Worship, Dec 5 – Men’s Choir

WELCOME to this post for the second Sunday of Advent, 2021. Full service plan can be found in the bulletin, here on the website. Here on this page is some of the script to read, and video clips from the worship service.

Opening Prayer Mighty God of time and space, holy are You: we glimpse You in all that is holy and beautiful. We have heard the call to gather, and we have come. Praise to You! We count our blessings, and become the blessing bearers to others: inspire us, we pray. We will hear the promises of Your word and of our own gospel songs and carols: guide our Men’s Choir and their helpers this morning.
Now as we worship together, forgive our feeble faith that we sometimes replace with mere nostalgia and traditions. As we remember the One who was born to die, we admit our own weakness when it comes to pain and sacrifice. And remembering our greed that has made no plans to be overly generous, open the eyes of our hearts to see the crying, dying world, where we are needed as workers for the Master.
Giver of the perfect gift, we give the simple worship that we can, and ask to be trained as gift-givers, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Men’s Choir Concert
For worship today, our Men’s Choir offers us what is really a mini Service of Lessons and Carols. Bonnie directs the Choir, Cairine is our accompanist, Linda is the guest soloist, and Heather reads our scripture texts. Before we hear the first reading, let us pray.

O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, accompany our souls with the Holy Spirit now. May the prophetic scriptures lead us into the inspiring music. May the songs stir our longings and our love for all. May we lift up our hearts to You, and be guided to take our next steps. Amen.

Isaiah 9:6-7
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He’ll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.

He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this.

The great hopes Isaiah expressed seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus say so much: so much of what was needed then, and what is needed now. This Bible translation, The Message, was prepared by the late author and pastor Eugene Peterson. He renders the texts into English so powerfully:
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.

Ever since, people who have decided to join Jesus’ team are those longing for Him to ‘take over the running of the world.’ There is a powerful gentleness in the way our Saviour gets His work done among us.

The Men’s Choir’s first song is by Haldor Lillenas, prolific 20th century gospel song composer, and the founder of the Lillenas Music company. ‘Softly the Night is Falling’ is a gentle song, echoing the angel’s voice: ‘Peace on earth, good will to men!”

Song Softly the Night

Isaiah 40:10-11
Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power,
ready to go into action.
He is going to pay back his enemies
and reward those who have loved him.
Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

We love the Biblical images of a shepherd and the sheep. Every Sunday, I look up above you all and see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb in His arms. I can go back in my memory, to the church of my youth, and picture the stained glass window there above the pulpit and choir loft, again with Jesus holding a sheep.

When the prophetic words recorded in Isaiah 40 were first proclaimed, it was a promise that the poor shepherds of the people – bad kings and priests and prophets – would be replaced by a far better Shepherd for the Israelites. Hundreds of years later, Jesus appeared in the Middle East to begin establishing Himself as the great Good Shepherd.

We are still waiting for more of this today. More of Jesus, to rule and reign. We watch for the return, the second coming, of the Messiah, when Jesus “comes in power, ready to go into action.”

The carol, ‘Rise Up, Shepherd,’ is a spiritual, and has an active energy to it. To the shepherds in Bethlehem it speaks action. We also must take action and respond to Jesus. We hear the invitation to follow.

Song Rise Up Shepherd

Isaiah 40:1-5
“Comfort, oh comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem,
but also make it very clear
That she has served her sentence,
that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!
She’s been punished enough and more than enough,
and now it’s over and done with.”
Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”

These beginning images of Isaiah 40 are old and rich and powerful. We hear the comforting promises about the end of troubles for a nation of people. Then the metaphor of building a smooth highway for the arrival of the new King. All these centuries later, we still get inspired about how we get prepared for Jesus to be in our lives, be our Lord, be our great hope.

This wonderful Jesus is ‘the talk of the town’ right now, so to speak. ‘Everybody’s talkin ‘bout the baby boy.’ In the places we shop and the holiday movies we watch, the gospel story still sneaks in, in the words of all the Christmas carols. Let us claim again the ‘tidings of great comfort and joy.’

Song Baby Boy

Isaiah 53:1-2
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.

We Christians take so much from Isaiah chapters 52 and 53 into the life of Jesus – and it is no wonder. His suffering upon earth is illustrated keenly in these words from hundreds of years before His birth. The lines Heather just read we see reflected even in the humble birth of the Christ, which happened among the animals of someone’s home in Bethlehem.

When we consider that it is God Almighty – Creator – Spirit – Ground of our Being – Who gets born into a human life: it is incredible. So ordinary. So vulnerable. So practical. So earthy. There are things about the birth of our Messiah that do shine – yet Jesus is so much an ordinary kid like you and I were. We are forever drawn to the scene of baby Jesus. What an emotional impact this has: God as a newborn. I have been brought to tears by nativity dramas in churches, when the actors playing Joseph and Mary lifted up a real baby (not just a doll) as Jesus. God with us! Hallelujah!

Oh, we had better be quieter if the little fellow is sleeping. ‘…The Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.’ Legend had it that the German Church reformer, Martin Luther, authored the words of ‘Away in a Manger,’ in German, but it appears that it was written in English, probably no more than 150 years ago.

Song Away in a Manger

Isaiah 40:9
Climb a high mountain, Zion.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah,
“Look! Your God!”

Raising voices to share good news is what a choir like this one is doing. ‘Look! Your God!’ And perhaps it is combined voices that make more of an impact. Combined voices are more believable. Combined voices are less timid and more clear.

And this is true beyond choirs singing. When we, a congregation, are giving out the same messages out there in the community, the impact is greater. Greater than our lone voices. What happens when people are treated better by all of us? When they discover plenty of us who have confidence in Jesus? When they notice how many of us have been changed for the better, through the years?

The message our lives give out can be like a clear, ringing bell. The ringing of bells has been a church thing for centuries, even though bells are seldom mentioned in the Bible. The church bells called people to gather, in a time before people carried phones or watches. A loud bell is heard far and near. Our combined loud witness can also be heard all over the land.

Song Ring Christmas Bells

Psalm 72:10-14
Kings remote and legendary will pay homage,
kings rich and resplendent will turn over their wealth.
All kings will fall down and worship,
and godless nations sign up to serve him,
Because he rescues the poor at the first sign of need,
the destitute who have run out of luck.
He opens a place in his heart for the down-and-out,
he restores the wretched of the earth.
He frees them from tyranny and torture—
when they bleed, he bleeds;
when they die, he dies.

The poetry of Psalm 72 gets pulled into the story of the Eastern visitors who came to worship little Jesus, even though Matthew does not call them kings at all, but Magi, people of certain wisdom and skills. Humans of all sorts get drawn to Christ, with all the hopes and promises of a Special One, among us on earth.

The lyric of Psalm 72 speaks of the poor being supplied with what they need, the down-and-our being deeply loved, and those who suffer being joined by this great Leader. We find Jesus doing these exact things. Indeed, as Eugene Peterson reworded this Psalm, it says He accomplishes His mission by bleeding with those who bleed and dying with those who die.

What did the Magi know of this child, thirty years before Jesus’ real work began? We don’t know. Seems like almost no one expected the exact path that Jesus took. There were so many grand expectations of a Messiah.
Our final musical offering expresses the calm determination of those wise ones from afar. They still inspire believers – and would-be believers – to stay the course and seek Jesus with confidence and trust.

Song Wise Men from the East

Prayers of the People God, who promises to take over the running of the world: our prayers are for this world of people, this world of creatures and landscapes.
We groan with those in grief and disbelief after another deadly school shooting, this time at a Michigan high school in the United States that killed 4 and wounded others.
We take a deep breath and release our prayers for peace to come from the Iranian Nuclear Talks between the United States, Iran, Europe and China.
We sing prayers for the people of Afghanistan where more than 100 former Afghan security forces have disappeared since the Taliban seized control.
God, like a Shepherd who cares for the flock: our prayers are for people, ourselves and our own people…

God, whose bright glory shines for everyone to see: our prayer is praise and thanksgiving for the sacredness of life. The beauty of this snowy day, the delight of the music, the specialness of every face we look upon – thank You!
God, who surprises us with what Your saving power looks like: our prayer is a prayer of Faith, of the Christian tradition, of disciples of the Master. The motto says, ‘keep Christ is Christmas.’ Teach again to be storytellers in our homes and community. To be prayerful and watchful. To be agents of mercy and of change, for Christ.
God, who calls us to speak loud and clear and not be timid: our prayers are for mission. Our mission, our work, we speak of, again and again. Reveal to us, by Your Holy Spirit, what good plans to act upon. Reveal what good things we already go that are, actually, Jesus, alive among us. Guide us to find nominees for next year’s Church work. Guide us to begin and restart good plans and acts of service. And guide us always to rely upon Your word and Your Spirit for the message we show to our neighbourhood.
In the name of Jesus Messiah – His power & authority. Amen.

Worship, Nov 21 – Light at the End of the Tunnel

WELCOME to this worship post of Digby Baptist Church, on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Reign of Christ Sunday. Before Advent begins, we glimpse the old promises of a Messiah today. Full service details are published here in the Bulletin.

Light at the End of the Tunnel (Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 11:33-36) Here we are, friends, dealing with the darkness. Is that not what Church is for, Christianity’s purpose? A way of seeking – and finding – a bright spot. 

We have personal crises. I am anxious right now about a few of you, and another friend, at the beginning of cancer diagnosis and treatment. What’s going to happen? What will be suffered? I so want the very best to happen to each one. I pray for light and life to the fullest in each case.

In the wider community there is the ongoing health care crisis, including the challenges of staffing and running our nursing homes, and of keeping ambulances running. We face the dark, unending COVID crisis, with all the confusion and anxiety that goes with it. We see also a housing crisis, so much so that in our own community people are organizing to try and make a difference. How long before things start getting better in each situation?

Above and beyond this we know about the environmental crisis, a ‘climate emergency.’ And then there are the natural disasters, like the situation in British Columbia. Plus other human problems like war and violence, or racism that keeps gnawing at justice. These long-term challenges are being faced… ever so slowly.

And here we are, Sunday morning, worshipping, in a divisive time, a season of Church decay, often stumped about what to do next to make a difference to the spiritual lives of our neighbours, and keep churches functioning. Will our children have faith? A shared faith in Christ?

Pick any one of these situations. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? A happy ending? Do we know how to head in that direction? Here we are, together, seeking the answers, seeking the way forward, seeking not to go it alone. One challenge at a time is big enough: put these all in a heap and we can be overwhelmed.

I already read you this story from an activist and author [Jan Phillips], back in March. She said: The other night I admitted to a friend that I was hopeless. In my mind, it’s not a permanent condition. Not debilitating. It’s the weather, not the climate. I will get over it. I just wanted to be honest. On that day, in that hour, I said it.

He didn’t inquire into it. Didn’t empathize. Didn’t nod his head and say, “Awww…” He tried to talk me out of it. As if I had just gone down the wrong road. It made me mad. I want to be able to have my feelings and not have someone think they should be different. I just wrote this poem to describe that.

If you ask me how I am
and I say “hopeless,”
think: she is the moon,
a waning crescent,
so perfect and true.

Do not think you should
help me find hope,
guide me toward gratitude,
send me pink peonies.

Think: she is nature‑
ever-changing, this one view
so fleeting;
think: bud to bloom,
acorn to oak, tadpole to toad.
I am that.

Never the same.

I am creation expanding,
same as you,
a cauldron of seething chaos
spinning into unspeakable beauty.

Hopeless is right for some days.
Do not be afraid to come near.
There is wisdom in that sorrow,
warmth in that fragile, flickering
flame. © 2019 Jan Phillips

Hopeless moments come and go in our lives. One of the lessons of our faith in Christ is that there is a time to lament and mourn, a time to be helpless and be praying for miracles. To walk into the unknown is hard. 

Sometimes, we get to the light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s another dark tunnel! What’s that about? This, I think, is one of the more discouraging things about life and about history. This is the experience of some of you, and of various folks we’ve known. We overcome one crisis, come out the other side, and then another disaster strikes. 

But this is also seen in history, in our faith history, the Bible story. That encourages me. Why? Because I still believe what Martin Luther King Jr. quoted: We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, ‘68) 

In the wider plan, the big picture, hope goes on, love wins, Christ gains the victory. Even when disappointments seem to keep coming, over and over. The Bible story is not all happy endings. It all is still unfinished, pointing in a hopeful direction to something incredible and good that we but glimpse here. 

The scenes into which Isaiah spoke, in Jerusalem, those scenes are in the flow of Hebrew history – with so many ups and downs, over and over again. So many great promises come along, from God Almighty, but are seldom fulfilled to perfection, and seldom last long, it seems. So the true finale is yet to come.

I look at the timeline from the Hebrew Bible, and see a repeating story. The patriarchs: when a terrible famine comes, the eleven sons and families find safety with their long lost brother in Egypt. Those Hebrews prosper for a couple hundred years there; then they are oppressed, and become slaves. 

After another couple centuries, through Moses they are promised freedom and a return to the Promised Land. They are freed! But they take a long journey to get to that land of milk and honey. When they get there they have to recapture it and fight for it. 

Life in the promised land begins with leadership by what they called ‘judges,’ such as Deborah and Gideon and  Samson. Some lead well, some terribly. At one point, Yahweh God relents and allows the people to have a king, like the other nations around the Middle East. Kings Saul, David, and Solomon rule the children of Israel in a united kingdom. The spectacular Temple gets built. Ah, what glory days!

Then the kingdom splits in two. See that on the timeline? Two Hebrew kingdoms – Israel in the north, Judah in the South. So much for happy unity in the Promised Land!

This brings us to the season of prophets like Isaiah. They gave beautiful hope; they gave severe warnings! What happens? The Assyrian empire comes down and conquers the northern kingdom. Next, the Babylonians come down and finish things off. Jerusalem even gets destroyed by the end of it, and many of the leading Jewish people are taken away as captives to Babylonia. That’s the EXILE on the timeline.

Biblical history goes on from them. Suffice it to say… the final answer, the final promise, the final anointed King, the final kingdom – we see in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Mary. And in a sense, all the promises finally happen outside of history and earth as we know it. So we have these visions of a new heavens and new earth, united again, as in Paradise. 

We Christians go back even to Isaiah, and see his divinely inspired poetry pointing all the way to our future. A Child born for us in Bethlehem becomes our Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And Jesus’ way of running things is absolutely perfect. 

We hear in these ancient phrases hopes for all our fears. Good things will happen: The people who walked in darkness will see a great light. There will be good things provided for those who are needy: they rejoice before You, as with joy at the harvest. There will be peace among peoples and no more need for soldier’s uniforms: for all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. There will be justice for those oppressed and mistreated and left out: He will establish it [the kingdom] with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And at the end of the next one. And the one after that. To such hopes we cling, with our dear God. It is a matter of faith to see things this way. It is a vision we hold. 

Sharon and I have had a friend, Jennifer – a unique and beautiful Christian person. When she went through intense cancer treatments, I kept each of her posts she typed onto Facebook. What she wrote was so clear and touching, so honest and hopeful. When she went through all that, Jennifer kept seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Someday I want to read her whole diary of posts from her treatment. I’ll need to get permission. Here is but a sample. 

 I …have learned that I have a “rare, aggressive cancer” called clear cell Ovarian cancer and before you ask, no, it is not a “good” cancer. Rare and unique. Like so many other things in my life over the years. The prognosis is sketchy and the past weeks have been a roller coaster of terrible news and hope, recycled.

If we could all only see how beautiful God has made each of us we could spend more time making a difference in the world with all he has given us. Friends! If you only could see you as I see each of you! You are beautiful. I digress.

Today we learned all sorts of things including the fact that I have blood clots in my lungs (mistakenly diagnosed as a fever at the Er with my elevated heart rate and… hot flashes!!! Blood clots! Seriously!) and I need a blood transfusion for low hemoglobin. All of my blood counts are apparently wackadoodle.

I don’t know when or how my story here will end but I know where my hope lies (in Jesus) and what comes after all of this. I know who created me and when my time here is done who I will spend eternity with. I know the great physician and he has peace and love and provides healing for every spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical ailment, although often not in the ways our finite minds can imagine or ask for. I will continue to ask him for a big miracle! I will continue to put my faith in him and will embrace however he finishes my story, resting in his peace.

That’s Jennifer, living in the light, embracing whatever.

Jesus’ words about a lamp glowing brightly, and the eye being the light of the body are beautiful words, but a bit mysterious to me. I wonder if Christ is simply saying: pay attention to your vision, your viewpoint, your attitude to the world around you. It is not actually about what your two eyes see. Even a sightless person has a viewpoint, and way of seeing the world, so to speak. Do you see hope?

Frederick Beuchner wrote: Christianity is mainly wishful thinking. Even the part about Judgment and Hell reflects the wish that somewhere the score is being kept. 

Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on. 

Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.

(Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 96)

The LORD spoke through Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Jesus said, I am the light of the world. 

He also said, You are the light of the world. 

Perhaps, if your heart and soul have walked in darkness, you too shall see a great light. 

Prayer after the sermon: Come to us, Great Light, shine upon us, light us up inside, and glow from our lives as we walk in this world. 

For the light you have given us today, we simply praise You.

If there have been any things that hid Your light, disperse them and help us forget them. 

When we need to find our way, show us that You, the Guide, are near, are here. 

When someone else needs help to light their way, send us to them. 

In Your name, Jesus.  AMEN.

And Still Their Heavenly Music Floats

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7a; Luke 2:1-20)

Christmas Eve, Dec 24, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Christmas.  Christmas means music, among other things.  So many Christmas songs have surrounded us.

We are about to sing a carol that is about a song.  It is not directly about Jesus – Christ is not quite mentioned.  This carol is about a song from the past.  The song the angels sang in Bethlehem, about 2,020 years ago.  We are about to declare again, that…

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old.
Who sang that glorious song?  
…angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
What did they sing?
“Peace on the earth, good-will to men,
from heaven’s all gracious King”:
Have you waited for this again?  Are you ready?
the world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing.

I am ready.  I am waiting.  That’s what I think the Christian season of Advent is all about.  But the waiting and watching and longing is forced upon me anyway.

World news about Aleppo, Syria, makes me feel a bit desperate for ‘peace on the earth, good-will to all.’  

Then, I go to a party to celebrate a Syrian family who has been in Digby for one year now.  They have joy, and safety, and education, new friends, and peace.  Did I hear the angels sing, at that celebration last week?

Then there are the dear people who are ill – and in danger of dying – bring out the Advent in me: the longing and pleading for a Saviour.  But then, someone who is sick gets to her town council meeting, as usual.  Or one person who crashes his vehicle on a snowy highway walks away without a scratch.  Or someone who has served the Lord faithfully does die, and because of Christ is now alive forevermore.  

I heard more angels sing.

Have you heard angels singing?  

Frederick Buechner says this about angels.

Sleight-of-hand magic is based on the [demonstrable] fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to see.  Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well.  Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.  An angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like, “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or “I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.”

(1973, Wishful Thinking, pp. 2-3)

The angels wish us well because there is Good News.  God gets born as one of us, one night, in a Bethlehem of long ago.  And He is worth singing about.  This child ushers in peace of the human soul and of creation.  This Jesus brings real good will for all the people.  

Still through the cloven skies they come,
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world.

This Christmas carol was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears. Sears was a unitarian minister as well as an editor, author, and poet.  He varied from most Unitarians however, by accepting the divinity of Christ.  “The word God may be uttered without emotion,” he told his congregation, “while the word Jesus opens the heart, and touches the place of tears.”  

While Sears wrote this poem, the war [of the United States] with Mexico over Texas (and beyond) weighed heavily on him…  His text serves well beyond the Christmas season as an ethical acknowledgment of suffering, as well as the presence of hope, in the contemporary world.  (Burgard, Anna Marlis, Hallelujah: the Poetry of Classic Hymns, 2005, p. 65)

Have the angels glittered down something from God to you?  And shall you give back the song the angels sing?  Offer the peace of Christ to others? And give God’s good will to all?  

Jesus is born.  And we are born again.