Call To Worship
The spirit of the Lord God is coming!
He brings good news to the oppressed, heals the broken-hearted, and sets the captive free!
The spirit of the Lord God anoints us!
We proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!
Worship the one who clothes us with garments of salvation!
We come to worship the Lord our God!
Proclamation of Scripture
Prayer for Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord Amen
Old Testament Reading
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 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. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Last week at Powderly and Chicota, I talked about how God calls us in the wilderness and how we are also voices that cry out in the wilderness. I talked about how waiting can be hard and we think sometimes that God is silent and far away. But we are reminded that God waited a thousand years after King David and four hundred years after the last prophet Malacchi to bring a messiah.
The voice in the wilderness tells us to prepare the way of the Lord.
This week, we get some insight into how to do that.
Sometimes, all we have are our words. But words can be powerful. John knew this. He was a master at telling the story of Jesus in a way that would make Jesus live for those who listened.
William Barclay speaks of how words to the Jews, were more than a mere sound. They had life and power. He has a quote in his commentary on John about “a man who performed a heroic act and found it impossible to tell his fellow tribesman for lack of words – whereupon there arose another “afflicted with the necessary magic of words”, and he told a story in terms so vivid and so moving that the words came alive and walked up and down in the hearts of his hearers.”
The old testament is filled with the power of words. Remember when Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau, there was nothing he could do to take that blessing back. The words had gone out and begun to act. We see in creation, the Word of God, in action. All through Genesis we read “And God said..” And it was so. Words have power.
In our old testament reading we can pull out some wonderful words. Those words were meant for a people that had been in exile and now are returning to a home they no longer know. Remember that their entire existence was tied to being God’s people and living in the land God promised them. They were not just exiled from their geography. They lost their identity! They are navigating uncharted waters. Isaiah uses words like comfort, build up, raise, repair. Words of hope for a future. A cycle of wilderness and homecoming. Isaiah tells the people that their descendants will be known among the nations so the blessing is not just for the hearers, but for future generations. For a people that has been living in exile, these must have been hopeful words indeed!
Then we move to the gospel of John and John tells us of one who is not the light, but comes to testify to the light. When the priest and Levites – the church folks…asked John who he was, he had an answer ready. That answer was interesting. Instead of saying who he was, he told them who he was not. And knowing who we are not is on the way to knowing who we are.
We are not the Messiah. We are not prophets. But we can bind up the broken-hearted that are placed in our path. We can show those who are bound that they will be released and if possible? Hold the gate open. We can live in a way that points to the light, to the One who is coming, who’s sandal, like John, we are not fit to untie. Cycles of wilderness and homecoming, light and dark, crucifixion and resurrection, and how we are to live between.
There are at least one hundred references to light in the bible.
Genesis 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good”
Isaiah 42:16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
John 12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
Ecclesiastes 2:13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
This year things are different. We decorate our sanctuary, anyway. Family can’t gather the way they usually do. We can decorate our trees and our homes, anyway. This year I put my Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving. We often have the lights on in the evening. I needed that extra cheer this year. I needed that extra light! And if I needed that light, how much more do people who are suffering this year. From Covid, from isolation, from loss of income, from anxiety about the future?
Christmas may LOOK different this year. Church may look different. But as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Savior in a dark and broken world, let us remember that in Him there is hope. In Him, there is light. We are called to be sons of that light. Christians called to be little Christs. We are to give birth to the Savior within ourselves.
So what is on the outside may be pretty. The lights on our tree, the decorations in our church, are traditions that mean a lot to us. We look back to Christmas past, to when we were kids, or to when our children were small. Maybe there is a silly gift that has been passed on through the years, a special ornament, a special dish that your family always has to eat. Those things are a part of our stories, the words that conjure up pictures of our lives.
For many people, the reality of Christmas doesn’t measure up to the picture in their minds or on tv. This year especially, Christmas is not what we have been used to. For many, this year, Christmas will mark a time of grief.
Those pictures we hold dear in our hearts of Christmas are not bad. The building we worship in, the hymns we miss singing, being able to gather and eat together, none of those things are bad.
But they are not the light. So if those things are temporarily missing does that mean we stop pointing to that light? That we don’t celebrate Christmas? That we stop being the church? No! We just find new ways.
The church is bigger than the building, and the light is greater than the dark.
Psalm 126 says 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, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Micah 6:8 “what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
And our reading from Thessalonians: Rejoice always, and pray without ceasing….test everything; hold fast to what is good
We bear the seeds for sowing, and come home with shouts of joy.
The letter to Thessalonica is a happy letter. The church that Paul and Timothy planted there was growing. The members were loving on another, they were holding to their beliefs even under persecution. So Paul writes to encourage them. He commends them for their good example, reminds them of Christ’s return and then goes on to list the ways that they can grow more and more in their faith until that day comes. Paul never says, hey Thessalonica, you are good. You are done. Nope. He tells them they are doing good and then he gives them homework! What that looks like may change with the seasons of our lives but we never stop growing. We are never done with our homework, not until, what did Paul say? “May your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”
We are in uncharted waters. You. Me. Even our pastor. He went to school to learn how to preach to filled pews. To gather people together in fellowship. To do – what? Pastoral care. No pastor, preacher, or priest, trained for how to do church in the time of covid. This means that we are ALL learning as we go along. We are all in the wilderness. We all need the light to help us find our way. So let’s light up our homes, light up our sanctuary, Be the light for each other, because in the light, in the sowing of the seeds that have been planted in us, is where we grow closer to and more like Jesus and that is where we will find joy. Just this morning I read Adam Hamilton saying he was ending his sermon today with this question and so I am shamelessly stealing it. Emmanuel means God with us – who has been Emmanuel to you? Who have you been Emmanuel for? God is drawing near. Let’s get ready!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen