Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the Adult Choir, sermon by the Rev’d William Eakins.
Worship at Home:
Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.
Due to a technical issue, the recordings of this service are unavailable.
Voluntary Savior of the nations, come Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Processional Hymn 640 Watchman, tell us of the night Aberystwyth
Kyrie Eleison from Litany of the Saints adapt. Richard Proulx (1937-2010)
Sequence Hymn 324 Let all mortal flesh keep silence Picardy
Offertory Anthem No small wonder Paul Edwards (b. 1955)
Text: Paul Wigmore (b. 1925)
Small wonder the star, small wonder the light,
The angels in chorus, the shepherds in fright;
But stable and manger for God – no small wonder!
Small wonder the kings, small wonder they bore
The gold and the incense, the myrrh, to adore:
But God gives his life on a cross – no small wonder!
Small wonder the love, small wonder the grace,
The power, the glory, the light of his face;
But all to redeem my poor heart – no small wonder!
Paul Edwards began his career as a young chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. His text writer, Paul Wigmore, relays the story of No small wonder, which eventually was included in the famous service of Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge: “One November morning in 1983 the young composer, Paul Edwards, gathered up his week’s bundle of laundry and was about to leave for the local launderette when he opened a letter from me. The letter ended with a new poem – a carol for Advent and Christmas, just three short verses. Paul Edwards had already set a number of my lyrics for choir and this was a new one. He slipped it into his pocket. It would be something to read while he waited for the machine to do the washing, he thought. In the launderette he loaded the machine and sat down, read the poem, grabbed a scrap of manuscript paper and began writing. Trying to imagine how any composer could write this profound music while surrounded by the noise of washing machines is practically impossible.” God at work!
Sanctus from Missa Emmanuel Richard Proulx
Fraction Anthem Agnus Dei from Missa Emmanuel Richard Proulx
Communion Anthem The Lamb John Tavener (1944-2013)
Text: William Blake (1757-1827)
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
“The Lamb” is a setting of a poem by William Blake, depicting the innocence of the Christ child, the beautiful creation of God. Part of Blake’s collection “Songs of Innocence” of 1789. Although the original poems were meant to be sung, Blake’s original tunes are lost to the ages. Sir John Tavener set the poem to music, explaining, “ ‘The Lamb’ came to me fully grown and was written in an afternoon and dedicated to my nephew Simon for his 3rd birthday.”
Closing Hymn 72 Hark! the glad sound! Richmond
Voluntary Toccata Scott Lamlein (2010)
Cantor: John Nowacki
Full Sermon Text:
Have you ever been disappointed? Looked forward eagerly to something happening that never appeared beneath the tree, looked forward to a vacation or some occasion that failed miserably to live up to expectation? Sometimes, we even get disappointed in God when we look at our lives and look at a world and see so much that is painfully broken. Where are you, God, we wonder? Have we trusted in you in vain?
Take, for example, John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading. He was once so confident about what God was up to. God’s Promised One was about to break in upon the world to establish justice, separating the good folks from the bad like a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff. “Repent and prepare the way of the Lord,” had been John’s ringing cry. Furthermore John had been convinced that his cousin Jesus was the very one God had sent to carry out the divine judgment. John had even heard a voice from heaven saying of Jesus, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
But now a short time later, John is not so sure he had heard aright. In the prison cell where John has been locked up after getting himself in trouble with the authorities, John listens anxiously for news about what Jesus, God’s Chosen One, is doing. And what John hears is not what he had expected. Where is the promised Day of Judgment? Where are the thunderbolts of divine intervention, the unquenchable fire of divine punishment? Jesus isn’t denouncing the tax collectors, harlots, and other sinners; he is sitting down to have supper with them. What’s going on here? And so John starts to think: perhaps I was wrong about you, Jesus. Maybe that voice I heard at your Baptism didn’t come from heaven after all but was merely the whistling of the wind. So John sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for another?”
There’s a very good reason why we need to hear this story of John the Baptist’s bewilderment and discouragement as we head into the Christmas season. Truth be told, we sometimes are very much like that puzzled, questioning servant of God of long ago. We too know what it is like to feel disappointed, let down, and depressed even at this very time of the year when we are supposed to be full of Christmas cheer.
Christmas is a season of great expectations. We know the Christmas angels proclaim peace on earth and good will among men and women. We would dearly like to experience that peace and good will in our hearts and in our homes. And we go to great lengths, cooking special foods, trimming trees, putting up wreaths, shopping for just the right presents for everybody on our list – all in hopes of having the best Christmas ever. But our actual experience often falls short of what we had hoped for. We get exhausted and irritable, the relatives and family get into squabbles, fuss over what they will eat and not eat; not everybody is grateful for what you have given them. Then we turn on the news and hear about threatened government shutdowns, angry dissent over the recent election, wars and rumors of ears, political gridlock in Washington, crazy people shooting innocent people in bars. And we start to wonder if Christmas and the Good News it proclaims is really all it’s cracked up to be. “Are you the One we expected, Jesus, or should we look for someone else?”
Now when John the Baptist asks his question, the answer Jesus gives is simple. He tells John to look at what was going on. There are amazing things happening that John is not noticing: blind people are receiving sight, people who haven’t walked in years are skipping and running, deaf folks are swapping stories, untouchable lepers are hugging their children, and the poor are hearing sermons that make them smile. It was all straight out of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the promise of what happens when God’s power is stirred up and comes among us with great might.
In effect Jesus is saying to John: Think again, my friend. You don’t understand the big picture of what God is doing. You, John have focused on a message of repentance, and repentance is necessary because it opens people’s hearts to recognize their need of God’s love and mercy. And God’s love and mercy is just what I, Jesus, have come to bring. As God’s Chosen One, I have come to fulfill God’s promises of old: I have come to give sight to the blind, to open deaf ears, to bring the dead to life, and to preach the Good News of God’s love to all who are poor in spirit. So, John, the word of God is not as you supposed, “Repent, lest you be judged,” but “Repent and receive with joy God’s redeeming work.” Could it be that we, and not just John the Baptist, need to grow in our understanding of the new order that Jesus Christ ushers in?
There are Christians who seem more ready to sound the note of God’s judgment than to herald the good news of God’s compassion and mercy. Last month a man in the city of Decatur, Illinois, was refused permission to sing at his grandmother’s funeral because the priest had seen the man’s picture in the newspaper participating in a Gay Pride rally. A few years ago, the parents in Newtown received letters from avowedly Christian people telling them that the children were shot as God’s punishment for the sins of their parents. Putting such extremists aside, however, we must all learn to appreciate more fully, as the old hymn reminds us, that “there’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea…. For the love of God is broader than the measure of [our] mind and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”
Why does God allow war and injustice to continue? Why does God allow innocent people to suffer and evildoers to prosper? Perhaps it is because God is incredibly more patient with the creation than we can imagine. Perhaps in divine forbearance, God’s timetable of redemption is slow but nonetheless sure. And perhaps we would do better to focus more closely on the signs of God’s Kingdom breaking into our world than on the evidence of human sinfulness.
There are signs of God’s Kingdom all around us if we would open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts.
“Look,” Jesus tells John, “the poor have good news brought to them.” Well the good news today is that the number of people living in extreme poverty is in steep decline. So says a recent study published by the World Bank. In 2013, less than 11% of the global population was living in extreme poverty, a dramatic decrease from 35% only 25 years ago. Thanks to better education, better health care, improved rural infrastructure, especially roads and electrification, and employment opportunities brought on by the growth of the global economy, billions of the world’s poorest people have been given new life.
“Look,” says Jesus, the dead are raised. Well, it happened over in Glastonbury just this week. I read about it in the Hartford Courant. Pastor Nancy Butler of the Riverfront Family Church, who for the past year has been dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, made a decision to go off her feeding tube and breathing vent and let herself die. She did so trusting that God did not want her to suffer any longer and trusting that in dying, she would in her words, “go home to God.” Last Wednesday, Nancy Butler passed away peacefully at home. A note announcing Pastor Butler’s death posted on her church’s Facebook page reads, “We are deeply saddened by her loss but also share her joy in Christ, trusting that she is rejoicing in God’s presence and dancing with the saints.”
“Look,” says Jesus, “the lepers are cleansed.” Well haven’t we seen this right here in West Hartford? The Kattoubs, a refugee family from Syria, are in many ways modern-day lepers, exiled from their own country, homeless, and dependent on the charity of others. And we at St. John’s, along with people from St. James’s Parish have welcomed them to our community and done everything we can to give them a fresh start in life in a new land and culture. And thanks to the Max Restaurant Group, Mr. Kattoub, a former auto mechanic, now is earning a living making pizza on LaSalle Road.
“Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?” These are questions from a Christmas song that, I imagine, we will hear many times in the days ahead. They might serve to remind us to be alert, attentive, looking for the signs of God’s reign breaking into our world. The song concludes, “the Child, the Child, sleeping in the night He will bring us goodness and light.” Yes, there will be times when we will doubt whether that is true. But as God promised long ago by the prophet Isaiah: “as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth making it bring forth and sprout, so shall my word be … it shall not return empty but it shall accomplish that for which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” And isn’t that Good News!