Advent Sunday 29 November 2020

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Order of Service

Organ prelude: Chorale Prelude on Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Saviour of the gentiles) –
J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)


Advent Liturgy
For our Advent Liturgy this year, we’re following the Advent course, Candles in the Dark, written by David Adam. The liturgy is compiled from the book by Rev Tim Lowe of St Andrew’s Roundhay.

This first week of Advent we light one candle, in memory of the patriarchs, our ancestors in the faith. We remember people like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David. We light this candle for the Lord who comes and seeks a living relationship with us. We also light it for adventurers in faith.

When the days are dark and cold,
  the Lord comes as he did to our ancestors of old.
When the way is unknown and the future uncertain,
  the Lord comes as he did to our ancestors of old.
When we are in captivity and long to be free,
  the Lord comes as he did to our ancestors of old.
When we are in the wilderness and hunger and thirst,
  the Lord comes as he did to our ancestors of old.

Rest in His presence and be aware of His love.
Let His presence be a light in your darkness.
A candle in the dark.

The first candle is lit

The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us.
Blessed are you, Lord God of our ancestors, your light dispelled their darkness:
you revealed to them your presence and your love.
You spoke to them as you would to friends.
May we be aware of your coming, rejoice in your presence, walk in your light,
and abide in your love today and all our days.

O come, O come, Immanuel
Text: Based on Antiphons from 9th cent. (or earlier)
tr. John Mason Neale (1818-66) and others.
Tune: Veni Immanuel – anon. 15th century.

Opening Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer
Lord God, we come to praise and worship you today, as we are conscious of our ancestors in the faith, all set as examples to us, we praise you as they praised you. As they set out on the adventure of faith with you as their companion, we too are on that faith journey with you as our guide, seeking to go where you call us and to do your will on earth. We give thanks for all those whose faith has touched us and drawn us closer to you, and ask that we too may be your light shining for those around us.

On this Advent Sunday, we come too to celebrate your coming to us, God with us, and in our readings to remember that we are never alone, but that you are always present in our lives. We look forward to you coming into our lives in special ways and your coming again to reign forever on earth, worshipped by the whole of creation.

So in this time, we offer our worship to you, and ask you to: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

I invite you to join with me in the prayer that Jesus taught us . . .

Introduction to the first reading
This reading is part of a whole psalm, entitled in the NRSV, a ‘Prayer for Israel’s Restoration’. It reads as a lament for what Israel were going through and a call to God to save them. It may have been written around the time of the Assyrian invasion of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.

Reading – Psalm 80: 14 – 19

Organ interlude: Pastorale – Léon Boëllmann (1862 – 97)

Introduction to the second reading
This is in a whole section of prophecy which Jesus gives to His disciples about the end times, and specifically about His own coming again.

Reading – Mark 13: 24 – 37

I’m sure you’ve noticed the Christmas lights are already on around about, even before today, the beginning of Advent. They are often on a little too early, but this year seems different. They seem to add a sense of cheer to the bleak world around us.

In our house, we too have succumbed to needing a little artificial joy in our lives. We bought a Christmas tree in a pot to put in our back yard, and my husband Brian spent ages choosing outside fairy lights to put on it. In fact, we couldn’t agree. He likes white lights reminding him of the lights on trees where he was brought up, whereas I prefer coloured lights, which remind me of the coloured lights that used to be all along the whole of the seafront in Brighton when I was growing up. He won, as we’ll have coloured lights up indoors. But it just goes to show that in this pandemic how we’re all yearning to feel safe.

This is the yearning of the Psalm, a yearning for God to restore all that the people had before. It’s actually a yearning by the song writer, Asaph, who worked in Jerusalem and Judah. It is addressed to God as a prayer for the northern Kingdom of Israel, maybe written for them. We’re not told what the calamities were they were facing, but scholars think it was when the Assyrians invaded Israel. It is clear in the middle part of the Psalm if you read the whole thing, that they were in dire straights, feeling God’s anger on them.

Asaph, or whoever wrote the Psalm, pleads with God to come again to them, to restore them, to shine His face upon them as it says earlier in the Chapter, to save them. He refers to the vine, the whole people whom God brought out of Egypt, before the Kingdoms split into north and south, Israel and Judah.

In the verses we read, we get this advent hint of the one at God’s right hand, the one God made strong for himself, it says. The psalmist asks that God’s hand will be on him, in other words, that he will come to them to save them. In a similar way, we call out to God to save us, to save our world in this time of history. That is constantly in our prayers. Maybe read the Psalm again with our own predicament in your mind.

So how does this Psalm connect with the reading from Mark’s gospel? It is Jesus talking, the Messiah, the one who has come to save the people, on whom God’s hand rested. It was not in the way the people thought, by kicking out the Romans in his day, the Assyrians in the psalmist’s day. Rather, it was to restore the people to God as the psalmist indeed prays.

Jesus is there, is here, bringing people back to himself, back to God. In the gospel reading, Jesus isn’t talking about when he’s there now, or here now with us. Rather he is speaking about a time to come. It’s a time when his Kingdom will reign forever, reminding us of the theme from last week of the reign of Christ the King.

This first Sunday of Advent, we’re thinking about that time in the future when Christ will come again—his second coming, as it’s known. He speaks about the signs in the sky and the angels gathering the elect from all over the earth. Before that he’s spoken about the destruction of Jerusalem and the time of tribulation.

In the lectionary readings for the middle three weeks of November, the gospel readings from Matthew chapter 25 were all about being prepared for the coming Kingdom. We had the parable of the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were prepared for the bridegroom coming, and five unprepared, and how we should be prepared for Christ to come again. Then there was the parable of the bags of gold, or the talents, about being ready for the Master’s return, having invested well. For us, that means investing in Kingdom living. And then last week the parable of the sheep and goats, again about Christ coming, this time in judgment, and a call to have compassion on all, as if we are serving Christ himself.

The emphasis in all these is about being ready, living as part of the Kingdom of God now, to be there to welcome Christ coming again to bring us into the Kingdom that is to come. The theme of Matthew chapter 25 follows from chapter 24. In it we read the equivalent of today’s reading in Mark’s gospel, which follows into the parables about watchfulness, being ready. Jesus uses the image of a thief in the night in verse 43 of chapter 24, to remind the disciples to be watchful, because they don’t know the hour he will come again.

In today’s reading, Jesus says that he himself doesn’t know when he will ride on those clouds with great power and glory, taking the people of his Kingdom to himself. The message again follows on from the parables in Matthew’s gospel. It is to keep awake, watchful, to be ready in faith, to continue to abide in Him.

I wonder what we make of the passage? Do we long for Christ’s return? For many, it is purely a picture of Christ coming to us, breaking into our lives. For some it is just about Christ taking us to himself when we’re ready to pass on. Many find Jesus’ words difficult, as clearly the early Church expected him to come again, but he didn’t, nor has he in any of the predicted times since. For many, scientifically, the idea of something totally different happening as Jesus describes seems to some more alien than aliens themselves, in a world which has been around for billions of years.

And yet here we are again this Advent, watching for Christ’s coming. Whatever it means to you, Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time we can prepare our own hearts for Christ to come: to come to us, to come to our world, for his Kingdom to come in our world. Like for Muslims in Ramadan, who seek to be closer to God and experience him in their lives, Advent is when we put aside our worldly ways, even in the midst of Christmas shopping and preparing for family to come—whatever that will be like for many of us this year—and to prepare ourselves to receive Christ afresh.

We also seek to prepare our world to receive Christ afresh, and pray for him to come. Christ first came to Palestine over two thousand years ago. Today, as Advent Sunday falls on 29th November, it coincides with the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which was inaugurated in 1977.

The Christian community in Palestine, along with the whole of the Palestinian people, are currently under oppression as the State of Israel are slowly but surely taking over their land illegally, and making it difficult for people to move around for work or to visit family in other parts of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The Israelis oversee security and roads in the region, and as we know, have built a wall to keep Palestinians out. The Christians in Palestine ask us to remember them and to pray for peace and justice.

So on this Advent Sunday, as we ask Christ to come to us afresh, we will be praying with them, and asking Christ to come again to flood the region with his peace.

God is working his purpose out
Text: Arthur C. Ainger. (1841 – 1919)
Tune: Benson – Millicent Kingham (1866 – 1927)

Prayers of Intercession
Our prayers of intercession are for Israel & Palestine, taken from Cry for Hope website, with credits to Nora Carmi from Palestine, Carrie and Robert Smith from the USA and from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book.

Merciful and Loving God, Creator of the universe and human beings, You chose Palestine as the cradle of religions and showed us the way through the Incarnated Christ to do your will. Jesus Christ taught us the things that make for peace but some of your children, created in your image, still refuse to know how to love and respect each other in this land.

Heavenly Father, you who hear the cries of your people around the troubled world, look down upon the people of Palestine. Restore justice with mercy and wipe out the tears of the bereaved, the dispossessed, the homeless, the prisoners and the oppressed. Fill the hearts of all rulers with humility to recognize that your vision of a harmonious living in this land, your land, can be achieved only when all walls are destroyed, oppression and violence ended so that human beings can live in dignity.

Help us to humbly work together to make of Palestine, once again, a model of co-living among peoples of all faiths, so that the message of real peace that was proclaimed in this land will be experienced throughout the whole region as love that fulfils justice prevails.

God of peace, hear our prayer.

God of all creation and all peoples, we pray for the people of Israel. We pray for the peacemakers, for the seekers of justice, for the people of good will who risk friends, reputations, and even jobs to stand in solidarity with those on the other side of the wall.

We pray for those who have lost friends and loved ones to violence. We pray for an equal measure of safety, of security, of opportunity and freedom for Israeli and Palestinian children alike, for in the beginning you made us all in your own image. We pray for the courage to continue working together with all of our neighbours toward a world of justice, peace, and equality.

God of peace, hear our prayer.

O God of all lands, we lift before you all communities and peoples who are stateless or alienated from their ancestral lands. We especially cry out to you to assist in the just struggle against powers and principalities that would limit or deny sovereignty to indigenous peoples in favour of settler-colonial theft.

Be with the peoples of Palestine, the First Nations of Canada, the Aboriginal communities of what is now Australia, and the landless of Brazil, reminding them that you provide strength for the journey and homecoming after the exile.

God of peace, hear our prayer.

Look with mercy, gracious God, upon people everywhere who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Rouse us from our complacency and help us to eliminate cruelty wherever it is found. Strengthen those who seek equality for all. Grant that everyone may enjoy a fair portion of the abundance of the earth; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Lo! He comes with clouds descending
Text: Charles Wesley (1707 – 88)
John Cennick (1718 – 55)
Martin Madan (1726 – 90)
Tune: Helmsley – attributed to Martin Madan (1725 – 90) and Thomas Olivers (1725 – 99).
Last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)

Blessing from Palestine
God of Peace, rain peace upon us,
God of Peace, fill our hearts with peace.

And may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us and those we love, now and always,

Organ voluntary: Postlude on Helmsley – James Vivian (b. 1974)