Due to copyright limitations, we are unable to print the words to the songs.  However, our musicians have chosen music to fit the scriptures.  We invite you to look up the words in your worship book and ponder them.  If you do not have a worship book, ponder the words to one of your favourite hymns and listen for God’s voice. Those who have internet may find the songs on YouTube.

Parts of this service have been taken from Hidden Gift Sunday, an Advent liturgy written by Rev. Andy O’Neill.


It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.

~Tyler Perry


People looking for gospel may hear John the Baptizer’s preaching as primarily law. It can be difficult to reconcile his fire-and-brimstone style with the joy that traditionally belongs to the third Sunday of Advent. Yet despite John’s harsh words for the crowds, the people seem eager for his teaching—”What then should we do?” They keep asking questions fervently, even when the answers call them to higher expectations of moral and selfless living.

It’s the kind of teaching that people associate with the Messiah: good news that business as usual is on the way out and something new is on its way in. The status quo of greed, selfishness, scarcity, and complacency no longer has power. A new day of mutual sharing and justice is almost here. Images of the winnowing fork and the ax at the root of the tree suggest clearing out old habits and fears to make room for something new. In calling people to repentance, John invites them to turn away from the old life and turning toward God’s new life.

John has even better news: The Messiah is indeed coming, one who will not only call people to high expectations, but also enable that faithful living. Because the Messiah is coming to baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” life will never be the same. Through baptism business as usual will be replaced by a fruit-bearing, joy-yielding, grace-filled relationship with God. It’s an excellent reason to “rejoice always”: The Lord is near!


It’s a reunion, every time we go home, every time we embrace those we love, no matter how long it has been. It feels like sunrise, like the clouds are parting and the rain has ended. It is joy, nothing less than pure joy to grab hold of those who are home for us, who make home for us. Whether we wake up to them every day, or travel many miles to see them again, it is joy to go home.

The prophet Zephaniah tells us to rejoice at the thought of going home. The prophet tells us to imagine being set free, being unburdened, being released to live, to fully live in the grace and wonder of life itself, surrounded by those who love us like no one else. And then to live like that was our truth even now, even here. It is joy to go home.

John the Baptist reminds us, however, that it takes choices to live in this joy. It doesn’t just happen; we choose to make life a joy by how we love others, by how we serve and give and care for others, by how we do the job we do and how we impact the world around us. We build joy as we build a home in this world and the next.

We light this candle, the candle of joy, as a sign that we are on our way home, and we walk with a skip in our step because we can see the destination, and it is pure joy. It is time to go home.

Light the candle of Joy – VU 29, verses 1-3


Come God

Come with the frightened

Come with the poor

Come with the children

Come with those who have always been your friends

Come and lead us where you are living and show us what you want us to do.

CHILDREN’S SONG:  MV 33   Jesus Came Bringing Us Hope


Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the preaching of John, that, rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



We are not alone;

we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:

who has created and is creating,

who has come in Jesus,

the Word made flesh,

to reconcile and make new,

who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:

to celebrate God’s presence,

to live with respect in Creation,

to love and serve others,

to seek justice and resist evil,

to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,

our judge and our hope.

In life, in death,

in life beyond death,

God is with us.

We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.


Song:  Rejoice In The Lord Always     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlnaFADw6t0


Generosity Makes Hearts Sing With Joy

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God,” says the book of Colossians 3:16.

From the beginning of time, people have known that nothing stirs the heart and brings people together quite like music. Music has the power to change our world, and when we harness it, we do too.

That’s why Embracing the Spirit grants, supported through your Mission & Service gifts, and Seeds of Hope grants, administered by the United Church Foundation, fund music projects that build community and tend to the soul across our United Church.

For example, your generosity makes a joyful noise at Sprucedale United Church in Chatham, Ontario, where an outreach ministry provides free ukulele lessons to adults so they can provide entertainment to local retirement and nursing homes. Thanks to your support, Prairie Points Pastoral Charge in southwestern Alberta received a grant to license songs to create a condensed songbook for use in hospitals and lodges. At Port Nelson United Church in Burlington, Ontario, your gifts helped fund a new handbell choir, and in Kamloops United Church, Kamloops, British Columbia, a drop-in pride choir for LGBTQ2S+ community members and allies.

“When harnessed for good, music helps us take important steps to social justice,” says Sarah Charters, Director of Philanthropy and President of the United Church Foundation. “Looking back, music has played a key role in anti-war, civil rights, and women’s movements. How many of us on a personal level have been motivated to make a life change after listening to a song or turn to music to soothe our spirit? Music is the language of the spirit,” she says.

Your generosity means that our United Church can pool resources to make an incredible impact in local communities from coast to coast. An impact none of us could ever make alone. Thank you for fostering spirituality, community, and inspiring social change through music. Your generosity makes hearts sing with joy.


O God, beginning and end, by whose command time runs its course:  bless our impatience, perfect our faith, and, while we await the fulfillment of your promises, grant us hope in your Word.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm

First reading:  Zephaniah 3:14-20

The prophet Zephaniah’s message is mostly one of judgment for sin. This reading, however, which comes from the conclusion of the book, prophesies joy for Judah and Jerusalem. Judgment has led to repentance, and God’s salvation is at hand.

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies.   The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:  Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

17The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival.  I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.  And I will have the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-6

R:  In your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Is. 12:6)

2Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.
3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. R
4And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name;
make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name is exalted.
5Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
6Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. R

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

Despite being in prison, Paul is remarkably upbeat as he writes this letter. Here, he urges his friends in Philippi to trust God with all their worries and concerns with the hope that they will experience God’s joy and peace.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist heralds the mighty one who is coming. John teaches that preparation for God’s reign is not a matter of identity but of bearing fruits of merciful justice, radical generosity, and vocational integrity.

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

HYMN:  VU 71   Twas in the moon of wintertime


One of the members in my first parish asked me if I would counsel her granddaughter.  This teen had gotten herself into some trouble with defiant behaviour.  The grandmother figured I could steer the young woman in a healthier direction.

I replied that I would do the best I could, however, if there was no desire within the granddaughter to change her ways, I was doubtful of how helpful I would be.  You can lead a horse to water – and all that.

I met with the teenager.  I liked her and truly did not want her to head down a hurtful path in life.  She was a great kid, albeit a misguided one.  Our time together turned out to be productive.  Oh, sure, she lied – I called her on it; she claimed ignorance – I called her on it.  She said it was everyone else’s fault but hers – I called her on that too.  Once she realized I was smarter than she thought, and that I refused to back down, we got down to emotions and what was really going on in her life.  Now that I finally had the facts, I was able to offer suggestions to help her life improve.

In the end, I thanked the grandma for loving her granddaughter so much that she would risk her wrath to involve me.

As far as we know from the writer of Luke’s gospel, John the Baptizer was not asked to intervene by anyone’s grandma.  John had gone around the area proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  His words obviously touched the hearts of many because they showed up to be baptized.  They came, eager for something more than what they had.  They believed and trusted John.  So then, why does he call them a bunch of slimeballs?

It would appear that adults, as well as teenagers, lie – to themselves and others, claim ignorance or project blame, rather than owning their own.  John calls them on it all!  Trying to make your sin look less sinful than your neighbour’s is like swapping deck chairs on the Titanic – you’re both going down!

To better understand what has driven this crowd out into the wilderness to John, I quote Richard Swanson, biblical interpretation professor at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD, and director of the Provoking the Gospel Storytelling Project.

John’s practical advice also applies to tax gatherers.  These people collected Roman tribute, the price of being a conquered people.  Their neighbors looked on them as traitors, and for good reason: they collaborated with the enemy.  John does not view them as enemies.  Here, as is the case throughout Luke’s story, the storyteller finds observant Jews where you’d least expect to see them.  John seems to imagine that these people, being observant Jews, must have been trapped into doing something they hated.  “What should we do?” they asked.  John’s advice is badly translated in the NRSV (and in almost all interpretation).  The translators have begun with the assumption that the tax gatherers are thieves as well as traitors, and that they therefore ought no longer to collect more than was due.  John assumes no such thing.  He tells them to do what was called (starting in the 1930s labor movement) “working to rule.”  “Only do what they tell you to do,” he says, knowing that this would make the vaunted Roman system of imperial domination grind to a halt.  “Force them to write an employee manual so long that they run out of paper,” he says.  “They believe that they are superior to you,” he says, “Act as if that were true.”  “If they don’t tell you to bring the tribute in money boxes or cash bags,” says John, “Don’t.  Turn in heaps of pennies.  If people pay you in chickens or goats, turn in the livestock.  Let the Romans figure out how to feed their tribute.”

Even the tax gatherers were enlisted to resist Roman domination.  Soldiers, too.  Everywhere you look in Luke’s story you see people who are waiting and praying for God to turn the world right-side-up.  John tells them to start the turning.[1]

We are in an intimate relationship with God.  Jesus comes and lives out that intimate relationship so that we better understand our responsibilities in that relationship.  There is a working together in order to bring about the change God desires.  This is our calling.  In John’s day, as now, God relies on us to help get God’s work in the world accomplished.

I am at a point in life where I am trying to purge my belongings.  To help me do that, my youngest daughter, Philana, has brought me a lot of boxes so I can start sorting and packing.  A lot of boxes.  So many boxes, in fact, that I have even less space to put stuff, until I start filling boxes.

I have discovered that John’s practical advice to the people of the first century is practical for the 21st century.  Since my closets are full of boxes, I have been wearing a limited number of clothes that get washed and worn regularly, to the point where I haven’t missed my other clothes.  Which means that those clothes can be donated to those who don’t have many clothes, or good quality clothes.

I have been trying to eat out of my freezer and pantry, rather than shopping for groceries every week.  Other than a litre of milk every so often, for my morning coffee, and eggs, I have been living off what I already have.  By the looks of things, I will be good to go for some time!  This means I can start using the money I save on groceries for supporting ministries that are close to my heart.

John’s words to the soldiers resonate with those today whose goal in life is not power and wealth.  ‘Be honest, have integrity and live within your means’ is good advice.  Put another way, “live simply, so that others may simply live.”  In order to prepare for the Messiah’s coming, John wanted a change in the hearts and minds of the crowd, a change that looked outward toward the neighbour, a mindset of sharing and having compassion.  The people didn’t want to be slimeballs.  They wanted to be God’s people, better people, a people whom the Messiah would embrace.  I guess we are not so different from our first century kin.

As the birth of Christ draws closer, we throw ourselves into our preparations.  Perhaps what we need in this moment is an exhortation from John.  Perhaps we need a reminder that we are not perfect.  This is not a condemnation.  It is a fact.  Perhaps we need an exhortation to stop trying for perfection.  Rather, strive to hear God’s word and live out your faith.  Shorten your ‘to do’ list and focus on the joy this Christmastide brings.  When we welcome the Christ child with an open heart, everything else will fall in to place.  We will not need to ask, “What shall we do?”, we will just do.  Amen.

HYMN OF THE MONTH:  VU 25   Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending


God of Hope, you hear our silent prayers and urgent cries.  Hear us now as we pray for your world and its people.

God of Hope,

hear our prayer.

God of Peace, on this day we pray for the people of Bethlehem, of Israel and Palestine; for all places suffering conflict on this planet; for refugees who have nowhere to lay their heads; and for those who feel alone, lost, tired and frightened. We pray for those who suffer at the hands of systemic racism, bigotry and misogyny. Restore us in right relationship, we who are created in your image, which is plural and good.  We pray for those who live your peace with justice and who, by example and at risk to themselves, shine a light on the chasms that divide us.  Grant your people strength and patience as, together, we seek your promise of life renewed.  God of the morning star, guide us in the ways of mercy and justice.

God of Peace,

hear our prayer.

God of Joy, on this day we pray for those who will spend this day alone; for those whose tables will have an empty place this year; for those in care homes and hospitals; for our loved ones who live now in your eternal joy.  We pray also for those working in hospitals and research facilities who, daily, work to keep us safe in the midst of the COVID pandemic.  We bring before you our family members, friends and community members whom we uphold in prayer:  the family of Joan Dreger, Dwayne, Tracy Skoglund, Kathryn Schmidt, Brooke Alexiuk, Mike Froese, Douglas Pearson.  Grant your people courage and wisdom, as we seek your promise of wholeness.  God of heaven and earth, of anticipation and promise, be with us and heal us.

God of Joy,

hear our prayer.

God of Love, open our hearts, that we might receive you and hear your voice.  Open us to the possibility of true change, in us and in others.  Remind us of your promise, made again to every generation, of your enduring love.  May things on earth be as they are in heaven.

God of Love,

hear our prayer.

We pray these things in the name of the One who comes, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


SENDING SONG:  VU 14  To a Maid Whose Name Was Mary


God’s Joy is surprising, arriving as a messenger.
God’s Joy is deep and abiding, gathering us across divides.
Let us seek God’s Joy in all whom we meet.

May God who is Giver, Gift, and Grace-Among-Us,
be with you today and always. Amen.


Go in peace. Christ is near.

Thanks be to God.




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© 2011 The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/byncsa/2.5/ca.