December 5, 2021

Second Sunday of Advent

Second Week of Advent
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INTROIT
Glory (Let There Be Peace)
by Matt Maher

CALL TO WORSHIP       
All creation holds its breath.
The time is almost here.
The heavenly choir of angels await their cue to sing.
Excitement is building all around us.
Prepare your hearts. The grace of God takes on human form.
We gather to make ready our hearts for the coming of Christ, our hope and peace.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Gracious God, Advent reminds us that you are revealed in startling and wondrous ways. Let the revelation of your mystery unfold again, that we may see it together. Let the joy and celebration of the ages shed new light on our relationship to you and one another as we praise the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We can hide nothing from God, who knows our every thought.  God is aware of sins we have not recognized. We cannot be right with God unless we examine ourselves and repent. Let us confess our sin before God and one another, and may God have mercy.
May Christ have mercy.
May God have mercy.
O God, our lives are an open book to you.  Help us to recognize in ourselves what you have seen there. Remove the distortions that keep us from acknowledging our sin.  Awaken in us a sorrow over the wrong we have done and the good we have neglected.  Create in us an earnest desire to change. O God, we are in touch with the pain we have caused and the pain within us. Because of your love and care, we can face and overcome the sins we here confess. Amen.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
Your struggles to know yourself are prompted by God’s love.  God leads the community of faith beyond what is lawful to what is holy.  We are not our own. We are Christ’s. By God’s grace, we may turn from self-serving ways to selfless ministries that glorify God.

GLORY PATRI
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: 12-16
Thus says the LORD of hosts: In this place that is waste, without human beings or animals, and in all its towns there shall again be pasture for shepherds resting their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the Shephelah, and of the Negeb, in the land of Benjamin, the places around Jerusalem, and in the towns of Judah, flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the LORD. 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.”

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ……………………………………………………. Ephesians 2:14-22
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”


SERMON ……………………… Bricks and Blocks …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
Prepare the way….

It begins when you are a child, perhaps when you first go to preschool… and see those big cardboard bricks. The chance to build, be creative, and be challenged to build something big and tall – perhaps even taller than yourself. It continues at home when you pull the Lincoln Logs or the Legos off the shelf, dump them out on the floor and imagine all the possibilities. As you grow, you may graduate to a deck of cards and build a house of cards.  

Towers tumble, cards slip, and your creations come tumbling down. And, there are times when those structures are never completed because chores need to be done, or the dog chewed up the most critical piece. Sometimes, pieces will no longer fit together or are broken; other times, we just lose interest. We get halfway through one project and start over to build something new.

Yet, at some point in your development, you learn that to build a structure that will be tall and last for more than a few moments, you need a firm foundation. And, trial and error have taught you to seek stable footing before you start to build your foundation. Early in life, you learned the formula and importance of making structures strong and tough from the ground up.

We love the story of the three little pigs, and know that the home constructed with bricks is the strongest. A brick house could withstand the hot and forceful “huffing and puffing” of the mean old wolf. The little pigs were safe inside their brick home. They were safe from the dangers of the outside world.

We see structures being built throughout our lives – homes, schools, stores, and office buildings. All around us, there is development and construction. Physical structures provide us with a sense of security and protect us from the elements. Strong, enduring structures that keep some people in and others out. Walls that allow people to keep what they fear on the outside and away from them.

It takes a fair amount of time to build impressive structures. A skyscraper takes years to build, but only moments to watch it crumble. Between terrorists and tornadoes, bulldozers, and bombs, it does not take long to destroy the structures that humans toil for years to build. Even when all those bricks, steel beams, and supporting structures come crashing down, there is something within us that wants to rebuild. When the World Trade Center towers came down, there was determination to continue and a passion to recover. 

The Bible tells of King Solomon building a temple on a foundation of “dressed stone.” After that temple was destroyed, it was rebuilt. As the new foundation was being put into place, King David had prayers said over it. That temple too was destroyed. But the Jewish faithful still worship and pray at the one remaining wall of that temple, the wailing wall. God was not destroyed with the temple but stayed alive and active in their lives.

Everywhere you go in Europe or the Middle East, there are ruins of churches that you can tour. You can walk through ancient history. Ephesus, and other places in Turkey, where Paul focused much of his evangelism efforts to get the fledgling Christianity started has very few remaining churches. They have become mosques or museums for people like you and me to visit.

Today, Turkey’s citizens are predominately Muslim, but long ago, Christianity grew and blossomed and spread in that region. No faith is ever stagnate. Even though the history of Christianity was built with blocks of stone on that ground, the important building remains within the humans. A project of faith that has been passed on to you and me. Jesus is our cornerstone.

As we continue in Advent this year, we prepare for the Prince of Peace, who was sent to change the world forever with his life. In his time, Jesus broke down the barriers that regulated Jewish life. He angered the Jewish priests with his activities as he ate with the people who were despised. He welcomed those who were banned from society due to illness and handicaps. Jesus broke the law in order to make his point clear – that God no longer wanted divisions among people – only unity. 

I like the words of Ephesians that speak of Jesus as the base, the cornerstone, and the solid, sturdy place to begin building a holy house of worship. We are the building blocks in the structure that God has built. Wherever we are, Jesus will be there too. God lives in us and asks us to continue building the kingdom He promises. God started building this kingdom long ago, and has not let go of that vision despite the errors we have made, or the misdirection’s we have headed. So God sent us an infant, a human who would learn and grow and teach. Someone like us to be our solid foundation and upon whom we can build our faith.

Blocks and bricks can be used to build walls to protect people, buildings or countries. The blocks Jesus has instilled in us can be put to use in bringing about God’s kingdom. It requires that we first break down barriers that isolate. Our call is to create (with the bricks and blocks of the material and our hearts) the bridges (the structures) that are necessary to unite people in God’s creation.

On December 1st in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand up and give her seat away, which led to the bus boycott that began the Civil rights movement. A beginning to the breakdown of the barriers that kept people apart because of the color of their skin. The civil rights movement broke down injustice and inequality.

There are many building blocks of our faith that we can put to use to create better connections between people: Forgiveness – letting go of the anger welled up inside us, allowing more joy to enter our lives. Charity – sharing our blessings. Love- making the effort to love all people, celebrating in our differences. Hope – for the completion of God’s kingdom. Welcoming – the people we fear into the circle of people we know and trust to learn and grow with each other. Nourishment – allowing God’s spirit to feed the hungry parts of our souls. Prayer – simply appealing God for help. Justice – demanding equality. Advocacy – standing up for others. The list goes on and on.

The list is equally long of barriers to break down and bridges to build…Bridges between farmers’ surplus crops and the families with no food on their tables, breaking down the cycle of hunger. Making a path to equal and accessible healthcare, so fewer people suffer and die of curable illnesses. Enabling families to live in safe, affordable housing where their children can play in the yard after spending the day in a good quality school where they can learn without fear, having the books and desks and chairs needed to learn.

We have the skills to connect human lives by learning about our neighbors – all our neighbors. Loving others of different backgrounds the way Jesus asks us to do and not simply existing side by side.

I read a touching story about a mother whose son died of AIDS. She had never fully accepted her son’s homosexuality but after his death she learned about how her son worked tirelessly towards AIDS education and prevention. How her son spend hours trying to help people reconcile with their families. This woman grew to see the connections her son had made in his life; the values and beliefs that he stood for; those things she could not see before due to her clouded vision from seeing him only as a homosexual.

She has since opened a shelter for AIDS patients who have no other place to go because their families have turned them away, as she once did to her son. She has continued building the bridge that her son started. We can transform those things that separate and isolate. It was God’s son…born thousands of years ago that broke down the barriers for you and me – to be able to live as we do today. If we break down the importance of Advent, we find that it is not about the stack of presents under the tree, nor the holiday parties with mistletoe and eggnog. No, it is the reminder that God’s gift of Jesus is the cornerstone that continues to live in you and me. We are a part of the building of God through Jesus Christ and there is still plenty of “the good work” of breaking down and building up to be done. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
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.

SPECIAL MUSIC
I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day
by Casting Crowns

DOXOLOGY
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

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

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