Heaven Came to Earth

Meditation on Luke 2:1-20

Pastor Karen Crawford

Christmas Eve 2020

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

  

Christmas Eve Message, Part 1

What does Jesus look like? I am sure I asked that question long ago. The answer came in Vacation Bible School at my Lutheran church in Damascus, Maryland, one summer in the early 1970s.  I made a wooden plaque with a picture of Jesus from a Christmas card–and painted it with shellac. That picture of a handsome Jesus, with wavy, flowing light brown hair and a well-groomed beard—looking like he just sat for a portrait at Olan Mills—smiled at me from my bedroom wall for many years.

Christmas Eve Message Part 2

Later I would notice many other pictures of Jesus, looking different. Somebody finally told me the truth—maybe it was in confirmation class! Nobody knew what Jesus looked like. Nobody was around with a camera and sketchbook and charcoals in Jesus’ time.  

One of my favorite symbols and tradition of Christmas is the Nativity scene or creche, as we called it when I was a child. I used to tell and retell the Christmas story—my own version, anyway—with those painted ceramic figurines. My brother and I used to argue about their correct arrangement on a layer of fluffy cotton on top of a table or the piano. I think the story is that my Mom, when she was a teenager, saved her money and bought the figurines, one by one, at a five and dime store. There were kings and camels, a donkey and horse, sheep and shepherds. There were angels—one that hung from a hole in the roof of the barn and one that stood and looked fully human, except for white robe and wings. And yes, there was Mary in blue, with Joseph, and the baby in a manger. If I had to check the race/ethnicity box on that creche, I would check White or Caucasian, non- Hispanic.

But that never troubled me. Jesus looked like he belonged to my family—and I belonged to his! He looked like me! That brings me to a simple, theological truth. On Christmas, we celebrate and give thanks for the God who loved the world so much that He became one of us—and suffered all the humiliations of humanity and more than we can imagine, for our sakes.

      Heaven came to earth for love, a humble baby in a manger, because there was no room at the inn.

***

    You could say that Jesus arrived at the worst of times for the weary peasants of Judea in the Roman Empire. Or, you could say that he arrived at the best possible time for weary peasants of Judea in the Roman Empire. This was the “first registration” for the Empire, demanding that “all the (Roman) world” be registered for the census, so they could be taxed. This meant that young Mary, in her 9th month of her first pregnancy, had to travel with Joseph, her betrothed, 100 miles over rough, rocky terrain on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem—to the city of David, not necessarily where he was born but from which his ancestors had come. This would be frightening for poor peasants like Mary and Joseph, as the strong arm of Rome imposed its power and will on those who didn’t have any voice and didn’t otherwise matter to the Empire. Tax collecting had been handled on the local level before that, with Jewish officials employed by the Empire collecting what was “due” and keeping some for themselves as a commission—in effect, getting rich off their less wealthy neighbors.

This first registration was taken, Luke says, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is a Byzantine mosaic of Mary and Joseph registering for the census before Governor Quirinius:

Christmas Eve Message Part 3

But the hope of Mary and Joseph is not in Caesar who commanded their trek. Their hope is the same as ours! In the God of Israel, who goes with them and dwells with us, still!

What touches me in this passage that we read every Christmas is the important role of the shepherds in the salvation story. For they are the ones who are off the grid, so to speak, in the “region,” living in the fields. Why aren’t they reporting for the Roman census? They are right in the trenches, working a thankless job necessary for their economy and way of life, if not the people’s very survival. While the rest of the world is sleeping, they are keeping watch over the flocks. These invisible, marginalized, voiceless workers living in the fields—not the rich and powerful ones of the day—are those whom God chooses to send angels to bring the “good news of great joy for all the people good news of great joy for all people” —not just one or two, but a whole multitude of heavenly hosts, praising God singing,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

One of the most surprising things about our Luke reading happens after the angels return to heaven. Like Mary, the shepherds believe without question the message of the angels. They become the bearer of the good news. They go “with haste” to Bethlehem to tell Mary and Joseph what the Lord has made known to them.

And Mary, a poor, voiceless, invisible peasant, who, up to the birth of the Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace, hasn’t mattered to the Roman Empire one whit except to be counted for tax purposes, listens intently to them. And she treasures all these words spoken by the voiceless, marginalized shepherds living in the fields, watching someone else’s flocks by night. And she ponders them in her heart. 

    The shepherds return to their fields to do their important work of caring for the sheep—but they will never be the same. These first evangelists are “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

    Do you wonder who else they tell?

Final part of Christmas Eve message

  The message hasn’t changed or lost its relevance after thousands of years, and if anything, grows more astounding by the day. My Nativity scenes have become more diverse and inclusive as Jim and I have collected many from different countries and cultures over the years. And we no longer take them all down after Christmas. They remain displayed all the time to help keep the message of Christ’s birth—and the joy that it brings—always in our heart and on our minds.

     I no longer wonder what Jesus looked like. The whole debate is silly. It’s a stereotype to say that Jesus had to look a certain way because, after all, His father was GOD. As Colossians tells us, “the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  

   The manger is the beginning of a journey for Christ that will lead all over Roman Judea, to Jerusalem and the cross, and, ultimately, the triumph of the empty tomb—and the promise of resurrection for all who believe in Him.

   So, my friends, as you celebrate Christmas tomorrow in a much simpler, quieter way than you have in the past, remember that the first Christmas was simple and quiet, too—and a lot more stressful! It was the worst of times for God’s people living under the strong arm of the Empire. And it was the best of times for God’s people and everyone. For the message brought by angels and shepherds is GOOD news of GREAT JOY for ALL people.

    Brothers and sisters, go and tell the world!

    Heaven came to earth for love. A humble baby in a manger, because there was no room at the inn.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the miracle of Christ’s birth – in the worst of times—for being willing to descend to earth and become one of us so that we might be saved from our sins and live with you eternally. Thank you for entrusting the message to the invisible, marginalized and voiceless—the shepherds, proving your preference for and concern for the poor and outcast and your love for all people. Who are the shepherds today, Lord, whom we may be overlooking, those who need our help and friendship? Build up our faith in the God of miracles of mercy and reveal to us the needs in our midst and how you want us to meet those needs. Fill us with the loving spirit of Christmas in our hearts all the yearlong, with praise and song on our lips with the multitude of angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” In Christ we pray. Amen.

Light One Candle for Love

Meditation on Luke 1:26-38

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Dec. 20, 2020

Here are audio files of the Luke reading and the message:

Pastor Karen reading Luke 1:26-38
Light One Candle for Love (audio of Pastor’s message)

Jim and I watched one of my favorite movies this week, The Sound of Music. I don’t know what I like best about it. It might be that the story is based on the true story of the governess Maria and Captain von Trapp, a Naval hero in Vienna during the Nazi occupation in WWII. It could be the cast—including a beautiful, young Julie Andrews with a powerful voice and dashing Christopher Plummer—and it could be the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein music. It could be all of these!

Sound of Music

Though it had been years since I had seen the movie, I couldn’t help but join in the songs I had sung as a child. Jim sang along, too.

“The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears…”

And…

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings:
These are a few of my favorite things.”

I remember thinking when I was a young child how strange it was to be watching a movie and, suddenly, the characters burst into song. “That doesn’t happen in real life,” I told my mom. But the songs in The Sound of Music flow naturally, moving the story forward and helping the characters express their feelings.

This is the case with Edelweiss, after Captain von Trapp’s children beg their father to sing, something he hasn’t done since his wife passed away years before. The gruff sea captain who calls his children with a whistle reveals a gentle, sweeter side as he sings to them, gathered around him on a rug. We see Maria’s face soften as she watches and listens from across the room.

“Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever
.”

The young novitiate who didn’t fit into the structured, restrictive life of the abbey will tell the 16-year-old daughter that the important thing is to find God’s will for your life—and do it. The advice is as much for herself—as it is for Liesl. For Maria had run away from the von Trapp family, returning to the abbey, without saying goodbye on the night she dances with the captain and blushes in his arms.

“I felt, I’ve never felt that way before, I couldn’t stay,” she tells the Reverend Mother. “I knew that here I’d be away from it. I’d be safe… I can’t face him again… Oh, there were times when we would look at each other. Oh, Mother, I could hardly breathe… That’s what’s been torturing me. I was there on God’s errand. To have asked for his love would have been wrong. I couldn’t stay, I just couldn’t. I’m ready at this moment to take my vows. Please help me.”

The Reverend Mother answers, “Maria, the love of a man and a woman is holy, too. You have a great capacity to love. What you must find out is how God wants you to spend your love…No, you must find out and you must go back… These walls were not built to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”

The Reverend Mother sings, “Climb every mountain. Search high and low. Follow every byway, every path you know. Climb every mountain. Ford every stream. Follow every rainbow. Till you find your dream.”

***

Do you ever wonder what Mary’s dreams were before the angel Gabriel shows up and, suddenly, her life goes in an unexpected direction. This young woman of humble means and growing faith would give birth and be mother to the Savior of the world.

What was she doing that day and where was she, other than in the small town of Nazareth, when the angel came? Was she at home? Was she taking a walk? We only know when, for her older relative, Elizabeth, previously barren, is in the sixth month of her miraculous pregnancy. Her husband, Zachariah the priest, is made unable to speak till the birth of their son, John, because of his unbelief. “How will I know that this is so?” he asks the angel. “For I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.”

Only in the gospel of Luke do we have this exchange between the angel of the Lord and Mary and actually hear Mary’s voice—both speaking and singing! She responds to the news that she is God’s “favored one” by being “much perplexed by his words” and pondering “what sort of greeting this might be.” She does more pondering in Luke 2:19, when the shepherds meet Mary and Joseph and the child, lying in the manger, and they tell them what the angels had said about Jesus. Mary treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart.

Mary has only one question for the angel. How? “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Her question is not like Zechariah’s, coming from a place of unbelief.

The angel responds to Mary’s question with a how answer.“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore, the child to be born will be holy and will be called Son of God.” The young woman accepts this explanation without question or comment, along with the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The angel says—for Mary’s benefit and for ours, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Mary doesn’t need to know anything more. She places her complete trust in God, though becoming pregnant out of wedlock would make her an outcast—and could put an end to her arranged marriage to Joseph.

She makes a decision that day to live out God’s will for her. She doesn’t argue with the angel. She doesn’t say, like Moses does, “send someone else!” She professes to be not just a servant of the Lord, but His slave. The Greek word doulos means “slave,” not “handmaid,” as some translations say. Ponder this! Mary is Christ’s first disciple. She believes! Her trust is based not on her own goodness or wisdom but on her understanding of God’s faithfulness, of his love. She joyfully surrenders her life to him and knows to whom she belongs. “Let it be with me according to your word,” she says.

She’s so happy about it, that she goes in haste to see her older relative Elizabeth in the hill country. What does she do when Elizabeth confirms the wonderful news? She sings!

She bursts into a song of praise for the God who has “looked with favor on the lowliness of his slave.” Magnificat is the Latin word that begins the phrase, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The world has been turned upside down with the angel’s announcement. The proud are scattered, the hungry are filled with good things; the rich are sent away empty. None of this has happened, yet, in Mary’s lifetime. But still she believes. She praises God’s strength and “mercy for those who fear him from generation to generation.” She is one who “fears” her Lord, holding God in awe and wonder, worshiping him, obeying his word.

Friends, I am challenged by Mary’s example to be more faithful, to live in obedience to the God for whom nothing is impossible! Are you challenged and inspired by Mary, too? Are you living the life God wants you to live? Do you know how God wants you to spend your love? If you ask the Lord, He will show you.

On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, we light a candle for love. We are stirred to remember the love of God who sent His only Son to be born, not with a fanfare of trumpets and a worldly, kingly welcome, but in a stable, from the womb of a humble, faithful young woman.

We remember the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—not just one time at our baptism, but continually refreshed in us as we seek him and walk with him each day. This love poured into our hearts is a love desperately needed by our hurting world, especially now, when so many are grieving the loss of loved ones. More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 alone this year!

I can’t imagine what that must be like—your loved one dying and you not being permitted to be with them, holding their hand.

The brokenness in this world can only be healed by LOVE, a love that responds to the Lord’s invitation to serve and trust in him, be comforted by Him and live for Him,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we magnify your holy name! We praise you for Jesus Christ, our Savior, and what you are doing here in our church, in our community, in our lives, in our hearts. We can’t see what is ahead for us, but we know you are with us. Thank you for your mercy and faithfulness to all generations. Help us to fear you and be obedient to your will. And when things look dark, teach us to trust in the One for whom nothing is impossible! In your Son’s precious name we pray. Amen.

Light One Candle for Love

Dec. 20, 2020 Virtual Worship

Fourth Sunday in Advent

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th. Street, Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Mark Wagner, Organist

April King and John, Mason, Jacob and Jonah Gano, Liturgists/Candle Lighters

Prelude: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming….arranged, Michael Bedford

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming….arranged, Michael Bedford (Mark Wagner, organ)

Greeting/Announcements

Greeting/Announcements/Birthdays with Pastor Karen

Hymn: Prepare the Way …Michael Burkhardt

Ron Barkett and Alice Hoover, tambourine

Lighting the Advent Wreath: April King; John, Mason, Jacob and Jonah Gano

Light one candle for love.

Hymn: Prepare the Way …Michael Burkhardt

Ron Barkett and Alice Hoover, tambourine

Opening Sentences and Gathering Prayer: Jonah Gano and April King

An angel spoke to Mary: “Do not be afraid!”

The child she carries will be God’s son, and the world will never be the same.

An angel spoke to Mary: “Do not be afraid!”

God was with her, and God is with us, drawing us into worship and praise.

Jonah Gano and April King, liturgists

Hymn: Love Has Come…. Ken Bible

Love Has Come…. Ken Bible (Mark Wagner, organ)

Love has come: a light in the darkness! Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it; hear how their song of joy arises:
Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior! Love! Love! Glory to God on high.

Love is born! Come, share in the wonder. Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See the glow in the eyes of his mother; what is the name her heart is saying?
Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers. Love! Love! Jesus, Emmanuel.

Love has come: and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free. Love is Jesus within and among us. Love is the peace our hearts are seeking. Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas. Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high!

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance

Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession and Assurance with Pastor Karen

An angel spoke to Mary: “Do not be afraid!” And yet, O Lord, we find ourselves paralyzed by fear of what we do not know. Forgive us of our sins, O Lord, and give us the faith of Mary to respond to your grace with lives of grateful praise. Let us hear the good news that she first heard: Light is breaking. Love is coming. The world is about to turn! Amen.

Hymn: Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming… Arr. by Norlan Bewley

Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming… Arr. by Norlan Bewley (The Tubafours: Ron Geese & Ron Coombs, euphonium; Jim Mcintyre & Ron Barkett, tuba)

Time with Children and Youth

Sermons 4Kids: What a Powerful Name
Claire Ryann, 4 year old soloist

Meet Our Church Family: Judy Addy talks about our needlepoint Christmas ornament tradition at The Presbyterian Church.

Judy Addy leads our needlepoint Christmas ornament project, made by many volunteers.

The ornaments are made by volunteers for our church families and are usually passed out at our Christmas Eve service. This year, the ornaments will be delivered to members’ homes.

Our 2020 Christmas Ornament (Fleur-de-lis Cross)

Prayer for Illumination and Readings: Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:46-55

This is the gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ!

Jacob Gano leading the prayer for illumination
Mason Gano, liturgist

Solo: Sweet Little Jesus Boy… Robert MacGimsey (Debbie Clark, soloist; Alice Hoover, piano)

Alice Hoover, piano, and Debbie Clark, soloist

Reading: Luke 1:26–38 with Pastor Karen

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Thanks be to God!

Luke 1:26–38 with Pastor Karen

Message: Light One Candle for Love

Light One Candle for Love (Pastor Karen’s message)

Hymn: My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful ShoutRory Cooney

Sung by the congregation of First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska, led by the Wartburg Choir on November 4, 2018. Arrangement by John Ferguson. Tom Trenney, organist. Used with permission.

Sung by the congregation of First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska, led by the Wartburg Choir on November 4, 2018. Arrangement by John Ferguson. Tom Trenney, organist. Used with permission.

My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on you servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
so from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn?

Refrain: My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me,
and your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn,
you will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.

Refrain

Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God who is turning the world around.

Refrain

Affirmation of Faith: Adapted from the Confession of 1967, 9.19

Out of Israel, God in due time raised up Jesus. His faith and obedience were the response of the perfect child of God. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel, the beginning of the new creation, and the pioneer of the new humanity. He gave history its meaning and direction and called the church to be his servant for the reconciliation of the world.

John Gano leads the affirmation of faith

Prayers of the People

Prayers of the People with Pastor

Watching and waiting for the coming of Christ, we pray for the promise of a new creation, saying: Come quickly, Lord; our hope is in you.  With expectation, we pray for the church . . .Fill our mouths with the song of your unending love. May we never stop proclaiming your faithfulness from one generation to another. Come quickly, Lord; our hope is in you.

With expectation, we pray for the world . . Come and dwell among all the people of the world. As you made your home with your people in ancient times, make your home among us now. Come quickly, Lord; our hope is in you. 

With expectation, we pray for this community . . .By your power at work in us, use usto bring healing and freedom, liberation and comfort, and to share the good news that you walk in our streets. Come quickly, Lord; our hope is in you.

With expectation, we pray for loved ones . . .Remember those who are hurting or searching. Even when they feel that all is lost hold their desires and dreams in your heart. Come quickly, Lord; our hope is in you. 

God our hope, as the promised day approaches, fill us with the joy of your Holy Spirit and strengthen us to serve you faithfully; through Christ, who is coming to reign and taught us to pray…

Lord’s Prayer

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, forever. Amen.

Invitation to the Offering

Invitation to the Offering with Pastor

Offertory: Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella….arranged, Alfred V. Fedak

Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella….arranged, Alfred V. Fedak

Today’s offertory and postlude come from An Advent Christmas Suite, Alfred Fedak is organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Capitol Hill in Albany, NY. His arrangements of these “Christmas hymns” have some unusual harmonies and rhythms to remind us that we are still in the season of preparation and waiting, even though we know Christmas is near. This year, Advent is even more symbolic of the world we are living in. Take heart that this is only a season. Just as the music eventually finds its way to a harmonious ending chord, we will one day be allowed to worship together again.

Prayer of Thanksgiving/Dedication

Prayer of Thanksgiving/Dedication with Pastor

Holy God, your love is magnified in the gift of your Son, whom you so freely share with us. Bless these gifts that we offer to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry in your coming reign of justice and peace; in Christ’s name. Amen.

Hymn: It Came Upon the Midnight ClearEdmund Hamilton Sears

Hymn: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear… Edmund Hamilton Sears (Mark Wagner, organ)

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to all, from heaven’s all gracious King”:
The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the wary world:
above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

For lo, the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold,
when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.

Charge and Benediction

Charge and Benediction with Pastor Karen

Postlude: God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen…arranged, Alfred V. Fedak

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen…arranged, Alfred V. Fedak (Mark Wagner, organ)

Dec. 13, 2020 Virtual Worship

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Third Sunday in Advent

Pastor Karen Crawford

Karen Yost and Jay Gill, Liturgists and Advent Candle Lighters

Prelude: Advent Procession…arranged, Phil Lehenbauer

Mark Wagner, Organ

Greeting/Announcements with Pastor Karen

Greeting with Pastor Karen

Hymn: Prepare the Way of the Lord….arranged by Michael Burkhardt

Ron Barkett, Soloist

Lighting the Advent Wreath (Jay Gill and Karen Yost)

Light one candle for joy.

Karen Yost and Jay Gill, Liturgists

Hymn: Prepare the Way of the Lord.arranged by Michael Burkhardt

Ron Barkett, Soloist

Opening Sentences and Gathering Prayer: Jay Gill

We gather in this holy place to bear witness to the Light.

The love of God shines upon us and reveals the truth of God’s mercy.

We gather in this holy place to bear witness to the Truth.

The truth of our gospel is good news for the oppressed and a balm for the brokenhearted.

Jay Gill, Liturgist

Hymn: 88 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel …. arranged, John Weaver

Mark Wagner, Organ

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

O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who ordered all thing 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, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance of Pardon with Pastor

Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon with Pastor Karen

Your love is good news for the oppressed, O Lord, and you bind up the brokenhearted. Forgive us, O God, when we think that your good news is only for us. Forgive us, O God, when we twist your gospel into something that fits comfortably into our lives. By your light, let us see you leading us beyond ourselves and into the world you love. By your grace, forgive us, and free us to try again. Amen.

Time with Children and Youth: Lighthouses!

Sermons4Kids

Prayer for Illumination

Karen Yost, Liturgist

Readings: Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Karen Yost, Liturgist

Solo: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Jesus, the Light of the World)

Charles Wesley and George D. Elderkin, arr. Evelyn Simpson-Curenton

Alice Hoover, Piano, and Debbie Clark, Soloist

Reading: John 1:6–8, 19–28 with Pastor Karen

Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Thanks be to God.  

John 1:6-8, 19-28 with Pastor Karen

Message:        Light One Candle for Joy

Pastor Karen’s message, “Light One Candle for Joy.”

Hymn: 96 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry…..Charles Coffin

Mark Wagner, Organ

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announce that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings glad &dings of the King of kings!

Then cleansed be every life from sin; make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare for Christ to come and enter there.

We hail you as our Savior, Lord, our refuge and our great reward;
without your grace we waste away life flowers that wither and decay.

Stretch forth your hand; our health restore, and make us rise to fall no more.
O let your face upon us shine and fill the world with love divine.

Prayer of Intercession/Lord’s Prayer/Invitation to the Offering

Prayer of Intercession/Lord’s Prayer and invitation to the Offering

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, forever. Amen.

Offertory: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry….. arranged, Gilbert M. Martin

Puer Nobis Nascitur …… Michael Praetorius, 1609 (Mark Wagner, Organ)

Prayer of Dedication

Prayer of Dedication with Pastor Karen

God Most High, receive the gifts of our lives as an offering of gratitude for your grace. Overshadow us with your Holy Spirit and let it be with us according to your word, for nothing is impossible with you. Amen.

Hymn: 744 Arise, Your Light Is Come! Ruth Duck

Mark Wagner, Organ

Arise, your light is come! The Spirit’s call obey;
Show forth the glory of your God, which shines on you today.

Arise, your light is come! Fling wide the prison door;
Proclaim the captives’ liberty, good tidings to the poor.

Arise, your light is come! All you in sorrow born,
Bind up the brokenhearted ones and comfort those who mourn.

Arise, your light is come! The mountains burst in song!
Rise up like eagles on the wing; God’s power will make us strong.

Charge/Benediction

Charge and Benediction with Pastor Karen

Postlude: Noel, Noel, Now Sing a Saviour’s Birth … Arr. Olive Nelson Russell

Mark Wagner, Organist

Light One Candle for Joy

Meditation on 1 Thess. 5:16-24

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 13, 2020

Art by Stushie

Audio file of Pastor Karen’s message:

Light One Candle for Joy with Pastor Karen

Video of “Light One Candle for Joy”

Our women’s book group finished the study of Joanna Weaver’s Lazarus Awakening this past week.  We have been meeting on Zoom, I want to say, since April or May, beginning with Beth Moore’s study, Chasing Vines. We decided to meet after our church building closed because we were longing to be with our Christian friends, face to face. And we wanted to encourage one another in our walk with the Lord.

 Lazarus Awakening highlights spiritual truths in the gospel of John’s account of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, after he had been in the tomb for 4 days! This is proof that Christ is the Messiah, God’s Son, and was a shadow of what was to come—Christ’s own death and resurrection, with the promise of our resurrection with Him. Joanna’s teaching videos were filmed in the Holy Land, where, among other places, we visited the place thought to be the actual tomb of Lazarus on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives in the biblical village of Bethany, east of Jerusalem. Visitors access the tomb by descending a flight of 24 uneven, rock-cut steps, then passing through a square antechamber or vestibule with a stone seat that serves as a place of prayer. The remains of the deceased were laid in the lower burial chamber, measuring a little more than two square meters. Tradition says that Jesus was standing in this antechamber or vestibule when he called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Outcasts from village life often lived in these vestibules or mid-chambers in the tombs. Joanna warned us about those who settle for a kind of mid-chamber living today, stuck in our Christian walk, held captive by our own fear or doubts. Sometimes we choose to NOT really live as Christ has given us the freedom and power to live—courageously and joyfully, by faith, listening for the One who is Love call our name.

***

On this Third Sunday in Advent, we light the pink candle for joy! On this day in the church year, while we are still reading about John the Baptist preparing the way and not Christ’s birth, we remember and give thanks for the joy that is always present with us in our ever-changing circumstances of our lives. This is a joy that nothing, not even a pandemic, can take away!  This joy in the Lord, as Nehemiah told God’s people long ago, is our strength!

This joy is experienced when we draw nearer to the Lord, seeking His will. The psalmist sings in 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

The Apostle Paul connects joy with hope, peace, and faith in Romans 15:13. They are inseparable companions. He says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.” Paul tells the Galatians in 5:22 that joy, along with love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and faith, are all fruits of the Spirit—evidence of the Spirit’s dwelling within us and transforming us into Christ’s likeness.

In our reading in First Thessalonians today, Paul connects joy with prayer and giving thanks to God. This letter is the oldest document we have in the New Testament and is filled with hope and instruction for those living in these in-between times, waiting for our Lord to come again and wondering what will happen when Christ DOES finally return. This hope is much needed by the early Christian community, Paul’s first audience, living as a persecuted minority, struggling with disappointment when Christ takes longer to return than they expect.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,” Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” This little-used Greek word translated “quench” is often applied to extinguishing a lamp, as in the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids in Matt. 25:8, when the foolish ones say to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” What Paul is saying is that if we fail to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the Lord, we can actually block the Spirit’s work in our lives. That reminds me of Joanna Weaver’s mid-chamber living!

We can choose to be miserable and even tell ourselves that this is God’s will and the best we can do. But that’s not what God wants for us. Joy isn’t something that comes from outside of us; it’s a gift from God within us. Paul says in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

How then, should we live, while waiting for our Savior? Paul tells Christ’s followers in 1 Thess. 4:1 to live lives that are pleasing to God and “do so more and more.” Meaning that this isn’t something we necessarily know how to do, not at first. It’s something we learn, just like Paul had to learn to be content in the changing circumstances of his life. This goes against the natural bent of human beings. Let’s face it. We like to complain and look back at the good old days, when things were better or easier or just more comfortable. But the Christian life is always moving forward—and that means learning new ways through practice, by faith, and with the Spirit’s help. It’s like anything new—the hardest part is the first time we try to make the change, but never forgetting why we do what we do and the One whom we love and serve. We have to remember our purpose in life—and hold fast to what is good, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, abstaining from every form of evil.

John the Baptist is a great example of one who knew his purpose in life; he was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, though he wasn’t even sure, at the time, who the Messiah was. He wasn’t intimidated by the Pharisees and religious leaders asking him, “Who are you?” He knew who he wasn’t—not the Messiah, not Elijah. And, empowered by the Spirit, he was willing to do the work God equipped him to do.

Are you willing to join with the Spirit and do God’s work, too?

***

After our group’s last meeting for Lazarus Awakening on Thursday, it was hard for us to say goodbye. We wanted to linger in that spirit of joy and peace experienced since we began meeting via Zoom last spring. We have decided to continue meeting after the first of the year for another study. It might be another book by Joanna Weaver. We haven’t decided, yet. There’s plenty of room for you, if you want to join with us, too. What matters, we have decided, is that we come together to build up one another in hope and faith and share our joy in the Lord.

On Thursday, we concluded our study by watching Joanna’s video, “Light of Eternity,” before breaking into small groups to discuss how, then, we should live—in light of the fact that there is MORE to come. We liked her list of suggestions so much that I want to share them with you now. Here they are…

    “Live fully. Don’t waste today regretting the past or fearing the future, for it may be your last day on earth. Make it count for God.

  “Hold things loosely. Since we can’t take our possessions with us, enjoy what you have, but don’t cling so tightly to stuff or fall into the trap of always wanting more.

   “Value people highly. People are the true treasures of life, worth nurturing and investing in, for they are the only thing on the earth we can possibly take with us when we leave.

    “Travel lightly. Don’t carry baggage from past hurts, and don’t pick up grudges as you go. Life’s too short to be voluntarily miserable.

    “Love completely.  Let God reveal His love for people through you. Be tender-hearted, not hardheaded, patient and quick to forgive, merciful and slow to judge.

     “Give freely. Don’t hoard what you have. Instead, share it with a joyful heart, and you’ll be given more. Generosity releases blessings as sowing seed leads to harvest.

  And…. “Look expectantly. Keep looking up even as you walk here on earth, always ready and waiting for the imminent return of Christ. Be heavenly minded so you can be of earthly good.”

     Friends, LOVE is calling your name. Come out of the tomb! Don’t choose mid-chamber living in fear and doubt.

     You have a purpose—to bear witness to Christ, your Savior. The joy of the Lord is your strength! That joy is available to you RIGHT now—a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit.

     Live fully and courageously, in Light of Eternity! For there is more to come!

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for giving us life and all that we would need to live this life and be pleasing to you. Thank you for sending Jesus, our Emmanuel, to lead us back to you when we went our own way and to remain with us always, strengthening us with your joy. But Lord, the days seem so dark right now, as we live through this pandemic. We are dealing with many changes and grieving loved ones and experiences we enjoyed in past Christmases, including our worship in our beautiful sanctuary, singing together all our wonderful hymns of praise. Teach us how to be content and even joyful in all circumstances, giving thanks to you in prayer without ceasing, abstaining from every form of evil. Remind us that in our every wilderness is the hope of your miraculous provision and, ultimately, the wilderness will end at the River Jordan, the beginning of the Promised Land. Grant us courage to live fully and not settle for mid-chamber living. You want so much more for us. Open our ears to hear Love call our name and obey you, more and more. Amen.

Virtual Worship for Dec. 6, 2020

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Second Sunday of Advent

Pastor Karen Crawford

Alice Hoover, Organist

Kirsten McPeck, Kiera McPeck, Lydia Black, Liturgists

Prelude: Savior, of the Nations Come….. Andreas Vetter

Greeting/Announcements with Pastor Karen

Hymn: Prepare the Way of the Lord…..Michael Burkhardt; Ron Barkett and Alice Hoover

Lighting the Advent Wreath: Kirsten McPeck, Kiera McPeck, Lydia Black

Light one candle for peace.

Hymn: Prepare the Way of the Lord…..Michael Burkhardt; Ron Barkett and Alice Hoover

Opening Sentences and Gathering Prayer:  Liturgist

A voice cries out in the wilderness,

“Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Let us line the road with beauty

and pave it with acts of justice.

For the Holy One is coming our way,

the giver of life and the source of living water.

Hymn: 87 Comfort, Comfort Now My People….. Johannes Olearius

“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.”

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 away
Let the valleys rise in meeting and the hills bow down in greeting.

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.

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance of Pardon

“Prepare the way of the Lord,” your prophet says to us. Forgive us when we have failed to prepare your way. Forgive us when we have stood in your way, instead: when we let the challenging words of your prophets roll off of lives, rather than let them spark change; when we walk around a neighbor in need, rather than encounter a chance for compassion. Forgive us, O Lord, and grant us assurance that the glory of your coming does not depend upon the righteousness of your followers. Forgive us, O Lord, and free us to try again. Amen.

Meet Our Church Family: Jeff, Janice and Lukas Sycks

Meet Our Church Family: The Haines

We have been enjoying the start of the Christmas season. We were able to spend Thanksgiving together.We have begun enjoying our Christmas traditions, and introducing our grandson to our traditions, finding and cutting our Christmas trees, and spending the evening at the Columbus Zoo for the Wildlights. — Liz Haines

Lift Up Your Heads… arr. by Olaf Christiansen, sung by Coshocton Community Choir at the Christmas Festival Concert in 2005, used with permission 12/20

Lift Up Your Heads… arr. by Olaf Christiansen, sung by Coshocton Community Choir at the Christmas Festival Concert in 2005

Time with Children and Youth

John the Baptist and Jesus

Prayer for Illumination and Readings: Isaiah 40:1–11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a.     

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Come to the Water….John Foley, S.J., sung by Coshocton Community Choir at the Christmas Festival Concert in 2005, used with permission 12/20

Come to the Water….John Foley, S.J., sung by Coshocton Community Choir at the Christmas Festival Concert in 2005, used with permission 12/20

Reading: Mark 1:1-8. 

Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Thanks be to God.  

Message:                     Light One Candle for Peace

Hymn: 106 Prepare the Way, O Zion………. Frans Mikael Franzen

Prepare the way, O Zion, your Christ is drawing near!
Let every bill 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.

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.

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.

Invitation to the Table and the Offering

Offertory: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus…………. setting, Wayne Leupold

Doxology

Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Lord’s Prayer (Debts and Debtors)

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, forever. Amen.

Communion of the People

Communion Song: Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence…. arr., Ralph Vaughan Williams

Prayer after Communion

Charge and Blessing

Postlude: A Trumpeting (An Advent Postlude)…….Edward Broughton

Meet Our Church Family: The Haines

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Dec. 6, 2020

We have been enjoying the start of the Christmas season. We were able to spend Thanksgiving together.We have begun enjoying our Christmas traditions, and introducing our grandson to our traditions, finding and cutting our Christmas trees, and spending the evening at the Columbus Zoo for the Wildlights. — Liz Haines

Light a Candle for Peace

Meditation on Mark 1:1-8

Second Sunday in Advent

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 6, 2020

We decorated our home for Christmas this week. This may be the earliest we have ever decorated for Christmas!

     You know how some people decorate their trees with color schemes or themes? That’s not me. I have an eclectic collection of ornaments, some that are older than I am and were hung on our Christmas tree when I was a child. Others are gifts from friends, family, and flocks over the years. And then there are all the personalized ornaments with names or dates—Baby’s First Christmas and all that. And then there are the ones my adult children made for our tree when they were little kids: the felt snowman missing its black felt hat; other ornaments with ribbons frayed, glitter rubbed off, googly eyes slightly askew, scratches, chips or dings.

I smiled as I hung these priceless treasures that bring back happy memories of loved ones, now grown—and still loved.

    This is how I imagine God sees each one of us as we try to please and honor him and show our love with our gifts. No matter how you and I feel about ourselves, we are the Beloved Children of God, created in God’s image for love. I imagine God smiling whenever we offer all of ourselves, without holding back or hiding our weaknesses and imperfections: ribbons frayed, glitter rubbed off, googly eyes askew, chips, cracks and dings. When we come to the Lord in humility and vulnerability, desiring God and knowing our need for redemption, the Lord embraces and forgives us, heals us and makes us whole.

Today, on this Second Sunday in Advent, when we hear a voice crying to us in our wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, we light a candle for peace—a peace we long to have within ourselves and with one another. A peace with God we have now in Jesus Christ.

    This kind of honesty, humility, and vulnerability that God wants from us is what John the Baptist models for us in today’s gospel in Mark. John reveals a heart wanting to serve and please God alone, at a risk to his own life. He models the boldness of speech that the Apostle Paul will speak of in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

    John fearlessly tells it like it is, like all the Old Testament prophets. His truth telling makes powerful enemies, including King Herod, to whom he says it isn’t lawful for him to have his brother’s wife. This will bring about his execution in chapter 6.

    His clothing of camel’s hair and a leather belt is a reminder of the prophet Elijah, who not only dresses rough and plain, but is known to be hairy. The wilderness is a place where we God’s miracles of provision are experienced. While John survives on a diet of locusts and wild honey, the prophet Elijah is fed meat and bread by ravens on one occasion and by an angel of the Lord on another when the prophet is discouraged and exhausted, traveling 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb. The wilderness is where God feeds the Israelites manna from heaven and cross the Jordan River into the Land of the Promise. That same Jordan River is the one Elijah strikes with his cloak, parting the water so that he and Elisha cross on dry land. And in 2 Kings 2:11, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” The Jordan River will be the place where John will baptize Jesus and the Spirit will descend on him like a dove.

The book of Mark begins with John appearing in the wilderness, suddenly, abruptly, with Mark’s language as rough and plain as the character of John himself. Mark is not everybody’s favorite gospel. In fact, there are much fewer commentaries written on Mark, compared to Matthew, Luke and John. But Mark, the briefest gospel, is probably the original gospel, with Matthew and Luke having read Mark and added their own details and embellishments, which we all appreciate. But one curious thing about Mark is the unique way he starts: “The beginning of the good news (or gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The word gospel is an interesting word. Encyclopedia Brittanica says that it is “derived from the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning ‘good story,’ a rendering of the Latin evangelium and the Greek euangelion, meaning ‘good news’ or ‘good telling.’” Mark is saying, “I have wonderful news!” There’s no question of Mark’s faith—that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Gospel is one of Mark’s favorite words, using it at least 7 times in his book—3 in the first chapter alone.

So even though Mark starts with John appearing in the wilderness, the story—the whole story—is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God—and how this is good news for the world!

Did you notice that Mark tells us very little about John, well, beyond his clothes and diet, his baptizing, and a few sentences of his message? If you want to know more about him, you have to read Luke, who begins his gospel with the story of John’s parents, Zechariah the priest and Elizabeth, his wife, a descendant of Aaron. They are a childless couple, “getting on in years” when Elizabeth miraculously conceived. John will be “great in the sight of the Lord,” says an angel to Zechariah in 1:15. “He must never drink wine or strong drink.” Though he doesn’t baptize with the Holy Spirit, John, even before his birth, is filled with the Spirit. “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God,” said the angel to Zechariah. “With the Spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteousness, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John the Baptist is a kind of Rock Star living in the wilderness around the Jordan River. Some say that the reason crowds followed John is because no one else would welcome them quite the same way and give them hope. His appeal was universal; people came from all over and all walks of life. The whole Judean countryside and the city dwellers of Jerusalem came to hear John’s message and be baptized by immersion in the muddy river. In a time of political unrest, Roman oppression, and corruption in their religious institution, they are longing for CHANGE. And they want to meet God and be made ready to live in an intimate relationship with Him, something not open to the common people before, only the religious elite. And yet, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had always wanted an intimate relationship with His Children and be the only one they worshiped and loved.

Here in the wilderness, John is doing something no one else has done before; a new kind of “baptism” of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Before, baptism in First Century Judaism was a ritual, along with circumcision, for Gentile converts to Judaism, but without all the spiritual significance that came with Christian baptism. John’s baptism IS a sign of a promise of new beginnings, of the grace and mercy of God that will be revealed through the Coming One and the power of the Holy Spirit that His followers will receive.

 Mark emphasizes the welcome, leaving out John’s comments that Matthew and Luke include to those who come without a sincere desire to turn from sin and change their selfish ways. In Matthew 3:7, John sees “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing.” He says to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” John asks the same question in Luke and demands they prove their change of heart by producing fruit in keeping with repentance.

John tells the anxious crowds in Luke that to bear good fruit means caring and sharing with others in need. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Soldiers are told not to extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations and be satisfied with their wages. Even tax collectors come to be baptized! The people are “filled with expectation” and wonder whether John might be the Messiah.

In Mark, like the other gospels, John doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. He doesn’t say, “Look at me.” He points away from himself—to the Lord.

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;” he says. “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Friends, in this season of waiting and watching, hoping for our Lord’s return, we hear the voice of the one crying to us now in our wilderness to turn back to God. Just as we are. All of ourselves. In our weakness and imperfection. In our vulnerability. Come back as people who know their need for a Savior, to be redeemed from our sins.

This is a God who loves us in a way we can’t understand because we struggle to love ourselves. We see the flaws– ribbons frayed, glitter rubbed off, googly eyes askew, chips, cracks and dings. We become obsessed with our own unworthiness. Discouraged when things don’t go the way we want them to go. When hopes and dreams aren’t fulfilled. When we have persistent struggles. All the while, God sees us as Beloved Children, a priceless treasure for which He gave His only Son so that we may live with Him eternally.

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” The voice crying from the wilderness beckons our gaze upward– to look upon the face of our Messiah, the one who is coming and is COME. But also, to look around. Bear the fruit of repentance; care for others, share with those in need.

Today is a new beginning. For all who have embraced the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, yesterday is gone. Our sins have been washed clean in the waters of baptism, where Christ claimed us as His own and the Spirit came to dwell within us.

Look upon the One who sees us for who we really are, and not only that, but who we will become, when the Spirit’s work is complete.

Light a candle for peace—with God, ourselves, and one another.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for sending us the Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords, our Emmanuel, who is both with us now and coming soon. Lord, we know we need to change. We need to prepare the way of the Lord by coming to you, approaching the throne of grace, confessing our sins, confessing our need for your redemption. We come to you now, just as we are. In all our weakness and frailty. In our vulnerability. We come in love and trust, hope and faith, knowing that you are a God of love who wants to embrace, heal and restore us, make us whole. In the name of your precious Son we pray. Amen.

F.O.R. Jesus

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