Printed Service for 11th December 2022
Prepared by Rev. Geoffrey Scarlett
Welcome to worship on the 3rd week of Advent!
If you have an Advent Wreath or candles and wish to do so, why not light 3 candles, but only if it is safe to do so, and reflect on God’s gift to us of his Son, Jesus Christ…. Silent reflection…..
StF: 165 verses 1-3 only… Advent candles tell their story
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you came to us long ago.
Through your death and resurrection, you have brought us redemption. Thank you.
Lord Jesus, you are here with us now. Inspire us with your Holy Spirit to lives of love and service,
Lord Jesus, you will come again one day in glory. Help us anticipate your coming with joy.
Prepare us to be ready for you. Cleanse us of our sins, which we now lay before you……..
Forgive us and refresh our lives, that we may henceforth live to your glory!
All praise to your holy name. Amen.
Lesson, OT: Isaiah 9, 6-7 A child is born to us! A son is given to us!…
He will rule as King David’s successor………..
StF: 218 Unto us a boy is born
Lesson, OT: Isaiah 35, 1-10
The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wilderness. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the LORD’s splendour, see his greatness and power. Give strength to hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. Tell everyone who is discouraged, “Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.” The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs. Where jackals used to live, marsh grass and reeds will grow. There will be a highway there, called “The Road of Holiness”. No sinner will ever travel that road; no fools will mislead those who follow it. No lions will be there; no fierce animals will pass that way. Those whom the LORD has rescued will travel home by that road. They will reach Jerusalem with gladness, singing and shouting for joy. They will be happy for ever, for ever free from sorrow and grief.
StF: 197 Cradled in a manger meanly
Lesson,NT: Matthew 11, 2-11
2 When John the Baptist heard in prison about the things that Christ was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him. 3 “Tell us,” they asked Jesus, “are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?”4 Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing: 5 the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean,[a] the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. 6 How happy are those who have no doubts about me!”
7 While John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus spoke about him to the crowds: “When you went out to John in the desert, what did you expect to see? A blade of grass bending in the wind? 8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in fancy clothes? People who dress like that live in palaces! 9 Tell me, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes indeed, but you saw much more than a prophet. 10 For John is the one of whom the scripture says: ‘God said, I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.’ 11 I assure you that John the Baptist is greater than anyone who has ever lived. But the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
Sermon: The One who comes.
Can you think of times when you’ve expected something or someone, and what’s actually happened has turned out to be something quite different? That’s John the Baptist’s dilemma here. He’s in prison – plenty of time to think things through and wonder. What’s his cousin up to? What is Jesus doing? Is he the Messiah John’s been expecting or not? That Messiah, in the eyes of John and many of his contemporaries, is someone anointed by God, who’ll lead the nation, defeat their enemies and bring in a new kingdom of peace and prosperity. Does
Jesus fit the bill?….
Isaiah brings with him his own expectations, a wonderful promise from God: ‘A child is born to us! A son is given to us!… He will rule as King David’s successor’ ( Isaiah 9, 6-7 ).
John, seeking answers, sends messengers to Jesus, asking is he the One John said was to come or should they expect someone else? As usual, Jesus doesn’t give a straight answer, a plain ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. ( He can be infuriating at times!). But he does give enough clues for people to work out the answer for themselves. No talk, like John, of separating wheat from chaff, with wheat stored in a barn, but chaff thrown on a fire! Nothing like that. No overthrowing Herod and releasing John from jail. No revolution, at least not in the way John has in mind.
And what about us? What are we looking for in a coming deliverer? What’s on our manifesto for the future? Peace and plenty for all, health and right dealings, a restored planet? And who do we look to, to achieve all this for us — a charismatic religious leader, a powerful politician or a real-life super-man or -woman? We too wait, and expect….
But there can be no change without repentance. Isaiah speaks against a background of catastrophe: the southern kingdom of Judah is under attack, the land is ravaged and people forced into exile. But the prophet sees the real threat to the life of Judah is not simply the enemies around it, but its own sin and lack of trust in God. He calls for repentance.
So does John: ‘Turn away from your sins, because the kingdom of heaven is near!’.
( Matthew 3,2). Jesus echoes that message ( Matthew 4,17 ). If change is to happen, doesn’t it begin with repentance? With no repentance, we face the consequences of our actions – civil
disorder, conflict, devastation, death. But with repentance comes the promise of forgiveness and a new start! What do we need to repent of?…
3. TRANSFORMING Then comes the promise of a wonderful transformation. ‘Look!’, says Isaiah, ‘at what a new age ushers in! Deserts will rejoice, flowers will bloom in the wilderness and everyone will see the Lord’s splendour, greatness and power. See streams flowing through the desert, a lake in place of burning sand, springs filling dry land, and marsh land where jackals used to roam!
The prophet envisages growth, instead of devastation, the transformation of creation, full of life again and joy! Then he promises new life to lift the spirits of his people – he encourages the weary and frightened, he paints a picture of spiritual renewal: God is coming to their rescue. He will punish their enemies. And wonderful things will happen to God’s people: the blind will see and no doubt wonder at God’s great works around them. The deaf will hear. The lame won’t just walk again – they’ll be leaping and dancing! And the silent won’t just speak. They’ll shout for joy! And there’ll be a special road laid down, untrodden by sinners and fools, unthreatened by wild animals, but travelled by those God’s rescued. They will reach Jerusalem, singing and shouting for joy, with no more cause for sorrow or grief.
Jesus fulfils that promise wonderfully, as his ministry unfolds. Note the preceding chapters in Matthew, which record so many of his acts of healing. But Jesus also confirms that the good news is preached to the poor – so it is spiritual wholeness that he offers as well. ‘Happy’, he says, Are those who have no doubts about me!’. Is this a rebuke for John? It’s certainly a challenge for us. True happiness, Jesus says, comes from believing, from faith and trust. That remains true today.
How are we to continue Jesus’ work today? John the Baptist has now gone. A man Jesus praised as more than a prophet, a true messenger of God. Not one swayed by public opinion or given to ostentatiousness. No fine clothes or palace for him. But he could not know of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. Jesus himself is no longer with us physically. But he is still with us in spirit, and his Holy Spirit is active in today’s world through individual Christians, the Church and beyond the Church. So our greatness today lies in continuing to spread the good news, to prepare people for Christmas, and to do so humbly in love, so that they open their hearts to receive Jesus and to help in ushering in his new world, based on sacrificial love.
Let us carry on Jesus’ mission, till he comes again in glory!
StF: 213 O little town of Bethlehem
Intercession: Saviour of the world, we bring before you our concerns for the world…..
for our country…. for the Church…. and for ourselves and our loved ones….
In mercy, meet our needs. In power, transform our world. And in love, use us to bring in your great new kingdom. Amen.
StF: 330 Joy to the world
Blessing: Christ the Sun of righteousness, shine upon us and prepare our hearts and souls to meet him when he comes in glory, and the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be ours now and always. Amen.
( Please extinguish any candles still alight, if you have not already done so )