Welcome to our online worship today. It contains prayers, the readings for the day, a reflection and some lovely musical offerings. Our worship takes about half an hour.
The Prayer for Today: the Collect
O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness we are grievously hindered in running the race that is set before us, your bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Hymn: Come Thou long expected Jesus
The First Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
A Meditation on Peace
The Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8 The Proclamation of John the Baptist
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 Bank, the Baptist cries
Today’s Reflection: from our Vicar, Rev. Jane Cresswell
There’s a story told about an elderly woman in the west of Scotland who was at home when air raid sirens went during the Second World War. The fire warden came looking for her when she failed to appear in the designated shelter, and found her urgently hunting the house for something. “I’m looking for my false teeth” she said. “For pity’s sake, hen” he replied “it’s bombs that are falling, not pies!”
The woman in that story had her priorities all wrong. And getting our priorities right is one of the themes of today’s gospel. Mark’s gospel is the earliest and shortest of the four. It doesn’t begin with the Christmas story, like Luke and Matthew, nor does it begin with a lofty prologue, like John. Instead Mark launches in “The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God”
The Greek word evangelion which we translate as the word gospel, from the two Greek words “good” and “messenger or angel”, means the announcement of Good News. It was used by the Romans to describe a general’s triumph or the birthday of the Emperor. In fact the only person whom Mark’s gospel records as recognising Jesus as the Son of God is the Roman centurion standing at the foot of the cross.
Rowan Williams talks about Mark’s gospel as a gospel of regime change and so, he says, it is significant that it is a Roman soldier who can see that Jesus is greater than his boss, the Emperor, heralding a new era and a different kind of empire.
What about us? And what does this new regime mean in practice? What should be our priorities as we go into this new Christian year? Mark’s opening chapter suggests three things:
First, seeking forgiveness. John the Baptist announces the new regime, preparing the way for Jesus by offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The message he preaches is quite clear: if we want to be ready to greet the Messiah when he comes, at Christmas and in final judgement, we have to be willing to be changed. And that’s not easy. It is helpful that Advent is a season of reflection and penitence. We all need to ask ourselves again each Advent season, what do I need to repent of?
What grudge have I been holding on to that I need to let go? What bad habit do I need to leave behind? What have I been putting off that I know I need to do? Am I forgiving others?
Sometimes bad things happen to us, and it is only by breaking the cycle of evil by offering forgiveness to others that change is wrought. And of course, our model is Jesus, who, suffering for our sins, forgave us.
Second, leaving home. Mark tells us that people went out into the desert to hear John the Baptist. In other words, they left home. Following the Messiah requires a life changing going out, a willingness to leave your home, your comfort zone, your safe space, and mark a new beginning. It is again what God models for us … leaving his home in heaven at Christmas to be born in human form as the infant Jesus. You probably know the old hymn that reminds us: “Thou didst leave thy home and thy kingly crown, when thou camest to earth for me.” My welsh grandmother used to sing that one. We may not have to move house, but if we really want to experience the fullness of what Jesus offers, we have to step out in faith.
And finally, looking forward. Today’s reading ends with John the Baptist making abundantly clear that he and his message are just the warm up act. It is Jesus in whom we find new hope. Time and time again in Mark’s gospel we will read how people who had no hope, nothing to look forward to in this life, found new hope by following Jesus.
Advent is a time to ask ourselves again: what do I hope for in my life? The woman who was looking for her false teeth in the middle of an air raid had her priorities all wrong – worrying about teeth rather than saving her life. And it’s easy for us to get our priorities all in a muddle. You could say that this year, with its repeated waves of Covid 19 illness and deaths has presented us with a similar kind of crisis as that air raid siren. It’s not the same but similarly serious. And yet as a nation, we still worry about trivia … such as how we are going to get our Christmas shopping done when the shops are shut, or whether we will be allowed to share a pub meal with extended family, and what size turkey we need to buy or whether there will be enough turkeys without as many seasonal poultry workers from abroad this year.
Really?? Does it matter in the grand scheme of things? Or can we start being concerned about something more important such as making sure that every person in this country gets something decent to eat on Christmas Day and indeed every day by diverting some of our resources to the local foodbanks and seasonal shelters? Can we start caring about our neighbours so that no one has to sit alone feeling lonely and forgotten without a friendly wave, a phone call, a surprise parcel on the doorstep? We might not be allowed to welcome many people into our homes this year, but we can reach out.
It’s not too late to be changed. We just have to want to be. It’s an adventure, following Jesus … Suzanne used that word in her sermon last week. We are on that adventure. Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s put our hope in God and welcome with open arms the new regime of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, certain that once we do, nothing can separate us from his love.
Anthem: I Wonder as I Wander
I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die. For poor ordinary people like you and like I... I wonder as I wander out under the sky. When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall, With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall, And the promise of ages it then did recall. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing, A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing, He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.
Our Prayers for Today
As we prepare to celebrate God made Man in different ways this year, let us pray to the Lord for newness in our lives in the words of the great 20th century Anglican philosopher Austin Farrer:
O Lord, save us from our frivolous selves which misuse your creation; our masterful selves which manipulate your creation; our greedy selves which exploit your creation; ourselves which throw the thick shadow of our own purposes and desires in every direction, so that we cannot see what it is that you, our Lord and our God, are showing us. Teach us to stand out of our own light and let your daylight shine.
Lord, hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
As we grapple with the stresses of dealing with the dilemmas of our current circumstances, let us pray to the Lord for peace of mind in the words of the prayer of Brother Roger of Taize:
O Risen Christ, you breathe your Holy Spirit upon us like a gentle breeze and tell us ‘Peace be yours’. Opening ourselves to your peace, letting it penetrate the harsh and rocky ground of our hearts, means preparing ourselves to be bearers of reconciliation wherever you may place us. But you know that at times we are at a loss. So come and lead us to wait in silence, to let a ray of hope shine through in our world.
Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
As we reflect on those in need in our rapidly changing world, let us pray that the Holy Spirit may pervade all those who are struggling in mind or body. The prayer of St Anselm:
We bring before you O Lord, the troubles and perils of people and nations, the frustrations of prisoners and captives, the anguish of the bereaved, the needs of refugees, the helplessness of the weak, the despondency of the weary, the failing powers of the aged and the hopelessness of the starving. O Lord, draw near to each, and may your Holy Spirit enter their hearts.
Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
As we rejoice in being able to step out to worship in church once again, let us pray to the Lord for the courage to step out in faith in the words of the Christian writer, Angela Ashwin:
Thank you O Lord, for our church: for the faith that has blossomed there, and for worship in all seasons offered there; for the lives that have been touched there and commitment stirred into life there. As we tread in the footsteps of generations which have gone before, stay with us on our pilgrimage: when we falter, encourage us, when we stumble, steady us, and when we have fallen, pick us up. Help us to become, step by step more truly ourselves, and speak to us with the whisper of your love; for you are a God of renewal and steadfastness, now and always.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Advent Chant: Come Lord Jesus, Come and do not delay
Notices for the Week: Click the image below to see the notices
Final Hymn: Lo, He comes with clouds descending
On our heads and our houses the blessing of God; on our coming and going, the peace of God; in our life and believing, the love of God; At our end and new beginning, the arms of God to welcome us and bring us home. Amen.
Voluntary: Little Fugue in G minor. J S Bach