THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT

11TH DECEMBER 2022

SENTENCE FROM SCRIPTURE

Come Lord and save us.

OPENING HYMN

GREETING

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

COLLECT FOR PURITY

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,

all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:

cleanse the thoughts of our hearts

by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

that we may perfectly love you,

and worthily magnify your holy name;

through Christ our Lord. Amen.

SUMMARY OF THE LAW

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.

CONFESSION

God is love and we are God’s children.

There is no room for fear in love.

We love because God loved us first.

Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.

God our Father, we confess to you

and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ

that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,

and in what we have failed to do.

We are truly sorry.

Forgive us our sins,

and deliver us from the power of evil,

for the sake of your Son

who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

ABSOLUTION

God, who is both power and love,

forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit,

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

KYRIE

Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy

KYRIE
Sung by Dougie Byers

LIGHT CANDLE ON ADVENT WREATH

For John the Baptist

COLLECT

Stir up our prayers, Lord and hear us:

that they who are sorrowful and suffering

may rejoice at the advent of your only begotten Son

who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, world without end. Amen

PROCLAIMING & RECEIVING GOD’S WORD

FIRST READING
Isaiah 35:1-10
read by Annette Beagrie

The Return of the Redeemed to Zion

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and shouting.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp;
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

SECOND READING
James 5: 7-10
read by Mark Toner

Patience in Suffering

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Brothers and sisters, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.


GRADUAL HYMN

GOSPEL READING
Matthew 11:2-11
read by Reverend James Clark Maxwell

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according Luke chapter 3 beginning at verse 7

Glory to Christ our Saviour

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

REFLECTION

Last week we heard a voice from the wilderness and today we hear a voice from the prison. The voice belongs to John the Baptist, a title he inherited because he encouraged people to repent and to be baptised.

John was the chosen one to herald the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist drew thousands out of the city into the desert to see him. He attracted their attention through his habitat, his clothing, his lifestyle, his outspoken views and direct straight talking. Many valued his prophetic words and found new life and hope in God.

However not all welcomed John’s straight talking. Herod did not appreciate being told off by John for living an immoral life, and so he silenced John by putting him in prison. It was a rather draconian measure and a stark reminder that those who do the will of God are not immune to injustice and suffering. This censorship is not just something that happened in first century Palestine but sadly something that is still happening in different parts of our world today. People are being silenced, censored, imprisoned for their religious beliefs and political views. Their crime like John’s was speaking out against injustice and wrongdoing.

In prison John had time alone to think in his dark and dingy surroundings. Doubts swept over John and he wondered and worried if the person he had baptised in the Jordan was truly the anointed Messiah. There are a number of reasons why John might have had questions at this point in his life. For one thing, he was in prison! Here he was faithfully proclaiming Christ, and he ended up in prison as a result. John may also have wondered about Jesus’ mission. Remember, John and Jesus both proclaimed the same message, “The kingdom of God is near!” But John may not have fully understood how Jesus would bring that kingdom. Many expected that Messiah when he came would overthrow the Romans and free the Jewish people. They expected a political deliverance, not a spiritual deliverance. Jesus already confused John earlier when he came to John to be baptized. Even then John didn’t understand that Jesus was identifying with sinful humanity in preparation for the cross.

And so, John has questions about Jesus, and he sends his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” And Jesus responds by pointing him back to Scripture. Jesus refers to several Old Testament prophecies which spoke of what Messiah would do when he came and what those prophecies foretold about the Messiah? That the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, the mute would speak, and good news would be preached to the poor. In other words, Jesus was doing exactly what the Scriptures said the Messiah would do, when he came. John was struggling with doubts, and Jesus pointed him back to God’s word.

We should do the same thing whenever we struggle with doubts. Any Christian can struggle with doubts from time to time, and when we do, we also should look to God’s word to reassure, clarify and direct us.

To be fair to John, Jesus’ miracles and preaching did not really commence until John was imprisoned. So, John had not seen much of Jesus in action and so he had not witnessed his great miracles. That’s why John sends out a messenger to Jesus to enquire if Jesus is the appointed Messiah. Interestingly Jesus does not directly answer that question but he does confirm that he is through his signs and healings. Jesus’ works and ministry were evidence of who he was. Jesus is saying: “Come and see! I am He! Then Jesus adds blessed is the one who is not offended by me. The word translated “offended” in this verse is a word that literally means to trip over something and fall down. Jesus is saying blessed is the person who does not trip over him and fall down because of him. Jesus is encouraging John and us to continue in our faith even when we suffer for Christ. Jesus wants people to understand who he is and receive him as the Messiah. If that person does so, he or she will be blessed.

After the departure of John’s disciples, Jesus sets out to clarify who John is. He explains that John is one who prepared the way for his coming. John was not a reed swaying in the wind, tossed about by cultural, social, or political pressures. In other words, John was not weak or impressionable. He was steadfast in his beliefs and true to his convictions and calling by God. John was a prophet, not like previous prophets. John’s mission was specific; he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, the Messiah. John was a bold and uncompromising messenger for Christ. He serves as an example for us that we also need to be bold and uncompromising in our message for Christ.

Jesus tells us how great the kingdom is by first telling us how great John the Baptist is Jesus tells us that there is no-one who has been born that is greater than John. John is the greatest of all the Old Testament believers. John is greater than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is greater than Moses, David or Elijah. John was a prophet and more than a prophet. All the prophets pointed forward to Christ. John was the greatest of the prophets because he came directly before Christ.

Then Jesus makes a rather puzzling comment when he says that John is the greatest but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. So, what is Jesus’s point and meaning here. John the Baptist was the greatest but we who are in the kingdom are even greater than John. John the Baptist was born of a woman, but we have been born again of the Spirit. John pointed to Jesus who was still coming, while we point to Christ who has already come. We live on this side of the cross and Christ’s resurrection. We know the reality of Jesus’ mission in a way that no one could fully know before the cross. Even the least in God’s kingdom is greater than any who came before, including John, whom Jesus says was the greatest of them all. That’s how great the kingdom of God is.

The gospel changes everything. It changes everything so fully and dramatically that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. John was fantastic. He was holy, he sought God and was the greatest prophet ever but he did not share in that intimate personal relationship with Jesus that we can now know. We are a privileged people.

We know more than John did but that does not mean that there are not moments when we find ourselves imprisoned by our doubting, rather perplexed and fearful. Just as John had no real idea of what Jesus was doing, so we have no real idea of what God is doing. Heaven has some secrets that we are not privy to, but we can be assured that God has a plan and a purpose that you and I can never fully fathom.

The word and signs from Jesus strengthened John. Evidently, these things helped John overcome his doubts and fears.  We never hear of him expressing doubt again.  It is worth remembering that John went to his death, a willing martyr for the glory of the Lord.

It is so reassuring to know that God’s word steadies us and helps in our discipleship. Like John we are called to serve, albeit in very different ways. In our service we hope to mirror John’s attributes of integrity, humility, vision, courage and steadfastness and that we might like John we might prepare the way for others to encounter God. Amen.            

THE CREED

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one substance with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father.

With the Father and the Son,

he is worshipped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

PRAYERS

Loving Father, keep the church faithful

in telling the good news,

comforting the desolate,

actively promoting justice,

and drawing many to freedom

through the joy of your forgiveness.

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, as the church we pray for the world,

that there may be integrity in leadership.

Fill all our world leaders with your heart and mind

that decisions are made in the interests of all people,

especially the needy and vulnerable.

We pray for the vulnerable

in the poorer areas of the world

that they may receive the aid they need

to alleviate suffering and distress.

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, as the family of believers

we pray for those around us,

thinking particularly of the lonely,

the depressed and despairing,

the troubled and anxious,

and ask that you would draw near

fill them with your peace and strength

and direct them to people

who can give them a listening ear and offer practical support.

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, in compassion we call to mind

all who are locked in emotional or physical pain,

and ask that your hand of divine healing

might touch and bless, heal and restore.

In the quiet we lift people known to us up by name,

and invite you to meet them at their point of need.

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, we remember those

whose time on earth is ebbing away,

and ask that you might be with them

as they journey to be with you.

Comfort their families and friends

and be especially close to all

who have lost a loved one at this time,

or for whom it is an anniversary of a death.

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, thank you for John the Baptist

with his distinctive attractiveness and appeal.

We marvel at his courage and conviction

to prepare the way in the wilderness for your Son,

and for his humble nature in recognizing

that he must decrease and Christ must increase.

In this season of Advent and beyond

help us to be open to the Holy Spirit

and in humility like John to seek ways

in which we might in our lives decrease

and Christ increase .

Keep us faithful

to our calling.

Loving Father, thank you for your holy word;

for prophecies fulfilled

for promises honoured

and for the hope and joy

we have in your Son.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those+

who sin against us.

Do not bring us

to the time of trial+

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power

and the glory are yours,

now and forever. Amen.

HYMN

BLESSING

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen