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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Advent Sunday 2, Year C, Purple


Click here to see a copy of our Advent Wreath lighting ceremony

Introduction

The symbol of Jesus as a light is a frequent and powerful one, which recurs in the New Testament. Darkness is a time of danger and physical fear, and is also a time when inner fears can dominate us. God understands all of the things which we are worried about as frail humans, the things which we dread – perhaps we are worried about our health, the loss of a loved one, maybe we fear being alone or losing our homes. Jesus is the promise that the darkness will never take us over, that He will be with us in our darkest place of fear and will offer us the love which triumphs over suffering and evil. The Christingle candles, which we light in Church this morning, remind us of the coming of the Light of the World at Christmas, and we rejoice at God’s most perfect gift to us.

Opening Verse of Scripture—Luke Chapter

'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

God of 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 Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on 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

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.   Common Worship

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

First Bible Reading Malachi Chapter 3:1-4

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Second Reading Philippians Chapter 1:3-11


I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.

Gospel Reading Luke Chapter 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene--during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.'" 


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.

Commentary

At my first Christingle service I found decorating oranges a bit strange and wondered what on earth was going on. It didn’t take long for me to realise that this was actually a great way to tell others and remind ourselves of some important truths. The first Christingle (a candle wrapped in ribbon) was introduced by Bishop Johannes de Watteville in Marienborn, Germany, in 1747 as a way of explaining to young children the importance of Jesus and it is just as helpful today for children and adults alike. The celebratory Christingle service is usually held between Advent (late November) and Candlemas (early February), we usually celebrate at the beginning of December. In 1968, John Pensom of The Children’s Society adapted Christingle and introduced the symbol we use today—an orange encircled by red ribbon holding a candle, dried fruit and sweets.

Christingle remains a great way to visualise important spiritual truths because the symbolism of the orange and the candle is a powerful one. As the Christingle candle burns over the orange it represents the light of Jesus over the world and reminds us that Jesus was proclaimed not only the ‘light of the world’ but also that those who followed him would not walk in darkness.

Make no mistake our world is a place of darkness. As we pass through this Advent we will hear much talk of the unexpected repercussions of Brexit and the election of an equally unexpected outsider as U.S. president. As we go forward with elections across Europe we are aware that there is nothing normal anymore and the world is a very volatile and sometimes frightening place. How our political upheavals will all work out is a mystery, hopefully it will not be as bad as some people fear. However the one thing we can say with certainty is that with such things as the atrocities of the camps in North Korea, the crucifixion of Christians by Isis and the systematic slaughter of thousands in Syria, the world remains a very dark place.
It is in this season of Advent, amidst the darkness of our world that we are reminded of the enduring promises of God. Jesus was born into circumstances equally uncertain and dark, and his birth bears witness to the enduring reliability of God’s promise. Today we remember words spoken by John the Baptist and others across generations who have recognised in Jesus God’s unrelenting commitment to our world.

During this season of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and Candlemas, we prepare for and celebrate the arrival of Jesus, who is God incarnate (God ‘in the flesh’). Jesus brings light and hope into a world of darkness, and we are entrusted to listen and respond to the message he brought so that our lives can be transformed and we can help bring that message to others.

In the darkness of our world John the Baptist called God’s people to bear fruit worthy of repentance, this is how God brings his light into the world to help dispel the darkness. John calls us to make the necessary changes in our lives that will allow that "kingdom of heaven" to take root and flourish. It’s time, John insists, for us to look at the world around us and do something. On a personal level it is about asking God to show us how we may be changed for the better, ‘healed’ in the sense of being more complete people at peace with ourselves and one another. As a community we need to consider those larger issues which are of importance not just to us but our world. How can we allow people to be hungry when we have food, displaced children to be refused a home ? When John urges people "Repent!" he means that they have to be sorry for the past, but also that they cannot sit on the side-lines waiting for somebody else to do what they should be doing themselves. When Jesus blessed the peacemakers he was issuing a call for his followers to be actively involved in making peace. He calls us today to be his agents for change in the world. Charles Royden

Meditation

Walk softly, as you go through Christmas, That each step may bring you down the starlit path, to the manger bed. Talk quietly, as you Speak of Christmas that you shall not drown out the glorious song of angels . Kneel reverently as you pause for Christmas, That you may feel again the Spirit of the Nativity, rekindled in your soul. Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas Path, That you may serve more fully, the one whose birth we hail.
 

Hymns

  1. O come o come Immanuel
  2. On Jordan's bank
  3. There’s a sound on the wind
  4. What child is this
  5. Down from his glory
  6. Lo, He comes on clouds descending

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Out of the embrace of mercy and righteousness, you have brought forth joy and dignity for your people, O Holy One of Israel. Remember now your ancient promise: make straight the paths that lead to you, and smooth the rough ways, that in our day we might bring forth your compassion for all humanity. Amen.

O God, our Heavenly Father, give us a vision of our world as your love would make it:
A world where the weak are protected and none go hungry or poor;
A world where the benefits of civilised life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
A world where different races, nations and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect;
A world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love;
And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
St Martin-in-the-Fields prayer for the world
Cartoon Picture of St Benedict

Saint Benedict : Prayer for Guidance

O gracious and holy Father, Give us wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you, diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you, eyes to see you,
a heart to meditate on you, and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.

God of the day and of the night,
in me there is darkness, but with you there is light.
I am alone, but you will not leave me.
I am weak, but you will come to my help.
I am restless, but you are my peace.
I am in haste, but you are the God of infinite patience.
I am confused and lost, but you are eternal wisdom and you direct my path; now and for ever. Amen
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945


The Sacred heart of Jesus.
Whilst not to the taste of everybody, the image of the sacred heart has inspired centuries of devotion to Jesus

Love of the heart of Jesus, inflame my heart
Charity of the heart of Jesus, flow into my heart
Strength of the heart of Jesus, support my heart
Mercy of the heart of Jesus, pardon my heart
Patience of the heart of Jesus, grow not weary of my heart
Kingdom of the heart of Jesus, be in my heart
Wisdom of the heart of Jesus, teach my heart
Will of the heart of Jesus, guide my heart
Zeal of the heart of Jesus, consume my heart
Immaculate Virgin Mary, pray for me to the heart of Jesus
From a Walsingham prayer book

Additional Resources

Commentary

 

 

In his Gospel Luke the historian dates the events which are taking place, they are located in a historical setting ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius.’ It was customary to begin historical narratives by dating them according to the years of rulers and officials, both in Greco-Roman and Old Testament historiography. Luke shows John preaching somewhere between September of AD 27 and October AD 28. We know that John is a real historical person and God’s word is not other worldly, fit only for a heavenly country, it is rooted in life. Within a decade the historian Josephus also wrote about John ‘surnamed the Baptist’ (Ant 18.116) whom Herod had put to death. We know that Herod’s army was subsequently destroyed by Aretas, his former father-in-law, an event that many took to be God’s vengeance for his killing of John. Sixty years later Josephus still recalled John’s popularity with the people.
‘He had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism…. when others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degrees by his sermons, Herod became alarmed (Ant 18.117-118)

It is good to read these things about John from outside the bible, historical accounts of the impact which he made when he preached his sermons on social ethics, the need for radical change and this insistence on the all important baptism as a sign. At the time, non Jews who wished to convert to Judaism were required to immerse themselves in water to remove their impurity as Gentiles, but John sees that all need to repent and so even Jews must submit to baptism.

As it is important to recognise the historical setting in which John the Baptist preached, this also has the effect of placing Jesus within a historical framework. John is not the main act, he is the opening announcement of one who is of much more significance, it is none other than God who is entering human history.

John called for a radical change in lifestyle and behaviour. On this second Sunday of Advent we too are challenged to fundamental change. The reading from Malachi is exceptionally strong on the need for reform of character, the writer speaks of the need for nothing short of a refiners fire, burning away impurity. In Philippians we read of the need to carry on to completion and becoming ‘pure and blameless.’ An old way of life is to be set aside in order to enjoy the fruits of righteousness. So John the Baptist tells how an old way of life must be put aside, preparation for the coming of Christ would require a major change of heart, not just a token gesture or a cosmetic touch up. Change of life would be evidenced in the bearing of ‘fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is unsurprising that John announces his message in the desert, the place of encounter with God. The Jewish people had been called to cross the desert to come into the promised land, now people were once more being called out into the desert. Deserts are quiet places, the noise and distraction of the city is lost in the stillness. Those who seek God are taken away from the temple, and confronted by an uncompromising challenge to be different away from the temptation and distraction around them.
Luke records how John the Baptist imagines that this change in people will be substantial not superficial. When Jesus enters a life there is such movement that the very geography can be seen to change, valleys will be lifted up, mountains made low, the entire panorama will be different.

John used shocking language. Vipers such as the Nicander’s Viper, were commonly thought to eat their way out of their mother’s womb. When John called the crowd ‘Viper’s offspring’ it was even nastier than calling them vipers ! It would have been unbelievable to his hearers to listen to John use such words towards Jewish people who thought that they were saved by virtue of their descent from Abraham. John is clear, there is no substitute for radical change for everyone.

Whatever doubts John may have subsequently had about Jesus, Jesus had no such reservations about John. He even calls him both more than a prophet and the ’greatest person ever born.’ Jesus speaks of John as one who fulfils the role of an Elijah figure preparing the way. Of course the appearance of John belied his importance, Jesus noted how people did not go out to see a fashion icon when they went out to see John. He wore rough scruffy clothes, unlike people such as Herod Antipas who wore royal clothes. Herod Antipas had a reed as an emblem on his coins before AD26, a fact which Jesus would surely have known. Jesus contrasted the two people Herod and John. Herod looked the part in his fancy garments, but he was a weak reed blowing in the wind, John was not prepared to bend with the political wind, he had courage and inner qualities in spite of his rough outward appearance. Still today we hear people ridiculed in public life because their appearance is not thought to be suitably fashionable.

Advent is this time when we too are called to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Jesus will fulfil his promises and invites us to radical change. Isaiah had spoken of mountains being levelled and valleys filled. Mountains and valleys which separate and divide us from one another and God must be levelled out. Do we not like John yearn for this time of change when God will transform our conflicted world? It is worth remembering by the beheading which caused the death of John, that the world has always been a bloody brutal place. People are no better or worse than they have ever been. Today as then our minds are scarred by scenes of violence such as those which we have seen played out across the world from Paris to California. We long for the real change which can only come in the kingdom of God.
We should draw a lesson of hope from John. The passage today begins with a list of evil men
Tiberius Caesar, who took the title ‘divine son’
Pontius Pilate who failed to save Jesus
Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and
Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene--
The high priests Annas and Caiaphas who plotted the death of Jesus

This is like a list of some of the worst people who could possibly be alive. Tiberius Caesar, Pilate and Herod believed that they were in charge and not God, indeed Caesar thought he was a god. Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas all play significant roles in the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet John preaches change and his message is an optimistic one that change will come,
"A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.'"

John spells out the ethical requirements for repentance. It requires bearing fruit worthy of repentance, such as sharing with those in need (3:1) .When tax collectors and soldiers ask what they must do, John tells them to deal honestly with people and not to abuse their power (3:13-14)
At Advent we are reminded that God is seeking to work in us and through us to bring about change. We are called to be a part of this change in every positive action we make, turning from selfish motivation towards the needs of others. It is as we do this that God’s kingdom grows and we made ready to welcome our coming Saviour. Charles Royden

 

Commentary

Today we read about John the Baptist who stood in the desert and proclaimed that the Messiah was coming; he wanted people to make ready their lives for the coming of Jesus. In Advent we are encouraged to remember not just that Jesus came as our Saviour born a baby in Bethlehem, but also that Jesus has promised that he will come again as our judge.
It is because Jesus is coming again that we need to be prepared, in a sense we are all called to be like John the Baptist, proclaiming the Advent of Jesus and calling for his way to be made ready.
In 1944, 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.

  • 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.
  • Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In a way General Omar Bradley was being like John the Baptist. He challenged people to think differently. The Beatitudes for example are a complete reversal of normal human standards: God’s ways are different from many of the accepted norms of society, and that has always been the case. Society has never thought that the meek were blessed, or that there was blessing in mourning or poverty.
This Christmas we must all try to think of ways in which we can be prepared and help prepare the way of the Lord; be modern day John the Baptists. It may be that we have to ring somebody up and try and rebuild broken relationships. It might be that we can offer some of our time to support community groups or a charitable organisation.

John had a message directed very forcefully towards the religious people, it was for them that he saved his most vehement statements. 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 Jesus were always strongest to those who were most religious. 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? How many Christians have slipped into a non-threatening cosy religion, like an old pair of slippers which fits 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. How else could our churches find themselves so full of our intolerance, bigotry, envy, argument, etc.. John the Baptist would be speaking to us this morning, to ask 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 your religion he wants much more.

As Christians we are challenged this morning to look at our spiritual nature and ask to what extent God's likeness is apparent in us. If people looked at us would they be reminded of God? This is what John the Baptist means when he tells us to make our paths straight. The Kingdom is not a far off event, as caricatured in the jokes of the pearly gates. 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

We do not know huge amounts about John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. We know that he ate insects and that he conducted his ministry ‘on the other side of the Jordan.’ This means Perea, one of the territories controlled by Herod Antipas. Josephus the Jewish historian tells us that John was later imprisoned in the fortress Machaerus in the same region. So we find that John is arrested in the same place in which he conducts his faithful ministry.
This fact would not be lost on people who knew about John the Baptist. We are told by Matthew that Jesus said ‘John did not blow with the wind’. The point that Jesus was making was that John was a man of principle. He told the truth as he saw it and he was not prepared to water it down to avoid offending anybody.
He is clearly not an ambitious man, he had no designs on one of the top jobs back in Jerusalem. Instead he spoke his mind freely without fear or desire for favour and the people flocked out to hear him, attracted by his honesty and integrity. Subsequently he was killed by Herod for this very fact.

John called for obedience to God and he demonstrated that this was a costly commitment. The Christian community came to know that the way of the Lord was the ‘via dolorosa’, a way of the cross. Many of the Christians who read this Gospel would also be executed for their message and mission.

John is the first to proclaim God's kingdom. He announces it not in the Temple but in the desert the place where the faith of so many before had been tested and a place where people like Moses had encountered God. The Jewish people had built a Temple but they were called back to the desert across which they had come into the promised land. The average person can only go a couple of day in the wilderness without water. The prophets use the desert as a metaphor for estrangement from God, it is frightening, lonely and dangerous, yet it is to here that John calls the people for renewal. Perhaps that is where God still wants to meet us, in the place where we are stripped of distractions and ready and anxious to listen. In the desert all our facades are removed.

There was confusion as to who John was. People asked him "Are you Elijah?" That might seem a strange question. The prophet Elijah had lived around 900 years previously, and tradition had it that he never actually died, but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. ( 2 Kings 2:9-12). In the last verses of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi prophesied his return (Malachi 4:5-6), so people might have suspected that this was some miraculous return. Jesus said John was 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.'

This Sunday in Advent is a time in which we should all hear the words of John the Baptist and search within ourselves and ask the difficult questions which he posed. Are we prepared to be challenged about ourselves and our ideas and our behaviour. When John the Baptist told people to make straight paths for God, he meant that we should be constructing a different type of society, and that we should be constructing within ourselves hearts which care for others.
We have a natural tendency to grow complacent with what we are. John asks us to be able to question ourselves. So is yours a heart which is really under construction, or have you decided that now you are fine and need no more attention?

We all have roads which need to be made straight. So John calls afresh to change the landscape of our personal lives and more importantly of our communities.

Quite rightly people asked John to give them specific concrete examples of the kind of lifestyle changes he was preaching about. 'what shall we do' they said.

He told them -
If you have two coats share one of them with somebody who has no coat.
The same with food, share it around
He told tax collectors not to take more than was their due, stealing and taking too much money was bad.
They were told not to be violent or make false accusations against others.
These are not specific to the time of John the Baptist, they are eternal values of justice and compassion. Not one of the people who came out to John, apart from Jesus, was ready for the coming of the Messiah, they all had work to do on their lives. You and I are just the same.

And so preparing for Advent means facing introspective questions about whether our religion is skin deep, to what extent we are devoted to ourselves or to others, whether we are living good or bad lives, how much we care for the poor, the weak, the sick or the stranger, the old. Am I a compassionate person, a caring person, how can I do more to contribute towards the needs of others? Charles Royden

Meditation

"In Praise and Thanksgiving," "In a world that assumes the status is quo, that things have to be the way they are and that we must not assume too much about improving them, the doxologies of God's people are fundamental indicators that wonders have not ceased, that possibilities not yet dreamt of will happen, and that hope is an authentic stance." Patrick D. Miller, Jr.

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. ‘
The quotation is from Isaiah 40:3-5, where the prophet is calling people to prepare for the Lord's visitation. If a king were planning to travel, work crews would be dispatched to repair the roads. Ideally, the roads for the king's journey would be straight, level, and smooth. John calls people to repent as a way of preparing their hearts and lives for the Lord's visit. A smooth road means nothing to God, but a repentant heart means a great deal. In our churches, we must take care lest we give people the impression that the most important work of the church is meeting a budget, constructing a building, or developing a successful program. Those are all worthy goals, and there is no reason not to pursue them. The truly important goal, however, is preparing hearts to receive the Lord. It is a difficult goal to measure, and we cannot draft charts that track souls saved per hours preached. Nevertheless, as we build buildings and implement programs, we must remember that the really important work of the church happens at some other, less visible, less measurable, level. It is the work of the Spirit. Our most important contribution to this most important work is prayer and the development of our own devotional life. If we have prepared our hearts to receive the Lord's visit, we are ready to help others to do the same. taken from www.lectionary.org

 

Commentary

The prophecy of Malachi is one of the shortest of the prophecies in the Old Testament but it contains one of the very well known passages of the Bible (thanks in part to Mr Handel and ‘The Messiah.’)

It is a book which certainly has resonance with today —the people of Israel appear to be living in a period of reasonable prosperity after their return from exile, but their society continues to exhibit social problems. Men are accused of divorcing their wives so as to take younger partners, for example. Malachi couches his prophecy in the form of a dialogue between the people and God, in which the people make statements or ask questions and Malachi replies on behalf of God.

Chapter 1:2 begins, An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi."I have loved you," says the LORD. "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' The passage today is a response to that comment that the people have wearied God with their talk, by saying all evil doers are good in the eyes of the lord and asking where is the God of justice. When evil seems to prosper without restraint, when pious people find no reality in worship and are content to offer less than their best to God, the reality of God’s judgement is called into question. God either does not see the abuses or does not care. And the cry that God and his angels are asleep has been repeated many times over the ages. And so the reply is couched in terms of temple worship—the lord will come, preceded by his messenger, traditionally identified as Jesus, who will cleanse and refine, making all pure.

One of the traditional pictures of the relationship of people to God is that of the difficulty experienced by imperfect, sinful people unable to cope with the purity of the divine and so the refining, the purifying which the Gospel promises is a way of making it possible for people to exist in the presence of God. So Malachi offers us a picture of hope, but a picture of challenge. carrying on as we are will not do. In a rather different way, but no less challenging, another messenger brings an equally forthright message in the Gospel. John proclaims the need for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

A little later we read him using such words as ’vipers brood’ and reminding people it is not sufficient to mouth the words if they do not reflect the state of the heart. Jesus also reminds people a little later in the same Gospel that many will say ’Lord, Lord,’ and will not be recognised for the same reasons. However the picture is not all bleak. Luke takes his readers back to Isaiah’s great promise that ‘all humankind shall see God’s deliverance.’ For those who in his day would listen, he reminds them that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by prophecy, something which had been missing from the life of Israel for four centuries.

It is all too easy as we get carried away by the rituals of Christmas, and the joy of the Christ child, to forget the sharper side of the Gospel. God’s promises embodied in the life and death of that baby are for all men and women—but they demand a response from us even if it has to be couched in the words of that worried father ‘Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.’ perhaps a further reminder comes with the fact that this Sunday is Human Rights Sunday. If human rights are to become a reality for everybody, then this will place demands upon our lives. We are equipped to respond by the Holy Spirit of that God who refines and makes the rugged ways smooth, and shows his deliverance to all people. John Stubbs

Prayers for Sunday

God, when we pray for peace, show us again and again that there can be no peace without justice and the renewal of integrity. When we are tempted to retreat into sentimental peace of mind, stir within us the passion of justice which Amos had, the social vision of Isaiah, the internal courage of Jeremiah and the personality of Hosea. The God, within the struggle for righteousness and equality, for wholeness and honesty, come to us with a special greeting which you alone can provide, dispelling our fears, cancelling our guilt, refreshing our spirits; the welcome, the peace, of your son Jesus Christ our Risen God.

Out of meaninglessness, God calls us Our of brokenness, God calls us to wholeness Out of division, God calls us to community Out of tears, God calls us to laughter Out of self-centredness, God calls us to love Out of death, God calls us to life….

O God, who did prepare of old the minds and hearts of people for the coming of your Son, and whose Spirit ever works to illumine our darkened lives with the light of the Gospel, prepare now our minds and hearts that Christ may dwell in us and ever reign in our thoughts and affections as the King of love and the very Prince of Peace. Grant this, we pray for his sake. Amen.

Almighty God who in many and various ways didst speak to thy chosen people by the prophets, and has given us, in thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of the hope of Israel: hasten we beseech thee, the coming of the day when all things shall be subject to him, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Church of South India

Hymns for Sunday

  1. O come, O come Emmanuel
  2. How lovely on the mountains
  3. The holly and the ivy
  4. Jesus the saviour comes
  5. Come thou long expected Jesus
  6. You are the king of glory
  7. From heaven you came
  8. Hail to the Lord's anointed
  9. Long ago prophets knew
  10. On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
  11. Be known to us in breaking bread
  12. Thy kingdom come, O God.
  13. O come o come Immanuel
  14. There’s a sound on the wind
  15. What child is this
  16. Down from his glory
  17. Lo, He comes on clouds descending