Sunday, June 24, 2012

Year C - The Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2012)



When I was a child my family relished talking about Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve Eve, even Christmas Eve Eve Eve.  I suspect it started with my parents trying to explain what “eve” means when paired with a holiday.  Now that the youngest sibling is approaching 60 we continue the practice and often expand it to include the days before any holiday or big event.  So for us this Sunday is Christmas Eve Eve.  I suspect that even those who do not use our terminology will share that feeling.  With Christmas falling on Tuesday many families will take advantage of the really long weekend to visit family.  That means many of the regulars will be away and many out-of-towners will be joining you for worship.  Some families will decide to worship today and skip Christmas Eve.  Others will skip today knowing that they will come tomorrow.  And, still others will not even consider skipping either one of these high holy day services.  So, we will not know who will be in the congregation until after worship.  That can make planning “interesting.”


'''' Given this calendar and how it might affect worship, rather than focus on the Mary’s visit and song, which probably feel rather passé on this day since they follow cantatas and pageants, I would create a service proclaiming “ready or not Christmas is here.”  It is time to get down to priorities, to cross the less important things off the list, to deal with what really counts.  Read Luke 2:1-5 and 7c to set the stage.  Then explore how Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, and the magi responded to calls to turn aside from what they were doing to deal with something they knew was more important.  The challenge to worshipers is to do the same in the next few days and beyond.  If you have a crèche in the sanctuary, pick up and comment on each character as you work through their decisions.  This could be a children’s sermon or could be expanded to be the “real” sermon. 

Develop this theme further using one of the folk tales about people who were invited to join the magi as they traveled, but did not go at the moment.  Only later did they go and spend the rest of their lives trying to take gifts to children in the name of the Christ child.  Try The Legend of Old Befana, by Tomie de Paola or Babushka, by Arthur Scholey.

This could also be the starting point for the Eve service.


'''' Statement before lighting the Advent wreath:

If focusing on Mary:  Mary sang, "Rejoice in the Lord for God has done and is doing marvelous things!"  God help us like Mary and Elizabeth recognize you at work in our world and work with you.

OR

If focusing on ready or not:  God, today we light the fourth candle of Advent to remind ourselves to watch for your light in surprising places every day of our lives.  Be with us and help us join you at work in this world.


Micah 5:2-5a

'''' Point to Bethlehem on a map.  Describe it as a very small town.  Compare it to a small town in your area.  Then, especially if you preached on it during the summer, recall King David.  Briefly retell the story of Samuel going at God’s direction to little no-place Bethlehem to find the next king and then going through 7 big brothers before calling in the baby brother who had been left tending the sheep and anointing him king.  With a laugh say, “Guess what?  It happened again!”  Describe how Mary and Joseph end up not just in Bethlehem, but in a barn in Bethlehem on a force trip to pay hated taxes.  The point is that God shows up in some surprising places – even in Bethlehem.  So, we should expect to find God at work in surprising places today too.  God even shows up at school, at your house, while you are on a road trip…..  Thank God for being with us and challenge worshipers to watch for God at work all around them.

'''' Especially if you live in a small town or rural area, light the fourth candle of the Advent wreath for God who shows up in surprising out of the way places.

Statement to read while lighting the candle:  God, we light this fourth candle of the Advent wreath thinking about little Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  Be with us as we work and play every day.  Help us see you at work all around us and show us how we can work with you.

Sing a carol about Bethlehem that children can sing easily.

''''  “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” is full of simple concrete language describing the way God “the Lord of all” appeared in Bethlehem.

'''' The words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” are harder for children.  If you walk through the first verse pointing out what different phrases are saying about Bethlehem and pointing to the last line’s insistence that in quiet, little, Bethlehem, everything people had hoped for and dreamed of came true when Jesus was born, children will be encouraged to sing along and will catch the meaning of some of the other phrases as they sing.

'''' Though “Bethlehem” does not appear in “Once in Royal David’s City,” the song is all about what happened in that quiet, normal spot.  The language is totally young reader friendly.   In many congregations with children’s choirs, it is the children’s job to sing at least the first verse of this carol each year.  In some churches the whole choir sings.  In others a smaller group is chosen.  In such choirs, the children consider it a great honor to be chosen to sing this.  Such traditions help children learn a story telling carol and tie them to the congregation in which they sing it.


Luke 1:47 -55

This is also part of the gospel reading for today.  You will find ideas for these verses there.


or Psalm 80:1-7

On Christmas Eve Eve, this psalm doesn’t have a chance of speaking to the children. 


Hebrews 10:5-10

On Christmas Eve Eve the children want to hear the story.  This text’s message that Jesus will grow up to die and that his death will make all the sacrifices in the Temple unnecessary doesn’t stand a chance of getting through to children in their holiday high. 


Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

'''' Today’s gospel text is Mary and Elizabeth’s visit and Mary’s song.  As I said earlier, I would use it on the Third Sunday of Advent rather than today.  But, if you do use it today or sometime else during Advent, add the story of the annunciation to make introductions unnecessary and to set the stage for the meeting and song.  Bring the whole story to life by having it read by a narrator (probably the liturgist), Gabriel (a man), Mary (an older teenage girl), and Elizabeth (an older woman).  The Narrator reads from the lectern.  Mary and Elizabeth step forward from the congregation at the appropriate times.  Gabriel stands in the front – maybe the choir loft?  All read from scripts held in folders.

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Luke 1:26-66

Narrator (reading from the lectern):  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  (Mary takes a place in the front a little to one side where she can see Gabriel. If possible have her stand higher and further back than she will stand for the conversation with Elizabeth.) And he came to her and said,

Gabriel (standing near the rear of the chancel):   Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. 

Narrator:  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  So the angel said,

Gabriel:  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:  How can this be, since I am a virgin?

Gabriel:  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.

Mary:  Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Narrator:  Then the angel departed from her.  (Gabriel sits down or leaves the chancel)  Shortly thereafter 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.  (Elizabeth comes forward from the congregation and Mary moves to join Elizabeth at a central location, maybe on the main floor.)  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,

Elizabeth (Elizabeth reaches out to touch Mary as she speaks):  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.

Mary(turns from Elizabeth to face the congregation as she speaks.  Rehearse with Mary to help her present a feisty reading that fits with the words):
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.”

Narrator: And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.  (Mary and Elizabeth return to their seats in the congregation.)  This is the Word of the Lord!


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'''' Check out Jim Taylor’s paraphrase of the Magnificat with my favorite lines, “God did not say, ‘She’s just a girl’.” And “the rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.”  Go to Rumors: A Worship Blog and scroll a long way down the post to The Magnificat – paraphrased by Jim Taylor.”

 He, Qi. The Visitation, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46125
[retrieved June 21, 2012]
 
'''' On a weekend with lots of family gatherings, this story says that when Mary was hit by something overwhelming she went to talk with good ol’ Cousin Elizabeth.  Just as God sent Moses out with his brother Aaron and sister Miriam, God teams up Mary and Elizabeth so each has an important family member with whom to share her task.  I suspect that Gabriel mentioned Elizabeth to Mary as much because he knew Mary liked and respected her as because she was pregnant too.  They were old family friends.  Later Elizabeth’s son John would pass his ministry on to his cousin, Mary’s son Jesus.  And, I’d bet that was easier because those boys probably spent some of their childhood playing and talking together.  Brainstorm with children who in their families they would run to if they needed to talk about something God wants them to do.  Point out how wonderful it is when families that share faith and work together to do God’s work.

'''' Scholars say that Mary is describing God by telling us what God does.  So, read through Mary’s song stopping as you go to identify what God does.  Conclude that if God is like, we do have reason to rejoice.  I’d use the CEV to do this since in uses the most child friendly verbs.

Mary said:
      With all my heart I praise the Lord,
and I am glad because of God my Savior.
God cares for me, his humble servant.
From now on, all people will say
God has blessed me.
God All-Powerful has done great things for me,
and his name is holy.
He always shows mercy
to everyone who worships him.
The Lord has used his powerful arm
to scatter those who are proud.
God drags strong rulers from their thrones
and puts humble people in places of power.
God gives the hungry good things to eat,
and sends the rich away with nothing.
God helps his servant Israel
and is always merciful to his people.
The Lord made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his family forever!
                                          CEV

'''' If you have a Chrismons tree, with the children find the rose ornament.  Explain that the rose has become Mary’s symbol over the years.  No one knows exactly why.  There is no story about Mary and a rose. 

'''' Go to Year B - Fourth Sunday of Advent for more ideas about the Annunciation. 

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