Greeting & Acknowledgement of Country-
The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. And also with you!
Advent candle liturgy
We light the third Advent candle of JOY. It joins the candles of HOPE and PEACE and together they provide the illumination for God’s coming kingdom of truth and justice for all, which can transform the world and bring us JOY.
Call to Worship
Come, let us sing of God’s goodness and mercy.
We sing of God’s providential care.
Let us give thanks, whatever life brings.
We sing of God’s justice and peace.
Holy One, our hearts are full of anticipation at your promise of new life. Take away any jadedness that we hold onto because of the injustice and suffering we see around us. Open our minds to your promises of joy and peace and hope. May we truly rejoice with your people this day in music and prayer.
HYMN: TIS 210 (AHB 141) O for a thousand tongues to sing
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; Luke 1: 1-25, 39-57, 67-80
Prayer of Confession-
Your Spirit, O God, is upon us and you have anointed us to bring good tidings to those who are afflicted and to bind up those who are broken-hearted.
You ask us to comfort those who mourn and replace their sorrow with joy. But we are too busy and feel incapable of making a difference for them.
Forgive us, Lord, for those times when our choices were based on our own needs, or on fear and mistrust, rather than love and care. Forgive us when we close our ears and eyes to your vision. Free us from our cynicism and restore our faith in your reign so that we can joyfully serve you again. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Scripture assures us that God forgives us when we confess our faults. In the name of Jesus, I remind you, our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Sermon – Finding the Joy
In our scripture readings today, the massive reversal of fortunes brought about by God, re-orders social power arrangements but more significantly, changes the attitude of the people from despair and grief to hope and joy. Rejoicing happens when God restores our fortunes – but do we have to wait that long? Can there be JOY in the very promise of Good News? Can we choose JOY (Simhah) as an attitude for our life as Judaism seeks to encourage? It follows from the ‘attitude of gratitude’ we owe to God for all of God’s good gifts to us.
As I was searching for pictures of joy for the church service power point presentation, I came across an article by Rabbi Nico Socolovsky posted in September 2017 titled “Joy: it is a strategy!” He tells the story * of a man going to buy shoes and asking for size 39. The sales clerk suggests his foot size is 41, but the man insists he needs size 39. After a discussion, the size 39 come and the man struggles into them and leaves wearing them but walking with great difficulty. Six hours later at his workplace, his friends are worried about his welfare and ask what the problem is. ‘It is my shoes’, the man replies, ‘they are killing me because they are two sizes too small for me.’
When his colleagues don’t understand, he explains: ‘There is not a lot of gratification in my life – recently I have had very few happy moments. I am suffering greatly from these shoes, but in a few hours when I get home and take them off, can you imagine the pleasure I am going to feel? Such pleasure!’
*Story by Jorge Bucay in Let me tell you a story: a New Approach to Healing through the Art of Storytelling.
For many people, joy means to be released from pain – and in the Hebrew scriptures especially, joy and pain seem closely related. Rabbi Nico maintains that JOY has a central role in the Jewish tradition and encourages people ‘to push away sadness and dark bitterness with all one’s strength.’ So let us focus on finding joy in the scriptures and then in our own lives.
In Isaiah 61: 1-4, an unnamed speaker announces a special vocation from God to help with the renewal of the community of Israelites returning from Exile in Babylon. He is to bring the good news to the oppressed of healing, comfort, release and joy – flowers instead of ashes, olive oil of gladness instead of tears, and joyous praise in place of broken hearts. The people will become like strong oak trees of justice planted by God to display God’s glory once more in Israel. They shall rebuild the ancient ruins, repair the cities and repair the devastation of faith by former generations.
Verses 8-9 spoken by God, affirm God’s values of justice and righteousness and the promise of an everlasting covenant. To this the prophet replies with joyful hope and gratitude in verses 10-11 for God’s salvation of future generations. From the pain of Exile, God will bring about joy for the people who return to trust and serve God. Those reversals are also seen in Psalm 126 – the vivid images of laughter and shouts of joy in the celebrations of a harvest after seeds of sorrow and weeping had been sown earlier. Joy is promised to the people.
But over the five centuries following, with repeated conquerors once more capturing Israel and oppressing its people, has the hope of finding joy faded?
In the days of King Herod of Judea, a priest Zechariah with his wife Elizabeth – also descended from a priestly family – were upright and righteous, blamelessly living according to all the regulations, but unable to conceive a child and now growing quite old. As Zechariah was performing his priestly duty in the Temple in Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel appeared before him with a message that his prayers had been heard and his wife Elizabeth would bear a son to be named John. Zechariah was promised joy and gladness and the celebration of many at this birth. This son John will turn many of the people back to God with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will get parents and children together again, and the disobedient to know once more the wisdom of God as people are prepared for God to come and save the people.
Zechariah demanded proof for this promise – and was given it in the form of muteness such that he could no longer perform his duty as a priest, so he went home to the hill country outside Jerusalem.
Elizabeth became pregnant and stayed in the home until she had a visit from her young cousin Mary from Nazareth. As she heard Mary’s voice, Elizabeth experienced the Holy Spirit filling her and proclaimed to Mary that she was a very special woman blessed by God and the child Mary was carrying would be the Lord. Elizabeth’s own child had leaped – moved in the womb apparently for joy at the coming of Mary and her unborn child. In the womb, John responds to the coming Messiah and Lord. This Holy Spirit inspired wisdom and blessing of Mary was a wonderful comfort and joy – her own miraculous pregnancy affirmed and accepted. I’m sure the two women shared the stories of Gabriel’s appearances and messages as Zechariah no doubt had written the story down for Elizabeth. Mary stays with Elizabeth to help her in the last three months of the pregnancy – a wonderful asset for Elizabeth and a hiding place for Mary, perhaps. I imagine the older couple directing Mary to scripture stories affirming God’s goodness and miracles, deepening her faith.
Luke records Mary singing in praise a song of joy very similar to the prayer of praise by Hannah, in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10. It would seem more appropriate on the lips of the older woman, Elizabeth, similarly rejoicing at the coming birth after many years longing and praying for a child. For Mary, this pregnancy complicates her young life and threatens her engagement to Joseph. The reversals of fortune – and the reversals of age of the key characters – only highlights God’s unexpected, overturning actions. Can you find the joy amidst the fear of the unknown and unexpected?
Is that what God is asking of us today – to find joy and the promise of hope for our future despite the pain we may now be experiencing, or fear will happen to our world? Just as true hope and peace come from a deep faith in God, so joy comes from that same deep place of faith and can bubble over into celebration and praise when we choose to find the joy, to see the attitude of gratitude and trust frees us from our fears so that we can respond to the gifts God is offering us now and into our future. Amen.
HYMN TIS 452 God of mercy, God of grace
God of mercy, God of grace, show the brightness of your face;
shine upon us, Saviour, shine, fill your church with light divine;
and your saving health extend to the earth’s remotest end.
Let the people praise you. Lord!
be by all that live adored;
let the nations shout and sing glory to their Saviour king;
at your feet their tribute pay, and your holy will obey.
Let the people praise you. Lord!
earth shall then its fruits afford;
God to us his blessing give, we to God devoted live:
all below, and all above, one in joy and light and love.
Henry Francis Lyte 1793-1847 alt. From Psalm 67 Used by permission CCLI
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Offering Prayer – It is with joy and thankfulness we offer our gifts to you, O God, for all your eternal love and goodness towards us. May these gifts bring hope and love, peace and joy to others in our community and beyond our shores.
Prayers for others & the Lord’s Prayer
God of healing and wholeness, we remember your concern and care for all who suffer and are disadvantaged at this time. We especially hold before you those dealing with this pandemic of Covid 19. We praise and thank you for the hope of vaccines now available and being given in other parts of the world. We pray for their effectiveness and for justice and truth to accompany their delivery. You lift up the lowly and reach out to those who are lost and alone. You can release those who are locked in despair and depression. You overturn the power of the arrogant and mighty. Like Mary and Hannah, the psalmists and faithful of many generations, we praise you with joy and gratitude.
We pray also for our church communities as they celebrate this Advent season. Strengthen your people to serve you faithfully and equip us to be a light for other nations, other people of faith. May your Spirit fill us as it did Mary and Elizabeth, John and Jesus, and all the prophets of old. Keep us safe as we move into holiday mode and guide our decisions for 2021, for we ask in Jesus’ name who taught us to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.
HYMN – TIS 152 Joyful, joyful
Joyful, joyful, we adore you, God of glory, God of love; hearts unfold like flowers before you opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away; giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. Verse 1
All your works with joy surround you, earth and heav’n reflect your rays, stars and angels sing around you, centre of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, singing bird and flowing fountain call to praise you joyfully. Verse 2
You are giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest, well-spring of the joy of living, ocean-depth of happy rest.
You our Father, Christ our brother,
all are yours who live in love; teach us how to love each other, lift us to your joy above. Verse 3
Henry Van Dyke 1852-1933 alt. Public domain.
Let the world rejoice, for God has not finished with us yet! May God’s love be in our hearts; Christ Jesus lead us to serve; and the Holy Spirit fill us with joy, this day and evermore. And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all, evermore. Amen.
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 13th December 2020 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN); and Uniting in Worship People’s Book by Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.