Dunsford United Church – Worship Service Advent 1 -Tinsel and Tears / Communion November 29, 2020

Welcome to our community of faith family.

Mission Statement: We are a diverse, intentional, inclusive, compassionate, hope-filled Christian family of faith, seeking to respect everyone’s individuality and dignity as Jesus modelled, creating safe space, to demonstrate the spirit of God’s love through worship, work, growth, and respect for all creation. We celebrate and value people of every age, health, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family configuration, background, ability, interest, culture, economic circumstance and faith journey. All are encouraged to be in full participation in the life and work of all ministries. We endeavor to be aware of, and responsive to, the needs in our community and beyond.

Surely God is in this place. Help me notice.

Welcome and thank-you for joining us on this first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of year B in our revised lectionary three year cycle, November 29, 2020 as we observe the Sunday of Hope, our tinsel and tears and share in Communion today.  Please have food and drink available to participate in Communion from wherever you are joining us virtually. This is the first of our worship and reflection series on Now Is the Time, as we at Dunsford United Church move through a season of change and transition, trusting God to bless us to bring transformation through our sacred journey.  We are an affirming ministry of the United Church of Canada.  Wherever you are, whoever you are, there is room for all.

* HYMN: “O Come All Ye Faithful” (verse 1) VU #60 (public domain) Solo by Brenda

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.

In this Advent season it is our custom to light a new candle for each week of Advent, three purple candles and one pink, each week lighting the previous week’s candle and each new week’s candle.  We watch as our lights of hope, peace, joy and love draw us ever closer to Christmas Eve as we then add our Christ candle inviting celebration of Christ’s birth, Emmanuel, Christ with us.  If you have five candles you can light over the season, you are encouraged to do so.  If you have one candle or light source, that is great too!  Whether you have physical candles or not, let Christ’s love light shine in you.

I invite Brenda to play some quiet music as we light a candle of hope, hope in our own life, hope in our church, hope in our family, workplace, neighbourhoods and through all creation.

We light this candle of hope to remind us to experience hope this week as we anticipate the welcoming of the Prince of Peace. Let hope be reborn anew this Advent season. Shine hope on us today loving God.

* HYMN: “Hope Is a Star” VU #7 verse 1 (Words: Brian Wren) Solo by Brenda

Hope is a star that shines in the night, leading us on till the morning is bright.  When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE LANDS: 

We acknowledge, honour and respect this land and the Anishnabeg/Mississauga peoples with whom Treaty 20, Williams treaty,  was signed, on the lands where we are and we acknowledge also and give thanks for the lands and people of treaties and unceded territories of all who are worshiping. It is up to all of us to live into truth, respect, reconciliation and right relations.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

We gather here in this place of refuge – the lost, the lonely, the uncertain.  We gather with our common humanity in search of the uncommon grace of the Divine.  We gather daring to wonder if God has indeed come in Jesus.

The world is dark. Rejection still occurs, relationships fail, our hearts are heavy with grief, with the overwhelm of pandemic, with change and transition before us.  Amid it all, hope is rising.  For some a flicker, still needing kindling, for others a flame rekindled, for others a blaze of anticipation.

Renew hope in our lives even amid all that troubles us.  We hold these heartaches in our hands of tenderness.  We come ready to empty our pockets of doubt and fill them with hope and to move into this liminal space of this unexpected Advent, different yet certain, familiar yet new.

God who speaks comfort to us calls us here.  God who addresses us with tenderness meets us here.  God who guides us with gentleness cares for us here.  We come to prepare a way for the Lord.  We come to ready ourselves for the transformation of our lives.  For the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it and experience Advent hope.

MINISTRY OF MUSIC: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” VU #1 verses 1, 2, 3 (Words: John Mason Neale) Solo by Brenda

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show and teach us in her ways to go.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great God of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud, and majesty, and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I invite us to be comfortable where we are, praying in whatever way helps us to connect with the divine. Connecting our feet with the ground beneath us centers and stills us. Open yourself to the holy as we breathe in together, welcoming sacred presence, and breathing out. Letting go of tension and stress, releasing us into silence. A time of silence.

Generous and gracious God, we look to you for compassion and thank you for your presence always with us. Overwhelmed by our burdens we easily forget that you never leave us alone and that your steadfast love for us never falters. We need your assurance and comfort that we do not suffer this season alone. 

You have given us strength to live through this time. Help us reach out to those whose life is difficult, and help us connect with divine mystery of hope, waiting of this liminal space we are in. Amen.

We know as we approach this Advent season and anticipate Christmas, it feels so different that for some loss, pain, fear have touched our hearts so deeply that our grief can be unspeakable. We find ourselves in a wilderness, in desert time, that causes us to question, to doubt, to name our fear for today and our future. We remember God is with us. We are not alone. No matter how many times we need to say it, we challenge ourselves to believe and let the hope grow, the flickers become an unquenchable flame.

The pandemic continues to bring such pain and devastation, a fear like which most of us have never known. We see how we are separated and isolated, forced to do things differently and our hope feels crushed at times. As our teardrops fall, our tears of wet prayers, we seek to find more hope. We think about what draws us together, about love and things we hold on to that our good. It is a difficult dance, and we look to the familiarity of our own faith story and the story of that first Christmas.

Kindle hope in us God. In this time of waiting we pray. Amen.

Mary and Joseph knew fears, isolation, marginalization, being in the desert and wilderness of troubling times. Our scripture today comes from the book of Isaiah 40:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version).

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;[a] lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b] 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.

May we find comfort in these words O God.

Imagine, just imagine… as we journey through Advent, we will encounter the mystery, anticipating and waiting to welcome our infant king, welcomed and born a new in our hearts. This year is different, marked by COVID-19, a pandemic that is impacting us in so many ways. Some of us have experienced losses, worries and challenges, but we are connecting today on this Sunday of Hope. We connect with our fears, our grief, our challenge.

Imagine if COVID-19 regulations were in place when Mary came to visit Elizabeth, two metres distanced, the welcome embrace would not happen. Imagine what would be missing in art, music, and theology without that hug, that life-leaping and life-giving moment between the women and their unborn sons. Lift up those you cannot hug due to pandemic, through estrangement, other separation or by death.  Let our hearts be filled with hope.

What new ways are we finding to touch the hearts of all when the physical space between us is altered?  What of Joseph the Dreamer and his four guiding dreams inviting us into the heart of Advent ethics and dilemmas?  What if his pandemic anxiety doesn’t allow sleep deep enough to receive his dreams?  What if pandemic trauma fills him with so many vivid dreams that he misses the one which says, “go with Mary” and make a life together.

How do we learn new ways paying attention to our inner dreams and visions when the ordinary ways of discernment have changed?

I wonder what we would miss if the shepherds were sheltering-in-place? These first visitors are important. The Christmas story brings into our story “all poor ones and humble.” Perhaps we haven’t been good at noticing them? Maybe the pandemic might actually help us see better — the walls, visible and invisible, our whiteness, the needs beyond our church thresholds, or the ones outside the building who now get to worship on equal footing with a community online.

What if the angels couldn’t sing? No glorias in a night sky.  No theology in verse, no carols to lift our spirits, no way of saying with music what we can’t express all that well in words alone, no outlet for the emotion.  How will we sing the Lord’s song in this strange and foreign land?

The Magi are always late but this year they may not make it across borders that are closed.  I wonder if they would be considered essential workers in the Advent story. What would we miss if they don’t make it to the manger?  What gifts would we not receive?  I wonder how we inhabit all the losses, all the grief, all the fear that comes with the “new normal?”  How do we manage the stress of a journey that calls us from the old familiar stories and the intense uncertainty of a new story?

We are dwelling in liminal space.  Franciscan monk, author, scholar, contemplative Richard Rohr gives us this definition to reflect on.  The word “liminal” comes from a Latin word “limin” which refers to thresholds.  Liminal space in a “somewhere betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.”

Give thanks for what is known and what so different from anything we have ever experienced.  Be open to the mystery, to the divine “ahas” and surprises that open us to notice liminal space.

Poet John O’Donohue says in his poem “For the Interim Time:”

“You are in this time of the interim

The path you took to get here has washed out;

The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.”

 – John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, p. 119

This sounds like the reality we are living in our community of faith, change upon us and we are called forward. Hear again the words from Isaiah 40:3 NRSV:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

How will we prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts, in our actions, in every part of our lives? How will hope compel us?

Advent (and Lent) are our liminal seasons.  They are the times in the circle of the church year when we are invited to dwell in liminal space.  We are waiting for the Mystery of Christmas, for a new coming in time and space.  Perhaps more than recent times, this year we have a profound invitation to actually practice Advent and dwell in this liminal space.  We can risk letting ourselves, each one of us, feel in our bones the disorientating effects of being somewhere-in between.  We can confess not completely being sure of the new.

This is a time for practicing Advent, to sit with unfamiliarity even as we move forward (‘building the airplane even as we are flying’ as they say.)  Here in this liminal place, this Advent space, with all its confusion and chaos, we can choose to pause, to wait, to dwell, to prepare, even to lament.  This is holy space.  We won’t have it all together here in liminal space.

Still we embrace it, this transitional space.  Potential stirs in liminality; new worlds are born out of dwelling in such places.  Transformation comes from dwelling in liminal space.  There is no map.  There isn’t one in liminal space.  “What is being transfigured here is our minds, and it is difficult and slow to become new.  The more faithfully we can endure here, the more refined our hearts will become for our arrival in the new dawn.”

In hope we trust God.

On our first Sunday in Advent, we gather in hope, hope for ourselves, our loved ones, for our community of faith, for our neighbourhood communities, for people throughout the world that Christ’s light and love may shine.

As we wait in this liminal time, ponder how Christs birth and the familiar stories speak to your heart in 2020!  What if hope reveals new and transforming possibilities?  Take action that your hope is lived out in whatever contexts this means for you.  Let it be so! Thanks be to God.

SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION

We’re sharing a meal that is special in the life of the church. – we call it “communion.” Through this Sacrament, we connect more deeply with our loving God, the bringer of hope, peace, joy and love! Kindle hope within us!  It’s a time when we remember how much God loves us – so much that God came to live in Jesus and comes to live in each one of us.

The United Church celebrates an open table.  All are invited to share in receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Due to the pandemic, we are sharing virtually.  I invite you to have ready whatever food and drink you are using for our Communion.  If you would like, take a photo, and share a picture of your Communion food and drink today. Send it to me.

* HYMN: “Hope Is a Star” VU #7 verses 2, 3, 4 (Words: Brian Wren) Solo by Brenda

Peace is a ribbon that circles the earth, giving a promise of safety and worth. When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn, telling the world that the Saviour is born.  When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

Love is a flame that burns in our heart, Jesus has come and will never depart. When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

As we hold on to hope, we are reminded “none shall be afraid.”  We offer all of our burdens of fear, of loneliness, grief, uncertainties, worries and concerns.  We give thanks that we have people we can reach out to, able to share our burdens and we know we are not alone.

As we come to this table, we are reminded that this is the table of Jesus Christ, a banquet prepared for everyone.  Imagine all of our tables – some new, some old and bearing the markings of their stories, some fancy, some simple, some adorned and some plain, a kitchen table, a dining room table, a TV tray, an end table, a lap, the ground… our tables as different as we are, as different as the food and drink before us, as different as the vessels that hold them, but all transformed in this sacred sacrament, as we gather as one, all a part of the body of Christ.   

All who seek to be nourished and sustained in the journey of faith, all who seek wholeness and compassionate paths to peace and justice, are welcome here.  No one is excluded.  Come join us.  Know you are included, valued needed.  You belong!

God be with you.

            And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

            We lift our hearts in prayer.

Let us give thanks to God.

            It is good to give God thanks and praise.

Let us pray:

Blessed are you, Breath of peace, bringer of hope, Giver of all life, Source of love that knows no boundaries.  Your song of wisdom rang out before the world began; throughout the ages, your song of liberation has impregnated us, filled us with your hope for a world where: those considered last and least are first and most; violence is overcome by the power of your ancient love; and, all people work together for peace.

You bring our longings to birth and send prophets to awaken us to your approaching Advent among us.  You inspire us with songs of the angels and renew our hope.

We thank you for those who, like Mary, have the strength and courage to give birth to your love in the world; for those who, like the shepherds, dare to seek out the Child of Bethlehem; for those who, like the wise ones, actively challenge violent and oppressive powers.

We praise you that your everlasting light is shown to us in womb and tomb, in cradle and cross, in tenderness and compassion.  We join in the Advent prayer of all your people, as our hearts cry out, “O come, Emmanuel.”

As we wait, listen, and watch for your coming among us, we proclaim your goodness.

At this time, we also remember all with whom you would have us share your feast.

We pray for ourselves and each other, for all of our family and friends, for all who we struggle with. We pray for all who are in sorrow or in pain…

all who are ill or alone…

all who are close to our hearts…

all our siblings of the world, who live with fear, oppression, or hunger…

all whose lives have been blighted by violence, racism, or poverty…

for all whom the world counts as last and least.

We pray for the church and its many ministries.  We pray for the season of change before us and new hope in endings and beginnings.  We pray for your guidance and strength, empowering us to serve and be active in the life and work of our community of faith, to live out our mission, here, in our neighbourhoods and beyond.  We pray for nations as they seek hope, strive for peace and justice, for an end to violence.

God of hope, make our food the means of our rebuilding, our drink the medium of our transformation, our table the foundation of our renewal, and this community the place of our rebirth.  As we pray together, we want to connect with you more deeply O God, as we feel your mighty presence.  We join ourselves to that great company of heaven and earth of all God’s people everywhere, in every age.

Christ is our host, welcoming, greeting.  This is the banquet his love has prepared!

Weary and rested, worn and happy, healthy and dying, alone and together, he welcomes us here.  His arms are open wide.  Come, we accept Jesus’ invitation.  We remember Jesus’ life of love, his friendship, his teaching, his dying, and his rising to life again.  Christ is coming!  Prepare the way!

We come as we are, lonely, grieving, worried and wearied, hope-filled, seekers of Peace!  We give thanks that we are enough!  Each of us called to this table of welcome, acceptance, love and inclusion.  Let us give God our thanks and praise!

Our hearts are full to overflowing!  We cannot contain our praises, O God, for you are love, and your kindness touches all creation.

In sharing this meal, we live out the mystery of our faith: It was a mealtime they would never forget.  They gathered in the intimacy of an Upper Room, by lamplight, the air heavy with sadness and confusion at all the disquieting occurrences within them and around them.  The meal followed the usual format when they ate together, as they had for three years now, until…until… Right in the middle of it, Jesus, at the centre of it all, stopped conversation and said words which have been reported in the Church from that day to this:

This bread that we break together.  It is my body.  I give it for you.  I give it freely.  This cup that we share together.  It is my life’s blood.  I give it for you.  I give it freely, so that you might know life in all its fullness as I do.  I tell you that I will not eat or drink again until I do so in the coming fullness of God’s kingdom.  They were mystified of course, but they followed his lead, ate the bread and drank from the cup.

On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with his disciples, saying: “Take eat; this is my body, given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.”  After supper Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.”  Praise be to you, now, tomorrow, and forever.

Through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, we say together:

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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever! Amen.

Gracious God, Breath of peace, Source of love, we pray for your Spirit. Make us, while many, one. Make us, though broken, whole. Make us, despite death, alive. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Bless these simple gifts of food and drink. As we remember may your Spirit be enlivened in us, renew us and fill us with new hope. Amen.

Take eat, the bread of life.

Take drink, the cup of blessing.

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION (said altogether)                     

We thank you, God, for filling us with hope. Thank-you that as we are fed, we are nourished.  Thank-you, that as we drink, our thirst is quenched.  Thank-you, that as we are loved, forgiven and freed, our hearts are opened to more love. Amen.

WE ARE SENT OUT IN FAITH TO SERVE

MINISTRY OF MUSIC: “I Am Walking A Path of Peace” MV #221 (Words: Janet Bauman Tissandier) Solo by Brenda

I am walking a path of peace*, I am walking a path of peace, I am walking a path of peace, lead me home, lead me home.

* Additional verses: “of love”, “of grace”, “of hope”, “with heart”

COMMISSIONING AND BLESSING:

Prepare the way!  Reach out and touch the kingdom, for it is here.  Breathe in and feel the Spirit of peace and hope.  Trust and believe this good news: God is here, within you and me, surrounding us and ever reminding us we are not alone.  Feel nourished.  Feel renewed.  Feel hope!  Share hope that God’s light and love may be experienced everywhere!

To conclude this service, I invite you to receive Sylvia’s solo of “He Is Here.”

Stay safe and be well. Amen.

References:

Call to Worship based on Isaiah 40: 1-11—adapted from Call To Worship by  Moira Laidlaw, posted on her Liturgies Online website., used with permission)

Poem: John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, p. 220

Liminal reflection  is adapted from: A Prayer Bench Small Group Study | Advent 2020 www.prayerbench.ca | Janice MacLean | Janice@prayerbench.ca, used with permission.

The Communion liturgy is adapted from offering by Alydia Smith, Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality, General Council Office, UCCAN, from Advent Unwrapped 2017, used with permission.

The prayer before Communion was inspired by “Blessed are you, gracious God…” by William Kervin and Lillian Perigoe in Celebrate God’s Presence, page 276. Used with permission.)

Questions for Reflection:

1. What word, phrase or verse resonates with you from today’s scripture passage?

2. Receive these Advent words: Awake Prepare Wait. Hope Dwell Announce Shine Watch Save Desert Uncertain Confused Lonely Desolate Anticipating Path Way Open

Which of these words speak to you and why? What other words might you add

3. What new ways are we finding to touch the hearts of all when the physical space between us is altered?

4. What did you hear that feels particularly meaningful to you right now, either in your own journey or in your community of faith or our global experience?

5. Think about the ground you are standing on right now. What are the realities that make it feel like liminal space, betwixt and between?

6. We heard a number of questions raised up within the re-imagining of our Advent/Christmas stories during a time of global pandemic What intrigues you? feels hurtful and triggers feelings of grief and loss? hope?

7. In the then and now of interpreting our Advent and Christmas stories, we cannot imagine pandemic changing our stories but nor could we have imagined 2020 and how the pandemic has called us to pivot. Be aware of what feels comforting and discomforting as we move through this Advent season, in your self-observation and in your noticing in others and all around you.

8. Inhabiting liminal space is often uncomfortable and disorientating. Think of other times you, or your community of faith, have lived in in-between times. What did you learn? Based on your experience, what wisdom would you record as reminders or signposts?

9. When our losses are large, practicing lament is a container helping us confront fears and naming the costliness of our grief and loss. Lament helps us dwell in this liminal space. What are some rituals of lament you can recall in our tradition?

10. Where, in the Advent/Christmas stories, are there signs of lament, of living with things that are hard to fix, or times of confusion and uncertainty? How might you use this Advent season to make space for lament?

Continue to hold the life and work of Dunsford United in your prayers and in your commitments of action and support.

DUNSFORD UNITED CHURCH

Church Office Hours: Wed. 9-5 and by appointment 705-793-2511 dunsfordunitedchurch@bellnet.ca   www.dunsfordunitedchurch.com

Minister: Rev. Dr. Sharon Ballantyne 705-875-8837    

Email: sharon.ballantyne@gmail.com

Music Director: Brenda Shield 1-705-748-9875 or bshield@cogeco.ca

Envelope Steward: Kathy Prentice 705-324-4753        

http://dunsfordunitedchurch.com   Visit our website.

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