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Who Are You?

Children's sermon
For December 13, 2020:

Dean FeldmeyerWho Are You?
by Dean Feldmeyer
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Who Are You? Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know!

If you’re a Boomer, like me, you remember that song by The Who from your favorite FM radio station in the mid-70s. If you’re of a younger generation, you recognize it as the opening theme song from the TV show, CSI.

The song is, actually, the story of how Pete Townshend spent a grueling eleven hours in a meeting with New York music producers, arguing about royalties. Pete won the argument, left the meeting with a big check, and went to a bar to celebrate. There, he recalls, he saw punk music icons Paul Cook and Steve Jones. He admired the raw, edgy music of the punk scene and wondered if maybe The Who had sold out for big bucks. So, depressed, he proceeded to get drunk.

“Who are you?” he asked himself. Are you the rebellious rock artist you set out to be or a pop music sellout? The result of these ruminations became one of The Who’s most recognizable and famous songs, “Who Are You?”

In today’s gospel lesson that question is posed by the priests and Levites to John the Baptist. Who are you? John has no doubt about who he is but he doesn’t make it easy for his questioners.

“Who are you?” is a pertinent question of self-examination for us as we make our way through the season of Advent, whether we are rock icons, prophets, or 21st century Americans struggling to survive a pandemic.

In the News
Who are you, Joe Biden?

Those who voted against him claim that they know who he is: a socialist, soft on crime, a pawn of the “extreme, radical left.”

Those who voted for him are not, in many cases, sure who he is. One thing they’re sure of is that he’s “not Trump.” In his character, in his personal religious faith, in his desire to unite the country, he is definitely not Trump. Beyond that, on specific issues, some Democrats claim that he’s “mushy.” Soft, malleable, hard to pin down or define.

Where does he stand on Black Lives Matter, on police and prison reform, on national defense, on immigration, on China, on a whole host of issues and policies he’ll be facing on January 21?

Who are you, Joe Biden?

Some have recently asked that same question of mainline, Protestant churches. Who are you, United Methodists? ELCA Lutherans? Presbyterians? UCC’s? American Baptists? Episcopalians? Christian Church Disciples of Christ? What is it that makes you who you are?

Protestantism was born out of protest. We were, in our early days, people who came together because we were all against a common thing — a person, a practice, a doctrine, something. And early in our histories it was easy to be known for that alone — what we were against.

But as time has passed and the thing we gathered together to protest has often faded into history and as it has, people have begun to ask us what we are for.

Who are you? Okay, so we understand what you don’t believe or practice, but what do you believe and practice and why? What makes you unique from all the other churches, denominations, sects, and cults that inhabit the religious landscape? And why is that important?

The sad fact is that most of the people in our pews don’t know the answer to those questions. They attend the church they do because their family has always gone there, or they like the pastor, or the music. They were attracted to that church by the youth program or the number of people their age, or the number of parking places near the door.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the secular, pop theology of our time has invaded the old, mainline, protestant churches. The thing that attracts us to our churches is that they are nice. The pastor is nice. The people are nice. The music is nice. And they pray to a God who is nice. Beyond, that… well, there is nothing beyond that. That’s where it ends. Don’t ask for definitions; there aren’t any. It’s all about how it makes you feel.

It’s mushy.

But that’s not what scripture requires, is it?

In the Scripture
In today’s gospel lesson, the priests and Levites, those charged with keeping the temple and the religion of the Jews clean and free of contamination, have sent their flunkies to ask John the Baptist for his credentials. Who does he think he is, preaching the word of God without a license?

What seminary did you go to, John? What Bible college did you attend? Let’s see your M.Div. degree. What church ordained you? You’re not allowed to just stick “Rev.” in front of your name and start preaching, you know. Not in this church you aren’t.

Who are you, John the Baptist?

Notice that it’s not an essay question. It’s multiple choice with three possible answers:
  1. Are you the Messiah?
  2. Are you Elijah?
  3. Are you “The Prophet?”
Let’s take them one at a time. First, the Messiah. No right answer to this one. If he says he isn’t then they’ll dismiss him as a crackpot preacher with no authority. If he says he is, he’s guilty of blasphemy because even though no one can agree on who the messiah will be or how the messiah will behave it will certainly not be like John the Baptist, who has a kind of “wild man” thing going on in his appearance and behavior.

There may also be, in this question/answer, a message to what was, in that time a cult of John the Baptist who believed that John was, in fact, the Messiah. (A group known as Mandaeans, who exist near the fertile crescent still holds this to be the case in our time.)

Second, Elijah. Okay, he looks like Elijah what with the animal skins and eating locust and all that, but is he Elijah? Remember, the prophet never really died. He ascended into heaven, still alive. So, he could come back, right? And many believed that he would come back to announce the dawn of the messianic age. But, sorry. John is not Elijah.

Third, “The Prophet.” No one is really sure who this nameless personage is but most agree that it is probably a reference to a belief held in the Qumran community that a mysterious prophet to be named later would emerge to announce the imminent appearance of the Messiah.

Sorry, says John, not him, either.

Then who? Who are you? His interlocutors insist on knowing.

John doesn’t cut his interrogators any slack with his answer. He simply quotes scripture. (Isaiah 40:3) He is a herald, a messenger, an announcer. Nothing more.

Okay, fine. But if you’re nothing more than a messenger and a herald, why are you baptizing people? Baptizing is not usually left to messengers. It’s usually done by someone more important than that. John deflects the question. He acknowledges that he baptizes but his baptism is of water. Now watch the deflection as he changes the subject from baptism to the Messiah.

“Among you stands one who you do not know,” he says. “The one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” The messenger is clearly lesser than the one whom the message is about, for even slaves were not required to untie their masters’ sandals. (New Interpreters’ Bible, Vol IX, p. 528)

So, the question that is put to John, “Who are you?” is only half answered. We clearly know whom he is not but as to who he is? Only a messenger, a voice crying in the wilderness.

Our Advent meditations for this week, the week of JOY, is to ask of ourselves the question that was asked of John and, later, of Jesus. Who are you?

In the Sermon
In scripture, the answer to the question, “Who are you?” is almost always answered with another question: “What do you see?”

This is especially true of Jesus. When John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the messiah, Jesus didn’t give a direct answer. He said: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Matthew 11:1-6) 

Other times, when the question is implied, Jesus responds with a metaphor that says, in effect: “What do you think?” When you see the buds come out on the trees you know that spring is coming with summer after it. You should be able to watch what I do and figure out from that who I am. It’s not rocket science, after all.

So, as we approach his birthday we ask the question first of him. “Who are you?” Who is he to us? What does his birth mean to us? Is it something we dread because we know the bills are going to come due in January? Is it something we’re glad to see in the rearview mirror because all the responsibilities are now over? Is Christmas just another problem placed on top of the problems that have been piled upon us by the Coronavirus pandemic?

Or is he, like John, a herald? Is he the messenger who brings word of God’s grace and love? Is he the one who announces to us that whoever we are and whatever we’ve done, through him, the slate is wiped clean. We get a mulligan not just on the previous swing of the club but on our whole lives.

Perhaps, as we ask the question of who Jesus is, we must, simultaneously look in the mirror and ask that same question of ourselves. “Who are you?”

Are you that energetic, hope-filled, grace-powered, disciple you were when you first heard about that marvelous, amazing thing called grace? Are you filled with gratitude for a God who loves you without qualifications and a savior who gave his life to bring you that message?

Who are you?

Oh, never mind. God has already answered that question.

You are one who is accepted — accepted by that which is greater than you and the name of which you do not know. You are one who is loved and valued and treasured by the God who made you. You are one whose past is approved and whose future is open. You are the beloved child of the God whose handiwork is the universe.

You are a person of God, created, healed, and made whole in Jesus Christ.

Who are you? That, is who you are.

You are God’s Christmas gift to you.


A Garland for Ashes
by Mary Austin
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Advent has a particular poignancy this year, sharpened by living in the Covid pandemic. In our months of physical, social and economic suffering, our longing for God’s coming feels even deeper this year. We hear Advent’s words of promise with an extra measure of hope.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims a word of hope that lasts beyond the present moment. He anchors his hope in God’s actions in the past, and makes a claim that God’s good news will last as an everlasting covenant. This is the moment, the prophet says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” In the midst of a pandemic that has fallen unevenly on us, he calls us to think about where we fall in this moment of good news. If God is determined to provide for those who mourn, are we contributing to that restoration? Or will we be the targets of God’s vengeance?

If our retirement funds are thriving while our neighbors are standing in line for food, what does God want to say to us? How might we, together, be part of God’s plan to “raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” The devastations of many generations continue to appear in America in the economic gaps between white and Black Americans. To address that, a conversation about reparations has been going on in the United States. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates kicked the conversation into a higher gear with an article in The Atlantic magazine, outlining the systemic wrongs done to Black Americans, including redlining, predatory mortgage lending, forced labor, and the seizure of family land.

The Brookings Institution summarizes the problem this way: “Bootstrapping isn’t going to erase racial wealth divides. As economists William “Sandy” Darity and Darrick Hamilton point out in their 2018 report, What We Get Wrong About Closing the Wealth Gap, “Blacks cannot close the racial wealth gap by changing their individual behavior — i.e. by assuming more ‘personal responsibility’ or acquiring the portfolio management insights associated with ‘[financial] literacy.’” In fact, white high school dropouts have more wealth than Black college graduates. Moreover, the racial wealth gap did not result from a lack of labor. Rather, it came from a lack of financial capital.” In other words, no individual, no matter how hard they work, can solve this problem. It has systemic roots, and is deeply woven into our society. Wealth, even in small amounts, creates more wealth. It allows us to avoid student loans, to buy a first home, to access better health care, to live with less stress and to give educational opportunities to our kids, among its many benefits.

Reparations were planned for formerly enslaved people after the end of the Civil War. Brookings notes that “Union leaders including General William Sherman concluded that each Black family should receive 40 acres. Sherman signed Field Order 15 and allocated 400,000 acres of confiscated Confederate land to Black families. Additionally, some families were to receive mules left over from the war, hence 40 acres and a mule. Yet, after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson reversed Field Order 15 and returned land back to former slave owners. Instead of giving Blacks the means to support themselves, the federal government empowered former enslavers. For example, in Washington DC, slave owners were actually paid reparations for lost property — the formally enslaved.” Another missed opportunity came in the details of the New Deal in the 1930’s, which gave an economic boost to many Americans. Yet, “Two particular policies of the New Deal fell short in redressing American’s racial wrongs — the G.I. Bill and Social Security. Though white and Black Americans fought in WWII, Black veterans could not redeem their post-war benefits like their white peers. While the G.I. Bill was mandated federally, it was implemented locally. The presence of racial housing covenants and redlining among local municipalities prohibited Blacks from utilizing federal benefits. White soldiers were afforded the opportunity to build wealth by sending themselves and their children to college and by obtaining housing and small business grants. Regarding Social Security, two key professions that would have improved equity in America were excluded from the legislation — domestic and farm workers. These omissions effectively excluded 60% of Blacks across the US and 75% in southern states who worked in these occupations.”

God has something different in mind, as Isaiah proclaims. Writing for Working Preacher, Elna K. Solvang notes that there is a tangible aspect to the good news Isaiah announces. This is more than spiritual; this is also economic good news. “The commission to “proclaim liberty” is language from the instructions for observing the Jubilee Year. During the Jubilee property and people held as payment for debt were returned to the families to which they originally belonged (Leviticus 25:10). The use of the Leviticus language in Isaiah 61 is a clear indication that the liberty proclaimed is intended to be made permanent in new social and economic relationships within the community.”

Is there a way for us, as Americans, to move toward this vision of Isaiah’s? “But why should I have to pay?” people sometimes ask. “My ancestors didn’t own slaves.” Or, “why should my tax dollars be used for this?” Or, “we elected a Black president. Didn’t we solve all of this?” In an article about reparations, Nikole Hannah-Jones notes that nothing has changed since a 1950 study of Black income and Black wealth. Seventy years ago, economists note, “black median household income was about half that of white Americans, and today it remains so. More critical, the racial wealth gap is about the same as it was in the 1950s as well. The typical black household today is poorer than 80% of white households. “No progress has been made over the past 70 years in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households,” according to the study.

The Brookings Institution notes that we have been willing to pay reparations in other cases in the past. “Reparations — a system of redress for egregious injustices — are not foreign to the United States. Native Americans have received land and billions of dollars for various benefits and programs for being forcibly exiled from their native lands. For Japanese Americans, $1.5 billion was paid to those who were interned during World War II. Additionally, the United States, via the Marshall Plan, helped to ensure that Jews received reparations for the Holocaust, including making various investments over time. In 1952, West Germany agreed to pay 3.45 billion Deutsche Marks to Holocaust survivors.”

The vision of reparations is not far from what Isaiah envisions when he proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee Year. Speaking for God, Isaiah announces, “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense.” If we were to do the same, as a nation, Nikole Hannah-Jones explains, “Reparations are not about punishing white Americans, and white Americans are not the ones who would pay for them. It does not matter if your ancestors engaged in slavery or if you just immigrated here two weeks ago. Reparations are a societal obligation in a nation where our Constitution sanctioned slavery, Congress passed laws protecting it and our federal government initiated, condoned and practiced legal racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans until half a century ago. And so it is the federal government that pays.”

We have an opportunity to follow Isaiah’s vision toward a community of hope for all people. When there is restoration for all of God’s people, everyone is lifted up.


Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Multiple voices
Just as in last week’s reading from Isaiah, there are different voices in today’s reading.

The first speaker is vv. 1-4. This is an anointed person, perhaps a prophet, priest or royal figure. Note the symbolism of new clothes, pointing to an inward change that is visible from the outside. Zion’s restoration will be part of the transformation. Imagery of rebuilding and plants growing in these verses, and again in v. 11 echoes themes from the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10).

It is likely that the Lord responds in vv. 5-9, though only vv. 8-9 are part of today’s reading. The Lord expresses love for justice, hatred of evil and says that those in Zion will be known among the nations, presumably around the world.

The final speaker may be the entire community personified as an individual. Again the themes of new clothing “garments of salvation,” “robe of righteousness,” garlands for grooms and jewels for brides point to a newness of inner life, reflected in outer clothing. Perhaps a scriptural origin for the common practice of wearing only new clothes on Easter.

* * *

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The theme of the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (from the Latin for “rejoice”) is evident in today’s reading from Thessalonians. Perhaps 5:16 is the shortest verse in the Bible, “Rejoice always.” (Maybe it’s “Jesus wept,” I haven’t looked at the Greek.) Paul winds up his letter with short commands ordering the Thessalonians to be faithful, hope-filled and optimistic. These verses almost sound like a half-time speech from a coach whose team is in a close game. There’s an urgency in these words. But can hope be commanded? Think on that as you stare at the pink candle.

* * *

Luke 1:46b-55

Back in seminary you probably learned that the song that Mary sings in today’s psalm-like lesson is very close to the prayer that Hannah prayed following Samuel’s birth in 1 Samuel 2. Okay, there are some similarities: both are said by women, both praise God, both talk about divine reversals. There are some huge differences that are worth noting.

Hannah had been childless. She’s wanted a child so much she had prayed for one at Shiloh so fervently that Eli, the presiding priest thought she was drunk.

Mary was also childless, but that was to be expected (yeah, pun intended) because she was a virgin.

Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, Zechariah, the priest’s wife, should be the one singing a prayer akin to Hannah’s. Elizabeth was the barren one, as Hannah had been.

* * *

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The Thessalonians were a group firmly encamped between the “already” and “not yet” of Christ’s reign. In the concluding remarks, Paul was writing to urge them not to give into passive resignation along the lines of “Christ is gonna get here when he gets here, so what difference does it make?” into active anticipation, awaiting Christ’s return with eager expectation. Eager anticipation is a good approach to Advent, too.

The Greek term σβέννυτε, rendered “quench” in the New Revised Standard Version, could be accurately rendered “extinguish.” Friends, don’t put out the fire! Fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit — and you’ve got three candles burning in the Advent wreath this morning!

* * *

John 1:6-8, 19-28
Not it!

The prologue at the start of John’s gospel is interrupted to tell the reader that author John is not speaking of John the Baptizer. In the second part of the reading John the Baptizer is asked whether he is the messiah/Christ, Elijah, or “the prophet.” To each he replies in the negative. Well, if he’s not one of those three who is he?

His reply, to my modern sense is an admission that he is, indeed, the prophet, specifically Isaiah the prophet, because that’s whom he quotes — the same quote you’ll find in both last week’s gospel and Hebrew reading.

The Pharisees ask him again, clarifying that he is not the Messiah, Elijah or the prophet, so what’s up with John’s baptism deal?

In giving his answer, John the Baptizer, again says what he is not: worthy to even untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal.

* * *

Psalm 126
Joyous laughter

Broadly speaking laughter is a response to one of three things: ridicule, emotional release and humor.

In the Bible, laughter of ridicule is by far the most frequent. For example, Psalm 2:4:

He who sits in the heavens laughs
The Lord has them in derision…

The least frequent reason for laughter, humor, appears only in the stories around the birth of Isaac.

In the middle in terms of frequency, is laughter as an emotional release. Today’s psalm is a good example.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion
we were like those in a dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter…

This kind of laughter is often contrasted with tears, as in Luke 6:21 “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh….” and Ecclesiastes 3:4 “a time to weep and a time to laugh…” (“Turn, turn, turn” was a late addition to the text by Pete Seeger.)

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: When our God restored us, it was like a dream.
People: Our mouths were filled with laughter and joy.
Leader: God has done great things for us. Let us rejoice!
People: Restore us, O God, like wadis in the desert.
Leader: Those who go out in weeping to sow
People: Shall come home with shouts of joy.


Leader: Let our spirits rejoice in God, our Savior.
People: God has looked with favor on our lowliness.
Leader: The Mighty One has done great things for us.
People: Holy is the name of our God.
Leader: God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.
People: God has lifted up the lowly.


Leader: The God of justice and righteousness calls us home.
People: We respond with joy to God’s invitation.  
Leader: God calls us by our true names as God’s children.
People: We are God’s people, the flock of God’s pasture.
Leader: God calls us to join with all God’s creation.
People: We come to God bringing our siblings with us.       

Hymns and Songs:
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
UMH: 206
H82: 490
ELW: 815
W&P: 248
Renew: 152

Emmanuel, Emmanuel
UMH: 204 
AAHH: 189
NNBH: 98
CH: 134
W&P: 178
Renew: 28

Tell Out My Soul
UMH: 200
H82: 437/438
W&P: 41
Renew: 130

My Soul Gives Glory to My God
UMH: 198
CH: 130
ELW: 882

Here I Am, Lord
UMH: 593
PH: 525
AAHH: 567
CH: 452
ELW: 574
W&P: 559
Renew: 149

Once in Royal David’s City
UMH: 250
H82: 102
PH: 49
NCH: 145
CH: 165
ELW: 269
W&P: 183
STLT: 228

We Meet You, O Christ
UMH: 257
PH: 311
CH: 183
W&P: 616

Seek Ye First
UMH: 405
H82: 711
PH: 333 
CH: 354
W&P: 349

I Am Thine, O Lord
UMH: 419
AAHH: 387
NNBH: 202
NCH: 455
CH: 601
W&P: 408
AMEC: 283 

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELW: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561 

Our God Reigns
CCB: 33

Arise, Shine
CCB: 2
Renew: 123

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
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
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is “I Am Who I Am”:
Grant us the grace to acknowledge who we are
as your children created in your image
and filled with your Spirit and life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are “I Am Who I Am”. You are truly who you are and you have created us to be like you. Help us to own our identity as your image and likeness during the season of Advent as we prepare for the one who fulfills this desire. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to live out of our true identity.  

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We know who we are. We proclaim it over and over again. We are your children. We are the Body of Christ. We are created in your image and likeness. And yet, and yet, we do not live out of this knowledge. We try to create other images for ourselves and we fail miserably. Instead of living out of the love we were created in, we live in isolation and selfishness. We live in greed and hostility. We live in a lie about who we are. Forgive us and help us this Advent season to prepare our hearts to allow you to be born in us again that your image and likeness might be renewed in us. Amen. 

Leader: God is always ready to reclaim us and renew us. Receive the grace and Spirit of the Most High that you may see in others God’s likeness and image.

Prayers of the People
We worship and adore you, O God, because you are who you are. There is no identity crisis is you. You are Love. You are our God.

(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 know who we are. We proclaim it over and over again. We are your children. We are the Body of Christ. We are created in your image and likeness. And yet, and yet, we do not live out of this knowledge. We try to create other images for ourselves and we fail miserably. Instead of living out of the love we were created in, we live in isolation and selfishness. We live in greed and hostility. We live in a lie about who we are. Forgive us and help us this Advent season to prepare our hearts to allow you to be born in us again that your image and likeness might be renewed in us.

We give you thanks for all the ways in which you have shared yourself, your love, with us and all creation. We thank you for your beauty that is reflected in nature from the vastness of the cosmos to the microscopic beauty in a leaf. We thank you for your love that is shared by those around us.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who struggle to learn who they are and do such damage to themselves and others as they miss their true identity as your children. We pray for those who suffer from the selfishness and greed of ourselves and others. We pray for the coming of the Christ, here and now.

(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 Our Father 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
Who are you? There are many ways we can answer such a question. We can give our name. We can tell who our parents are. If we go to school we can say we are a student at such and such a school. We can say we are a pianist, reader, singer, player of games. All sorts of descriptions but the truest one is that we are God’s child. We are love. And then we can share that love with others each day.

* * * * * *

Rejoice, Laugh, And Be Silly!
by Chris Keating
Psalm 126

The Third Sunday of Advent offers an interjection of joy and laughter into a season marked by penitential preparation for Jesus’ coming. It’s the pink candle Sunday, also known as “Gaudete Sunday,” referring to the Latin word for rejoice. The term “Gaudete” appears in the introit of the Latin mass and is a translation of Philippians 4.

That’s way more information than the children of your congregation will want to know! But rejoicing is a prominent theme in the texts for this morning. Several of the texts upholds an image of joyful rejoicing: Isaiah sings of the good news announced to the poor, and God’s comfort to those who are grieving, while Paul invokes his familiar theme of rejoicing always. Meanwhile, Psalm 126 reminds us that the joy God gives us fills our mouths with laughter! What comes to mind immediately are those wonderful family moments when we laugh ourselves silly — those times when we laugh so far the milk spills out of our mouths, or tears roll down our cheeks and our bellies hurt.

Share with your children that on this day the church remembers the joy Mary felt as she anticipated the birth of Jesus. Many families experience the arrival of a baby as a time of celebration and rejoicing. Invite the children to name some of the feelings Mary and Joseph and others in their families might have felt. What are some ways that families today share the joy of a baby’s arrival? You can read Luke 1:46-55 with the children and help them to see how Mary is expresses her joy in what God is about to do.

If you choose Psalm 126, consider using The Common English Bible’s translation. Its words relate well to children’s experiences. You might consider naming some of the joyful things that have happened in your congregation recently, and invite the children (and congregation) to join together in saying verse 3, “Yes, the Lord has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed!”

In a year that has been filled with lots of bad news, it makes sense to use this Sunday to remember God’s faithfulness. As we light the pink candle, take moments to remember how God’s promises fill us with hope and joy. It indeed may feel as though we are dreaming, or that our mouths are filled with silly laughter. (Take a look at the overwhelming research connecting laughter with emotional and physical health and consider injecting a bit of humor into your Sunday celebrations.)

Children — not to mention adults — will enjoy hearing a few corny jokes this morning. Why not? It’s a pandemic Christmas, after all! Fill them with good things and groan-worthy one-liners:

Why do mummies like Christmas so much? (Answer: “They’re really into wrapping.”)
What’s Santa’s favorite snack? (Answer: “Crisp Pringles.”)
How much did Santa’s sleigh cost? (Answer: “Nothing, it was on the house!”)
What was the name of the obnoxious reindeer? (“Rude-olph.”)
What does Frosty eat for breakfast? (“Frosted Flakes!”)
What do elves learn in school? (“The elfa-bet.”)
“Knock-knock!” “Who’s there?” “Murry.” “Murry, who?” “Murry Christmas!”

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

The Immediate Word, December 13, 2020 issue.

Copyright 2020 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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Advent 2, C
29 – Sermons
100+ – Illustrations / Stories
25 – Children's Sermons / Resources
27 – Worship Resources
22 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Advent 3, C
27 – Sermons
100+ – Illustrations / Stories
26 – Children's Sermons / Resources
29 – Worship Resources
17 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Advent 4, C
29 – Sermons
100+ – Illustrations / Stories
24 – Children's Sermons / Resources
26 – Worship Resources
20 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Plus thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
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(No credit card needed.)

New & Featured This Week


John Jamison
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (vv. 1-2)

The Immediate Word

Christopher Keating
Quantisha Mason-Doll
Thomas Willadsen
Mary Austin
George Reed
Dean Feldmeyer
For December 5, 2021:
  • Advent Roadwork by Chris Keating — Our repentance clears the ground so that the foundations of grace and reconciliation can be set. These are the first steps to be undertaken before the massive rebuilding can occur.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
We knew it all along, but it takes good messengers if we are to hear it again.

Baruch 5:1-9
Mark Ellingsen
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Baruch 5:1-9
Referring to this lesson, the ancient theologian Irenaeus wrote:

... the prophet has pointed out, that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left upon earth, should both be under the rule of the saints to minister to this Jerusalem.  (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, p.565)

The text is about the fresh start God affords us in Christ.  The coming son is like a bridge to this new reality.  About Christ’s role in this way, the medieval mystic Catherine of Siena once wrote:


Frank Ramirez
John E. Sumwalt
“The Real Messenger” by Frank Ramirez
“The Unforgiving Manure Spreader” by John Sumwalt

The Real Messenger
by Frank Ramirez
Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…. (Malachi 3:1)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Roly lay down with his head on his paws and felt lonely. But he wasn't lonely for long, for lots of people came to the entrance to the maze and petted him and patted him and stroked him and spoke to him. Roly perked up, and wondered for the hundredth time what went on in a maze. Still, the family had told him very firmly to stay at the entrance in case he got lost in the maze, or worse, because he was so small, tripped people up by darting between their legs.


Alex A. Gondola, Jr.
Have you ever noticed that many people seem to feel they either have "too much" Christmas or "not enough" Christmas? Television commentator Andy Rooney is one who thinks he has had "too much" Christmas. Andy Rooney, in fact, has proposed a "Christmas Holidays Limitations Act." These are some of the provisions of that Act:

1. Capital punishment would be mandatory for anyone caught selling Christmas ornaments before Thanksgiving.
Cynthia E. Cowen
Every Sunday, a church broadcasts a one-hour service over the waves of 1450 WMIQ, the local radio station. It begins with this announcement, "From the shores of beautiful Crystal Lake, we bring you Our Saviour's morning service."

One Advent season, the pastor had selected an "in the sandals" sermon series. The first biblical character to be heard from was John the Baptist. As John entered clothed in the prophet's clothing, a reader announced: "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight" (Luke 3:4b).
J. Will Ormond
The setting and shape of this sermon are obvious. It was preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of that congregation.

The church was officially organized on January 30, 1949. I was the first pastor. I remained pastor until May, 1964.
Robert S. Jarboe
Second Sunday In Advent

For Luke 1:68-79

(Distribute this sheet to the readers.)

Reader A:
Reader B:

(As the introit is being sung, Readers A and B come forward and stand by the Advent wreath until the music is finished.)

Reader A:
Please turn to the Advent litany in your bulletins.
(Pause as they do so.)
If we keep our minds steadfast and trust in God,
we will be kept in perfect peace.

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