URC Daily Devotion 7th December 2021

Tuesday 7th December 2021
 

Witnessing to God’s love 2  

John 3:11-16
Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:11-16)
 
Reflection
 The words used in the last verse bring to mind one of the most troubling stories in the Old Testament:
 
He (God speaking to Abraham) said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ (Gen22:2)
 
In Jewish tradition ‘the binding of Isaac’, although deeply disturbing and theologically perplexing, has nevertheless long been a central subject for their religious reflection and art.  In a similar way, Christians have long pondered over the significance of the dark and perplexing events of the crucifixion.  It should be noted, however, that right from the beginning, Jesus’ death was viewed in the New Testament not as a moment of defeat, but of victory; not so much as a display of human perversity but as a testimony to divine love.  The cross was soon transformed from a symbol not of shame and reproach to one of hope.  
 
The death of Jesus could be viewed as an act of God’s sacrificial love only because the young Jewish rabbi from Nazareth who was executed for sedition under Roman law is God’s son, the one he loves. 
 
The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. (John 3:35)
 
The path that Jesus took to Golgotha is costly to the Father in a way that is analogous to the suffering Abraham experienced in taking Isaac to Moriah.  The cost has to do with the depth of the relationship between father and son. 
 
A central feature of the Christian story is that Jesus is not a servant (like Moses) but a son.  And therein lies the significance of God’s gift to us and the real meaning of his sacrificial love.  God gave to us his only son, whom he loved, that in believing in him we might not be condemned but enjoy life eternal.
 
Prayer
 Loving God, you have made us for yourself.
Give us hearts to respond to your desire for our love
Give us the words to worthily praise your holy name.
 
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

URC Daily Devotion 6th December 2021

Witnessing to God’s love 1  

1 John 4:7-12
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 

Reflection
Where should a good story begin?  In particular, where should one start if one was to offer an explanation of the Christian good news to someone who was interested?  

One fruitful point of departure, it seems to me, would be the theme that God is love.  If people from different world-views are to engage in meaningful discussion with one another they need to find some common ground. The priority of love as a force for good and well-being in the world is one such place.  Who doesn’t believe in love?

But the idea that God is love in the New Testament is not a philosophical theory derived from our consideration of the divine perfections.  It is not something simply given.  The Scriptures argue that we only know that God is love from history – from what God has done among us.

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  (1John 4:9)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

God’s love is inextricably tied up with the gift of his son to a suffering world.  God’s love is displayed in Jesus’ cruel death on a Roman cross.   We might say the love of God is cruciform in shape.  The cross reminds us that at every point God’s loving is costly.  God is not like some cosmic chess player who plays games with our lives.  Rather, Jesus offers himself as a sacrificial pawn so that we might live.

The reading for today indicates that God sent Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  The word translated atoning sacrifice is hilasmos in Greek.  It is the same word group as the ‘mercy seat’ on the Ark of the Covenant in the Greek Old Testament.  God’s love is given so that mercy and forgiveness may be found – so that things can be put right.   And that is how God’s love works.

Prayer
Great lover of my soul,
Eternal fountain and bedrock of all human loving,
Slow to anger and ever ready to show mercy,
I come to you, as an object of that sacrificial love,
Captivated by it and liberated through it,
So that I too might become a channel of your love
To a world that is unknowingly searching for it.

.

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 5th December 2021 – Advent 2 – The Revd. John Grundy

Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Service for the Second Sunday of Advent 2021
5th December
 
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

 
 
The Rev’d John Grundy
 
Opening Music:  Prepare Ye The Way from Godspell
 
Welcome
 
Hello. My name is John Grundy and on this second Sunday of Advent 2021, on behalf of the church families here, I am delighted to welcome you to the Pastorate of St. Andrew’s Brockley and St. Michael’s New Cross in South-East London for this morning’s service. We are recording this service a little before December so if you are wondering why events which may have happened in the week before you watch this aren’t specifically mentioned or prayed for, I have intentionally planned a space in the Prayers of Intercession for us to offer our own private prayers. Today we will share Communion so I do invite you to have some bread and wine, or whatever suitable alternative you have available ready for that part of the service. Now let’s worship God together.
Call To Worship
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Hymn                Make Way, Make Way
Graham Kendrick (b.1950)
 

Make way, make way,
for Christ the King
in splendour arrives;
fling wide the gates
and welcome him into your lives.
 
2  He comes the broken
hearts to heal,
the prisoners to free;
the deaf shall hear,
the lame shall dance, the blind shall see.

 

Make way, make way, for the King of kings;
make way, make way, and let his kingdom in.
 

3 And those who mourn
with heavy hearts,
who weep and sigh,
with laughter, joy,
and royal crown
he’ll beautify.

4  We call you now
to worship him
as Lord of all,
to have no gods
before him,
their thrones must fall!

 
Candle lighting
 
As we light this second Advent candle, we give thanks for the voices who encourage and support us.  We also give thanks for those voices that challenge and annoy us:  Loving God, we hold before you those who speak out and speak up.  We thank you when you speak to us through unexpected voices and in unexpected places. Help us to listen and to share your love as you call us to. Amen
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession & Forgiveness
 
Loving God, we gather in our own spaces, our homes, our churches, our lives and thank you for inviting us to journey with you. We meet with you bringing the events of the week,  those things which we celebrated,  those we struggled with, and we lay them all before you. As we continue to journey in Advent this year, we may struggle to wait and prepare.  The demands of work, church, family, society and life may be pulling us and causing us problems and pulling us from focussing on you.   We thank you for continuing to find us when we struggle to sit with you. Loving God, we think today of the unexpected voice that prepared the way. Give us the openness to be ready to hear your voice in places we may not expect.  Help us to meet you at the margins of life. God of hope, we acknowledge that sometimes we let things get in the way. You get pushed into the background and we let the bright lights of the world take our attention.   Sometimes, we avoid people because they annoy us and we even forget to love ourselves. Forgiving God, you know and understand our humanity,  you offer peace when we feel we have let ourselves down, you forgive when we haven’t lived our best lives.
 
(we share a short time of reflection)
 
Knowing you are a God who forgives us even when we are unable to forgive ourselves,  we rejoice in your forgiving peace. We continue in prayer, using which ever language or version speaks most closely to us today, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer:
 
Reading:  St Luke 3: 1-6
 
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,  during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,  as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
 
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’
 
Hymn       On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
Charles Coffin (1676-1749) tr. John Chandler (1806-1876)
 

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

 

2 Then cleansed be
every  soul from sin;
make straight the way
for God within;
prepare we in our hearts a home,
where such a mighty
Guest may come.
 
3 For Thou art our
salvation, Lord,
our refuge and
our sure reward;
without your grace
we waste away,
like flowers that wither and decay.

 

4: All praise eternal Son to thee, whose advent set Thy people free
whom with the Father we adore, and Holy Spirit, evermore.

 

Sermon
 
At a specific time, in a specific place, specific things happened.
When a certain powerful man in Rome was the emperor
When a certain person was the Governor of Judea
When a particular puppet king was ruling Galilee
When his brother ruled another place
When another ruler was ruling somewhere else
When Annas and Caiphas were the high priests
 
A specific thing happened!
 
How many more specifics do the readers of Luke need here? This event the writer of Luke is sharing happened at a time that the readers can pinpoint in history and be really sure of!  This isn’t just a vague wishy-washy thing – the first two verses of Luke 3 anchor these events into a specific place and time. This happened!  And it happened in a particular way and in a particular place! And if you needed to confirm when, then you can look up the seven religious and secular leaders that Luke’s writer names.
 
But I wonder if that is what this passage is really trying to do? If not… then something rather important has been achieved accidentally.  But I find myself wondering if the naming of these names is supposed to help us to frame what comes next within a story which has a global significance! The part of the story we are about to encounter arrives in the wake of a list of the supposedly powerful and influential! Rulers, emperors, high-priests, puppet-kings.  This story begins surrounded by power and status, and then flips immediately to tell us of a man called John. And John doesn’t really fit into the current list.  This is the son of a priest from a comparatively back water town, and he isn’t doing what he does in the places of glory and wonder.  He is out in the wilderness, It’s quite a contrast.
 
But what is this specific person at this specific time doing? John is spending his time proclaiming a baptism of repentance and calling people to acknowledge their sins and come back to God. And he is preparing a way, well, to be very clear, he is preparing THE way.  He is getting the world ready for another specific man to arrive at a specific time and place.
 
I love this passage, for me there is incredible power in the way that the writer of Luke tells this – I love the whole set up.  I love that this passage tells us who John is and frames it all as the power of God breaking in where people wouldn’t expect it to happen. Surely it would be those seven named people who would be the ones to experience and see God at work first, surely that’s what the rulers and priests were for?  You’d expect God t burst in at the recognised places of power…
 
But this Advent story of John preparing the way isn’t a story happening in the seats of power or the temples of praise, this is God doing something new, and God doing something new at a specific place, in a specific timeframe, where God chose to shake up the whole world.
 
I sometimes think John is something of a bridge! Let me explain what I mean.  For me, John sometimes becomes the representative of all of the of the ancient prophets as the New Testament begins.  He combines their wisdom, their challenges, their power to annoy, their determination and mostly their bravery to speak truth to power.
 
He really does echo the words from Isaiah… he becomes the voice in the wilderness!  And it is in the wilderness of unexpectedness that God breaking-in is happening.  Now, I started by being quite clear this passage signposted us clearly to a specific time and place, but let’s be honest, that’s not how God’s power works is it? God may have chosen a specific place, a specific time and a specific way to be, but God’s power didn’t stop working, and it never will!
 
John’s work of preparing a way, of laying the groundwork for Jesus to arrive, to start his ministry and mission and to start shaking the world up may have been rooted there and then, but that also isn’t where that work stops.

On this second Sunday of Advent 2021, we are holding the wilderness and preparing as themes and thoughts, and I wonder if these remain especially significant in this next December with the Covid-pandemic still swirling around us? It is always vital that we root our faith in the contexts in which we work and move and I have found myself pondering if the post-pandemic world may be feeling very much like a wilderness for us?
This may be another Christmas where we have nagging doubts about safety and virus transmissions. This might be a year where the thought of seeing other people, especially large groups is just too much – This may be the wilderness, a wilderness of doubts and worry that we feel we are walking. 
 
Or… we might feel that actually, everything is okay now and why are we mucking about and not getting on with it – That might be a wilderness of frustration!
 
Or we might be in a wilderness of real stress and constrained emotions as pressures and sadness’s we don’t tell the world about are very real and painful for us! This could be the first Advent where the church and place you felt closest to God has closed during the covid crisis – this might be for you a wilderness of searching
 
Of course, your wilderness may be very different, and this might be just a time of anticipation and hope! Wherever you are just now though, I find myself reflecting that the power of God – the love of God broke into the world into that particular wilderness! And it remains I firmly believe, at the margins and in the gaps that God’s love seems to be most at work.  I hope and pray that you will feel the love of God with you in your advent walk. The other side of this passage is the role of John in preparing! Of getting ready – of making the way straight for the one who followed! Preparing the way for the one to follow!
 
I am not by nature the most patient of people, I really do struggle with having to wait! And that makes this harder for me to say really… Maybe the most important part of making ready is waiting for the time to be right? In this story from Luke – it was God who chose the moment, and made sure the people were in the right place at the right time
 
Advent is one of the two liturgical seasons in the church year where we are encouraged to pause and look forward, to wait for the celebration to come, to allow ourselves to be ready to face the joy that is yet to be!  And this is part of the tension of following Jesus! We are at the same time called to prepare… and called to wait…
 
So, as we prepare ourselves and wait to celebrate God’s love breaking into the world as a specific baby, to a specific mother in a specific place as foretold by specific prophets, we too need to challenge ourselves to engage with making ready – God might just be calling us to make the way smooth for someone who is seeking God’s love!
 
So, as we wait and prepare ourselves in the specific places we are in… Let’s hold ourselves, those we love, those who annoy us, the denomination we are part of and the global church – and let’s pray for hope and peace in our waiting – and let’s encourage one another to keep ourselves open to an unexpected voice we don’t expect to hear calling to us to prepare the way for the Lord!  Amen!
 
Hymn                Christ Is Coming Let Creation
                           John Ross Macduff (1818-1895)

 

Christ is coming! let creation
from her groans and travail cease;
let the glorious proclamation
hope restore and faith increase.
 
2  Earth can now but tell the story
of that bitter cross and pain;
she shall yet behold Thy glory,
when Thou comest back return to reign:

 

Come on back home, come on back home,
come on back home, haste that joyous jubilee!
 

3 Long Thy people have been pining,
for their peace and rest in thee:
they, in heavenly glory shining,
there restored shall they see.

4  With that blessèd hope before us,
let no harp remain unstrung;
let the mighty advent chorus
onward roll from tongue to tongue:

 

Intercessions
 
God of riverside, wilderness, community and journeys: We see you in glorious vision; we feel your power around us and rejoice in you in glory.
You lead us into places of unknowing and confusion but you walk with us, your guide us and support us.
 
We pray that you will let us revel in you, let us not find things to make us busy: let us rest in you and feel your love.
 
God of the low and dark places: We feel you walking alongside us when we feel lost and see you in the face of the stranger. Let our hope be transformative in the darkness, let the changes you made within each one of us be real for those we meet. Take our light, and brighten the darkness.
 
God of changes: We pray that you will keep us open to hearing your voice, let the words of transforming power echo in our ears and empower us to respond as you need us to. Let your renewal start within us, let us be the catalyst of change that you know we can be… even if we doubt ourselves.
 
God who consoles us: We pray for the world we don’t always understand… this world wracked by warfare, by hatred, by threat and violence… you walked this earth before we did and you know our frailties.  We pray for the bereaved, the injured, the fearful and the broken… Help us to live as you would want us to live… Help us to offer what we can… We offer prayers for this community… maybe for people that only we and you know… and we pray for the events of the week we have just lived
 
…(silence)…
 
God of love – hear our prayers. God of enormous and expansive love:
We pray for those that we love in this fellowship and in our families, we thank you for those that we chose to share our lives with.  We thank you for our relationships, for the people that you set in our lives to transform us, to renew us and bring us joy.
 
We pray for those people who we don’t always get on with, for the person that we avoid and hide from.  Help us to see you in our inner fears, in the difficulties we face and in the turmoil that we struggle with.
Help us to offer your incredible love, prepare us to be challenged and give us the tools that we need to be ready to do all that you ask of us.
 
On this day where we remember the glory of you journeying from the darkness of the waters into the glory of your light, let us be changed by you and let the change in us be part of a bigger transforming change.
 
This prayer and all of our prayers we ask in and through the transforming name and power of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Offertory
 
As we have discovered new ways of being church across the past eighteen months,  we always thank you  for the support still given to our local churches. So we pray for all that we offer and bring
 
Loving God,  accept these gifts and all of ourselves which we bring for you. Use our talents, skills, time and hopes  as well as the material gifts we offer  to build your kingdom and create spaces of grace for those you call us to serve.  All we bring, we bring for your work. Amen
Holy Communion
 
At our tables, in our homes, where we are… where we seek Jesus…
Jesus meets with us. We come together while we are separate and distant and share together. This is the meal Jesus calls us to be part of and to offer to those around us. So come and share.
 
Come and drink of the love of God,  which has been poured out for each of us; come and eat of the bread which has been broken for each of us,
Come and taste the bread – the bread which isn’t dependant on the supermarket shelf or the food bank parcel.  The bread which never spoils, which never grows mould.  The bread through which we are all fed with enough to spare for us to share with others. Come and share, come and experience, come and see.
 
Let us pray together:
 
Living God, you invite us to share with you,   we have heard you and have come as your guests. We know that we sometimes get the balance of living wrong, we don’t see the value of others or the wholeness of your created glory. We bring all of who we are, we bring our problems, our envies, all that hurts us, all that we need to let go of… and we lay them down before you. With thankfulness, we praise you for you take away all that holds us back and all that keeps us from you. And so, we meet with you here assured of your wonder and love for us and all of your world.
We your people here meet you, renewed and restored.  We thank you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord… Amen.
 
The Narrative
 
We hear again the story of that which we meet here to share: While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’.  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’
 
We are the friends and disciples of Jesus today.  He invites us to break bread together,  to remember him and to pray that God’s Kingdom will come.
 
Prayer of Thanksgiving
 
Thank you loving God for these gifts which we share  and for the love that you give to us. We meet with you here filled  with your promise of welcome into your community. So, we gather here as we are, as you need us to be  and as you have called. Long ago, you welcomed your people to you  and made known your greatness and glory; you sought out the outcast, you welcomed the stranger, you reached outside society’s expectations,  beyond tradition and though the power of empire.
 
Help us to be mirrors of your glory,  to be the people that you need us to be so that  we can shine as beacons of hope and love in your world. Transforming God, we thank you that your Holy Spirit meets with us wherever we are and we pray that she will take these human made gifts and symbols: wheat harvested, baked and prepared, grapes picked, trodden and transformed. And make them for us your body broken and shared and your blood spilt and poured out and offered. This we ask in Jesus’s name.  Amen.
 
Statement of Thanks and Preparation
 
For all that we are offered here, we thank God, as we gather around this table, as we hear again the story, as we consider the signs of Jesus’s love for us: the cross a sign of Jesus’s arm stretched out in love, the empty tomb a declaration that God’s love is greater than human power and stronger than death.
 
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest.
 
May the peace of God be always with you.
 
The taking of bread and wine.
 
When Jesus had given thanks, he took bread and broke it and said:
“Take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you” When Jesus had given thanks, he gave his cup to those gathered there and said: “Take and drink all of you, for this is the blood of the new covenant spilt for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin”
 
Please hold your bread:
 
Following His example, let us take bread.
 
Please hold the glass of wine:
 
following his example, let us take this wine.
 
Prayer of Thanks
 
You have met us here and fed us again,
May our hands be prepared to work for you,
May our eyes see what you show us,
May our ears hear your voice speak to us and call us,
May our hearts burn with the hope that you have given to us.
We thank you God for all that you have offered to us here,
May we respond as you need us to.
May we go and tell of your love. Amen
 
Hymn       Great Is The Darkness
                  Noel Richards & Gerald Coates
 

Great is the darkness
that covers the earth:
oppression, injustice and pain.
Nations are slipping
in hopeless despair
though many have come
in Your name;
watching while sanity dies –
touched by the madness and lies
 
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit we pray
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit on us today
 
2: May now Your Church rise
with power and love –
this glorious gospel proclaim.
In every nation salvation will come
to those who believe in Your name.
Help us bring light to this world
that we might speed Your return
 
3: Great celebrations
on that final day
when out of the heavens You come.
Darkness will vanish
all sorrow will end,
and rulers will bow at Your throne.
Our great commission complete;
then face to face we shall meet

 

Blessing
 
As we continue the advent journey this year.
Let us go into this new week filled with wonder,
Ready to hear the quiet voices
Alive to the opportunity to encounter God in a new way
And prepared, with God with us, to make the way smooth for those we walk with.
May the love and peace of God be with you.  Amen
 
Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from Psalm 37, all other material by John Grundy. 
 
Thanks to John Young, John Wilcox, Pam Carpenter, Sarah Wilmott and Ray Fraser for reading various spoken parts of the service.
 
Make Way, Make Way – Graham Kendrick (b.1950)  © 1986, Administered by worshiptogether.com – Performed by Andy Green and the London Fox Singers.



On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry – Charles Coffin (1676-1749) translated John Chandler (1806-1876) and others Sung by OCP Session Choir
Christ Is Coming Let Creation – John Ross Macduff (1818-1895) from the album Poets and Saints by Matt Scott
Great Is The Darkness – Noel Richards & Gerald Coates © 1992 Thankyou Music Unknown performer on Youtube.
 

URC Daily Devotion 4 December 2021

James 5: 16 – 20

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.  My brothers and sisters,  if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,  you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Reflection

James begins this chapter by addressing those who are “suffering”.  He uses a general Greek word that describes suffering of any kind, but the emphasis is on the anguish that is created in the mind as a result of the circumstances the person is experiencing. So, he is dealing there with people who are hurting emotionally as a result of some trouble in their lives. 

We experience all kinds of problems that result in emotional hurt in our lives – problems in our family, financial problems, problems at work, etc.  Those problems often lead to stress and anxiety. I don’t know about you, but my first response in those situations is usually to try and fix the problem on my own, but most often what happens is that my efforts just create more stress.

James teaches us that there is a better way. When I am hurting, prayer should not be my last resort, it needs to be my first. 

When James writes that Elijah prayed fervently, he employed a Hebraic expression that could literally be translated “Elijah prayed a prayer.” In the chapter in Kings, God reveals to Elijah that He is going to bring rain upon the land after three and half years of drought, and God commands Elijah to pray.  After Elijah prayed, God commanded him to go look toward the sea. Elijah didn’t see anything. He was commanded to do that seven more times and finally  a small cloud appeared in the sky and a short time later the clouds blackened and the rain came.  God wanted Elijah to be involved with what God was going to do through his prayer life, persistently and fervently. 

The writer says that Elijah wasn’t that much different from us. Elijah believed and trusted and so should we.
  
Prayer

Loving God, forgive us for the times that we have doubted you and tried to sort things out in our own lives on our own. Give us humble hearts and increase our trust in you. As we go throughout our day, let us praise you in our joys and in our sorrows knowing that you are the same God who will see us both the good and the difficult. So let us hold onto you tightly and ask for your guidance in our decisions today. Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion 3 December 2021

Friday December 3, 2021
 

James 5: 13 – 15

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.

Reflection

One of my favourite definitions of church is that it is “not a rest house for saints but a hospital for sinners”.  By “church” both James and this description refer to a gathering rather than building.   Nevertheless our churches have a wonderful commission in these verses:  to offer prayerful support for the suffering and sick;  to join our voices with those singing songs of praise;  and to enable healing and forgiveness to be lived experience rather than vain hope.   

I suspect that personal suffering, celebration, sickness and sin don’t always dominate the agenda of our Elders’ Meetings or Church Meetings and maybe church isn’t necessarily the place we associate with our need for help and healing.   We cannot deny that for too many people church is where we end up wounded or wound-up rather than healed and liberated.  We do well to remember that all of us, without exception, are both patients in “a hospital for sinners” and also agents of God’s healing and forgiveness.  

At the risk of sounding controversial I would support any church proposing to instal a Confessional – not because I believe that any one individual has the power to forgive sins but because there is something profoundly liberating for us to hear, audibly from the lips of another, that despite our own conclusion that we are beyond forgiveness God forgives us.   Such pardon can only come within a context of trust where we dare confess sin’s grip on us.   In his book, “In His Hands”, former Assembly Moderator, David Dale, tells the story of the church member who called together some members of the church to gather around the death bed. The member disclosed a wish to confess ill-feeling and resentment towards others before death.   This honesty prompted others to do the same and, Dale concludes, all experienced the healing power of forgiveness.   May every church be a place where such humility and honesty lead to the experience of hurts healed.

Prayer

O God, make the door of our church wide enough
to receive all who need human love and friendship,
narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough
to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet,
but rugged enough to turn back evil’s power.
God make the door the gateway to your eternal kingdom.  Amen.

 (adapted from Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711))

URC Daily Devotion 2 December 2021

Thursday December 2, 2021
 

James 5: 12 

Above all, my beloved,  do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Reflection

There are many echoes in this letter of teachings that Jesus gave. This verse is one of them.  Its substance matches pretty well the material in Matthew 5:33-37. Yet the wording here is not the same as in Matthew. So perhaps James got to know Jesus’ teaching early, long before anyone gathered it into written Gospels.  The wording in his letter comes from memory and regular use, rather than from Matthew’s written version.  That would fit, of course, with the tradition that the James of this letter was the Lord’s brother.

At first glance this verse stands alone in James’ letter, without close links to the verses before and after.  However, there is some continuity to be found, at least with verses 7-11.  Those verses speak of patience and resilience in difficult days.  Mutual support is part of that: ‘do not grumble against one another’ (5:9). 

Mutual support requires trust too, and honesty – telling the truth as a matter of habit. Christians should not need to use oaths, to emphasise that some of our speech is especially truthful. We should be the kind of people whose word others can depend on, whose speech is consistently honest and fair.  Trying to underline our truthfulness – in God’s name, or with any other oath – ought not to be necessary.

What, then, about court cases?  Would we take an oath there, with our hand on the Bible?  I have done so, and I think I would do so again.  This seems to help others in the room to take our testimony seriously.  But if we need this kind of solemn warning for ourselves – if we cannot trust ourselves to be honest without it – perhaps we need to search our hearts and change our habits.

Prayer

Jesus, you are the truth of God. May your life shape our living. Keep us from deceiving others and from deceiving ourselves. May there be truth in our words and our deeds. May your presence be known in and through us, in our speech, our relationships and our character.  Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 1 December 2021

Wednesday December 1, 2021
 

James 5: 9 – 11

Beloved,  do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!  As an example of suffering and patience, beloved,  take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Reflection

Yesterday, the preceding verses to this passage focussed upon patience and the waiting of the Lord. Today, we continue on the same topic but add in ‘grumbling.’ In most situations where we are finding it difficult to exercise patience we tend to fall into the trap of grumbling and or being grumpy. I can imagine that these oppressed Christians also were grumbling about how long to exercise their patience, ‘wait on the Lord! But for how long!’ James, points them back to the prophets and Job, where the Lord’s purposes, compassion and mercy came good. They just need to hang in there! In our grumbling about not being able to travel to where we want to go, being careful about  hugging each other, or the slowness in getting our much-needed medical services back on track etc, may we pause for a moment, exercise some patience for the situation and for those trying to sort it all out and offer it all to the Lord in our prayers. A lack of patience, grumbling and being grumpy with situations or with people can be a blockage to fulfilling the Lord’s purposes, compassion and mercy in our world.

Prayer

Compassionate God, 
forgive us when all we seem to do is grumble 
or be accused of being grumpy! 
It’s as though we want you to work at our pace.
and lack the patience to work at your pace.
Help us to learn from the lessons of the past, 
to see where your compassion and mercy has prevailed, 
and to be open and understand your ways of being in the world.
May we have the courage to reflect on our short-comings 
so that we too become more open to your bidding and ministry. Amen

URC Daily Devotion 30 November 2021

Tuesday November 30, 2021
 

James 5: 7 – 8

Be patient, therefore, beloved,  until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Reflection

It is at this point that James turns to the Christians who have been so oppressed by the landowners to encourage them to stay strong and wait for the coming of the Lord. I can just hear the sceptical  response in 21st century speak, ‘Aye Right!’ 
How many of us can truly profess to have great patience when in the depths of adversity? And yet here the challenge to these Christians is to exercise just that. Whilst I can find it in me to be patient in most situations, there are times when I want to scream, ‘oh, for goodness sake, just get on with it!’ I struggle with bureaucracy, or to what appears to me to be  needless, outdated traditions. Yet, when I have taken the moment to draw breath and waited a tad longer, other opportunities or possibilities have invariably come to light. Even, dare I say, better ones than perhaps I had first envisioned. Patience, they say is a virtue, and something we need to exercise more of – with each other, with situations in which we find ourselves and in order for us to discern the mind of Christ, and work at his bidding.

Prayer

Gracious God,
We give thanks for your presence among us 
whether in times of adversity, sorrow or joy.
Merciful God, help us to be patient with others, 
with the situations in which we find ourselves, 
and to draw on your strength and wisdom
 to guide us through these times. 
May we be patient enough to allow your
Holy Spirit to do its work.   Amen

URC Daily Devotion 29 November 2021

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.  Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.  Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

Reflection

As a local church minister I was very involved with a local primary school. One joy of this was doing ‘hot seat’ sessions, mostly with Key Stage 2 pupils. They could ask whatever they liked, and it was always great fun – not least because of the panic on teachers’ faces when they came up with questions about death and funerals. 

One of the other topics that made the adults uncomfortable was money. “How much do you get paid Clare?” came up on a regular basis. My standard answer was that I was paid enough to live on, but not nearly as much as I might earn in another job. Whilst this is totally truthful, it’s easy to use the logic of this to pretend that I’m not rich, that these words in James are not for me!
Of course that is rubbish. Even in the UK I am comfortably off, with a stipend, and housing provided. In the context of the world as a whole, I am rich. I may not be in the Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos category, but I am rich.

So for those of us who are rich, two thoughts from this passage: 

Firstly, God listens to the poor and the downtrodden. God hears the cries of the labourers. David Sheppard’s 1984 book ‘Bias to the Poor’ challenged the government of that time – and is perhaps even more pertinent now. The way in which we treat those who have the least, in this country, let alone the wider world is, I suspect worse now than back then. 

Secondly, whatever we own, it is impermanent. Having more brings greater responsibility. Being rich may increase our chances of a long life, but in the end it counts for nothing. Whilst the chemistry of gold rusting is questionable, the principle of “you can’t take it with you” is always true. 

Acknowledging our privilege, stewarding our wealth rather than hoarding, listening to the downtrodden – that is what God wants of us.

Prayer

God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power…
…Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal. Amen
(R&S 344)

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 28th November 2021 – Advent 1 – The Revd. Andy Braunston

Daily Devotions Service for
The First Sunday of Advent 2021
28th November

The Rev’d Andy Braunston
 
Opening Music U2 – Tomorrow
 
Welcome and Introduction
 
Hello, my name is Andy Braunston and I work with four churches in and around Glasgow.  Today is the first Sunday of Advent  – a time of looking forward and looking back.  We look back and remember God’s promises of hope and redemption.  We look forward as we yearn for Jesus to return again and put all things right.  We realise that we’re between two worlds – the world we live in and inhabit and the world that is to come.  We are often tempted, when we think of the state of the world, to long for God to come and put things right; today we remind ourselves that God also waits – for us to put things right too! 
 
Call To Worship
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
 
We wait for the Lord!  We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
 

 
Hymn       Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) (alt.) based on a hymn by John Cennick (1718-1755)

 

Lo! he comes
with clouds descending,
once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia!
Alleluia!
Alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.
 
2 Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshippers:
with what rapture,
with what rapture,
with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars.

 
3: Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory,
claim the kingdom for thine own:
oh, come quickly,
oh, come quickly,
oh, come quickly,
Alleluia! come, Lord, come!

 

Prayers of Approach, Confession, Forgiveness and Inspiration
 
Oh Lord we wait for you, as watchers wait for daybreak  so we wait for you.  But Lord it’s hard to wait;  we’re so impatient, there’s so much to be done, so much to be put right.
 
We wait for you as our world seems to go to hell in a handcart; we wait for you as the sea levels and temperatures rise, as humanity continues to pillage the earth, our fragile home, we wait for you to do something.
 
We wait for you as we see injustice pile upon injustice; we see people flee here for safety having lost family, home and security, often risking all to cross the channel in little dinghies only to be treated with hostility, suspicion and public indifference, we wait for you to do something.
 
We wait for you as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we see more and more people on the streets in our country and people around the world deal with famine and fatigue, pandemic and pestilence and we wait for you to do something.
 
Lord Jesus open our eyes to see what we can do! Lord Jesus help us to see that you’ve given us all that we need to make this world right!
Lord Jesus forgive us when we wait for you and do nothing ourselves;
passing the responsibility to you when you’ve given it to us. Lord Jesus forgive us when we forget to hope, hope for change, hope for strength, hope for you to come again hope for you to change us.  Amen.
The One for whom we wait, is ready, standing at an open door, holding open arms of welcome  all we need to do is stop waiting and turn back to Him and be ready to be changed!
 
Advent Candle Lighting
 
Lighten our darkness, O God, and remind us, as we light this Advent candle, to both hope in you, our light and salvation, and to be light to others in the gloom of our world. Amen.
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Open our hearts O God, to hear your word that as we listen, ponder and digest, you may inspire us to change, to act and to love,  Amen. 
 
Reading:  Jeremiah 33:14-16
 
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
 
Hymn:      Longing for Light, We Wait In Darkness
© 1993 Bernadette Farrell (b.1957)

 

Longing for light,
we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth,
we turn to you.
Make us your own,
your holy people,
light for the world to see.
     
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your Church
gathered today.
 
2  Longing for peace,
our world is troubled.
Longing for hope,
many despair.
Your word alone
has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.
 
3 Longing for food,
many are hungry.
Longing for water,
many still thirst.
Make us your bread,
broken for others,
shared until all are fed.
 
4 Longing for shelter,
many are homeless.
Longing for warmth,
many are cold.
Make us your building,
sheltering others,
walls made of living stone. (cont.)

 

5 Many the gifts,
many the people,
many the hearts
that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.

 
Reading:  St Luke 21: 25 – 36
 
Jesus said “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
 
Hymn:      Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) CH4 472  Tune: Stenkarazin Sung by Phil and Lythan Nevard
 

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art,
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
 
2 Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us for ever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.

 

Sermon
 
The people yearn for a new start.  Everyone is longing for hope.  We’ve had a dreadful time and things have got to change.  It’s all been too much, we’ve lost so much and it is easy to become despondent at how things are going.  Will things ever get better?  Will the rich still continue in charge doing their own thing and letting the poor suffer?  Will the tables ever be turned?  Will there ever be justice, will things ever go well for the dispossessed and displaced?
 
These words could sum up our life now as we struggle to move on from a pandemic that is still with us, as we face reality in our churches with many people still hesitant to return and with some churches deciding to close.  These words might have a resonance as we deal with inflation in prices but not wages or pensions, and as we look at the ecological crisis that threatens to wash all away before it.  The words might resonate in a world where there is little justice, where despots die in their beds not their prison cells and where capital is a principality and power all of its own.
 
The opening words could also reflect things in Jeremiah’s time when he was called to be a prophet to a people who didn’t want to hear.  He was called to tell the people that the impending disaster of invasion and exile in Babylon were their own fault.  Jeremiah had to tell the people they’d turned away from God and relied, instead, on foreign policy to save them.  Then, as now, foreign alliances are fickle mistresses; the sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan left a people in mortal peril and showed the British that the special relationship with America wasn’t that special after all.  Worse Jeremiah had to find a way to instil hope in a people who were about to endure unimaginable suffering; he does this to looking forward to a new branch of the House of David, a new ruler who will rule with justice unlike the then current rulers of the people.  God would, in his good time, raise up a new king who would put things right. 
 
The opening words could well have been said in Jesus’ time when the people groaned under the oppression of Roman occupation, where the religious leaders were more concerned with keeping things calm, placating the Roman governor, and where the puppet rulers of Israel were more concerned with feathering their own nests rather than the welfare of the people.  The long promised king, or Messiah, hadn’t come, Israel wasn’t living in a golden age but had suffered from oppression, invasion and occupation.  Maybe those old verses from Jeremiah were laughed at, seen as poetic imagination, but not a lived reality for the people. 
 
In Jeremiah’s time, in Jesus’ time, and in our own time people cry out “how long, O Lord, how long?”  Then, as now, pity parties might well be deserved.  For Jeremiah had to try and make sense of the ending of the Jewish state, the destruction of the Temple and long years of bitter exile where the people had to learn to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.  His message was to turn back to God and hope for better days; this may not have been altogether encouraging.  In Jesus’ time the people yearned to be free from Roman oppression, corrupt leaders, and unjust taxes as they dreamt of their own land being free once again.  In our own time our hopes and ambitions may not be so focused on such political ambitions but, instead, on fundamental changes to how we function as a society – perhaps we want to move away from an economy that always values growth over the earth, perhaps we want a society where things are more equal, where there’s a fair playing field for everyone; perhaps we want a society where ethnicity isn’t a bar, where how we love isn’t a thing to be despised, where the disabled are as valued as the able bodied. 
 
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are, frankly scary.  They are spoken in a style that would have been familiar to his hearers – they sound like parts of the Book of Daniel and, of course, like parts of Revelation which would have been written after Jesus’ words today.  Their style is the same used when writers wanted to give lessons about the end of time and where meanings might be hidden.  Jesus, like Wesley in our first hymn, was trying to say that these earth shattering things would happen – there will be signs in the heavens, the nations would be confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves, the powers of heaven would be shaken – but that we are not to lose heart as these are signs that He is returning.  In Wesley’s great advent hymn, Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending, we play with the same juxtaposition of ideas – the terror of the end with the hope that Jesus comes again. 
 
Throughout the centuries Christians have got a little over excited about Jesus’ return – and often those groups which majored on it the most were either suffering horrific persecution or had very narrow views which are alien to how we think.  Yet there is still a temptation amongst some Christians to ignore the plight of the earth and the injustices around us as they believe that Jesus will come and rescue us leaving the earth to go to ruin.  The consequences of that type of thinking is a neglect of the earth at best or a disregard for it at worst.  Yet the witness of Scripture is a renewed creation – a new heaven and earth – not an escape from it.
 
My most recent course in Scottish history is looking at how the Highland Clearances were resisted and, in places, reversed.  It’s a history of differing forms of social protest and one of the ideas we’ve been playing with is the Gaelic idea of dùthchas (doothas).  It’s not a word that is easily translated as it captures idea of where we’re born and grow up; our heritage.  In the contexts I’ve been looking at it’s about how one’s heritage, landscape, culture and language affect one’s sense of identity as well as ties with family, clan, and land.  For the Jews of Jeremiah’s time their dùthchas was dislocated as they were uprooted from their land, faith and heritage as they were made to march off to Babylon.  We know from how the Highland Scots had to leave their straths and glens to find work in the central belt, in North America or in Australia and New Zealand and how this can be a tragic thing to have to do.  In Jesus’ time the continued invasions of Israel by Babylonians, Greeks, and then Romans meant that the Jewish community was scattered all over the ancient world leading again to torn loyalties – the heritage of the past and the need to put down roots in the here and now.  Jeremiah had to give hope amidst disaster – to encourage people to see the hand of God even in the face of disaster and to make the best of it hoping for better times.  Jesus also encouraged his hearers to see God at work even in the natural disasters seen in the earth and the heavens and to long for all to be made right when he came again. 
 
So here we are between various worlds.  We’re starting Advent and are invited to look forward to the end of time when Jesus will return but our society is starting the run up to Christmas.  We’re coming to the end of another difficult year and we look forward to 2022 with some hope – the vaccines seem to have worked but new Covid cases are still with us and we’re not sure what the worst of winter will bring.  Many of us are glad to be back in church but we know that many churches across these islands have not reopened but, instead, concluded their time was up.  We live in an affluent society with huge amounts of poverty; we live in a rich continent which seeks to keep the poor and displaced out; we want the global movement of goods, money and services but not people – especially if the people who wish to come are different from us.  We’re between two possible futures too – maybe the crisis of the earth could be read into Jesus’ words about signs in the heavens and the groaning of the seas and the waves.  Maybe we will find ways to change, maybe we won’t.  These are the tensions we live with in Advent – we look back to the manger and forward to the end of time, we face up to the world as it really is and long for deliverance from the evil around us, we see what we have to do in order to save the earth but lack the will to do it.  Long ago the people groaned under the oppression of the invading Babylonians, they wept in the bitterness of exile.  Later they suffered the oppression of Roman rule and the ruin of the people.  In their faith they found hope – hope of a better world not a replacement to this one but an earth renewed where injustice, prejudice and oppression would end.  In our own time we need hope – hope that the pandemic will cease, hope that the world will become fair, hope that the poisonous prejudices of patriarchal systems will cease, hope that we may find ways to renew the earth.  We long for Jesus to return, but mustn’t forget the responsibility is ours to bring about the changes that we long for.  Will you pray with me?
 
God of justice and peace,
from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness,
that all on earth may live in awe and wonder
before your marvellous deeds.
Raise our heads in expectation,
that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord,
and use the hope that He brings,
to change our world as we proclaim your coming Kingdom. Amen.
 
Hymn       Comfort, Comfort Now My People
Isaiah 40:  1-5 adapted Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) translated Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)  revised John L. Bell (b.1949) recorded at First Plmouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
 

Comfort, comfort now my people;
Tell of peace – so says your God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning under sorrow’s load.
To my people now proclaim:
that my pardon waits for them.
Tell them that their sins I cover;
and their warfare now is over.

2 For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
calling us to true repentance,
since the reign of God is near.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way.
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

 

3 Straight shall be what long was crooked, and the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble, as befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord now on earth is shed abroad.
And all flesh shall see the token, that God’s word is never broken.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
Do you reject Satan?                                                             We do.
And all his works?                                                                  We do.
And all his empty promises?                                                We do.
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth?                                              We do.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died,
and was buried,  rose from the dead,
and is now seated  at the right hand of the Father?    We do.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting?                                                              We do.
God, the Creator almighty, has given us, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, new birth and forgiveness for all our sins. May God also keep us faithful to Jesus Christ, our coming King, for ever and ever.  Amen.
 
Intercessions
 
Loving Lord in this season of advent we look forward in anticipation to the birth of our Saviour. We look forward in hope, love, joy and peace.
 
We pray for the Church, for the great Church throughout the world,
and for our own church community gathered today for worship and prayer. May we remember Jesus every day, grow in understanding of him, and learn to love you and our neighbours. Fill us with your Spirit, and make us people of peace, of faithful prayer and loving action.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for the whole world; for the people, the animals, the earth, the sea and the air. May all that you have made be sustained in peace and harmony, and may all your creatures share in the goodness of creation. Bring healing to all who are suffering, and may all your people share in hope especially those known to us individually, who need your grace the most. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
 
We pray for ourselves, for our families and our friends, for all those we love and for those we find it hard to love. May young and old respect one another, and the generations honour one another. May nothing divide us or come between us, but let your love bind us in affection. Bless us with your peace, that together we may praise you forever. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Offering
 
We bring to God our offerings for the work of this church in the world.
Let us pray
 
As you fed the 5,000 from the gift of a young boy. We ask that you accept our gifts, transform them, so we can spiritually feed many, through
the ministry and mission of this church in the world. Amen
 
Hymn:      Christ Is Surely Coming
                  ©Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns Ltd  from Revelation 22
       

Christ is surely coming bringing his reward,
Alpha and Omega, First and Last and Lord:
Root and stem of David, brilliant Morning Star:
meet your Judge and Saviour, nations near and far;
meet your Judge and Saviour, nations near and far!
 
2 See the holy city! There they enter in,
All by Christ made holy, washed from every sin:
thirsty ones, desiring all he loves to give,
come for living water, freely drink, and live;
come for living water, freely drink, and live!



3 Grace be with God’s people! Praise his holy name!
Father, Son, and Spirit, evermore the same.
Hear the certain promise from the eternal home:
‘Surely I come quickly!’ Come, Lord Jesus, come;
‘Surely I come quickly!’ Come, Lord Jesus, come!
 
Blessing
 
May the One, long promised, 
who will come to set His people free, free you.
May the One, long promised, who will restore justice to the nations,
give you strength to do what is right.
May the One, long promised, who will give hope to His people,
shower you with hope that you may a sign of the Kingdom
and the blessing of Almighty God, the Three-in-One,
be with you, and all whom you love, now and always, Amen. 
 
Sources and Thanks
 
Call to Worship adapted from Psalm 37 by Andy Braunston. Affirmation of Faith adapted from the Apostles’ Creed.  All other liturgical material by Andy Braunston.  Intercessions adapted by Margaret Higton from Worship From the URC. 
 
Thanks to Derek McDonald, Margaret Higton, Dan Morrell and Katie Henderson for recording spoken parts of the service.
 
Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending – Charles Wesley (1707-1788) (alt.) based on a hymn by John Cennick (1718-1755). Taken from BBC Songs of Praise
Longing for Light, We Wait In Darkness – © 1993 Bernadette Farrell (b.1957) Published by, OCP Publications. Performed by Bernadette Farrell
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – Charles Wesley (1707-1788) CH4 472  Tune: Stenkarazin Sung by Phil and Lythan Nevard
Comfort, Comfort Now My People – Isaiah 40:  1-5 adapted Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) translated Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) revised John L. Bell (b.1949) recorded at First Plmouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Christ Is Surely Coming – ©Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns Ltd  from Revelation 22 Performed by Jubilate Hymns