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Advent 3

Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Advent 3 Year A, Colour = Purple

Related Material: Church Sermon Archive and Church Archive of Lectionary Material

Advent Candle 3Introduction

What do we do when we feel God lets us down?

Do you ever wonder why God allows certain things to happen? Do you get angry when good people suffer, or when the wicked seem to benefit from bad behaviour. The existence of suffering in the world is an enormous problem for all of those who put their trust in God and understandably some things make us question our faith.

In Matthew 11 John the Baptist had the same kind of doubts about Jesus. John the Baptist was in a remote prison, King Herod would soon have his head chopped off. Meanwhile Jesus was going around speaking words of comfort and forgiveness to the very 'chaff' whom John thought should be judged and burned up. What was the point of Jesus saying he would release the captives when John was still behind bars?
John the Baptist wanted Jesus to raise an army and take charge, just as we sometimes wish God would intervene and right the worlds wrongs. However Jesus never promised to set up a kingdom on this earth which would overcome evil. Indeed Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

The Kingdom of God will come in all of its fullness, but we have to wait. Those who put their trust in Jesus will not be protected from the evil which is still present in the world. This is obvious from the life Jesus himself lived which was not that of an earthly king, but instead walking the road to crucifixion.
So for now we must wait and trust in the promises of Jesus that he will come again and his kingdom of justice and peace will be established. We know this to be true, because His reign has already started in the hearts of those who know the love of God and the blessing of forgiveness.
 

Opening Verse of Scripture Luke Chapter 1:46

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

God of mercy and power, whose Son rules over all, grant us so to live in obedience to your holy will, that at his appearing we may be raised to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen Methodist Worship

God for whom we wait and watch, you sent your servant John the Baptist to prepare your people for the coming of the Messiah. Inspire the ministers and stewards of your truth to turn our disobedient hearts to you; that, when Christ shall come again in glory to be our judge, we may stand with confidence before him, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen. Methodist Worship

O Lord Jesus, 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.  Amen. Common Worship

God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Common Worship Shorter Collect
 

First Bible Reading   Isaiah Chapter 35:1-10

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD , the splendour of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. in the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
 

Second Reading  James Chapter 5:7-10

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord 
 

Gospel Reading  Matthew Chapter 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: " 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you. 11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

Post Communion Prayer

We give you thanks O Lord for these heavenly gifts; kindle in us the fire of your Spirit that when your Christ comes again we may shine as lights before his face: who is alive and reigns now and for ever. Amen


Commentary

What do we do when God is a disappointment?
 

In Acts Chapter 16 Paul and Silas are in prison. But not for long! By the super powerful work of the Holy Spirit an earthquake opened the prison doors and they walked free! So - is that what we can expect from God, someone who will always rescue and protect us? A short answer - no.
In the reading from Matthew Chapter 11 today, John the Baptist is in prison. Josephus (Ant.18.5.2)tells us that John was imprisoned at Machaerus, Herod's wilderness palace, East of the Dead Sea. It is from this remote prison that John begins to question within himself who Jesus is. Verse 3: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
 

We need to understand what was behind this loss of faith which in John had in Jesus. John the Baptist was a good man. He had no time for the wicked and he cared little for his personal safety. He was unafraid to take on the bad guys, even if that meant going head to head with King Herod himself. He would not bow to intimidation, threat or force. John was a special man, Luke's Gospel tells us that even before John and Jesus were born, Mary visited her relative Elizabeth, John's mother. Matthew tells us that when John preached, Jesus presented himself to John for baptism, and that after the baptism, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (3:17). But after the baptism of Jesus, John must have been devastated. He had called people to repent telling them that imminent judgement was at hand. "Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees." He saw bad people and believed that God was about to burn them with "unquenchable fire." This is good old traditional fire-and-brimstone stuff. But, instead of God swinging the axe, John finds himself locked up in prison. Surely if Jesus was the Messiah, then why was John behind bars? Ultimately John would be beheaded by Herod, did that mean that Jesus was a complete and utter failure? John wanted and expected a God of fire and brimstone and what he got was Jesus, who preached full and endless forgiveness to the very “chaff” John expected to see burned. Jesus had spectacularly failed to live up to expectations. Instead of calling down fire and brimstone, Jesus had been all too forgiving. He pronounced blessings on the poor in spirit, the meek, and peacemakers (5:1-11). He called his disciples to love their enemies (5:42-48). He warned disciples not to judge others (7:1-5). Jesus was more interested in healing than using that axe.
People like John wanted a powerful leader, a Messiah, who would restore the image of Israel. Jesus did show anger at some things, like hypocrisy. But his ministry was much more to be characterised by binding up the weak. Bringing the poor good news sounds quite dull compared to axe swinging justice, but Jesus was convinced, it was the poor, the oppressed, the broken-hearted, who really mattered to Jesus. Captives and prisoners were important but not necessarily the ones behind physical iron bars.
 

There are powerful lessons for us to learn today. The first and most obvious truth is that we can be really sincere in serving God and still get our heads chopped off. Loyal service and faithfulness to God does not make us immune from wickedness in the world. Yes, the Kingdom of Jesus is with us, but we still live in a very nasty world where dreadful things happen.
 

This brings us to the second truth. We can feel really badly let down by God when we come face to face with the reality of suffering and death. John the Baptist had to try and understand this paradox, the existence of a Saviour God and yet the ongoing presence of evil.
John wanted Jesus to explain why he had not done something to stop the rot. Today we might ask the same kind of question, if God exists then why does he allow good people to suffer? Jesus tells John that his power has a different way of working. The response of Jesus is to draw attention to the characteristics of his ministry "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
The ministry of Jesus is less about judgement and more about forgiveness. The implication is clear, if we put our trust in Jesus hoping for someone who will make bad things go away, we are sure to have our hopes dashed. Jesus is the leader who ended up on the cross. This might have implications for our prayers. Charles Royden
 

Meditation

On the 10th of December 1948 the United Nations adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. These excerpts show some of those rights, and we can think of people in different parts of the world who do not share our own experience of human rights being respected.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
No-one shall be held in slavery.
No-one shall be subjected to torture.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

Let us pray:
Lord, it’s good to be actively concerned about the abuses of human rights in other countries, but I must not lose sight of the mis-treatment of others closer to me. Most particularly, Lord, point out to me my own failings in lacking respect for those who come into my daily life. I readily condemn slavery, but help me to liberate those I know who are overburdened.
I condemn torture, but lead me to discourage the use of cruel words and actions to those I will meet today. Remind me that those who degrade others are themselves diminished. Enlighten me
so that I do not jump to conclusions about people, or be judgmental. Lead me always to respect individuals for who they are, realising that their experiences may be different from my own, as each follows paths in life that are particular to them. May I grow in appreciation that those who think differently from me can hold equally valid views. In these and other ways, Lord, may I grow in respect for all people. This day, may others respect me as much as I respect them. Amen

 

Hymns

  1. Joy to the world
  2. The trumpets sound
  3. Darkness like a cloud (See below)
  4. Christ be our light (See below)
  5. All earth was dark

 

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

All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayers for Advent and the week ahead.
Pour upon us, O Holy Spirit, your sevenfold gifts: of understanding that we may be enlightened; of counsel that we may follow in your footsteps; of courage that we may face the enemy; of knowledge that we may discern the good; of piety that we may be compassionate; of fear that we may draw back from evil, and of wisdom that we may taste the sweetness of your love. Amen St Bonaventure, 1217-1274

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, O Promised One: Once again we come to this time of Advent and await your presence. Give us patience to seek the meaning of these busy days. Give us courage to wait in times of pain and trouble. Give us the compassion to wait for one another. Give us the faith to wait for the Messiah when we are threatened by the Herods of this world. Give us the hope to wait for the Saviour even when we cannot hear the angels singing. Give us the love that does not wait when it meets Christ in our neighbour . Amen.

O God to those who have hunger give bread. And to us who have bread give the hunger for justice..
Modern prayer from Latin America

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out of the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action —
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) India.

Lord teach me to forgive with real forgiveness, which forgets even where the hatchet was buried.


 


    Additional Resources

Commentary

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
The passage from Isaiah is thought to have been written about the time of the Exile, and what the prophet is promising to his audience is vindication with a difference. The people have suffered much, and God promises to make their future glorious. In a sense, this is recompense for all that they have had to endure and put up with; but it goes far beyond that. The image which has been set in front of the people is one of the absence of fear for the frightened, one of sight returned for the blind, one of hearing restored for the deaf, and one of agility regained for the disabled. The prophet goes on to speak about the way back through the desert after liberation from Babylon, and then of peace, security and unity with all the created order, when God returns with his people to the land which he had originally promised to them.
Psalm 146 celebrates God, who is both the Creator and the Saviour of all. There is no distinction in the work of God: he both brings into being and he puts things right. This idea is found in the Magnificat, where the theme has been developed much further. The Magnificat also has a lot in common with the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, although Mary seemed to be able to take Hannah’s sentiments further. Whereas Hannah was content simply to note that God makes some people poor and other people wealthy, it is Mary who began to develop the idea of human redemption within the context of connections and mutuality; it is the poor who are raised in dignity as the greatness of the rich is put into perspective. This idea was also developed in the reading from the Epistle of James who urged patience for those who are poor, for the coming of the Lord will put to right all the grievances and injustices of life.
We should not be surprised that John the Baptist doubted whether Jesus was ‘the one who was to come’. According to the Gospel accounts, John had announced that Jesus was the one whom his disciples should follow, but the Kingdom of God had not yet dawned. John was in prison for having offended an unjust king and, as we know, his cause was to end in his death. So John wondered whether he had got it right, ‘Are you the one, or should we look for someone else?’
Jesus, the master teacher, never the dogmatist, did not answer the questions of John’s disciples directly, but invited them to look at what was going on. What they saw was precisely what the prophets had said would happen, and what the writers of the Psalms had sung: ‘the blind received their sight, the lame walked again, the lepers were healed, the deaf could hear again, those who had died were brought back to life, and the poor had the Good News brought to them. All these happenings had occurred in the previous chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Thus Jesus challenged John’s messengers, and thereby John himself, to consider the place of Jesus in the scheme of things: ‘… blessed is anyone who take's no offence at me.’
We cannot know what John made of all of these events, but his place in the divine scheme of things had already been assured. Because John had fulfilled his calling to be the messenger who ‘prepared the way’ for God’s coming he has to be considered as having a very special place in God’s plan. However, there is a further surprise in this passage, because we find it says, ‘(even) the least in the kingdom is greater than he’. What on earth could Jesus have meant? Could it mean that what is in store for all those who respond to God’s invitation to receive the promises of the Kingdom of God, will outdo, outstrip, and outshine anything and everybody which went before. If this so, then our riches are great indeed! The Reverend Peter Littleford

Meditation


Do you ever wonder why certain things can possibly happen if Jesus is God? Are you prepared to find God in the unexpected?

"A dear friend of mine who was quite a lover of the chase, told me the following story: 'Rising early one morning,' he said, 'I heard the baying of a score of deerhounds in pursuit of their quarry. Looking away to a broad, open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across, and giving signs, moreover, that its race was well-nigh run. Reaching the rails of the enclosure, it leaped over and crouched within ten feet from where I stood. A moment later two of the hounds came over, when the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. I felt, just then, that all the dogs in the West could not,and should not capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.' So is it, when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God. Well do I remember when the hounds of sin were after my soul, until, at last, I ran into the arms of Almighty God." -- A. C. DIXON.

Meditation: Choices

Many of you will have been watching ’Band of Brothers’ a television series depicting a group of American troops in World War II which concluded last week. Three weeks ago it showed events of this day in 1944, when the Germans started their last major counter-attack of the Second World War. They took advantage of heavy mists that lay over the Ardennes region on Germany’s border with Belgium and Luxembourg. The Germans were thought no longer capable of launching a major offensive, yet they managed to reach 50 miles within the Allied lines before they had to retreat. One of the leaders of the American forces of this “Battle of the Ardennes” (also called “The Battle of the Bulge”) was General Omar Bradley.
Some years after the end of the Second World War, and as some nations were spending vast amounts of money on stock-piling nuclear and other weapons, General Omar Bradley spoke the following words:
“We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom, and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace; more about killing than we do about living.”
General Omar Bradley mentioned the “Sermon on the Mount”. Those words of Jesus include the “Beatitudes”, which are a set of 8 statements of choices which lead to a person being happy or blessed. We can perhaps reflect and pray today, using the words of those Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Most holy and most loving Christ, let me behold your crown of thorns in every tear-filled eye; your bleeding and naked body in every suffering soul; your nail-pierced hands in every forgotten prisoner and your wounded feet in every lost and broken traveller; and take me to the place of my healing and theirs, even your holy cross. Amen. Thomas Traherne, 1637-1674

Hymns

Ding Dong
We really want to thank you Lord
Hark the glad sound
In the bleak mid-winter
What child is this (Tune Greensleeves)

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.

Lord, I believe in Thee, help Thou mine unbelief. 
I love Thee, yet not with a perfect heart as I would. 
I long for Thee, yet not with my full strength. 
I trust in Thee, yet not with my whole mind. 
Accept my faith, my love, my longing to know and serve Thee,
my trust in Thy power to keep me.
I wait Thy blessing.
Through Jesus Christ my Lord.
Malcolm Spencer
 

Grant unto me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know, to love what I ought to love, to praise what delights Thee most, to value what is precious in thy sight, to hate what is offensive to Thee. Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes, nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men, but to discern with true judgement between things visible and spiritual, and above all things to enquire what is the good pleasure of thy will. Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471.


Father in heaven! When the thought of thee wakes in our hearts let it not awaken like a frightened bird that flies about in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile. Søren Kierkegaard, 1813-55

Hymns


Darkness like a shroud

Darkness like a shroud covers the earth;
Evil like a cloud covers the people.
But the Lord will rise upon you,
And His glory will appear on you-
Nations will come to your light.

Arise, shine, your light has come,
The glory of the Lord has risen on you!
Arise, shine, your light has come,
Jesus the Light of the world has come.

Children of the light, be clean and pure.
Rise, you sleepers, Christ will shine on you.
Take the Spirit's flashing two-edged sword
And with faith declare God's mighty word;
Stand up and in His strength be strong.
Refrain

Here among us now, Christ the light
Kindles brighter flames in our trembling hearts.
Living Word, our lamp, come guide our feet
As we walk as one in light and peace,
Till justice and truth shine like the sun.
Refrain

Like a city bright so let us blaze;
Lights in every street turning night to day.
And the darkness shall not overcome
Till the fulness of Christ's kingdom comes,
Dawning to God's eternal day.
Refrain

 

Christ be our light

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.
Chorus

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church
Gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us
Make us your living voice.
Chorus

Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
Shared until all are fed.
Chorus

Longing for shelter people are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
Walls made of living stone.
Chorus

Many the gifts, many the people,
Many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
Making your kingdom come.
Chorus