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The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

December 18, 2022
Fourth Sunday in Advent
10:00 am



Emmanuel, God with us; In muscle and sinew, breath and bone. In vulnerability and risk, escape and refuge. In parable and healing, encounter, and sign. In suffering and death, word became flesh. In resurrection, ascension, and spirit come down. In justice and grace, patience, and peace. Immanuel, God with us, Creator, Son, and Spirit. Glory be to God. Amen.

PRELUDE               “Sonata in e minor”                        J.S.Bach


Fourth Sunday in Advent: Love

Watch and wait for Christ’s coming! Light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, remembering the promises of God with prayer.

We light this candle in hope. Light the first candle.
We light this candle for peace. Light the second candle.
We light this candle in joy! Light the third (pink, if used) candle.
We light this candle with love. Light the fourth candle is lit.

Out of love for the people of God, the Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah, as found in the seventh chapter, verses 10-14:

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Let us pray.

God of hope,  Prince of peace, Jubilee Judge, and Lord of love, your goodness is beyond our wildest imaginings. You give us more than we can think to ask, coming to us with impossible possibility in the union of flesh and spirit. Teach us to love this world and all people as you love us in Jesus Christ, our Lord. God of promise, God of hope, into our darkness come.

*HYMN No. 143 “Angels, from the Realms of Glory”

1 Angels, from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
you, who sang creation’s story,
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king!

2 Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
yonder shines the infant light:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king!

3 Sages, leave your contemplations;
brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great desire of nations;
you have seen his natal star:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king!

4 All creation, join in praising
God the Father, Spirit, Son,
evermore your voices raising
to the eternal Three in One:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king!


We are a sinful people in need of restoration, but sometimes we are too stubborn or ignorant to even realize it. We are capable of such evil as well as such goodness. Let us confess our sins that we might be washed of evil and welcome the goodness that God’s intends for us.


Lord of love, we confess we sometimes find your love daunting. You called Joseph to honour his love for Mary, even when custom called him to break his engagement. We confess custom has a hold on us, too, and challenging expectations for love’s sake makes us nervous.  You call us to love our neighbor, but we resist your call if our neighbors annoy us. You call us to love our enemies, too, but that seems impossible in these contentious times. Forgive us for loving only in the safest situations. Dare us to love as Jesus loved so he will be born again in us. 

Silence is observed


Receive the Good News in love. With great mercy, God forgives what we have confessed and offers us new life in Christ. Know that God’s steadfast love is yours this day, and share that love with friend and enemy alike, so that the power of such love can change the world.


*RESPONSE No. 84 “Creator of the Stars of Night

1 Creator of the stars of night,
your people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, redeemer of us all,
we pray you, hear us when we call.

2 When this old world drew on toward night,
you came; but not in splendor bright,
not as a monarch, but the child
of Mary, blameless mother mild.

3 At your great name, O Jesus, now
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow:
all things on earth with one accord,
like those in heaven, shall call you Lord.

4 To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
praise, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.


Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also, with you.

ANTHEM                 “Keep Silence”                     John Helgen


PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION  No. 98 “To a Maid Whose Name was Mary”

1 To a maid whose name was Mary,
the angel Gabriel came.
“Fear not,” the angel told her,
“I come to bring good news;
good news I come to tell you,
good news, I say, good news.”

2 “For you are highly favored
by God the Lord of all,
who even now is with you.
You are on earth most blest;
you are most blest, most blessed;
God chose you, you are blest!”

3 But Mary was most troubled
to hear the angel’s word.
What was the angel saying?
It troubled her to hear,
to hear the angel’s message,
it troubled her to hear.

4 “Fear not, for God is with you,
and you shall bear a child.
His name shall be called Jesus,
God’s offspring from on high.
And he shall reign forever,
forever reign on high.”

5 “How shall this be?” said Mary,
“I am not yet a wife.”
The angel answered quickly,
“The power of the Most High
will come upon you shortly,
your child shall be God’s child.”

6 As Mary heard the angel,
she wondered at his words.
“Behold, I am your handmaid,”
she said unto her God.
“So be it; I am ready
according to your word.” 

SCRIPTURE Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.

SERMON “The Gift”

This is the season most identified with gifts and gift-giving. Gifts are always fun. Whether it is the fun of picking out a gift for a loved one, with all the imagining of their likes and their joys that goes into the selection, or the fun of receiving the well-selected gift. The extension of one’s own imagination into the heart and mind of another in order to identify the perfect present that will bring them optimum joy and pleasure is a definitive act of love and care. The surprised receipt of a gift that fits us is a moment of true joy from the realization that we are known by another person so well. In this season of expectation and hope, we give gifts to demonstrate our love for one another and for others, and we do so as an expression of our own thankfulness for what we know by faith as the Perfect Gift. The story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew is a story of great gifts, and yet it happens in such an unlikely way.

Matthew’s start to the story of Jesus’ birth is simple and direct. “The birth of Jesus Christ happened like this.” With that unembellished introduction, Matthew transitions from the listing genealogy that runs from Abraham to Jesus into a narrative that introduces a young woman betrothed who finds herself pregnant “from the Holy Spirit.” Our interest moves from the long list of the generations of the Abrahamic line through David to arrive at this moment to a young woman in crisis. It may seem an inauspicious beginning for a story of great gifting, it is a stark introduction to the Good News of salvation. Matthew sets the opening moment in the context of ancient lineages of faithfulness. The betrothed mother-to-be stands in contrast with, as well as defined by, the long index of male ancestors, except of course for Rahab, Ruth, and “the wife of Uriah.” Mary joins the three women in the preceding genealogy as a marginal woman who suddenly finds herself a central figure in the divine work.

It may hardly seem like a gift to Mary at that moment. Her life of expected marriage challenged by the unexpected movement of God. There is no prayer of the humble maidservant in Matthew, no expression of awareness that her lowly circumstances make her an unlikely one to be included in God’s plan in such a central way followed by thankful submission to the divine work in her life. Mary is silent. Even her pregnancy is announced in the passive voice, “. . . she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” By contrast, Joseph is active, Joseph is described as a righteous man who has compassion for Mary’s situation and who decides how to proceed, given the change in circumstances.

Joseph’s decision to put Mary away expresses his assumption that she has acted dishonorably and unfaithfully. The fact that he was willing to do so quietly so as not to humiliate her, even in what may have been his own hurt and anguish, says that Joseph intends to act with grace and compassion toward Mary. This attitude toward his betrothed is a gift that Joseph can provide at the moment, a gift of kindness. The angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream changes his perspective entirely and brings him into the narrative as a central player alongside his betrothed. Joseph hears the teaching of the angel of the Lord that places Mary’s pregnancy in the larger context of God’s redemptive work and names Mary as the one through whom the Savior will come.

From challenging circumstances to a gift of compassion, which gives way to a Gift of God, this is the structure of the opening to the Good News in Matthew’s Gospel. Joseph and Mary are marginal in their time when the Romans governed the land, King Herod ruled Judea, and they were simple people in the little town of Bethlehem. There are none of the trappings of power or prestige in their lives, but the dream of Joseph sets their lives in the larger context of God’s redemptive work through Israel. They submit themselves to play the part that God has provided for them.

Of course, it is Matthew’s own editorial comment that sets this story in the larger promise of divine presence. Quoting Isaiah 7:14 and appropriating the divine promise as newly meaningful in the birth of Jesus, Matthew sets his story in the vast history of God’s saving promise of presence. Presence is the mark of divine work from the ancestral stories of promise to the prophetic message to King Ahaz, and down to the moment in Matthew’s gospel when the presence of God with us is envisioned in a manner more specific and clearly defined than in any previous moment. For Ahaz, the promise of presence meant a political and military deliverance that would be indicative of God’s willingness to free him from the foreign powers that were vying for his throne and to stabilize his kingdom. It was the arena of geopolitics engulfing the little kingdom of Judah, and Isaiah’s message to Ahab, in a nutshell, was “Wait.”

But all of the action in the Old Testament is set in the realms of royal power and prophetic counsel. In Matthew’s opening to the birth of Jesus, the location of the activity is at the margins of power, on the edges of society, in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, as though God had moved divine attention from the powerful to engage the marginal. The King who would not trust was not to be trusted with the mission to deliver the people. The presence that was promised for a King in Jerusalem, has now come to us in Bethlehem. In Jesus Christ God has come to us as one of us, bringing all the power of compassion and redemption into our world. God’s presence arrives in the margins, at the edges of society, not in the halls of power or the seats of government. That is Matthew’s beginning, and it changes our notions of power and prestige, it transforms our vision for how we recognize the Holy Spirit of God working in our own moments.

From the margins to the center stage is a movement that occurs regularly in the biblical narrative. Whether we think of the stories of the three women identified in the genealogy of Jesus, the story of Jesus’ birth, or the many stories in the Bible that demonstrate a preference for younger over the older, lesser over greater, outsider over insider, we witness God’s redemptive work energizing the marginal to great acts of faithfulness. It is clear that the social and cultural expectation that enshrines a preference for the powerful is rarely the guiding focus of narratives that describe God’s saving work. It is an act of trust in God’s faithfulness to see God at work in like this our own moments today.

The Perfect Gift of God is the gift of redemption through Christ Jesus, which comes to us where we are without the need for power and prestige. It is the gift of grace in each life that manifests of God’s great love for us, a love that seeks us where we are and leads us to purposeful lives in which we can share our gifts with others. This season of Advent Hope, when we renew our sense of God’s Perfect Gift is a time when we can recall that God is present and at work among us, coming to us where we are in our own marginal moments when we least expect it. That work is the work of the Church in society, bringing the Good News of salvation to all. The Greatest Gift!!

Liturgy and Commentary provided by John Timmer, Stephen M. Fearing, James Boyce, Karol Lewis, Scott Hoezee, Ron Allen, David Lose, Michelle C. Torigian, and C. Mark McCormick

*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH       Heidelberg Catechism, 4.001

Our only comfort, in life and death, is that we belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all our sins and has completely freed us from the dominion of the devil; that he protects us so well that without the will of our Father in heaven not a hair can fall from our heads; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for our salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures us of eternal life, and makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

*HYMN No. 142 “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”

1 ’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
when all the birds had fled,
Great Spirit, Lord of all the earth
sent angel choirs instead.
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wandering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus, your king, is born;
Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.

2 Within a lodge of broken bark
the tender babe was found.
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
enwrapped his beauty round.
But as the hunters brave drew nigh
the angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus, your king, is born;
Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.

3 The earliest moon of wintertime
is not so round and fair
as was the ring of glory on
the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus, your king, is born;
Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.

4 O children of the forest free,
the angel song is true:
the holy child of earth and heaven
is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy
who brings you beauty, peace, and joy.
Jesus, your king, is born;
Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria. 


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, for ever. Amen.



This Sunday we celebrate the Advent of Love, embracing us in Jesus Christ. Think of your gifts as seeds of that love which we can plant in the world God loves for Christ’s sake.



Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below.  Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. 


God, our Love and our Life, receive our gifts as seeds of gratitude for your gift to us in Christ Jesus. Bless these seeds with growth so that love will embrace people who feel lost and alone in this season, and places fearing they will be overlooked among so much need. Be their love and their life, through Christ our Lord.

*HYMN No.  133 “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

1 O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant;
O come ye; O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come, and behold him,
born the King of angels!
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!

2 True God from true God,
Light from light eternal,
born of a virgin, a mortal he comes;
very God, begotten, not created!
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!

3 Sing, choirs of angels;
sing in exultation;
sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all
glory in the highest!
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!

4 Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!


Go in love this day, to greet friend or enemy, neighbor or stranger with the warmth and wonder of Christ Jesus in your smile,

And may the all-forgiving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the all-inspiring love of God, and the all-embracing communion of the Holy Spirit be yours this day and, in each day, to come, now and evermore. Amen.