Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Year B, Advent 2)
Call to worship
Christ is coming to meet you.
Dress in clothes of compassion:
Pack faithfulness and hope in your bag
Have prayer on your speed-dial
Carry God's word as a map
Have a compass that points to God
And turn back, turn back to God
today, tomorrow, every day.
Somewhere on the road he will meet you.
Hymn Together in Song 647 “Comfort, Comfort, all my people.”
Prayers of Adoration and confession
Today we hear again John's call to prepare the way of the Lord,
and we thank you for all the many voices you have sent to us-
voices in the wilderness -
voices in the church -
voices in cities and markets -
voices in the past -
voices today -
voices of comfort -
voices of warning -
voices of people you have sent to carry your messages to your people.
We give you thanks for all of these voices -
and for the truth to which all of these voices point: That you are constantly aware of your creation – of its needs and wants; of its faith and lack of faith.
You constantly care about us,
about our lives as they are
about what we, in your love, have the potential to be.
All the voices you send to us,
remind us of your eternal love for us -
of your constant faithfulness to your promise to be our God
and your invitation to us to be your people.
We confess that we have turned away from you -
and day by day, we continue to turn away from you -
We turn away from you
in the things we think
in the things we say,
in the things we do.
We turn away from you
in the things we ought to think, but don't
in the things we ought to say but don't
in the things we ought to do but don't.
We act as if, when Jesus said “follow me”
he meant someone else, not us.
Turn us around to face you again -
give us the will and the ability
to hear Jesus' call again,
and to follow.
In his name we pray, Amen.
Remember what our candy cane reminded us about last week? (Shepherds)
There's another candy cane this week. I'm thinking if you hold it up like this it looks like a letter. Does some big prep kid want to tell me what letter this looks like? (J)
What name starts with “J” that we're thinking about at Christmas? (Jesus) You're right. Christmas is Jesus' birthday!
Guess what? This candy cane's got something written on it! Isn't that a surprise? Who can read it out?
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
(Does Bec have a present under the tree today? How does that help remind us about Jesus at Christmas?)
Advent Candle lighting liturgy (Young Adults)
1st reader: We have grown up in a world that's known continual wars.
2nd reader: From time to time, the place has changed, and the reason has changed, but fighting continues.
1st reader: Even within communities and homes, people don't seem to be able to live in peace.
2nd reader: Yet Jesus comes as Prince of Peace – as the one who can help us do what we just can't on our own.
All young adults: We look for Jesus to bring peace this Christmas.
(Relight first purple candle from last week, and pink candle for repentance this week.)
Hymn Together in Song 286 “Light One Candle” Verses 1 & 2 (Kids give out candy canes.)
2 Peter 3:8-15a
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Last Sunday we heard words of hope – hope based in God's action of coming to us in Jesus.
Today as we progress through to the second week of Lent, we hear words of comfort, or peace, – but comfort which comes with a call for us to respond.
It is comfort mixed with something else. Let's start with Isaiah, very briefly. In Isaiah, God declares “comfort” for the nation of Israel because they've served their sentence – they've been punished enough. Israel may have been suffering, but not suffering innocently. The word for “comfort” can mean “be comforted or consoled” or it can mean “repent or be sorry”. Both meanings are very closely linked. We cannot be comfortable in our relationship with God, if we are not living in a right relationship with God. Repentance, which literally is “turning back” to God, is the way for us to approach God to come into that relationship.
Now let's look ahead to the gospel reading:
It's interesting to note here, that Mark introduces his gospel, not with a story of Jesus, but with the story of the appearance of John.
When we look at John's message, we need to see something of his character. John lived the message he brought – which is a good way to know if you can trust any leader.
John's birth was a miracle – his parents were already in old age and unable to have children. His birth had also been announced by the angel Gabrie, who gave instructions as to how he was to be raised – from birth he was dedicated to God in terms of the Nazirite vow – which included all sorts of rules of holiness. (Think of Samson – also bound by a Nazirite vow for life so not allowed to cut his hair.) Nazirite vows were usually taken on for a period of time, such as we might take on an extra spiritual discipline during lent. For John, it was his life, right from birth. That's why we hear about his clothes and diet – he's not taking on any luxuries of life, because he is totally dedicated to God.
John appeared out of the wilderness as a prophet – just as many prophets before him spent time in the wilderness. This is important, because in Jesus' day, people were expecting the prophet Elijah to return, and come ahead of the Messiah. John's appearance from the wilderness helped to put him in line with that heritage of prophets.
Many came out, expecting John to be the Messiah. At this time of history, with the Roman army occupying Israel, there were lots of “messiahs” wanting to bring a military or political salvation for the nation.
John was quick to dispel that belief. He made it very clear that his role was one of preparation – to get people ready for the coming of the Messiah they had been expecting for generations.
He called out to people to prepare through repentance. That's what John's baptism was about. It was a cleansing ceremony. That was something well known in his time – wealthy Jewish houses had baptisteries and cisterns for just such a purification ritual, which was done over and over again. It was not the same as Christian baptism which is a once-and-for-all-time incorporation into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
John's baptism was a declaration of an intent to turn back to God, to wash away the things that were wrong in life and start again fresh.
Let's have a quick look at the 2 Peter reading: in which people are also called to repentance, as a preparation for God to act. The reason Christ hasn't returned yet is because God has given us time to prepare, time to repent.
So in each of these three time periods: Old Testament, in Jesus' day, and in the post-resurrection life of the very early church, our hope that God will act is accompanied by a call to prepare through repentance.
The Biblical concept of Sin is about turning away from God. Conversely, the Biblical concept of repentance is turning around – to turn back to God.
We have a hope that God will act. We can rely on that, as our readings last week assured us. But in the meantime, we are called on to act in response to that hope and the assurance that comes with it. We must act by turning our lives to face toward God – to strive to be at peace with God. Again we see a link between peace or comfort and repentance.
The reason that the world has not ended before now – that Jesus has not yet returned, is not that God has forgotten and we should give up hope. Instead, it is because God is patient with us, and wants to give us all the opportunity to repent, to turn back to align our lives with God's will.
We are all given the opportunity to remember our origins – that we are creatures, made by God's hand – to turn back and live the lives we were created to live: at peace with our maker and with each other.
Hymn Together in Song 270 On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's cry
Prayers of the People
Two millennia after John came out of the wilderness -
we hear his call to us today-
Repent, and prepare the way of the Lord.
You know the things we need to repent of:
things in the life of our world
things in the life of our nation
things in the life of our city and community
things in the lives of our families
things in our own lives.
Help us to face the things which are wrong, we pray
to accept that sin has been a part of our lives
and to let go of it.
Help us to turn around
to live lives in accord with your will
so that we may truly
prepare the way of the Lord.
God of peace – we pray for peace
we pray not just for the absence of war -
but for the peace of your Kingdom at work in the world.
We pray for wisdom among world leaders that leads to respect and understanding.
We pray for gentleness and respect and compassion among individuals.
In defiance of the way things are – we trust in your power and pray for what could be.
We pray for a world which takes seriously the Christmas promise of peace on earth and goodwill to all -
And we pray that you use us as you will, to help to bring this about wherever we are.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 264 Hark! A herald voice is calling