Third Sunday of Advent
O Little Town of Bethlehem
by Nat King Cole
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come to glorify God, to rejoice in the One who saves us.
God comes so that we may believe and be blessed.
Our hearts leap for joy! For God is coming to us as a child.
God comes for those who hunger for hope, for those who thirst for grace.
Holy is the One who comes to fulfill every promise of God.
God comes to those who walk in righteousness to bring peace and shatter indifference and injustice in the world.
Let us sing to heaven and worship God!
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Gracious God, you are revealed in startling ways. Let the revelation of your mystery unfold again this day, that we may see it together. Let the joy and celebration of the ages shed new light on our relationship to you as we praise the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Your season of hope and wonder bursts upon us, O God, yet we are unprepared. Unattuned to earth’s music, we are deaf to the angel’s song. Preoccupied with the electrified glare of the season’s elaborate displays, we are blind to starlight. Trapped in the midnight of our fear, we do not recognize the coming dawn. Break-in upon us and forgive us, O Lord, with the light of the ancient promise soon to be fulfilled. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
God judges the world in righteousness, and the people with equity. God is the stronghold for the oppressed, a citadel in times of trouble. And those who know the name of God and put their trust in the Lord will not be forsaken.
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.
2021 Christmas Cantata
Joseph – A Righteous Man
We usually begin our Christmas cantata with the scriptures that tell of the birth of Jesus. But today we will begin our story in the middle of Jesus life with this reading from Matthew 13: 54-56.
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father he was the man who raised Jesus as his own; who taught him by lesson and example. Joseph is who God chose to be the earthly father of His beloved son. The messiah’s birth fulfills the prophecy of old. Joseph, along with being a good man, has the correct lineage to fulfill the prophecy. And, Jesus is the “peaceful” messiah at a time of great turmoil. Joseph is clearly a man of peace who supports that.
Isaiah: 9:2, 6
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”
Luke 1: 26-31
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in
Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary … Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
We don’t know exactly when Mary came to Joseph to tell him that she was expecting a child nor do we know how she explained the visit of the angel Gabriel. It would seem that it took considerable courage for her to go to this man she was engaged to and deliver that message. What about Joseph and how he dealt with that news. He was an honorable man who would have quietly ended the engagement and borne the scorn of others. But he too was visited by the angel Gabriel in a dream and was obedient to God’s wishes.
Luke 2: 1-5
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This is the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”
There were two routes that Joseph and Mary could have taken from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The shorter route, through Samaria, followed a route known as the Way of the Patriarchs. It was the shortest way, but it not only went through the heart of some hostile territory it included traversing the hills and finally the mountains that divided the Holy Land. Adam Hamilton, author of “Faithful, Christmas Seen Through the Eyes of Joseph”, has this to offer.
Jesus regularly ministered with Samaritans, passed through Samaria, and made Samaritans the heroes of his parables, singling them out for affirmation as he ministered with the multitudes. Hamilton believes it’s likely that Jesus’ heart for the Samaritans, who were often treated poorly by the Jews, came from Joseph, who himself knew what it was like to be treated as “less than.” The exact route is a question we cannot answer but another look at how Joseph’s decision might later influence Jesus.
Luke 2: 6-7
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.”
It was an arduous journey for Joseph and especially for Mary who was very near the end of her pregnancy. Scripture does not tell us the length of the journey but writers like Adam Hamilton have said it could have been nine days. And then, when they arrived in Bethlehem, a city full of others coming to register for the census, they found….no room in the inn. No room in the inn, and a place in a stable, words we have heard in reference to the birth of Jesus all of our lives. As we sing the Christmas carols, watch Sunday school pageants; look at the beautiful tableau portraited on Christmas cards we tend to forget what that scene may really have looked like, or felt like. In fact, the quaint little stable we envision may well have been more of a cave like structure. The “friendly beasts” sung about in the children’s hymn may not have been sweet little lambs or that soft eyed brown cow often included in nativity sets; and the scent may not have been “sweet fresh hay”. No, it may in fact have been a bit smelly, dimly lit and possibly damp and cold. What we do know is that there was a young woman and her new husband tired from a long dreary journey. Mary was about to give birth to her first child and it was Joseph who would have been there to help and support her. In the midst of the pain and the emotion of that moment could they still hear the words of the Angel Gabriel, “Be not afraid”?
Joseph was by trade a carpenter, not a high profile or prestigious occupation. It is unlikely that he was well known outside of his own town and family. Yet, he was chosen to be the father of God’s son. What does Joseph have to give this child? He has the qualities that God saw in him which brought Joseph to this place in his life. Qualities of hard work, skill, listening and when we look back at the beginning of this story, compassion, caring, honesty, devotion to duty, faith; a righteous man.
There in the quiet darkness of the stable, with only a lantern and the star above, Joseph begins to realize not only the wondrous gift God has given to them, but the responsibility that he and Mary will have to raise this Child of God. Yet, he is the baby’s earthly father and the wonder of the moment becomes real as he gently lifts the child into his arms. Looking down at the innocence of his son’s face, Joseph begins to wonder what can he give to this child, what can he teach him, this baby made of miracles.
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.
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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