God said: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you
to clear the way for you.
Someone is shouting in the desert
‘Get the road ready for the Lord
make a straight path for him to travel.’
Watch today’s service on our YouTube channel:
You can also follow the scripted service below:
Hymn: Tell out my soul
Lighting the Advent candle
when your Son was born
to lighten our darkness
people believed that the earth was flat
that heaven was above the clouds
and disease was caused by demons
In recent centuries we have learned
to view your world in different ways
and yet we are in bondage to new limitations
we doubt what we cannot prove
we ignore what we cannot see
we find little room for faith
we confess that we suspect angels
and disbelieve good news
we are both infected and affected
by the spirit of our times
behind talk of world peace
we hear the machinery of war
beneath talk of global equality
we see powerful nations striving to be the most powerful
beside talk of your church being renewed
we recognise bondage to the failed patterns of the past
rather than embrace the light
we are fascinated by darkness
past experiences make us cynical
but they are not the key to the future
our suspicions close our minds to hope
we may be able to describe the mountain, but cannot move it
As Christmas approaches
help us to have the naivety and trust
of Mary and Joseph, and all who were then waiting
who encountered angels
believed the Good News
and recognised Christ among them
Hymn: Beauty for brokenness
Reading Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit.
He has chosen me and sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to heal the broken-hearted,
to announce release to the captives
and freedom to those who are in prison.
He has sent me to proclaim
that the time has come
when the LORD will save his people
and defeat their enemies.
He has sent me to comfort all who mourn,
to give to those who mourn in Zion
joy and gladness instead of grief,
a song of praise instead of sorrow.
They will be like trees
that the LORD himself has planted.
They will do what is right,
and God will be praised for what he has done.
They will rebuild cities that have long been in ruins.
The LORD says:
“I love justice and hate oppression and crime.
I will faithfully reward my people
and make an eternal covenant with them.
They will be famous among the nations;
everyone who sees them will know
that they are a people whom I have blessed.”
Jerusalem rejoices because of what the LORD has done.
She is like a bride dressed for her wedding.
God has clothed her with salvation and victory.
Reflection: A world of need
I wonder how many letters, e-mails, texts and social media posts have been sent to Santa so far this year? Hopefully the elves aren’t furloughed and the reindeer don’t have to self-isolate, so that there are lots of happy little people a fortnight on Friday. I wonder whether the requests are the same as they would have been, had we not had the pandemic? Will some have had so many extra things bought this year – toys, books, bikes, scooters etc – that there isn’t much left to ask for? Will some feel that priorities have changed because of the pandemic, and maybe more thought needs to be given to having a lower carbon footprint, or supporting others? Will some have been encouraged to lower their expectations because there isn’t the same money about? There were a lot of people struggling before March, and there are a lot more now.
The events of the year have exacerbated a whole lot of issues that were around pre-Covid:
- mental health issues from depression, to loneliness, to the stress of living with people where the relationships are difficult
- physical health issues, with a Health Service that is very good, but is struggling to cope
- social care issues, particularly but not exclusively in care for the elderly
- long-term career prospects, particularly for young people
- housing issues, again particularly for younger people
- the way the benefits system works
- abusive behaviour, hate language, intolerance of difference
and if we look at the wider world we see many places with:
- widespread corruption
- no access to education, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation
- no tolerance of minorities, or respect for human rights
- climate change having a devastating impact
- large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people, because of wars
and so on.
Our world has a lot of systemic problems that aren’t easy to sort, and there are a lot of powerful vested interests that don’t want change. It would be easy to give up trying, and think ‘so long as it sees me out’. However God is not enamoured of that line. As the prophet said, he is a God ‘who loves justice and hates oppression and crime’. In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus quoted the opening verses of the passage we heard earlier, almost as a manifesto for the Kingdom he was proclaiming: good news for the poor, healing for the broken hearted, freedom for those in prison (in those days mainly political prisoners), sight for the blind and comfort for those who mourned. God was on the move, and he wanted to see change happening. He would make change happen. Real change, systemic change, lasting change.
The change wasn’t to be imposed – people would have to own it. He wouldn’t rely on might and power to enforce it, it would come through self-giving, sacrificial love – apparently so weak, but actually so powerful that nothing can resist it. It is the very nature of God, and it was the very nature of Jesus, and the core of his message. In humility (or humiliation) God was born in Jesus in a stable. In humility (and humiliation) Jesus was put to death in a horrible fashion. In humility and gracious victory Jesus was raised to new life and shares it with us. In generous grace he empowers us with the Spirit to carry on his work, his way. It isn’t easy, it can be painful, costly and lonely. But he assures us that he is always with us, and that in the end his Kingdom of justice and peace will be built, and he will graciously bless us for all that we have suffered. In the meantime, all those problems out there – God is seeking to sort them, but he needs our help.
Prayers for others and Lord’s Prayer
We believe that you do indeed
‘love justice and hate oppression and crime’
that you care about the poor, the broken-hearted,
those in captivity and prison,
those who are grieving
or whose lives are full of sorrow
We believe that your Spirit is active
seeking to put right the wrongs
of nature and humanity
bringing hope and new life life
We pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn: Lo! He comes
Look forward in hope
to the coming of your Saviour
prepare the way for Christ your Lord
welcome him with love and faith
when he comes in glory
and the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
rest and remain with you,
today, and every day, and for ever. Amen