The Proclamation of John the BaptistMark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Today’s scripture was all about preparing and getting ready, and that is what we are doing quite a bit of here in worship today too. Just a few moments ago, we baptized Hudson and welcomed him into the family of God. Through his baptism, we all promised to help him and his parents as he begins his journey of faith and learns to live and grow in the amazing grace of God. What a beautiful and sacred sign of Hope that is for all of us!
But believe it or not, just like John the Baptist’s story started six hundred years before he was born through the prophet Isaiah, Hudson’s story started here in Oldtown about forty years ago when his great grandparents, Ann Flanagan and Donald Botsford, met in our choir loft and got married! And Hudson’s grandmother and her siblings attended Sunday school here in Oldtown, with Pastor Kelly. So that question during the baptism that asked about bringing Hudson to worship to hear the stories of the roots of his faith just may have a richer and deeper meaning for Hudson.
One way of preparing with hope today was through baptism. And the next way that we will prepare with hope is through the hanging of our greens, as we prepare our sanctuary for the coming of the season. Now, this is something new for us in Oldtown, so let us all remember to be gentle and joyful as we walk the journey together. Are you ready?
PREPARING THE SANCTUARY
Why do we do this? What does it mean?
We gather together to hang up… the greens?
Like kale and spinach and broccoli and peas?
If we were making a salad, that would certainly please.
But we’re here in worship, preparing the way
For a baby that is coming on Christmas Day.
Oh! As we hang up the greens, we prepare our hearts
And make room for HOPE. That’s a great place to start.
And we gather with others, throughout all the ages,
Who have straightened their paths and listened to sages.
So today, we decorate our beloved church home,
With symbols of hope, and a sweet simple poem.
To tell the story again and again
Of the one who came–and is coming–for women, children, and men.
Emmanuel, they say, is his name,
Meaning, “God is with us.” Let us sing the refrain:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
On the first day of Advent in the Middle Ages, they say,
Peasant families would come from work and from play
To gather evergreens from nearby trees
To place in their homes, near their hearths with ease.
To remind them of God’s abiding love
That always comes down from heaven above.
That’s why we place greens, during this Advent season,
In our homes and in our church–to remember the reason.
So come all ye faithful, come and adore
As we prepare for the season, like others before.
O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O Come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.
Oh, come let us adore him. Oh, come let us adore him.
Oh, come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!
And now we hang our Christmas wreath.
If you listen closely, its story I’ll bequeath.
Christmas greens are symbols with rich meanings to share,
And wreaths, many times, several greens do bear.
Laurels stand for victory, like on crowns we often see.
And bay leaves stand for wisdom, which is an important key.
Yew and cypress represent eternal life.
And mistletoe–besides a kiss–brings peace in the midst of strife.
Those leaves of holly that often leave us sore
Remind us of the crown of thorns that Jesus once wore.
A wreath is a circle, just one big bend,
Reminding us there is no beginning or end.
To God’s love for us, it goes on forever,
A connection of grace we cannot sever.
Because of that baby that was born long ago
Our lives are filled with blessings, even more than we know.
He came–and is coming–as the scriptures do say.
That’s why we work together, to prepare the way.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Now red is the color we begin to see
As our poinsettias arrive with joy and with glee
Did you know from Mexico their story began,
Where they grew wild across the land?
So why are poinsettias important today?
Because they remind us of the star that led the way
For the wise men to follow and find the child
Who was in the stable, with his mother mild.
We, three kings of Orient, are bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.
Now on to Bethlehem, our story does go,
To the birthplace of Jesus so long ago.
The King of the Jews, they said he would be,
So he must’ve been born somewhere really fancy.
Was he born in a castle or an upscale hotel,
Surrounded by rich and posh clientele.
He could have been born just about anywhere,
For with God on his side, he hadn’t a care
But even though God was far more than able,
Jesus was born in a humble stable.
Surrounded by animals, he came to this earth.
It was quite an unexpected birth
But one that would change the world as we know,
Once God came, in Jesus, to join us below.
O Little Town of Bethlehem, descend on us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
THE ADVENT WREATH
The final symbol we have to take out
Is a favorite to many, without a doubt.
It’s our Advent wreath, that shines light on each week,
As we slowly move closer to that Christmas peak.
A wreath once again, with one endless bend,
To remind us that life with God has no end.
There are candles of blue and pink and white
That help count the weeks ’til that exciting night!
Today we light the first one that’s blue
As we remember what advent prepares us to do.
To have hope in our hearts as we prepare the way
For the sacred celebration on Christmas Day.
As the light each week from our wreath increases,
We’ll remember that God’s light in our lives never ceases.
It will be even brighter on Christmas Day,
When we remember the gift that was born in the hay.
So friends, as the hanging of our greens is complete,
Let’s sing together the song we repeat.
Year after year, all is calm, all is bright,
As we prepare for that sacred, silent night.
Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
THE STORY OF THE CANDY CANE
Though the hanging of our greens is through,
There is one more thing I’d like to do.
I have one more story, to make our day complete.
It’s a story about something we all love to eat.
The story began in the town of Cologne,
Which is in Germany, far from our home.
In 1670, as Christmas drew near,
The choirmaster of a church was filled with fear
Christmas Eve, you see, was coming soon,
And he was worried about the noise in the room.
He wanted a silent, holy Christmas Eve
But with children present, he did not believe
That there was anything to quiet the noise,
Because they were excited about getting new toys.
Suddenly an idea came to his head,
And he rushed into town to see his friend Ed.
Ed was a candy maker, and good at his trade,
And the kids in town loved everything Ed made.
The choirmaster thought it would be a good fix
To make all the children some yummy “candy sticks.”
Their mouths would be full. They’d be happy, right?
But candy, in the church, on Christmas Eve night?
How could he justify something like that?
He sat down in his chair and took off his hat.
With his head in his hands, he thought and he thought.
What could he do? He was feeling distraught.
Suddenly, he was inspired again.
What if the sticks had a crook on one end?
They’d be like the shepherds in the story that night,
When the angels first gave them all a good fright.
After the angels shared the good news of great joy,
The shepherds went to see the new baby boy
With their crooks in their hands, they would head to the stable,
And with crooks in kids mouths, the choirmaster was able
To hear a pin drop in the church all around,
On that first Christmas Eve, when candy canes came to town.