There is no room… for all of nature
Tweet @churchscotland 7 December 2022
1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
2 O come, O come, O Lord of might
who to your tribes, on Sinai’s height,
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud, and majesty, and awe:
3 O come, O Rod of Jesse, free
your own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave:
4 O come, O Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery:
5 O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer
our spirits by your advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight:
Prayer of thanksgiving
God of beauty and grace,
We thank you for all that winter brings to us,
For revealing the stark beauty of a tree’s outline
And giving the wonder and intricacy of a flake of snow.
We thank you for a time to rest from mowing the lawn
Or from weeding the vegetable bed;
A time to expectantly plan what seeds to plant in the season to come,
But from the comfort of a cosy chair.
We delight in playing in the snow,
Or at least in the whole that we might.
We thank you for long dark nights when we can watch the moon rise
Or appreciate the bright company of stars.
We thank you for cold wintry walks
When we can snuggle into our favourite scarf,
Look forward to a hot cup of tea in our hands
And reminisce in front of the fire.
We even thank you for those grey and wet mild days,
When the cold does not bite
And we have a topic of conversation to take with us through the day.
Grant us the graciousness to see winter’s gifts
And enjoy earth’s quiet season.
Old Testament reading: Isaiah 35.1-10
Joy of the redeemed
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
‘Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.’
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Song: Therefore the redeemed of the Lord
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return
And come with singing unto Zion
And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
They shall obtain gladness and joy
And sorrow and mourning shall flee away
Advent thoughts: There is room… for all of nature
Our ‘There is room’ series has this Sunday’s nativity character as ‘sheep’. It sounds like getting a poor part in the play. After all, the sheep shuffle onto the stage, bleat a bit and then wander off. If you are lucky you get to be the sheep that goes to the stable with the shepherds, but the role is to look cute and ‘baa’ occasionally.
Yet the animals are a key part of our nativity images. The donkey travels with Mary & Joseph. The kings come on camels. The shepherds bring sheep. We sing of cattle lowing, and send cards with robins and penguins. (I’m not sure there were many penguins in Bethlehem, but you never know…) Jesus did not come into a world void of all but humanity.
From the beginning, God created a world where nature lived in harmony. In our time of climate crisis it is evident that we, as humans, have messed it up and are responsible for much of the damage and destruction to the earth. While we cry out to our government and big business to change direction, to put the planet before profit, we recognise that we all have a part to play. (Even if it is as a lowly sheep.)
It is interesting to look at the word ecology. Its Greek roots are eco, which means ‘house’, and ‘logos’, meaning ‘word’. We think of ecology as relating to nature and the interaction of habitats, yet its etymology is in ‘word’… or perhaps the Word. For Logos is also the term given to the coming of Jesus in John 1.1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All of nature, the creative Word, the ecology of God, was there from the beginning.
So when we think of God-as-Man’s first house (eco) on earth – the stable – it is hardly surprising that there were a multitude of animals in the vicinity. And, as our reading suggests, our Advent hope lies in the promises of streams in the desert and flowers in the wilderness. Let us hold onto that vision as we walk through uncertain times, both personally and for the ecology of the planet, for it may be in the dry seasons that we are most conscious of God’s presence.
Pause a while to reflect on the glory of God’s creation,
on the wonder of how it all knits together.
Thank God for how he brings streams of living water to flood the desert,
that flowers may grow in the wasteland,
green shoots rise up among the ashes.
Praise God for Advent hope, that with the coming of Jesus Christ,
born in a stable among the sheep and cows and donkeys,
the whole of nature is redeemed:
we are promised the crown of everlasting joy.
Then sing of that joy!
1 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
2 Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
3 He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.
Prayers for others
As the cold bites, we pray for those who are struggling to keep warm this winter,
Who don’t have warm fires, and who cannot afford heating and food.
We pray for the many ‘warm spaces’ that are being found around the country,
Particularly in churches, giving thanks for those giving up their time to open up.
We pray for those who do not have space to create a garden or vegetable patch
Nor easy access to beautiful countryside around,
But stare at concrete day after day.
May they see hope in the bleakness,
Catch glimpses of your creation,
And may the rocks sing of your greatness.
We pray for those who are lonely at this time of year,
Who are grieving the loss of loved ones,
Who go days without conversations with others.
May there be flowers in their wilderness
And streams of life in their deserts
As their hearts are filled with your love and hope.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy 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 lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.
Hills of the north, rejoice,
River and mountain-spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing.
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
He brings salvation from above.
Isles of the southern seas,
Sing to the listening earth;
Carry on every breeze
Hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew;
His word is sure, his promise true.
Lands of the east, arise!
He is your brightest morn;
Greet him with joyous eyes,
Let praise his path adorn:
Your seers have longed to know their Lord;
To you he comes, the final Word.
Shores of the utmost west,
Lands of the setting sun,
Welcome the heavenly guest
In whom the dawn has come:
He brings a never-ending light,
Who triumphed o’er our darkest night.
Shout, as you journey on;
Songs be in every mouth!
Lo, from the north they come,
From east and west and south:
In Jesus all shall find their rest,
In him the universe be blest.