Worship for Sunday 4th December 2022, by Rev. Ken Stokes

Opening Prayer

Lord, we come before you as the crowds gathered before John.
We long to repent, to be cleansed, to be restored.
We long to hear of the one who is to come,
and we wait for him with joyful expectation.

Hymn: StF 180 “O come, O come Emmanuel”

   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:

Latin, 18th century, based on the ancient Advent Antiphons
translated by John Mason Neale (1811–1866)


Advent God, echoing down the ages with a voice of thunder,
thank you for the warning voices
who call us back from the brink of danger or destruction
and comfort us with the Good News of your love and forgiveness.

Advent God, the wind of challenge and change
blowing from the desert, around us and through us,
thank you for sending those uncomfortable,
abrasive people who see through our excuses,
confront our complacency and strip away our pretensions.

Advent God, surging towards us with the sound of many waters,
cascading over us like a waterfall,
thank you for cleansing and refreshing us
with your life-giving love,
and bringing us to new birth in Christ.

Advent God, who sees to the heart of the matter with unerring truth and mercy
and knows how easily we are distracted and led astray,
we praise you for all our companions on the pilgrimage of faith.
May we help and encourage one other
and fix our gaze on all that is good and lovely and right.
Prepare us for the coming of your Son, our Saviour,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father, we do not like to be disturbed, and do everything we can to avoid it.
We build round ourselves walls of false certainties and hopes
to protect us in a wild and bewildering world.
But there are times when you sweep these away,
and, bare to the barren winds of creation, we must try to find our way.
We confess that we often seek shelter in the wrong places.
At this time of longing and waiting,
we pray for the discernment to seek your way,
a path through the desert, and true shelter from the storm.

Hymn: StF 189  “Wild and lone the prophet’s voice”

   1                                Wild and lone the prophet’s voice
                                    echoes through the desert still,
                                    calling us to make a choice,
                                    bidding us to do God’s will:
                                    ‘Turn from sin and be baptised;
                                    cleanse your heart and mind and soul.
                                    Quitting all the sin you prized,
                                    yield your life to God’s control.’

   2                                ‘Bear the fruit repentance sows:
                                    lives of justice, truth, and love.
                                    Trust no other claim than those;
                                    set your heart on things above.
                                    Soon the Lord will come in power,
                                    burning clean the threshing floor:
                                    then will flames the chaff devour;
                                    wheat alone shall fill God’s store.’

   3                                With such preaching stark and bold
                                    John proclaimed salvation near,
                                    and his timeless warnings hold
                                    words of hope to all who hear.
                                    So we dare to journey on,
                                    led by faith through ways untrod,
                                    till we come at last like John
                                    to behold the Lamb of God.

Carl P. Daw, Jr (b. 1944)

Words: © 1989, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188, USA.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

Reading: Gospel of Matthew Chapter 3 verses1-12

(1)  In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,  (2)  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  (3)  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”  (4)  Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  (5)  Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,  (6)  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  (7)  But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  (8)  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  (9)  Do not presume 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.  (10)  Even 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.  (11)  “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  (12)  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


John was offering a Baptism of repentance  which was all about being given the chance to change – He asked people to come to him and allow him to dip them into the river water as a symbol of repentance. I suspect that in John’s mind baptism was in part about washing – symbolically getting rid of everything that is unclean. Secondly it would remind his audience of what gentiles – people who weren’t Jews had to do in order to become Jews. It was as if John was saying to the crowd look the way you have lived is such that you don’t deserve to be called Jews – you have not lived as God’s people, you need to start again as if you had just converted to the faith and recommit yourself to God

It is not that surprising that Johns call to repentance attracted so many different people. He was offering people a fresh start a chance to begin again.

Yet as someone pointed out the “Road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

I remember once reading a  Local Preachers exam paper where the candidate gave the definition of repent as something you do over and over again. I think she misread the word and was giving her definition of repeat but in many ways she sums it up. As Paul once said the good we would like to do we fail to do and the evil we do not want to do has the power to attract us and control us. This expressed most powerfully in Proverbs which reminds us how a dog that has been sick is drawn back to its own vomit. We are drawn powerfully like a magnet to the ugliest parts of our nature.

Thomas Hardy in his book Tess of the D’Urbervilles tells the bleak story of Tess an innocent farm girl who is taken advantage of and made pregnant by the son of the Squire, Alec.

Alec later regrets his actions and tries to make a fresh start and live a better life and even becomes a preacher but though his head may have been converted his emotions aren’t. Alec – sees Tess when he is preaching and at first he seeks just to be on better terms with someone he has wronged. Sadly all too soon he is back to his old tricks. His desire to own and control Tess and to have her for himself wins through, even though she loves someone else. His uncontrollable desires lead him to abandon his faith and his actions bring about not just his own death but they also destroy Tess.

Alec’s looked to his own will power as his path to salvation but when that failed him he felt he had no where to turn but to take the path he had begun no matter how disastrous.

John the Baptist says there is a way back. There is a chance of a completely fresh start which does not depend upon our strength of will. He points to Jesus the one who will come and  baptise with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. This does not mean that Jesus would baptise with two separate things, the Holy Spirit and Fire. It means that he will baptise people with the Holy Spirit which in some ways is like fire. The Spirit can consume the most destructive parts of our nature.

The image that John uses is of harvesters gathering the wheat and burn the stalks and the chaff that are left behind after the threshing process.

Of course the point of a harvest is not to burn the straw and the stubble but to gather the wheat. God’s purpose is not to punish us but to save us. Christ can baptise us with the loving Spirit of God  and that can make all the difference!

Things to reflect on

  • Do you believe that a leopard can change its spots or do you think that people tend to retain their essential character?
  • Have you ever repented of something? If so what was it and what was the power that it had over you?
  • Jesus always offers us a fresh start. Why do we sometimes find it so difficult to accept his offer?

Song: “Your name is power” Rend Collective

You’re the only answer to the darkness
You’re the only right among the wrong
You’re the only hope among the chaos
You are the voice that calls me on

Louder than every lie
Our sword in every fight
The truth will chase away the night

Your name is power over darkness
Freedom for the captives
Mercy for the broken and the hopeless

Your name is faithful in the battle
Glory in the struggle
Mighty, it won’t let us down or fail us
Your name is power
Your name is power

I know it is written, hope is certain
I know that the word will never fail
I know that in every situation (Yes I know)
You speak the power to prevail

Louder than every lie
Our sword in every fight
The truth will chase away the night

Your name is power over darkness
Freedom for the captives
Mercy for the broken and the hopeless

Your name is faithful in the battle
Glory in the struggle
Mighty, it won’t let us down or fail us
Your name is power
Your name is power

When you speak, you scatter darkness
Light arrives and heaven opens
Holy spirit
Let us hear it

When you speak, the church awakens
We believe the change is coming
Holy spirit
Let us see it

When you speak, you scatter darkness
Light arrives and heaven opens
Holy spirit
Let us hear it

When you speak the church awakens
We believe the change is coming
Holy spirit
Let us see it

Your name is power over darkness
Freedom for the captives
Mercy for the broken and the hopeless

Your name is faithful in the battle
Glory in the struggle
Mighty, it won’t let us down or fail us
Your name is power over darkness
Your name is power in the chaos
Your name is power

Songwriters: Chris Llewellyn, Gareth Gilkeson.

Prayers of Intercession

Loving God, we remember those who live in physical wildernesses.

Places were the ground is dry as dust and produces no crops

Places that have been stripped bare of all their life and goodness

Places made wildernesses by bomb craters, bulletholes, and constant threat to life.

Loving God, we pray today for all the wildernesses that people face:

for those lost in the turmoil of grief;
for those battling the exhausting attacks of serious illness;
for those who wrestle with mental illness.

Loving God we think of the wilderness inside each one of us –

that place of honest confrontation we are sometimes afraid to visit;
and we pray that we will find you there.
In all the twists and turns of life, in all its storms and confusion,
rain down your blessing, your healing, and your comfort, we pray.

Hymn: StF 489  “All I once held dear”

   1         All I once held,
built my life upon
all this world reveres
and wars to own,
all once felt thought gain
I have counted loss;
spent and worthless now,
compared to this.

Knowing you , Jesus,
knowing you,
there is no greater thing.
You’re my all, you’re the best,
you’re my joy, my righteousness,
and I love your Lord.

   2         Now my heart’s desire
is to know you more,
to be found in you
and known as yours.
To possess by faith
what I could not earn,
all surpassing gift
of righteousness.

 3           Oh, to know the power
of your risen life,
and to know you in your sufferings.
To become like you
in your death, my Lord,
so with you to live
and never die.

Graham Kendrick


The kingdom of heaven is at hand, but God needs our hands to help build it;
renewed, transformed, and with zeal restored, by the Holy Spirit.
go build the kingdom, here and now.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord!