The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Introductions to the Readings taken from the Advent 4, 2015

 Lessons and Carols Service

Readings, Hymns, Musical Offerings, Reflection Questions, and Pastoral Prayers

Our ancient texts from Scripture remind us of God’s promises made long ago lifting up visions of hope, peace, and joy lived out in relationship as families and as communities drawn together in love.  Let us listen again with reverence and awe this day to a word from the prophet, Micah, chapter 5, verses 2-5a.

 Lesson 1: Micah 5: 2-5a Out of Bethlehem will come a leader

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.  And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be one of peace.”

Here ends a word of prophetic hope from out of the mouth of Micah, this day.

*Carol: VU#42 “Down to Earth as a Dove”

Reflection Prayer: Let us continue to listen with reverence and awe as God’s promises are continuously revealed to us through the gifts of music, song, and story.

Solo: “Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton

The Visits

Lesson #2: LUKE 1: 26-38 The Angel Gabriel visits Mary

“In the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most high, and the Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”.  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed from her.

*Carol:  VU#14 “To A Maid Whose Name Was Mary”

Lesson #3: Luke 1: 39-45 Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth

“Mary got up and hurried to the city in the Judean highlands.  She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honour, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises made to her.”

+Responsive Reading:  VU#898, Refrain#1

“Song of Mary (Magnificat)”

Reflection Questions: This morning’s stories speak to us of the depth of relationship between Mary, the mother of Jesus and God and then, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.  They also speak to us of how these women were before they became mothers and how they each responded to being visited by the Angel Gabriel bringing them exceedingly good news. 

In the overlapping readings we heard this morning we learn that the two women are not only cousins but also intimately involved with one another’s lives despite not living close by.  One of the things I like best about these stories is the rapid movement events from one story to the other.  This has me wondering about how quickly Mary actually was able to travel from her home in Nazareth to the hill country of Judea to see her cousin, Elizabeth. 

What arrangements would she have had to made to get to that place?

Who would have accompanied her? 

How long would it take to get from her home to her cousin’s home? 

How would she get back home again and when? 

How much at risk was she in her haste to get from one place to another?

Indeed, how much are any of us at risk when we go on a journey?

These are all questions I had never really thought about before this morning but I offer them to you now for your own thoughts as we anticipate hearing another story about Mary travelling a few months later, only this time she has a different purpose and she is not alone.

Anthem:  “Walking to Bethlehem”

                   Words: Lynne Wolfe-Richards and Ruth Elaine Schram Music: Ruth Elaine Schram

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Readings: God of grace, we rejoice that you choose to dwell among us. Like Elizabeth and Mary, may we be filled with your Holy Spirit, so as to witness to the good news of your unfolding purpose for our lives and for our roles in the unfolding of your love in our world.   Help us to know that with you, anything is possible!  Amen. 

 

Pastoral Prayers: God of Unfolding Wonder and Awe, we come before you bringing a vast array of feelings-of gratitude and praise, of hope, peace, joy, and of love, but also we bring feelings of stress, anxiety, and tiredness. In the naming of these and all other emotions we carry, we are thankful for you abiding presence within, between, and among us this day.

 

God of Great Creative Endeavours, we give thanks this day for the boundless gifts you provide-the great galaxies of the cosmos extending far beyond our grasp; the Earth that cradles and sustains us minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and season by season.  As we anticipate coming to the shortest day and longest night of the year, we are grateful for all that You provide us in the way of love and relationship, nature, and beauty, mystery, and awe.

 

God of Community, we give thanks for this particular community of faith, for all those whose long legacies shape our own, and for all those yet to emerge in our midst.  Help us continue to strive to be about the building of your vision of shalom both here within the walls of our church and beyond its doors.

 

God of Blessing, we call to mind all the ways you bless each one of us with friends, family, and places to feel welcomed and to offer that same hospitality to others.

 

God of Wisdom and Understanding, just as Mary knew fear and uncertainty, but also faith and courage, we, too, seek faith and courage and we too relinquish our fears and our uncertainties into your tender care, even if only for a moment’s rest. 

 

May, we, like, Mary come to understand that all things are possible, knowing that you hear all our prayers even before they emerge from our lips…and so it is that we offer them now in silence or aloud as we moved…

 

God of Patience and Surprise, teach in this time of waiting to be mindful of the many less fortunate than ourselves.  And we pray for people everywhere who have no sense of hope, peace, joy, or love and for whom life is not about surrender but survival.  Surround these vulnerable ones with your Holy Spirit that courage might abide and that they, as we, too, might become bearers of light, compassion, wisdom, and love in your name.  Amen.

 

(Note: pastoral prayers today have been adapted from a service entitled The SONG OF MARY, A Prayer of the People, p. 53-54, Karen Boivin, Daniel Hayward, and Maggie Melanson, while students at Queen’s Theological College, Kingston, Ont.; Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, gathering RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP PLANNERS, The United Church of Canada. 2012-2013)