Sunday 6th December 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 85: 1-2, 8)
You, Lord, showed favour to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants –
but let them not turn to folly.

SGP 45 How lovely on the mountain (Our God reigns)

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Though we cannot always gather in person
God is with us
Though some of our traditions have had to go
God is with us
Though we may not get to be with family and friends
God is with us
Though we cannot sing together
God is with us
Though Christmas is harder this year
God is with us

God, your presence is at hand
and Your word calls out to us.
Your love is not rationed,
Your grace is not conditioned,
You are present as we call upon You.
We come to bless You as our Creator.
We come to honour You as our God.
You are our heavenly Father,
and we have come to delight in You

Almighty God,
You sent Your servant John the Baptist
to prepare Your people to welcome the Messiah.
Inspire our disobedient hearts to turn to you,
that when Christ shall come again
to be our judge
we may stand with confidence before his glory;
who is alive and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Advent Wreath

Scriptures

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
‘In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out.’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’

‘All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures for ever.’

You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way’ –
‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

HYMN 600 Spirit of God, unseen as the wind

Reflection

The Bible passages for today are typical of what you would expect to hear on the second Sunday of our preparation for Christmas. They speak of hope and of promises fulfilled; they speak also of reunion with God. Yet, without mentioning the word, they speak also of peace. This is a peace that is not of this world, but one that only God can give.

In your imagination can you picture the people of Israel as they were carried off into exile. Words are not needed for we recognise in their body language the sense of defeat they felt. You can readily imagine them as they move onward at a trudging pace with heads bowed low. We can see from the text that after decades away from their homeland their sense of self-worth is low. Perhaps the people cannot believe that there is anything left for God to love, or reason for Him to come to the rescue of the nation. Into this God sends his servant, Isaiah, commanding him to speak tenderly to the people for they are frail. He is commanded to announce that she has, like a criminal, served her time and that it is time to return home.

Like a prisoner released, Israel is gently led into the light of hope. There are obstacles in the path to restoration, but they are being supernaturally overcome by God himself. A path to a reunion has been made across the desert, a place equated with trial and testing. Their joy rises as they are led home by the one who is like a shepherd to them.

That same picture of the desert road leading from exile to homecoming is the one that opens the Gospel of Mark. This time, though, it is not just the people of Israel being led home from exile but the whole of humanity that is journeying to reunion with God. This time the path is not through a literal desert but through everyday life. The mountains between captivity in a distant land and freedom become the challenges of life; the dark valleys the places where we are brought low. We may not be distant from the land we call ‘home’ however for both them and us the exile is real. It is real since for both the exile is from God, our true home. This is why we do not know peace in all its fulness.

So often when we refer to peace we are thinking of the absence of things. We often say we find peace when we are not ill, when we are not troubled by noise or others, when we are not at war, when we are not required to be active, when we are not in need of anything. Yet that understanding of peace is a passing one; it seldom lasts long and does not give us strength or hope or growth. The words we translate as ‘peace’ in scripture have a different understanding. They speak of being bound together, of being woven into something, of having strength, of being satisfied, of being at one, of being whole. This greater understanding of peace is achievable only through God.

As we read the passage from Isaiah, we read of a people who were journeying to peace as they travelled to being at one with God. In the Gospel we read of the call of the prophet summoning us all to make a like journey into being one with God. Both, ultimately, end in peace. In a world where we are experiencing a pandemic, war, political and economic unrest we desperately need to know and experience peace. But who offers a peace that is lasting? The celebration of Christmas is in part the rejoicing over the birth of the one who would be dubbed the ‘Prince of Peace’. The Bible tells us that it is this Jesus who will bring us to that place of true peace if we would follow him. In celebrating the birth and in seeking to know him better we are engaging on a path to reunion, a path to peace.
Amen.

Prayers

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all His goodness:
For the freedom to worship without fear,
thanks be to God.
For all the goodness we have seen or experienced in this last week,
thanks be to God
For those who provide for our needs, supplying our food, healthcare and education,
thanks be to God.
For those who lead us in paths of hope,
thanks be to God.
For friends and family, and for companions in the way of Christ,
thanks be to God.
For all that makes life a wonder,
thanks be to God.
For all that directs ourselves and others to Jesus,
thanks be to God.
For those who have gone before us, entering into the life of glory,
thanks be to God.
Amen.

HYMN 476 Mine eyes have seen the glory

Benediction
May the peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
go with you this day,
and every day.

And as you go,
may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
go with you
now and evermore.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.