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Road to Hallelujah

Tidings Of Comfort

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It’s been more than a week since the announcement that Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown. Protests have persisted, both in Ferguson and around the country, in the wake of the grand jury’s controversial decision, including an NAACP-led week-long march from the St. Louis suburb to the state capital in Jefferson City. But while frustration and anger have dominated the demonstrations, notable signs of comfort and healing have also been seen. For his part, Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson police force, expressing “hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal.” In this installment of The Immediate Word, team member Dean Feldmeyer notes that while there are greatly varying opinions on the question of whether justice was done in this case, there is little dispute that the a young man losing his life is a tragedy -- and  for many there remains a deep well of heartbreak and hard feelings.

So how can we contribute in a positive way to the national discussion -- and speak to people who may have vastly different views on this issue? Dean suggests that the first two verses of this week’s lectionary passage from Isaiah offers a valuable approach. Isaiah was speaking words of comfort and hope to a people in the midst of great suffering -- and who saw no immediate relief forthcoming. The prophet reminds us that while we may want to chant “no justice, no peace” in response to any number of perceived slights, God makes things better in ways that transcend all of our transitory short-term concerns. Isaiah tells the Israelites that they have “served [their] term, that [their] penalty is paid” -- and likewise, Dean tells us, we are to announce those words of greatest comfort and hope: that through the coming of the Messiah, our time of suffering has passed and an era of reconciliation and restoration has begun.

Team member Leah Lonsbury shares some additional thoughts on the theme of waiting in this week’s texts in relation to the two sexual assault stories dominating the current headlines: the campus rape problems at the University of Virginia, and mounting allegations by numerous women against entertainment icon Bill Cosby. In each case, the victims have felt a profound sense of abandonment and injustice as those in authority discouraged investigations. Some victims have waited decades for their stories to be taken seriously -- yet, even if it’s been at a snail’s pace, something important has changed. Leah points out that such slow but steady progress is what our texts tell us to expect -- even though we are an impatient people who have been conditioned by the conveniences of modern life to demand satisfaction almost immediately. As our 2 Peter passage reminds us, our sense of time is very different from God’s (“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day”). But though the exact timing may be out of our hands, we’re hardly to sit by and passively wait -- instead we’re to actively do our part to “hasten the coming of the day of God” by “leading lives of holiness and godliness,” knowing that God has done and is doing his part to bring about a better world.

 

Tidings of Comfort
by Dean Feldmeyer
Isaiah 40:1-11

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.” 

On Christmas Eve, miserable, stingy, curmudgeonly old Ebenezer Scrooge finds himself bound by invisible cables and unable to move -- and he calls out to the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, asking for words of comfort. But Marley has none to give.

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...

Held captive, strangers in the strange land of Babylon, the children of Israel call out to God for respite from their imprisonment, and God speaks through the prophet Isaiah. Unlike Jacob Marley, however, Isaiah brings words of comfort, hope, and joy.

Tragedy and injustice don’t take a holiday at Christmastime. Grief and sickness continue to make their mark on this season. People in Ferguson, Missouri, cry out for words of comfort. We, the Church of Jesus Christ, are called to speak tidings of comfort and joy. How can we be so bold? How can we be so audacious? 

The lesson from Isaiah tells us that our courage to speak words of comfort is to be found not in the makeup of the messenger, but of the message.

In the News
Every injustice is a tragedy. But every tragedy is not necessarily an injustice.

All but the most callous seem to agree that the shooting death of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson was tragic. There is no consensus, however, on whether it was unjust. 

Some members of the St. Louis Rams football team believe it to be an injustice. They entered the stadium on Sunday in the now familiar “hands up, don’t shoot” posture. Members of the St. Louis Police Officers Association disagreed, issuing a statement that condemned the players’ gesture and asking the NFL to apologize as well as to discipline the players.

When Darren Wilson resigned from the Ferguson police force last week, he offered his resignation as a gesture that might help the community begin to heal. The mayor was quick to point out that the city did not buy Wilson’s resignation with a fat severance package, while others called it too little, too late.

There may, in fact, never be a consensus about whether the death of Michael Brown was the result of an injustice.

A grand jury that had already been convened to hear routine cases (usually one day a week) spent 25 days examining 78 documents consisting of over a thousand pages, detailing both physical evidence and witness statements.

They examined the testimony of more than 60 witnesses, some of whom they heard testify, others whose statements they read. Among the statements they heard were those of three medical examiners and of officer Wilson, who spoke in his own defense. (While it is rare that a prosecutor allows an accused person to testify before a grand jury, it is not prohibited and is well within the scope of the prosecutor’s authority.)

At the end of their examinations, at least nine of the twelve members of the grand jury concluded that there was not probable cause to believe that officer Wilson committed a crime or broke the law when he shot and killed Michael Brown.

They did not acquit Wilson. A grand jury does not have the power or authority to declare a person guilty or innocent. They did not say that the shooting was justified. Again, that is not within the scope of a grand jury’s authority. They said only that there was not probable cause to believe that a law had been broken.

Double jeopardy does not apply to grand jury decisions. Though it is unlikely, another grand jury could be seated to rehear the evidence and could decide to indict. Darren Wilson could also be indicted by a federal grand jury for denying the civil rights of Michael Brown. Brown’s family could also sue Wilson and/or the Ferguson police department in civil court, where the burden of proof is much lower than in criminal court. (Both the Associated Press and the Huffington Post produced informative Q&A pieces explaining the purpose of grand juries and how they work.)

Immediately after the announcement on the evening of November 24 that the grand jury had not indicted Darren Wilson, there was something like stunned silence in the streets of Ferguson. Then, within the hour anger and frustration boiled into rage as demonstrators burned police cars, smashed windows, and in several cases burned buildings, many of which were businesses owned and operated by African-Americans.

In the days that followed, demonstrations, mostly peaceful if disruptive, moved to the county courthouse where the grand jury convened, then into shopping malls on Black Friday as demonstrators expressed their outrage in cities across the country.

Responses to peaceful demonstrations have been for the most part measured and controlled. When protests have become violent or destructive, police officers and members of the Missouri National Guard have moved in with tear gas and other more assertive measures to disperse crowds.

Verbal responses, many of them thoughtful and insightful, have come from all parts of the political spectrum.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich noted that an open and public trial would be a better place for weighing conflicting evidence when someone has been killed, especially when an unarmed person is killed by a police officer.

He also pointed out that much of what has happened in Ferguson could have been avoided if poor and ethnic minority communities were policed with a goal of building trust, an end that could also be achieved if all police officers were equipped with body cameras.

Reich also underscores the obvious when he offers that those who protest injustice by engaging in burning, looting, and other forms of violence which hurt innocent people are themselves committing injustice.

New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson’s very thoughtful and powerful Facebook essay has gone viral. In it he shares with heartbreaking honesty his frustration and ambivalence. He speaks about the mixed emotions of anger, fear, sadness, confusion, and hope that surface when he, a black Christian man in America, sees what is going on in Ferguson.

Travel writer Rick Steves (in a Los Angeles Times op-ed essay) and Charles Pierce (writing in Esquire magazine’s politics blog) both speak to the culture of fear that, thanks to the insatiable news media and unscrupulous politicians, is currently overwhelming our country.

Steves offers that news media, especially cable news media, in their bottomless hunger for ad revenue have discovered that news stories sell better if they are couched in the rhetoric of “crisis.” Whether the current crisis is Ebola, ISIS, or domestic violence in the NFL, it is never just news -- it’s always a crisis. He suggests that the cure for this fear epidemic is travel, turning off the television, getting out, seeing things firsthand, and meeting people face to face. Our fear index and our crisis alarms would both be dialed way down, he says, if we would do so.

Pierce places the Brown/Wilson case in the context of history, where Americans have put the authority to kill people in the hands of certain individuals (in order to keep us safe), and then protect those individuals when they exercise that authority, regardless of the circumstances. Why do we always protect them, defend them, and find excuses or reasons to acquit them? 

Fear.

We have been told, and we have decided to believe, that there is a thin blue line that separates us from anarchy, chaos, and the law of the jungle. Michael Brown, Pierce says, just happened to show up for a few unfortunate moments on the wrong side of that line, the opposite side from us. So from a certain point of view, Brown’s death is tragic but not unjust. Our fear, says Pierce, is that to say otherwise would be to break the thin blue line and invite chaos into our neighborhoods.
 
Tragedies abound: a young man has been killed, parents have lost their child; a young police officer’s career has likely been destroyed; over 25 businesses burned and looted; a city torn, divided, and afraid. No one would deny that these are all tragedies.

Injustice is harder to identify, and is it possible that the search for it may be blinding us and keeping us from ministering to those who have been caught in the tragedies?

In the Scriptures
In 587 BCE, the city of Jerusalem fell after a long and bitter siege to the army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. King Zedekiah was forced to watch as his children were murdered, then he was blinded and thrown into the dungeons of Babylon, never to be heard from again..

The leaders of Judah -- the intelligentsia, the wealthy, the leaders of the community -- were taken to Babylon where they were allowed, even encouraged, to assimilate, to blend in and become good Chaldeans. They were allowed to live as they chose and do pretty much anything they chose to do, except go home.

In Psalm 137 they wear their despair on their shoulder:

By the rivers of Babylon -- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

The captivity lasted about 70 years, and we can imagine that during those years they prayed constantly to God for relief, or at least for some word of comfort and reassurance. YHWH did not leave them totally without comfort. The prophet Isaiah of Babylon rose up to preach words of assurance to God’s people. 

Also known among scholars as Second Isaiah, his witness is contained in chapters 34-66 of the book of Isaiah, virtually all of which have to do with the coming restoration of God’s people which will happen after the captivity ends.

This week’s pericope from Isaiah is one of those words, perhaps a song of comfort and assurance.

In the first two verses, YHWH gives Isaiah his marching orders. God has heard the cries of Judah and has felt pity for the people; Isaiah is instructed to speak words of comfort to the people as they have done their time and paid the penalty that had been assessed against them. Indeed, they have paid double what they owed to YHWH.

Then Isaiah follows (in vv. 3ff) with an image of the people marching home along a road which YHWH has made easy to travel. The hills have been made flat, the turns have been made straight, the obstacles have been removed.

How will the Lord accomplish all of this?

God’s strength and might, which has been focused on punishing Judah, will now be focused on returning Judah to her rightful place on Mount Zion.

The time of suffering has ended. The time of reconciliation and restoration has begun.

In the Pulpit
A  long time ago, when I was fresh out of college and working for a newspaper, a kindly editor told me that the greatest story a reporter can find is “Let’s you and him fight.” That prescient if cynical view seems to still be the case in discussions about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

There are those who are insistent that a grave injustice has been done and that punishment must follow. Others are just as insistent that what happened on that August night in Ferguson was a tragedy but not an injustice.

Both are longing to hear a prophetic voice from the People of God.

When we think of the “prophetic voice” we tend to think of the prophets in the Bible who ranted and railed against the injustices of their time. We think of Isaiah of Jerusalem preaching against the arrogant and corrupt aristocracy of his time. We think of Jeremiah warning King Zedekiah, and Nathan rebuking David, and John the Baptizer accusing Herod. 

But there is a softer, gentler prophetic voice to be heard in the scriptures as well. It is a voice of comfort in times of grief, pain, and struggle. It is a voice of reassurance, like the voice of a mother comforting a fearful child.

I’ll go with you.
I’m on my way.
I can fix it.
Here, let me help.

You have probably seen the photograph that was taken in Portland, Oregon, at a “free speech” rally last week. It was first posted on Facebook, and has since then gone viral. It shows 12-year-old Devonte Hart, with tears streaming down his face, hugging police Sgt. Bret Barnum.

People had gathered peaceably in Portland to show support for the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, and police had set up a barricade to block traffic and offer a measure of protection for the demonstrators. Sgt. Barnum told CNN that he saw Devonte a few feet away, holding a sign that offered free hugs and crying. Barnum approached the African-American youth, asking if he was all right and why he was crying.

Devonte said that he was upset about young black men being beaten up by white police. Sgt. Barnum says he nodded and said, “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.” Then he asked if he could have one of those hugs Devonte was offering.

The boy agreed, hesitantly at first, but then with more enthusiasm. His mother, sensing that the moment was genuine on both of their parts, took the picture and posted it on her Facebook page. Since then it has appeared in newspapers and on virtually every television news outlet, probably because it speaks so clearly to that universal need that Isaiah expressed in today’s lesson:

Comfort, O comfort my people.... Speak tenderly to Ferguson, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid...

Whether or not we can agree that an injustice was done, we can certainly agree that there was a tragedy. And in the midst of tragedy, we are called to speak with that prophetic voice which announces that the time of suffering has ended. The time of reconciliation and restoration has begun.

Unto us a child has been born. Unto us a son has been given.

And, in the words of New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, “God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus, and with it a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being.”

 

ANOTHER VIEW
by Leah Lonsbury
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

“Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?” Barbara Bowman, one of the 15 women to level sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, asked that question in her recent essay for the Washington Post

Victims of rape on the University of Virginia’s campus and everywhere are asking a similar question. Why did it take a scathing exposé by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling Stone to publicly shame university officials into stopping their fierce protection of the school’s prestige long enough to do something about the campus’ understood and allowed culture of rape? Another round of questions could be asked about why the suspension of UVa’s fraternities (understood to be the center of the campus’ rape culture) will only last until January 9, 2015, three days before the second semester is set to start. What could possibly be resolved by then? Who will that decision protect? 

Erdely answered those questions in her Rolling Stone article this way: “At UVa, rapes are kept quiet, both by students -- who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture -- and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.”

UVa officials might not be ready (or really even willing) to face an epidemic of sexual assault on their campus, but the word is out thanks to Rolling Stone, and they don’t have a choice. 

The victims of those assaults on UVa’s campus are becoming more and more ready to tell their stories, find solidarity, challenge their assailants, and seek healing thanks to the talk the article has kicked up in the media, on campus, and on social media.

Cosby’s alleged victims are finding momentum in the same sources -- the 24-hour news cycle, and with other victims who have come forward and whose stories have gone viral overnight thanks to social media.

Lisa Belkin of Yahoo! News names these sources as well, but also asks what has changed in us, the American public, that lets us hear these accusations of violation and cries of lasting and devastating pain with new ears. The internet cannot be all that’s changed, she writes. So it remains “a pivotal question, because the answers speak loudly to what has changed in our culture -- and what has not -- when a powerful man is accused of rape.”

We have grown into a culture that is starting to hear the voices of disempowered and violated women in the mix with the sounds made by privileged and influential men. It’s not just skyrocketing smartphone camera use, the ever-present face and constant reporting of Anderson Cooper (that man is everywhere!), or the constant ding of electronic communication notifications that make it impossible for violators to escape scrutiny. We, the people, have also changed. “It is the way of history. Good people used to think one thing and then come to think something else. Often dismissed as political correctness, it is actually simple progress. And it is slow,” writes Belkin.

Slow progress. Sounds familiar... Biblical even.

All of our Advent texts for this week point again to God’s promises of presence, provision, and comfort, even if progress isn’t being made as quickly as we wish or feel it needs to be made. God is present too when we’re not ready for the rough way that has suddenly appeared before us, and we feel pushed out into and unprepared for the unknown. 

Our Advent 2 scriptures also remind us to keep making progress, however slowly, in order to prepare ourselves and the way of the Lord. There will be signs of peace, righteousness, faithfulness, and love, say Isaiah, the psalmist, and the author of the second letter to Peter. We will see those signs, and we will be those signs. That’s what happens when we repent, return to God, and make the path straight and open, John the Baptizer reminds us, for a baptism in the Holy Spirit is on the horizon. That’s the fire that burns away crooked paths and illuminates the way ahead of us. 

Keep making progress, these Words tell us. And in the meanwhile, know that God is doing her part. God is...
* comforting us (by gently shepherding, feeding, and leading us);
* directing us (lifting up the valleys and straightening out the mountain ridges, while we turn to God with our hearts and lead lives of holiness, godly patience, and peace);
* encouraging us (to get up on a high mountain and lift our voices with strength and without fear); and
* keeping her promises (2 Peter 3:14);
however long it seems to take or how crooked the path ahead may appear to us.

We aren’t there yet. Just ask Barbara Bowman, Bill Cosby’s 14 other accusers, and the victims of rape on UVa’s campus and across the world. But, beloved, we’re getting there... and we’ve got company for the way. Thanks be to God. 

 

ILLUSTRATIONS

From team member Chris Keating:

Isaiah 40:1-11
Books of Comfort
In Ferguson, Missouri, streets were filled with protestors. Businesses were burned, police cars torched, public schools closed. But the local public library remained open, providing a safe place for children to gather.

“If the Ferguson-Florissant schools close,” the announcement on the library’s Facebook page read, “we will be hosting activities for the children. We will do everything in our power to serve our community. Stay strong and love each other.”

The library’s announcement sparked a frenzy of support on social media, and raised more than $175,000 in grassroots donations.

The library became an ad-hoc school in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson, the library once again stayed open.

*****

Isaiah 40:1-11
About That Kiss...
Pope Francis finished a short but eventful trip to Turkey last week. It included a meeting with the leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, praying with a noted Muslim cleric, meetings with Turkey’s political leaders, and issuing strong statements for Christian unity, peace, and reconciliation. Not bad for three days.

Perhaps the most significant act of peacemaking came from the pope himself, who requested a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. The Roman pontiff bowed before the Orthodox patriarch, who bestowed a blessing and a kiss. It was considered a remarkable display of deference by Francis, and an indication of his desire to repair the church’s ancient schism. 

During a mass attended by the Orthodox leader, the pope spoke of reconciliation, saying that the Catholic Church “does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.” He then explained where both Churches could cooperate, namely in helping the poor, hungry, unemployed, and socially excluded, and in eliminating a “globalization of indifference, which today seems to reign supreme,” while “building a new civilization of love and solidarity.”

*****

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Speaking Peace          
At the conclusion of the pope’s trip to Turkey, he joined the Orthodox leader in issuing words of comfort to Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East. In their statement the two religious leaders noted the struggles of Christians in the center of the conflict, and concluded: “The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community.”

*****

Mark 1:1-8
Here’s Jesus...
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance and preparing people’s hearts for the appearance of the Messiah. In short, his role was not unlike the ones played by political advance teams. Joseph Canzeri, who provided advance work for Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan, once quipped that “I can move the world in 48 hours.” Canzeri’s credits included:
* lighting Mount Rushmore so Rockefeller could see it from his plane;
* arranging a dinner for 3,000 persons in honor of the Apollo 9 astronauts; and
* organizing funerals of dignitaries such as Rockefeller, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy.

Like John the Baptist, advance persons know how to make things happen. As a political website observes, “advance has the wherewithal and the tenacity to make things happen. The best advance teams are scrappy and can make do with little resources. True to this principle, Canzeri once convinced local police to break into a convenience store to recover a lost water-pik, and broke into a hotel himself to prepare breakfast for thirty after an all-night negotiation.”

***************

From team member Dean Feldmeyer:

Isaiah 40:1-11
Words of Comfort
He warned me, but I didn’t listen.

“You’ve just come off a 12-hour shift. Why don’t you get some rest and go over tomorrow?”

But I was young and in love. “I’m okay, Dad. Really. I’ll be fine.”

Only I wasn’t fine. I fell asleep at the wheel coming home from my girlfriend’s house and drifted off the road. Fortunately I hit a utility pole with just a glancing blow, leaving my dad’s car with an ugly scar all the way down the side but otherwise intact. 

I wasn’t hurt. In fact, the adrenaline that surged into my system as a result of the crash got me safely home without any danger of falling asleep again.

Now we were standing in the driveway, my dad and me, looking at the car... his car.

After a long silence he sighed, then said, “It’s just a car, Dean. You weren’t hurt. That’s the important thing.”

When you’re 18 years old and trying to establish yourself as an adult, the last thing you want to do is cry in front of your parents. But I did.

*****

Isaiah 40:1-11
Avoiding Platitudes
In an article titled “I’m Here for You” on the Hallmark website, Julie Weingarden Dubin offers these suggestions as words of comfort when helping a friend get through a tough time:

* When someone’s loved one has died...
Say: “I know this is a horrible loss for you and I want you to know that I’m here for you if you need me.”
Or offer a fond memory of the deceased, an “I remember when” story, but keep it brief.
Don’t say: “He lived a long life.” For the mourner, no life is long enough.

* When someone is getting divorced...
Say: “I know this is a painful time and I want to be your friend. I’m here for you.”
Don’t say: “He was a jerk. I never liked him.” They could reconcile and leave you in the middle.

* When someone gets cancer...
Say: “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
Don’t say: “Everything’s going to be fine.”

* When someone loses a job...
Say: “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Don’t say: “I’m sure you’ll find something.”

Those words which give the most comfort are the ones that let the person know that you understand and share their pain.

*****

2 Peter 3:8-15a
It May Take Some Time
The story is told of a pastor who came to his new church and noticed that though the original architecture of the sanctuary allowed for a central pulpit, a previous pastor had moved the pulpit to the side, allowing for a better view of the beautiful stained-glass window.

The new pastor moved the pulpit back to its central place, but was immediately met with terrible resistance from the congregation who had become used to their unobstructed view of the window. So he moved it back to the side where it had been.

Then, every week he moved it one-quarter of an inch toward the center. After a year and a half the pulpit was back in the center, and no one realized that it had been moved.

*****

2 Peter 3:8-15a
The Too Slow Elevators
The elevators were too slow. That’s what the employees said who worked in the urban high-rise building. And some of the customers agreed with them -- the elevators were too slow. They forced people to waste valuable time waiting, and urban people don’t like to wait.

One day the president of the company was talking with an old friend, and shared with him his exasperation at having to listen to the constant complaining about the elevators. His friend offered to look at the situation and see if a solution could be found.

“Oh, there is no solution,” said the president. “I’ve hired armies of engineers to look at those elevators, and the only thing they could come up with was putting in an entirely new system -- and we can’t afford that.”

The friend persisted in his desire to find a solution, and the president finally agreed to let him try. A couple of weeks later the president realized that he had not heard a single complaint about the slow elevators since his friend had taken up the challenge.

He decided to go to the building in question and ride the elevators himself to see if they were actually faster. When he arrived, however, he found that the elevators were no faster than they had been before, the waits no briefer.

The elevators and waiting areas, however, were now lined with mirrors.

When he received the bill for the installation of all those mirrors, he paid it gladly.

 

WORSHIP RESOURCES
by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: Give justice, O God, and your righteousness.
People: May you, O God, judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
Leader: May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
People: May God defend the cause of the poor of the people. 
Leader: May God give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
People: Blessed be God’s glorious name forever.

Advent Candle Lighting
Leader: We light this candle, waiting for God’s comfort.
People: We wait for the one who brings justice for all.
Leader: We wait with hope in our hearts.
People: We wait, knowing that God is still working.
Leader: We wait in anticipation of God’s comfort and joy.
People: O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Hymns and Sacred Songs
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
found in:
UMH: 196
H82: 66
PH: 21
NCH: 122
LBW: 30
ELA: 254
W&P: 153
AMEC: 103

“Hope of the World”
found in:
UMH: 178
H82: 472
PH: 360
NCH: 46
CH: 538
LBW: 493
W&P: 404

“Hymn of Promise”
found in:
UMH: 707
NCH: 433
CH: 638
W&P: 515

“Jesus, Joy of Our Desiring”
found in:
UMH: 644
NNBH: 72                             

“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”
found in:
UMH: 117
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELA: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

“We Meet You, O Christ”
found in:
UMH: 257
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELA: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

“Here, O My Lord, I See Thee”
found in:
UMH: 623
H82: 318
PH: 520
NCH: 336
CH: 416
LBW: 211
AMEC: 531

“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart”
found in:
UMH: 629
PH: 521
CH: 429
ELA: 484
W&P: 705

“Something Beautiful”
found in:
CCB: 84

“All I Need Is You”
found in:
CCB: 100

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African-American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book

Prayer for the Day / Collect
O God who always offers words of comfort and hope: Grant us the faith to receive these words in the midst of distress and the grace to offer hope to those who are in despair; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, for you are the one who offers comfort and hope in the midst of distress. Help us to worship you, and to go forth to offer words of hope to your people. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our lack of hope in the midst of all that we see.

People:
We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We look around us and all we see is distress and injustice. We find ourselves in the midst of tragedy. We know only discomfort and distress. We give ourselves up to the despair that is all around us. Forgive us our short-sightedness, and help us to see in you our hope and our comfort. Amen.

Leader: God is our hope and comfort. Receive God’s love and forgiveness, and go forth to offer hope to others.

Prayers of the People (and the Lord’s Prayer)
We praise you, O God, for you are the one who offers hope and comfort in all the troubles of our lives. You give us hope when all we see is despair.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We look around us and all we see is distress and injustice. We find ourselves in the midst of tragedy. We know only discomfort and distress. We give ourselves up to the despair that is all around us. Forgive us our short-sightedness, and help us to see in you our hope and our comfort.

We give you thanks for all the signs of hope that you offer us. You send us folks who give us love when we feel that all we deserve is condemnation. You send us folks who give us hope when we all we see is destruction and death. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We lift up to you all those who find it difficult to find hope in this world of despair and decay. We offer to you to those who need you most. 

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together, saying:
Our Father . . . Amen.

(or if the Lord’s Prayer is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Talk to the children about wishing for something. Then talk to them about hoping for something. In church we hope for things, and that is very different than wishing for something. Wishing is to want something that may or may not happen. Hope is waiting for something that we know will happen. We wish for a present. We hope for Jesus to come and be among us. 

 

CHILDREN’S SERMON
Waiting Patiently
2 Peter 3:8-15a

Object: a Christmas card

Christmas is coming! I can’t wait! Have you ever said that you “can’t wait” for something? (Let the children respond, and then ask them exactly what they were anxious to have come.) I have. And guess what -- I have to wait anyway! We cannot make time go by any faster or slower than it already does. I can wish that Christmas was already here, but it isn’t. I can wish that today my birthday was today, but it isn’t. I can wish that vacations would come so I could visit relatives, but they haven’t.

When I get Christmas cards in the mail (show the Christmas card), it makes me think that Christmas is here already. But Christmas is still more than three weeks away! I can say “I can’t wait,” but I must wait anyway!

This time before Christmas is a time of waiting. We call this time “Advent,” and one of the big words of Advent is “waiting.” We say we must be “patient.” A patient person is one who waits well.

In his letter, Peter advised Christians to learn to be patient -- to learn to wait well. It is especially important to wait well when we have times of trouble, sickness, or some kind of problem. Learning patience helps us live each day to the fullest. We find that each day is a wonderful gift from God.

So we learn to wait. We learn to wait until Christmas. We learn to wait for the Lord to work in the Lord’s own time. We learn patience. So let’s hurry up and wait! Christmas and every good thing will come soon enough. God is with us at Christmastime, but God is also with us now -- in the moment. We can learn patience. We can learn to wait.

Prayer: Dearest Lord Jesus: Teach us to wait patiently for your coming. Amen.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, December 7, 2014, issue.

Copyright 2014 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.

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