Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar.
Our Advent newsletters have been sent out by email. There are a few printed copies in the entrance. If you know someone who would like one but is not on our Beacon list, please take on for them. If you would like a printed copy for yourself, please speak to Shelley Melanson.
We are in the process of putting together our helpers lists for 2021. If you are interested in becoming a reader, a greeter or a recorder of names, please speak to Rev. Sharon. If you are willing to open, close, count offering or serve as a Green Angel please speak to Stephen. If you are currently serving in one of these positions and cannot continue, please let us know. We are also looking for someone who would be willing to take over Vera’s list for our phone tree. We have lost a number or our greeters this year so we really need help in this area. Please consider carefully how you might be able to help out our Beacon family.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, our Christmas Eve Service this year will be very different from our normal practice. 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. We are asking that everyone call the office and let us know which service you would like to attend. Seating is limited, so please make sure to call. Although we will not be able to sing this year, music will continue to be an important part of our celebration and although we will not be lighting candles, we are reminded that the light of Christ doesn’t have to be seen to be known. For those who are not comfortable gather together in a large group, the services will be live on Zoom and will be posted on the website after the 7 pm service.
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:
Advent is a time of waiting and watching.
Right now all I’m waiting for is for Covid to be over!
Advent is a time of preparation and expectation.
How am I supposed to prepare when I don’t know what to expect? What will Christmas look like this year?
Advent is a time of hope.
But I’m not even sure what to hope for anymore.
Our Advent hope is the hope that God will come to us once again this season.
That’s worth waiting and watching for. That’s worth preparing for.
So let us prepare ourselves to worship the God of hope.
Lighting the Advent Candle
Reader One: As our days grow shorter and our nights longer, we who are people of faith turn to symbols such as candles, evergreens and wreaths to proclaim our belief in God’s unquenchable light. In hopeful anticipation, we prepare for the coming of the Christ, the light of the world.
Reader Two: Yet none of us knows the exact moment when Christ will arrive for us this Christmas. Perhaps it will be as we sing our favorite Christmas carol. Perhaps it will be as we watch the light of the burning candles. Perhaps it will be as we gaze at the nativity. Or perhaps Christ will arrive in some other way at some other time.
Reader One: But the hope of Advent is that Christ will arrive, Christ will be reborn for each one of us this Christmas.
Reader Two: In the hope that just as Christ was born into our world 2000 years ago, Christ will be reborn for us this Christmas, we light this first Advent Candle and we call it hope. (light 1st candle)
Reader One: Let us join together in our prayer of hope.
Advent Prayer (in unison)
God of hope, as we anxiously await the birth of Christ, help us to remember to expect the unexpected. Help us to remember that Christ is not born only once a year, but is born anew each day in the hearts of those who seek him. Help us to open our hearts to receive the promise of hope and the unexpected blessing of Christ’s presence in our lives. Amen
Opening Hymn Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus #2
Throughout Advent we are going to be exploring the 5 women listed in Jesus’ genealogy. The reason that these women are interesting is because, at the time, women were almost never mentioned. So for any woman’s name to appear in the lineage of Jesus must mean that they were there for a very specific reason. Our scripture readings are going to be in the reverse order to what we normally have with our Gospel reading first, then the Epistle and last the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Each week we will begin with Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and as we go on, each week we will add a few more verses. Today we begin with the first 3 verse of Matthew. All of our readings throughout Advent will be from the New International Version of the Bible.
Our epistle reading, is taken from the letter to the church in Ephesus. We read it on this Hope Sunday because it talks about how, having put our hope in Christ, we have been marked by the seal of God. That seal is the promised Holy Spirit.
Our Hebrew Scripture reading is the story of Tamar, the first of the women to appear in Jesus’ genealogy. But you need to remember that it is also the story of Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob and one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Gift of Music
What if you had someone in your family who got pregnant by her own father-in-law? Or what if someone in your family made no bones about the fact that she was a prostitute? Or what if someone in your family slept with another mans wife, got her pregnant, and then had the husband killed to cover up the adultery? And of course, let’s not forget the foreign bride or the unwed teenage mother. Not too many of us have all of these particular skeletons in our closets but Jesus did. Each and every one of these stories is part of Jesus genealogy, part of his family tree.
In Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Jesus, there are 5 women listed. Each of them, in one way or another, is surrounded by scandal. No other women are listed, and although to us the lack of women may seem extraordinary, the truly extraordinary thing is that these five are listed at all. At that time in history, heredity was passed only through the male line and women were simply not included in recorded genealogy.
So why on earth would Matthew include these particular women in Jesus’ genealogy? Luke doesn’t mention any of them, not even Mary. But I believe there is a great deal we can learn through these scandalous and so throughout Advent we will be examining these stories to see what they have to say to us.
We begin with Tamar and Judah. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. It was Judah, along with his 10 brothers who plotted first to kill, and later to sell into slavery their youngest brother Joseph. But Judah was the fourth son, and as such he should never have been the one through whom Jacob’s lineage was traced. However, the eldest son Ruben, slept with one of his father’s wives thus becoming unworthy to carry on the lineage. Simeon and Levi, the next two sons, killed the entire male population of the city of Shechem because the prince of Shechem had raped their sister. Because of their violence Jacob was forced to take his family and flee, thus making them also unworthy of carrying on the linage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That left Judah as the next in line.
But Judah was certainly no saint either. Judah had taken a Canaanite wife, a pagan, which was completely against the laws of the Israelite people. She bore him three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. When Er grew up, Judah took a wife for him who was also a Canaanite. Her name was Tamar. But before Tamar was able to bare a son, Er died, and as was the tradition of the time, Tamar was then given in marriage to the next son Onan. Now this may seem very strange to us, but you need to remember that by tradition, it was always the eldest son who would inherit the family wealth. It was therefore essential that he should have a son of his own to whom he could pass on the inheritance.
If the eldest son died before producing a son the next eldest brother would take the widow as his wife. The first son born from that union would be the son of the dead brother, and it was that son who would inherit the family wealth. You need to remember it was only the sons that mattered. It didn’t make any difference how many daughters a man might have. They didn’t count.
Now you can understand why Onan was not particularly pleased with this arrangement. If Tamar had a son, even though he was the biological father, it would not be his son, it would be Er’s son. And as Er’s son, this child would inherit the family wealth, leaving Onan and his children with virtually nothing. So Onan practiced the only form of birth control available to him. If Tamar remained childless, she would continue to live as Onan’s wife, but when she died, the inheritance would go to Onan or to his oldest son, thus carrying on the family name through him and not through Er.
But things didn’t work out the way Onan had hoped. Like his brother, Onan died without giving Tamar a son, leaving her once more a widow. It was now the duty of Shelah, Judah’s youngest son to marry Tamar and produce a son for Er. But he was still too young to marry, so Tamar was sent back to her own family to wait until Shelah grew up.
Time passed. Judah’s wife died and Shelah grew up. But Judah did not send for Tamar. Perhaps he was afraid that if he did, Shelah would suffer the same fate as his brothers. But for whatever the reason, Judah failed to live up to his responsibility to Tamar. So Tamar took matters into her own hands.
She dressed herself as a prostitute and waited for Judah. Sure enough, Judah fell for it and after giving her his signet, cord and staff as collateral for later payment, he had sex with her. But when Judah tried to retrieve his signet and staff and pay his debt, he was unable to find the prostitute.
Several months later it became know that Tamar the widow, was pregnant. This was perfect. It would solve all of Judah’s problems. He could demand that Tamar be charged with adultery and put to death, thereby ending his obligation to her. He would then be free to find a more suitable wife for Shelah. But when Tamar was brought out to face the charges against her, she took out the signet and staff and said, “Look at them carefully, because it is the owner of these, whose child I carry.” Judah could not deny the truth. It was his signet and his staff, unique to him. There was no question. So when Tamar gave birth to twin boys the firstborn, Perez, despite the fact he was biologically Judah’s youngest son, by the laws of the Israelite people, became the son of Er, the heir of Judah, and the ancestor of Jesus.
So, all this is a very interesting family story, but why read these particular scriptures and talk about this particular story on the first Sunday of Advent?
Perhaps it is because, at its very heart, this story is a story of hope. Tamar was a woman without hope. With no husband and no sons, she had no future. She was in what was, for her time, the most hopeless of all situations. Because of her marriage to Er she was part of Judah’s family. She could not remarry unless it was to one of Judah’s sons. Since it was clear that Judah had no intention of allowing her to marry Shelah, she seemed to be completely out of options.
Although her father had agreed to take her back until Shelah was old enough to marry, he had no legal obligation to care for her. She was, after all, part of Judah’s family now, not his. Even if he did continue to provide for her, what would happen when he died? Without a husband or son, she would be left alone with no one to care for her in her old age.
Yet even where no hope seemed to exist, Tamar found hope. It may not have come in a way that we would consider proper or even justifiable, but none-the-less, hope came. And it came in the form of a child. What could be more appropriate for this season? And it is from this hope, this desperate, bizarre and unrelenting hope, that Jesus was descended.
Judah was no saint, but neither was Tamar. They were both flawed human beings. Yet God was able to use their choices, their deceit, and their very human failings to give rise to the greatest hope that we could possibly imagine, Jesus. So, if God can not only forgive the obvious flaws of Tamar and Judah, but can use them to bring about new hope and new possibilities, then surly there is also hope for us.
Perhaps this is why Matthew include Tamar and Judah in Jesus’ genealogy. Perhaps it is to remind us that, no matter how bleak a situation may appear, with God, there is always hope. This is the hope that we celebrate during Advent. This is the hope that leads us forward, no only during the season of Advent but throughout our lives. This is the hope upon which our faith is based. No matter what is happening in our lives or our world, with God, there is always hope.
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 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
Prayers of the People
God of Hope, as we come to you at the beginning of this Advent season of waiting and preparation, we come with hope. We come aware of how our lives are enriched by the everyday experiences of life. We come aware of the wonder and beauty of the changing seasons, the strong winds of winter and the cool air that makes us appreciate the warmth of a blazing fire and a hot meal. We come aware of the peace of the still cold mornings and the dark starry nights. We come aware also of the challenges and struggles that we face and of the many struggles that others face here and around the world. We know that the grace and blessings we enjoy come from you and the struggles we face are made easier through your presence. As we wait, help us prepare for the true Spirit of Christmas. We hear the carols and we see the coloured lights and we sometimes feel like we should be feeling more excitement and expectation than we do. We hope to find the true Spirit of Christmas this year but we sometimes doubt if that will happen.
Remind us once again this morning of what it is that we truly hope for.
We Hope for the Spirit of God to touch our lives and our world this Advent Season. We Hope for the day when all people will have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and a warm meal to fill their stomachs. We Hope for the day when all people will enjoy the safety and security that we take for granted. We Hope for the day hatred and prejudice will end. As we wait in hope for these things to become real, help us to do our best to hold on to the Hope that all things are possible through your love. Help us to put our Hope into action so that we may work towards the time when such Hope will be truly fulfilled. God of Hope, we ask this in the name of the one born to bring us your hope and your love, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Closing Hymn: People Look East #9
And so now we go out from here into a time of waiting and preparation. But we go out in Hope, knowing that the God of Hope is with us, that we follow the hopeful example of Christ and that the Spirit, who ignites the flame of Hope in our hearts, walks with us and within us every step of our journey. God with God.