Sunday Worship 10 December 2023 Advent Week Two

Today’s service is led by the Revd Nicola Furley-Smith

Introduction & Call to Worship

Welcome to worship.  My name is Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries, and today’s service comes from Purley.

Now is the time of new beginning.
Now is the time of watching and waiting;
Now is the time of expectation;
Now is the season of unfolding hope.
So let heaven be silent, and earth be still.
God is coming in power to judge the earth
whether we are ready or not.
Let hearts leap with joyful anticipation,
for God will rule with justice,
and from the least to the greatest,
his people will rejoice.

Hymn     Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
James Montgomery (1821) Public Domain sung by Blessing Samuel John and used with his kind permission

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.

He shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains,
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains,
from hill to valley flow.

Kings shall fall down before Him,
and gold and incense bring;
all nations shall adore Him,
His praise all people sing;
For He shall have dominion
O’er river, sea, and shore,
Far as the eagle’s pinion,
Or dove’s light wing can soar.

To him shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend;
his kingdom still increasing,
a kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never
his covenant remove;
his name shall stand forever;
that name to us is love.
Prayer of Approach, Confession and the Lord’s Prayer

Good News!
Advent is a time of preparation – with trees and decorations
presents and family, tinsel and lights.
We prepare for the busyness of Christmas.

Good News!
Advent is a time for preparation –
for the future,
for thinking about what our lives with Jesus will truly mean:
transformation from the bleakness of winter to be beacons of hope.
We prepare for the busyness of Christmas.

Good News!
Advent is a time for preparation –
preparing for the Saviour’s birth as a tiny baby,
swaddled in his mother’s arms full of expectation and promise.
We prepare for the busyness of Christmas.

Loving God, help us to prepare our hearts well, 
to clear a way through the wilderness of our world with joy,
for Christmas, for the future, for your coming. For your sake. Amen.

Loving and forgiving God, we come before you now
to confess that our lives are not what you would want them to be.
If we are honest, they are not what we would want them to be either.
In so many ways, through what we say, what we think, and what we do,
we fail to live out the reflection of your Son, Jesus Christ.
And for this we are sorry.

We make no excuses, we have no reason,
we don’t even know why we are the way we are,
but we recognise we are not as prepared for your coming 
as we should be.  Please forgive us.

May we use this time of preparation during this Advent season
to rid ourselves of all that keeps us in darkness
and turned away from your light.
Renew us today with the brightness of your Spirit’s presence.
All because of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Good News!  Our loving and merciful God forgives our sins.
Go and be Good News to the world! Amen.

And we say together the prayer Jesus taught his followers

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Reading     Isaiah 40 vv.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 for ever. 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     Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Catherine Winkworth; Author: Johann Olearius (1671) public domain, performed by Nathan C George and family.  Permission sought. 

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all folk to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
and the hills bow down to greet Him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain;
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er earth is shed abroad;
and all flesh shall see the token,
that his word is never broken.

Reading     St Mark 1vv.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 baptizer 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 baptized 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 baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Hymn      On Jordan’s Banks The Baptist’s Cry
Translator John Chandler b 1806; Author: Charles Coffin (1676 – 1749) Performed by Ruth and Joy Everingham and used with their kind permission.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and harken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings!

Then cleansed be every life from sin:
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.

For you are our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward.
Without your grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out your hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth, and let your light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.
To God the Son all glory be
whose advent sets his people free,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Spirit, evermore.

Prayer for Illumination

On this second Sunday of Advent, 
Almighty God, the giver of light and the source of all peace, 
illumine our hearts that we receive every word you speak to us today. 


Beginnings are important. They set the tone for what is to come. They clue us in on what to expect. Mark’s first words are: 

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

Mark does not begin with the “story” of Jesus Christ as Matthew and Luke door the doctrinal claim of John. Behind the “good news” is the very Gospel of God. Behind Mark’s interpretation of what God is up to is what God has been about all along — good news. 

Beginnings also make us consider endings. And you cannot consider the beginning of Mark without thinking of its ending. They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid…

The original unsatisfying ending had the scribes and scholars scrambling for alternate closings and theoretical explanations so they added verses 9-20. Yet, the real ending of Mark is not really an ending at all. It’s a beginning.

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

He is not here, is perhaps the best ‘good news’ of all. Not even a tomb can hold God, not even death. There is no tidy conclusion or tying up loose ends for this story of God. The end is the beginning and in this season of Advent, this season of preparation, everything for which we wait,  everything in which we hope will not be what we imagined. I know I can’t imagine any better news than that.

Our first reading from Isaiah 40:9-11 provides us the scriptural basis for such a theological claim. Here is the one who brings good news. Not here is the one who has brought good news. But here is the one brings good news – present participle of the word evangelism). The good news is that God is doing something new.

The chapters following Isaiah 40 address a tired and weary people who have some trouble imagining a new future.  Sound familiar? At the beginning of Isaiah 40, the call goes out to comfort the people who have been exiled from their homeland and for a desert highway to be built for their return. The prophet proclaims it is God’s power which will make this vision a reality. But will the exiles recognise God’s creative power? And if they do, how will they respond? Imagining a new future, physical travel toward Jerusalem, and rebuilding a city still largely destroyed are activities that require energy. God may not be tired, but the people of God are. Sound familiar? Part of this creative work will be in renewing and strengthening the people as this work is accomplished. Those trusting in God, however,  will have the energy renewed to move forward into the new creation that God has in store for them.

In the midst of their devastation and despair, their hopelessness and certain destruction, the exiles hear the good news: Here is your God! God is here, God is victorious, your God, our God reigns. Good news, the Gospel, is at the heart of who God is. And for Mark what God is up to now in Jesus is nothing other than to say, Here is your God! Our reading from Isaiah reminds us that God has been about Gospel all along and that the good news is not only at the very heart of who God is but also at the heart of what God calls us to be. This is the Good News of Great Joy of which the angels sing!

As we anticipate these words from the multitude of the heavenly angel on this second Sunday in Advent Mark asks us to view God’s good news in a different way. We are to find God’s good news not in Jerusalem but in the wilderness where the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem are going out to meet John the Baptist.  It is ‘the gospel era’: the kingdom of God has dawned. Mark wants us to know that God is ready  and willing to transform our lives: a gospel era which starts with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who announces the dawn of God’s rule and seals the reality of that reign by establishing a new covenant with God’s people through his own death and resurrection. He wants us to believe this and to act accordingly.

Mark’s beginning announces God’s intention to visit God’s people. God gives directions for the way to be prepared. God does not say, Tell the people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them. God says, Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are ready or not).

Like the voice of God in our Isaiah reading there is a sense of urgency: I will come to my people, and nothing will keep me from them. Mountains will be torn down, valleys will be filled in, rough places made smooth — whatever it takes! 

Preparation is so important. You really do want to be ready to face the day and any challenges you might encounter. And depending on the situation, you’re going to do different things to prepare. Someone coming to stay for the weekend probably results in different preparations than an elderly parent moving in with you permanently. Preparing to meet a friend for coffee looks pretty different than getting ready to clean the bathroom.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations we must remind ourselves again today that Advent is a season about preparation. Yes, perhaps the Christmas decorations are going up inside or outside. Perhaps some presents have been bought or even wrapped. Maybe the Christmas music is playing at home. It certainly is in the shops. But these are preparations for Christmas. They are not Advent preparations. 

John the Baptist leads us to see that the most important preparation to celebrate Jesus’ first advent is that we prepare our hearts. And Mark wastes no time telling us for whom we are to prepare our hearts. God had promised through the prophet Isaiah that a messenger would come to prepare the way for the Messiah, to make roads ready and paths straight. 

In response John the Baptist didn’t embark on a public works project to get ready for Jesus. He wasn’t literally building roads and filling in ditches. Instead, he went out to the Jordan, the “wrong” side of the Jordan, the opposite banks from Jerusalem. He’s on the margins. He’s in the wilderness, living and thriving unlike almost anyone else. He’s trying to get people to see that they have fallen short of what God wanted, the danger that that falling short posed for their eternal well-being, the need turn back to God and to know the joy in God’s forgiveness. Because the source of that forgiveness was coming, and soon John proclaimed this message by offering a baptism of repentance as a means of ‘getting ready.’ How can we get this real Christmas present so that we, in turn, are ready to deliver it to the people it is meant for?  

Baptism in the Jordan River is significant. Famous in the Old Testament as the boundary marker for what came to be called the Promised Land. God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years until at last they reached the Jordan River. When they entered these waters, they knew their wandering was over and that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled. Here then is God’s imminent, certain advent, though such an announcement obviously calls for response. God is coming to us! 

This is fantastic news! So, what can we do to get ready? Confess your sins, John suggests. Get baptized. Repent. Later, Jesus will add, and believe in the good news!

God will come and fulfil all of God’s promises whether or not we do any of these things to prepare but knowing God is on the way, why wouldn’t we want to do them? So, when Advent comes around every year, we are reminded that God is coming to find us so when John the Baptist shouts, Prepare the way of the Lord! it is as though God has just called, Ready or not, here I come! 

Without repentance, without preparation, Christmas is just Santa and presents, or family and church traditions devoid of any eternal meaning. But with repentance, and trust that God has in fact forgiven us, we see in Jesus’ advent the assurance that God loves us,  the assurance that God keeps his promises, the assurance that there is forgiveness. 

It’s the same hope that John’s baptism brought. And this is why we need this time of preparation so much. Because what good is Christmas if we don’t see our need for the Saviour whose birth we will celebrate?

Our new beginning this Advent calls us to prepare to go beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be. We find ourselves not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside of her city walls, in the margins, on the sidelines. How can we get this real Christmas present so that we, in turn, are ready to deliver it to the people it is meant for?  The kingdom is much more than the Church.

Think of the environment, and the damage and destruction that modern living is inflicting on it. Working to repair the damage and lessen the destruction is working for the kingdom.   Every bit of waste recycled, every energy efficient light bulb installed is an action in favour of the kingdom. And then think of the campaign for fairly traded goods. Every fairly traded packet of tea or coffee, that is bought is an action in favour of the kingdom. And every contribution given to Christian Aid, Tear Fund or any other aid organisation, every coin dropped into one of their collection boxes, every recycled good that’s donated to a charity shop – all these are actions in favour of the kingdom. If we are truly to be the heralds of Jesus Christ we will need to get stuck in.  

The beginning of the gospel is in the place of need.The good news of God brings hope to those who find themselves in the peripheries of our world, but it also belongs there. 

God’s good news of grace announces God’s presence on the fringe, God’s love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us. My question is: Are we ready or not?

Hymn      Our God Reigns
Leonard E. Smith (1974) © 1974, 1978 by L. E. Smith, Jr./New Jerusalem Music.  Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713.   Sung by Lenny Smith and family and used with his kind permission.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him
who brings good news, good news;
announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:
our God reigns, our God reigns!
Our God reigns, our God reigns, 
our God reigns, our God reigns!

He had no stately form. He had no majesty
that we should be drawn to him.
He was despised and we took no account of him;
now he reigns with the Most High! 
Our God reigns, our God reigns, 
our God reigns, our God reigns!

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded him,
it was our sin that brought him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray, our shepherd came
and on his shoulders He bore our shame! 
Our God reigns, our God reigns, 
our God reigns, our God reigns!

Meek as a lamb that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
still as a sheep before its shearer,
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain
that we might be born again! 
Our God reigns, our God reigns, 
our God reigns, our God reigns!

Out of the tomb he came with grace and majesty,
he is alive, he is alive!
God loves us so; see here his hands, his feet, his side:
yes, we know he is alive!
Our God reigns, our God reigns, 
our God reigns, our God reigns!

Prayers of Intercession

Loving God
Source of Good News, prepare our hearts,
that in the wilderness places in our world 
mountains will be torn down, valleys will be filled in, 
rough places made smooth,
that in word and deed we may proclaim his kingdom of peace.
By your Spirit send us ahead as messengers 
of your kingdom of new beginnings.

We pray for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for those who are marginalised and rejected
that we may hear their voices and to speak boldly on their behalf.
By your Spirit send us ahead as messengers 
of your kingdom of new beginnings.

We pray for those whose lives are weighed down 
by past hurts and wrongs,
for the abused and for abusers.
that we may bring healing, reconciliation 
and repentance to troubled hearts.
By your Spirit send us ahead as messengers 
of your kingdom of new beginnings.

We pray for those who speak for us,
for politicians and for leaders.
that we may speak clearly to them of true justice and mercy
and they may listen.
By your Spirit send us ahead as messengers 
of your kingdom of new beginnings.

We pray for those who are unwell, 
those who are suffering and for those who have died;
for those in pain and those who mourn
that we may offer comfort.
By your Holy Spirit, send us ahead as messengers 
of your kingdom of new beginnings.

We pray for our Church,
for all who serve and worship here.
that in the wilderness places in our world 
mountains will be torn down, 
valleys will be filled in, 
and rough places made smooth,
as we prepare the way of the Christ-child in our hearts
and in the hearts of others.
By your Spirit send us ahead as messengers of your kingdom 
of new beginnings. Amen.

Hymn     The Kingdom of God is Justice and Joy
Bryn Rees (1973) Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. Sung by Paul Robinson and used with his kind permission

The kingdom of God is justice and joy;
for Jesus restores what sin would destroy.
God’s power and glory in Jesus we know;
and here and hereafter the kingdom shall grow.

The kingdom of God is mercy and grace;
the captives are freed, the sinners find place,
the outcast are welcomed God’s banquet to share;
and hope is awakened in place of despair.

The kingdom of God is challenge and choice:
believe the good news, repent and rejoice!
God’s love for us sinners brought Christ to his cross:
our crisis of judgement for gain or for loss.

God’s kingdom is come, the gift and the goal;
in Jesus begun, in heaven made whole.
The heirs of the kingdom shall answer his call;
and all things cry “Glory!” to God all in all.

Now is the time of new beginning.
Now is the time of watching and waiting;
Now is the time of expectation;
Now is the season of unfolding hope.
Go now into the world to proclaim the Good News.
that God himself is with us and among us,
made flesh for us and for the salvation of the world.

And the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be amongst us and remain with us
This day and for evermore. Amen.

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

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