The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
December 13, 2020
Third Sunday of Advent – B
LIGHTING OF THE ADVENT CANDLES
Week 3: Joy Candle
Reader: The first candle on the Advent wreath is for hope and the second is for peace. The third candle we light is for joy. Advent is a season of waiting. Even as we wait for the fulfillment of all God’s good plans, we find joy in the work of God all around us. The Spirit calls us to joy in our vocations- paid and unpaid work, relationships, and service. We find joy in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We cherish the joy of Mary and Joseph, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of the shepherds and the angels, and of the whole creation.
Light the candle
Two purple & One pink
All: Holy and compassionate God, your faithfulness in all things produces the harvest of our joy. We rejoice in You, always. Even in our seasons of doubt and darkness, we can find joy in the presence of Christ in our neighbors and the witness of the Holy Spirit in creation. Stir up our holy joy, that we may share it with all whom we encounter for the sake of Your gospel. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
PRELUDE “The King Shall Come” Edward Broughton
CALL TO WORSHIP
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, come home with shouts of joy.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Our Advent hope is for the restoration of our world, yet we know that we have contributed to its brokenness. We also know that if we confess our sin we can be restored to a right and just standing before God and others. Let us therefore confess our sin, trusting God’s promised mercy.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
O God, you have called us to participate in your salvific work of rebuilding and repairing your creation. Yet we know we have fallen short of that calling. Indeed, we have contributed to the devastation of our world. We confess our sin, O God. Renew us and help us be discerning and ready partners in your cosmic restoration project. Amen.
Silence is observed
RESPONSE “Prepare the Way of the Lord”
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s mercy abounds. God’s Advent grace goes before us, after us, through us — sometimes unbeknownst to us, restoring us and empowering us for participation in God’s own work in the world. Friends, hear the good news of the gospel: we are forgiven and restored, set on right paths of justice and peace.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you.
ANTHEM “An Advent Credo” Joseph Martin
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
O God, send your Spirit to us to open our hearts, so that we may discern your Word in and through the words that we are about to hear.
SCRIPTURE JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[a] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[b] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
ANTHEM “Keep Silence”
SERMON: “Point & Testify”
No matter what the sign outside of the church says, there are certain things that all worshipping communities have in common: there is singing, confessions, scripture, a stewardship request, praying and preaching. And in some churches, there are testimonies.
I grew up in a main-line tradition and learned the language of liturgy and proclamation in the reformed tradition: worship was decent and in-order, meaning nothing unexpected or unplanned, typically. During my early faith journey, I didn’t understand the significant ways in which some congregants talked about God when they gave testimonies, until I attended seminary and was required to visit other traditions. During those non-Presbyterian worship services, I saw Adults and children spontaneously stand up and witness to the goodness of God—which they called testifyin’. They seemed to know God, even as they wanted to know God more deeply.
The typical testimonial preamble sounded something like this: “Giving honor to God who is the head of my life, and to the pastor, officers and deacons, to the saints and friends; God has been good to me…”
The testifier would continue with personal reflection about who God is, what God did, and how fellow worshipers ought to respond to this “miracle-working, prayer-answering, right-on-time God.” Jesus as the Way, the Way-maker, the Light, and the Answer permeated those testimonies, depicting the expansive character of the Divine.
Since then, I have attended many other religious assemblies wherein congregants can’t keep it to themselves just how good God has been. These testimonies shaped my views about the God and God’s activity in the world and continue to do so today. As I reflected on this week’s gospel reading, I was reminded of the power and value of testimony.
Though not included in the lectionary gospel reading, the opening lines of the poetic prologue to John’s Gospel provide an overarching lens through which we might interpret the volume of the book. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
The narrative of Divine omnipresence and wisdom presented in the first four verse of John’s gospel, coupled with the birth narratives and Mary’s pregnancy found in the synoptic Gospels, provides us with a robust portrayal of the incarnate Christ. Present with God and in God from the creation and born to a girl named Mary—such is the Light of the world of whom John TESTIFIES or WITNESSES ABOUT.
The theme of belief in Jesus as the messianic fulfillment—that is, the Light which shines in the darkness of the world—is a core message in John’s testimony. John is witness, not of his own accord, but sent by God (1:6). He is both witness (noun) and witness (verb), attestant and attesting, to the Word made flesh among us (1:14).
The term “witness” or some form of it appears over fifty times in this Gospel. Witness as used by John refers to the character and significance of God’s person.Paired with the term “testimony,” the notion of judicial proceedings or a trial scene comes into view. Credible witnesses are crucial to the judicatory process; their accounts of events may have life and death consequences for those for whom they testify. Character witnesses offer testimony to “positive or negative character traits and the person’s reputation and conduct in the community.”They offer evidence that corroborates or dispels the image(s) presented of the person during court hearings. The “cosmic trial”to come is against Jesus who claims to give eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and to be one with God. John’s evidence for belief in Jesus is rooted in God’s revelation of the Divine.
John’s genealogy suggests he is likely familiar with the prophets and aware of the messianic prophecies. He is the son of Zechariah, and Elizabeth. He may have heard the testimonies of his mother Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus—how John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the voice of a pregnant Mary. Even before John knew himself, God revealed Jesus. “Even I didn’t recognize him,” asserts John, but the One who sent me told me how to recognize Him. John’s knowledge does not come from journeying with Jesus, as will his disciples; rather, God has revealed to John, “here is the Lamb of God.”
The inquiring delegation asks, “Who are you?” John perceives their real question as, “Are you the One?” Jesus’ witness par excellencedeclares that he is NOT the One—NOT the Messiah, NOT Elijah, NOT the Prophet. His testimony defers to the One who offers light and life: I am NOT the One you seek; He is coming after me and already is among you. John further distinguishes himself from Jesus as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, echoing the prophet Isaiah. God is the One who provides the way to salvation, and for John, “Jesus is God’s agent of Israel’s salvation.”
John’s testimony of Jesus reverberates across time as we look forward in this Advent season. We are reminded to thoughtfully consider our testimonies of word and deed—do our lives witness to the light of God within? Do our actions and proclamations point to the one coming into the world as a babe laid in a manger?
In the midst of darkness, disappointments, and dreary outlooks, God sent Light into the world. Trying times have the possibility to yield tremendous testimonies. May God’s people ever bear witness that the Light is come and is now here. Thanks be to God.
Commentary provided by Roger Ginch, Charles Wiley, Courtney V. Buggs, Mark Allen Powell, Karoline Lewis, Greg Carey, Susan Hylen, Scott Hoezee, Jill Duffield, Sarah A. Johnson, David Lose,
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
ANTHEM “Mary’s Song” Twila Paris
THE PRAYERS’ OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
O God, you have called us to follow in the way of the One who was anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Empower us to be faithful disciples of Jesus. In this season of Advent, help us discern where you are already at work to renew and repair your good but broken creation. Help us to trust that your future, even now, is coming to realization in our midst. Enable us to stand in solidarity with those who have been marginalized in our world. Help us to lift up and listen to voices long silenced. And as we give ear to their hopes and fears, help us to join together to rebuild and restore your world on the foundation of the justice you envision for us in Christ.
Indeed, during these tumultuous days of racial, political and social reckoning, help us to overcome paralyzing fear in our personal lives, in our communities and in our world. Calm the fear in us and animate courage. Make us brave in confronting realities that deform and deface your world, so that we may participate in your reconciling work in our midst.
We pray also for the world of nations, especially for those places where violence is wreaking havoc upon human lives and your good creation. We pray for global solidarity as we continue to grapple with a raging pandemic. We pray for healthcare workers around the world as they tend to the sick, and for all who are desperately ill and their families. We pray for those in our own communities who have lost jobs, revenue, healthcare and loved ones during this relentless public health challenge. Help us to be agents of your love and care to those who are suffering. We pray especially for wise discernment by our nation’s elected leadership, that they might work together constructively to find ways to aid those most afflicted.
We prayer all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. God has given to us many good gifts; in gratitude, let us give in return.
ANTHEM “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” Michael Praetouris
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, we offer our gifts to you to further the promise of hope, peace, love and justice in our community and in our world. Empower us, O God, to follow these gifts into the world around us so that they, and we, become bearers of your peace, love and justice on the earth. Amen.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.