Monday, December 11, 2017

An Ordo for the Third Sunday of Advent (17 December 2017)

The Third Sunday of Advent

17 December 2017

The Gathering of the Community

Gathering Music


Entrance Hymn

‘Comfort , Comfort Ye, My People’  Common Praise #100

The Greeting

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who has come to set us free,
who has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
born from the house of David. Amen. [i]

Lighting of the Advent Wreath [ii]

Come, O Lord, and set us free.

We have been waiting and longing for light,
watching for signs of the Lord.
Promised of ages, Messiah to come,
hear us, we beg you:  Come, save!

Come, O Lord, and set us free.

Collect of the Day

Let us pray.

God of light,
who sent the Baptist to offer hope
and to face the world’s scorn:
open our ears to hear the cries from the margins,
exposing our fears, sharpening our vision
and calling us to faith;
through Jesus Christ, the one who is to come.  Amen. [iii]

The Proclamation of the Word

The First Reading:  Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11

A reading from the prophet Isaiah.

            61.1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.  4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

            8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.

The Psalm:  Psalm 126 from Songs for the Holy One

Refrain (sung twice):  The Holy One does wonderful things for us.

When the Holy One restores Zion’s fortunes,
it will be like a glorious dream.
Our mouths will be filled with laughter
and our tongues with joyful shouts.

Refrain:  The Holy One does wonderful things for us.

The nations will exclaim,
“What wonderful things God has done for them.”
The Holy One has indeed done wonders for us!
We will be filled with ecstasy.
O Holy One, bring back our exiles
streaming through the southern desert.

Refrain:  The Holy One does wonderful things for us.

Those who sowed in tears will harvest in great joy.
Those who carried the seed went forth in tears,
but will surely return carrying the sheaves of harvest!

Refrain:  The Holy One does wonderful things for us.

The Second Reading:  1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

A reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians.

5.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  19 Do not quench the Spirit.  20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

            23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.

Hymn before the Gospel

‘Prepare the Way’  Common Praise #107 (sung twice)

The Gospel:  John 1.6-8, 19-28

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

            1.6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

            19 This is the testimony given by John when the [Jewish authorities] sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”  21 And they asked him, “What then?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the prophet?”  He answered, “No.”  22 Then they said to him, “Who are you?  Let us have an answer for those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

            23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

            24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”  26 John answered them, “I baptize with water.  Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The Gospel of Christ.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn after the Gospel

‘Prepare the Way’  Common Praise #107 (sung once)

The Homily

The Apostles Creed

Let us confess the faith of our baptism.

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. 
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary. 
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried. 
He descended to the dead. 
On the third day he rose again. 
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.

The Prayers of the Community

Intercessions, Thanksgivings and Petitions

Confession and Absolution

Let us pray for the forgiveness of our sins.

Have mercy upon us, most merciful God;
in your compassion, forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things done and left undone;
and so uphold us by your Spirit
that we may live and serve you in newness of life,
to the honour and glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit
and raise you to new life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Exchange of the Peace

May the peace of Christ whose day draws near be with you.
And also with you.

The Holy Communion

Offertory Hymn

‘People, Look East!’  The Time Is Near!’  Common Praise #91

Prayer over the Gifts

Let us pray.

God of hope,
renew in us the joy of your salvation
and make us a living sacrifice to you,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. [iv]

The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ. 
You comforted your people with the promise of the Redeemer,
through whom you will also make all things new
in the day when he comes to judge the world in righteousness. 
And so, with all the choirs of angels,
with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven,
we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. 
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the highest. [v]

Holy One, the beginning and the end, the giver of life: 
Blessed are you for the birth of creation. 
Blessed are in the darkness and in the light. 
Blessed are you for your promise to your people. 
Blessed are you in the prophetshopes and dreams. 
Blessed are you for Marys openness to your will. 
Blessed are you for your Son Jesus, the Word made flesh.

In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: 
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. 
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying: 
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. 
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith: 
Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

With this bread and cup
we remember your Word dwelling among us,
full of grace and truth. 
We remember our new birth in his death and resurrection. 
We look with hope for his coming. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

Holy God, we long for your Spirit. 
Come among us.  Bless this meal. 
May your Word take flesh in us. 
Awaken your people.  Fill us with your light. 
Bring the gift of peace on earth. 
Come, Holy Spirit.

All praise and glory are yours, Holy One of Israel,
Word of God incarnate, Power of the Most High,
one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Lords Prayer (said)

Awaiting his coming in glory,
let us pray as our Saviour has taught us,

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.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.  Amen.

The Breaking of the Bread

God of promise,
you prepare a banquet for us in your kingdom.
Happy are those who are called
to the supper of the Lamb.

The gifts of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

The Communion

Hymn during Communion

‘Creator of the Stars of Night’  Common Praise #96

The Sending Forth of the Community

Prayer after Communion

Let us pray.

Merciful God,
may this eucharist free us from our sins,
fill us with unending joy,
and prepare us to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
who is Lord now and for ever.  Amen. [vi]

Glory to God,
whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more
than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Closing Hymn

‘There’s a Voice in the Wilderness’  Common Praise #107

The Dismissal

Go forth in the name of Christ and proclaim good news to the oppressed,
for the promises of God will be fulfilled.
Thanks be to God.

[i] The Book of Alternative Services (1985), 88 alt.

[ii] Common Praise #113 v. 2.

[iv] The Book of Alternative Services (1985), 271.

[v] Common Praise #722.

[vi] The Book of Alternative Services (1985), 271 alt.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Prophetic Word for Today: Comfort --- Reflections on Isaiah 40.1-11 (RCL Advent 2B, 10 December 2017)

A Prophetic Word for Today:  Comfort
A Reflection on Isaiah 40.1-11

RCL Advent 2B
10 December 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Isaiah 40.1-11

            40.1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  2 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.

            3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  4 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.  5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

            6 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.  7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  9 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, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”  10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  11 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.

A historical introduction
         Throughout the Christian year we are guided through the Hebrew scriptures and the apostolic writings by means of a lectionary.  During this annual journey we encounter the writings of the Hebrew prophets, some of their words familiar to us, some of their words strange and even confrontational.  Our encounter with these voices from the past is somewhat skewed by the views of more conservative Christians who understand the prophets to be foretelling future events fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  But this understanding of the prophets is not quite biblical.

         We live in a society where religious faith and civil government are supposed to remain separate, what some people call ‘a barrier between church and state’.  Sometimes this barrier is quite solid such as the constitutional prohibition of the establishment of any religion as the religion of the state.  At other times the barrier is a bit more porous such as setting Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday as ‘bank holidays’ and even statutory days off for workers.

         No such barrier existed in the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  The king, the priests and the prophets each played a distinct and integral role in the life of the kingdom.  The king as God’s anointed exercised God’s sovereignty in time and space and was understood as the guarantor of the kingdom’s faithfulness to the covenant in every sphere of public life.  The priests as descendants of Aaron and Levi were responsible for the faithful exercise of the ritual law and practices ordained by God in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures.  Between the king and the priests the institutions of pubic life were to embody the covenant.

         The fly in the ointment of public life were the prophets.  To be sure the prophetic role was understood as a necessary one, but prophets, whether a charismatic individual, a member of the royal court or a fraternity of individuals, were called upon to speak Gods truth to power.  Much like the role of the monarch in a constitutional monarchy such as ours, the prophets were to advise, to encourage and to warn the king and the priests.  They cast their eyes on the events of the world around them and searched the scriptures to understand what God was saying to the people among whom the prophets lived. 

         As you can well imagine, being a prophet could be an uncomfortable vocation.  Some of the prophets whose names are recorded in the Hebrew scriptures were co-opted by the system and only spoke words that fit with the prevailing political and religious agenda of their time.  Others such as Nathan dared to call David to judgement on account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah in combat.  Then there were prophets such as Jeremiah whose contemporaries tried to silence him as well as imprison him and, according to tradition, eventually arranged his execution.

         In the apostolic writings we call the New Testament John the Baptist figures as a prophet who proclaims the coming of the promised Messiah.  He called his contemporaries to repent, to look at the world through God’s eyes, and then act accordingly.  His criticism of the life of Herod led to imprisonment and execution.  John’s story is a healthy reminder of the risks of speaking the truth to power, whether the power of the state or the power of public opinion.

A prophetic word for the people of Judah:  Comfort
         A little more than five hundred years before the coming of Jesus an exile from the land of Judah held captive in the Babylonian empire was called to pick up the mantle of the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah had lived two hundred years before this unknown prophet and who had spoken God’s truth to the people of Judah living in political, religious and social turmoil.  This ‘first’ Isaiah did not live to see the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the incorporation of Judah into the Babylonian empire.  But his words still spoke to the people in exile who longed for their return to the land God had promised their ancestors Abraham and Sarah.

         The words we heard this morning from this ‘second’ Isaiah are spoken to a people who can no longer claim to have an independent kingdom with an anointed king.  They no longer have a Temple in which the descendants of Aaron and Levi can fulfil the ritual law embodied in God’s covenant with Moses.  All they have is their identity as a people chosen by God to bear witness to the truth that Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, is the source of all life and being, the One who is at work in time and history to bring about the divine purposes for the whole creation, human and non-human, animate and inanimate.  To this dispirited community this ‘second’ Isaiah speaks a word of encouragement.

         Despite the reality of their current exile the prophet sees the signs that there is a change afoot which will lead to the return of the people to the land of Judah.  All the suffering of the previous decades has not gone unnoticed by the Holy One nor has the Holy One forgotten the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, the promises made to Moses and the people during the exodus from Egypt.  ‘See,’ the prophet says, ‘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.’ (Isaiah 40.10-11)  A highway will open up before the people and they will return to the land to continue their vocation to be a sign to all peoples of the God who seeks the salvation, the wholeness, the full humanity, of every one, Jew and non-Jew, male and female, young and old.

A prophetic word for today:  Comfort
         When we baptize a person into the Christian community, we anoint them with fragrant oil, sealing them with the Holy Spirit and marking them as Christ’s own forever.  This ancient sign, only restored among Anglicans in the mid-twentieth century, has many meanings.  One of them is a reminder that, in baptism, we become members of a prophetic community in whom and through whom the Spirit of the Holy One works, giving us inquiring and discerning hearts, courage to will and to persevere, the spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

         Just as the prophets of Israel were called to advise, to encourage and to warn the people of their times, so we call upon our families, friends and neighbours to heed the signs of the times and to choose to love one’s neighbour as oneself, whether that neighbour is rich or poor, Christian or non-Christian, powerful or powerless.  Just as John the Baptist called upon his contemporaries to look at the world through new eyes, the eyes of God, and then fell foul of those in power, so we speak God’s truth to power, whether the power of the civil authorities or the power of public opinion, and bear the risk.

         And then we wait, giving our families, friends and neighbours the space to choose, to decide how they will live.  This is the most difficult part of being a prophet, understanding that God’s word is a word of persuasion not coercion.

         Our word is ‘comfort’ --- an embodied and potentially costly comfort.  The comfort of which we speak is not some warm and fuzzy feeling expressed within a greeting card.  It is a comfort that calls for housing when people are homeless and need shelter --- in our neighbourhood not somewhere else.  The comfort of which we speak is not a prayer expressed only in words spoken within this place.  It is a comfort that calls for costly stewardship the fiscal and physical resources entrusted to us as individuals and as members of this Christian community.  The comfort of which we speak is not the shaking of our heads when a young woman is abused on the Skytrain.  It is a comfort that dares to intervene when hateful speech and repugnant actions threaten any sister or brother made in the image of God --- even if that hateful speech and repugnant action arises from someone whom we know.

         Perhaps sometime in the future someone will write, ‘In the year of the sesquicentennial of Canadian confederation, when Justin Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada, the word of the Lord came to the people of Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, saying, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”  And they rose up and said, “Here we are, Lord.  Send us.”’