Today we light the second Advent candle.
The candle is lit.
Lead us, O Lord,
on our journey through Advent,
that in the shadows
we may know your light.
Open our ears to your calling
That we may answer,
‘Here am I, send me’.
Open our hearts and minds
that we may work for justice,
and in so doing
we may know your love and peace.
Advent candles tell their story
as we watch and pray,
longing for the Day of Glory,
‘Come, Lord, soon,” we say.
Pain and sorrow, tears and sadness
changed for gladness on that day.
Prophet voices loudly crying,
making pathways clear,
glimpsing glory, self-denying,
calling all to hear.
through their message – challenged, shaken –
hearts awaken: God is near!
words @ Mark Earey
Let us pray:
The Advent story
of hope and mystery,
of this world and the next,
and a king
appearing when we least expect.
Heaven touching earth,
the footsteps of the divine
walking dusty roads
as once they did in Eden,
and a people,
searching for a Saviour,
and walking past the stable.
Open eyes and hearts,
that this might be
an Advent of hope to the world.
John Birch, FaithandWorship.com
A prayer of confession
We have looked at the rough,
and judged it for not being smooth.
We have looked at the valley,
and thought it could not be raised.
We have observed the mountain,
believing it would be unscalable,
and in so doing, we have become complacent.
Forgive us, God,
for our complacency and our judgements.
Make us see with the eyes of a pilgrim,
knowing that you who have called us on this way,
will make a pathway before us.
(From Roots on the Web)
Long ago, prophets knew
Christ would come, born a Jew.
Come to make all things new;
Bear his People’s burden,
Freely love and pardon:
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
When he comes,
Who will make him welcome?
God in time, God in man,
This is God’s timeless plan:
He will come, as a man,
Born himself of woman,
God divinely human.
Mary, hail! Though afraid;
She believed, she obeyed.
In her womb God is laid;
Till the time expected
Nurtured and protected.
Ring, bells …
Journey ends! Where afar
Bethl’em shines, like a star,
Stable door stands ajar.
Unborn Son of Mary,
Saviour, do not tarry!
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
We will make him welcome!
words @ 1971, Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSVA)
God’s People Are Comforted
40 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a] lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b] lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSVA):
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight”’,
John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
I remember the day I told my parents the good news that Stephen and I were expecting our first child. They were both thrilled, then Mum said, when is it due, Dad had a little tipple, and suddenly, alongside the jubilation and celebration, there was anticipation, a looking forward to the new arrival. When my children (a daughter and a son) were around 18 and 16 years old, someone asked me what I wanted for them as they were growing up. My answer was then, as it always will be, that they are happy and healthy, safe and secure. And now that is my prayer for our grandchildren too. I want them to have good jobs and good partners, a roof over their heads, families of their own and so on.
I somehow imagine that Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, wanted those things for her son too. Who would ever want their child to live their life on the edge – the edge of town, on the edge of life even, surviving in the wilderness wearing smelly camel’s hair and eating anything he could find, and not afraid to stir up the minds of people around him with his passionate talk of one who is to come? Yet John always strikes me as the kind of person who was not afraid of anyone or anything. He had no trouble with locusts and snakes and I’m sure would have been crowned King of Jungle in ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’. But he didn’t want to be a celebrity, he never saw himself as anything more than a warm up act, a herald, preparing the way for Jesus with his strange message of repentance and giving them a sense of anticipation of what, who, was to come.
I love the way Isaiah 40:3 says, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. Then the Gospel echoes that before it continues, “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness …” and sets in train a further sense of anticipation with ‘After me comes the one …” It’s as if people then and now are being led from one great event to another, always being given something to look forward to, even though, or especially when, they are tossed and blown along the way.
When I started to write this on Monday I was waiting in anticipation. Admittedly I was only waiting for a parcel, but these days even waiting for parcel causes great anticipation! We’ve all had a few things to celebrate, or at least give thanks for, over the past few weeks. After the good news of vaccines last week, and being able to see family at Christmas, this week the news tells us that the R rate is falling in many areas. It seems to me that there is some comfort to be had in this news, even though Tier 3 will not be any better than lockdown. And while we may not yet be hearing readings of angels and a baby et al. we do hear of comfort and tenderness in the readings this week. “Comfort, O comfort my people”, we hear in Is 40:1. Then it goes on to talk of the devastation that will happen. “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain”. How does this passage speak comfort and hope to those we know and love when they are lonely, in the midst of disastrous news, of a Covid pandemic, of a devastating diagnosis, of redundancy? Even for people of faith, it is not always easy to have to lean totally on God, and it IS okay to cry out, ‘Where is God in all of this’ when life is tossed and blown, lifted high and laid low.
God is in all of it. God does care and comfort his people, and the evidence runs all through the Bible. The word comfort is apparently found 119 times in the Bible, the word encouragement is found many times, along with sustain, support, strengthen. The Bible is filled with promises, the promise of God’s Son, the promise of life eternal. That’s not the work of a baby, which is totally dependent on others, but the work of the man that baby grew to be, a man who knows his path in life and is willing to give his life to save others, and who will come again.
So as many of us decorate our Christmas trees, and go into melt down thinking of everything there is ‘to do’, and ‘to buy’, may we remember that Christ’s Advent has nothing to do with a baby in a manger, but everything to do our Messiah’s second coming. Are we waiting in eager anticipation?
(And yes, the parcel arrived, within it’s allotted time slot!)
There’s a light upon the mountains
and the day is at the spring,
when our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King:
weary was our heart with waiting,
and the night-watch seemed so long,
but His triumph-day is breaking
and we hail it with a song.
There’s a hush of expectation,
and a quiet in the air;
and the breath of God is moving
in the fervent breath of prayer:
for the suffering, dying Jesus
is the Christ upon the throne,
and the travail of our spirit
is the travail of his own.
He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
he is calling for His angels
to build up the gates of day:
but His angels here are human,
not the shining hosts above;
for the drum-beats of His army
are the heart-beats of our love.
Hark! We hear a distant music,
and it comes with fuller swell;
’tis the triumph-song of Jesus,
of our King, Immanuel:
Zion, go now forth to meet him;
and, my soul, be swift to bring
all your fest and your noblest
for the triumph of our King!
Prayers for others:
We need to remember that how things are now is not how they’ve always been; and it’s not how they always will be.
We need to remember that your kingdom has come, that it is growing among us now, and that the time will come when it fills the world with justice and love.
And so we pray for your coming, to those around the world whose poverty, pain, trauma, and grief make your kingdom feel like a pipe dream;
to those in our community who long to see your love and justice expressed through your followers;
to those in your Church who seek to be faithful and to make a difference while juggling the needs of themselves and their families;
and to us, who long to know you more, and to live as citizens of your kingdom in this place and time.
May your coming be something we hope for, but also be something we experience moment by moment.
In Jesus’ Name; Amen.
by John van de Laar, Sacredise.com
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 home,
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.
Charles Ernest Oakley and editors of English Praise
We have gathered around stories of strange people in wild places. For you, O Lord, no desert is a desert only. It is a place where wild things grow and nurture us, in all the places of our lives. Nurture us, as we go, so that we can find more nurture, and be more nurture, in all abandoned places. Because you see life and light where we do not. And so we follow your light into all places.