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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Advent 2 Year A, Colour = Purple

Introduction

John the Baptist is insulting, angry and uses violent language. It isn't really what we want in church in the run up to Christmas! But John was fed up with religious pretence and with religion which was only skin deep, full of the appearance but devoid of the substance of real faith. Calling people snakes, John used this image to make his message understood, - we either live lives which are worthy of the Christian Gospel or we are just deceivers.
Most churches will tone all this it down a bit for Sunday service, but the message should still be the same. The kingdom is here, now let's start living like we mean it. Pointing out the need for repentance and recognising the austerity of John, is not easy at Christmas, when we are more concerned with putting up trees and making/ eating cakes. But it is part of the real Christmas message which tells us to sort ourselves out
 

Opening Verse of Scripture John Chapter 8 v 12

Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness we are grievously hindered in running the race that is set before us, your bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen

Almighty God, purify our hearts and minds, that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again as judge and Saviour we may be ready to receive him, who is our Lord and our God. Common Worship Shorter Collect

God of all holiness, your promises stand unshaken through all generations and you lift up all who are burdened and brought low: renew our hope in you, as we wait for the coming in glory of Jesus Christ, our Judge and our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen. Methodist Worship

God of all time and space, who are we, that you should come to us? Yet you have visited your people and redeemed us in your Son. As we prepare to celebrate his birth, make our hearts leap for joy at the sound of your word and move us by your Spirit to bless your wonderful works. We ask this through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near, even your Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen. Methodist Worship  

First Bible Reading   Isaiah Chapter 11:1-10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

Second Reading  Romans Chapter 15:4-13

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:  "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name." Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples." And again, Isaiah says,  "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him." May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading  Matthew Chapter 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "
John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Post Communion Prayer

Father in heaven, who sent your Son to redeem the world and will send him again to be our judge: give us grace so to imitate him in the humility and purity of his first coming that, when he comes again, we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Commentary

When Light in the Darkness
At this time of year with the cold temperatures, long nights and short days, life can seem quite lonely and desolate at times. Advent is a time to reflect on our life and look forward to the coming of Christ, both as infant Messiah and as the returning Lord and King. We’re encouraged to ensure Christ is at the centre of our lives, helping us focus on the God who became incarnate so that our lives don’t become a desolate wilderness, or a dark and hopeless place where we are trapped by our own humanity. As we open ourselves to Jesus, the light of the world, He releases us into new life and restores those places in our lives that have been marred, or even devastated by the effects of the darkness of the world. As Advent passes into Christmas we look to the light of Christ, who will return in a great blaze of glory to complete that work of restoration, but who first came as a small pinprick of light in a stable in Bethlehem. For some, all they ever see is the pinprick of light at Christmas and for the rest of the year the Christian faith means little to them. For others, the light in the stable at Christmas is the dawning of the realisation of Christ in their lives, lives which continue to be changed, transformed and restored by His incarnation. We are called to point to that light, and reflect its transformation and glory in our lives.

In a world that predominantly only sees the pinprick of light at Christmas it’s not surprising that many people are largely indifferent to God and the true meaning of Advent and God’s first incarnation in obscurity and His second to come in glory. They believe they have no need of God and don’t want to be inconvenienced by Him. And in their self confidence, God becomes remote or absent for them and many go for days without any sense of God in their lives, and certainly no recourse to worship or prayer and communication and communion with Him. It is a situation similar to that which Isaiah found himself in, Israel had become indifferent to God and stagnant in their ways and worship. Isaiah’s calling was to prepare the people, through a call to repentance, so that God could break through their indifference and self confidence and become real and relevant to them once again. A message as relevant today as when it was first preached. The root of Jesse, as we looked at last week, will bring hope and revelation. John the Baptist too calls people to repentance and preparation for the coming age for when Christ would break through. His sole mission was to serve God, and he gave all he was and all he had so that others could come to see the Messiah who was shortly to be revealed. He was clear that His role was not to be the light which would break into the world, but to point people to that light.

The Christingle too reminds us of that light which came into the world. The orange represents the world. The gospel writer John reminds us that ‘Jesus was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him’. (Jn 1 v 10 – 11). The red ribbon of the Christingle represents the blood of Jesus which was shed for us so that our sins may be forgiven. ‘But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin’. (1 Jn 1 v 7). The fruits and sweets on the four skewers represent God’s gifts to us, the fruits of the earth and the four seasons. ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’. (Gen 8 v 22). The lighted candle, pushed into the centre of the orange, represents Christ, the light of the world. ‘He [Jesus] said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.’ (John 8 v 12).
The coming of Christ at Christmas is an event for the universe. It is an event for history and an event for each of us in our daily lives and the lives of those we touch. At Advent His teaching and His light penetrates the darkness of the Genesis world and our Genesis lives. It invites us to evaluate our lives and transform them in the light of His Advent and Christmas coming, and to point others to that light so that all can be ready and be prepared and so experience the true meaning of His coming. Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation


‘The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s Son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in the sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognised Him but His own servants; when He comes openly He will be known by both good people and bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when He comes openly it will be to judge.’ Augustine (AD 354 – 430)

When Christ comes again in His risen glory to judge the world His first questions to us might not be ‘What have you done and how have you lived?’ but ‘Are you ready?’ Sometimes with all the preparations for Christmas we think of Advent as a time for getting ready. But Advent is not a time for getting ready; it’s a time for being ready. A time of looking forward and being prepared for the future festivities, both temporal and spiritual. A time not just of repentance but about the expectation of a Messiah who will come to deliver us. How ready we are to meet Christ when He returns may well depend on the preparations we have already made whilst we wait for His coming.

Hymns

  1. Come thou long expected Jesus
  2. Lord the light of your love is shining
  3. Darkness like a shroud
  4. The Orange of Christingle
  5. Hail to the Lord’s anointed

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing


"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.

If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

We are sent In the name of the Father of the Poor; in the name of the Son of Justice; in the name of the Spirit of Love; To live God's promise that transforms and makes us new; to be signs of hope to all who struggle for a new world of justice & peace. Amen.

Teach us, O Lord, to love you, to trust you and for ever to praise you. Let us exalt your name both in the day and in the night. Let us serve you both in the house of prayer and in the world about us. Let us ascribe to you with all your saints both wisdom and majesty, both honour and glory, world without end. Amen. Henry Vaughan, 1621-169

Our loving Father, we give thanks for your goodness and love; for the joy of home and family, and the companionship of friends and neighbours; for the strength that supports us and the love that surrounds us, both when our joy is complete and when it is touched by pain. We give thanks for your Son Jesus Christ: the glory of his humble birth, the graciousness of his selfless life, the obedience and trust that led him to the cross, and the triumph of his resurrection and ascension. We give thanks for your Holy Spirit at work in your Church and in our hearts, revealing your truth, renewing our lives, and bringing us to your eternal Kingdom. Alexander Siatwinda, Zambia/Halifax

O God of all hope, we thank you for your promises which find their fulfilment in your Son. We rejoice in His coming in the flesh and look for His coming in glory. By your word, sacraments and Holy Spirit make us ready to receive Christ as our Lord and Saviour, and with thankfulness praise Him, now and for ever. Amen

O Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful as we wait for the coming of your Son; then when He appears, He will not find us sleeping in sin, but active in His service and joyful in His praise, for the glory of your Holy name. Amen

Lord Jesus, redeemer and judge of all people, who came that we might have life eternal, you have taught us that you will come again in great glory to take account of your servants and reward their faithful service; help us to live as people who wait for their master, prepared, engaged in service, and ready for action; that we might not be ashamed before you at your coming so that we might enter into your eternal joy. Amen

Grant, O God, that as we rejoice in the hope of the coming of our Saviour, we too may seek to prepare the way of His coming by demonstrating His love as we care for others. Amen

Christ the Son of Righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, O Lord, and our minds with your light, our hearts with your love and our souls with your presence. Day by day may we live to your glory and rejoice in your praise; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Mozarabic Liturgy (seventh century)

 

Additional Resources

Commentary

john the baptistJohn the Baptist adopted a very specific lifestyle, and a very public ministry . He was unafraid to point the finger at leaders of the people who let people down and behaved badly. Very forcefully he made his most vehement statements against the spiritual elite. . Everybody had to 'make straight paths for the Lord.' We are tempted sometimes to think that scriptures are directed at people outside the church, to imagine that we are the good ones and that the challenge is to people who are outside the church. The teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus of course, were always strongest to those who were most religious 'you brood of vipers' he said to the professionally religious. His parables taught that the wheat and the weeds were mixed together in the field, the sheep and the goats also shared the same field. Perhaps the greatest challenge from the reading today is to us who think that we are OK.

So we ask ourselves this morning whether we have paths which are suitable for the coming of our Lord this Christmas? Is our religion lifeless and boring? Our religion should be life changing, about a meeting with the living God, that is when it becomes a real faith, not just a set of rules and practices. How many Christians have slipped into a non-threatening cosy religion, like an old pair of slippers which fit us nicely. How easy it is for us to become accustomed to our Christianity, so that the words of Jesus no longer challenge and frighten us. 

Yes, John the Baptist would be speaking to us this morning, us inside church, not those who are in bed sleeping off Saturday night. He would ask us to say how our religion was changing us and making a real difference. If it is not doing this, then sing no more hymns, say no more prayers, God does not desire our religion, he wants so much more.

John the Baptist tells us to make our paths straight. The Kingdom is not a far off event, the kingdom is here and now. It breaks into our lives every day and we do not need to ask when it will come. The kingdom seizes us, embraces us, challenges us, in the ordinary events of life. A sick friend, a discouraged spouse, a troublesome person on the telephone, a demand which is made on us which we think to be unfair. Situations which cause us to question how we will respond. Times when we can perhaps do much good with very little effort. How we react determines and tests our faith and questions our membership of the Kingdom. These are the places where we really show God's loving power coming through in our lives.

It is as we do this of course that we become like John the Baptist in declaring God and proclaiming the coming of our Lord. Our life, our deeds our words, all speaking of the Kingdom of God. It is when we do this that are perhaps the most powerful advertisement for our Lord, in so doing we make straight paths which perhaps allow others to see more easily the living Lord, the worship of whom transcends human religion.  Charles Royden

 

Commentary  John The Baptist

The Gospels do not offer much biographical detail concerning John the Baptist. Rather, we are given an impression of what John was like, what his preaching was like, and the effect that he had on the people of ancient Israel. The picture we get is of a prophet, i.e. a public preacher with a message from God.

John is portrayed as the fulfilment of prophec (Matt 3.3 citing Isaiah 40.3). Note that this is a reinterpretation of Isaiah 40.3, which in its own context dealt with the return of the people of Israel from exile in Babylon. In Isaiah, the text emphasizes the way that God was preparing for the people to come home to Israel through the wilderness; Matthew's focus is on a person (i.e. John the Baptist) in the wilderness who is preparing the way for the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

John lived a life of asceticis (denial of the flesh/body) in the wilderness (Matt 3.4). In the Jewish tradition the wilderness symbolizes a place of repentance and purification (e.g. the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they were permitted to enter the promised land). In other words, the wilderness symbolizes a place where human beings struggle with the powers that resist God. 

John's work consisted of preaching and baptizing (Matt 3.1-2, 5-6). For background to the importance of the river Jordan as a place of cleansing, see the story of Naaman the leper in 2 Kings 5. John's baptism was an innovation: for example, its once and for all character differed from the daily washing for purification that was practiced among the Dead Sea Scrolls community at Qumran. 

John's preaching and baptizing focussed on the theme of repentance (Matt 3.1-2, 7-10). Repentance (Greek metanoia) is not an instantaneous experience, and it is more than just a matter of emotions, more than just an act of the will: it means turning one's whole life toward God (cf. Joel 2.12-13). According to Matt 3.5, many people responded to John. 

John recognized that someone far more powerful than he would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit those he had baptized with water (Matt 3.11-12). The coming of the Holy Spirit was connected with the end of time and the coming of the Messiah, based on Joel 2.28, Isaiah 44.3, Ezekiel 36.26-28.

John the Baptist is an appropriate person to focus on during the season of Advent: during Advent we prepare for the Lord's coming, and of course in the Gospels the story of John the Baptist is all about preparation. But preparation for what ?

John's whole work and his whole ministry was all about getting ready for the Lord's coming.

Of course it is easier to think of the reigning of God as being in some other world - so as not to have to change this world! Matthew used the word Heaven because of a Hebrew reluctance to say the word for God. If the reigning of God was "in Heaven" the urgency of John's preaching would make no sense - nor would the teaching of Jesus! John's urging is that people should, "make the way straight - here and now! Change your attitude - NOW!!" John used words like, "Change your society so that your personal change will make clear your conversion!" John's audience wanted a ritual (bath) and to keep on being selfish - and so he calls them "brood of vipers" and warns of the danger of depending on one's own efforts for salvation (Mt.3:7). 

John came to baptise so that people would change their attitude and look for the straight path to which Isaiah refers (Is.40:4). The ritual of washing with water alone would not do it. People have to change their attitude and become less selfish and start to live a radical love. John had announced that the Liberator (the Messiah) was near with his shovel ready to separate the wheat from the chaff (Mt.3:12). Wheat is a source of nourishment and is kept for its value. Chaff is no good as food, and has no other use so it gets thrown out. The chaff, it seems, is an image of selfish people empty of love for others. The wheat is an image of people who are devoted to the needs of others. Charles Royden

Meditation  -  All Shall be well

In the late 1300s a lady called Juliana, living in Norwich, became seriously ill. As she was recovering, she experienced a number of visions of Jesus. She wrote down for others what she had experienced. For example: 

"God showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand... I looked at it with my mind's eye and I thought: 'What can this be?' And an answer came:

'It represents all that is made.' I marvelled that it could continue to exist because I thought that it would have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind: 'It exists and always will because God loves it.' All things have their being through the love of God. In this little thing I saw three truths: the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; the third is that God looks after it."

Mother Julian of Norwich (as she is generally known) was making the point that God has made all things, that he loves all that he has made, and that in his love he looks after all that he has made. She also wrote that, in God's love, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

God our Father, in your love you have a special care for all that you have made. May we grow in the faith that you "enfold us in your love" and that everything does work out for good for those who love you: that "all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well". Amen.

Meditation

Christingle OrangeWhen Christ comes again in His risen glory to judge the world His first questions to us might not be ‘What have you done and how have you lived?’ but ‘Are you ready?’ Advent is a time of looking forward and being prepared for the future festivities, both temporal and spiritual. How ready we are may well depend on the preparations we have made. Sam Cappleman

When Light in the Darkness
Without Christ at the centre of our lives, helping us focus on God, life can seem a desolate wilderness, a dark and hopeless place where we are trapped by our own humanity. As we open ourselves to Jesus, the light of the world, He releases us into new life and restores those places in our lives that have been marred, or even devastated by the effects of the darkness of the world. As Advent passes into Christmas we look to the light of Christ, who will return in a great blaze of glory to complete that work of restoration, but who first came as a small pinprick of light in a stable in Bethlehem. For some, all they ever see is the pinprick of light at Christmas and for the rest of the year the Christian faith means little to them. For others, the light in the stable at Christmas is the dawning of the realisation of Christ in their lives, lives which continue to be changed, transformed and restored by His incarnation. We are called to point to that light, and reflect its transformation and glory in our lives.

The Christingle reminds us of that light which came into the world. The orange represents the world. The gospel writer John reminds us that ‘Jesus was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him’. (Jn 1 v 10 – 11). The red ribbon of the Christingle represents the blood of Jesus which was shed for us so that our sins may be forgiven. ‘But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin’. (1 Jn 1 v 7). The fruits and sweets on the four skewers represent God’s gifts to us, the fruits of the earth and the four seasons. ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’. (Gen 8 v 22). The lighted candle, pushed into the centre of the orange, represents Christ, the light of the world. ‘He [Jesus] said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.’ (John 8 v 12).

The coming of Christ at Christmas is an event for the universe. It is an event for history and an event for each of us in our daily lives. His teaching and His light penetrates the darkness of the Genesis world and our Genesis lives. It invites us to evaluate our lives and transform them in the light of His Advent and Christmas coming. Sam Cappleman

 

Hymns

  1. O come, O come Emmanuel
  2. Lord the light of your love is shining
  3. All Earth was dark
  4. Come thou long expected Jesus
  5. A messenger named Gabriel