Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 5 December, 2nd in Advent

by Rev Jacky Quarmby 5 December 2021

Lighting the Second Advent Candle

Bible Sentence:  "The People who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them."

 Today, the second Sunday in Advent, we light two candles on the Advent ring to remind us of the prophets, who were prepared to speak God's word even when it put their own lives at risk.

Prophet voices loudly crying,
Making pathways clear,
Glimpsing glory, self-denying,
Calling all to hear.
Through their message—challenged, shaken
Hearts awaken:
God is near!

Gathering Words
Grace and peace to you
From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Blessed are those who will come
From east and west, from north and south
To feast in the Kingdom of God.

Hymn: Hills of the North rejoice

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Opening Prayer 
God of all glory
You brought the universe into existence
And raised up witnesses to your greatness and love.
We praise and adore you.
Grant that by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
We may worship and serve you and praise your holy name
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen

Introduction to Malachi reading
This week, the second Sunday in Advent we are focusing on the prophets and how they prepared the people for the arrival of the Messiah.  Our first reading is taken from the Book of Malachi.  It was written sometime after 515 BCE.  The Jewish people have returned to Judah after their exile in Babylon.  They had returned with high hopes around 538BCE and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, but as the years passed they had become disillusioned.  Life was hard – their anticipated prosperity did not return - and they were surrounded by enemies who seemed to thwart them at every turn.  As a result, they began to doubt God’s love and his justice.  After all, what was the point of obeying God’s commands, if the evil were prospering all around them.  In his book, the prophet Malachi argues that their problems had befallen them, not despite of their godliness, but because of their sinfulness.

Reading:  Malachi 3: 1- 4

Handel's Messiah: But who may abide the day of His coming?

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Prayer of Confession

Who may abide the day of His coming
And who shall stand when He appears …

In the silence, let us confess our sins to God …

Holy and merciful God
We have sinned against you and each other
In thought and word and deed.
We have preferred to protect our own interests
Rather than seek justice for all.
We have preferred to clutch our possessions to ourselves
Rather than sharing what we have with the poor and needy.
We have preferred to argue and fight, convinced that we are right,
Rather than listen to our enemies and discover that we still have much to learn.
Lord, forgive us and have mercy upon us.
Send down, we pray, the fire of your Holy Spirit
To cleanse us and make us holy
To refine and purify our hearts
So that we are prepared for the coming of your Son
For we ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3: 1- 6

Hymn: On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

There was once a young man called John.  He was from a good Christian family.  His Dad was a URC minister in Borrowash and his Mum an Anglican layreader.  But in recent weeks he had gone a little bit odd and had taken to living out in the woods in Elvaston country park.  He didn’t say much to anyone, but occasionally he could be seen tramping the woods in an old overcoat, looking for berries and wild mushrooms to eat.  Then one day, John left the woods and headed to the banks of the River Derwent. “Repent and be baptized,” he said, “for the kingdom of God is near”.  

And before long, amazingly, crowds started flocking down to the River Derwent and wading in fully clothed to be baptized.

Well the ecumenical leaders of Churches Together in Derby were very anxious.  What could be done about this strange man and the cult he seemed to have started?  It was decided to send a delegation of Anglicans and Methodists down to the River.  They arrived - the Anglicans clutching their Books of Common Prayer and the Methodists with their well-thumbed volumes of CPD (Constitutional Practice and Discipline)

“Which rite are you using for baptism, young man?” said the Anglican priest. “Are you sure they have not been baptized as infants?” asked the Methodist. “This is really most unsatisfactory from the point of view of church order,” they said together. 

Well, the delegation got a bit more than they bargained for from the strange young preacher … “do you think, your rituals and liturgies, will save you?” says John, “and do you think your Methodist membership ticket is a pass into the heavenly kingdom – well, I tell you think again – repent of your sins and live lives that are fruitful and honouring to God.”

Hardly the way to talk to a religious delegation – but that was John – forthright and honest … a shining light in a world that had become grey with compromise and pretension.

It could happen today, couldn’t it?

Because in many ways - people haven’t really changed …

But let’s go back to John the Baptist … John is often seen as the last of the Old Testament prophets … he forms a bridge, if you like, between the old covenant of law and the new covenant that we find in Jesus.  As such, John the Baptist came to do two things … to prepare the way and to demand repentance … and we’re going to think about these two things this morning. 

Firstly, John the Baptist came to prepare the way  … he is the one that fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah (quoted in v4) when Isaiah says “A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Now John the Baptist was not the only one who was living in the desert at the time – there was a sect called the Qumran sect – the sect responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls.  They too saw themselves in the words of Isaiah as a “voice calling in the desert”.  But their way to “prepare for the Lord” was to withdraw into a community and live very strict disciplined lives.  They saw themselves as the true Israel and they were very fussy about who joined them.  Anyone who wanted to become a member had to undergo a long period of initiation after which there was a ceremony involving a sort of baptism or cleansing to make them pure.  The people of the Qumran community believed they would only be saved if they kept themselves apart from the corrupting influences of the world.

John the Baptist saw things differently. Unlike the Qumran community, John the Baptist was just as concerned about preparing others to meet the Lord as he was about preparing himself.  So John didn’t see baptism as something reserved for the holy few – baptism was for anyone who wanted to prepare themselves to meet the Lord.  

And that’s a challenge to us as we look at our church.  Are we like the Qumran sect – a bit of a holy huddle who have retreated from the world and are really only concerned about whether we are right with God and will get to heaven? Or do we care about and pray for the people who don’t come to church, who may not yet have a relationship with God.  

At Christmas time, people are often more open to coming to church, so it is a good time to invite people.  One way is simply to ask people – maybe your friends or family members.  Another way is by delivering the Newmount Christmas card to the neighbours in your street and further afield – and I hope that those of us who can, will want to help with that delivery and invitation.  And when strangers come and join us in worship, are we welcoming and open – or do we keep our distance.

John the Baptist cared as much about preparing others to meet the Lord – as he did about preparing himself – do we?

Secondly, John the Baptist came to demand repentance.  He said to the people – the way to prepare yourself to meet the Lord is to give up sinning – and to turn back to God.  

John called for repentance. There was no beating about the bush with John.  He didn’t tell people that they were fine, just so that they would like him and think he was a great guy.  He just told the truth even though it was hard for people to hear, because he genuinely wanted people to turn back to God and be ready.  In the words of Malachi - John was like a refiner’s fire – or a launderer’s soap – determined to root out sin and help people to be ready to receive the Lord.

So John made it very clear that going through the ritual of baptism - simply getting wet - would not put people right with God.  True repentance demanded a life change.   In the same way for us just saying “Amen” at the end of the “prayer of confession” doesn’t mean we have repented – it doesn’t mean we are right with God. 

If we say, “I’m sorry Lord that I gossiped about that person the other day and said unkind things” and then we do it again the very next day.  We haven’t repented.

If we say, “I’m sorry Lord that so many of the world go to bed hungry” and then avoid the person in the street collecting money for Christian Aid. We haven’t repented.

If we say, “I’m sorry Lord that my faith is so luke-warm and I can’t really be bothered” and then we don’t take the time to pray to God and read the Bible.  We haven’t repented.

We have only repented, if our lives change - as Malachi says - if we bring to God offerings in righteousness – if we seek to do all that is right and good and generous and kind.

John the Baptist called for repentance – when we leave church today will we have truly repented and made a commitment to real change in our lives?

John the Baptist challenges us during Advent to a process of self-examination, both as a church and as an individual.  

As a church we have to ask ourselves how open and welcoming we are to those people who are not part of our regular fellowship.  Are we as concerned to help others to prepare to meet God as we are to prepare ourselves?

And as an individual we have to examine our own lives, our values, our priorities.  What are the crooked bits that need straightening, the rough edges that need smoothing, the grubby bits that need cleaning, the unholy bits that need purifying?

Malachi and John the Baptist challenge us to examine our lives and to repent … but we should not let this challenge blind us to the Good News in both these passages.

John the Baptist called people to repentance, not so that they would feel wretched about the awfulness of their lives, but so that they would receive God’s forgiveness for their sins.  God does not want to punish us, God wants to set us free from those things in our lives that are harmful and that hold us captive.

And Malachi promised that the people of God would be refined and purified like a precious metal, not in order to bring hurt and pain, but so that they would be restored to their full potential.  One writer has suggested that a silversmith knows that the refining process is complete when they can see their own image reflected in the mirror-like surface of the metal.

That’s a lovely picture isn’t it?  It is wonderful to think that through this refining and purifying process, we may each, one day, come to reflect the image of our Lord.

Today Malachi and John the Baptist challenge us to examine our lives.  But they also bring us the promise of forgiveness and the hope that one day our lives will reflect the glory of the Creator.  
May it be so. Amen


Prayers of Intercession 

Response: Come Lord Jesus

Come Lord Jesus

Hymn: O come O come Immanuel

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Dedication of the Offering
Lord and Giver of every good thing,
We bring to you bread and wine for our communion
Lives and gifts for your kingdom
All for transformation through your grace and love
Made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen

Holy Communion  (Using Communion Books p124 – p 128 MWB)

Hymn:  At the name of Jesus

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

The Blessing
Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you
And prepare your hearts and souls
To meet him when he comes in glory;
And the blessing of God,
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Be yours, now and always.  Amen

The day of the Lord is surely coming
Be faithful in worship,
Unwavering in hope
Fervent in the work of God’s kingdom
And all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.