Greeting Psalm 85:8
“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.”
Call to Worship based on Isaiah 40:1-11
One: Listen! The voice of God calls out across the ages.
Many: We hear and respond. We rise up to worship God from the valleys, the mountains, and the plains.
One: Like a shepherd God leads us and tenderly gathers us together.
Many: Comfort, comfort O my people, says our God of love.
All: The grass withers and the flower fades; But the word of our God will stand forever!
Prayer of Invocation in unison
You call to us from the wild places,
You call to us from the inner chambers of our hearts.
We come in answer to your call.
We come to pray, to praise,
To learn of your love for all creation.
Reveal your glory that we may see it together -
Inform and inspire us to seek your kingdom on earth in our time. Amen.
— From Valleys to Mountains, Service Prayers for the Second Sunday of Advent, was written by the Rev. Penny L. Lowes. Posted on the Worship Ways website of the United Church of Christ.
Moment of Silence
Lighting the Candle of Love
Our lists are long, even in this strange mess where we live these days. And we want to do it right, we want to be safe, but we want to be able to enjoy the season. We’ve got work to do to put right what has gone wrong, to heal what is broken, to mend the relationships, and to prepare for the company that will come.
The prophet Isaiah reminded us that there is work to be done. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” When God comes in, then healing is to be found, but we need to make the way; we need to open the door into our lives.
So, we light these candles as a sign of God’s love for us, and a sign of our faith that the God we worship is not far from us, and that we can clear the way for that God to come and dwell with us. We light these candles in faith that company is coming. Light candles
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Scripture Mark 1:1-8 2 Peter 3:8-15a
This is the Word of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Morning Message Clean-Up Crew
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Here Mark begins his Gospel by quoting the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 40: “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.”
Then, verse 4, John the baptizer appears. THIS is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus.
Isaiah’s prophecy was written some 800 years before the birth of Christ, and for the nation of Israel it had been four hundred years since they had heard anything from God.
And THEN John the baptizer appeared out in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair, eating a diet of locust and honey.
He probably seemed a little odd, but he caught Israel’s attention because he reminded them of someone: someone their parents and grandparents had told them about, someone they had learned about at the synagogue: the prophet Elijah.
John’s appearance stirred interest, but his message was compelling, too.
He preached repentance, and turning away from sin. But he also preached something they desperately needed, and that was a message of hope. A message that it wasn’t about him at all. He was just the one God sent to make the way for that Someone Greater who was yet to come. And this One, well, John wasn’t even worthy of bending down to fix his sandal straps.
John’s message was of hope: the coming of the Messiah was imminent.
And the people flocked to John in droves.
Last week we talked about the mess that Israel had made of their lives, and Isaiah’s call to clean things up: A call to return, repent, and be renewed by God. After years of silence from God, John had been sent in to help, to prepare the way for Jesus.
As Isaiah had said, there were things that needed straightened out. He used the imagery of the earth: valleys lifted up, mountains leveled, and uneven ground made smooth. This reminds me of route 322 which I have traveled my whole life. Because it runs from my home town to State College.
In 1937, route 322 replaced PA-5 between Harrisburg and West Chester. It has continued to change and improve through the years, and new construction continues even now outside of State College near Potter’s Mills.
But Route 322 didn’t just happen, it didn’t just magically appear one day. It’s been a lot of work, mountains cut through, ground made even and smooth. And it has been a process.
And what prophets like Isaiah and John were saying was that the Israelites had some work to do before the Messiah came. It didn’t involve heavy equipment or asphalt, but there was a process: repent of your sins, return to God, and be baptized as a sign of a changed life.
John was in a sense the “clean-up crew” of the mess, or maybe the foreman of the crew: He was there to help the people through the process. He was there to help them get ready for the arrival of the Messiah.
And when John challenged the people to confess sin individually, he signaled the start of a new way to relate to God, a personal relationship with Him. And for that, change was necessary.
Because to hear and understand Jesus’ message of forgiveness, you have to admit you need forgiveness in the first place.
So, John’s message was really the same as Isaiah’s: Repent and prepare to receive Christ. Turn away from the attractions of the world, sinful temptations, and harmful attitudes, and turn yourself toward Jesus. Then God can work in your life to give you a new start.
For John, the call to baptism was a visible sign that a person decided to change, had decided to give up their old selfish ways, and turn back to God. It was symbolic of washing away the old life. BUT, he always taught that while he baptized with water, as a symbol of their changed life, the One who was yet to come would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. And that baptism would bring about a true change of self, of spirit and mind:
In the Message, Mark 1:7-8 says this: John said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3).
John appears every Advent to remind us that we haven’t been paying enough attention. He shouts to wake us up. He dresses oddly to capture our fascination. He storms up and down the riverbank, asking us to now take the plunge. He invites us into a changed life in Christ. A life where Christ changes us from the inside out.
And John is also asking us to participate. We’ve got streets to level and curves to straighten. John reminds us that there is work to be done and a response is needed. John wants us to be participants in the living out of our own salvation. He asks us to be partners and contributors in God’s Kingdom. He asks us to join the road crew.
John’s strange appearance and lifestyle drew people to him at first.
This in turn opened the door for him to draw people to the Savior Jesus.
We are now called to changed lives: lives that are different and cause people to pause and pay attention, like John’s did. Christ-like lives that offer love, security, and hope. Lives that say to others “You are invited into God’s Kingdom because he loves you, and Jesus died for you, too.” We are now to be the bearers of hope in this world until Christ comes again. And if the world needs anything right about now, it is a message of hope.
I believe even in a year like this one, Jesus asks us to continue this work of making paths straight and smoothing out uneven ground.
I’m also pretty sure that I’m not the only one this year who has had thoughts of His second coming: Maybe this is the year.
Maybe we’ve even thought things like “Where on earth is He?” “What’s holding Him up?” “What can God possibly be waiting for?” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” we sing.
2 Peter 3:8-15 offers us some assurance, although it may not be the assurance we want to hear: The Lord isn’t slow, or lagging behind, no, and he hasn’t forgotten his promise. No, the Lord God is patient. We are the ones who are not. We are the ones who get distracted and fall behind.
Verse 9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
Peter reminds us that the second coming of Christ, His second Advent, is a sure and certain thing, but that day will come like a thief in the night. Unexpected and surprising, so be prepared, and live a life that helps others to be prepared, too.
Peter writes, “Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness. So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace.”
The glory of Christmas is that there is a silent night, because there is a need to listen and to shut out the distracting noise of the world and our own brokenness.
But Mark reminds us that the Lord’s highway is a two-way street. Our call is to listen and then to respond. To announce, to proclaim. To make way:
Isaiah said this: “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!"
“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.”
Company’s coming, and we need to make ready. We need to make ourselves ready, and make our world ready, for the one who comes to lead us home.
The joy is that we get to be a part of the clean-up crew. This isn’t a menial task; this is the glory of the Lord.
Our hope lies in the promise that Christ is coming again to take his children home.
May our deepest desire this holiday season be to bring this hope within us, to the world around us, as we wait for that day. Amen.
Prayer of Response He Came, Wrapped in Flesh Like Ours
One: Holy One, into mess you sent Perfection.
Many: Wrapped in flesh like ours, flesh that is weak, flesh that makes mistakes, flesh that has a liking for wrong even more than it does for right, you sent Jesus for your people.
One: However, he never messed up! He never went the wrong way! He never broke your heart!
Many: May we, those whom you love more than we know how to love ourselves, strive to be more like him. We pray, God, that our lives make room for you to appear.
All: Powerful God, we are unworthy of even unlacing your shoes, but let all we do bring you glory! In Christ’s precious name, we pray. Amen!
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive
us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” performed by a traditional choir
Benediction God Has been Patient, You Be Faithful
You, with whom God has been patient
You, to whom God has been faithful
You, for whom God has come
Leave this place different than you came
Leave this place changed for the better
Leave this place convicted to live holy
Leave this place waiting for God to show up for you this week.
Go! Go forth happy!
Go forth filled!