Dec. 13, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-11

61The 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. 5Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 6but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. 7Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. 8For I the Lordlove 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.

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you;13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

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.25Beloved, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

John 1:6-28

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. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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.

Sermon by Pastor Meggan Manlove

Advent is a church season of repentance and hope. It is also about waiting, a word that has taken on new meaning for me this particular year. On December 3 my mom called to tell me my 94-year-old dad had been taken by the ambulance to the hospital with sepsis pneumonia. By the time I started writing this sermon, dad was on Hospice and we were waiting. There has been so much waiting this year—for answers about COVID19, for guidance on how to live safely with the coronavirus, waiting for the election to be over, now waiting for the vaccine to be distributed, waiting for a peaceful transition of power, waiting for the new normal. 

And we are waiting, this Advent, as we always do for Immanuel to be born, to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. We are waiting simultaneously for Jesus to come again. The Old Testament prophets are big characters in the Advent journey of waiting and repentance and hope. But the star character of Advent is John, who we hear from today. He is primarily a witness; he points to something not himself.

John is, in fact, emphatic about the fact that he is not the Messiah, not the Savior. He has come to bear witness to one greater than him. I love that about John. So many people, so many businesses, even churches seem to either directly or indirectly claim to be the one, to be the person or institution which will save us. Saving us looks like whatever they have to offer—power, security, wealth, glamour, identity, belonging, being part of a protected or superior group.

And so, it is counter-cultural to say, I am not the messiah, but I will point you to the one who is. John’s witness transcends all of time as he bears witness to the light that has come into a darkened world: “[John] came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John’s role as witness and Jesus’ role as Messiah are inseparable.

Again, John begins identifying himself by what he is not. He is not the Messiah. John identifies himself as the prophetic voice of one like Isaiah. In the sixth century before Christ, Isaiah announced the return of God’s people from their years of captivity in Babylon: “I am the voice of one crying out “in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”  

John’s role is to make straight the way for the one who comes as Messiah. John does this through his identity in the role given him by God. He is simply the witness to the one whom God has sent.

John was always the primary witness, the one pointing to the true Messiah, the true Savior, the one who can actually bring healing and wholeness, yes for the Israelites, but as we will read later in this gospel, for the entire world. John’s vocation or calling to be a witness had me reflecting on one of Trinity Lutheran’s guiding principles: witness your faith through actions and words. 

And this reminded me of the ongoing discussion among my colleagues about what has been and should be emphasized in our congregations—right belief or right action. I think the question is unhelpful because both are important. What we believe about God, the cosmos, ourselves, one another, abundant life, all shape our actions. The reverse is also true: new habits, new practices, new actions can impact what we believe. 

If I believe that I am scum of the earth, a worthless sole, unloved, unwanted, that will impact my actions. If I believe I am God’s gift to the universe, entitled to riches and prosperity and that only my life matters, that will impact my actions. If I believe that God and other humans love me for simply who I am, with no regard for my looks, productivity, or skills, just Meggan Hannah, then that will also impact my actions. I am free to love as I have been loved.

And if I spend time with people who are different than me, that will change my perspective. If I travel to other parts of the world with my feet or by reading or watching films, my beliefs and worldview could transform. If I am beloved by my neighbors, if my community loves me through daily acts of deep kindness, that will influence what I believe about humans, myself, and maybe even God.

In a very real way, the relationship between beliefs and actions was on display in Idaho this past week, garnering national news. The Anne Frank memorial, part of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, was vandalized. And it was not random words that were plastered on the memorial; it was swastikas. 

Why? Why did the perpetrators believe this was a good thing to do? What beliefs shaped this action? What love, compassion, empathy is missing in their lives? Whose actions are they following and modeling? Was this act of hatred and vandalism going to save Idaho from something? What is their understanding of salvation or healing? (pause) And the church needs to ask, in the words of one of our Confessions of Sin, what work have we left undone? What beliefs or actions have we held that permitted whatever this was to be fostered, for the people to think their actions were helpful?

John was pointing to the one true Savior, the one true healer. And in his pointing and witnessing he used both words and actions. Words and actions both matter; it’s never either or, but instead both/and. They are all part of what it means to be a witness. 

John is the first person in the gospel to bear witness and confess that Jesus is “the Son of God.” Many who heard John witness to the Messiah offer their highest commendation of his God-given role: “John performed no sign, but everything he said about [Jesus] was true” (10:41). His role was later complete as the gospel writer offers the final comment on John: “And many believed in him [across the Jordan]” (10:42).

As people of faith, we have a unique opportunity to identify the role that all persons of faith are called to by God. Each one of has heard the words of this text and, as important, experienced God’s love. We know the importance of John’s witness to Jesus. And, like John, God commissions us to bear witness to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one who has come in the flesh, the one who is here with us, and the one who will come again in his reign as Lord of all. 

What does it mean to testify to Jesus, the light, the savior and healer? Do we imagine ourselves as witnesses to the light? Do we think of ourselves as witnesses to the light which shines in the darkness?

Into the bleakness of winter will soon come the light of the world. We are called to testify, to witness to that light, to Jesus the Word made flesh. That is the gift of that name, the Word made flesh. Jesus is God’s Word and action in one being. We can point to the light of God’s presence in so many ways. Point to the light of Christ shing into the shadows of our human brokenness, bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and releasing those imprisoned to freedom.

John the Witness reminds us of the importance of pointing to even the tiniest light and saying “Look, behold, the Lamb of God!” This Advent let us see light when there seems to be none and then let us point to that light, the light of Jesus. Like John, we can point to Jesus and say “Look!” so that all might know God’s love and mercy and peace. 

Prayers of Intercession

God of power and might, shine your radiance and come quickly to this weary world. Hear our prayers for everyone in need.

A brief silence.

God of preachers and messengers, you have entrusted your church with the work of proclaiming good news. Strengthen the witness of bishops, pastors, deacons, church musicians, lay leaders, and all people who contribute their prayers and talents to public worship (the congregation’s worship leaders may be named). Embed your word in their hearts. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of every living creature, you announce the year of your favor for all of creation. Extend your kindness and relief to endangered animals and plants. Strengthen the human beings who rely on the rhythms of nature to make their living. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of all peoples and nations, you plant us as your oaks of righteousness and ask us to care for one another. Be present with the leaders of every nation as they govern. Give them a spirit of righteousness, that your goodness and mercy is revealed through their actions. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of exiles and wanderers, you repair what was once destroyed. We pray for people who have been displaced from their homes by fire, flood, earthquake, or storm (survivors of recent natural disasters may be named). Support the work of Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, and all disaster relief organizations in their recovery efforts. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of the powerful and helpless, you clothe us with strength when our spirits are weak and weary. Bestow your spirit upon this congregation and empower us to comfort the people who turn to us in times of need. Make your church a place of refuge and healing. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of sinners and saints, you offer joy even in the midst of our grief. We are grateful for the beloved, imperfect people whose lives testified to your radiant love (especially Lucy, martyr of the church). Anoint all who mourn with the oil of gladness. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Draw near to us, O God, and receive our prayers for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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