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St. Thomas Community Church


Service for the week following the fourth and last Sunday in Advent




Welcome, friends. In order to follow this service, consider all words in bold type to be spoken by the pastor of the St. Thomas Community Church, the Reverend J. Wright. All words in italic type should be spoken aloud by you. You will also need a small glass of wine, grape juice, or water; a small piece of bread or a cracker; and your Bible.




The Peace

Peace to you, friends, and blessings in the name of Christ our Lord.

And also with your spirit.

Collect

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen


Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Lord have mercy upon us,
Christ have mercy upon us,
Lord have mercy upon us.

O almighty Lord and everlasting God, we ask You to direct, sanctify, and govern both our hearts and our bodies in the ways of Your laws, and in the works of Your commandments; that through Your most mighty protection both here and ever we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Lord be with you.

And with your spirit.

Let us pray:

Collect for the Week

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Epistle

Romans 16:25-27 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

The Gospel

Glory be to You, O Lord

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Praise be to You, O Christ.

Statement of Faith

Please join me in reciting the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day, he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where He will return again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday of this week is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle, the patron of this church. On this day, try to take a little time out from busy schedules and read the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 24 to 29. Remember him and find examples in his life to benefit your following of Christ's path. This Saturday is the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas. May all the blessings of the holiday be upon you that day and throughout the year.

The Sermon

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

The story we have read today is known the Annunciation, which is celebrated on March 25. For many of us, the stories of the events leading up to Christmas are very familiar. Even those who do not attend church regularly usually attend around Christmas time, and through pageants and plays, television and movies, the stories of the Annunciation, the Birth in the manger, the three wise men, the shephards, etc. are well-known. One problem with this, however, is that the stories may have become too familiar. They may have been reduced to the level of "stories" instead of retaining their position as "lessons." Let us go through this story and talk about what lesson it can impart to us.

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God..." The sixth month refers to the sixth month after the conception of John the Baptist by Mary's older relative Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel was sent by God because he is the messenger of God. His name "Gabriel" means "man of God," but the word in Hebrew is also related to "strength" or "victory" of God. He is second in the rank of archangels, below Michael. We see Gabriel in the passage immediately before today's reading, announcing the birth of John the Baptist to Zecariah, his father. Gabriel also appears in the Old Testament, in the Book of Daniel, when he explains Daniel's visions to him.

"To a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph..." We have to remember that Mary was very young at this time, perhaps around thirteen years old. Also, she and Joseph, an older man, were only engaged at this point, not yet married. This is an important point, since in the culture of that day, for Mary to be visibly pregnant when they were not yet married would have been a punishable offense - usually to the death by stoning.

"And [Gabriel] came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." This, of course, is the origin of the first half of the Catholic prayer of the Ave Maria (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.) This is also known as the Angelic Salutation. "Do not be afraid," he says,"for you have found favor with God." he goes on to tell her that she will conceive and bear the Son of God, whose ancestor was David and who will rule for ever after. Although Joseph was only a carpenter, he was in the line of sucession from David. At this time, under the Roman occupation, the line of David had been subjugated and although he was, in reality, the King of the Jews, he was not in power. Think about all the families that had royal lineages but their countries' governments have since been replaced by democracies or communist governments. For Joseph to step up and claim the throne would be like one of the Romanovs today stepping up and claiming the throne of Russia. What is important for us to remember, though, is that Jesus ruled (and rules) not through His political lineage as the Son of Man, but through His divine lineage as the Son of God.

Mary is confused. She is only a virgin, how can she bear a son? Gabriel tells her "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy..." Like we have read in the last few weeks regarding John the Baptist's ministry in the desert, Mary will be baptized in the Holy Spirit, which is a baptism that can only come from God Himself. Remeber our lesson from last week - all that we receive, we receive through His hands.

After hearing about the pregnancy of her older relative, Elizabeth, Mary says "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Here we have the perfect example of personal sacrifice to the divine plan. Mary knows how difficult this situation will be. She has put both hers and Joseph's safety and lives on the line. Remember - pre-marital pregnancies were stonable offenses. Mary knows all the problems that will be involved, and yet this young girl accepts her role, submitting to God's will. Mary's sacrifice of herself so that she will bear the Saviour of Mankind foreshadows the greater sacrifice of Christ, sacrificing Himself for the sins of mankind. She accepts this sacrifice, since she knows the outcome will be greater than any difficulty involved.

This is what we must remember when we are confronted with little sacrifices that we must make. In order to follow God's plan for all of us, we must make these decisions, knowing, like Mary, that the outcome is greater than the difficulty involved. The so-called "theological virtues" are the first three of the seven - faith, hope, and charity - and are the most important. These three virtues are all linked when we make decisions like the one that Mary made. We must have faith that God's plan is right and just and good. We must have hope that we can carry it out effectively, and we must have the idea of charity - that we are doing this not for ourselves but for our fellow men and women. Remember that Jesus said "that which you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me." (Mt. 25:36). Our sacrifices may not be as great as Mary's, but they may still cause us some hesitation, and our parts in the grand scheme might not be as important, but they still are just as necessary. You may miss that Sunday game because you offered to clean out your mother-in-law's garage, or you may not be able to sleep a couple of extra hours on Saturday because you offered to drive your neighbour to the airport. While these may seem like small acts, and small sacrifices, the decision is still yours to make. Like Mary, we must make the correct decision.



The Offertory


Not everyone that says unto me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.. (Matthew 7:21).

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church:

Almighty and everliving God, who by Your holy Apostle has taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for all men, we humbly ask you most mercifully to accept our prayers, and to receive these our prayers, which we offer to Your Divine Majesty. We ask You to inspire Your Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord, and grant that all those who do confess Your Holy Name may agree in the truth of Your holy Word, and live in unity and godly love. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our Saviour. Amen.

General Confession

You who do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to live a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways, make your humble confession to Almighty God: Almighty God, Father of Heaven, Judge of all men, we confess that we have sinned against You, in words, thoughts, and actions, in the things we have done, and those which we have failed to do, and we are truly sorry for these misdeeds. Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, forgive us all that is past and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please You in the newness of life, to the honour and glory of your Name, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

May the Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in His great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with true faith turn to Him, have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life. Amen.


Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ said to all who truly turn to Him:

Come to me, all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.

So God loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to our Lord God.

It is right to give Him praise and thanks/I>.

Because in the Mystery of the Word made flesh, You have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of Your glory in the face of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, we praise You and magnify Your glorious name, saying:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory: Glory be to You, O Lord Most High
. Amen.

The Authorization

At this time, as an ordained minister of the Christian Church, I hereby authorize you to act in my place in the blessing of the Bread and Blood of the Communion, through Christ the Lord, who with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns in heaven with God the Father Almighty. Amen.

All glory to You, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that You, in Your tender mercy, did give Your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in His holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that His precious death and sacrifice, until His Second Coming:

For in the night in which he was betrayed, (hold your bread or cracker in your hand), he took bread, and when he had given thanks, (break the bread in half), he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying "Take, eat," (lay your hands on all the bread), "this is my Body, which is given for you, Do this in remembrance of me." Likewise, after supper, (pick up your glass of wine or other liquid), he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying "Drink you all of this, for this is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this as often as you shall drink it, in remembrance of me."

The Oblation

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of Your dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we, Your humble servants, do celebrate and make here before Your Divine Majesty, with these Your holy gifts, which we now offer to You, the memorial Your Son has commanded us to make, having in remembrance His blessed passion and precious death, His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, rendering to You most hearty thanks for the innumberable benefits given to us by the same.

The Invocation

And we most humbly beseech You, O merciful Father, to hear us, and in Your almighty goodness to bless and sanctify, with Your Word and Holy Spirit, these Your gifts and creatures of blood and wine, that we, receiving them according to Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of His death and passion, may be partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood.

And we earnestly desire Your fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly asking You to grant that, by the merits of Your Son Jesus Christ, and that through faith in His blood, we, and all Your whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His passion. And here we offer and present to You, O Lord, our selves, our souls and our bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to You, humbly asking You that we may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, be filled with Your grace and heavenly blessing. We ask this of You, through Christ our Lord, in unity with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns with You in heaven, world everlasting. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer

Let us pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.Amen.

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

(Take and eat the bread).

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

(Take and drink the wine or wine-substitute).

Let us pray:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank You, for that You have given to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and do assure us thereby of Your favour and goodness toward us, and we humbly ask You, O heavenly Father, to assist us with Your grace so that we may continue in holiness and do all such good works as You have prepared for us to walk in, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns with You in honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace and goodwill to men. We praise You and give You thanks for Your great glory, O Lord, King of Heaven, God the Father Almighty.

O Jesus, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, receive this our prayer.


The Peace of God be with you, and all blessings of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always. Amen.





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