Morning Service for Advent 2

 

HYMN - Hark the glad sound - NEH 6 - Bristol

1 HARK the glad sound! The Saviour comes,
The Saviour promised long!
Let every heart prepare a throne,
And every voice a song.
2 He comes the prisoners to release
In Satan's bondage held;
The gates of brass before him burst,
The iron fetters yield.

3 He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of his grace
Enrich the humble poor.

4 Our glad hosannas, Prince of peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim,
And heaven's eternal arches ring
With thy belovèd name.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
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

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
When the Lord comes, he will bring to light things now hidden in darkness, and will disclose the purposes of the heart. In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.

 Amen


FIRST READING - Isaiah 40.1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” 

All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. 

HYMN - Long ago prophets knew - NEH 10 - Personent Hodie

1. Long ago, prophets knew 
Christ would come, born a Jew,
Come to make all things new;
Bear his People’s burden,
Freely love and pardon:
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
When he comes,
Who will make him welcome?

2. God in time, God in man, 
This is God’s timeless plan:
He will come, as a man,
Born himself of woman
God divinely human:
Chorus

3. Mary, hail! Though afraid, 
She believed, she obeyed.
In her womb, God is laid;
Till the time expected,
Nurtured and protected:
Chorus

4. Journey ends! Where afar 
Bethlem shines, like a star,
Stable door stands ajar.
Unborn Son of Mary,
Saviour, do not tarry!

Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
Jesus comes!
Jesus comes!
We will make him welcome!

GOSPEL - Mark 1.1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”

John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

SERMON

As you know Advent begins the church’s year, and so a new lectionary year, Year B, and year B  is the year of Mark, all through this year we shall, more or less be following Mark’s telling of Jesus’ message and nature. Which is ok with me because Mark is by far and a way my favourite gospel. I hope over the year you will see why. This morning’s reading is a case in point. Here we have what appears to be a rather unsubtle plunging into the narrative with far too little introduction. You can just hear your old English teacher can’t you, “where’s your introduction, every piece must have a beginning, a middle and an end”. Well, this is the beginning, and a very adequate beginning too. It may not have Matthew and Luke’s long genealogies – and there’s certainly no talk of Jesus’s birth, let alone John the Baptist’s, neither does it have a philosophical retelling of Genesis, introducing Jesus in theological language of the greatest beauty.  But yet Mark’s introduction is complete, it says all he wants to say, or needs to say.

He makes it clear that this is the beginning of the good news. The very word good news makes a revolutionary statement - euaggelion – the word used for great Roman proclamations, a military victory, the accession of a new emperor. But this is not the good news of a new Roman overlord who claimed to be divine Caesar, this was good news of a decidedly non imperial Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish “Christ”, or anointed one. This beginning is new indeed; the start of a story about the inversion of the normal way of things, the story of a world being turned upside down.

Mark’s next line refers his readers to the source of his theological authority – the Hebrew Scriptures. He uses Isaiah’s name but his quotation is a clever composite alluding to the most seminal moments of Jewish history. 

"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;”

This promises a re-opening of the “Way”, calling to mind the Exodus journey of liberation – 

Exodus 23.20 has “I am going to send a messenger ahead of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” As Israel followed the angel in the wilderness so we will be invited to follow Jesus. 

This first line of the quotation doesn’t actually come from Isaiah or Exodus at all but from the book of the prophet Malachi:

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me:” 

Malachi continues:

“and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in:”

Malachi goes on to portend judgement when this messenger of the covenant appears in the Temple, specifically against those who oppress, who have subverted the function of the Temple to act as storehouse for the relief of the hungry – turning it into a mechanism for robbery. This is indeed what we will hear when Jesus arrives there. And it is his judgement on the Temple that will directly lead to his crucifixion.

Now on to the second half of Mark’s glued together quotation 

“the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ 

This is, more or less, from Isaiah 40.3. and announces the messenger in the wilderness – the place of John the Baptist’s proclamation, and a place of deep significance – the place of holy revelation, the place of trial and Israel’s failure – the place on the edge of human society, where the lepers and outcasts are sent.

In his combined quotation Mark had managed to introduce both the remembrance of Israel’s birth as a nation in the Exodus from Egypt and the tension between the symbolic spaces of the Temple and the wilderness – the centre and the margin. And its still only verse 3! 

Everybody knew that Isaiah was talking about a new liberation against oppressive power and tyranny, but Mark’s bold but hidden use of Malachi reminded them that the tyranny didn’t just come from Rome but from the corruption of the very centre of their faith and worship – from the Temple itself, this was dangerous stuff.

Mark goes on to describe the Baptiser in terms that instantly recall Elijah, that great prophet that challenged kings and priests. And again we remember that Malachi promised that God would send Elijah “before the great and terrible day of the lord” to cause people to “turn around”, to “repent.”

Mark reports that “all Judea and Jerusalem” came out to John in the wilderness. And so Jerusalem, the centre of the world to every Jew, must go out to the wilderness, to the margin, to find its salvation. The world must not only be turned around, but be turned inside out to find hope and new life. And when these people from the centre – the place of power and prestige – arrive at the edge what do they hear but that they must await one who is more powerful and from an even more unremarkable place, Nazareth, an unknown village in the unfashionable and deeply compromised north – home of refugee and immigrant.  Yet it is to this obscure figure that the voice of prophecy points.  

And so by the 8th verse we already know a lot and we are desperate to know more. If the world, both secular and religious is to be turned upside down, how will I hang on? Who is this ‘more powerful one’ that will cleanse with the divine Spirit – the Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation, the Spirit that is God? What will he do for me?

Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany to find out what happens next in Mark’s gospel - next week we move to John’s account of the Baptist.

Mark is the archetypal, though rare, theologian - he says a little but means a lot – his words are like the proverbial Iceberg, showing above the surface only enough to indicate what might be below to those wise enough to enquire further – to those who have ears to hear.

HYMN - Thy kingdom come on bended knee

1 Thy kingdom come on bended knee
The passing ages pray;
And faithful souls have yearned to see
On earth that kingdom's day.

2 But the slow watches of the night
Not less to God belong;
And for the everlasting right
The silent stars are strong.

3 And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near:

4 The day in whose clear-shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every hurt be healed;

5 When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad:
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Gill Macdonald

At this time of Advent when we await and look forward to your coming,  we thank you that once again we are able to join together in worship and break bread together.   We appreciate and thank you for our many blessings and with confidence  we bring our concerns to your healing power.

We pray for your worldwide church, for all bishops and clergy, and all voluntary organisations  providing pastoral  support to so many in need.  We pray for our own diocese, our bishop Tim and all his staff, and for our own benefice and parish churches.   We thank you for the ministry of William, for his great support of so many and  all the team enabling our worship  and church life to continue in these difficult times.

Lord in your mercy : Hear our prayer

We pray for your world, Lord, and for our responsibilities to take care of it, and each other.  We pray for so many who are facing starvation, through famine, war and natural disasters :   for the tens of thousands of people affected by this evil virus.  We pray for all key workers, aid workers, leaders of the nations and especially  we thank you for scientists working towards providing  successful vaccination sources  being readily available.

Lord, in your mercy : Hear our prayer

We thank you and pray for our families and friends, those we love and appreciate  who are often those  who forgive us the most.   We lift to you all those who are very anxious and fearful at this time, those worried about their livelihoods, those facing financial difficulties, some who are unable to feed their families, and some who have lost their homes and everything they hold dear.  We pray for our children who may be confused and unsettled, for all teachers and parents anxious to do the right thing, and  for  the many  who fear the future.

Lord in your mercy : Hear our prayer

We pray for all those who are sick, in body mind and spirit.  Those who have contracted this disease or are suffering in other ways because of it, all those in hospital, in ICU units, in care homes or being nursed at home, and for all those who care for and worry about  them.  We spend a moment of quiet as we bring to mind those we know who are in need of our prayers at this time

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We lift to your tender care Lord all those who have passed from this life in recent times, and for all who mourn their passing. We remember especially Joy Edwards whose funeral was held on Friday and for her family in their sadness.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

So Lord as we go from this place into a new week, keep us true to the way you have set before us, leading us, guiding us, and always walking beside us.

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
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.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
Christ the Sun of righteousness shine upon you, scatter the darkness from your path,
and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory.
And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN - Lo! He comes with clouds descending - NEH 9 - Helmsley

1 LO! he comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluya!
God appears, on earth to reign.

2 Every eye shall now behold him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing
Shall the true Messiah see.

3 Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshippers:
With what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

4 Yea, Amen! let all adore thee,
High on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory:
Claim the kingdom for thine own:
O come quickly!
Alleluya! Come, Lord, come!

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen

To end: Will Dutton singing You Raise Me Up