11/29/20 Sunday Message
First Congregational Church
November 29, 2020
First Sunday in Advent & Hanging of the Greens
Rev. Dinah Haag
As we enter into the first and only verse of our opening hymn, let us be reminded that the Light of Christ is with us as we are gathered in Christ’s name, as it will go with us when we leave.
Bringing In the Light & Hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” #240, vs. 1
Scripture John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Decorating the Sanctuary
Not being sure about when angels came into the story of time and creation, I’ve gathered that they’ve been here for a long, long time, so the angels stand near the place where the nativity will be played out. Once human beings came into the picture, we’ve had this innate urge to mark certain events as part of our life stories. From writing on cave walls to creating a pile of rocks as an altar, “doing” something has been a large part of understanding our world and life.
During the Advent season we do certain things to prepare for the One who has come, whom we expect to come, and who will come again. We prepare our hearts and make room for the Messiah. In the hanging of the greens we share with Christians throughout the ages the memory and anticipation of Christ’s coming. We decorate our church home with symbols of love, joy, hope, and peace. We do this to tell the story again and then proclaim: Jesus is born. God is with us!
Hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” #245, vs. 1 & 2
Decorating the Advent Wreath/Wreaths
Christmas greens point to the deep, rich meanings of the season: mistletoe symbolizes peace; and the prickly leaves of holly are symbols of the crown of thorns. The circle shape of wreaths are a Christian symbol of the eternal God and eternal love, without beginning or end.
This circle of evergreen branches testifies of the continuation of life and life without end. As you notice circular wreaths this season, remember the continual, unending love that God has for each of us, as demonstrated in Christ’s life and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The four candles - for each week in Advent - encircle the Christ candle to signify God’s Son as the light of the world. Each week we will light a candle and on Christmas Eve the Christ candle will be lit. With increasing brightness from the candles, we are reminded of the Light of the world and find hope in the coming of Jesus.
Advent Candle Lighting
While having a dream and before Jesus was born, an angel came to Joseph and said, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). To celebrate Christmas is to hope, to remember, and to prepare for something great to happen. As we light the Advent candle of HOPE, we celebrate the hope found in Christ’s birth. May we become a people of hope in the midst of our world.
Hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” #245, vs. 3 & 4
Time for the Children The Creche
Possibly the best known Christmas decorating tradition is the picture of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Lots of pictures have a little barn like place, filled with all kinds of creatures, who all celebrate Jesus being born. We set this scene before us during the Advent season as a reminder of God’s gift of Jesus to us.
The cool thing about this year’s nativity is that it is being put together with many different kinds - on purpose - because our world is filled with people of different kinds, all of us loved by the same God, who made each of us different from one another. So each time you see a nativity - which means being born - you can remember that the God who made every single person in the world loved you enough to make you different.
Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” #250
Decorating the Greens
The Advent custom of decorating with evergreen branches comes to us from the peasants of the Middle Ages who believed that preparations should be made for the coming of Jesus. On the first Sunday of Advent, each family would gather evergreens and place them near the hearth in their home. We continue that tradition by hanging the greens in our congregational home of this sanctuary. When you are aware of various greens and trees around you this year, let them remind you of God’s ever alive love in Christ and of our living relationship with God.
Hymn: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” ##277
Decorating with Poinsettias
The poinsettia, or “Flower of the Holy Night” as the plant is referred to in Mexico, is the most popular Advent flower. It was discovered growing wild in Mexico and then cultivated and developed into the type of flower seen there today. The star-shaped center of the bloom reminds us of the star that shone on that first Christmas. When you see all the various poinsettias around this year, let them remind you that God continues to lead us.
Hymn: “The First Noel #265, vs. 1-4
Decorating with Banners: Emmanuel, God with US
People say that a name is everything. Products are named to make everyone want to try them. Books are named to entice people to read them. A name with a good reputation communicates trustworthiness and quality. So what is God’s child to be named?
He could have been a Moses or a David or an Isaiah. But the name chosen was Emmanuel-God with us. It is a name that comforts in times of need and stress, strengthens in times of challenge and decision, and encourages in moments of weakness and doubt. God with us! Forever. Continually. Every time you see it this year, let it remind your heart of such great love.
Hymn “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus”
Benediction (from pulpit)
As we continue to prepare our hearts for the day we celebrate Love coming into the world, may God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and bring you peace as Christ leads you, and goes behind you to protect you, beside you to be your friend and in your heart to bring you peace. Amen.
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