Storms rage. Chaos swirls. Confusion turns us this way and that. When Jesus crossed the sea with his disciples, waves tossed their boat. While the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus took a nap. In the midst of tumult within and without, Jesus teaches us that stillness is possible. We can trust the Creator of wind and thunder. We can rely on the One who has the whole world in their hands.
Advent wreath readings 2020
Advent Wreath week 1: Hope
Today is the beginning of Advent–the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship and wherever we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Lighting of the Candle
We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. (Share one thing that gives you hope.) We believe in hope that is more than wishful thinking. We believe in hope that is grounded in the birth of Jesus.
Light the first candle on the Advent wreath.
God we thank you that Jesus brought hope into the world. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus so that we may be a people of hope for the world. Amen.
Advent Wreath week 2: Peace
We gather around the Advent wreath today knowing that we are not perfect–we all make mistakes and cause others harm. Jesus creates a more peaceful world by helping us repair the harm we’ve done. Jesus helps us accept ourselves and others so that we can be at peace.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Lighting of the Candle
We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is peace, for Christ is called the “Prince of Peace. We believe in the power of peace to heal the world.
Light the second candle on the Advent wreath.
Eternal God, we thank you that through all the years you have given peace to your people. Help us to cultivate peacefulness in our lives. Show us how to be peacemakers with those around us because we believe in peace. Amen.
Advent Wreath week 3: Love
St. John wrote, “God is love.” As we gather around the Advent wreath today we celebrate God’s love sustaining us moment to moment regardless of our actions or circumstances. God’s love is embodied in Jesus and in each one of us. Because of this we say, “We believe in love.”
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Lighting of the Candle
We light this candle to porcelain the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is love. Such grat love helps us to love God and one another.
Light the third candle on the Advent wreath.
O God, we thank you that Jesus showed your love for every person–old people and young, sick people and those who were strong, rich people and those who were poor. Your love in Jesus changed the world. For this reason we say, “We believe in love.” Amen!
Advent Wreath week 4: Joy
Soon we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus. We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” With the angels long ago we say, “We believe in joy.”
Reading of Scripture
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Lighting of the Candle
We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is joy. Joy is ours not only at Christmas but always.
Light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.
O Holy One, as Christmas draws near, we look for that familiar sense of excitement. Perhaps we glimpse it out of the corner of our mind’s eye: a wisp of memory, a childhood song. In this time of global pandemic and political transition we confess to you and to all the world that we believe in joy because you promise us that while “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Thank you for the gift of Jesus–Morning Star, light of life, bringer of joy.
Good evening! On this Christmas Eve we are gathered as God’s people to celebrate again what Christ’s coming means to the world. We join with Christians and all people of good will around the world who are celebrating tonight in saying, “We believe in hope. We believe in peace. We believe in love. We believe in joy.”
Reading of Scripture
0 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Lighting of the Candles
Tonight we relight the four Advent candles and recall what the good news means.
A leader lights a candle while saying each word: hope, peace, love, joy.
Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who makes all these other gifts possible. So we light the Christ candle now as we welcome the birth of Christ in our lives.
A leader lights the central Christ candle.
We thank you God, for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We thank you that Christ’s coming makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible. Make us your hands and heart to our hurting world because we believe
And in the matchless gift of Jesus.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-5-19
I’m swamped. The theme for the Second Sunday of Advent is peace, but how does one cultivate peace in the midst of chaos, conflict, and the everyday pressures of a to-do list that only gets longer? This is not a rhetorical question. Let me know!
Too often in popular culture peace tends toward the kitschy and clichéd: quiet woods, sandy beaches, laughing children, sleeping puppies, lamp-lit snow-covered villages. Bourgeois fantasies of escape tinged by nostalgia. Those aren’t particularly Biblical images of peace, thank God. While I love a walk in the woods or on a beach as much as the next person, I need peace when I’m sitting in front of my laptop or in a meeting with leadership.
The prophet Isaiah writes, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah then goes on to describe a divine king who will “with righteousness judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” This king’s power will be such that it extends beyond the human sphere to bring an end to violence among animals and between animals and humans.
Peace begins with a stump and a shoot. What made the stump? In the context of Isaiah, the stump is an image of the Davidic lineage cut down by exile. This suggests to me that peace is an expression of a life force that the devastating violence of human empire will never be able to eradicate.
Nicole and I bought our current house on short sale. The backyard was overgrown with trees of all kinds. The health of our backyard mini-forest required that we thin the trees, so we had a bunch of the smaller ones cut down. The next spring, of course, the stumps started sending up new shoots. So I rented a chainsaw and a stump grinder and ground the stumps below the soil line. Even after that, many of the ground down stumps continued to send up shoots. So I dug around the stumps and cut them out by the roots. Oh my goodness, so much work. Peace is a stubborn pain in the ass!
Isaiah concludes his vision of peace with another powerful image: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Biblical peace isn’t primarily a sandy beach or a snowy woods. It’s the bone deep knowledge that you, I, and the entire universe, no matter what devastation we may face can be cut off from life in God.
The Peace Candle
Holy God, teach us your peace that passes understanding. While the world around us burns with conflict and hatred, we take shelter in your boundless love. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to return to you. Amen.
*Prayer of Dedication
We want to be ready, O God, to enter the Holy City, to sit at the banquet table, and to join with all creation in celebrating your salvation. We can’t do that, however, if all we do is take. We give back a portion of all you’ve given hoping that one day we might be at peace. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister
First Congregational Church of Stamford
Sermon for Christmas Eve
24 December 2018
Text: Luke 2:1-20
This morning I woke up while it was still dark. No one was awake in my house except our pet rabbit, who lives in our bedroom. He was hopping around clanking his food dish to let me know he was ready for breakfast. I moved quickly and quietly so as not to wake my wife, then went downstairs to feed the dog. I noticed each creak of the floorboards as I tip-toed to the kitchen. I started the coffee. Then I tip-toed to our three season porch, where I turned on the space-heater and settled down for a half-hour of silent meditation. Even at that early hour, the noise inside my head was already starting up: self-centered thoughts, fantasies about places I might go and things I might do, arguments with family members, ideas for a Christmas eve sermon. My mind is a swirl of ego. But as I sit and simply notice my breath, it begins to quiet down. Without a sound light gradually filters through the windows and fills the porch. Outside snow silently falls to the grass in the backyard. It was a silent morning, holy morning.
Tonight is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Silent Night at the chapel in the tiny village of Oberndorf, Austria just north of Salzburg on the border with Bavaria. Joseph Mohr was a newly ordained priest who needed a carol for his Christmas eve service, so he paid a visit to the church organist Franz Gruber. He brought with him a poem he had written a couple of years earlier, just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had wracked Europe for the past 12 years. Gruber set the poem to music written specifically for guitar, since the chapel’s organ had recently been destroyed by flooding from the Salzach River.
The debut performance for that tiny audience on that quiet Christmas eve was well received. Within a few years the song spread throughout German-speaking Europe and then was translated into English. From England it spread to America and throughout the world. Today Silent Night has been translated into hundreds of languages. It is the most well-known Christmas carol of all.
But that’s not all. On November 11 of this year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the first year of that war to end all wars, something happened that had never before happened and never would again. After five months of fighting along the Western Front, the guns and mortars went silent. It had been raining for weeks flooding the trenches that the soldiers lived and died in. But on Christmas eve, the air turned cold, the ground froze, and snow silently began to fall. In the dark the western allies heard voices from across no-man’s land. “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht.” It was the German soldiers singing across the fields to the British and French on the other side. So began the Christmas truce of WWI. It only lasted a day or so, but it demonstrated that even in the midst of war, enemies can lay their weapons down.
On this holy night, I invite us into the deep stillness where we meet the Christ child. The Apostle Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Christ child lived in the Apostle Paul. He lives in me. He lives in you. On this holy night I invite us into the silence where a true voice can be heard, the voice of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.
Call to Worship (in the form of guided meditation)
As we gather ourselves for worship this morning, I invite you to find a comfortable position in your pew. Sit up and imagine a string from the top of your head to the ceiling, as if you were a marionette. Place your feet on the floor. Hands in your lap. Feel yourself rooted in your hips and pelvis. Now take a slow breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your belly expand and contract. Breathe again. One more time. Feel the peace the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guarding your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Let’s worship God.
Prayer of Dedication
Prince of Peace, we dedicate our offerings to you. May they be a catalyst for justice so that all may be at peace. In your name we pray. Amen.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-3-18
The theme of the second Sunday of Advent is peace. The lectionary connects peace to the story of John the Baptist, which on the surface might seem ironic because John is remembered as a great disturber of the peace. In fact, he did such a good job at disturbing the peace that the authorities had him executed!
John was Jesus’ near relative–a cousin, perhaps. His role was to “prepare the way” for Jesus’ message. John did that first by practicing repentance himself and then by inviting others into that repentance. Here’s where the peace disturbing comes in. Human reality is that we tend to become attached to our bad habits and hurtful ways. We do them because on some level they work for us, so we ignore their negative effects. I eat doughnuts because I love them even though healthwise I know I should and could make better choices. Corporations pollute the environment because they can make more money that way even though they may be poisoning their neighbors. Politicians lie because it helps them politically even though–as Christ said–it’s the truth that sets us free. Repentance threatens to disrupt our lives on one level in order to bring healing on a deeper level.
And that’s where the peace comes in. John’s ministry was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah who wrote, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” For me, the image of the smooth way is an image for peace. Peace is unobstructed action. It’s a smooth flow. It’s not getting hung up or stressed out or stuck in a rut. Peace “undramatic.” Mountains are dramatic. Valleys can be a place where–in the words of the Psalmist–we face “the shadow.” But peace is even keeled and often overlooked. Peace doesn’t make for good television.
That’s why it’s all the more important in this media oversaturated world that we practice and then proclaim peace. The good news is that there are many, many good people in the world doing amazing, everyday, self-sacrificing things. So we have to make it our job as Christians and as a church to acknowledge and thank them. Practicing peace is not flashy. Practicing peace does not call attention to itself. But if we don’t practice peace, where will we and the rest of the world find refuge?