Home Service for Sunday 12th December 2021, third Sunday of Advent

Advent 3 – Gaudete Sunday

Advent Candle Prayer

As we light this Advent candle, may its flame be for us a sign of the light that reveals to us our path through life, that inspires us to live simply and generously, after the example and call of John the Baptist, that we ourselves may be signs of the good news we proclaim. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Prayers of Approach

O Lord our God, God of the prophets and God of the now, you are with us. Your power gives us victory. You take delight in us. And in love, you give us new life. Hear us as we come to you today.

To you, O God, we lift our hearts; how great you are. You are our saviour; you are our power; you are our strength. You are the giver of life-giving water to quench our spiritual thirst. You are a bounteous one beyond our imagining. You are the giver of gifts beyond compare. To you, O God, we lift our heart, we raise our eyes, and we shout in adoration.

Praise to you, Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We praise you for the gift of witnesses to your love. We give thanks for the witness of John the Baptist and his message to the people and its relevance for us today. In his story and his teaching, we see the heart of your being, fairness and justice and equality for your people. We give you thanks for the ordinary everyday life that witnesses to your power and glory. We give thanks that you are always surprising us and meeting us right where we are. We give thanks for your light in our times of darkness, for your hand in times of aloneness, for your leading in times of uncertainty. To you, our triune God, we offer our praise and thanksgiving. Amen.

Hymn Joy to the world, the Lord is come (R&S 135)

Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-20

Luke 3:7-18

Introduction

Six hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Zephaniah expects God to come like a warrior king. On the cusp of Jesus’ coming, John the Baptist still expects judgement, but he is also clear about how people should prepare to meet God. John tells those who have come to be baptized that their faith needs to make a difference to their everyday living. He shares three kinds of teaching: a warning to the crowds not to rely on their religious pedigree; advice on some simple ways to live justly; and a prophetic promise about the greatness of the one who is to come. His listeners ask what they need to do. John’s response is not without cost to the individual. He also speaks directly to the situations of those asking the questions – and speaks of how they can relate to others.

Hymn On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (R&S 134)

Sermon/Reflection

We’ve reached the third Sunday in Advent and, depending on which system your church uses, you might be celebrating John the Baptist or the Sunday of Joy. Traditional themes for the Sundays of Advent are, God’s promise to his people; patriarchs and prophets; John the Baptist; and Mary, or alternatively, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The Bible readings set for each week are based on the first topics but also reflect and embody the second pattern of themes.

An old name for the third Sunday is Gaudete which means rejoice, and it is easy to see where that fits with the reading from Zephaniah, but how can we reconcile it with John’s exhortations to repentance and his words of condemnation, ‘You snakes!’ (‘You brood of vipers!’) and his warning that the axe is ready to cut them down? John’s reply to their panicked question, ‘What then can we do?’ however is reassuring. It is also tailored to their personal circumstances – they simply have to be ethical, just and fair in their dealings with others from whatever their position, job, status or circumstances in life are. It is reason to rejoice that their situation is not hopeless but that they can look forward with confidence to the coming of the promised Messiah.

The crowd that came to John for baptism thought ancestry was enough, and they didn’t need to do any more than that. Perhaps we think that calling ourselves Christian, or attending church, is enough. But it isn’t. We are called to ‘bear good fruit’, and the responsibility for that lies with us. What then should we do, to be signs of good news to the people who are today’s equivalents of those we read about in Zephaniah and, in particular, those who long for the safety of home –or indeed to be safe in the homes they are in?

At the heart of John the Baptist’s message is a call to contentment. If we are to take John’s message seriously it may mean that those of us who have plenty will have to be content not just with what we have but with less. John asks people to show their faith by behaving well in their own context: the tax collector should collect only the correct amount; the soldier must not extort. In our own situations, are our companions able to discern we are followers of ‘The Way’ by our actions? How might they do so? If not, why not?

Hymn Come, thou long expected Jesus (R&S 138)

Prayers of Intercession

God of judgement and of mercy, we pray for those entrusted with great power, that they would make changes for the good of those they serve; We pray for those living in war zones, in refugee camps, in cardboard boxes, and we cry out to you, God of peace: enough is enough.

We pray for those entrusted with great wealth, that they would see where they could make changes and enrich others; We pray for children who go to bed hungry, who wake up afraid, who live without hope, and we cry out to you, God of peace: enough is enough.

We pray for those entrusted with great influence, that they would make changes that would inspire others; for your world where it is indifferent, complacent, sinful, and we cry out to you, God of peace: enough is enough.

We pray for those who have lost their way, those who are searching, those who are asking ‘What can we do?’ and we cry out to you, God of peace: enough is enough.

Gracious God, bring them, and us, and all creation back to you, and embrace us afresh in your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour. We pray for ourselves, that we too might change, and become more approachable, more open, more generous, and more like your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.

Hymn Make way, make way, for Christ the king (R&S 141)

Blessing

Lord, help us to go into the world in peace; to be of good courage; to hold fast to that which is good; to strengthen the fainthearted; to support the weak; to honour everyone; and to love and serve the Lord. Be within us and among us, and remain with us always. Amen.

Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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