This morning Beth immediately united us – a congregation that had come from different family homes around the district - with the inclusive Welcome; “Good Morning, Family of the Church!” She quietly asked God to take from us our stress and strain and to let us be whole and worship Him in truth.
Hymn TiS 281 AHB 214 When God almighty came to be one of us
The words of this hymn certainly called us to prepare to be a part of the real Christmas story, asking us to sing and dance and share with people from all walks of life, with the assurance;
God in His mercy uses the commonplace, God on His birthday had a need of you.
We did not do justice to this amazing hymn with our singing, but perhaps in our hesitation with the irregular tune our hearts more clearly “heard” the words and we will be encouraged to go back and re-read them and think more deeply.
Prayer Thanksgiving / Confession
Beth called on the “Master who brings Peace and Security” and called on us all to love one another. She prayed that He will come into our lives in a fresh way so we can relive the glories God has brought to us over the years and have the chance to be what God wants us to be in the future. Beth gently declared our sins were forgiven.
Lighting of the Advent Candles
Jan asked how many of us have remarked how quickly Christmas seems to have come this year. Having realized we had not followed our usual practice of lighting Advent Candles she spoke about symbols and their significance and said that although symbols are not essential she finds the Advent candles provide a focus for many people in the midst of December madness.
She asked Warwick to light the candle of Expectation and the candle of Hope for the first and second weeks of Advent. For today, the third week of Advent, he lit the candle of Joy as Jan reminded us this is the Joy that comes from our Faith in Christ.
Come O come Emanuel – God with us!
Beth told the children she would use this time to explain to the adults that children do not really understand the meaning of Peace, Comfort and Rest. These words are magic to those of us who are old and those who are tired, but kids are just too busy wanting to do everything at once. When Mum is trying to cook dinner and do 19 things at once after a long day and asks for “A little peace and quiet” - children just don’t understand this in their exuberance. To the adults Beth made a plea that we will make Christ young and vibrant in Marsden Road Church and that we will keep our enthusiasm for life and try to help the children to meet the God of Peace for all ages.
Hymn TiS 310 AHB 234 Brightest and best of the stars of the morning
This hymn is based on Job 38:7 “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” It was written for the Feast of Epiphany in 1811 by Reginald Heber (1783-1826), the second Bishop of Calcutta, whose diocese in 1823 included India, Southern Africa and Australia. An ancestor of mine was a missionary in Ceylon for eight years and built a church which was consecrated by Bishop Reginald Heber on 25th September 1825, so I always personally enjoy singing any of the Bishop’s hymns.
Bible readings Isaiah 35:1-10 & Matthew 11: 2-11
Colin read our Bible passages this morning and I was struck by the similarity of the two readings - as is of course often the case. First we were told of the joy of redemption as we come “home” with gladness and joy to enter Zion. Then the New Testament message came directly from Jesus through his message to John who was in prison and was described by Jesus as God’s Prophet and Herald.
Reflection: This was an early Christmas present Beth told us – there will be no sermon today! With the readings that reflected on the road to “the Kingdom to come”, Beth urged us to look around for ourselves and see what is happening around us so we can be a part of the changes that must come. Then she gave us a “Cook’s Tour” to introduce some of the people she had met on the road – people who had worked for God with the changes they encountered.
First we heard about the tiny Nun in the Philippines who was willing to dress in outrageous clothes to speak with the local women and children whose men had been taken away. She knew that if she dressed like a clown they would not be afraid and would follow her and listen. Because she was willing to meet them where they were on the road - she was able to help them.
More than 20 years ago a group of Rotarians went to a poor country to deliver aid and saw an old man pushing a plough with a young man pulling. With no beast to help they assumed these people were hopelessly poor, but discovered the old man had willingly sold his beast – his only asset - to buy timber to build a church.
Beth was affected by the poverty in Kowloon when she was there. She met a young girl working long hours in a shop six days a week. The girl noticed the cross on a chain around Beth’s neck and said; “You’re Jesus’s person? Me too! I have a friend who has a Bible and she can read. If I go to her place on Sunday and scrub her floors and do her washing she reads to me from her Bible. I am so lucky!”
A group of young African men went to Young in NSW to learn about crop rotation and other farming methods and they were told NSW was in the middle of a bad drought. One young African man said; “My friend – we understand – how many of your people do you think will die?”
We heard about a “lavender and old lace” lady from Cabramatta who aspired to do great things, but life and the ill health of her dominating older sister saw her selling gloves at Mark Foys to care for her sister and her nieces and nephews. When this “Saint” died Beth was given a precious missionary money box that was a poignant testament to her small but courageous giving of all she could afford over many decades. Although we may not think what we are doing is important, Beth went on; “Your story and love and loyalty are known. The road goes on – so don’t let our Church and Sanctuary become a ghetto. People are doing mighty things … and the road goes on!”
God always leaves Witnesses. In a South American prison there were two groups of prisoners – political prisoners and persecuted Christian prisoners. As Christmas approached respect for the Christians was shown when the political prisoners were willing to risk harm and the anger of their gaolers by causing a disturbance in another area so the Christians could have a few moments to kneel in communion with God. They had no bread but asked God if they could stand for all the people who have no food.
Beth finished by inviting us to: “Walk tall and live in love because the road is still ahead.”
Thanks be to God, Amen. Many of us had tears in our eyes as we repeated, “Amen.”
Hymn AHB 551 I sing a song of the Saints of God
This hymn is a lovely simple narrative of the kinds of people we meet on the road – people who want to make a difference to the future and bring Hope.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea. In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea
For the saints of God began just like me, and I mean to be one too.
Offering / prayer
Prayers for Others May began with a reading of part of the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, and included our personal prayers for those who are dear to us. We finished with the Lord’s Prayer - said together.
Hymn TiS 291 AHB 216 Earth has many a noble city
The Dismissal and Benediction exhorted us to go out to live and love and work for the God who loves us so much and we sang, “Now unto Him who is able to keep, Able to keep us from falling”.
As we sang I noted the dignity and grace of our leader Beth as she walked down the steps of the Sanctuary with the aid of a walking stick and her trust in God to keep her following along the road.