Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Call to Worship:
Sometimes Advent seems to drag on forever. Is Christmas ever going to get here?
Other times Christmas just seems to sneak up on us and no matter how much time we have we still aren’t ready.
But the truth is that Christmas is already here. It arrived 2000 years ago and it remains with us today.
That is why we set aside a special season to remember and to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ anew.
On this last Sunday of Advent, we gather to celebrate God’s gift of Love,
Love born in the child of Bethlehem.
So come, let us worship and celebrate our loving God.
Advent 4 – Love
Reader One: Love’s memory is long. As we come to the last Sunday of Advent, we recall the many times we have been here before, this close to Christmas, and still not sure if we are ready. Yet God’s love does not depend on whether we are ready or not. It does not wait until we finish all our preparations or until we are ready to accept it.
Reader Two: God’s love endures forever. In a world where even evergreens turn dry and brittle, God’s love is the one reality on which we can rely. In a world where our Christmas trees are often made of metal and plastic, God’s love is the real thing. Today we prepare for the greatest expression of that love ever, the promise of Love’s birth.
Reader One: Through acts as simple and common as the birth of a baby, God transforms the world, and keeps God’s promise of love. It is that expression of faithful love we anticipate and celebrate this day. It is that promise that brings light to our deepest darkness.
Reader Two: So, as we light our fourth Advent candle in eager anticipation of God’s greatest promise fulfilled, what else can we do but name this candle Love? (light 4th candle)
Reader One: Let us join together in our prayer for this last week of Advent.
God of Love, in this season of excitement and celebration, of remembering friends and families, of exchanging of gifts and best wishes, we cherish the feelings of love that surround us. Yet even as we know the celebration and holiday cheer will end, we know that your love goes on. Teach us to keep your love alive in our hearts all year round so that even in our darkest times, we may be filled with the light of your love. Amen
Opening Hymn: Love Is the Touch MV# 89
Today we hear the fourth woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy as we explore the story of David and Bathsheba. The interesting thing is that although Bathsheba is part of Jesus’ genealogy, she is not actually mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to only as “Uriah’s wife”. This is where we will end our reading of the genealogy of Jesus. There are another 10 verses listing 25 more generations which we will not read, but eventually, Matthew ends his genealogy with these words, “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.”
So I’m sure you have all heard the quote “God is love.” But do you know where it comes from? It is actually found in the first letter of John which we are going to hear today. It reads, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God … because God is love.
The story of King David’s affair with Bathsheba is likely one of the best known of all the many stories of infidelity in the Bible. Not only is it a story of infidelity, but it is also a story of deceit, betrayal, and murder by God’s chosen king. The thing is it is also one of the greatest love stories of all time.
David and Bathsheba
This is the last Sunday of Advent, and it is the Sunday we light the candle of love. In our Hebrew scripture reading, we heard what is considered to be one of the greatest love stories of the entire bible. But it is probably not the type of love story you were expecting to hear this morning. The story of the affair between David and Bathsheba is certainly not the Harlequin Romance type of story. David’s love for Bathsheba can probably be better described as obsession, and because of this obsession, David ends up committing adultery, betraying a friend, breaking the laws of his people, laws handed down from Moses, and eventually even ending up committing murder. Of all the stories that we have looked at so far during Advent, this one is probably the biggest scandal of all, not because of Bathsheba, but because of David.
David was God’s anointed, God’s chosen ruler. It was David that God had called when he was a mere child. It was David that God protected from the giant Goliath. It was David that God later warned about Saul’s jealousy and whom God kept safe until Saul’s death. It was David whom God had given victory in battle, power in conquest, and peace within his kingdom throughout his whole long reign.
This special relationship with God is what set David apart and it is why David was destined to become the greatest king the Hebrew nation had ever known, the one against whom all others would be compared. David was not just the chosen king of Israel, David was God’s choice.
But David betrayed the trust of his people, the loyalty of his army, the laws of his kingdom, and perhaps most importantly of all, he betrayed his relationship with God. When David acted on his lust for Bathsheba, he was breaking the law, but as king, he knew that there would be no real consequences for him. As king, all his subjects were required to obey whatever he commanded and since they were all required to serve him, Bathsheba was simply doing as she was commanded. If she were to remain loyal to her king, she really had no option but to obey him.
And it’s not like David was doing something that almost every other monarch, both ancient and modern, has not done. David was really not concerned at all about being found out since he could easily demand that all those who knew about the affair remain silent. After all, who was going to prosecute the king for having an affair with a married woman? The problem was that David was only thinking about how to get around the laws of the people. He was not thinking about the laws of God.
And no matter how much he might justify or excuse his own behaviour, no matter how certain he was then he could hide his indiscretion from his people, David could not hide the truth from himself or from God. He knew very well that what he was doing was wrong. But David was not going to admit that to anyone, especially not to himself.
And so, when Bathsheba revealed that she was pregnant, rather than admitting to what he had done, David tried to cover it up. First, he tried to trick Uriah into sleeping with Bathsheba so that he would assume the child was his. When that didn’t work David decided to take even more drastic steps.
He ordered that Uriah be sent into the most dangerous part of the battle being fought with the Ammonites over the city of Rabbah. He then ordered that all the rest of his forces be pulled back, leaving Uriah alone and thereby ensuring that he would be killed. And that is exactly what happened. David went from someone who had committed adultery to someone willing to commit murder rather than admit to what he had done and face the consequences.
Now you might be wondering how anyone could consider this a great love story. It is true that David was willing to go to extraordinary lengths in order to possess Bathsheba for himself. It might even make a pretty good plot for a movie, but let’s face it, it sounds a whole lot more like an obsession than like love.
But I still maintain that this is one of the greatest love stories of all time. The thing is that it is not about the love between David and Bathsheba. It is about the love between David and God.
If it were up to us, I think most of us would probably have been willing to forgive David’s adultery, at least eventually. We might have lost some respect for him and we might even question his fitness to reign as king. We have to admit that our feelings might have been different if David continued to justify his behaviour and refused to take responsibility for what he had done, but we are told that, with the help of Nathan the prophet, David did admit to what he had done, repent for it and accept responsibility. Even when the child that had been conceived died, David begged for God’s forgiveness and accepted the consequences for what he had done. Knowing all this, most people would probably forgive David’s adultery.
But would we be so willing to forgive murder? Although technically Uriah was killed in battle, there is no doubt what-so-ever that it was David who was directly responsible for his death. Would we be willing to forgive murder as easily as we might be willing to forgive adultery? Would we still be willing to accept David as the king, the one to whom all other kings would be compared?
But the amazing part of this love story is that God did forgive. God was willing to look past what David had done and to see instead, the potential of what David could still become. Despite everything, God was able to look beyond the surface and still see within David that idealistic young shepherd boy, who sang God’s praises and sought to follow God’s way. God knew that David, the one who longed for a closer relationship with God and who longed to understand and follow God’s call for him, was still there, even if David himself didn’t recognize it anymore. The David who had become powerful and self-absorbed, the David who had put his own desires and his own pleasure above what he knew was right, the David who would willfully disobey God’s law and then try to cover it up and hid his sin from, God, that David had simply forgotten who he truly was. But God had not.
I think there are times when we all forget our best selves. There are times we all do things even knowing they are wrong, and there are times we try to hide or to justify what we have done. There are times we are all less than we could be and perhaps less than we should be. And I think there are also times when we can be very unforgiving of other people who behave in ways that we don’t think they should or who turn out to be less than we think they should be, especially if they are someone we look up to and respect.
David was certainly far from perfect. Sometimes he was selfish. Sometimes he was arrogant. Sometimes he was self-righteous. Sometimes he was actually downright cruel. And sometimes he willingly ignored what he knew was right and simply went ahead and did what he wanted anyway. In other words, sometimes David was a lot like us.
Yet God was able to forgive all of this and still see the best in David and to recognize that his potential was far more than his worst moments might indicate. God continued to love David and David continued to do his best to live up to that love. He didn’t always succeed, but on those occasions when he did stray from the path, David continued to return to God and to try again.
And in the end, David truly was blessed. Despite the loss of the child she had conceived while still married to Uriah, David and Bathsheba had another son. It was this son, Solomon, who eventually became the wisest, most faithful, and most compassionate of all the kings. Solomon became the king who, in many ways, would outshine his famous father.
And it was through Solomon that, many generations later, another king would be born. This king would not rule in a palace. He would not be born in luxury. He would live a simple peasant life, the life of a traveling rabbi, and itinerant preacher. He would be accused of being a troublemaker and a political rebel and he would die a convicted criminal. Yet he would become known as the king of kings and “of his kingdom there would be no end.”
So today, as we light the candle of love, perhaps this greatest of all love stories can remind us of what love is really all about. It is about God’s love, a love so great that it could never be expressed in words. A love so great that it could only be expressed through the birth of a child who would become known as love incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us. That is what Advent love is all about. That is why we celebrate love today. And what better time to celebrate and remember God’s love as we await the birth of the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, God’s love incarnate, Emmanuel. Amen.
The Gift of Music Blessed Love
We Offer Our Gifts
On this last Sunday of Advent, as we remember the gift of God’s love to us, let us offer God our gifts. Those gifts may be the financial gifts we give through our offering, or it may be the gift of our time, our talents, and our loving commitment. Whatever it is we give this day let us take a moment now to ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; God, in your great love you have given us so much. As an expression of our gratitude, we offer what we have today, asking that you will bless it. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Prayer of the People
Divine Source of all love, as we await the celebration of the birth of the one we recognize as your love incarnate in our world, we long to see that love lived out in our world today.
We long for a time when there will be no more wars or military conflicts in our world, a time when all people will be willing to work out political differences without resorting to killing. We long for the time when refugees will be treated with compassion and justice when they receive the protection and resettlement they need.
We long for the time when the unemployed will find the necessary support and retraining they need and when all people will find productive and rewarding work. We long for those who must work to maintain essential services over Christmas to know that they are recognized and appreciated.
We long for the time when those out in the cold in the chill of winter weather will find shelter, when the lonely and friendless will know that someone appreciates and cares about them, especially during this time of the pandemic.
We long for the time when gifts will be freely given by those who have plenty and those gifts will be joyfully received by those struggling at Christmas. We long for a time when all will have enough and no one will be forced to rely on handouts.
We long for the bereaved to be comforted and sustained and those who have suffered a deep loss to be strengthened for whatever new situations they might face. We think especially today of the families and friends of the crew of the Chief William Saulis.
We pray that those who walk through our doors here will feel the friendship and love that will draw them in and draw them closer to you and to one another. We pray that those who seldom come to worship will feel welcomed and appreciated as part of this faith community. We pray that through this community of faith we will be encouraged, inspired, and strengthened to reach out beyond our doors to those in our own community and those around the world who need our help. We pray that the love we experience through this church family as well as through our own individual families and friends will build us up, showing us how much more we are able to achieve, both as individuals and as a community of love.
God of Love, we pray that this season of hope and expectation will touch our hearts with the joy and peace of knowing your great love for us and will open us to be instruments of that love not just in this season but each day of our lives. Amen
Closing Hymn: Love Divine #333
Our Advent journey is almost complete, yet the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love that we have reflected upon during this season are with us always. And so, as we go out into the world today, we take these gifts with us, treasures to hold in our hearts and to offer to one another and to the world. We go as God’s beloved children knowing that we are never truly alone because the Love of God surrounds us, the Christ born at Bethlehem is still with us, and the Divine Spirit is above, beyond, around and within us, now and always. Go with God.