Pew Sheet for Sunday the 10th of December 2023. Advent 2
I still remember going to see ‘Godspell’ in a small provincial theatre many, many years ago, and being taken aback at how those few simple words, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ seemed to fill the entire auditorium with a sense of expectation and excitement as the cast members got into their stride and those words echoed around the room more by way of an exhortation or instruction than a suggestion or request.
One can only imagine the impact they would have when uttered by John the Baptist on the banks of the river Jordan, for he must have seemed as wild, surreal and preternatural a creature as he stood waist deep in the river as that 1970s cast might appear to us now with their flared trousers, platform shoes, psychedelic tank-tops, and flowing locks (at least in the production I watched!)
Many have suggested, based on what we are told about his appearance, diet, and teaching in this passage, that John might have been a member of the Essene community, who observed an obsessively ascetic lifestyle and taught their followers to practice frequent and regular baptism for the repentance of sin as the means by which they might be ready for the coming of the promised Messiah.
The words of John’s exhortation were by no means new, as we can see from today’s Old Testament passage, which shows John repeating a message far older than either he or the Essene sect to which he may or may not have belonged. In Isaiah’s time, long before the Romans had constructed their network of cambered stone roads which connected every part of the empire to Rome itself; rulers intent on travelling from one part of their domain to another would send out messengers and equerries to compel their subjects to clear and repair the more rudimentary highways and byways of fallen trees, rocks, and potholes so that the carriages and caravans carrying everything necessary for the transfer of a royal court on the move could be completed with the minimum of disruption possible.
It is an image which Isaiah would have recognised from the many trips made by Israel’s Babylonian captors to different parts of their expanding empire, and its significance would have been clearly understood by those hearing his words some 800 years before John would use them to announce Jesus’ imminent arrival. This is why Jesus described John as the very greatest of the Old Testament prophets whom we remember in this second week of Advent, not least because his words would indeed be fulfilled even though he would not live to see them come to fruition. He knew nevertheless, that Israel’s true shepherd had indeed come to gather a lost and leaderless people to himself, and overturn once and for all the arrogance of those presuming to reign in his stead, whilst incapable of taking the treacherous road he would ultimately take towards Golgotha and the cross.
Collect and Readings for Sunday the 10th of December, 2023.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up and do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Psalm 85:1-2; 8-13
Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin. Selah …
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and will make a path for his steps.
2 Peter 3:8-15
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but wanting all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home…. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
“The beginning of the good newsof Jesus Christ. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
So John the baptizer appearedin the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the whole Judean region and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This Week’s Events
Bell ringing at 7.30pm in St Laurence. Contact Jan for more information on 07835 461361.
Zoom In Morning Prayer on Tuesday at 9am. Meeting ID: 748 9970 4493
Password: Trinity or contact Didier on [email protected]
Daytime Bible Study Group contact Paula on 07803 942 687 for more information.
Evening House-group contact Jo on 07803 942 687 for more information.
Wednesday (Lucy, martyr at Syracuse, c304, Ember Day)
Morning Coffee from 10.00-11.45 in the St Laurence Room.
Midweek Holy Communion on Wednesday at 12 noon in St Laurence Church.
Thursday (John of the Cross, poet, and teacher of the faith, 1591)
Friday (Ember Day)
Junior Choir at 6.30 pm followed by full Choir Practice at 7.30pm. Do contact Derry on [email protected] if you would like to join.