Sunday 5th December 2021

Welcome & Intimations:
Welcome to our service for this second Sunday in Advent. As Advent is a time not only of thinking back to the birth of Jesus, but a time of looking forward to his return, we will be thinking today about what that second coming means.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 134)
Praise the Lord all you servants of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

HYMN 162 The God of Abraham praise

(from Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California)

Prayer:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;for God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven. (Baruch 5: 1-3)

Let us pray.

Living God, in our worship,
we seek to be ready to meet with You.
We prepare ourselves;
we still ourselves;
we organise ourselves;
we get ourselves in the right frame of mind.
And now we come to You in prayer.

We come with thanksgiving,
for the beauty of this day,
for the wonder of life,
for the fellowship of this place,
for the freedom to meet and worship,
and for the Gospel message of this Advent Season.
So we rejoice, with the universal Church,
as we journey through Advent in worship and in faith.
Make us ready for the coming of our Lord.

But are we ready yet?
Are we really prepared to meet You here?
Are we properly ready for the wonder of the Incarnation?

We look at how we are and who we are, and we wonder how we will look to You.
We still wear our garments of sorrow and affliction.
For life may have been tough for us this week,
and the burdens we carry might be hard to bear.

We’re still dressed in the garments of failures, promises made and promises broken,
acts of kindness missed and acts of sinfulness offered.
We are still clothed in unrighteousness.
And we are ashamed.

We’re still dressed in the garments of doubt and uncertainty.
We are not perfect.
We have so many questions.
But mostly, we hide them under our coats of respectability,
our jackets of strength,
our coverings of faithfulness,
our public image of certainty,
while underneath we are shabby and grey.

Are we ready? Are we prepared for You to look on such as us?

But just when we want to turn away in our shame,
Your message comes to us again. “Put on the beauty of the glory from God”,
for you deserve my love, dear children.

“Put on the robe of the righteousness”,
and don’t be fearful of my wrath, for this is the message that comes from God.

“Put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting,”
for you need no longer be ashamed.

Ready? Yes, we can be ready, not through our own purposes,
but by offering ourselves to God;
not through our own efforts,
but by believing that our “God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven”,
even for the likes of each one of us.

So now we can be prepared.
Now we know You can look on us and smile.
Now we can recognise again that You and Your people are one.

Merciful God,
You sent Your messengers the prophets to preach repentance
and prepare the way for our salvation:
give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Here us, we pray, as we come to you in the words Jesus taught, saying:

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.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Scriptures:

Malachi 3: 1-4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Luke 3: 1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:“Prepare the way of the Lord,make his paths straight.Every valley shall be filled,and every mountain and hill shall be made low,and the crooked shall be made straight,and the rough ways made smooth;and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’
Amen

HYMN 474 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

(from the Chet Valley Churches)

Reflection:

What images come to mind when you think of the Christmas season? Do you think of nativity scenes that decorate our homes or churches? Do you think of the evergreen tree, with all its decorations? Do you think of the hectic nature of shopping as the big day gets closer? I wonder, too, how the season makes us feel. Excitement? Joy? Perhaps you look forward to the sense of fun and the catching up of family and friends. I wonder, though, how many of us approach Christmas with a sense of fear or dread!

Many in our city, indeed our land, will approach Christmas with no real sense of joy. For those with children to provide for it may be worse for them than for others. The apparent need to provide the latest gadgets or toys, and to spend beyond our means so as not to make our children feel embarrassed, or so that we may ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ will drive many into unmanageable debt. If you think I am exaggerating a little, then reflect upon this fact: one in four children in Scotland, today, live in poverty!

If we turn to the days of the early church, or even to the hopes and aspirations of the people of God in the time leading up to the coming of Jesus we will find a very different set of thoughts and feelings in place. The people were expecting a Messiah, someone anointed of God to come and set the people free; he would lead them not only out of captivity in a human sense, bit also out of whatever it was that was holding people back from encountering God. The Messiah would be a liberator. However, this liberator would also be a revolutionary of sorts! He would bring judgement to bear upon the people as he prepared them for the coming ‘Day of the Lord’. This would be a day of rejoicing, that much is true, but it would lead to much soul searching and heartache as well. Look at the language we heard read earlier; it speaks of refining, and fire, and purification. It asks who can stand, who may endure that day. Those are not images that conjure up the idea of an inoffensive crib scene or Christmas party; rather these are scenes of terror and dread.

It is into moods such as these that Jesus was born. Our Gospel reading skips ahead to the time when Jesus was about to begin his ministry, but the mood is just the same, the images remain. John the Baptizer comes proclaiming the coming of the Lord. He comes, calling the people to judgement yet calling them also to repent, to turn back to God and know His mercy. He prepares the way for the coming of Jesus. Yet note, there remains no sign of this ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, the strange infant who ‘no crying he makes’. It is this Jesus that John is calling us to watch out for, and to follow. It is this Jesus that would be horrified at the way we spend Christmas while so many of our neighbours are lacking the basic things of life. If we stand back and do nothing then we, too, will know the judgement of the ‘Day of the Lord.

So what are we to do? What may we do? We may begin by turning and focussing on what it is that is meant by the kingdom, and of what sort of people who may populate it. The kingdom is the rule of God, and it is eternal. It is not bound by politics, or geography, or history. It predates these things and will be long after they are gone. It is a kingdom whose population will be defined by their righteousness, not their ethnicity, or theology, nor having right beliefs. The righteous citizens of that kingdom are those who do works of justice, for that is what righteousness means. We can use our voice to bring justice to bear. With one in four of our children in poverty we can resource the various agencies who work with such as these. We can vote and argue and petition to change the structures that imprison them. With a new variant of COVID circulating around the world we can demand to know why the wealthy west allows the poorer south to go without sufficient vaccines to give them a fighting chance to beat the pandemic. Perhaps this pandemic will remind us that we are all one, for it is not fussy who it infects or whom it kills. Wouldn’t it be a most wonderful Christmas if we even made a start on such things?

The kingdom began in eternity and will end in it. On the way prophets came and went. So too did monarchs and dictators, kingdoms and empires. Into this kingdom Christ was born. This was not to save the spiritually elite nor the theologically correct but to bring justice. This justice demands a reorientation of the heart and mind, to think beyond the self and self-interest. It is to see God in the eyes of the other. This is what Christmas enables us to do, but only if we see beyond the trappings and the jolliness. Christmas enables us to transform the world, to bring in the kingdom of God. So what are we waiting for … let’s prepare.
Amen.

HYMN 472 Come, thou long expected Jesus

(from Songs of Praise, St. John’s College Choir, Cambridge)

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Let us pray that God will transform us,
that this world would become more just.

We pray that the Church would be empowered
to raise our voices like those of the prophets
that we may proclaim the way of salvation.
Fill your people with your spirit that we may fulfil our callings.

We pray that the rulers of this world would live in humility,
that they may discern the truth
and that their power may be exercised for the good of all.
Make straight the crooked ways of the world.

We pray that we may be reborn this Advent.
May we hear the call to repent of our selfishness
and turn to your path of redemption.
Lead us into the paths of peace.

We pray for the sick and the injured,
for those who ache in body or in mind.
We pray for the grieving and the struggling,
may the whole world know your healing.

We give thanks for the great saints
of this and every age
who walked the paths of justice
yet gave glory to you alone.

May our prayers be acceptable in your sight,
our Lord and our God.
Amen.

HYMN 290 The race that long in darkness pined

(from Grimsby Minster)

Benediction:

May the Blessing of God who made us,
Christ who redeems us,
and the Spirit who renews us,
rest upon us all
through today,
through Advent,
and the time to come.
Amen.

Sung Amen:

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org

Opening prayer by Rev. Tom Gordon. Taken from Church of Scotland, Weekly Worship.

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