Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Prayer Service and Meditation

detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1516, by Matthias Grunewald


Loving God, you sent your prophet John
to prepare your way among us and to call us to repentance.
In worship, strengthen us to live lives of steadfast love and faithfulness
as we await the Messiah’s return.
Open our eyes to see your reign of peace
through your just and gracious rule. Amen.

LIGHTING THE SECOND ADVENT CANDLE                                                

Advent is marked by a spirit of yearning for peace.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.  
We long today for peace among the nations.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.
We long today for peace among races.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.
We long today for peace in our hearts and in our lives.  
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.

Today we light two candles—the candle of hope and the candle of peace. The light of this second candle reminds us that God’s purpose in sending his Son into the world was to bring peace. We look at the division, the fighting, and the turmoil around us, and we see a world in need. We remind ourselves that peace begins with forgiveness, and that forgiveness begins in our hearts. 


Gracious God, we thank you for your promise of peace. We know that because of Christ, peace is possible. We pray today for the nations of the world, that we may find a way to live together in peace. We pray for our brothers and sisters everywhere, that we may become more forgiving, more understanding, and more loving to one another. Flood our hearts with the light of peace today so that we may take that light and spread your love to the whole world. Amen.   

(excerpt from "The Story of Advent," Godly Play Sunday school curriculum by Jerome Berryman) 

Advent is the season of getting ready. Blue is also the color of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is about to have a baby. But this will be a very special baby. This baby will be a king. But the king who is coming is not the kind of king that people thought was coming. This king had no army, no great house, and no riches. This King was a baby who was born in a barn. The King who was coming is still coming. This is full of mystery. 

You know, a mystery is hard to enter sometimes. That is why this time of Advent is so important. Sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. This time of year you will see people hurrying in the malls buying things and doing this and that, but they will miss the Mystery. They don’t know how to get ready or maybe they just forgot. This is such a great Mystery that it takes that long to get ready. During this time, we are all on the way to Bethlehem. We are all making the journey. We are all getting ready to enter the Mystery of Christmas, so let’s go with the prophets. Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important. They pointed the way to Bethlehem. They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen there, but they knew this was the place. This Sunday is the time we remember the prophets. Prophets are the people who know the most important things. They knew which way to go. They are the ones who showed us the way. Because of prophets, we can go to Bethlehem, too.

OLD TESTAMENT READING                                                                            Isaiah 40:1-11

Is. 40:1    Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”And I said, “What shall I cry?”All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

NEW TESTAMENT READING                                                                                Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, 
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; 
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 
I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 


It is said that the 20th-century Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth wrote his most famous works in front of a reproduction of The Isenheim Altarpiece (pictured above), a work of art painted by Matthias Grunewald in 1516 for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim. The altarpiece shows an image of the crucified Christ with John the Baptist standing next to the cross, pointing toward Jesus. Barth liked the altarpiece for many reasons, but his favorite part of the work was said to be John the Baptist’s finger (detail pictured at the top of the page). Barth wrote that John’s extended finger represents the task of Christian life. “John the Baptist can only point,” Barth wrote, “point to the wretched, crucified, dead man.” Barth marveled at the ability of John the Baptist’s finger to “face the mystery” of Christ, the human Son of God, and call all Christians to do the same.

The book of Mark begins with a superscript that sounds a lot like John the Baptist’s finger looks in the Isenheim Altarpiece: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Many believe that this is the title of Mark’s entire book. It works as a cue that the story we hear in Mark is just the beginning of the gospel, a pointed finger toward the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, even at the end of Mark’s book, the reader is only at the beginning of the story. Mark invites us all to point toward this story, the beginning of the gospel, to prepare the way of the Lord, to face the mystery of Jesus Christ.

In Advent we may think first about the coming of Christ as a child, but we also look toward the crucified and risen Christ, toward the mystery of the whole “beginning of the good news.” We wait for God’s ultimate reign with pointed fingers.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 

We face the greatest mystery, the one the prophets pointed to; the one John the Baptist pointed to: the story of God-with-us in the midst of human life. We point to the day when God in Christ will gather the lambs in his arms; when the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain. We point to the beginning of the gospel; the Comfort of the generations; the Radiant Dawn that has been promised. 

from the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer

O Wisdom, coming out of the mouth of the Most High, 
pervading and permeating all creation, 
you order all things with strength and gentleness:
Come now and teach us the way to salvation. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Adonai, 
Ruler of all, 
you appeared in the burning bush to Moses
and gave him the gift of the law on Sinai:
Come with outstretched arms to save us. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Root of Jesse, 
rising as a sign for all the peoples, 
before you earthly rulers will keep silent, 
and nations will give you honor: 
Come quickly to deliver us. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Key of David, 
You open and no one can close, 
you close and no one can open:
Come to set free the prisoners
who live in the shadow of death. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Radiant Dawn, 
splendor of eternal light, 
Sun of justice: 
Come, shine on those who are sick or alone. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Ruler of the nations, 
Monarch for whom the people long, 
you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity: 
Come, save us all, 
whom you formed out of clay. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Immanuel, 
our Sovereign and Lawgiver, 
desire of the nations and Savior of all: 
Come and save us, O Lord our God. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 


As we await the coming of the Lord, 
May our hearts be prepared to receive him, 
in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer, 
now and forever, Amen. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Blue Christmas Prayer Service

Due to snowy weather, we had to miss the candlelit Blue Christmas Service at CHPC this year. Though it doesn’t make up for the beauty of community in a glowing sanctuary with contemplative music, here is a prayer service you may use at home. For many, the Christmas season may bring memories of loss as well as love, grief as well as joy. As a community, whether together or far apart, we affirm God’s presence in the midst of all our experiences and emotions, especially in this season of hope.

Opening Words                                                                        from 2 Corinthians 1:4-5
God consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

First Reading: Psalm 23
1             The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2                         He makes me lie down in green pastures;
            he leads me beside still waters;
3                         he restores my soul.
            He leads me in right paths
                        for his name’s sake.
4             Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
                        I fear no evil;
            for you are with me;
                        your rod and your staff—
                        they comfort me.
5              You prepare a table before me
                        in the presence of my enemies;
            you anoint my head with oil;
                        my cup overflows.
6             Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
                        all the days of my life,
            and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
                        my whole life long.

Covenant God, we come to you this day with a deepening anticipation for your birth among us. We pray for all who are in need: for the sick, the destitute, and the dying; for strangers in our land, for those who feel invisible; for those who sleep without shelter tonight, for the cold and vulnerable; for those lacking enough food to sustain them; for those who are overworked and for those who have no work. Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Second Reading: Psalm 130
1             Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2                         Lord, hear my voice!
            Let your ears be attentive
                        to the voice of my supplications!
3              If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
                        Lord, who could stand?
4             But there is forgiveness with you,
                        so that you may be revered.
5             I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
                        and in his word I hope;
6             my soul waits for the Lord
                        more than those who watch for the morning,
                        more than those who watch for the morning.
7                O Israel, hope in the LORD!
                        For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
                        and with him is great power to redeem.
8             It is he who will redeem Israel
                        from all its iniquities.

God our hope, you come to us in the depths of our darkest despair. You hear our prayers before we name them. In this season that we celebrate your incarnation, give us new light to guide us. Grant a sense of your constant presence with us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Reading: Psalm 121

1             I lift up my eyes to the hills—
                        from where will my help come?
2             My help comes from the LORD,
                        who made heaven and earth.
3             He will not let your foot be moved;
                        he who keeps you will not slumber.
4             He who keeps Israel
                        will neither slumber nor sleep.
5             The LORD is your keeper;
                        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6             The sun shall not strike you by day,
                        nor the moon by night.
7                The LORD will keep you from all evil;
                        he will keep your life.
8             The LORD will keep
                        your going out and your coming in
                        from this time on and forevermore.

God our refuge, you are strength greater than the mountains; you pay attention to our needs and stay with us through the night. Teach us to hold confidently to your grace, so that in times of fear we may know you are near. Amen.


Fourth Reading: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1             Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
                        you who lead Joseph like a flock!
            You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2                         before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
            Stir up your might,
                        and come to save us!
3                Restore us, O God;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4                O LORD God of hosts,
                        how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5             You have fed them with the bread of tears,
                        and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6             You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
                        our enemies laugh among themselves.
7                Restore us, O God of hosts;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8                You brought a vine out of Egypt;
                        you drove out the nations and planted it.
9             You cleared the ground for it;
                        it took deep root and filled the land.
17             But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
                        the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18             Then we will never turn back from you;
                        give us life, and we will call on your name.
19                Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.

God our redeemer, we pray because we know you are faithful. In times of trouble, set us in places of safety. When we grow weary, feed us with your living word. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Reading: Romans 8:31-39
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  36 As it is written,
            “For your sake we are being killed all day long;
                        we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God our steadfast companion, we give you thanks that nothing can separate us from your love in Jesus Christ. Send your Spirit to all who grieve, to all who are sick, and to all who feel alone this season. May we remember that we belong to you, in Jesus Christ, Amen.


Sixth Reading: Revelation 22:1-5
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

God our light, shine like a candle in the darkness, lighting the way for all who feel abandoned, forgotten, or hopeless. Mark our lives with your love, through Jesus Christ, Amen.


Closing Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
We thank you, God our maker, for the reminder that you have named us by your grace. Bring us closer, O God, to your vision for all of humanity. Be the goal of our pilgrimage and our rest by the way, a companion in heartbreak and joy. Hear us now as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us: (the Lord’s Prayer)

Benediction and Blessing                                                            
The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the peoples shall see it together.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace through the Holy Spirit,
In the name of Christ, our Savior, Amen.