Prayers of Approach
Living God, as in Advent we light candles in the name of Jesus, the light of the world: make straight our paths, enlighten our hearts and our minds, bless us on our Advent journey; that your kingdom may come into our lives.
As we continue on our Advent journey – in the strength of hope, celebrating the glimpses of glory in our midst, and preparing for the glories to come, following that strange voice crying in the wilderness, and acknowledging our own voice crying in our hearts; so, Lord of our journeying, Lord of our crying, meet us in Bethlehem, that we may worship you, individually, as a community, as a church, as the world you came to save.
God of light, we thank you for John the Baptist who pointed to the light; we thank you for Jesus who is the light; and we thank you for those we pray for – may they know your light shining on them today. Amen.
Hymn Make way, make way for Christ the king (R&S 141)
Readings: Isaiah 1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Each of this week’s readings invites us into change and transformation, but still leave room for mystery about how exactly it will happen. Today’s reading from Isaiah is especially striking. Isaiah’s words connect us directly to those who heard, at first hand, Jesus’ voice – to the moment (recorded in Luke’s Gospel) where he reads those very words. Having heard the Scriptures read to them, the gathered assembly would have been called to respond – just as we are today.
In the Gospel reading people try to pin John down with labels and he rejects them. The reading is less about who John is, and a lot about who John is not. This might be familiar to us, as people like to give us labels. We too all have to work out who we are. Our identity, what we stand for, what we honour, what we are looking for, is our life’s work. John’s work is to make way for Jesus, to prepare people, and he rejects the labels that others give him, pointing simply towards Jesus.
Hymn On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (R&S 134)
Advent elicits a variety of emotions. One is joy, and the third Sunday of Advent is sometimes called Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday since the true message of Christmas is that God is now with us, and will bring about the transformations described in today’s reading from Isaiah. This was, and still is, good news. For Isaiah’s people it meant an end to the long years of suffering and misery they endured, God had recognised their pain and would soon put an end to it. We do not know how people responded to such longed-for news, although we do catch glimpses in the reactions of different people to John’s message and to Jesus himself, and Isaiah’s words have inspired many down the years to fight for justice, equality and truth.
Today’s Gospel reading turns the spotlight on John focusing on the important questions, ‘Who are you?’ John, ‘not the light’, fails to fit into any convenient category. He is not the Messiah, not the prophet, not Elijah – not the forerunner, not the mouthpiece. Is he just being difficult or is it that Jewish thought has no suitable category? John hints at this, as he rebukes the Jews for not having a suitable pigeonhole for ‘a voice of one crying in the wilderness’, despite Isaiah having explicitly anticipated this. He is suddenly the focus of attention and needs to answer questions about who he is and what he’s up to. He has a very specific response to this scrutiny. He shifts the spotlight from himself and his activity, and onto Jesus. His answers point his listeners elsewhere to the one who is coming after him. He redirects and moves the conversation towards Jesus. He knows the one coming next will not just be in the light, but will be the light.
And that’s the bigger question, of course, ‘Who is Jesus?’ John’s Gospel has been jokingly ascribed
to Agatha Christie because of its ‘whodunit’ structure, reading like a detective story in which the participants try to work out who Jesus is. To say Jesus is ‘the Word’ or ‘the Son of God’ is fine, provided we take care to unpack the meanings of these titles. If John really is the voice crying ‘prepare the way of the Lord’, then how are we supposed to make his way straight?
That leads to a final question for each one of us. ‘Who are you?’ If we are asked this question, we probably answer with our name, or where we come from, or whose sibling we are, or something like that. When John is asked this question, his first response is to say who he is not. How might the Pharisees have felt to discover that John was not the Messiah? But perhaps more important than John saying what he is not, is what he said next: that the true Messiah is already among them. John points people towards the true Messiah – Jesus – and issues them with ‘invitations’ to find out who he is. When the spotlight falls on us, can we do the same?
During the Christmas season we may receive many invitations – family gatherings, school nativities, carol services, work parties, etc. With each invitation comes the option to accept or not. As we think about the Christmas story, are we encouraged to know that God is who he says he is? And that he will do what he says he will do? The challenge for us is to keep rejoicing, praying, holding fast and so on. How will we reply to this invitation?
· Why does John want the priests and Levites to focus on Jesus rather than on him?
· How can we search for Jesus in our lives?
· What do we do that helps other people to find out about Jesus?
Hymn Hark the glad sound, the saviour comes (R&S 137)
Prayers of Intercession
We praise and adore you, O God, for your urgency and passion. We thank you for choosing John the Baptist to be your prophet, and for blessing him with words that stir our hearts, and humility that transforms our lives. May we look deep within ourselves, and not be afraid to name the good, and persevere against the frustrating injustices and inequalities of our world.
God of all truth and all integrity, may those in the shadows of despair be blessed with the light of hope; may those in the shadows of exhaustion be blessed with the light of rest; may those in the shadows of slavery be blessed with the light of empowerment; may those in the shadows of loneliness be blessed with the light of companionship; may those in the shadows of grief be blessed with the light of comfort; and may all your people, tempted by the shadows of pride, be blessed with the light of humility. Amen.
Hymn Joy to the world the Lord is come (R&S 135)
May our hearts be at peace, and our minds be at rest. May we be confident in who we are, and share God’s gifts of light, hope and grace with those we meet and those we pray for.
And may your blessing rest on us all, now and forever. Amen.
Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.