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.
 

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