Sunday December 18, 2022 – Advent 4
Hark, the glad sound! The Saviour comes, the Saviour promised long:
Let every heart prepare a throne and every voice a song.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share this land wisely.
Call to Worship
When we think of the smells of Christmas we think of evergreens, fresh baked cookies, and warm apple cider.
When we think of love we think of joy, comfort and safety.
But sometimes love can be difficult and demanding.
We gather here today to celebrate love, in all its wonder and challenge.
We gather here today to celebrate God’s love.
Lighting the Advent Candle Advent 4 – Love
The smell of fresh baking, crackling fires and fresh-cut evergreens fill our hearts and remind us of the love that surrounds us at Christmas.
But not all the smells of Christmas are ones we think about.
It was the smell of a stable and the smell of blood and birth that Mary and Joseph would remember.
But these too remind us of love.
And so, we light our love candle as we prepare for the birth of Emmanuel
Candle Lighting Response
Love is a flame that burns in our hearts,
Jesus has come and will never depart.
When God is a child there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.
©Hope Publishing company, used with permission Onelicense#723756
We come before you Divine Love, confident that your love is with us. Your love encircles us in the love of family and friends. Your love challenges us in the faces of those who need our love this Christmas. Your love embraces us in the warmth of the story of angles singing, and sheep lowing. Your love lies waiting for us in a cold and lonely stable. Open us today to experience your love in all the many and varied ways it appears and to share that love with all we meet. Amen
Gift of Music O Ancient Love #17
In our reading from the prophet Hosea today, Hosea talks about God loving freely and about God’s beauty being like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Hosea 14:4-9 New Revised Standard Version
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like that of Lebanon. They shall again live beneath my shadow; they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine; their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your fruit comes from me. Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.
Psalm 138, perhaps more than any other psalm focuses on God’s everlasting love.
Psalm 138:1-9, 24-26 Good News Translation
Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal.
Give thanks to the greatest of all gods; his love is eternal.
Give thanks to the mightiest of all lords; his love is eternal.
He alone performs great miracles; his love is eternal.
By his wisdom he made the heavens; his love is eternal;
he built the earth on the deep waters; his love is eternal.
He made the sun and the moon; his love is eternal;
the sun to rule over the day; his love is eternal;
the moon and the stars to rule over the night; his love is eternal.
he freed us from our enemies; his love is eternal.
He gives food to every living creature; his love is eternal.
Give thanks to the God of heaven; his love is eternal.
Our gospel reading this morning goes back once again to Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus, but today we look at what happened before the angel appeared to the shepherds.
Luke 2:1-7 Good News Translation
At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown.
Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.
The Smell of Christmas
So, what are your favourite smells of Christmas? (the Christmas tree, the turkey cooking, freshly popped popcorn ready to string, pumpkin pies baking, gingerbread cookies, hot apple cider, the wood, burning in the fireplace)
Now imagine the smell in Bethlehem that first Christmas. There would have been the typical smells of a town of the time … the sawdust from the carpentry shop … the hot metal from the forge … the smell of animals from the stables and from the streets … the smells of plants and spices from shops and homes … the normal smells of people and everyday life.
But there would have been other smells … the crowds of people who had been travelling long distance to get there, likely smelling of dust and sweat … all the extra animal they brought with them … the smell of campfires as people who could not find a place to stay made camp around the town.
And in a stable, surrounded by the smells of fresh hay, of animals, of musty straw used for bedding, of manure, and of all the other smells of a barn, the smell of blood and of birth.
These are the smells we don’t often think about at Christmas. These are the smells that tend to make us wrinkle up our noses and back away. When we set up our nativity scenes, the stable is always clean and beautiful. We may add fake straw, but it is always odorless, just added for effect.
Now for anyone who grew up on a farm or anyone who remembers visiting their grandparents farm and spending time playing in the barn, the smells of hay, animals and even manure can bring back wonderful memories. I wasn’t allowed in the barn very often because of allergies, but I vividly remember standing in the doorway of the barn and watching my grandfather sitting on a stool milking a cow. Every once in a while, he would turn the teats away from the pail and aiming a stream of milk at the kittens who had clustered nearby waiting for a taste of that fresh, warm milk. I can still remember those smells.
And apparently, the sense of smell is one of the strongest triggers for memory. Perhaps that is why the smells, rather than the sights, sounds or even tastes of Christmas, have such power to take us instantly back in time. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what memories the smells of that first Christmas would have evoked for Mary.
She was a young girl, likely still in her teens about to give birth to her first child. She was far from home without the support of family and friends. Her only companion was her husband who, in all probability, was much older than she was. And men of that time would not have been involved in the birthing process. That would be left to the women.
Mary must have been terrified. When her time came, did someone call a midwife? Did the innkeeper’s wife or perhaps another woman come to offer their help and reassurance? Had her mother prepared her for what was about to happen? It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for a terrified teenager far from home.
The truth is that we don’t know all the details of the story. We only know that, after being turned away from every other available shelter, Mary gave birth to her son in a stable, surrounded by the smells of a barn and of birth.
So, looking back on those experiences, what do you think those smells would have triggered for Mary? Would it have been the fear, the loneliness, and the pain? Would it have been the memory of being turned away and having to take shelter in a barn? Would it have been the smell of manure and musty straw in surroundings fit only for animals?
Or, would the strongest memory recalled by those smells be the memory of the moment when she held her new-born son in her arms? Would it be the memory of the overwhelming feeling of love that she must have felt on seeing her child for the first time? Would the memory of all the fear, pain, loneliness and despair have disappeared the moment she looked into his tiny face?
I like to think that this would be the memory that would stay with her. I like to think that all the terrible things that happened to her as she prepared for Jesus’ birth would fade into the background once she held her child. And I firmly believe that the power of love can do that.
Now this doesn’t mean that love can talk away all the pain or somehow make everything perfect. Life is not perfect and there are times that everyone struggles with what is happening to them or around them. There are times when we all wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”
The thing is, that no matter what is happening, there is one thing that we can hold on to that can help us get through, even if, at the time, it just feels like nothing will ever be right again. And that one thing we can hold on to is the message we heard this morning from the psalmist. [God’s] love is eternal.
It is clear that Mary absolutely believed this. Her song of praise and adoration, known as the Magnificat, speaks of her deep trust and faith in God. It expresses her devotion and her love for God and it reaffirms that God’s promises, God’s love were not only for her, but for all generations.
And this love can be experienced anywhere at any time. It does not depend on being surrounded by peace, comfort and joy. It does not depend on everything being easy or comfortable. It is there when we are surrounded by Christmas trees, turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s there when we are surrounded by friends and family. But it also there when we are alone and frightened. It is there when it seems that no one has time for us or a place for us in their busy lives. And it is even there when we are surrounded by musty straw, manure and the smells of birth and warm blood.
That love that surrounded Mary that night long ago continues to surround us today. And the child that Mary bore would grow up to not only tell people about God’s love, but to demonstrate that love in how he lived. He would teach them that God’s love is so great that not even death can separate us from that love. And he would also teach people that the most important things in life were to love God and to love one another.
This is why, on this last Sunday of Advent, as we draw closer and closer to the celebration of his birth, we light a candle for love and we remind ourselves that of all the gifts we have been given, of all the Christmas gifts we have ever received or could ever ask for or dream of, by far the greatest is the gift of love. Amen.
Gift of Music Gentle Mary Laid Her Child #46
We Offer Our Gifts
As it says in the first letter attributed to John, “We love because God first loved us.” And so, in gratitude for God’s love for us, we respond with our offering.
These may be the financial gifts which we place on the offering plates or in our M&S piggy bank, the gifts we give online or through PAR, or they may be the gifts of our time, our talents and our commitment. But whatever gifts we offer, let us bring them forward as we sing our offertory response.
Offertory Response #31
O Lord, how shall we meet you, how welcome you aright?
Your people long to greet you, our hope, our heart’s delight!
Our hearts shall bloom forever for you with praises new,
And from your name shall never withhold the honour due.
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath. God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts. So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Advent God, we thank you for hope that nourishes and sustains our hearts, for peace that enables us to live in friendship with others and for joy that illumines and enriches our lives. Most of all we thank you for the love that inspires all the rest.
Yet we know that to be loved and not care for the unloved, to live in peace and ignore the violence and war that shatters the lives of so many others, and to selfishly celebrate our own enjoyment without allowing the deep joy you give us to flow through us to others, is to miss the entire point of your gifts to us.
And so, we pray for those for whom joy seems far away and seems to be something meant only for others.
…for all whose loneliness is made worse by parties, laughter and celebration:
…for those mourning the death of someone who will not share their Christmas:
…for wives, husbands and children, whose lives have been broken apart by anger, divorce or distance:
…for older people now living alone, who will not have family or friends around them this year:
…for those whose financial situation this year will mean that gifts and celebrations will simply be beyond their means:
…for those around the world for whom this will not be a season of peace, those caught in the midst of political upheaval, terrorism, oppression and war.
As we reflect on the light of our Advent candles, remind us to also reflect on your call to share your hope, peace, joy and love with all those we meet. Remind us that it is through your love that we can become instruments of your love to others, not only at Christmas, but all year long. Amen.
Gift of Music All Poor Ones and Humble #68
We go out from here today in love, love for God and love for one another. We go out from here to follow the example of the one who demonstrates for us God’s love lived out in human form. We go out from here knowing, God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit accompanies us wherever we go. We go with God.
Choral Blessing #84O Light of Nations, fill the earth; our faith and hope and love renew.
Come lead the peoples to your peace, as stars once led the way to you.
Ruth Duck 1991 © 1992 G.I.A. Publications, Inc. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756