Worship for Sunday, December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, 
to bind up the brokenhearted,  
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and release to the prisoners;  
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;  
to comfort all who mourn;  
3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,  
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, 
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;  
they shall repair the ruined cities, 
the devastations of many generations.  

8For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;  
I will faithfully give them their recompense, 
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  
9Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;  
all who see them shall acknowledge 
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;  
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, 
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,  
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, 
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,  
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.  

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
2Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
  Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.
4Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
  like the watercourses of the Negeb.
5Those who sowed with tears
will reap with  songs of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
  will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.  Amen.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.
  23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:6-8, 19-28

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
  19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.
  24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Christmas is coming. 

Many of us have been making our lists and checking them twice a day for weeks now!  I know that I have been.

Just last week – I started thinking and worrying and brooding about Christmas while we drove through Kentucky.  We were south of Richmond, Kentucky when I started thinking about Christmas and I got so wrapped up in thinking and planning and worrying about Christmas that the next thing I knew we were outside of Georgetown.  I completely and utterly missed Lexington.  Seriously – I don’t remember seeing any of Lexington.  None of it!!!

I am so very – very thankful Jason was driving!  And I am sure Jason and the boys were thankful that he was driving too!!!

I love Christmas.  And for me a huge part of the joy of Christmas is the fun of getting ready for the big day.  I love planning and plotting and preparing!

But as our family rode through the dark December evening I wish I could say I was thinking about the joy of preparing for our Savior’s birth.  I wish I was thinking about the blessing of baking cookies with my sons and choosing the perfect presents for my loved ones.  I wish I was thinking about decorating gingerbread houses and hanging wreaths.  And writing Christmas cards and decorating the Christmas tree with my men.

But nope – I wasn’t doing anything like that.

Rather I was thinking about how sad I am there won’t be a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus this year at the ladies’ Christmas Tea at church – because there won’t be a tea this year.  I love seeing Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I was feeling bummed because there won’t be a Christmas carol Sunday in worship or a children’s Christmas program.

I was feeling put out because there won’t be a candlelight Christmas Eve worship service thanks to this wretched virus that just keeps raging on and on and on.

I was sad because Covid-19 means that we needed to cancel in-person worship at Saint Stephen for both Easter and Christmas this year!

I was brooding and feeling just plain sad. 

I wanted Christmas the way I wanted Christmas.  I wanted Advent at Saint Stephen with my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I wanted a Ladies’ Christmas Tea.  I wanted caroling and candlelight worship.  I wanted dozens of bright red poinsettias and Chrismons and a noisy bustling Sunday school Christmas program with angels and shepherds and wise men who wander around just a little bit.  And well – I wanted what I can’t have this year.

I wanted what would be dangerous and unwise and deeply selfish for me to demand! 

I know this and so I will stay safely at home.  I will wear my mask.  I will keep my distance.  I will cancel in-person gatherings.  I will send cards filled with love instead.  I will record my sermons and write my blogs and go to Zoom Sunday school.  I will wait and do what we are all being asked to do by people our Lord made much – much wiser than me.

And I will strive to remember each and every day that although this year is undeniably different.   And most of us can’t have the Advent we are used to or the Christmas we long for – it doesn’t mean we have nothing to be thankful for.  It doesn’t mean we are alone or that we have been forsaken by our God.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t deeply and abundantly blessed.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have good things and wonderful people in our lives.

We are blessed.  We do have wonderful people in our lives.  We do have good things. 

Saint Paul concludes his first letter to the people of Thessalonica with the incredibly important reminder that we are all called to give God thanks in ALL circumstances.

In all circumstances . . .

And I think this is such an incredibly important reminder for us to hear right now.  Yes – Advent and Christmas this year may feel strange.  They may look and feel very different than they have in years past – but we are still so blessed by our God.

And just because the Thanksgiving holiday was officially last month – doesn’t mean we should be done counting our blessings from God.

We are so blessed.  We are deeply – wildly – wonderfully blessed.  God showers us with blessings each and every day of our lives.  And it is so good for our souls when we remember to count our blessings and to give our God thanks.

We are called to be grateful people.  We are called to remember God blesses us over and over again.  Even now – in the middle of this horribly wretched global pandemic – our Lord has continued to bless us.

Take time this Advent season to thank God for the ways He has blessed you.  Thank God for the blessings in your life.  We are blessed.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

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