12TH DECEMBER 2021
SENTENCE FROM SCRIPTURE
Shout aloud and sing for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
COLLECT FOR PURITY
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
SUMMARY OF THE LAW
Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.
Amen. Lord, have mercy.
God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love because God loved us first.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.
God our Father, we confess to you
and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do.
We are truly sorry.
Forgive us our sins,
and deliver us from the power of evil,
for the sake of your Son
who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
God, who is both power and love,
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy
Sung by Sue Turner
LIGHT CANDLE ON ADVENT WREATH
For John the Baptist
Stir up our prayers, Lord and hear us:
that they who are sorrowful and suffering
may rejoice at the advent of your only begotten Son
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen
PROCLAIMING & RECEIVING GOD’S WORD
read by Kay Solaja
A Song of Joy
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time, I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
SECOND READING PHILIPPIANS 4: 4-7 read by Annette Beagrie
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
LUKE 3: 7-18
read by Reverend Chris Wren
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according Luke chapter 3 beginning at verse 7
Glory to Christ our Saviour
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah] John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
A lot of preachers begin their sermons with what is essentially a liturgical formula: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to which an “Amen” from the congregation is, if not expected, at least accepted.
Others begin with: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer which is an invitation into the shared experience that good preaching is. Others still may open with: Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you which invites an “Also with you.”
John starts a little differently. ‘You brood of vipers’ John opens his sermon on repentance with a broadside: You brood of vipers! What this is meant to invite, who knows, but John goes on, asking why they are even listening and who they think they are.
John didn’t mutter those words ‘you brood of vipers’ under his breath as an aside to some of his own disciples, but he declared them to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him. There was no joke at the beginning of his message to soften the people up and create some cool image of himself. These were his opening words. Be aware that they are not some oriental insult; John is not name-calling. He is using a phrase that would resonate with this largely Jewish congregation. To declare that these people were a brood of snakes was virtually to judge that these Jews were actually living under the control of their enemy, Satan that they were of the line of the devil. John was applying this epithet to people who were nominally religious as descended from Abraham, confident of their privileges as God’s chosen people, but they were lacking any seriousness about daily living.
John spoke to people without a bone in their bodies of daily repentance for their sins. They weren’t heartbroken that they loved the Lord so little, rather they were content with their religious status. So, John preached to them and warned them that this was the way God saw them, not as the beautiful seed of Abraham but as a “brood of vipers”, malicious, dangerous and deceitful people. See yourselves as the Holy One in heaven looks down on you and evaluates you.
His point, though, is simply this. They must not rely on what their faithful ancestors did. They must not rely on his baptism of them in the river. If they are repentant, if they have undergone a change of mind, a change in how they live, then that must appear obvious in their behaviour. Just as the owner of an orchard expects the trees to bear fruit, so they also are expected to produce fruit, the glorious fruits of repentance.
What John says ignites a response in those who hear him. They ask the obvious question, “What then must we do?” Three groups ask this question what then must we do and each group gets its answer.
• Let’s look first at those most deserving of suspicion: the tax collectors.
Keep in mind that tax collectors in John’s time and place not only represent an imperial occupying power, but are notorious for keeping the difference between what they shake down from the population and what Rome requires of them. Tax collecting is a lucrative racket for those with little or no conscience. But these tax collectors have undergone a change. “What must we do?” they ask John the Baptist. He tells them, “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you.”
• Next some soldiers approach him. These soldiers are Jewish men in the service of the local ruler who governs at the pleasure of imperial Rome. They are in the unenviable position of enforcing the will of an occupying power in their own homeland. Local patriots despise them as traitors. They ask the same question as the tax collectors, “What must we do?” John tells them, “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.”
But the bulk of the thousands cut to heart by John’s call for works of repentance are neither tax collectors nor soldiers; they are not public figures but private individuals. They also ask about the fruit they must produce. “What must we do?” To them John responds, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”
John the Baptist tells these tax collectors, soldiers, and private citizens that the glorious fruits of repentance include much that is ordinary. They are to cease from extortion, bullying, and grumbling about money. They are to share with the destitute their surplus clothing and food.
John does not ask for anything explicitly religious such as fasting or temple sacrifices. He does not demand the extraordinary, such as his own relocation to the wilderness. What he tells these private citizens, soldiers, and tax collectors is that opportunities to bear fruit appear right in front of them every day.
He does not set forth an exhaustive program, a complete way to live, for those who have undergone a baptism of repentance. He simply points out the first step they can take in a new direction. By their repentant behaviour–by what they abstain from doing and what they choose to do–they will leave themselves open to wherever God directs them next.
John presumes that those listening to him will keep asking this question as their circumstances change: “What must we do?” Later the answers they hear may not come from the lips of a prophet, but from their own struggling hearts.
If those newly washed in the Jordan have the opportunity and obligation to bear fruits of repentance, certainly those who have received the far greater baptism bestowed by Christ with the Spirit and fire are expected to bear such fruit as well. The opportunity and obligation to do so will appear in the place John indicated: right in front of us.
In New Testament Greek, the word for repentance is metanoia, which means literally a change of mind that determines how we live. What opportunities for metanoia appear right in front of us now? What do those opportunities ask of us? To raise the question again, this time about ourselves, “What should we do?”
• Look at your life. Recognize the places where it is broken. With whom do you need to reconcile before the feast of Christmas comes? With whom do you need to draw a lime under things and start afresh?
• Look at how you use power. Do you use it justly, are you manipulative and bullying in getting your own way and so are you part of the problem of using power irresponsibly?
• Look at what you have, in your clothes closet, your refrigerator, your cheque book, your stock portfolio. If you own many coats, if you possess food in abundance, is it time for you to share?
William Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, says that John the Baptist reminds us of boundaries we must respect and gates we must pass through. At Duke, Willimon reminds the students, “If you are going to graduate, you must first get past the English Department. If you are going to practice law, you must pass the bar. If you want to get to medical school you must survive Organic Chemistry.” Likewise, “If you want to get to the joy of Bethlehem in the presence of Jesus, you must get past John the Baptist in the desert.” The word from John is “repent,” which means” about-face” or turning 180 degrees. Then having turned around what should you do-fulfil the demands of John the Baptist- you should feed the hungry, care for the sick and needy, free the oppressed and abused, and encourage the broken hearted.
These gruff and blunt demands of John are good news. These demands are targeted at you and me. When we hear these demands in faith, we too will recognize them as good news as they speak of the fruit we can produce. What should we do? Amen
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father.
With the Father and the Son,
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Loving Father, keep the church faithful
in telling the good news,
comforting the desolate,
actively promoting justice,
and drawing many to freedom
through the joy of your forgiveness.
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, as the church we pray for the world,
that there may be integrity in leadership.
Fill all our world leaders with your heart and mind
that decisions are made in the interests of all people,
especially the needy and vulnerable.
We pray for the vulnerable
in the poorer areas of the world
as they await the coronavirus vaccine.
Help us to share our resources with others.
We give thanks for the ingenuity of our scientists,
and pray that the vaccine will protect us from all variants.
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, as the family of believers
we pray for those around us,
thinking particularly of the lonely,
the depressed and despairing,
the troubled and anxious,
and ask that you would draw near
fill them with your peace and strength
and direct them to people
who can give them a listening ear and offer practical support.
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, in compassion we call to mind
all who are locked in emotional or physical pain,
and ask that your hand of divine healing
might touch and bless, heal and restore.
In the quiet we lift people known to us up by name,
and invite you to meet them at their point of need.
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, we remember those
whose time on earth is ebbing away,
and ask that you might be with them
as they journey to be with you.
Comfort their families and friends
and be especially close to all
who have lost a loved one at this time,
or for whom it is an anniversary of a death.
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, thank you for John the Baptist
with his distinctive attractiveness and appeal.
We marvel at his courage and conviction
to prepare the way in the wilderness for your Son,
and for his humble nature in recognizing
that he must decrease and Christ must increase.
In this season of Advent and beyond
help us to be open to the Holy Spirit
and in humility like John to seek ways
in which we might in our lives decrease
and Christ increase
Keep us faithful
to our calling.
Loving Father, thank you for your holy word;
for prophecies fulfilled
for promises honoured
and for the hope and joy
we have in your Son.
Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those+
who sin against us.
Do not bring us
to the time of trial+
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen