THERE WILL BE NO MORE GLOOM FOR THOSE WHO WERE IN DISTRESS…THE PEOPLE WALKING IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT; ON THOSE LIVING IN THE LAND OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH A LIGHT HAS DAWNED…FOR TO US A CHILD IS BORN, TO US A SON IS GIVEN, AND THE GOVERNMENT WILL BE ON HIS SHOULDERS. AND HE WILL BE CALLED WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:1,2,6).
WELCOME TO OUR FIRST ADVENT SUNDAY WORSHIP
OPENING HYMN – CH 164: – TELL OUT, MY SOUL, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of His word; in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His Name! Make known His might, the deeds His arm has done; His mercy sure, from age to age the same; His holy Name – the Lord, the Mighty One.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by. Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.
Tell out, my soul, the glories of His word! Firm is His promise, and His mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children and for evermore!
LET US PRAY:
GRACIOUS, COMING LORD, we rejoice today that You came in fulfilment of the age-long prophecy, vindicating at last the long-held expectations of Your people. You dwelt among us, as the Prince of Peace, the promised Messiah, Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God. You have shown us that what God promises shall always be accomplished. We thank You for this Advent. We rejoice in this season, so full of promise. It reminds us of all that has been and all that is yet to be. May the Word we hear, the worship we offer and the events we remember teach us to trust You, knowing that whatever else may happen in this very uncertain world, Your saving purpose will always be fulfilled. So, we look forward in confidence for Your message of grace and peace, and the gift of life everlasting, through the same Jesus Christ who came and comes. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – JEREMIAH 33: 14 – 16.
“THE DAYS ARE COMING,” DECLARES THE LORD, “WHEN I WILL FULFIL THE GRACIOUS PROMISE I MADE TO THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND TO THE HOUSE OF JUDAH. “IN THOSE DAYS AND AT THAT TIME I WILL MAKE A RIGHTEOUS BRANCH SPROUT FROM DAVID’S LINE; HE WILL DO WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT IN THE LAND. IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED AND JERUSALEM WILL LIVE IN SAFETY. THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH IT WILL BE CALLED: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
THE NEW TESTAMENT READING: – JOHN 1: 14.
THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US. WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, THE GLORY OF THE ONE AND ONLY, WHO CAME FROM THE FATHER, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.
Christianity has what is called a church – or liturgical calendar – that starts with Advent and ends with Christ-the-King Sunday. There are different seasons and different celebrations throughout the year; and today we enter the Season of Advent, which is a time of expectation, remembering the waiting of God’s people for the coming of the promised Messiah. Advent derives from the Latin verb advenio, advenire, which means to come, or in our case, COMING. Wreaths with candles are customary at this time of the year, visually expressing the prophecies about Jesus, that He is the Light of the World: in biblical terms, GRACE in the midst of the JUDGMENT. These two opposing terms are the source of the CHRISTMAS JOY, God’s GIFT under our Christmas TREE (of LIFE) through Jesus Christ. JUDGMENT would come as God’s disfavour for the sins committed, meanwhile GRACE is God’s undeserved favour. Where Justice would call for punishment, GRACE gives God’s favour instead.
- – THIS PARADOX IS ONE OF THE WONDERFUL WAYS OF GOD. According to God’s righteous standards, announced to our first ancestors and every generation since, – Sin has consequences. Ultimately, the punishment for sin is death. Yet in the face of the deadly punishment, God interposes His Grace, as the Bible says: – FOR THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH, BUT THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD (Romans 6: 23).
Ancient Judah was faced with a season of divine judgment. Jeremiah, the “Weeping Prophet,” was charged by God with dispensing the bad news. There was no prospect of reprieve: the kingdom was going to fall, and the people were going to be taken into captivity. Jeremiah’s mission was to warn and to instruct them to get ready for their day of disaster. But despite the immediate prospects of discipline at the hand of God, the nation’s long-term picture was marked by divine grace. This GRACE would be extended by a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God. God had unconditionally promised to bless the patriarch Abraham and his descendants. Accordingly, in the midst of judgement will come grace. In our Old Testament reading the Prophet recalls the promise of God to David and declares that a day was coming in which the Lord will once again bestow favour. He will cause a righteous branch to spring forth upon David’s family tree. This HEIR to the throne will fulfil all the expectations of both God and His people for the divine justice and righteousness upon the earth, restoring in the Messiah-King, the foretold favour of God.
- – RESTORED FAVOUR, FOUND IN THE COMING OF JESUS CHRIST. Jeremiah speaks with an eye to the future: – days are coming. Unlike the impending days of doom, these days will be days of favour, for they will be a fulfilling of the GOOD WORD that the Lord had spoken concerning Israel and Judah. Previously, in 29:10, Jeremiah had spoken of the “Good Word” as a national return from Babylon to the land of Judah after seventy years of captivity. Indeed, that Good Word was fulfilled, setting the stage for a nation to receive, in God’s time, a successor to the throne of David. This was their confidence, and still is ours as the GOOD WORD of God became SALVATION for all those who believe in Him. A Mystery of Mysteries, as it was written by Sir Walter Scott on to the first page of his Bible: -“ Within this awful volume lies the mystery of mysteries! Happiest they of human race to whom God has granted grace to read, to fear, to hope, to pray, to lift the latch, and force the way; and better had they not been born who read to doubt or read to scorn.”
3.– RESTORED FAVOUR IS IN THE RIGHTEOUS REIGN OF KING JESUS. The days in which Jeremiah lived were not good days for the David’s Line. Unlike their righteous forefather David, the kings of the latter days of the kingdom of Israel and Judah were evil and corrupt. They did not honour God in their ways, as was expected of a godly, theocratic ruler. In no small part, the cause for divine judgment on the people could be laid on their kings. Yet this righteous branch, Jesus, would introduce a reign qualitatively different. His rule will be righteous and just. Under His leadership, the nation will be delivered, and her capital city, Jerusalem, will dwell in safety. Moreover, the city’s reputation would be established for what God had intended it to be from the start – the place where righteousness was to be found (Isaiah 1: 26). This vision was not achieved at the first advent of Jesus, but according to the Book of Revelation, He will come again and establish a millennial reign, a kingdom that is truly one of righteousness and peace.
Here lies the HOPE, which is so significant for the Advent season. Wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger, worshipped by lowly shepherds, Jesus came into our world as God’s ANOINTED ONE, THE MESSIAH long sought by the nation of Israel, the King of the Jews sought by the Magi from afar. At His first coming, His own did not receive Him, and the King of the Jews was crucified between two thieves. Yet, He reigns even now over those who believe in Him, and in Him the promise to David will one day find its ultimate and final fulfilment: Jesus, King of the Jews, King of the Earth, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, GRACE IN THE MIDST OF JUDGMENT.
- – THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US. WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, THE GLORY OF THE ONE AND ONLY, WHO CAME FROM THE FATHER, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. We hear this well-known verse from John’s Gospel every Christmas, and it becomes so familiar that the depth of it is often lost to us. It is all about welcoming Christ into the world, into the Church, into our lives. But unfortunately Christmas became not only a huge business for commercial companies, but also fiction-land for mystery-plays. There are so many myths surrounding the Christmas story that we often miss what the Bible really says . How many of us remember – for instance – the innkeeper in the story where Mary and Joseph are turned away? Well, there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Bible, and Mary and Joseph are not turned away either. We are told that there was no room for them at the inn – but the word used here for inn is “kataluma”, which means “guesthouse”, and Palestinian guesthouses in Jesus’ time, were on two open floors: the upper floor being bedrooms and the lower floor a stable for cattle, horses and donkeys. Perhaps there was no room in the kataluma, the upstairs of the guesthouse, but it is clear that Mary and Joseph were welcomed in, even if they had to stay in the downstairs part. Christ was welcomed in at His birth – born into a loving, yet humble home. And then the shepherds came from the fields; men of poverty with humble jobs, and a lowly status in society – and they too welcomed Christ and HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY…FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. Ironically, and somehow embarrassingly, it seems that the humble and lowly houseowner welcomed Christ, the humble and lowly shepherds welcomed Christ – but the holy and religious people of God did not welcome Him. What a challenge to our comfort and complacency this story is! This is an upside-down story – it does not work as we think it should. Surely the priests and the religious people should be there to welcome Christ – but they are the ones who have missed Him. It is the lowly, the poor, the needy and the marginalised who recognize the Messiah, for whom He truly is.
God is not found in religiosity. God meets us in our humility, in our needs, and poverty of spirit. THEY SEE HIS GLORY…FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. Welcoming Christ is something we do out of our poverty of spirit; where we say, – Lord, I don’t have much to give You…I am not very righteous, in fact I get so much wrong in my life…Lord I don’t have much to offer You at all, but what I have, You can have…I give myself to You!
That is the type of welcome that Jesus wants. The welcome of the lowly guesthouse. The welcome of the poor shepherds. It seems almost too obvious to quote from Christina Rossetti’s poem called, “In the bleak midwinter – What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give Him – give my heart. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
GRACIOUS HEAVENLY FATHER, there are times when the world seems to be a scary place. The events of the Coronavirus Pandemic unfolding around us are too deep and large to understand, and to be handled alone. We humbly pray for Your healing peace in our troubled world and lives. Teach us how to live as people of the light and not of darkness. On this First Sunday in Advent, take away the anxiety that makes our hearts fearful and cold, and give to us thoughts through Your Message we have heard, that will reach beyond our own limited worlds and benefit the lives of all those who have started their preparations for Christmas. Your love is sure and faithful. Your steadfast mercy and grace walk with us each day. May our love be so lived in this season of light that others may see the living Christ in us. We remember with gladness how You brought a sense of purpose to those for whom life seemed pointless – the poor, sick, outcast and broken-hearted – light shining into their darkness, joy breaking into their sorrow, new beginning in what had seemed like the end. Hear now our prayer for those caught today in the grip of despair – those for whom the future seems bleak, optimism seems foolish, and trust seems futile. Reach out in love and may light shine into their darkness. Hear our prayer for those who mourn, or who wrestle with illness, or who watch loved ones suffer. Reach out in love and grant them Your strength and Your comfort. Bless and encourage all who have worked against the clock to provide an effective vaccine to stop the spread of Coronavirus Pandemic, to bring back the peacefulness of hearts with thanksgiving to the Saviour who came to seek and save. Be with Your Christian Church Universal which faces so many threats of terrorist attacks and with all those caught in the grip of terror. Bless our Church of Scotland in all its presbyteries and congregations, and bless all our sisters and brothers in this place as we try to fully dedicate ourselves to the expectations of the coming of Your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. May this Advent bring new faith, new vision, and new purpose wherever life seems hopeless. Lord of all, the Word made flesh, bring hope to Your world today. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: –OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN – CH 160 : – HARK, THE GLAD SOUND! the Saviour comes, the Saviour promised long; let every heart exult with joy, and every voice be song!
He comes, the prisoners to relieve, in Satan’s bondage held; the gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetters yield.
He comes, the broken hearts to bind, the bleeding souls to cure; and with the treasures of His grace to enrich the humble poor.
The sacred year has now revolved, accepted of the Lord, when heaven’s high promise is fulfilled, and Israel is restored.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace, Thy welcome shall proclaim; and heaven’s exalted arches ring with Thy most honoured Name.
THE LORD IS GOOD TO THOSE WHOSE HOPE IS IN HIM, TO THE ONE WHO SEEKS HIM; IT IS GOOD TO WAIT QUIETLY FOR THE SALVATION OF THE LORD. (Lamentations 3: 25 – 26) – TO THE ONLY WISE GOD BE GLORY FOR EVER THROUGH JESUS CHRIST! AMEN. (Romans 16: 27)
Sandor, your Minister.