We have comforted ourselves with the illusion that our private actions are unobservable, and our unspoken thoughts are secure in the silence of our minds. You know every part of us, even the most protected places of our souls. We cannot hide from you, nor can we redeem ourselves. Forgive us and heal us, O Lord. Help us rebirth the best parts of ourselves as we prepare to receive the Good News in the Christ child. Amen.

Hear now these words of assurance:
God delivers us from our distress. God leads us away from the destructive. God leads us to paths that are straight so that we may reach a destination of new life. Give thanks for the steadfast love of God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Jeremiah 33: 14-16
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 132: 1-12
O LORD, remember in David’s favor
   all the hardships he endured;
How he swore to the LORD
   and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
“I will not enter my house or get into my bed;
   I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
   until I find a place for the LORD,
   a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
We heard of it in Ephrathah;
   we found it in the fields of Jaar.
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
   let us worship at his footstool.”
Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
   you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
   and let your faithful shout for joy.
For your servant David’s sake
   do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
The LORD swore to David a sure oath
   from which he will not turn back:
   “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees
   that I shall teach them, their sons also,
   forevermore, shall sit on your throne.”

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… Luke 21: 25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

SERMON ……………………… A Place for God …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
A reporter for The New York Times, Alexandra Levine, once wrote about her first experience going without a cellphone while attending a corruption trial in NYC. The courthouse required all observers to check their electronics before entering. Levine writes, “The experience was at once inconvenient and enjoyable, disorienting and liberating.” She added that – “after a day with no texting, email or internet, it occurred to her that the courtroom might be one of the few spots left in the city where New Yorkers could fully disconnect.”

This experience made Levine curious to explore what other locations in the city required a temporary surrender of the cyber-pipeline that connects us to the rest of the world. As you can guess, there weren’t that many – courtrooms, federal buildings, some museums, and various performance sites.

We could shut off our electronics once in a while to create our own disconnected zones, but how many of us actually do it? The fact is, unless we find ourselves in one of the officially restricted places, like a courthouse, we stay connected without thinking about it. If we want to unhook from the larger world, we have to take the steps ourselves to make it happen.

Television producer and reality TV show judge Simon Cowell had a long stretch when he didn’t use his cellphone for a year — and he told a U.K. based publication that it “absolutely made me happier.” In an interview with the Daily Mail, Cowell who is best known for his work on “American Idol,” said he used to get irritated when he had a meeting, and everyone was on their phone.

“I literally have not been on my phone for ten months,” the TV giant told The Mail at the time of the interview. Giving up his addictive phone habits, he reported being more focused on his immediate surroundings. Ditching the phone “has been so good for my mental health,” he said. “It’s a very strange experience, but it really is good for you, and it has absolutely made me happier.”

Cowell is one of the latest people to draw attention to unplugging from cell phones to improve mood, health and cut down on distractions. Studies show that we spend up to five hours a day on our phones. Consuming habits make us beg the question, are we too busy for God? And this brings us to the text from Psalm 132, where King David said, “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 4-5).

Timothy Braun says, “It’s not immediately obvious, but these words are David’s vow to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark was the object that symbolized for Israel God’s presence, and the meaning of David’s statement is – I’ll not rest until I bring the Ark to Jerusalem, where it can be set in a proper location.”

But this is one place in the Bible where the surface meaning of the words is more important for us in terms of spiritual insight than the meaning in context. So when the psalmist says, “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord,” we can hear in it a resolution to intentionally make a “place” — time in our day — to think about our lives in the light of God’s will.

Writing in The New York Times, Tim Kreider observed that so many people speak of how busy they are, some even saying they are “crazy busy.” He notes, “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.”

As an example, Kreider tells of writing to a friend to ask if he wanted to do something that week, and the friend answered that he didn’t have a lot of time, but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. Kreider commented, “I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation.”

The point of Kreider’s article was that for many people, busyness is not something imposed on them, but the result of things they have taken on voluntarily. “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety,” Kreider says, “because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

This description may or may not fit you, but think of it in light of the words from our psalm reading: “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord.” The point is that just as we benefit from sometimes unplugging from the digital world, we also gain something by intentionally making room in our daily lives for the Lord.

But, of course, there’s a problem with this. “Making room” in our lives for the Lord can imply that we’ve reduced our attention to God to a half hour or so, but what about the other 23.5 hours? We miss the point if we have devotions and then walk away with the idea that we’ve done our duty to God and can now get on with other things.

Does the Lord need a place? Of course not. “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable.” But we need God to have a place. We are not so conversant with things of the Spirit that we can find God, let alone communicate with the Divine. We need sanctuaries, set-apart places, where we have felt the wind of the Spirit touch our cheek in the past and where we have high hopes we will one day repeat the experience.

Finding “a place for God” was the driving passion in the life of King David. He would not realize his dream, but his son Solomon would, as he constructed the famed temple in Jerusalem. Deliberate, intentional, scheduled devotional time is a good thing. Making room for the Lord suggests a temperament that listens for God and to God throughout the day. Some of us prefer the brief daily retreat during which we pray and read Scripture and/or devotional material — something along the lines of what Jesus urged in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

But, this type of quiet retreat doesn’t work for everyone. There’s a 17th-century devotional classic titled The Practice of the Presence of God, written by a lay monk named Nicholas Herman but known in the monastery as Brother Lawrence. He was assigned to work in the monastery’s kitchen, and while there, he decided to try to pay attention to God’s presence even while going about his duties.

As he developed the ability to do this, he found “that time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I enjoy God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Not everybody can do that, of course. Some, and perhaps most people, would find the hustle of the kitchen or the bustle of a busy schedule too distracting to promote that kind of attention to thinking about God. But it’s good for us to find whatever means works best for us to ponder not only the issues of life but also the things of God.

But then there’s this, as stated by contemporary theologian William Willimon, “We do not, perhaps we cannot, take time for God. God in Christ takes time for us and interrupts us throughout the day, if we have the eyes of faith to see it. This is good news. God takes time from us. God does not wait for us to fine-tune the spiritual disciplines. God grants us the freedom to be about our vocations in the world, doing what we have to do in this life. Then God suddenly shows up, unexpectedly becomes an event in our time and disrupts our lives.”

Here in Advent, do we welcome such disruptions? Or are we too busy? Is it important to find a place or make a place for God when God shows up? Or do we hope God will ask and kindly move on to find another place? It is important for us to find a place for the Lord in our schedules, but it’s best that we don’t assume that’s the end of it. God, being God, may, without explanation, just burst into our lives at any hour, pushing us to live as disciples. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Go Tell it on the Mountain
Performed by Zach WIlliams

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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