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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Advent Sunday 3 Year C, Purple


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Church at ChristmasIntroduction

Not everybody will be having a wonderful Christmas. There are some people with loved ones in hospital and their journey each day is to visit the sick, not shop in crowded streets. There are others who cannot be happy because of the loss of somebody dear to them and Christmas just makes missing them feel so much worse. Then of course there are others who feel miserable that they cannot enjoy Christmas because it all seems to cost so much money and there just isn't enough to go around. 

Our Bible readings this week for our Christingle service remind us that Christ came as a light. The one things for certain about that - is that he expected to find darkness. Jesus is no stranger to pain and suffering, or indeed poverty and hatred from others. If you are feeling miserable this Christmas then perhaps it is time to listen afresh to the words of the one who promises real light, in the midst of what can be a decidedly dark world.

 Are you ready for the coming of Jesus?

Opening Verse of Scripture James 1:1-17

‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

O Lord Jesus Christ, 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 Zephaniah Chapter 3:14-20

Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." "The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you; I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes," says the LORD.

Second Reading Philippians Chapter 4:4-7

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Gospel Reading Luke Chapter 3:7-18

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For 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." "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay." The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

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.

Commentary: Advent 3

What was John the Baptist doing when he took on this very public ministry of proclamation?

John was evidently making a bold pronouncement about Jesus, he was if you like 'advertising.' His was 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 'unchurched.' Whoever invented that horrible word and can you ever imagine it on the lips of Jesus ! The teachings of Jesus 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 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? Do are children have any good cause if they think that our church services are completely dull? 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 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, you supply a few more suitable vices.

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 your religion he wants much more. Even the Old Testament prophets told the people that God was fed up with sacrifices and wanted love and mercy and changed behaviour. The same message is as valid today as it ever was.

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 charicatured 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.

Meditation

Other people’s fears often seem pretty silly to us. I loathe butterflies and moths, but if you are not concerned about them yourself, then it will seem stupid to you. My friend is terrified of sharks and can’t even be in the room when they are on television, but they don’t bother me. Yet phobias are real. Human fears and anxieties are also real, but again if they aren’t troubling you, then they can also seem trivial. To try and understand the worries of others is crucial to loving them as God calls us to. We are told we must try to love one another as we love ourselves. So we must try and enter into the inner fears that our friends confide to us. We must all learn to listen with real sympathy to other people’s worries and problems. Joan Crossley

 

Hymns

Ding Dong (bransle de L'official)
Lord the light (Shine Jesus Shine)
The orange of Christingle (Tune Holly and Ivy)
Do not be afraid (Do not be afraid, Markham)
In the bleak mid-winter (Cranham)

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Lord, the gifts of your grace seemed to pass me by as I dwelt in darkness. But now in your light I find your touch is sure, your mercy evident. Amen. (Brian Frost)

May God who is light shine in your darkness.
May God who is love be the love between you.
May God who is life be your life everlasting. Amen

Almighty God, your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world. May your people shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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.

Almighty God,
whose dear Son went not up to joy
before he suffered pain,
and did not enter into glory
before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we,
walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life
and peace; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen
William R Huntingdon, 1838-1909
 

Additional Resources
 

Meditation

Wilderness is the place of Moses,
a place of no longer captive and not yet free, of letting go and learning new living.
Wilderness is the place of Elijah,
a place of silence and loneliness, of awaiting the voice of God and finding clarity
Wilderness is the place of John,
a place of repenting, of taking first steps on the path of peace.
Wilderness is the place of Jesus,
a place of preparation of getting ready for the reckless life of faith.
We thank you, God, for the wilderness. Wilderness is our place. As we wait for the land of promise, teach us new ways of living, lead us to where we hear your word most clearly, renew us and clear out the wastelands of our lives, prepare us for life in the awareness of Christ’s coming when the desert will sing and the wilderness blossom as the rose.
Francis Brienen

Thoughts on John the Baptist for Advent 3

The passage today from Matthew’s Gospel today reminds us of John the Baptist. That wonderful prophetic figure who came proclaiming the coming of the Jesus. It is a challenging passage for many reasons but this morning I want us to consider how it makes us think about where and how God is at work in the world.

So let me ask you a question, where do you see God at work ?

Some people might say that we don’t really see God very much at all. Certain types of people might say that the world is in a dreadful mess and God is absent. They would point to all manner of unbelief, the dwindling Christian congregations and feel very down in the dumps.

John the Baptist was somebody who had high hopes for what God was going to do in the world. He proclaimed that wonderful things were going to take place with Jesus, but then he looked at Jesus and found him to be a great disappointment.

A lot has to do with how we see God at work in the world

A major themes in this part of the Book of Matthew is the problem of unbelief among Jesus people.

  • Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum face a day of judgment (11:20-23)
  • The Pharisees oppose him (12:1-6)
  • He is rejected in the synagogue (12:9-14)

But much, much worse, John the Baptist has doubts!

John was very disappointed with Jesus

John was really disappointed with Jesus. John had said that God was going to do a whole lot of judgement and punish the wicked. Instead he had been incarcerated in prison. Why had Jesus not roused a rebellion and overthrown the wicked and unjust? We can perhaps sympathise with John. He was a man waiting for God to work in certain ways and Jesus had failed to live uo so his expectations.

Jesus has not taken an axe to any trees, and has not burned any "chaff" with "unquenchable fire." 
He has not led a revolt, nor caused any prison walls to fall.

No wonder that John asks.. "Are you the coming one, or should we look for another?"

John associated God with certain types of action, judgement, punishment. Jesus was very different and instead of judging people he met he understood them and preached forgiveness. It was the opposite of what John expected.

I was listening last week to an interview with Robi Damelin. She is an Israelie woman whose son david was called up to serve in the army. He never wanted to go but he of course had to and he found himself on a checkpoint where he was shot by a Palestinian sniper. The sniper has since been caught and is imprisoned. We might expect Robi Damelin to be very angry and want justice to be shown in punishment for this man who killed her son. Instead she works for peace and reconciliation and has written to the man expressing her forgiveness for him. She has said that she would like him released in exchange for an Israeli soldier.

It was interesting listening to her speak and to hear he understanding for what had caused the killer of her son to be the way that he was. She said the forgiveness is willingly giving up you right to justice.

Of course this is the kind of model which Jesus lived out in his life and it is disconcerting and we do not expect it from God. Yet it is an astonishing glimpse of the divine attitude towards humanity. We might expect God to work in certain ways but looking at Jesus we realise that God is not like us, our expectations are going to need to change.

This was the case for John the Baptist. He expected thunder and lighting, the wrath of God from above and Jesus said he had to see God in other ways.

Jesus’ said, 
“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.”

John was thinking of the kingdom in earthly terms, in terms of power and authority. If this was the Kingdom of God then Jesus was spectacularly failing.

Jesus as we have shown was the rejected the lowly, the weak. But what Jesus was doing was starting a different way of looking at things, a new set of values

In a sense this was not something new, the way of God is described over and over again by the prophets:

  • Take care of society’s most vulnerable (the widow, the orphan, the immigrant);
  • Limit the gap between rich and poor (the Year of Jubilee),
  • Do not use power to further the narrow self-interest of yourself and your friends;
  • Do not accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor.

So when John’s disciples question Jesus, he answers in language they both understand

  • The blind receive their sight,
  • The lame walk,
  • The lepers are cleansed.

This is the way of God—definitely not the human way of establishing your authority. John was expecting Jesus to do something different, the result was that the Messiah was there in front of him but he never saw.

So what does this teach us today ?

Are we often looking for Jesus in the wrong place?

Let me give some examples

  • We would see signs of God active in the world if the Church was growing fast. We would see signs of God in terms of human success.
  • We expect to see Jesus in religious places. When there are beautiful religious building people often look for God.
  • Perhaps personally we would see God if our prayers were answered the way that we want

This is often a mistake which we make.

  • Lots of people coming to church is not necessarily a sign of God. Even Jesus did not have lots of people at the end of his ministry and he was frequently sent packing.
  • Jesus showed that the religious places were sometimes the very last places to find God. He was born in a stable. God does not need to be surrounded by stained-glass windows and organ music?
  • What about prayers, well , God is not Santa Claus and we should not expect God to just give us things we want, that is not prayer

Conclusion
Some folks are still looking for signs of God in the way that John the Baptist was, and like John the Baptist they will be disappointed. If we want a Messiah with earthly success then we will always be disappointed.

The life of Jesus shows us that he acts unexpectedly,

  • He is born in a stable, not a nice religious place - very unexpected
  • He spends his life with the lost and the lonely, not establishing a powerful following
  • He preached forgiveness and God’s compassion, not punishment
  • He dies on a cross rather than killing wrongdoers.

All of this is unexpected

Yet Jesus is God and this is how God works. God is at work all round us, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Surely he is at work in Robi

So we have to look for Jesus at work in unexpected places.

It is rather like when Jesus told he would reward those who visited him when he was sick and in prison. They said but we never saw you sick, or in prison. and jesus said yes you did. When you look after those without clothes, those who are hungry, those who are sick, you look after me.

God is at work all around us and so often we fail to see, just because we are looking for

In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000+ commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro. Except it wasn't an ordinary day. The violinist wasn't just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest concert violinists, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston's Symphony Hall with people paying $100/seat to hear him play similar pieces.

Now this challenges us to ask questions of ourselves of where we see Jesus, where we see God at work in our world. Do we walk past sometimes unawares? We need to be prepared to recognise God in unusual and unexpected places. Perhaps all we have to do is open our eyes. Amen

Commentary

Biblical timescale, or put another way, God’s calendar is not like ours. The early church lived in the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return, which we know now was not to be the case. And the prophets had promised the Messiah and people were awaiting his coming, for God had made known his way through the prophets. But prophecy had been silent for four centuries. The coming of John the Baptist, appearing dramatically in the Judean wilderness was like the proverbial bolt from the blue. This was the prophet who was to prepare the way for God’s decisive action, the signal of the coming of the New Age, the coming of the End Time. St. Luke underlines this fact by describing John’s call in the same words as the calls of the earlier prophets as well as by setting John’s coming in its historical framework.

John came to a people who were convinced of their status. Judgement would fall on the Gentiles, when the kingdom came, but the Sons of Abraham would escape by virtue of their birthright. But John demanded that everyone repent, effectively excommunicating the whole nation. Furthermore his message was emphasised by virtue of the fact that he did not preach in Jerusalem but out in the desert. It was a clear break with current Judaism.
The sign of being a child of Abraham was circumcision. The sign of membership of the new order was repentance and baptism, and that baptism was expected to show a deep inner change of heart.

The call to repentance was not in one sense revolutionary. People were encouraged to think about their lives and to begin to live them with honesty and integrity, not abusing their positions or exploiting their neighbours. It was a call which echoed the prophets who over the years had in God’s name demanded justice and a care for the poor, the widows and the fatherless. And by coming to baptism in Jordan Jesus had endorsed that call, as he continued to do throughout his ministry. John’s challenge to lifestyle is still relevant today for us, and the true enjoyment and rejoicing at Christmas should perhaps be grounded in a fresh re-ordering of our priorities and actions in our daily lives. The good news John preached to the people comes out of such re-ordering. John Stubbs

 

No soul on this road is such a giant that it does not often need to become a child at the breast again. ... For there is no state of prayer, however sublime, in which it is not necessary often to go back to the beginning. 16th-century Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila

Commentary

 

In this week's gospel text, the mantle of divine mission slips off the shoulders of one of God's servants and onto the back of another. After John the Baptist describes the distinctions between himself and the coming Messiah, Jesus himself appears on the scene. With the event of his baptism, Jesus enters into the first phase of his ministry, while John, his mission of preparation and warning now at a close, is to be imprisoned by the tetrarch Herod.

Luke devotes more time and space to John's message than do any of the other gospels. He goes into greater detail about the nature of John's proclamations and gives the Baptist a wider audience to preach before. Luke divides John's message into three distinct parts, adding a new layer of depth to the usual firebrand preaching we associate with this enthusiastic prophet of the Messiah. Verses 7-9 outline the heart of John's message of repentance. It is in these verses that Luke expands the audience listening to John to a general crowd. Verses 10-14 give the heart of John's social message. This tradition is lost in the other gospels, making this material unique to Luke. It surprises us to hear the spitfire in the hair shirt giving thoughtful job counselling to the newly baptised tax collectors and soldiers. With compassion and calm insight, Luke's John provides a way for these individuals to maintain their professional identities while they enflesh their new faith.

Verses 15-18 contain the heart of John's preachings about the Messiah. His words are a response to those who might mistakenly identify him as the Messiah, instead of the messenger. That John had been effective, persuasive and productive in his efforts thus far is evident from Luke's description of the people who heard him. They were "filled with expectation," excitedly looking for the Messiah to arrive at any moment. In fact, the whispering of their hearts and their neighbours hints that perhaps John himself is actually that One.

In verse 16, John squelches the rumours and innuendo swirling about him and makes a public announcement - he answers "all of them" at once. John distinguishes himself from the coming Messiah by comparing their identities, their ministries, and their missions. The Messiah John reveals will be far more "powerful." John baptises as a common man - with common water - and like the common man he is, John declares himself not even worthy to perform a slave's duties for this promised Messiah (untying the thong of his sandal).While John's ministry was defined by the baptism of simple water, the ministry of this powerful Messiah will be a baptism of "the Holy Spirit and fire."

Emphasis on the Holy Spirit is characteristic of Luke's writings - both in his gospel and in Acts. For Luke, the experience of the Holy Spirit is what defines Christians and Christianity. It is the presence that testifies to the individual's or the congregation's participation in the Christ-body community.

Finally John points to the mission of the Messiah, to contrast it with his own. While John may proclaim an impending age of judgement, the Messiah will actually bring it about. John's image of the flailing winnowing fork and the flying chaff depict a time of whirling turmoil. The age for talk is past, the time for action is here, as the promised Messiah dives into the frantic pace of the harvest season. There is no time for further reflection, John insists; the threshing floor must be cleared, the good wheat must be gathered, and the chaff must be quickly and completely burned. Any farmer knows that once the harvest is underway, speed is of the essence. Any grain left too long after it is cut will rot and spoil; the full grains must be placed in the granary before they are targeted by rodents; the chaff must be burned before it ignites in spontaneous combustion. The time of judgement, warns John, will mark both the arrival of the Messiah and the speedy end of those found to be so much chaff.’

Prayers for Sunday

Almighty God, in our own weakness we have failed to be your messengers of peace and love in the world. By your Holy Spirit, give us courage to follow your commands and proclaim your reign of love; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Send, O God, into the darkness of this troubled world, the light of your Son: Let the star of your hope touch the minds of all people with the bright beams of mercy and truth; and so direct our steps that we may always walk in the way revealed to us, as the shepherds of Bethlehem walked with joy to the manager where he dwelt who now and ever reigns in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. John Wallace Suter (1890-1977) Dean of Washington Cathedral

Fain would we thy word embrace,
Live each moment on thy grace
All our selves to thee consign,
Fold up all our wills in thine,
Think and speak and do and be,
Simply that which pleases thee.

The fourth verse of William Bright's "At Thy Feet, O Christ We Lay" which has been described as the best morning prayer in the English language: