Lighting of the Advent Candle and Gathering Prayer
As we light this Advent candle,
may its flame be for us a sign of the light
that reveals to us our path through life,
that inspires us to live simply and generously,
after the example and call of John the Baptist,
that we ourselves may be signs of the good news we proclaim. In Jesus’ name.
Opening verses (Phil 4:4-7)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Prayer of Preparation
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord
Summary of the Law
Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
The first commandment is this:
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Amen. Lord, have mercy.
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way|
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Here we are in the third Sunday of Advent – Christmas is less than two weeks away and the shops are full of all kinds of unhealthy goodies, endless Christmas adverts are running with images of perfect families, children are taking part in nativity plays (which often bear little resemblance to the Christmas story), wherever you go there are endless ‘Christmas’ songs playing (which rarely mention Christ) and Channel 5 and Christmas 24 TV channels are full of feel good films. For many of us it can become all a bit much – and for others, especially the lonely and bereaved, it can be a particularly hard time.
There is no getting away from the fact that Christmas in the 21st century is for many people a self-indulgent party-fest. So, today’s reading from Luke doesn’t seem to really fit with our cosy image of Christmas or our understanding of the advent story. And I have to say, when preparing this, it would have been so much easier to prepare something based on one of the other three lectionary readings which focus on joy – after all today is also know as Gaudete or Joy Sunday
One of these is from Isaiah where we read
“Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defence[a];
he has become my salvation.”
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you”
Or the reading from Philippians which is the well -known and well-loved passage Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And finally, our reading from Zephaniah which includes the verse
“he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing”
All of these are wonderful, uplifting readings. And as some of you will recall, the Zephaniah verse is my favourite Bible verse – and the one that I based my very first talk on. But the purpose of including these other readings, other than the fact I think it is sometimes helpful to look at some of the other readings from the lectionary, is to highlight just how different the passage from Luke is – and yet it is included in the readings for today.
Whilst I was preparing this it made me wonder how we would react if we had turned up at church today only to be harangued by a wild man, dressed in weird clothing who started the service by calling us all a ‘brood of vipers’. By anyone’s standards he was scary and more than a little bit strange. And whilst I would like to think we would welcome everyone would we have allowed him to speak or simply called for some medical assistance? And yet John has some very challenging but relevant things to say as we prepare for Christmas in this Advent season.
The passage we have today has three distinct elements to it
Eschatological – i.e. what will happen at the end times
Ethical – which I’m going to focus on today
Christological – where John points to the arrival of Jesus
So eschatological. Advent is the season to prepare for the coming of the Christ child but also a time to look for his coming again. John in this passage has some strong warnings about the end of times, asking if the crowds are coming to escape the wrath that is to come and warning about the tree that does not bear fruit being cut down.
We do not know why the crowds came – it might have been out of curiosity; it might have been a genuine desire to hear what this prophet had to say or it might have been prompted by a deep-seated longing for something more. Matthew has a similar passage but pointedly it refers to Pharisees and Sadducees – here John is speaking to everyone.
And John basically tells them three things:
- He questions why they have come for baptism. Is it just to escape judgement or a genuine desire for repentance?
- He warns them that being sons of Abraham will not exempt them from judgement
- He tells them that if they do not produce fruit, like a dead tree, they will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
And all of this has relevance for us today:
- Baptism is symbolic of new life, of being washed clean. As Ali mentioned last week, it was a Jewish rite for a Gentile who wished to convert to Judaism – to start again. But our baptism is only a symbol of what has to happen within – a genuine repentance of past sins and a yearning to live a life that honours God.
- There is a well known saying that God has no grandchildren. In other words, it does not matter if your parents were Christians, or if you come to church every Sunday, if you’re part of every committee and rota going, if you are a faithful financial supporter or even if you are licensed or ordained. None of these matter in the absence of genuine repentance resulting in fruitfulness
- The Old Testament often talked in metaphors such as trees bearing fruit – and we have to bear in mind that this before Jesus himself is baptised or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, John still stresses that the baptism that he provides, and what it means, must result in changed lives. Later of course we read of Jesus talking about remaining in him to bear fruit and then the fruits of the spirit that we are all familiar with.
We’ll come back to ethical – but let’s take a very quick look at Christological.
At the end of our passage John makes it very clear in response to the idea that he himself might be the Messiah, that Jesus, the one who comes after him, is in a completely different league! “But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” For the Jewish listeners who knew about fire being a symbol for the presence of God and the spirit or breath of God of the power of God, there could be little doubt that the person to whom John was referring was indeed the Messiah – the Christ.
Within the passage there are three recorded groups of people who ask, in response to John’s teaching, ‘What then, shall we do’ It is interesting to note that they didn’t ask ‘What should we think’, ‘What should we believe’ or ‘How should we respond to this’. No, John has challenged them about the meaning of baptism, the need for repentance, of changed lives and all three groups of people have realised that there is a need for a practical response.
So, first of all, the crowd generally who when they ask what they should do get the response. He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise” It doesn’t seem all that great a deal – especially when we recall that the Old Testament had all kinds of laws for supporting the poor and needy. What John says is not rocket science or demanding of a great act of faith. Then, as now, people liked to hold on to their possessions. But when you compare the lives led by the people John was talking to and our lives in our comfortable western21st century culture I think this in itself is a challenge. . John talks about someone who might have two coats giving one to someone who has none. How many of us have wardrobes and cupboards stuffed with coats and other clothes or cupboards and freezers full of food ‘just in case’?
The other two groups of people were the tax collectors and some soldiers. The tax collectors were probably Jews who had won the bid to collect taxes and tariffs on behalf of Rome – but it was a system open to abuse with many of them charging more and pocketing the difference. John simply tells them to “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you” The soldiers again were there to protect the tax collectors and keep the peace but would use their position of power to extort money. John tells them “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages”
In both cases John’s response is simple and direct. He does not tell tax collectors and soldiers to find new occupations but instead tells them to deal fairly and honestly with people. If their repentance is real, then they need to approach things in a different way. To show from their actions that their baptism is more than a symbol. But it is not always easy to do this.
In Tom Wright’s commentary on this passage he refers to a cartoon which shows a sceptic shouting up to the heavens, ‘God! If you’re up there, tell us what we should do!
Back comes the voice: ‘Feed the hungry, house the homeless, establish justice.’
The sceptic looks alarmed. ‘Just testing’ he says.
‘Me too’ replies the voice.
One commentator I read summed this up really well when he wrote of the three sets of people: “John doesn’t ask them to change the world but to change themselves. He doesn’t tell them to quit their jobs but to live a different life. The crowds who came to him could not eliminate poverty, but they could share what they have with the cold and hungry. The tax collectors who came to him could not overhaul the tax code, but they could be honest. The soldiers who came to him could not end the Roman occupation, but they could act with integrity and not abuse their power. In each of those situations John focuses on people and relationships. His answers are simple, concrete, practical.”
So – to recap.
Advent is the season of preparation for the arrival of the saviour of the world. But it is also a time when we prepare for the return of Christ in all his glory. There is joy in knowing Jesus, in knowing that the Creator of the universe loves us, rejoices in us, hears us and sent his son to save us. This gives us reason to ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy’. But the passage in Luke reminds us that as we prepare for Christ’s return we need to repent and live out our redeemed lives in ways that give glory to Jesus.
Billy Graham often asked the question “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In other words, would people be able to stand up and testify that our behaviour reflected that of Jesus who we profess to follow? Would our love for the poor and the lost be evident? Would our bank statements show where our priorities lay? Would our Youtube and TV viewing show that we were fixed on things above and not below? Would our behaviour, the way we live our lives and the way we treat other people, look any different from that of an atheist or agnostic?
So, as we leave this church maybe we shouldn’t ask each other ‘are you ready for Christmas’ but what are you going to do? Not, as the questioners of John asked ‘What should we do’ because we know the answer. No – what are we going to do? And that is something that each of us needs to ponder ourselves and come to our own conclusions.
Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
source of all being and life,
the one for whom we exist?
We believe and trust in him.
Do you believe and trust in God the Son,
who took our human nature,
died for us and rose again?
We believe and trust in him.
Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit,
who gives life to the people of God
and makes Christ known in the world?
We believe and trust in him.
This is the faith of the Church.
This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessing and dismissal
Prayers of Penitence
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
as we gather at the Lord’s table
we must recall the promises and warnings
given to us in the Scriptures.
Let us therefore examine ourselves and repent of our sins. Let us give thanks to God
for his redemption of the world through his Son Jesus Christ, and as we remember Christ’s death for us,
and receive this pledge of his love,
let us resolve to serve him in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our life.
You then, who truly and earnestly repent of your sins,
and are in love and charity with your neighbours,
and intend to lead a new life,
following the commandments of God,
and walking from this day forward in his holy ways:
draw near with faith,
and take this holy sacrament to your comfort;
and make your humble confession to almighty God.
Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in what we have thought,
in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love, and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed,
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past;
and lead us out from darkness to walk as children of light. Amen.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who in his great mercy
has promised forgiveness of sins
to all those who with heartfelt repentance and true faith turn to him: have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hear the words of comfort our Saviour Christ says
to all who truly turn to him:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11.28
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3.16
Hear what Saint Paul says:
This saying is true and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1.15
Hear what Saint John says:
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise, holy Father, heavenly King, almighty and eternal God.
And now we give you thanks because you sent him to redeem us from sin and death and to make us inheritors of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may with joy behold his appearing, and in confidence may stand before him.
Therefore with angels and archangels,
and with all the company of heaven,
we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you, and saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
We do not presume
to come to this your table, merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord
whose nature is always to have mercy.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your tender mercy,
gave your only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; he instituted, and in his holy gospel commanded us to continue, a perpetual memory of his precious death until he comes again. Hear us, merciful Father, we humbly pray, and grant that we receiving these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood; who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: Drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. Amen.
The Lord’s prayer
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Prayer After Communion
Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home. Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory. May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds
in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”