THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
17TH DECEMBER 2023
SENTENCE FROM SCRIPTURE
The Lord has done great things for us.
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.
sung by Sue Turner
Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy
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
ISAIAH 61: 1-4, 8-11
read by Kay Solaja
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
read by Simon Lidwell
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
read by Reverend Chris Wren
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John chapter 1 beginning at verse 6
Glory to Christ our Saviour
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel.
Praise to Christ our Lord
You are sound asleep and dreaming when suddenly the door bursts open and a bright light shines full in your face. A voice, breaking in your dream- world shouts – Wake –up! Get up! You’ll be late! And without much ado, the speaker splashes your face with cold water to make the point. Time to stop dreaming and to face the most important day of your life! That’s what the opening of Mark’s Gospel is like. We are journey through Mark’s Gospel this year but today we have our gospel reading from St John. John’s ministry burst in upon the surprised Jewish world. Many had been looking for a sign from God, but they hadn’t expected it to look like this. Many had wanted a Messiah to lead them against the Romans, but they weren’t anticipating a prophet telling them to repent. John was a voice shouting across the dreams-a voice of freedom. Some thought John was mad, that it was him who was dreaming but here he was, splashing cold water all over them and telling them to get ready for the greatest moment in Jewish, in world history. It was time to stop dreaming and wake up to God’s reality.
God’s reality is brought to us by John the Baptist. John the Baptist was quite a character. You can choose your friends they say, but not your relatives. I wonder if anyone ever said that to Jesus about his weird cousin John the Baptist. Mark and John introduces this strange character at the beginning of their Gospels. He seems to appear out of nowhere — the solo voice of one crying in the wilderness. His dress and diet speak for themselves — a leather girdle — camel’s hair — locusts and wild honey. He seems totally lacking in social skills — devoid of diplomacy as he launches a message of doom and gloom. He is the ultimate loner — the original rugged individualist — the desert prophet — yes, the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
This crying voice in the wilderness drew people by the hundreds and then by the thousands. All these people came to hear him preach. They walked ten, twenty, thirty kilometres out from their cities, out into the wilderness, to listen to this desert prophet. I mean, that is a long way to walk for a sermon. These people came out into the desert to hear him preach. Not because his sermons were racy, spicy or urbane. Not because of voluminous choirs or old favourite hymns. Not because they had some desire to see old friends that they hadn’t seen all week. Not because of some childhood habit of being in the synagogue on Friday nights, a habit that they couldn’t kick. No. They left their cities and they walked twenty, thirty, or forty kilometres out into the desert because they wanted to see a rare phenomenon. They wanted to see a man who had been totally immersed in God. They wanted to hear the voice of God.
They wanted so much to hear the voice of God. You can get a sense of the power of God’s voice in John the Baptist from an extract from the musical Godspell. Imagine a centre stage at the theatre. At the back of the stage are eight or nine actors. One at a time, each actor comes to the front and centre of the stage and starts singing. For a fraction of a moment, he or she sings their particular ideology such as a philosophical phrase from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, socialism, communism, or capitalism. Each actor, for a moment, sang from the centre stage, their song- their theme song of life. And, pretty soon there were eight or nine voices all singing their ideologies together, at one time, in a chorus of confusion, in a cacophony of chaos. You, the audience, then realized that you were watching a profound parable, that for a moment at the centre stage of history, each ideology had a moment in the history of time. All eight or nine ideologies were singing at the same time in a cacophony of confusion and nobody could make sense out of any of them and nobody knew which ideology to listen to. Then, all of a sudden, from the back of the theatre, you heard the sound of a ram horn, and there was silence. There was total silence. John the Baptist slowly entered, singing and calling his world to be washed clean in their inner hearts, calling the world to be washed clean so the Messiah could enter. John the Baptist walked down the aisle with a pail of water, splashing the water on all the people to his left and right. He came forth singing his message for the whole world to hear. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. That’s our world today-many ideologies are competing against one another and shouting their ideals at us, deafening us and confusing us. We need to silence them so that we can hear the voice of God.
To hear well this voice of God it is best that we withdraw to a quiet place. The desert is a symbol of quality time with God, a time and place where nothing can stand between us and God. The desert is free from distractions! Free from the lures of the city, theatres, nightclubs, pubs, concerts, face book, mobile phones and television. We love the city- we love the hustle and bustle but we are not so sure of the desert. The desert is that still barren place where masks are removed and we are real with ourselves. It is in the desert that we hear the whisper of God. This season of Advent is about finding some time to withdraw and to look within and to make sure the channel between God and us is clear and unblocked by needless worries and concerns.
Making sure the channel between God and us is clear and unblocked involves a time of cleansing and repentance. The desert is a place of self- examination, cleansing and renewal. We are to make the highway straight, in other words we are to have a straight attitude. People may be living next door to one another, yet because of a hostile or unforgiving attitude, they may be unable to travel the few metres that separate them from one another. The word straight here stands for honesty and right living. People are sometimes urged to straighten themselves out! We know what that means. To go straight means to reform after having been dishonest or unkind! We find the straight path by acting with integrity, treating people fairly, sharing with those in need. This season of Advent is the time to search deep within and de-clutter our lives of wrong attitudes and behaviours.
Although we know that getting rid of wrong attitudes and behaviours leads to inner cleansing we keep putting it off a bit like this student in the following story. College students are notorious for their laundry problems while away at college. This seems to be especially true for one student who went to the laundry room in his dorm with a pile of dirty clothes. They were all bundled together inside an old sweatshirt. He was so embarrassed by how dirty his clothes were that he did not want anyone to see them. He took the bundle of dirty clothes and without untying them stuffed them into the washing machine. When the machine stopped running he was delighted to find that they were still all tied together in one large knot. As he removed the bundle from the washer he kept them tied together as he placed the laundry into the dryer. After they had gone through the drying cycle he was even happier to find that the tied bundle was still intact. When he finally returned to his dorm room he quickly discovered that the clothes had certainly gotten wet and were dried but they were still dirty. That is the same thing that happens to us when we fail to confess our sins. When we never admit to God our helplessness and our need for his power to cleanse, we too keep the bundle all tied up. When we go to church and simply go through the routine we might get wet but we never really feel very clean. Only confession of our sins and faith in Christ can cleanse us from all our sins. As John the Baptist said ‘Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.’ Advent is the time to visit the heavenly laundry room and be clean.
Advent does demand of us an inner search and cleansing. It has been referred to as warm up time. In a “Peanuts” cartoon strip, good old Charlie Brown says to Linus, “Life is just too much for me. I’ve been confused from the day I was born. I think the whole trouble is that we’re thrown into life too fast. We’re not really prepared.” And Linus asks, “What did you want . . . a chance to warm up first?” The Advent season is supposed to be our chance to warm up. It’s a time to seek the desert. The desert is any place where a person becomes absorbed in the powerful presence of God. The desert is where anyone is alone, totally alone, really alone, with the ultimate issues of life, death and eternity.
The desert is in a Bible, in a thin wafer of bread or a thimble of wine. The desert is in a prayer and in a still small voice. Sometimes it is in a slum. Sometimes, it is in a closet. Sometimes it is in an apartment. Sometimes it is in the car or in a field. The desert is where God is, and where God can cleanse our polluted minds and imaginations, our hearts and values, our habits and anything else inside of us. The desert wakes us up to reality and prepares the way of the Lord. The desert place helps us be ready to make room for the Christ child- our Saviour and Lord. 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 lift especially to you, war-torn countries,
of Israel and Palestine, Ukraine and Russia,
and ask that you will establish peace ad reconciliation.
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