Material for Worship on the Second Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
John told the people to prepare,
for you were very near.
As Christmas grows closer day by day,
help us to be ready to welcome you now. Amen

Good morning. Those of you who are unable to be in church or follow the service online are very much part of the worshipping community of St. Mary’s and I hope that you find the material for reflection and prayers below helpful to you. Nerys

You are invited to start your time of worship today with Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn. As you read or sing along, notice the many commands in this prayer that implores Christ to be with us and also the many instances of the word ‘born’, each one revealing a different aspect of Jesus’ mission to a troubled world. Here is David playing the tune.

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.

Born thy people to deliver;
born a child and yet a King;
born to reign in us forever;
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.

Both of our readings today, from the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark, are announcements of Good News in difficult times.
Imagine you live in Babylon around the year 545 BC. Forty years ago, your people were taken there by force. A generation has died in exile and been replaced. Many of your people have succumbed to this calculated attempt to destroy their culture and religion, to break their spirits and wipe out their identity. They languish under the thumb of Marduk, the Babylonian god. But some of you still regard yourselves as children of Abraham, still wonder every day when you will return to Jerusalem, praying that it may be soon. Your homeland has been laid waste, God’s temple razed to the ground but you still cling on to hope.

A new message has come from the Holy City, another prophecy. You sigh. Not more bad news! Surely you’ve lived under God’s judgement for long enough. But this message is different. Here at last is some good news. Listen to Davie reading Isaiah 40.1-11.

Imagine you live in Galilee around the year 70 AD. There’s a war on. Some radical Jews have revolted against Roman rule and Jerusalem is under siege. Reports have come to you that conditions are really bad in the city. Up and down the land, people are divided. Everyone is anxious, caught between resentment of Roman military oppression and fear of guerrilla extremism.

In your village, tensions are high. Jewish and Gentile neighbours fear one another. Even families are divided. But one small sect refuses to fight on either side. Followers of a teacher from Galilee named Jesus who was crucified about forty years ago by the Romans. The rabbis call them heretics. The Zealot rebels dismiss their founder as ineffective. The Roman loyalists suspect them of continuing his alleged insurrection. But you are intrigued by them. They claim that their leader’s execution is good news for us from God. How can that be? Someone hands you a scroll with the title scribbled on it: ‘The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ the Son of God’. Listen to Gudrun reading Mark 1.1-8.

Now, imagine you live in Jerusalem around the year 28 AD. Today you’ve travelled out of the city along the highway to the area where the River Jordan winds down to the Dead Sea. It’s a long way to walk in the heat of the sun but you’re not alone. Imagine being part of that vast crowd of people – city dwellers like you, mingling with villagers from all over Judea. It must have taken a lot for you to venture into this barren, hostile landscape. An unsettling, unnerving place where weird things have happened. The place where your ancestors were formed through hardship and suffering as the people of God.

As you near your destination, the noise level increases. The people are gathering as if for a festival. But there is no temple here, no ritual baths, no priests to make the sacrifices. Instead there is a muddy river and a man dressed in rough clothes. People say he is Elijah returned in his fiery chariot. His words are fiery enough, pouring hot into your ears, challenging people to change their lives, telling them how their ways must be mended.

I wonder what had drawn you out of the city to listen to him. Was it a longing for something the temple with its rituals and sacrifices couldn’t offer you? Was it hope that the prophets’ words were being realised out here in the wilderness, that God was about to fulfil his promise to his people. That the Messiah, the Christ, was on his way. It must have taken a lot for you to confess your shortcomings in front of all those people. It must have taken a lot for you, a Jew, to step into the river and be baptised. I wonder what it felt like to emerge from the water and walk back to the shore dripping and shivering? What was it like to know all your wrongdoing had been forgiven? To know that you had been given a new start?

But John is speaking again. He’s saying that this is just the beginning. He is just clearing a path for someone else. What he is doing with water, the Coming One would do with the fire of God’s Spirit. You remember the words of Isaiah. This is Good News indeed!

So what about us? Advent is a time of refreshing and renewing, an opportunity for a new start in the midst of troubled times. Take a moment now to reflect on God’s word to you today and to respond to it.

Advent God,
through scripture your people waited,
waited to be taken to the promised land,
waited for exile to end,
waited for the Messiah to come,
and we wait too.

We think of those who are waiting
for delayed operations and tests,
for family to visit,
for help with their struggling business,
for winter to end,
for babies to arrive,
for the vaccine,
for hope,
for comfort,
for love.

Advent God,
be with them in their waiting
and be with us
as we help bring the good news of Emmanuel, God with us,
into our homes,
into our communities,
into your world.

Christ Jesus,
we thank you for our fellow travellers in Advent and beyond,
for the opportunity to worship,
for the voices in the wilderness who prepare the Way for your coming.
May we be among those voices
to bring hope,
bring comfort,
bring love.

Loving Spirit,
inspire our thoughts and deeds this week to the glory of God,
the God we know,
the God we love,
the God we long to serve.

(Adapted from a prayer by Susan Cord)