Home Worship Service November 29

Union Church
Biddeford Pool
…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
Union Church Home Service, November 29, 2020

“Raise your voice… do not be afraid.”
—The Messenger

Advent 1
“I Believe in the Sun: Hope for Tomorrow”
November 29, 2020


This Advent, we are looking to hear words of comfort, of challenge and of good news. The prophet Isaiah and the four Gospel authors were writing in a time when people desperately needed to hear these words as well. This first week, Isaiah, the prophet, and Gospel writer Mark reassure the people that good news is coming and yet they both say, “Make yourself ready! Raise your voices, change your hearts, get ready to be transformed, because now is the time.” Let us embrace hope that we can do what needs to be done to bring more light into the world.

 Focus:  In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.    —Frederick Buechner


Lighting of the Advent Wreath:

Reader 1: In a world where so many have lost hope, we call upon you, Lord of Hope, to come.
Reader 2: In this season of Advent, we wait for the coming of Hope into our world. We await the birth of the Christ-child, the coming of God into our lives in a new way.
Reader 1: Come, Messiah, Come, and Save Us
Light the first purple candle.
Prayer: Dear God, we pray for the hope that is in Christ to come into our lives in a new way. May we become hope that is alive in our world. Amen.
You are invited to light your Advent 1 candle of Hope at this time.”

Music:  “I Believe in the Sun” Video  

Call To Worship:
L: Christ, God’s gift to the world, shall come:
P: For those who feel despair will know hope.
L: For those who are oppressed will know freedom
P: For those who are lonely will know love.
L: For those who are suffering will know inner peace.
P: O Christ, Lord of the world, your time is now.
All: Fill our hearts with joy!

Opening Hymn:  Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord, Michelle Currie

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

Lord’s Prayer

Scripture:   Isaiah 40: 1-11, Mark 1: 1-15

SermonHope For Tomorrow                        Rev. Paula Norbert

Music:   Instrumental                                        Michelle Currie              

Musical call to Prayer:  Prayers in the Stillness, Michelle Currie

Prayers of the People:

Closing Music:  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Michelle Currie

We wait for justice
but we do not wait to work for change;
We wait for restored health
but we do not wait to work to heal;
We wait for wholeness
but we do not wait to work at binding brokenness;
We wait for peace
but we do not wait to work to eliminate hatred.

And so, my friends, like bells ringing out the news
that the sun still shines even on cloudy days,
fill the night left by sadness with messages of hope.
Go into your lives humming the tunes that keep that hope alive in you
and that spur you on in your work of justice and reconciliation.
Raise your voices and repeat after me…
“do not be afraid!”
“do not be afraid!”  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 Reading:

 Isaiah 40: 1-11 (CEB)

Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.

The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying:
“Call out!”
And another said,
“What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.

The grass dries up
and the flower withers
when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
Surely the people are grass.

The grass dries up;
the flower withers,
but our God’s word will exist forever.

Go up on a high mountain,
messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout,
messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

Here is the Lord God,
coming with strength,
with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him
and his payment before him.

Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms
and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide the nursing ewes.


Gospel Reading

Mark 1: 1-15 (CEB)

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

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Sermon – November 29, 2020

Advent 1
“I Believe in the Sun: Hope for Tomorrow”

Rev. Paula Norbert


Isaiah 40: 1-11, Mark 1: 1-15

“Raise your voice… raise it; don’t be afraid!” – Isaiah 40:9

We gather today on this first Sunday of Advent to be together in prayer. I’m sure you have noticed that many in our local communities started decorating for the holidays early this year; I think in large part because, as one Christmas song offers, “we need a little Christmas right this very minute.” But of course, the Season of Advent is a special season for communities of faith. It is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to revisit the beautiful readings of the season from Scripture and to carve out time in our days to savor the season and prepare our hearts and our spirits for the coming of the Christ Child once again. Let us begin, O Holy One, help us to be present to this sacred season; inspire us and help us to embrace in ever deeper ways, your hopes for our world that we may prepare the way for your Son once again here among us. Amen.

Sadly, we know that the history of humanity is filled with pain–especially the pain that is accompanied by fear and has led to much oppression and violence of one people against another. And we know that this reality was also the world into which Jesus was born and through which his teachings would offer challenge and call for transformation. Our opening song today was inspired by the words of an anonymous Jewish poet, “I believe in the sun, even when the sun is not shining,” which were scrawled on a wall during the Holocaust. This theme song for our season helps call us back to that message of hope even in the midst of fear and sorrow and to reexamine the core message that Jesus sought to teach in his ministry during but a few short years here on earth. Despite the conflict and divisions have exited over the centuries, the season of Advent, the readings and hymns, call us to a different response– transformation and reconciliation through hope, love, joy, and peace. This Advent and Christmas, let us fill the night with music and light and affirm and act on the reasons why we can still “believe, even when” we are discouraged.

Both of our Scripture texts today come out of times when people needed hope for a new day. Isaiah is writing to a people in exile. The text in chapter 40 is part of “Second Isaiah” and has a much more comforting tone than the first set of chapters. There was great fear within the community to which Isaiah spoke and fear has spread throughout our world as well, both because of deep divisions within our nation and because of a virus that spreads silently and continues to cause such disruption to so many of our friends and neighbors. So comfort is where Isaiah goes and what people of all generations have yearned for. God is giving us hope for tomorrow. “Speak tenderly,” we hear as we are invited to understand one another’s deep pain and respond with calm and peace to things that we ourselves don’t fully understand. When we begin to listen, we begin to understand, when we hear each other’s pain, we are motivated to do the right thing for each other.

Many of you may know that Mark’s Gospel was the first of the four to be composed, and it is the shortest. Mark’s Gospel gets right to the action-packed narrative of Jesus’ transformative ministry. No time for birth narratives here. John the Baptist is the bard in the origin story of Christianity. Making paths for new life and making way for the baptizing of the Spirit is the key here. He implores the people to get ready because God is about to do something they couldn’t expect. We see Jesus out in the wilderness, “among the wild animals,” and angels take care of him. And here is a note of hope. Can we see those who attend to us in so many ways as the angels of God’s presence never leaving us alone in the dangers of the world? Can we hear the call to be those angels as well?

Over the course of the coming weeks, I will be referring to documentary films which speak about the ways in which hope has broken through for people in times of great struggle and suffering. At the start of our worship, we heard the song “I Believe” which was inspired by an anonymous poem that is believed to have been written by a Jewish person hiding from the Nazis in the 1940’s. The time of the Holocaust was an unimaginable time of suffering and despair and perhaps you may wonder how that might connect to our Advent worship, and yet, there were countless stories of hope and courage, of a people who were walking in darkness, that emerged from those days that have much to teach us still.

The documentary, Defiant Requiem highlights the most dramatic example of intellectual and artistic courage in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) Concentration Camp during World War II. It tells the remarkable story of Rafael Schächter, a brilliant, young Czech conductor who was arrested and sent to Terezín in 1941. He demonstrated moral leadership under the most brutal circumstances, determined to sustain courage and hope for his fellow prisoners by enriching their souls through great music. His most extraordinary act was to recruit 150 prisoners and teach them Verdi’s Requiem by rote in a dank cellar using a single score, over multiple rehearsals, and after grueling days of forced labor. The Requiem was performed on 16 occasions for fellow prisoners. The last, most infamous performance occurred on June 23, 1944 before high-ranking SS officers from Berlin and the International Red Cross to support the charade that the prisoners were treated well and flourishing. (Show trailer for film)

The film includes testimony provided by surviving members of Schächter’s choir, beautiful concert footage, cinematic dramatizations, and animation as it explores the singers’ view of Verdi as a work of defiance and resistance against the Nazis. The text of the Requiem Mass enabled them, as Schächter told the chorus, to “sing to the Nazis what they could not say to them.” (from https://www.defiantrequiem.org/film/description/)

As we heard in the film clip, the participants shared powerful statements about music and the human spirit. We know that music in so many forms can serve as a catalyst for so many things–the comfort Isaiah speaks of (“hours of pure joy”), the presence of the community of “angels” among us (“we were not in the Nazi’s world, we were in our world”), and the power of music in defiance and agency when there is no other way to respond to such evil (“it gave us strength… we were able to say it to their face”).

During recent months, I have heard many people speak of the ways in which music has lifted them up or brought them peace or helped distract them from all that was unfolding. Maybe this season, instead of mourning that we cannot sing closely and unmasked together, we can raise our appreciation of music in our lives so that when we can sing freely together again, it will be with renewed joy and conviction.

For our closing music this morning, we will hear a Christmas Carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which was based on a poem written long ago. Maine’s own poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem at Harvard on Christmas Day in 1863 during the heart of the Civil War. His wife had died tragically in a fire and he had just found out that his son had been injured as a soldier for the Union. As he heard the sound of bells in the distance, he began to write, spurred on by his sorrow at the state of humankind:

“And in despair, I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to [all].”
-And yet hope wins out as he reached the fourth verse:
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth [not] sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to [all].”

And so I invite you to take time to surround yourself with the beauty and inspiration of music during this Advent Season. Let it renew you; let it bring you comfort and peace; and let it be a foundation from which you may prepare for the true meaning of Christmas, the hope of Christ, in our lives in the days ahead. Amen.

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