The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

Hanging of the Greens
November 28, 2021
9:30 a.m.


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!
And also with you!
Christ has come! Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
This is the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ!
When we look at the world around us, we see the darkness of war, captivity, greed, and broken relationships.
We long for Christ to come again and bring light to our world.
The Word of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ lives among us, bringing truth and light as a present reality.
We worship as those who have a glimpse of that reality, and we long for its fullness. We are those who labor to make Christ’s light more visible on earth. Let us praise God, that the light of Christ shines on in the darkness, which has never overcome it. To God be the glory in Jesus Christ and in the church forever and ever.  Amen.

THE ADVENT WREATH                 The Campo Family

First Sunday in Advent: Hope

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.

Hear God’s promise of hope from Jeremiah 33:14-16:

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Let us pray: Faithful God, out of death you bring life. Renew us in hope, that we may be alert to the burgeoning of Christ’s advent among us. God of promise, God of hope, into our darkness come.

PRELUDE                  Chorale Prelude on “Stuttgart” Lee Bristol


Our Father, we long for the simple beauty of Christmas – for all the familiar melodies, words, and symbols that remind us of that great miracle when He who had made all things came one night as a babe, to lie in the crook of a woman’s arm.  But, let us even more yearn for your renewed presence among us even as we celebrate and expect the Coming of your Son. Before such mystery we kneel, as we follow the shepherds and Wise Men to bring You the gift of our love – a love we confess has not always been as warm or sincere or real as it should have been. We bring You our gratitude for every token of Your love, for all the ways You have heaped blessings upon us during our years. And we do pray, Lord Jesus, that as we begin this four-week journey of expectation and hope, we may do it in a manner well pleasing to You. May all we do and say, every tribute of our hearts, bring honor to Your name, that we, Your people, may remember Your birth and feel Your presence among us. May the loving kindness of this Advent Season and the true Spirit of Christmas not only come into our hearts this season, but stay there. May the joy and spirit of Christmas remain with us now and forever. In the name of Jesus, who came to save His people from their sins, in that lovely name we pray. Amen. [Adapted from a prayer for Christmas by Peter Marshall]


We begin the Christian Year by celebrating the Holy Season known as Advent. It is a time when we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Messiah. Advent means “Coming.” We celebrate these days of Advent in expectation and preparation for Christ’s arrival. The Advent season is a time for reflection and preparation, but its mood is joyful. Advent proclaims the revelation of God’s love as expressed in Christ’s birth in a humble stable, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection! It points to the hope of Christ’s coming again as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Advent makes innkeepers out of all of us, asking each of us to make room for the arrival of Christ The King. Let us, today, prepare Him room in our hearts, our lives, and our homes!

HYMN No. 83   “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

1 Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.

2 Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

3 Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

4 By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.


Let us listen to the lessons of the years and the centuries, not just to impressions of the moment. The images of the biblical story are often discouraging – war, hate, famine, epidemics, a Caesar on his throne, a Paul in prison, Christians being persecuted. But now, after the centuries, the Caesar is gone; Paul is a symbol of Faith; and Jesus, the Truth and the Light, is reaching out to every nation! Let us join with the shepherds of Bethlehem, the wise men from the east, and the seekers throughout the ages, to welcome the One who came at Christmas. Let us at Christmastide bring our gifts to Him, and may the message of our songs be “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace and goodwill to peoples everywhere.”

HYMN No. 87 “Comfort, Comfort Now My People”         vs. 1 & 2

1 “Comfort, comfort now my people;
tell of peace!” So says our God.
“Comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning under sorrow’s load.
To my people now proclaim
that my pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover,
and their warfare now is over.”

2 For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
calling us to true repentance,
since the reign of God is here.
O, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way.
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

3 Straight shall be what long was crooked,
and the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
now on earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that God’s word is never broken.


The most striking and the most universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. The early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Holly and ivy, along with pine, and fir are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever – green, ever – alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus. In Isaiah 60:13 we find these words: “The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the boxwood together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary.” Our forefathers called the procuring of these evergreens, “Bringing home Christmas!”


“The Holly and the Ivy”                    arr. Reginald Jacques

Action: While the anthem is being sung, the evergreens on the side walls and front are hung, and any other evergreens are put in place.


Today, the Christmas tree is the center of our festivities. Glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas. The first use of the Christmas tree was in the medieval German Paradise Plays, held outdoors and portraying the creation of humankind. The Tree of Life was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later other ornaments were hung upon trees, such as paper flowers and golden nuts. In England branches or whole trees were forced into bloom indoors for Christmas. Martin Luther was perhaps the first to use a lighted tree. The story is told that on one Christmas Eve Martin Luther wandered outdoors and became enraptured with the beauty of the starry sky. Its brilliance and loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas Eve as seen in Bethlehem’s radiant skies. Wishing to share with his wife and children the enchantment he had felt, he cut from the forest an evergreen, glistening with snow, and took it home. He placed upon it candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen. The use of a candle-lighted tree spread to all Europe, then America came to regard it as the central ornament of Christmas.

ANTHEM      “Sans Day Carol”                   arr. John Rutter        

Action: The tree is decorated as the anthem is sung.


Most Christmas greenery reflects European traditions. But one colorful plant, which looks like a flaming star, the poinsettia, is a native to the American continent. It was named after Dr. Joel Robert Poinset, an ambassador to Mexico who first introduced it to the United States in 1828. The people of Mexico and Central America call the brilliant tropical plant the “Flower of the Holy Night.” The Poinsettia is a many-pointed star that has become a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

HYMN No. 129  “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”    

Action:  As the song is sung, the flowers are put into place around the front of the church.

1 Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung,
of Jesse’s lineage coming,
by faithful prophets sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half spent was the night.

2 Isaiah ‘twas foretold it,
the rose I have in mind;
with Mary we behold it,
the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
she bore for us a Savior,
when half spent was the night.

3 This flower, whose fragrance tender
with sweetness fills the air,
dispels with glorious splendor
the darkness everywhere.
Enfleshed, yet very God,
from sin and death he saves us
and lightens every load.


Guiding God, without the presence of your Holy Spirit, we are hopelessly lost on this Advent journey. Come to us in this place as we gather to hear your Word. Open our hearts to receive your Word and our minds to understand it.  Amen.

SCRIPTURE               Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

SERMON                   “A Favorite Story”

There are few things that move our hearts and minds more than a good story. As good parents through the ages have done, very early in the lives of our boys, we begin to tell them stories, to read stories to them. In our house, our children have Bibles, as well as biblical stories told in creative and beautiful ways. Maybe you have heard of one author we love, Brian Wildsmyth. His retelling of Biblical stories and his art are wonderful. We have other classics, of course: Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien. Everyone must read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. And then there is the story by Tomie De Paola, “The Night of Las Posadas.” Las Posadas tells a part of the best of all stories: The story of God coming among us in Jesus our Lord.

Here in this season, we rehearse, we prepare, to hear once again, the great story of Emmanuel, to hear the promises which nurture our hope, and our expectation of his return. And as with all great stories, we can’t properly prepare for the festival of the Nativity with words alone. We need signs and symbols: Advent Wreaths, candles, banners, greenery, lights, fruit cake, eggnog and crèches. And we need music! All of these manifestations of human creativity, we need them all to fully express the depth and grandeur of Advent. This season is so rich and beautiful because what God has done for us in the Incarnation is so rich and beautiful, and full of grace and mercy. Indeed, “What Wondrous Love Is This, O My Soul…”

Yet, as we know all too well, this story of God’s love for all of creation is not the only story. There are other stories, which tell of very different ways of understanding the world, and of how we should be with one another. Some of these other stories do not welcome the telling, and the embodiment of another story, especially this story. That is why there can be clash and conflict. Those who have power do not generally like to share it. Where Paul wrote that Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, there are many who believe in the story which says that power is indeed something to be fought for. Thus, Jesus and his coming and his way are not always welcomed. He told his first disciples that the world would hate them, just as it had hated him. That would be no excuse, however, for not bearing fruit. Follow him, and obey his command to love one another, and their lives would exhibit the evidence of what story they believed. Many disciples today hold onto Jesus’ command to “love one another,” and they are willing to risk scorn, or picketing, and even hate, because they believe the story about Jesus and are committed to his way.

Disciples who do this sort of thing show what story they are shaped by. They show that their imaginations have not been subverted by other stories, false stories, the typical stories of power and might and pride. And that is the choice that continues to confront disciples today. What story are you going to live out of, embody, be faithful to?

As someone wrote this week: It’s not, I think, violence that is the greatest threat to us today, but fear. Fear that drives us to forget who we are, to see people in need as the enemy, and to place securing our safety and comfort above meeting the basic needs of those in distress. Fear is more dangerous than violence because fear can lead us to forget our deepest identity and betray our most cherished values.

Instead of giving in to fear, let us hear the truth of the Nativity all over again. The coming of Jesus among us is all about peace and justice. It’s all about love and mercy. It is about vulnerability and trust, as God came among us, not in power and might, but in weakness as an infant, and the poverty of a stable. It is about taking us, poor as we are, living in the smelly stables of ourselves, and working miracles even there. Life overcomes death, not from a distance, but right in the grave yard. Light overcomes darkness, not when the sun is out, but at midnight, when no candle can be found. That’s a lot to ask of any story.

So, we should not be surprised that the truth of God coming among us as Immanuel is hard for Doubting Thomas’ to believe. It is so much easier to have confidence in the usual suspects, stories about power and strength, having the right connections with the right people, and having enough wealth to secure ourselves, and enough might and weapons to make us feel safe. This is why we begin Advent each year with prophecies such as this one we have heard from Luke’s Gospel, apocalyptic visions of woe and unrest. Christ’s coming cannot be reduced to being cute, precious and cuddly. That makes an idol of the Nativity.

No, Jesus came to bring what we need, and to remove our illusions, and our overconfidence in ourselves. And truth be told, not everyone wants what Jesus came to bring. Many are quite happy with their illusions. Many are indeed willing to fight to preserve their illusions, and to silence any who would resist them. Like King Herod wiping out the infants of Bethlehem, in the vain attempt to protect his kingdom from Jesus, the new-born king.

But for us who strive to follow Jesus and his way, for us to abide in Jesus’ realm of peace, we all must be disillusioned, shed of our false stories. We express this in our baptismal liturgy, in the renunciations. We promise to turn from the world and its ways, from all other stories and philosophies and illusions, so that we can turn to Christ and his way. For each of us, at some point, it can feel apocalyptic. We are supposed to put the Old Adam, the old ways, under the water to drown him, so that the new Adam, Christ, can live in us. Our trouble begins when we don’t hold the old Adam under long enough. When we don’t kill him off, he keeps popping back up to pull us back into the old ways, that without fail cause havoc, heart ache and all manner of mischief.

That is why we do this every year. That is the wisdom of the liturgical seasons. For we tend to be forgetful people, who are so easily entranced by false stories, and illusions. We need to hear this story over and over again, so that we remember, so that we can be re-membered as the people who are the body of Christ, citizens of the one true realm of peace and grace and joy. We desperately need to remember how God has gifted us so in the Nativity.

Let’s translate it to our own circumstances: When people are afraid to be out during the holidays for fear of terrorist attack, we can remind each other to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption has already drawn near in Jesus. When we are too afraid to admit to our country those seeking a safe home for fear they may be terrorists, we can remind each other to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption has already drawn near in Jesus (who himself was a refugee as a child!). When the violence of our city streets pushes us to abandon civil rights and protections for all people regardless of their race or ethnicity, we can remind each other to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption has already drawn near in Jesus.

This is our story, and these are just a few ways we can live as if our lives are based on that story. One historian wrote:

[H]uman history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Jesus does not come just for us, as individuals. His grace and his mercy we cannot hope to keep to ourselves. His grace overflows our cups, as David wrote in Psalm 23. Christ’s grace, and our gratitude, call us out, to make amends, to make right what has been wrong, and to go beyond the customary expectations in doing so. His grace even calls us to “risk something big for something good.” His is the true story. How can we even think of yielding to another story? And as we will hear soon, from this same Gospel, when the angelic heralds announce the good news that the story of God coming among us in flesh has begun, their first words to the shepherds were “Do not be afraid.” It’s an amazing story, the best story, a saving story. Don’t you think we need to hear it again? So, come. Let us begin the journey to Bethlehem with a favorite story. Amen.

COMMENTARY PROVIDED BY David Oliver-Holder, Leslie Scanlon, David Lose, Howard Zinn, Paul Rogat Loeb and Jill Duffield.


Both visual and performing arts have always been important ways to communicate the Christian faith. Colors, altar paraments or coverings, and banners are some of the most important visual ways Christians have used to express their faith in worship. In the early days of Christian worship, Advent and Christmas were seen as a somber time, much like Lent is today. Purple table coverings were used to speak of Christ’s Kingship. As Christians began to share their celebration of Christmas with their non-Christian neighbors they began to focus on the joy of the Christmas event. At Advent we wait with anticipation and celebration for our coming Christ.  At Advent we wait with anticipation and celebration for our coming Christ… so our hearts sing out, “O Come Emmanuel!”

HYMN No. 106 “Prepare the Way, O Zion”              vs. 1 & 2

Action:  For the first Sunday of Advent, the coverings used for Ordinary Time are removed and replaced with the coverings for Advent.

1 Prepare the way, O Zion,
your Christ is drawing near!
Let every hill and valley
a level way appear.
Greet One who comes in glory,
foretold in sacred story.
O blest is Christ who came
in God’s most holy name.

2 He brings God’s rule, O Zion;
he comes from heaven above.
His rule is peace and freedom,
and justice, truth, and love.
Lift high your praise resounding,
for grace and joy abounding.
O blest is Christ who came
in God’s most holy name.

3 Fling wide your gates, O Zion;
your Savior’s rule embrace,
and tidings of salvation
proclaim in every place.
All lands will bow rejoicing,
their adoration voicing.
O blest is Christ who came
in God’s most holy name.


One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity scene. The Nativity speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because he came to us, at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with Mary and Joseph; with the Shepherds, and with the Wise Men; bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us. Today we display a Nativity in our sanctuary

HYMN No. 142 “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”           vs. 1, 2 & 4

Action:  As the song is sung, the Nativity is placed.

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. 



The origin of caroling as a part of the Christmas celebration is unknown. Several countries have claimed to be the birthplace of the custom. From the first, music of some kind was a part of the church festivals in honor of the birth of Jesus. We know that caroling existed in Germany in the 15th century because Martin Luther wrote that when Christmas was celebrated he went with others from house to house and village to village singing popular Christmas carols. We could safely assume that caroling was first done by the Choir of Angels who sang, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and good will to all people.”

HYMN No. 136 “Go, Tell It on the Mountain”

Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere;
go, tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born!

1 While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
behold, throughout the heavens
there shone a holy light. (Refrain)

2 The shepherds feared and trembled
when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus
that hailed our Savior’s birth. (Refrain)

3 Down in a lowly manger
the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn. (Refrain)


The greatest Gift of Christmas is God in Christ Jesus. All that we do at this Holy Season points to that expression of Holy Love. Christ came as a babe in Bethlehem, God’s gift at Christmas. In that gift is life, hope, and a future, because there is reconciliation between God and all of us wayward human beings.


Thou Shalt Know Him When He Comes” Hal Hopson


We are the work of God’s hands, the psalmist says, and God continues to shape us each day into a people of goodness and peace. That is why we bring gifts this morning: to be part of creating a more beautiful world through the ministry of this church and the witness of our lives each day. Let us gather our gifts together and present them as an offering to God.


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.


O God, we offer you these gifts and tithes. We pray that these funds may abound in love for one another throughout the world. Strengthen our hearts in holiness as we faithfully give, so that our ways may be directed by you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Take time, in the busyness of this season, for quiet reflection—
For the light of God’s love is discernible everywhere.
We will let ourselves be surprised by wonder,
And set aside time to offer quiet thanks.
The good news of Advent is this:
Christ is coming. Christ is always coming.
We will welcome Christ into our hearts.
We will let ourselves be guided by his ministry.
We will go forth from this place in hope.