Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Advent

Lord Jesus, Light of the World, we thank you that the joy that flooded the hearts of the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, the hosts of heaven, and Mary and Joseph, is the joy that still has the power to overwhelm our hearts with rejoicing. Amen.

Our readings today are Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 read by Alastair and John 1.6-8. 19-28 read by Ramanie. They have inspired the following reflection by Revd Jeanette Allan.

The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian Church is the Holy Spirit, the director of the whole enterprise. The mission of the Church we learn about in Acts consists of the things that the Spirit is doing in the world. You remember how Paul often says, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .’. In a special way what is happening is that the light that the Holy Spirit is focusing upon Jesus Christ.

This fact, which was so patently obvious to Christians in the first century, is, I fear, largely forgotten in our own time. Because that is so we have lost our nerve, and our sense of direction, and we have turned the divine initiative into human enterprise. ‘It all depends on me, or on us’ is an attitude that is bedeviling mission these days. I’ve heard it said in Vestries, ‘We have to look after ourselves, if we don’t who will?’ and yes, I sympathize, we do have to be responsible, but we also need to hear the promptings of the Spirit, leading us to the Kingdom, for that is why we are the Church, not to keep our building, beautiful as it is, wind and water-tight, not that I’m suggesting we shouldn’t do that, but it certainly isn’t our raison d’etre. The attitude, ‘It all depends on me’ is precisely what Jesus forbade at the start of it all. His followers must NOT think that mission is their sole responsibility.

While he was in their company Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem. ‘You must wait,’ he said, ‘for the promise made by my Father, about which you have heard me speak: John, as you know, baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and within the next few days’ (Acts 1 :4-5) The Spirit, by taking permanent hold of the waiting disciples, as he had taken hold of Jesus, effected a kind of extension of the incarnation, bringing the disciples into everything that could be available to them in Christ. This was their ‘Christening’ by which they were made to be as Christ in the world, to be his body, filled with his very Spirit. When we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts the direct result was an outburst of praise to the Lord, of whose presence in their midst they had suddenly been made aware. The polyglot crowd who came from many nations, all speaking different languages, overhearing and miraculously understanding, asked one another, ‘What can this mean?’

As one by one men and women have their eyes opened to see the overmastering reality of Christ and put their faith in him, they are baptised in the Holy Spirit and joined to the Spirit-filled society. For the Spirit’s power, as well as its mission towards the whole world, operates always in the interactions of community rather than in the secret recesses of each individual soul. The task of the Church, then, because it is filled with the Spirit of the New Man, Jesus Christ, is to live the life of the new humanity in the middle of the old world. And, as we have discovered, there are many challenges and difficulties with that.

Our usual Eucharistic Prayer reminds us of that when it says, “He broke the bonds of evil and set your people free to be his Body in the world.” That makes the mission of the church crystal clear in one short sentence. What a sentence and what a task.

As these 1st century Christians went down under water, as they drowned to their old, pagan way of life, all the divisions that marked that way of life drowned along with them. At least they did so symbolically, for the old Adam and the old Eve are mighty good swimmers. Race, social class and sex: these were what delineated the Jewish world. Poor you, if you were a Gentile. Poor you, if you were a slave. Poor you, if you were a woman.

That kind of injustice must stop. Working for peace and justice, caring for the environment, in other words, honouring all God’s people equally and being good stewards of God’s creation; these should be the hallmarks of the church. We would certainly make an impression on the community around us if we became known as a community of people who actively supported and worked for these things.

As, during Advent we wait for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, it is also a good time to assess how we are approaching mission, working as a community to further God’s Kingdom here on earth, the things we are doing well, the things we could do better and the things we are doing badly. Time to pray about what we need to do here at St. Mary’s to become a community through which Christ’s love shines out like a beacon to the world around us.

I leave you with two question to ask yourselves. How much of the unredeemed me actually drowned when I was baptised? How do I live the freedom given me by God, to treat everyone as equals, to work for justice for all, to be compassionate at all times, to care for God’s creation and to show God’s love to the world around me?

You are invited to pray the intercessions which follow, written by Allan Boesak from South Africa based on John 10:10, Matthew 11:5, Revelation 21:4, Malachi 3:1-2, Romans 13: 11-12

We are called to proclaim the truth. And let us believe it is not true that this world and its people are doomed to die and be lost.
This is true: I have come that they might have life in all its abundance.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.
This is true: the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
This is true: death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world.
This is true: the Lord whom we seek will suddenly come to his Temple; and he is like a refiner’s fire.
Father, your Kingdom come.

It is not true: that our dreams of liberation, of human dignity, are not meant for this earth and for this history.
This is true: it is already time for us to wake from sleep. For the night is far gone and the day is at hand.
Father, your Kingdom come. Amen.

You may wish to finish your time of worship by reading or singing along to Edward Caswall’s translation of the Advent hymn, ‘Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding’, as David plays the tune.

Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
‘Christ is nigh’, it seems to say;
‘cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day’.
Wakened by the solemn warning
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all ill dispelling,
shines upon the morning skies.
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
one and all to be forgiven;
That when next he comes in glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.
Honour, glory, might, and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
with the everlasting spirit,
while eternal ages run.