Sunday Worship 29 November - First Sunday of Advent

Online Service prepared by Rev Susan Thorburn

This first advent candle will shine here in hope -

In the moment of lighting we hold out our dreams.

Some have come thankful, others are fearful,

All are encouraged – the happy, the tearful -

By the candlelight shining in hope,

To watch in the light for the lighting

The waiting, the hoping, the dreams.

 

This first advent candle will shine here for Christ -

As we look to the lighting we reach out in faith.

Some have come faithful, others are doubtful,

All are surrounded – the barren, the fruitful -

By the candle-like shining of Christ;

We may trust in his love and his loving,

His living, his dying, his truth.

 

The first advent candle will shine in the world -

As we stand for the lighting we hope as we pray.

Many around us are sinful, fearful,

All have been promised – the care-less, the tearful,

A way to the light-giving Lord

If they trust in his love, his forgiving,

His holding, his coming, his day.

                                                                       Michael Docker

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This Sunday we set out on that Advent waiting with hope. We look towards the first coming of our Lord to inspire our hope of His coming again. Even when hope is an unlikely vulnerable hope, swaddled in cloths in a murky manger, it is still hope.

We wait for God together this Advent even if we are apart.

Let us pray

Gathering today, we light a candle of hope, knowing that in dark times there is always a light that can be lit.
Let us, people in dusk and dawn, light the light of vigilance, knowing that God is always calling us to justice, mercy and humility – at this time of year, and all times of the year.
Amen.

Listen or sing or read the words of this hymn – MP 473  My hope is built on nothing less

Let us pray

Lord God, as we once more prepare to make the journey through Advent, we pray that it  will

will not only be with the anticipated joy of beholding a new born, but also with awareness of where that new life will lead, and what it might mean for us.

We can be just as eager as children, just wanting the waiting to be over.
We ask forgiveness for the times that we, see you as a great big Father Christmas, just there to give us what we want or think we need.
We ask forgiveness for the times when we think only of ourselves; when we see others as just another difficult person to buy for’; another Christmas card to be dashed off.
We pray that we will see signs of you in every person we meet, and that you will open our hearts to receive you. when we prefer comfort to change, challenge us.
When we are distracted not attentive, forgive us. When we are feeble not faithful, strengthen us. And, at all times, transform our dreams into your realities. In Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Readings : Mark 13:24-37 and 1 Thessalonians 5:

 

Reflection:

I wonder if you can remember a time when you had a great expectation about something and then when the event or activity came and went, and it did not turn out as you expected. Do you remember the days leading up to the solar eclipse on March 20th 2015? I remember the build-up to it as if it was just a few weeks ago. Well, the much-hyped solar eclipse here in UK came and went in 2 minutes and 47 seconds. All of those viewing glasses which were sold for ten times their value have long since been disposed of. I watched the reactions of people. Some were much awed. Others were afraid. I personally was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience.

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                                                    As the eclipse began, we saw the darkness gradually increase and                                                                engulf the day as all colour was swept away. Even the shadows were                                                            lost all that defined the difference and personality to a dim uniformity.                                                          The birds fell silent and there was an eerie silence. Stars appeared to                                                          fall into the sea and then all light was extinguished. The sky became                                                            broody with cloud. It was as though the clouds were full of fear and                                                              judgment. But they only shielded the sun for a brief moment in time and                                                      soon we were out the other end and the sky resumed its usual place,                                                            shadows returned, and the light returned.

 

In part of the build-up to the event, BBC News on their web site had an article about famous eclipses. One of them showed a picture of Jesus being lifted up on a cross as an example of one. This has often been used as an explanation of the cause of the darkness at the crucifixion. History records an eclipse on April 3rd 36 AD could this be the date of the crucifixion? The darkness that day covered the earth for 11 minutes and 18 seconds.

When we gaze on our television news we often see pictures of tsunamis, earthquakes or erupting volcanoes. Or we hear witnesses giving personal testimony of their experiences. Sometimes we can feel the very real fear and share their trembling. For them they will never take life for granted again. They know the secret at the core of existence, that everything can be uprooted in a moment, and the world turned upside down.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus is talking to the disciples. Has he set out to deliberately frighten them? They have left the Temple and Jesus will never return there. They are sitting on the Mount of Olives. It is a place of tranquillity overlooking the bustle of Jerusalem. And yet the images which he in painting is a picture of the natural world in crisis and creation is in turmoil.

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                                                         Paul in chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians also infers turmoil. Peace and                                                               safety are clearly asked for, but Paul says expect suffering,                                                                             destruction and struggle. But remember that you are children of God,                                                           children of the light. It takes spiritual courage to stay present in                                                                     calamity, courage that comes from dwelling in the word of God,                                                                     courage that comes from Christ coming to us. Jesus gets our                                                                         attention with the cosmic picture of the sun darkened, the moon no                                                               longer light, the stars beginning to fall, and the heavens shaken.                                                                   Natural events can and do wake us up. (Did you feel that earthquake?                                                           Did you see the solar eclipse?) Jesus tells his followers to stay                                                                       awake.  Allow yourself to live in the really real, even when it is painful.

 

The is the first week in Advent, the first day of the Church year. Look again at v26-27 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” Notice two very important verbs: ‘come’ and ‘gather’. The Son of Man will come to accomplish the end of time. This is not all doom and gloom, in His new creation. Then he will gather together his chosen people.

 

Consider what the end of time will be like. We are told there will be a

judgement, but there will also be a gathering, when all are brought into

God’s Kingdom. I hope we will be among these – have we been alert

enough to recognise the signs of impending

change. Jesus slips in a message of hope in

verse 28 when he talks of signs of summer on

its way. But he doesn’t let  us stay hopeful for

long, for immediately he returns to dire

warnings. Do you remember seeing men and

women walking along the road with placards

declaring ‘the end of the world is nigh? They

don’t appear so foolish in the light of these

passages, do they? The trouble is that we think we might know the end of that story too. We think that this time of waiting that we call Advent is all building up to the joyful time of Christmas. In fact, it can hardly be called a ‘time of waiting’ at all. The Christmas lights and Christmas decorations are already up, and some people are well into their Christmas shopping. No shocks for us, we know what to expect. When we’ve celebrated the birth of the baby, everything will get back to normal again until next year.

 

                              A monk comes to his Abbot, seeking guidance, He addresses the abbot eagerly and                                  impatiently firing questions at him. But the Abbot says, “just look”. The monk is very                                  disappointed. “I’m always looking” he responds. “No, you’re not” says the Abbot. “In                                    order to look at what is here, you have to be here, and you are mostly somewhere                                      else”.

 

As we look around at our world and its landscape today, our current world view is tempered by COVID and our politicians are telling us that the end is in sight because there are vaccines coming, but is this just ‘flags’ being waved to temper the battle weary? As we journey on, it seems to me that the story of the monk has much to offer as we are encouraged to make reflections, make Christmas preparations and preparations for a tempered Christmas season. Amidst all that is going on around us this year it is important not to loose sight of the amazing message that ‘God is with us’. With all the restrictions and rules which we are forced to obey this year we should consider how, we who have the hope of Jesus, can help others around us. In this time of great uncertainty lets come together and start this Advent season with Christ. As Paul instructs at the end of 1 Thessalonians 5 let us “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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Let us Pray

Creator God,

God of goodness, you know what is most important: love, justice and honesty.
Help us to know what is most important in our lives and to work for that, and to wait for that, and to keep remembering.
Because you know what is most important: love, justice and honesty.

We bring our prayers from a world in deep distress. There are signs and portents all around us, and no-one to tell us what they mean: fires and plagues and pestilence; a shaking up of all we thought we knew; leaders who are corrupt, or foolish, or just as helpless as we all feel

in the face of forces we cannot control. And yet we dare to believe that it is your world.

We go on asserting that you care, not just because to do otherwise is unthinkable, but because the old stories have a hold on us and we hold on to them.

We kneel with shepherds and wise men by the straw-filled crib and we worship.

We listen, spellbound, to the stories told on hilltop and sandy shore, and we are hooked.

We watch, aghast, as softly the agony ends, and the final breath escapes.

We grieve and we despair. We wake early and we wonder if maybe, just maybe, new hope may come with the dawn.

God of birth and growth, decline and death, God of whatever came before and whatever may come after the brief, troubled lives that we know, we commit to your care and keeping our lives and our loved ones … our world and our worries on its behalf …

We long for you to come and save us. May we be ready when you do.

Amen.

Listen or sing or read the words of this hymn – Here I am to worship

Benediction and Blessing

Be mindful.

Keep watch.

Be aware of what’s happening.

Jesus is always with us and Jesus will come again.

Go with your heart and soul in eager expectation, awaiting the coming of Good News.

Be a living witness of that hope, sharing the blessing of God in word and action.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all evermore. Amen.

Thank you to those who have taken the time to contact me. Take care out there this week.

May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this day and each day. 

Rev. Susan Thorburn, sthorburn@churchofscotland.org.uk 

If you choose to email me, please can you tell me who you are and where you live. Thank you.