Welcome and Theme
Mary Theresa: Welcome! Our theme today is unconditional Love. During this Advent season, we have celebrated the gifts of hope, peace and joy: hope for a world experiencing fear and division, peace for a world thirsty for peace through justice and joy that provides relief and release from suffering. Today we celebrate the gift of unconditional love for a world longing for tenderness and compassion. Let us begin with our opening prayer.
Terri: Holy one, we gather today to be reminded that you come to us in unexpected ways and often in the most difficult of times. You challenge us to sit with and dig deeply beyond our fears, beyond the tensions and distress in our lives, to discover and celebrate your presence within us.. And then, you challenge us further to lift our vision and unconditionally embrace you, Holy one, in others and in our troubled world. Amen.
Terri: Let us now light our fourth Advent candle. Like our ancestors, we honor the cycles and the seasons that remind us of the ever-changing flow of life. Ritual acts give life meaning—they honor and acknowledge the unseen web of Life that connects us all.
Katie: We light this fourth candle and remember that we are called to create, share and be light in all our ways of relating to all of Creation and commit ourselves to work for peace and justice in our world. And so we respond: Let us kindle the light of love!
Katie: Indeed, let us welcome the light within each other!
Mary Theresa: Our opening meditation is “Say Yes” by Bob Franke.
When the angel arrives there will be terror, but say yes
The sound of wings like the breaking of a mirror, but say yes
It will arrive where you’re little and you’re scared
It will lay claim to the things you’ve never shared
But though your heart and your soul are unprepared, say yes
And it may tear you from home and family, but say yes
It may demand you become a refugee, but say yes
And when you’re tired, and you’re hungry, and you’re poor
When you’re in pain in a room without a door
And when the angel returns and asks for more, say yes
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you
Worlds without end depend on you
Blessed is the one whom you bring forth
Whom no one else can bring
And when the legions of angels call you blessed, say yes
And were you faithful in each and every test? Say yes
And when they ask you in story and in song,
Were you upheld and protected all along?
And did the power of the spirit keep you strong? Say yes
LITURGY OF THE WORD
First Reading: Psalm 29 (Sandi)
Give praise to the Beloved,
O heavenly host,
Sing of Love’s glory and strength.
Exalt the glory of Love’s name;
Adore the Beloved in holy splendor.
The mercy of the Beloved
breaks the bonds of oppression,
shatters the chains of injustice.
Love invites all to the dance of freedom,
to sing the beloved song of truth.
The Beloved lives in our hearts;
Love dwells with us forever.
You who awaken to the light
of universal Oneness
will know the blessed joy
of serving in the great work
Second Reading: (Mary Skelly) A Reading from Gospel of Luke
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a woman engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the woman’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you; Therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. 36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say. Then the angel left her.
Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my God visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered by ears, the babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!
And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. Mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before the Holy One.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.
These are the inspired words of Luke and we affirm them by saying, Amen.
Third Reading (Ann Bayly) A reading from Those Who Dream by Lisle Gwynn Garrity
Did it feel like a dream when the angel approached?
“Greetings, favored one!”
Did her mind spin as she pondered the impossibility of it all?
“You will bear a son . . . and he will be great.”
Did she lose her balance when she realized the gravity of her call?
“The child will be holy . . . the Son of God.”
Did her legs get weak after the words left her lips?
“Here I am . . . let it be.”
In the quiet that followed, did she question everything? Did she realize what this would mean—for her family, for Joseph, for her future? Did she realize she would be perceived as impure, as a threat to patriarchy, power, and proprietary? Did fear cloak her, like a garment pulled too tight?
And so, in a haze, she runs away—seeking refuge in the hill country, retreating to family who would keep her safe and help her make sense of her world turned upside down.
As soon as she falls into Elizabeth’s arms, Elizabeth knows and feels it to be true. Yes, I feel it too. We are pregnant with promise. We carry this together. This is not a dream deferred.
It is a dream confirmed, a dream shared. A dream that will birth joy.
These are this inspired words of Lisle Gwynn Garrity and we affirm them by saying, Amen.
Homily Starter: Katie
In 1992, my sister was about to start her senior year of high school. She had been dating a boy from her school for quite a while and in August of that year, Lisa reluctantly broke the news to my parents that she was pregnant. I don’t remember much, except that my parents were very quiet for a few days. But, shortly thereafter, my parents took charge and our whole family began preparing for the new baby.
My parents transformed a large sunroom of our house into my sister’s new bedroom/nursery. They painted the walls with a fresh coat of paint and put pretty pink, plush carpet down on the floor. They set up a crib and adorned the room with baby clothes and baby toys. At the age of 10 when I was obsessed with dolls, I was elated by the thought of having a real baby to play with!
However, over the years, I have heard about how things were really going behind the scenes in the adult world. My sister, who had been a straight-A student and who had been voted Captain of the Varsity Swim Team, was kicked off of the team and ended up having to attend an alternative schooling program to finish her senior year. Someone at our church asked Lisa how she could even possibly take communion, after committing such a “grave sin.” Lisa’s boyfriend, Erich, broke off their relationship, because his family decided that in order to avoid any embarrassment they would simply move away. Lisa lost all of her friends and told me recently that our mother was the only person she had to talk to through those very difficult years. And that, I do remember. My mother and sister had a very special bond of more than just a mother-daughter relationship. They were very close. So, I thank God for my sister, Lisa, for enduring an immense amount of hardship at a very young age. And, I thank God for my parents, that they were wise enough to be supportive of my sister, instead of judgmental… because on March 31st of 1993, Thaddeus Thomas Wasilewski entered the world, and God turned a seemingly-tragic situation into a triumphant one.
In the Gospel today, we heard about two more unexpected pregnancies. And, after hearing about what it was like to have an unexpected child in 1993, can you imagine what it must have been like over 2000 years ago for a young woman and her family? But we know from my sister’s story and from scripture that these unexpected pregnancies eventually achieve good endings. But sadly, not all unexpected pregnancies do. What was the key ingredient that helped Lisa bring Thad into the world and that helped Mary bring Jesus into the world? A key ingredient that has the power to turn any seemingly-tragic or life-shattering event into something sacred and beautiful.
Mary was born into a war-torn country being severely oppressed by the Romans. At the age of 14, she faced an arranged marriage with someone much older and suddenly experienced an unexpected pregnancy with someone else. Mary acted quickly and journeyed 80 miles through the dangerous, Roman-occupied land to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, escaping the potentially deadly consequences of being found pregnant out of wedlock.
Upon her arrival, scripture highlights the embrace between Mary and Elizabeth. Imagine Mary, in her first trimester of pregnancy, experiencing nausea and severe fatigue from the journey. Then, there’s Elizabeth who is 6 months pregnant in her mid to late-50s, probably feeling about as run-down as Mary. And, they embrace one another. In that very moment, the two women become saviors for one another. Mary needed shelter and safety, and a "cover"; Elizabeth needed help as she was heading into her third trimester of a difficult pregnancy. It's a story all too familiar to many of us.
And, herein lies the key ingredient of both my sister’s story and Mary’s story: to embrace others with unconditional love. My entire town had rejected my sister, but my parents embraced Lisa with unconditional love turning a seemingly-tragic situation into a triumphant one. An entire society would have rejected Mary, but Elizabeth embraced Mary with unconditional love turning what could have been a deadly situation into the most life-saving story ever told. Furthermore, when Elizabeth embraced Mary, she literally held God in her arms! When we choose to be an “Elizabeth” for someone, when we embrace others with unconditional love, we too are embracing the Divine living within each person.
Take time this week to see where God is needing you to embrace someone with unconditional love. Without judgment, without restraint, we’re called to be Elizabeths for others. And when the time comes when YOU need an Elizabeth, I pray that she comes to your side without judgment, without restraint, to hold you in her arms, to keep you safe, to turn your tragedies into triumphant ones.
At this time, please feel free to share insights you heard today and how you might respond?
Mary Theresa: Thank you for your inspired words. Let us now pray together our statement of faith.
Statement of Faith (Lynn and Bernie)
We believe in the Holy One, a divine mystery
beyond all definition and rational understanding,
the heart of all that has ever existed,
that exists now, or that ever will exist.
We believe in Jesus, messenger of the Divine Word,
bringer of healing, heart of Divine compassion,
bright star in the firmament of the Holy One's
prophets, mystics, and saints.
We believe that We are called to follow Jesus
as a vehicle of divine love,
a source of wisdom and truth,
and an instrument of peace in the world.
We believe in the Spirit of the Holy One,
the life that is our innermost life,
the breath moving in our being,
the depth living in each of us.
We believe that the Divine kin-dom is here and now,
stretched out all around us for those
with eyes to see it, hearts to receive it,
and hands to make it happen.
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
Terri: As we prepare for this sacred meal we are aware that just as Jesus is anointed, so is each of us. As bearers of LIGHT, HOPE, JOY and LOVE, we bring to this table our blessings, cares and concerns.
Dennis: Prayers for the community.
Terri: We pray for these and all unspoken intentions. Amen.
MT: With open hearts and hands let us pray our Eucharistic prayer as one voice:
(written by Jay Murnane)
All: Source of All That Is, we seek you in this season, when the earth is resting and preparing for new life. Like the earth, we long for new life and hopeful beginnings. This is the time of the pregnant woman, filled with life and hope powerful enough to topple structures of oppression. This is the time of her song of fidelity and celebration.
During this gentle season of Advent, we recognize that you have made us capable of bringing forth justice, like a rising sun. One with all who have gone before us, we sing a song of praise:
"Here In This Place" https://youtu.be/sgkWXOSGmOQ
Katie: Blessed is Isaiah and every visionary who insisted on a better future that would break through the deception, disaster and broken promises of the age in which they lived.
Blessed is John, in the stark desert of careful focus, inviting the people to be born again in your love.
Blessed is Miriam, who believed the words of Isaiah and opened herself up to the unbelievable.
And blessed is her child Jesus, who felt the sorrows of humankind in his soul, and responded with deep and tender compassion.
Please extend your hands in blessing.
Terri: We are grateful for your Spirit at our Eucharistic Table and for this bread and wine which reminds us of our call to be the body of Christ in the world.
On the night before he faced his own death, Jesus sat at supper with his companions and friends. He reminded them of all that he taught them, and to fix that memory clearly with them, he bent down and washed their feet.
All lift their plates and pray the following:
When he returned to his place at the table, he lifted the bread, spoke the blessing, broke the bread and offered it to them saying:
Take and eat, this is my very self.
All lift their cups and pray the following:
MT: Then he took the cup of the covenant, spoke the grace, and offered it to them saying:
Take and drink.
Whenever you remember me like this,
I am among you.
What we have heard with our ears, we will live with our lives. As we share communion, we become Communion both love’s nourishment and love’s challenge.
You are the Face of the Holy One. Please receive Communion.
Communion Meditation/Song – Remember Mercy by The Many
Prayer after communion:
Katie: Holy One, we are grateful for the gift of Your Spirit, always drawing beauty and balance out of chaos. And like Jesus…
Standing where he stood,
and for what he stood,
and with whom he stood,
we are united in your Spirit,
and worship you with our lives,
Let us pray as Jesus taught us:
Holy One, you are within, around and among us.
We celebrate your many names.
Your wisdom come; your will be done,
unfolding from the depths within us.
Each day you give us all that we need.
You remind us of our limits and we let go.
You support us in our power, and we act with courage.
For you are the dwelling place within us,
the empowerment around us,
and the celebration among us,
now and forever, Amen.
Adapted by Miriam Therese Winter
Terri: Please extend your hands and pray our blessing together.
May we embrace the rich gifts of our Advent Season.
May we shine the light of hope to a world experiencing fear and division.
May we become a beacon of peace in a world thirsty for peace and justice.
May we experience and radiate the gift of joy that provides relief and release of suffering and
May we come to know and live the unconditional love of the Holy One.
MT: Our closing song is Canticle of the Turning