Tag Archives: Be Christ In Christmas

A service of Communion for Advent

The following is a liturgy I wrote for use during Advent.  Permission for use in worship is granted.  A note that it was “written by Robb McCoy, at http://www.fatpastor.me” would be appreciated.  If you’re going to use it, I also love hearing about it in the comments below, but that’s not necesarrt.  The musical settings found in the liturgy are Copyright 1990 Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  The links are to a pdf file.  Some of the Words of Institution are also from the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Communion Liturgy for Advent

One:      In this season of expectant waiting, we are invited to Christ’s table here and now.  Coming to Christ’s table is a way to experience the grace of God.  Therefore it is open to all.  The only requirement is a sincere heart.  The only barriers to the table are created in our own heart.  So we come together as a people to confess our sins to God.  We confess as a people because we all fall short of God’s plan of perfect love.  We do not confess to avoid punishment.  We confess to free our own hearts and minds, so we may remove the barriers we build between ourselves, our God, and our brothers and sisters.

All:          We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.   We go about our lives as if Christmas is an event to be celebrated, but not lived.  We hear the good news, but do not heed it.  We turn away the holy family for there is no room in our hearts.  We hear the cry of the expectant mother, desperate for care and a place to lie, but listen instead to the carols.  We see the lowly children, born in mangers among the filth of the world, but we look instead to the decorations.  We hear the call of the Angels to come and worship the newborn King, but we bow down to the idols of our culture.  Forgive us, we pray.  Forgive us and free us for joyful obedience.  Remove the barriers that we construct, and empower us to be a people doing the real, gritty, holy, graceful, loving work of Christmas every day. In the name of the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.  (pause for silent confession and prayer)

One:      Out of the wilderness a voice calls out.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Prepare ye the way of love.  Prepare ye the way of forgiveness.  The Christ child was born in the midst of darkness.  The waiting is over.  Christ may be born today in your heart.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven.

All:         Joy to the World. Amen.

(Musical Setting)

One:      The Lord be with you

All:         And also with you.

One:      Lift up your hearts.

All:         We lift them up to the Lord.

One:      Now let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:         How good it is to give thanks and praise.

One:      It is good to give our thanks and praise.  It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  You create the world from chaos.  By simply speaking, you set the cosmos into motion, and create all things from the dust of stars.

All:         Blessed are you, O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

One:      God of many blessings, you called out a family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  You gave them a land, and promised to make of them a great nation so that all of the nations of the world could be blessed.

All:         Blessed are you, God of Abraham and Sarah.

One:      God of salvation, when the people were but slaves in Egypt you called upon your servant Moses.  You gave him the power to speak salvation to the Pharoah, and led your people out of slavery.  You led them over the water, and helped them Passover into freedom.  When the people were hungry, you gave them food from the sky.  When the people were thirsty, you brought forth water from the rocks.  When the people were no people, you gave them the Law.

All:         Blessed are you, God of our salvation.

One:      When the people asked for a King, you anointed David to be a just ruler. Though flawed, David united the people, and you promised to be with his line forever.  When the Kings rebelled, as you warned them they would, you anointed the prophets, who called the people back to obedience.  The prophets spoke the truth to power, and called the people to remember who and whose they were.  The prophets warned the people of the consequences of injustice and false worship.  When the people fell into exile, the prophets spoke words of hope and restoration when all around them, there was nothing but despair.

All:         A voice is crying out: “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

One:      You promised the coming of an anointed one, who would lead the people to peace and righteousness.  You promised that the descendant of David would rule forever.  You promised that out of Bethlehem would come the Prince of Peace.  You promised the coming of your Kingdom, when “swords would be beaten into plows, and spears into pruning hooks.”

All:         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

One:      John the Baptist came, telling the people to “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. And so now we come, having confessed our sins, searching for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with expectant grace.  We come to be transformed by what has already come, and waiting with hope for what is to come.  We deck our halls with joy, but it is our hearts that truly matter.

All:         Prepare the way of the Lord in our world.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our communities.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our churches.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.

One:      And so, in hopeful anticipation, we give thanks to you, God of Creation,  God of Abraham and Sarah,  God of salvation, God of the Law, God of King David, God of the Prophets, God of hope and deliverance, God of John, and God of us all.  We join in praise and come together to sing unending hymn of the saints of glory.

(Musical setting)

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.  God of power and might adored, heaven and earth are shining bright with the glory of your light.  Loud Hosannas now we sing. In the highest they may ring. Blessed is the coming one. Christ Emmanuel your son.  Glory in the highest. Holy God, your name is blessed. 

One:      Holy are you, and holy is your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who is the one to whom John pointed in the wilderness.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was born to us in a manger, for there was no room in the inn.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who came to show us the way to your love.  He proclaimed good news to the poor.  He restored the sight to the blind.  He called the children to his side, taught the women, ate with sinners, and called out the religious leaders blinded by the letter of the Law.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was betrayed by those who loved him.  Who was persecuted by those who feared him.  Who was crucified by those who thought that his death would be the end of him.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who, on the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

All:         “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One:      And when the supper was over, took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said:

All:         “Drink from this, all of you.  This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One:      Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  Make us a Christmas people, secure in what has come, and hopeful for what is yet to be.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.  Keep us vigilant in our Advent waiting until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

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Sermon: Let No Prison Hold You

From the sermon below:

“‘Are you the one?’  John the Baptist asked. ‘Or do we need to wait for another?’ 

I can understand this question John asked.  I can see the prison walls around me.  That we build up with violence, war, and poverty.  I see Newtown and Columbine.  I see apartheid South Africa, and oppression and racism that exists today.  I see hunger amongst us, hurting people in our pews.  I see my own heart, my own failures, and the hurt that I cause.  I see the times when I’ve failed to love God the way I should, or participated in the unjust  systems.  I can see the walls, and they are thick, and they are strong.  And I can ask too, ‘How long must we wait?'”

For a full blog post, go here.

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Let no prison hold you

let none hold you

Few of us ever plan on going to prison.  No one wants to spend time in a jail cell.  Yet many of us spend time in one every day.

We spend time in jails built around us.  Sometimes they are barely noticeable.  Like the fish that doesn’t know it is in a fish bowl, or the bird that doesn’t know the world outside the cage, we spend our time in prison.  These are the prisons of injustice.  They are the prisons of systems that keep us from fulfilling our dreams.  They are the walls that are built by those that want to keep others oppressed.  Hope and possibility are kept out, and all that remains is a cycle of despair.

Sometimes we are in prisons that we built ourselves.  We guard our pain and our torment and make sure nothing is able to penetrate the walls we build.  We have been hurt too many times, so we build walls.  We remain in the cell because the outside world is full of pain, and at least inside the cell we have the illusion of safety.  Intimacy and friendship are kept out, and all that remains is superficiality.

Sometimes we are in prisons that have been built for us.  These walls are built by sickness, or by those that hurt us.  Sometimes great wrongs are inflicted upon us.  Sometimes the tragedy is too much to take.  Some say, “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.”  I don’t believe it, because I don’t believe it is always God that is giving it.  Sometimes the pain is just too much, and the walls of the prison are too strong to break free.  Healing and joy are kept out, and all that remains is pain.

In Matthew 11:2-11, we find John the Baptist in prison.  He was imprisoned by a King that did not want to hear the truth.  John spoke the truth to power.  He called for repentance.  He called for a change of heart.  He called upon people to follow the path of righteousness, and he prepared the way for the one that would come.  But he was not imprisoned until he demanded too much of the King.  When he impeded the powerful from having his way, he had to be stopped.  He was kept alive, for awhile, by the will of the people.

John was called the “greatest of all those born of a woman,” by Jesus.  And yet as he was in jail, he wondered.  It can be dangerous to inject too much of our own thoughts into figures in the Bible, but here it is almost impossible not to wonder what John was thinking when he sent a messenger to Jesus.

“Are you the one? Or are we to wait for another?” he asked.

John was in prison, so all he could do was wait.  And yet he wanted to know, “Are you the one?”  Sitting in jail, still alive at the whim of a tyrannical King, looking back at his work, his ministry, and looking forward to a future that was unlikely to have a happy ending, he asked, “Are we to wait for another?”

And likewise I wait.  I wait in my prison.  I wait in the prison of sin that I have built around me.  I wait in the prison of injustice that is all around.  I look to Newtown and Columbine.  I look to the Liberian Civil War and Apartheid South Africa.  I look to violence on the streets of our cities, and violence in the homes our children.  I look to hungry children at the school in my neighborhood, and to the cold families looking for coats at our Wardrobe ministry.  I look into my own heart at the choices I make, the hurts that I cause, and the prisons I build.  I wait and look back at my work, my ministry, and look forward to the future and wonder.  “Are we to wait for another?”

Is the question a sin unto itself?  Maybe.  But at least I know that I’m in good company.  I’ve never felt that doubt is the opposite of faith.  .

So, trapped in our prisons, what do we do?  What is Jesus’ answer?  Of course, Jesus doesn’t give us a straight answer (That is why I think doubt is not an obstacle to faith, but lines the pathway of faith.  If Jesus wanted us to never doubt or question, he would have given us more straight answers.).

Tell John what you have seen,” Jesus says.  Tell John to look beyond his prison walls.  Tell him to look beyond the pain and the heartache and the bleak outlook.  Tell John “that 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.”

This Advent, we still wait.  We wait like John in prison.  Not held in by despair, but looking always outward.  Looking from within our own prisons at the world all around. Waiting and watching with God’s eyes to see the signs.  Waiting is never a fun activity.  We do everything in our power to avoid waiting… for anything.  We fill our time with noise.  We go to restaurants designed to limit waiting as much as possible.  We go to grocery stores where the lines are filled with things to read, and last-minute items to buy.  What are waiting rooms filled with? TVs, magazines, some even check out ipads.

Yet here we are waiting, but not idly.  We are purposefully waiting.  Waiting with eyes open to the love of God that is all around.  We hear one of the Newtown mothers declare “Love wins,” and are left in awe of the power of the human heart to heal. We hear stories like the one Peter Storey tells here, of a woman in South Africa who said to the man that killed her son, “You took my son.  So now you must be mine.”

Advent is a season to wait.  Wait and watch for Christ in our midst.  In a world addicted to instant gratification, the act of purposeful waiting is a revolutionary act.  It is a soul-cleansing act.  We wait with eyes wide open.  We wait with hearts open for Christ, seeking the answers to our questions in the stories of hope and grace.  We wait, seeking  forgiveness.  We do not rush into anything, because you cannot rush something as powerful and painful and precious as forgiveness.

This Advent, we wait like John in prison, who was called to notice the signs all around.  

This Advent, we wait like Mandela in prison, who refused to let the walls hold him.  We wait like Mandela, who transformed his prison into a crucible of learning, organization, and reconciliation.  Who practiced forgiveness even as he was tormented.  Mandela, who befriended white guards who were supposed to hate him, who used their friendship to secretly write his manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom.  Mandela, who wrote in prison, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death” (from A Long Walk to Freedom)

We are called to look beyond the walls of our prison.  Don’t ignore the walls, but do not let them defeat you.  Look beyond the walls, and do not let them contain you.  See the signs of mercy, justice, and love.  See Christ all around – not in holiday decorations or TV specials.  See Christ in the hearts of others.  The prisons made by sin and injustice can feel impenetrable, but there is freedom in Christ.  No prison held Mandela.  No prison held John.  Let none hold you.

Listen to the sermon I preached based on this post

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Advent Photo-a-Day

advent photo a dayRethink Church has come up with another great chance to combine social media, art, reflection, and devotion.  The concept here is simple, prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by spending each day reflecting on a concept or theme.  Then take a picture of something that you feel represents that theme.  Share the picture on twitter, instagram, pinterest, facebook, and maybe someone you know will take some time to reflect as well.  This is not only a great tool for reflection and devotion, but a tool for evangelism, and connecting to others.  Once again I commend my friends at RethinkChurch.org for providing this tool that has so many positive facets.

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11 ways to #BeChristInChristmas

christmas meme1. Don’t get mad at people when they wish you “Happy Holidays.”  I’m not sure who decided that anger is the right Christian response to a polite greeting from a stranger.  I say “Happy Holidays” all the time.  Is it because I’m a politically correct, overly emotional, too-sensitive, mamby-pamby, liberal pinko who hates Christmas and wants to hang an Obama Tree in my living room?  Maybe, but I’m only a few of those things (I’m not telling which).  I just think it is a nice thing to say.  People that are looking for Christ at the check-out register of Target might be looking in the wrong place.  Frankly, I’m not too interested in finding Christ at my daughter’s public school either.  Check that.  I can find Christ anywhere, but I find it in the heart of my neighbor, not in slogans, signs, or songs.

2. Go to worship.  It might sound overly simple, but maybe we can look for Christ in his house.  The purpose of worship is to connect with the divine, so look for Christ in the hearts of your brothers and sisters.  Find Christ in the songs of the ages.  Find Christ in the passing of the peace, in the breaking of the bread, and in hearing the Scriptures read and proclaimed.  If you’re not a church-goer, give it a try.  Most churches are at their best in the weeks leading up to and on Christmas Eve.  There are few moments of the year I enjoy more than singing “Silent Night,” and lifting a candle on Christmas Eve.  I’m not going to guarantee that every House of Worship will suit you.  The body of Christ has many flaws and scars, yet the presence of Christ can be found in the midst of this imperfection.  Then go out into the world and be the presence of Christ for others.

3. Read the Bible.  Again, sounds simple.  There are a lot of ways to encounter Christ, and one of them is to read the stories of his life.  Read the Christmas stories as found in Matthew and Luke.  Read about Jesus’ ministry and discover what he said, who he loved, where he went, and what he did.  Allow the Sermon on the Mount to challenge your life.  Allow the parables to challenge the way you think of the world.  Discover the radical strangeness that is the Kingdom of God.  Be like a tree planted by the waters, and delight in the stories of Jesus.  Then maybe his birth will mean something more.

christmas check list

4. Volunteer.  Give your time to a cause that is meaningful.  Use your talents, skills, and passion for something larger than yourself.  Love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.   Find a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a clothes closet, or a shelter that needs help.  Sign up with the Boys and Girls Club.  Offer to teach a class at your church.  Volunteer to read to kids at your local elementary school.  Then after Christmas is over, keep doing it.

5. Shop fair trade.  Buy products you can feel good about.  Support economic justice by making sure that the people that created the products you buy are paid a fair wage.  There is a shop in downtown Davenport I buy a lot of stuff from called SIS International Shop.  Equal Exchange is another great company that I love to support.  Ten Thousand Villages is a wider chain with some great merchandise as well.  

christmas meme 2

6. Buy gifts that will improve relationships, not just add to clutter.  A few years ago my brother, sister, our spouses, and I decided that we weren’t going to buy each other presents.  Instead we gave our parents a night with the grandkids, and the six of us went to dinner and bowling.  I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like, so I cherish that night we shared much more than any t-shirt or book that they might have gotten me.  Last year my daughter got a big Lego Star Wars set for Christmas.  It was great, but the best part of that gift were the hours that we spent together working on it.

advent books7. Make one of these.  I could buy a cheap box with terrible chocolate to pop out each day leading up to Christmas, or I could make this.  The Advent calendar of children’s books is an amazing idea I’ve seen from a couple of people on Facebook.  I hope I take the time to make the latter.  I’m afraid I’m going to end up buying the former.

8. Go on a prayer run.  This is a term I first heard from a follower on my Facebook page.  She told me that while she runs, she prays.  She solicits prayer concerns from friends from church, and takes them with her as she goes on a run.  Sometimes she listens to the Bible as she runs.  I’m hoping she adds the Pulpit Fiction podcast to her playlist too.  The point is, she’s improving her physical health while at the same time strengthening her spiritual life.  She told me recently that she ran her first 5K.  I’m so glad she shared her joy with me on the FB page.  Now I share her idea with all of you.  You can also participate in the 2014 Advent Run to Bethlehem.  The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 103.2 miles.  Last year, 23 different people made a total of 67 entries in our Advent Run.  There were entries from 14 different states plus London, England. We went a total of 255 miles.  Join in the virtual run to see if we can cover that distance as a team between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Here is the link to submit your run.  It will open on Thanskgiving Day, 2014.

9. Throw a Baby Shower for Jesus.  There is a women’s shelter near you.  There is a scared teen mother you know.  There is a Children’s Home that is struggling to stretch their budget.  Invite people to a Baby Shower for Jesus.  Have games, food, and decorations just like a regular baby shower.  Invite everyone to bring gifts just like at a regular shower.  Then give them all away to someone in need, and remember that Jesus said, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:40; CEB)  And if the idea of throwing yet another party before Christmas is too daunting, then wait until Epiphany (January 6, 2014), the day we remember the coming of the wise men to bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

10. Advocate for Justice.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.  Mary gave birth among animals and filth.  There was no professional to help her.  She was probably very young.  The fact that she survived the birth is a miracle that few name.  This Christmas, name that miracle. Tell the stories of the thousands of women who give birth in similar conditions every day.  There is a natural connection between the need to advocate for maternal health and family planning and the coming of Christ.  I wrote this reflection after I went to Washington to meet in Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.  Understand though, that you don’t need to go to Washington.  Write or call your local Congressional office.  They pay attention to what people talk to them about.

11. Tweet #BeChristInChristmas.  Share ways that you are being Christ to someone else this holiday season.  Use the power of social media to share the good news of Christians being like Christ.  Last year there were a few people that participated and shared some great ideas that included sending cards to soldiers, shopping for an Angel Tree, and singing in nursing homes.  I’m hoping that this idea can grow, and we can all be inspired to do something for mercy, justice, and kindness.  Be the hands, feet, heart, mind, and mouth of Christ this Christmas.  And please, have a very happy holiday!

12 Listen to this song by Christopher Grundy.

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