Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar.
Christmas can often be a difficult time for many of us. Many communities of faith gather for a time of worship “when Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.” This year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these feelings are stronger, and many more people are struggling with Christmas. As we mark one year of changed life because of COVID-19, The United Church of Canada is offering a denomination-wide service of lament for Advent led by Moderator Richard Bott.You are invited to share in this service on Wednesday December 9th at 8:30 pm through Zoom or livestreamed on YouTube. For connection information please contact Rev. Sharon.
Thank-you to all who have agreed to be helpers for this coming year. We are still looking for a few people to record names for contact tracing, to run the powerpoint and to take over one of the lists for our phone tree. We also need people willing to learn how to do the Zoom recording and the Sound System. Please speak to Rev. Sharon ASAP if you are willing to fulfill any of these roles.
Christmas Eve is now less than 3 weeks away. Because of the limited numbers that we are able to accommodate in the sanctuary, we will be offering two services, one at 4 pm and one at 7 pm. Please contact the office to let us know which service you would like to attend and how many people will be sitting with you. It is important that we have numbers in order to insure everyone’s safety. If you have not called, please do so as soon as possible. Seating is limited, and we will be assigning seat according to who has called.
Our annual Light and Life Campaign has begun. Do you know someone who you would like to honour or memorialize through purchasing a light or lights on the tree. Individual lights are $10.00 each or a string of lights is $200.00.
Forms are now available and can go into the offering plate, be dropped off at the church office or phoned into the office at 902-742-4320.
Let’s make that tree glow like never before!
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:
We gather this morning to await the coming of the one we call the Prince of Peace.
We long for the day when he will arrive and set everything right.
But perhaps we should stop to consider that he may be waiting for us … waiting for us to listen to his word, to follow his way and to live his peace.
Perhaps, this year, we need to stop sitting back and waiting and start preparing instead.
And so, as we await and prepare for the birth of the one we call the Prince of Peace, let us worship God.
Advent 2 – Peace
Reader One: Advent calls us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Prince of Peace. All around us people prepare in other ways, buying presents, baking treats and planning for how they will celebrate Christmas this year. These events could distract us from the real reason for our anticipation. On the other hand, they also could prepare us. They could be the voice crying in a wilderness of materialism: “Prepare the way for the coming of what is really important.”
Reader Two: Rather than getting lost in the wilderness of distractions, we will let the music and the lights make us sensitive to the voice that is even now calling our name. We will listen for the whisper of peace even in the midst of the busyness and noise.
Reader One: In this season of hustle and bustle we are tempted to get frantic and join the panic to shop our way into the holiday spirit. In this moment, we resist that temptation and choose instead to be at peace with who we are and where we are on this path. We will let this time prepare us, and we will hear God’s call to prepare the way for Christ.
Reader Two: On this second Sunday of Advent we choose to be a peaceful presence in this midst of a frantic season. So, today, we light the second candle as an act of quiet preparation and we call it Peace.
(light 2nd candle)
Reader One: Let us join together in our prayer of peace.
Advent Prayer (in unison)
The Gift of Music
Last week we began with the first 3 verses of Matthew’s gospel, which begin his genealogy of Jesus. This week we continue with this reading, adding the next two verses.
The letter of James is one of my favorites. He is so practical. It is James that reminds us that faith without works is dead, but it is interesting to note that the example he uses to make his point is the story of Rahab the prostitute.
The story of Rahab takes place after the Exodus and the time the Israelite people spent wandering in the wilderness. They have now entered the land of Cannan under the leadership of Joshua and are beginning to conquer the land. This story is found in the book of Joshua
I’m sure most of you have heard the story of Oskar Schlindler. His story was made famous in the book and later the movie titled Schlindler’s List. During the Nazi regime, Schlindler saved the lives of over a thousand Jews by having as many as possible of those who were scheduled for transportation to the concentration camps transferred to his factories instead.
But sometimes I’m afraid we tend to forget about, or perhaps downplay, the beginning of that story. Oskar Schlindler’s factory had been a Jewish factory until it was closed down when it became illegal for Jews to own businesses. He purchased it with Jewish money that he accumulated by offering a few pots and pans in exchange for huge sums of money, knowing that it would be impossible for the Jews to spend their money in the ghettos to which they were confined. We also forget that the reason he had Jewish workers in his factory in the first place was because he didn’t have to pay them.
We also tend to gloss over the fact that Schlindler was a Nazi. Now I know that it has been argued that it was simply a formality, and that every German adult male was automatically a member of the Nazi party, but Schlindler was not just a member in name only. It was the policies of the Nazi party that had made Schlindler rich. He had taken full advantage of the free labour provided by Jewish workers, and he had become an important and influential man within the political structures of Nazi Germany.
Schlindler did not begin with the intention of rescuing thousands of complete strangers. He began by simply trying to save the foreman and accountant of his factory, Itzhak Stern, a man he relied on to run his factory and without whom he would never have made the fortune he did. His motives for saving Stern were selfish. But that was only the beginning of the story. Because of his relationship with Stern, Schlindler began to see the Jews as real people and as a result he could no longer see them as less than human. He ended up spending almost every penny he had, in order to bribe authorities, pay off guards and buy the freedom over a thousand Jewish men, women and children.
From our point of view, Schlindler was a hero, a man that deserves our admiration and respect. But from a Nazi point of view, Schlindler was a traitor. If the Nazi regime had triumphed in World War 2 this story would have been told very differently.
In the Hebrew Scripture we read this morning, we heard the story of Rahab. Rahab was a prostitute. Over time, there have been those who tried to suggest that she was actually an innkeeper, that the idea of her being a prostitute was a misunderstanding. But that is simply not the case. Rahab was a prostitute.
She lived in the city of Jericho in the land of Canaan. It was a pagan city where many different gods were worshiped and Rahab was a pagan. But there was a new people moving into the land. They called themselves the children of Israel, and they worshiped one God and one God only. They claimed that their God was the one true God and that He had promised them the land of Canaan.
Now needless to say the majority of the Canaanites did not agree, and things were not going particularly well for Joshua and the Israelite people. So Joshua sent two spies on a reconnaissance mission to scope out the city of Jericho and the land surrounding it. The two entered the city and came to the house of Rahab the prostitute where they spent the night. Somehow, word of their presence in the city became known to the king and he sent word to Rahab to bring the men out and hand them over.
Now this is where the story gets interesting. Rahab told the two men to hide and then she informed the king’s messenger that the two had left the city before the gates had been closed for the night. To do such a thing was to risk her own life and betray her own people for the sake of two strangers.
We are never told exactly why Rahab did this or how she came to the decision to risk her own life by helping them. We are later told that she had somehow become convinced that the God of Israel was the one true God and that she must do whatever she could to help these two representatives of that God.
I have to admit that the skeptic in me can’t help but wonder if Rahab’s motives were really that pure. Perhaps the truth is that she was just stacking the deck in her own favour. If Jericho held and the Israelites were defeated, no one would ever know of her treachery and she could continue life as always. But if the Israelites won, she would become a hero for having helped them, and her future would be secure. Either way she would come out of all this safe. Others have suggested that the reason Rahab helped the two spies was that she had fallen in love with one of those spies, who was in fact, the man she would eventually marry.
The reality is we don’t really know how Rahab came to the decision she did, but whatever the reason, Rahab risked her own life and safety in order to help the Israelite spies to escape the city. It was, in part, because of her that Joshua and the Israelite people were able to conquer Jericho and were able to claim the land of Canaan as their inheritance from God.
When Joshua defeated the city of Jericho, he ordered the two spies to go into the house of Rahab and bring her entire family safely into the company of the Israelites. The city was completely destroyed and burned to the ground, but Rahab and her family were spared. Not only were their lives spared, but they were allowed to live among the people of Israel and to prosper along with them. Eventually Rahab married an Israelite man name Salmon and she became the mother of Boaz and one of the few women recognized in the genealogy of Jesus.
The defeat of the city of Jericho was one of the most important battles that the Israelite people fought in their effort to take over the land of Canaan. In Canaan they grew and prospered. Just a few short generations later, they had become a powerful kingdom ruled first by king Saul and then by the great king David. It was David’s great-great grandfather Salmon, who took as his wife the former prostitute Rahab, and it is through Rahab that first David and eventually Jesus would trace their lineage.
It may seem strange on the morning that we light the candle of peace to talk about two stories of war. It may also seem like a bit of a stretch to see any similarity between these two stories. But I think there are connections.
In both stories we hear about someone who may seem to us, to be an unlikely hero. Rahab was a prostitute and Schlindler was a Nazi. Both do things that would appear to be a betrayal of their own people. Both risk their lives to save those who are considered enemies by the state. And, if history had turned out differently, both would likely have been executed for their actions. Yet both, for whatever reason, felt strongly enough to take that risk. Both believed that they had to do something to help those who were, basically, complete strangers.
Perhaps the message for us this morning, lies in the willingness of Schlindler and of Rahab to act, even when doing so meant risking their own lives. Perhaps, on this Sunday when we light the Peace Candle, these stories challenge us to ask ourselves what we are actively doing to promote and encourage peace.
I’m sure some of you saw a video that appeared on facebook a little over a week ago of a Walmart greeter being beaten up because he asked someone to ware a mask. People either stood around and watched or completely ignored the entire incident. A month before that a man in Toronto was assaulted in a subway station for refusing to wear a mask.
We all like to think we would intervene, but the man in the subway was apparently hit with a heavy metal object. Would we risk stepping in it the weapon might be turned on us? And what if it is not a physical assault but a verbal assault? Would we step in and call someone out for their racist, homophobic or discriminatory comments? Are we willing to speak out against the discriminatory policies of organizations or governments here or around the world?
As we light our Candle of Peace this morning, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for us to stand up for peace both here and around the world. But we must make the decision to take action. That’s what Rahab did. That’s what Schlindler did. That’s what many faithful and loving people have done throughout history, and perhaps that is what we are being called to do on this Second Sunday of Advent 2020. Amen.
The Gift of Music
We Offer Our Gifts
At this point in our service we traditionally take time to remember and give thanks for all that we have and to share what we have through our offerings. Because of the regulations put in place to protect our community during the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot pass offering plates, but you are invited to place your offerings in the plates as you enter or leave. You can also arrange to have your offering taken directly out of your bank through PAR or you can make a donation online through the Beacon United Church website. But at this time we are reminded that it is not just money that we offer to God. We offer our time and our talents as well as our treasures. So let us take a moment now to ask God’s blessing on whatever we have to offer.
Let us pray; God, we are aware of how greatly we are blessed. We are blessed with peace and security, with safety and abundance. We ask you to bless the gifts we offer you today, whatever those gifts may be. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now 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.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
God of Advent Peace, we dream of a world free of poverty and oppression, and we yearn for a world free of vengeance and violence. We pray for your peace.
When our hearts ache for the victims of war and oppression, help us to remember the one who healed people simply by touching them… and give us faith in our ability to comfort and heal bodies and minds and spirits that have been broken by violence.
When the injustice of the inequalities of this world seems too much for us to handle, help us to remember the one who fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish… and give us hope that what we have to offer will turn out to be enough, when we are willing to share.
When fear of the power and opinions of others tempts us to remain silent and not to speak up for the least among us, help us to remember the one who dared to turn over the tables of money changers… and give us the courage to risk following you without counting the cost.
When we feel ourselves fill with anger at those who are violent and oppressive, help us remember the one who prayed for those who crucified him… and give us compassion for our enemies.
When we tell ourselves that we have given all we can to bring peace to this world, help us to remember the one who gave everything, including his life … and give us the grace to be able to do just a little bit more.
Walk with us, Lord, as we endeavour to answer your call to be peacemakers. Increase our compassion, our generosity and our commitment to the least of your children. Give us the courage, the patience, the serenity, the self-honesty and the gentleness of spirit that are needed in a world filled with turmoil and terror.
God of Advent Peace, we offer this and all our prayer in the name of the one born to show us your gift of Peace, the one born to be the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
~ based on prayers written by Jack Knox, pastor of Salem Mennonite Church.
The Gift of Music
And so go out from here now into a world that may appear anything but peaceful. But go out knowing that, through the example of the one Born to be Price of Peace, we can live in the light of Peace. We can go out knowing God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit guides and enables us each step of the way. Go with God.