Lighting of Advent Crown – Hymn 284 (v3)
In the darkness of these days, O Most High,
we dare to light candles;
Candles to represent hope,
candles to represent your light in our dark world,
that we might be lights in the darkness of our world.
Call to Worship
We come together in this place.
To be together as God's people.
Gather us, O God
And we shall celebrate our variety and our uniqueness.
Gather us, O God
that we may worship and adore you.
Hymn 291 - When out of poverty is born
Prayers of adoration and confession
Eternal God, we come to meet you in worship,
knowing you give us strength in our weakness,
water in the dryness of our lives and strength in our fear.
O Most High,
you give us hope as you gave assurance to John the Baptist of old. In our dungeons of despair,
you assure us of your love and truth;
in our confusion, you show us the way –
a holy way where we can’t get lost.
Merciful God, we come confessing our sins and shortcomings. Though we try to put the past behind us, all too often we are haunted by mistakes. Though we try to make amends for the wrongs we have done,
we find it hard to escape a sense of guilt.
Often, we ask You for forgiveness, but find it hard to forgive those who treat us badly.
Rejoice, O People of God, as the desert shall rejoice and blossom, as the people will see God’s glory,
as the dry places shall break forth with water, so you are forgiven, so find the strength to forgive yourself!
Readings - Isaiah 35: 1-10
1. Hills of the north, rejoice;
river and mountain spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing;
though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
he judgment brings and victory.
2. Isles of the southern seas,
deep in your coral caves
pent be each warring breeze,
lulled be your restless waves:
he comes to reign with boundless sway,
and makes your wastes his great highway.
3. Lands of the East, awake,
soon shall your sons be free;
the sleep of ages break,
and rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and gray,
has dawned the everlasting day.
5. Shout, while ye journey home;
songs be in every mouth;
lo, from the North we come,
from East, and West, and South.
city of God, the bond are free,
we come to live and reign in thee!
Gracious God, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour and give us the strength to grow in love. May everlasting joy crown our heads with gladness. May the dawn of his coming find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. Amen
It was around this time 29 years ago that I sang for Nelson Mandela. I was studying at Selly Oak in Birmingham before going out to work in Zambia, and the College was asked to provide a choir to sing as he was given the freedom of the city. It was my one chance to be in his presence, so I joined the choir – fortunately no audition. It was a marvellous occasion, and he turned and shook hands with each one of us.
Books have been written about Mandela, films have been made. But now there is a musical on his life in London. I am sure it would be harrowing, but the music would be so uplifting. It is a sign of the immense impact Mandela has had on the world. His life spanned the best part of ten decades and saw him rise from the relative obscurity of a small village to become the first black president in a very racially divided South Africa.
Why am I thinking about Mandela? Because most of us remember the 27 years he spent in prison for speaking out against the oppression and injustices of the ruling white elite. He suffered for sharing his vision of a rainbow nation and for speaking out for the cause of freedom. It is something of a miracle that during these years of forced labour his heart didn’t turn as hard as the limestone rocks he was forced to hew. While we are amazed by his sense of graciousness – his ability to forgive his captors. Yet in these years in prison, he must have wondered what was going on in South African society. Was it truly changing? Was freedom and equality of all races progressing without him? Were those he left to carry on his work faithful to his vision? I am sure there would have been times when doubts must have crossed his mind.
Our Gospel reading today has John the Baptist also in prison for speaking out against injustice and immorality, and especially against the king. But he too must have wondered what was going on outside his prison walls. Were things in the world really changing? And what of this new leader, his cousin Jesus of Nazareth – was he taking up the cause of justice and ushering in God’s kingdom? Was Jesus really the one they had been waiting for? You can see how doubts would begin to cross his mind. So he sent some people to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah.
The reply was that the deaf hear and the blind can see; those who are sick are healed and the good news is preached. In many ways similar to the passage from Isaiah, where all good things are happening. As well as the blind seeing and the feeble made strong, , water would gush in the desert and streams in the wilderness. It was a vision of exiled Israel returning to Jerusalem, full of hope. A new society would be created. Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and gladness and joy would replace sorrow. Jesus was saying that the Kingdom was drawing near.
We may not be anything like Nelson Mandela or John the Baptist, but we too can have our doubts. There isn’t so much hope in our world today, with wars and economic crises and climate change and prices rising. That tension is part of our Christian life.
Yet Jesus is still at work, bringing the good news and saying, ‘Be strong. Do not fear’ and ushering in the kingdom. We are involved, for we can be avenues of God’s peace and mercy breaking into the world. So we reach out, we care, we give, we pray. We seek to be lights in the dark world. As markets rise and fall, we know that God remains constant. As wars and rumours of wars enfeeble us, we know that God is our refuge and strength. As bills rise, as we battle with despair, we know that God gives hope. John needed to hear good news in his prison; let us be good news in the world.
Hymn 281 – People look East
All good gifts come from you, Eternal One,
help us to let go and give away some of our time,
some of our talents, and some of our treasure -
that in our giving, we may become rich,
and your world may become whole. Amen.
Prayers of Thanksgiving & Intercession
God of hope, in this season where we watch and wait for your return and we celebrate that you took on our mortal form to live among us to show us your way, we acknowledge how little has changed.
The poor remain marginalised, the needy are ignored, and we think about peace and harmony being about an easy life rather than bringing about radical change in the world. Therefore, as we prepare for the change that you will bring, we pray for ourselves and the world.
Our God, we are surrounded by what seems impossible. In this silence of our hearts, give us courage to look back at those times in our lives and in our societies where the impossible lost its threat. Thank you for the events we travelled through, for the grief we managed, for successes we never thought we’d achieve. You stirred people to unlock prison doors for people who had lost hope, you empowered people to give other people homes, you stirred law makers to make lives more fair. There is work to do, but you show us by your eternal and local activity that we can always trust you. Thank you.
Move in us, God. Move in Ukraine and Ethiopia. In Myanmar and Somalia. Move in the increasingly divided nations. Raise up advocates who will give others room to speak and act. Give respite and safety to the people in Haiti’s Port-au-Prince where gang warfare violates people in their way.
We pray for nations ruled by corruption rather than justice; where free speech is controlled and persecuted against; where being different is outlawed.
We pray for your church in all these situations and grappling with its own divisions. We pray for the counsel and wisdom of the Holy spirit, that we might be true messengers of hope in those places without hope.
In a moment of silence we bring before you those who are on our minds and hearts.
Sound your horn in our ears, engage our hearts, fire our minds. Nothing is impossible with you. In the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of Holy Spirit, Amen and Amen.
Hymn 286 – Tell out my soul
May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you and those whom you love and those whom we are called to love, this day and even forevermore. Amen