Listening to the Prophets
Clear View Church calls itself a “church trans-plant.” We are the roots of a traditional Christian Reformed congregation in transition desiring to live out our mission statement: being an outreaching community of Christian faith, hope, and love. To that end, we sold our old building in Mississauga, Ontario, and built a beautiful new facility in nearby Oakville to support the kind of ministry we could envision doing. We are situated in an affluent community that prizes excellence; at the same time, most seekers we hope to attract are biblically illiterate.
No longer content to have church simply “for us,” we are constantly challenging ourselves to think about building bridges and points of contact with the community in which we live. In terms of worship style, we are committed to “blended worship” and have been moving toward more sermon series that can be advertised to the community. We also put a lot of work into our website (www.clearviewchurch.com) and the use of media in our service.
What About Advent?
It was the annual “What are we going to do for Advent?” time of year. During Advent our women’s outreach ministry was planning to use a four-part Bible study series called Hallelujah: The Bible and Handel’s Messiah by Rev. Dr. Carol M. Bechtel (published by Kerygma). We decided to use the same material as the basis for our Advent series. Not only would it resonate with long-time members, but it would also be at least somewhat familiar to seekers in our community.
The book provided a lot of background material and ideas for us to build on. But we were soon faced with the problem of how to delve into the truth of these Old Testament words from the prophets without getting bogged down in all the historical background. How could we say what needed to be said without driving the congregation to distraction with dates and history and obscure names? It’s one thing to preach to people with a solid bedrock of Bible knowledge, quite another to try to reach people with little or no Bible background. We also wondered how we could ensure that words so “old” and set in quite a different context would also speak to us. What does Haggai have to say to us today as North American people living in the early part of the twenty-first century?
Instead of starting each sermon with a lot of historical background, we decided to begin each service with a simple visual presentation that would convey any history the congregation needed to know through narration and images. At the same time the presentations would show the continuity between the issues of that day and of our own. In the end, we discovered that the prophets had startlingly contemporary messages. Their struggles became our struggles; their questions are our questions. These presentations really raised “the question of the day,” which we then used as a theme for the rest of the service and the preaching of the Word. We also tied the lighting of the Advent candle with the script.
I co-wrote the scripts with Mike, our “technical guy,” sending them back and forth for editing and screening. Next Mike wrote an “image script” alongside the narration with images that might work as background. Various members of the congregation willingly helped record the narrations. Each clip included either a brief recording or a live version of part of the Messiah text. Despite its simplicity, the effect of the final product was astounding! (For a copy of these clips, e-mail Clearview Church at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: Since the Bible study only had four lessons whereas our series needed five (or six if we included Christmas Eve), we decided to break one lesson up into two separate but consecutive Sunday services.
Each Sunday we used the same basic service outline:
Children leave for Sunday school
Confessing Our Faults
Assurance of Forgiveness
Songs of Response
Comfort in Many Voices
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11
We have reduced the meaning of comfort to “something I want in addition after all of my needs have been filled.” But Israel needs a comfort that is much more substantial: she is in exile; her people are agonizing over questions of life and faith. God’s comfort comes in four voices.
- The Tender Voice (vv. 1-2)
- The Voice Announcing (vv. 3-5)
- The Enduring Voice (vv. 6-8)
- The Confident Shout of Joy (vv. 9-11)
The service ended with an affirmation of our comfort through a responsive reading of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1 (What is your only comfort in life and in death?).
Video Projection Clip Week 1
|Narrator: Have you ever eagerly anticipated something? And then found it was not what you had expected?||
Music: fade up softly
|Maybe that new relationship?||Couple holding hands|
|Or the career you trained so hard for?||Office worker|
|Or maybe you simply look forward to the Christmas season each year . . .||Christmas tree|
|only to find that it disappoints you time and again. Big pile of Christmas||garbage at the curb|
Listen to this man’s story of ancient shattered dreams
|Man’s voice: Shattered dreams? Yes, my people and I know them.||Music change|
|We Hebrews were able to experience God’s Promised Land a long time ago—almost 700 years before the birth of Jesus.||Beautiful sky|
|A land flowing with milk and honey.||Waterfall|
|A land we had only dreamed of.||Fruit tree|
|The beautiful city of Jerusalem. But things went wrong. . . .||Flowers|
|The prophets said we enjoyed ourselves so much in this beautiful new land that we became forgetful. We forgot the God who gave it all to us.||Barbed-wire fence|
|We fought with each other and became two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. Eventually both were destroyed by the enemy.||Map of divided Israel and Judah|
|Jerusalem was devastated. The magnificent temple reduced to piles of rubble.||Crumbled wall|
|And we? The people? We were dragged away into slavery and exile.||Slavery image|
|For many years we did not hear from God at all. Where was God? We assumed God had forgotten us.||Chains/handcuffs|
|All our joy was gone. The light flickered . . .||Candle|
|and died.||Black screen|
|But then came a surprising message of hope:||Music: ends abruptly|
|“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her . . . that her sin has been paid for . . .” (Isa. 40:1-2).||Bright background with Scripture passage|
Narrator: Today, the first Sunday of the Advent season, we begin our look at the Christmas story as told in Handel’s famous musical work, Messiah.
The work begins with words that echo God’s prophecy to Jerusalem.
Music: Handel’s Messiah
|“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. . . .”||
Music: sound-up of “Comfort Ye My People”
Lyrics on screen
|Narrator: That ancient piece of Scripture from Isaiah 40 still speaks to us today.||Scripture on screen|
|What do we do with the brokenness in our lives?||Stressed-out man|
Where is God when life hurts?
Has God abandoned us?
God speaks words of comfort to us today, just as God spoke to Jerusalem many years ago. God has plans for us, even when we are in exile.
Narrator: Today, we light the first of five Advent candles.
The people of God are waiting.
|Lighting: light goes on over Advent wreath and one candle is lit slowly as final narration plays out|
|As we light the first candle, we recognize that God brings comfort into our waiting.||Candles|
|And although we may not know the future, we know who holds it in his hand.||God’s hands|
|Lighting: full stage lights come on|
God's Great Shakedown
Scripture: Haggai 1:1-2:9
These words of Haggai were spoken about eighteen years after God’s edict of release. Now God has a serious charge against the people: they have the wrong priorities.
a) From the people’s experience (1:6)
b) From God’s perspective (1:2-4, 9)
- God’s Solution: Give Careful Thought to Your Ways (1:5, 7; 2:15, 18)
- God’s Command: Go Up, Get Down, and Build! (1:8)
This ended with a challenge about involvement (or lack thereof) in “Kingdom-building activities.” In the end, God wants things done so he will be honored.
Video Projection Clip Week 2
|Narrator: Busy. Busy. Busy. That about sums up our lives. Especially around Christmas time!||Daybook full of messy entries|
|There are so many things to be done. We’re afraid that if we don’t give our children all the best opportunities, they won’t measure up later in life.||Children on slide in playground|
|We have to work hard too. Just to keep up with all the things we need in life right now. Not to mention preparing for our future. . . .||Worried man with head resting on hand|
|When the kids are gone, we’ll help out at the church more often. In fact, we’ve talked about going on a mission trip or two when we retire. Right now we’re just too busy. . . . [pause]||Outstretched hands|
Have you heard the saying “Some things never change”?
Listen to this young Hebrew woman tell about living in Jerusalem in 520 b.c.
|Colorful background with words “Some things never change”|
|Naomi: My name is Naomi—that means “Pleasant One.” I am the first child born to my parents since they returned from the Exile in Babylon seventeen years ago. When King Darius said that all exiles could return to their homeland, my parents were||B&W background with “Some things never change”|
overjoyed to come back “home” to Israel, to Jerusalem.
The Promised Land. The Holy City.
|Desert with footprints|
|But life here is hard too. I know the leaders are sometimes discouraged. The land is dry and rocky. It is hard to grow things here. My father is often worried as he checks his crops.||Sketch of woman working dry ground; withered crops;|
|Sometimes we are hungry. We all work hard just to stay alive.||Empty plate|
Some of the people have started to grumble a lot. I guess they had come back with big hopes. They had started to rebuild the temple before I was born. But it was hard work hauling the wood, gathering the stones, putting it together.
It took a lot of time.
|Sketch of man hauling heavy load on back|
|Eventually the people decided they needed to get themselves settled first.||Black screen|
They would deal with God’s business later. At a better time. When life was more settled. But that never seems to happen.
Sometimes I wonder what God thinks about all of that.
|Music: ends abruptly|
|Narrator: During the Advent season, we anticipate the coming of God. Listen to this prophecy from Handel’s Messiah.||Messiah graphic|
|“I’ll shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, the dry land, all nations, I’ll shake, and the desire of all nations shall come.”||
Music: sound-up from Messiah
Lyrics on screen
Narrator: The desire of all the nations. He WILL come!
But what do we need to do in response to this?
|God’s hands with glowing light|
Do we need to make more room in our daily lives for God?
Are we too busy doing the wrong things?
Today, we light the second Advent candle.
The people of God are waiting.
As we wait, God also calls us to action. He wants to refine us . . . to live holy and devoted lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
|Let’s worship this God together in the light of this candle that calls for both anticipation and action.||Open hands with light streaming down|
When We Cheat God
Scripture: Malachi 1:6-9; 3:1-5
God’s words through Haggai helped Israel clean up their act for a while. But 50-75 years later, God has charges against his people again. In contemporary language he says, “Stop dissing me!” Although we don’t have an Old Testament sacrificial system, we DO have worship. These are God’s questions of the day to us regarding our worship:
- What is your attitude to worship? (1:12-13, The Message)
- Where is your heart in worship?
- What do you bring to worship?
Video Projection Clip Week 3
|Narrator: It’s election season in Canada.||Flag with newspaper headline “Christmas Campaign”|
|Party leaders are busy making campaign pledges. Saying, in effect, “If you vote for me, I’ll make life better for you. I promise!”||
Newspaper headlines of promises by
various political parties
But we wonder, “Is a promise really a promise?”
We become cynical: Will they really do what they say, or will they cheat us again? And we wonder when politics became so cheap.
|Big question mark over headlines|
|Today God challenges us to look at ourselves again. Instead of turning a critical eye to the politicians, God says, “What about you? You and your “religious practices”—Do they really mean anything to you?”||Woman cleaning washroom mirror and looking back at herself|
|It’s so easy to go into autopilot during worship. Standing when it’s time to stand. Sitting when it’s time to sit. Shaking hands, smiling. Looking very sincere on the outside.||Woman’s face with keywords scattered around it: Sit, Smile, Sing, Stand, Shake hands|
But where is your heart? What are you bringing to worship today?
Listen to God’s words through the prophet Malachi as he observes the Hebrew worshiping community in 475 b.c.
|Woman’s face with question mark beside it|
|Malachi: Why doesn’t one of you just shut the doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship!||Padlock|
|I am honored all over the world.||Globe|
|All except you. Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, “Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,” and when you say, “I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.” You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air.||Globe with those phrases written over it|
|And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it?||Shattered glass|
This is GOD speaking to you!
(Mal. 1:10-13, The Message).
Narrator: Malachi looked for a day when God’s people would worship by heart and not by ritual.
|Shattered glass with words “This is GOD speaking to you!” over it|
|In order to get that, God is going to have to clean us up. Listen to these words from Malachi, as told in Handel’s Messiah:||Messiah graphic|
|For he is like a refiner’s fire, like a refiner’s fire. And who shall stand when he appeareth?||Sound-up Messiah; lyrics on screen|
|Narrator: A refiner’s fire. A purifying power. That’s what we need too.||Water and fire|
Today we celebrate the first anniversary of this church building. But with celebration comes a challenge.
A challenge to deepen our worship and commitment.
We come to worship and celebrate a God who sent his only son to earth to redeem us.
|Congregation standing outside the church building together|
|Today we light the third Advent candle. As we light the candle, we remember the purifying power of our God, who will come to burn away all our impurities and insincerities.||Candles|
|Let’s not go through the motions this morning. Or any morning. Let’s worship this God together with a true spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.||Hands raised in worship|
Unto Us a Child is Born
Scripture: Isaiah 7:1-17; 9:1-7
It’s not hard to recreate King Ahaz’s desperate situation here, and to see that as a battle between fear and faith. Ahaz feels stuck. He thinks his enemies are the problem, but God points out that the fear in Ahaz’s heart is the real problem. God’s words to Ahaz in 7:4 are to us too: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart . . .” Keep the faith, because faith is the opposite of fear. Faith in the biblical sense is not mere mental assent, it is leaning into the truth you affirm—all the more so in light of the sign given to us: a Child has been born for us.
Video Projection Clip Week 4
|Narrator: Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. You’ve gotta make them all day long.||Question mark|
|This line-up or that one?||Grocery store line-up|
|Latte or large double-double?||Two types of coffee|
|Pizza or Chinese?||Pizza/Chinese food|
|And those are just the easy ones. How about these: Is this guy (or girl) the right one for me? Forever?||Wedding ring|
|Or, Which university should I apply to?||Diploma|
|Or, Should I take this opportunity or wait for a better one?||Coin flip|
|Or, Is this the right time to sell and move, or not?||Real estate sign|
|(Sigh) Don’t you wish God would just make it easy sometimes? I mean, if we’re really supposed to do God’s will, why doesn’t God spell it out clearly?||Confused person|
|On the other hand, if he showed you, would you trust him enough to do it?||Question mark over confused person|
|Listen to this story of King Ahaz, King of Judah in 733 b.c.||Bible & 733 b.c.|
|King Ahaz: Things look bad for us right now. Our enemies all around are ganging up on us. We just managed to survive the last assault. Now we’ll have to hunker down for a siege on Jerusalem—maybe a long one.||Ruined city, destroyed buildings (B&W)|
|And if things aren’t tense enough already, along comes that crazy prophet Isaiah. Telling me not to worry. That God is going to make everything all right.||Same as above|
|It’s one thing to “believe” in God when you’re at the temple, quite another when your ferocious enemies are breathing fire down your neck! I ignore him.||Army on horseback|
|(“If you don’t take your stand in faith, you won’t have a leg to stand on,”) he says. Oh yeah? I’ll just stand on my own two legs, thank you very much!||Quote printed on the screen|
|But the next day Isaiah comes again. Says, “Ask God to prove it to you. Ask him for a sign! Anything at all!” Ha! I say. You’re just trying to trick me. Asking God for a sign is wrong. I won’t do it!||Quote printed on the screen|
|That makes the old man good and mad! Says God is going to give me sign whether I want it or not. That a young woman is going to have a baby named Immanuel. What kind of a sign is that?||Nativity scene|
|I’m glad I’ve sent to Assyria for help instead. I’m sure the Assyrians will come through for me.||Black screen|
Narrator: King Ahaz made the wrong decision.
The faithless choice.
Instead of choosing to do things God’s way, he’d rather rely on his own power and strength.
Instead of bringing the light of God, he increases darkness in the land.
|So God brings another prophecy:||Bright light|
|The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light . . . And they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.||Sound-up Messiah; lyrics on screen|
|Narrator: That great light is what we celebrate at Christmas.||Candle|
|But that great light doesn’t fade after Christmas Day. We can carry it into the new year. And far beyond.||Calendar|
|It helps us with those difficult decisions we face each day.||Frustrated man|
|Today we light the fourth Advent candle.||Candles|
|The people of God are waiting.||Candles|
|As we wait, we gather in the light shining from this candle—a symbol of the great flame that lights up our lives each step of the way—the light in which we put our full trust.||Candles|
|Let’s worship this God today in the bright light he shines on us today.||Bright light|
Glory to God in the Highest, Glory to God in the Lowest
Scripture: Luke 2:1-14; Isaiah 40:10-11
Women love to share “birth narratives.” This is the record of God’s “birth narrative.” The gestation period had been unusually long (thousands of years!), but now it is the fullness of time. Let the Savior finally be born! Glory to God in the highest! We’d expect God to pull out all the stops for this wondrous long-awaited event: mass communication, announcements, loud music, fireworks, distinguished guests. . . . And God does—only God does it his way, not ours. This is a God who comes down, way down to be with us. And he did it out of sheer love. Glory to God in the lowest. What is your response to such love? Because “today has been born to you a Savior.”
Video Projection Clip Christmas Day
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay; the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Music clip: “Away in a Manger”
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!
Music clip: “Silent Night, Holy Night”
|Narrator: Christmas. What a wonderful time of year! What a glorious event! Everything beautiful and staged just so.||Sky|
|Stars. A silent, holy hush over all.||Stars|
A sweet, sweet baby, tender and mild. It’s hard to believe such a God really came to be “one of us,” isn’t it?
Our world seems so different than that. It’s
|busy,||Pile of work|
I guess it wasn’t like that long ago in Bethlehem. Or was it?
|It’s easy to idealize the birth of Jesus. We imagine pictures like this one—a peaceful manger scene with a clean baby sleeping and the animals gathered around silently.||Nativi|