Sunday Worship 4 December 2022

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 4 December 2022

 
Today’s service is led by The Revd 
Dr Elaine Colechin

Call to Worship
 

A voice calls in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way, make the path of the Lord straight.” Straight for whom? Those who seek the Lord? Or for the Lord to enter in? As we come to worship God this Advent, we prepare for both— Christ’s return and our return to Christ. So let us rejoice.
 
Hymn    Hills Of The North, Rejoice
              Charles E. Oakley 1832 – 1865 BBC Songs of Praise
 
Hills of the North, rejoice,
river and mountain-spring,
hark to the Advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing.
Christ comes in 
righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.
 
Isles of the Southern seas,
sing to the listening earth,
carry on every breeze
hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew,
his word is sure, his promise true.
 
Lands of the East, arise,
he is your brightest morn,
greet him with joyous eyes,
praise shall his path adorn:
the God whom you have 
longed to know;
in Christ draws near & calls you now.
 
Shores of the utmost West,
lands of the setting sun,
welcome the heavenly guest
in whom the dawn has come:
he brings a never-ending light
who triumphed o’er our darkest night.

 

Shout, as you journey home,
songs be in every mouth,
lo, from the North they come,
from East and West and South:
in Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the universe be blest.
 
Lighting of the Advent Candle
 
Here is the second Advent candle.
 
Prayer of Approach
 
With words of gratitude and songs of praise,
we approach you, O God,
because of your wonderous works and mighty acts.
We seek your presence and guiding wisdom
so that as your people we live our lives in a way that always
pursues justice, loves kindness and walks your way
filling the world with your glory shown us by Jesus Christ,
the promise of Advent and for whom we wait to return. Amen
 
Prayer of Confession and Forgiveness
 
A voice calls in the wilderness: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”    
(St Matthew 3.2)
 
Gracious God, daily your kingdom comes near through the generous hands of others, the call for justice, the desire to see the end of poverty and neglect and a rebalancing of society.
 
Yet, the world as you would will it to be is not the world we always strive to make it. We get distracted by a need for wealth; power and authority go to our heads misguiding our actions and words; our own vulnerabilities take priority.
 
As we look for your return and long for your coming forgive us.
Restore us to your path, guiding us in your ways of righteousness and truth. Through Jesus Christ for whom we wait. Amen
 
A moment of silence should be kept
 
Hear the good news. The Lord is faithful in all words, and gracious in all deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
(Psalm 145.13-14)
 
Therefore, let us be assured that God has not just come near, God is here: encouraging us while challenging us, accepting us while confronting us, and always forgiving us in these things.

Thanks be to God.
 
Hymn   Come, Holy Spirit, come! Inflame our souls with love
              The Revd Michael Forster, © 1992 Kevin Mayhew Ltd sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Inflame our souls with love,
transforming every heart and home
with wisdom from above.
Let none of us despise
the humble path Christ trod,
but choose, 
to shame the worldly wise,
the foolishness of God.
 
All-knowing Spirit, prove
the poverty of pride,
by knowledge of the Father’s love
in Jesus crucified.
And grant us faith to know
the glory of that sign,
and in our very lives to show
the marks of love divine. 
 
Come with the gift to heal
the wounds of guilt and fear,
and to oppression’s face reveal
the kingdom drawing near.
Where chaos longs to reign,
descend, O holy Dove,
and free us all to work again
the miracles of love. 

Spirit of truth, arise:
Inspire the prophet’s voice:
Expose to scorn the tyrant’s lies,
and bid the poor rejoice.
O Spirit, clear our sight,
all prejudice remove,
and help us to discern the right,
and covet only love. 
 
Give us the tongues to speak
the word of love and grace
to rich & poor, to strong & weak,
in every time and place.
Enable us to hear
the words that others bring,
interpreting with open ear
the special song they sing 
 
Come, Holy Spirit, dance
within our hearts today,
our earthbound spirits to entrance,
our mortal fears allay.
And teach us to desire,
all other things above,
that self-consuming holy fire,
the perfect gift of love.

Prayer of Illumination
 
A voice calls in the wilderness: “prepare the way.” For us to prepare your path, we need to know your way, Lord God. Teach us your truth, anoint us with your Spirit, and make us ready as Christ’s body today. Amen
 
Reading     Isaiah 11.1-10
 
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
 
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lordas the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
 
Reading   Romans 15.4-11
 
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’;
 
Hymn    Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
James Montgomery (1821) sung by the Rev’ds Lythan and Phil Nevard

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.
 
He comes with succour speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.
 
He shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains,
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains,
from hill to valley flow.
 
Kings shall fall down before Him,
And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore Him,
His praise all people sing;
For He shall have dominion
O’er river, sea, and shore,
Far as the eagle’s pinion,
Or dove’s light wing can soar.

 

O’er every foe victorious
He on His throne shall rest,
From age to age more glorious,
All-blessing and all-blest.
The tide of time shall never
His covenant remove;
His Name shall stand forever,
His changeless Name of Love.
 
Reading.    St Matthew 3.1-12
 
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’ Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
 
Sermon
 
If you have ever walked through a wood or forest after a storm which has brought down trees, the sense of devastation can be quite overwhelming. Leafy canopies that provided cover and security replaced by the open sky with no place to rest. Pathways through the trees littered with debris and vast obstacles. And these must be cleared if the byways and highways are to be safely traversed again. In that moment of aftermath, there is a sense that this wood or forest will never be the same again. But what if a few months later you go back to that same wood or forest, is that the feeling you still get? Sure, that enclosing canopy is still visibly absent, but there are signs of hope and all is not lost. Even from the fallen trees which were left where they fell, tiny shoots of new life can be found.
 
I doubt many of us reflect upon Advent without a deep sense of hope. We do not hear the words of the prophets or John the Baptist’s cries in the wilderness and see only devastation and loss. We are in the fortunate position of knowing what is coming—Christmas—and God’s great reveal of hope for the world. And we journey from year to year hoping that one day God’s promise will be fulfilled—all will be of God and for God. Yet are we truly prepared for what that hope might bring or lead to?
 
Our three passages of scripture come at this from distinctly different angles and contexts. We might align John the Baptist’s words with the prophecy of Isaiah; how can we not when he quotes Isaiah at the people on the banks of the Jordon. However, we cannot assume Isaiah was only talking about Jesus. Yes, there is a lot of crossover between Jesus’ story and what the prophet said about the Messiah. But there were others in the history of the land of Judah who too could have been that fulfilment of prophecy. And then there is the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome … Three passages of scripture that stand alone yet all point to that future hope that we as the church still have today. Three passages of scripture that take us on a journey of preparation as we both recipients and messengers of that hope.
 
Isaiah’s prophecy is the first step on the journey. A picture of what this hope will look like is painted. It rather distorts what we might consider as the natural order of creation, but it is the ultimate outworking of harmony and peace. It takes us back to maybe what God intended at creation, everything being vegetarian and living alongside one another without orders of authority or power. Now on this second Sunday in Advent, this is not a challenge as to whether you should have ordered a turkey or a nut-roast for Christmas dinner. It does, however, cause us to stop and think. If this hope was to be realised in 21 days’ time, would we be ready for the world as we know to be turned on its head and our reality to be completely changed and not of our making? After all, this is the radical nature of our belief. If we read Jesus into Isaiah’s prophecy, then this is what we hope Jesus will do. Yet, let us just think this through. Jesus has been but, in our fields, we do not have lions and cows grazing alongside each other. Obviously, we can put this down to poetic license on Isaiah’s part, as Jesus did turn the world’s perspective on its head. But are we really living in that reality?
 
As we are not seeing the reality of Isaiah’s picture of hope in the world, maybe we should go back and look at how, from Isaiah’s perspective, it will be brought about. Isaiah’s prophecy is very centred on an individual who is of a royal bloodline. Now in the time of the prophets the land we know as Israel was split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was Israel ruled by a succession of kings not all of the same bloodline as there were regularly overthrows of power. The southern kingdom, Judah, however, had a succession going back to David. A more stable rule and therefore one we might think of as a secure nation. But given Isaiah’s prophecy was to Judah, not that stable. The image of the fallen tree suggests that the current king of the Davidic line had failed. Nevertheless, in this part of Isaiah’s prophecy, this did not mean the end of Judah. There was one who would come forth from that stock and be everything that the current king was not. This king would not make decisions that promoted only their status and that of their courtiers. They would be righteous and just, rebalancing society. I will let you go and explore the prophecies of Isaiah and the books of Kings to find out whether this came to fruition. However, before we leave Isaiah behind it is worth noting the other thing the prophet said about this king: they would be anointed and empowered by the Spirit of God.
 
Let us move then to the banks of the river Jordan and John the Baptist calling people to repent and be baptised. The image of hope here is entangled with a very strong message of judgment. If there was to be any hope, in John’s words, one had to change one’s ways. And through that remodelling of the purification rite in Jewish ritual, John helped people along the way. Now there is a shift here in who would bring about change in the nation: it was no longer down to the one at the centre, the sovereign. In fact, the initiation of change came right from the margins, it did not even involve the religious leaders and teachers. They were in as much need of a change of heart as the rest of the population. Therefore, it was John the Baptist, one who was on the margins of society because of where and how he lived and one who was not part of the establishment, who acted as the catalyst.
 
Of course, just as with the Isaiah passage we can think about the narrative of the story in relation to Jesus’ story. John the Baptist being one from the margins laid further ground for the Messiah not to be looked for among nobility. If we were not reading the gospel of Matthew out of order, in the previous chapter we would have heard how the Magi found the infant Jesus not in Herod’s castle but in the back streets of Bethlehem. But just as with the passage from Isaiah, we cannot only consider the story of John the Baptist as another illuminator of the character of Jesus. There is more too it of which we are apart. After all, our baptism is not only of water; it is also of the Holy Spirit.
 
And so, to the letter to the Romans. Maybe not our natural fare for the season of Advent. But if we are to prepare for what we hope for, then we need to take a listen. The apostle Paul points to hope being a future event. We glimpse it though the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but God controls when hope becomes reality. But this does not mean we just sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting. We have to start to get to grips with what that hope is and prepare for what God’s harmony and peace might look like. And this preparation is not just about us getting our heads round a change in the natural order and reconsidering how we live with nature. It starts at home, in the church, where disagreement is rife, and a bit of reconciliation would go a long way.
 
In the church in Rome, there were two camps. Those whose heritage was Jewish and those who were known as Gentile (i.e. their heritage was not Jewish). And as we might expect from our own heritage of being several denominations coming together, this caused tension. In fact, things had got so bad, it was one of the reasons why the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. Paul points out to his readers that although Jesus fulfilled the messianic promise made to the Jewish ancestors, Jesus represented God’s hope to all people therefore breaking down the confine of the Mosaic law. Jesus taught a different life in God although firmly rooted it in the foundations of the law given to Moses which are the love of God and love of neighbour. Consequently, the church cannot be a place of exclusion, it should be a place of welcome where everyone can be who they are and not be required to be something different to fit in. And in embracing this way of being church, that is one step on the road to being ready for the harmony that God will bring. It also means that from the margins, the church has the ability to challenge change in society so that there is true justice for the poor, equity for the meek and the calling out of the wicked. Are we ready for this?
 
In Psalm 72, king David prayed that God would bless his son giving him the wisdom and understanding to rule justly. We could pray that prayer too as together we try to be Christ’s body in the world. However, more importantly, let us pray for the re-baptism of the Holy Spirit—its wisdom, counsel, and empowerment—after all this is God’s gift that will make us both recipients and messengers of hope. Amen
 
Hymn    On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry   
Charles Coffin translated by John Chandler Everingham Music used with their kind permission.

 

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and harken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings!

 

Then cleansed be every life from sin:
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.
 
For you are our Salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward.
Without your grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out your hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth, & let your light restore
earth’s own true loveliness 
once more. 
 
To God the Son all glory be, 
whose advent sets his people free,
whom with the Father we adore, 
and Holy Spirit, evermore.

 

Affirmation of Faith
 
‘Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great …’ 
(1 Tim. 3:16a)
yet this Advent, let us proclaim the faith of the church universal
which the coming of Christ made possible.
 
We believe in God as parent, creator and protector,
root of all being.

 
We believe in Jesus Christ – God in our midst  – coming as that fragile promise of a baby yet to be born and whose birth was heralded with hope.

Who John the Baptist announced would turn the world upside down
seeing deep into the human heart 

separating the wheat from the chaff
and the sheep from the goats.

Yet who passed through the grip of death
so all might know justice and peace—
God’s gifts of mercy and compassion
far beyond our human understanding.

 
We believe in the Holy Spirit, implanter of truth,
who brings us to birth as the body of Christ, holds us together,
and empowers us to confront and transform
all that is wrong in our lives and the world
for the glory of God who draws near, who is always near
and who promises to come near again. Amen

 
Intercessions
 
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.
 
In this world where there is a great chasm between those that have
and those who have nothing, we pray for real change in political policy, economic goals and societal understanding.
 
We give thanks for the agencies that challenge social norms and seek to level-up society. And we pray for the charities that try to make a little go a long way so those with nothing have something, even if it is only the basics to survive.
 
We pray for those nations which are ruled by corruption rather than justice; where belief and free speech is controlled and persecuted against; where being different is outlawed.
 
We pray for the Church in all these situations and its grappling with its own divisions. We pray for the wisdom and counsel of the Holy Spirit so that we can be true messengers of hope in those places that are without hope, that have no future vision.
 
And we pray for ourselves, for current challenges on our lives, for circumstances where courage and insight are needed.
 
All these prayers we gather in the one prayer that Jesus gave us to pray when all other words and knowledge fail us:  
 
Our Father…
 
Offertory
 
In preparing for God’s hope, what it will and does bring into the world we make our own offering to God.
God of hope, through Jesus Christ you have set change into motion,
through the Holy Spirit you enable and encourage that change to continue. Through what we can offer – time, talents, and tithes –
use us to prepare and make your change come. Amen
 
Hymn    The day of the Lord shall come
The Rev’d John Bell © WGWRG sung by Adam & Gillian Earle
 

The Day of the Lord shall come,
as prophets have told,
when Christ shall make all things new,
no matter how old.
And some at the stars may gaze,
and some at God’s word,
in vain to predict the time,
the Day of the Lord.

The desert shall spring to life, the hills shall rejoice;
the lame of the earth shall leap, the dumb shall find voice;
the lamb with the lion shall lie, and the last shall be first;
and nations for war no more shall study or thirst.

The Day of the Lord shall come – 
a thief in the night,
a curse to those in the wrong
who think themselves right,
a pleasure for those in pain
or with death at the door;
a true liberation for
the prisoners and poor.

 

The Day of the Lord shall come
and judgement be known,
as nations like sheep and goats
come close to the throne.
Then Christ shall himself reveal,
asking all to draw near
and see in his face all faces
once ignored here.
 
The Day of the Lord shall come,
but now is the time
to subvert earth’s wisdom 
with Christ’s folly sublime
by loving the loveless,
turning the tide and the cheek,
by walking beneath the cross
in step with the weak.

 
Blessing
 
Go then to prepare the ground for what God’s hope brings.
And may the Spirit of the Lord rest upon you,
giving wisdom, counsel and understanding,
as you follow Jesus Christ and journey in God’s love. Amen
 
 
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