Home Worship Service December 13

Union Church
Biddeford Pool
…a place of peace and Presence by the sea

Union Church Home Service, December 13, 2020

Advent 3
“I Believe in the Sun: Ode to Joy”
December 13, 2020


Focus: “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”  —Robin Wall Kimmerer


Lighting of the Advent Wreath:

Leader One: Let us light this third candle of Advent, a candle of Joy.
In its light, let us turn our worries into prayers
for God to be present to us right now,
as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

Leader Two: Let this candle of Advent Joy
shine in our hearts all week to remind us
to seek joy in each moment, to spread joy to others,
and to be the joy and light of Christ to our weary world.

Music:      “I Believe in the Sun” Video

Call To Worship:

Leader:      Let us hear what God will speak,
Tender words for a burdened people:

People:    Comfort, comfort, my people!
                  The days of sorrow are ending!

Leader:      Let us hear what God will speak,
Encouraging words for an anxious people:

People:    Prepare a way for the Holy One,
                  Through deserts of despair
                  build a highway for our God!

Leader:      Let us hear what God will speak,
words of vision for a weary people:

People:      Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
                    righteousness and peace will kiss!
                    Come, let us worship!

Opening Hymn: The Cherry Tree Carol  (15th Century Christmas Carol/Anonymous)  —Patricia Mulholland

Opening Prayer: 

Holy One,
we thank you for the glimpses we catch
of your gift of the depths of joy.
Even in the midst of fear,
of challenge, of struggle–
even when our view is obscured
by clouds of doubt, ignite the flame of joy
within us, that we might glow with its
brilliance from the inside out.

Lord’s Prayer

Scripture:   Isaiah 57: 14-19, Luke 1: 1-4; 26-56    Nancy Batchelor

Sermon    Seeking Inspiration and Joy               Rev. Paula Norbert

(Trailer Following the Ninth)

Music:  Instrumental Music of the Season  —Michelle Currie

Musical call to Prayer:  Prayers in the Stillness (by Mark A. Miller)  —Michelle Currie

                                    Prayers of the People

Closing Music:  Joy to the World (by George Frideric Handel)     —Michelle Currie


Be people of joy.
Let joy live in your heart and share the joy of Christ
with those you meet.
Share joy by seeing the good in each other.
Share joy by remembering good times and
hoping for good times to come.
Share joy by praying for our world.
In this Advent season, we need to see, feel, and share joy.
As you go out into the wonder of God’s creations, share joy,
peace, and hope with those you meet. Amen.

Postlude:  Go In Peace

Worship Notes:  Worship series design © Worship Design Studio by Marcia McFee. Used, adapted, and live-streamed with permission. www.worshipdesignstudio.com.

Our Scripture Readings

Isaiah 57: 14-19 (CEB)

It will be said: “Survey, survey; build a road!
Remove barriers from my people’s road!”
The one who is high and lifted up,
who lives forever, whose name is holy, says:
I live on high, in holiness,
and also with the crushed and the lowly,
reviving the spirit of the lowly,
reviving the heart of those who have been crushed.

I won’t always accuse,
nor will I be enraged forever.
It is my own doing that their spirit is exhausted—
I gave them breath!
I was enraged about their illegal profits;
I struck them; in rage I withdrew from them.
Yet they went on wandering wherever they wanted.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them.
I will guide them,
and reward them with comfort.

And for those who mourn,
I will create reason for praise:
utter prosperity to those far and near,
and I will heal them, says the Lord.

Gospel Reading       Luke 1: 1-4; 26-56 (CEB)

Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received…

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. Her name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had relations with a man?”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was believed ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.

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Sermon – December 13, 2020

Advent 3
“A Personal Ode to Joy”

Rev. Paula Norbert

“I Believe in God: Ode to Joy”
Synopsis : This week we turn to Luke’s writing which is an account in two acts: the Gospel biography of Jesus and then the story of the early church–the “Jesus community.” Whether you were a Jew or Gentile in those days, deciding to become a part of this illegal early Christian movement could bring punishment for your allegiance. Surely the message in both Luke and Isaiah that the downcast, lowly, and oppressed would rise up is a welcome and inspirational account. Like the Jewish exiled people of Isaiah’s time and like the early Christians, we also sometimes wonder where God is in our suffering. We long to hear the promise that a reason for joyful praise is the good news on the way!

Scripture: Isaiah 57: 14-19, Luke 1: 1-4; 26-56

As we celebrate this third week of Advent, our focus is on joy. Maybe some among us are struggling to find a taste of joy in these challenging times while others may be discovering that joy can be present in the simple experiences of preparing for the holidays, venturing out on a starry night or seeing the lights shine throughout our neighborhoods and towns. Traditionally, the third week of Advent takes “Joy” as its central theme. It’s sometimes called, “Gaudete Sunday” (gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin), and its candle in Advent wreaths is often rose-colored. While Advent is a time of longing and waiting in the shadows for Christ to come, there’s also room for taking some “anticipatory joy” in his coming — much like the moments of joy in this week’s reading from Luke. We must remember that Joy may be found within our lives even within difficult circumstances. Joy is a deeper sense of satisfaction that unfolds as we reflect with gratitude on the blessings of our days and within our faith journey as we move closer to the birth of the Child within our hearts and world this year. Let us pray, O Holy One of stillness and peace, show us the places of joy in our world. Enable each of us to share in the joy of this beautiful season, the joys in the midst of challenges, and the joy of your promise of great love for our broken world. Amen.

Our reading from Isaiah today is one that occurs late in the prophet’s writings as he speaks about the process of rebuilding, rebuilding a community, rebuilding faith and trust in God. In this translation, we hear God call to “remove barriers from my people’s road” and we imagine the struggles that community faced in that time, the barriers that caused such suffering and pain to a people. And, we have been reminded over these months of the ways in which our own nation still has many barriers we must yet take down if true justice and equality is to be shared by all. And so, as the people of this earlier time, we must continue to “survey, survey!” We must continue to tend to the hearts that are crushed. Joy comes in our work, step-by-step, to break down barriers and strength comes in the confidence we may have that God is working alongside us, inviting us to be aware of our own limitations as a community when we may find ourselves going off course, leaving the path that God desires for our broken world. There is much to distract us from the work that yet needs to be done, and in these times, it may be easier to isolate ourselves than to take in the reality that is unfolding right outside our doors. And so, we seek balance as we do need to tend to our own hearts and spirits but as a faith community, we have a responsibility to listen to the Word of God and allow it to guide us, inspire us, and challenge us.

We are living through days where we need to pay attention to the full range of emotions, as we take in both the fear and suffering while working hard to cultivate the faith and hope, the deep joy of this sacred season. Like the community to whom Isaiah wrote, we know we are in a time of mourning for our brothers and sisters, dying each day, from this virus. As we pass each milestone, the numbers can seem so abstract, but the reality of every precious human life lost cannot be ignored it. We are all in need of words of comfort. Like those in exile, we need to look ahead and trust that there will be reasons to praise. God says “For those who mourn, I will create a reason for praise… I will heal them.”

We turn to Luke’s original story this week. The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels as it details the events of Jesus’ birth as an important way of understanding who Jesus is. Luke was attempting to share important stories of Jesus’ life so that his message would extend beyond the early followers, so that all might come to see Jesus’ saving presence. To these fledgling new Christian communities, Mary’s Magnificat would have read like a rallying protest speech, calling for justice and putting powerful words in the mouth of a self-proclaimed “servant.” Some in those early communities would have heard their own occupation reflected in that word. Joy–deep human thriving–can happen in the midst of oppression when people are inspired to raise their voice, to raise up to their full height and proclaim their worth.

There is a powerful and inspiring documentary called Following the Ninth, which is a film about the global impact of Beethoven’s final symphony. The film, which was released in mid-2013, has been shown in many cities in the United States and around the globe. (Show Trailer)
Written in 1824, near the end of Beethoven’s life, the Ninth Symphony was composed by a man with little for which to be thankful. Sick, alienated from almost everyone, and completely deaf, Beethoven had never managed to find love, nor create the family he’d always wanted. And yet, despite this, he managed to create an anthem of joy that embraces the transcendence of beauty over suffering. Celebrated to this day for its ability to heal, repair, and bring people together across great divides, the Ninth has become an anthem of liberation and hope that has inspired many around the world:

• At Tiananmen Square in 1989, students played the Ninth Symphony over loudspeakers as the army came in to crush their struggle for freedom.
• In Chile, women living under the Pinochet dictatorship sang the Ninth at torture prisons, where men inside took hope when they heard their voices.
• As the Berlin Wall came down in December 1989, it collapsed to the sound of Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as an “Ode To Freedom.”
• In Japan each December, the Ninth is performed hundreds of times, often with 10,000 people in the chorus. Following the Ninth gives us insight into the heightened importance of this massive communal Ninth, known as “Daiku,” in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

The beginning of the film features Billy Bragg, a British punk rocker (who sees himself as a “common man” and self-trained musician) who once wrote an alternative translation of the original German choral score for a school teacher to teach the children in her classroom, and it soon became a popular anthem; it even was performed for the Queen. In his words you can hear the call to resist division, to raise our voices, to “furnish every heart with joy and banish all hatred for good.” May these words serve as an inspiration for us too, in this time, and despite all of our sorrows. May we each find our own Ode to Joy.

“See now like a Phoenix rising
from the rubble of the war
hope of ages manifested
peace and freedom evermore.
Brothers, sisters stand together,
raise your voices now as one.
Though by history divided,
reconciled in unison.

Throw off now the chains of ancient
bitterness and enmity.
And in hand let’s walk together
on the path of liberty.
Hark…a new dawn is breaking;
raise your voices now as one.
Though by history divided,
reconciled in unison.

What’s to be then all my brothers,
sisters; what is in your hearts?
Tell me now the hopes you harbour,
What’s the task and where to start.
… Those speak ten million voices;
every word is understood.
Furnish every heart with joy
and banish all hatred for good.”

Trailer, start at 1:28.

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