Worship on the Lord’s Day
Advent 2 10 December 2023 10:00 am
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia Guest Violinist: Rob Hryciw Vocalist: Linda F-B
Elder: Heather Tansem Advent Liturgy: Iris, Sarah, and Ruth
We gather to worship God
L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship
Call to Worship
Advent Liturgy for the Second Sunday in Advent: PEACE
Voice 1: The prophets call and an apostle writes that peace comes from God.
Voice 2: “For a child has been born for us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. …and there shall be endless peace.” (Isaiah 9)
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4)
Voice 1: The world, our relationships and our lives are all too often torn by conflict and injustice. Advent calls us to pray and work for peace—shalom—in the world God loves and to which Christ came. But God’s shalom is not simply the absence of conflict. Shalom is the peace that comes when we live life in the balance, loving God and one another.
Voice 2: Holy are you, Source of all new life among us.
All: Jesus Christ comes as the Prince of Peace.
Voice 2: We join with all creation and lift our hearts in joyful praise.
All: We light this candle to shine for peace. (while lighting the candle of peace)
Opening praise: Hope is a star (119: vss 1-2)
Prayers of approach and confession
God of purpose and promise, you love the breadth and depth of your creation and care for us like shepherds tend their sheep.
You set pathways for us to follow, clearing the way in the wilderness of the world.
And yet we break your heart by wandering off, pursuing our own purposes.
Still, you keep calling us back.
You call us by name in our baptisms.
You set us in the world to serve you, each one with a purpose you imagine for us.
And so we come to worship you, O God, knowing that in you, we will find our true purpose, and the path you set will lead to peace and well-being in your deep love, revealed for us in Christ Jesus.
God of mercy, we confess that we resist change, even when your Word compels us to reconsider our actions or opinions.
We are set in our ways, and prefer to consider the changes others should make.
By the power of your Holy Spirit, give us new eyes for seeing, new ears for hearing so that we follow Jesus more faithfully day by day.
Response: Glory, Glory, hallelujah
Assurance of God’s grace
Friends, trust that peace and forgiveness are God’s gift to you this day through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Receive the renewing power of the Holy Spirit and be at peace with God, with yourselves and with each other.
Special Music: Piano and Violin (Binu Kapadia & Rob Hryciw)
We listen for the voice of God
Response: Open our eyes, Lord (445)
Who knows what this is? Yes – it’s the Christ Candle.
Why do we light the Christ Candle?
We light it as a sign that the light of Christ is with us in this worship period.
During Advent, we have these 4 candles around the Christ Candle, and we don’t usually light the regular Christ candle during Advent.
Why to we light these four candles – three purple and one pink? Hope, peace, joy, love, right? And we light them every year at this time.
The 4 candles of Advent remind us that we’re waiting for Christmas morning when the baby Jesus arrived.
Then we light the Christ Candle all year long as a sign that Christ is present with us. And here’s the weird thing though.
We do this pretty much every Sunday, right? We can’t just light these candles and leave them lit. We have to re-light them every Sunday.
We’d burn the church down. In the old temple in Solomon’s temple, they let it burn all the time. But we blow them out for safety reasons. And then we come back the next Sunday and relight them.
In our scripture readings, it talks about how God takes the remnants of the old and repurposes them for the new. God actually takes the broken or what’s left and makes something amazing from it. He does what we do with the lights.
God lights your lives. He lights up countries, nations, everything again and he takes what was used a long time ago but was snuffed out and re-lights it.
What we do with these candles, God does with our lives.
Prayer: Our God, we thank you for your presence with us. We know that even if we blow that candle out, you’re still here. We know that as we are lighting candles of waiting, you’re already here.
Our God, we know that you take the things of old and you make them new again, that you relight lives and you change the world.
God bring hope and bring peace to this world.
The Lord’s Prayer (535)
Song: There’s a voice in the wilderness crying (128(
Scripture: 2 Peter 3:8-15a & Mark 1:1-8
Response: My Lord, he’s a-comin’ soon
Montreal is both wonderful and an absolute pain to get around. To McGill, it’s pretty straightforward no matter where you are: you take the train to the metro and walk the underground malls up to school. On the surface, if you’re a pedestrian or a bike, you do whatever you want; whenever you want, you just accept that horns will honk. But that’s up to the University. The rest of the Island is… insane.
The drivers are pretty spectacular. They aren’t the issue. See, the problem is the signs. There are stop signs everywhere that nobody ever stops for. In Montreal, people press on the horn and run right through the sign instead of pushing on the brakes. No matter… they still keep putting signs up. They put a stop sign up in the middle of the street two blocks from our home, where there was no intersection. They put them on both sides of the street, too, right and left. Coming home from Wesley’s school, there was a road… I kid you not… with nine four-way stops on it. Also, for some reason, each area gets to design their signs – sometimes they are on the right, sometimes hanging overhead or sometimes on the left. In Lavalle, the stop signs are plastic, 3 inches thick, with glowing white sides lit up by light bulbs. In Mount Royal, sometimes the stop signs say Stop, sometimes they say Arret and sometimes they say Stop and then angry French-speaking youth graffiti over the “Stop” with “Arret.”
They use stop signs for everything, too. In Pointe-Claire, where we lived, they put them up instead of yield signs or speed bumps. But that’s not all that’s crazy. They also have oddball signs like double reds or reds with white outer flashing rings (I still don’t know what those mean). And there are double green arrow left turns (but posted on the right side of the road for some reason).
As you cross the bridge and enter the island, there is a huge sign telling everyone that it is illegal to turn right at a red light while in Montreal. As a result, when people come to a four-way stoplight… each side gets its turn at a green, making many stoplights a 6-minute wait or more. Crosswalks, too, are a pain. On West Island, if someone pushes the crosswalk button, all traffic stops in all directions, and pedestrians get a two-minute countdown clock and then walk diagonally across all four lanes to get where they’re going. On top of this, there are “no left-hand turn” signs and “no U-turn” signs all over the place. As a result, our family often had to drive 10-12 blocks past the place we wanted to go before we could legally turn and work our way back to the desired destination. We would have to drive six blocks out of our way to a place only seven blocks from our home—six blocks in a row with no left turn and no U-turn signs. We had to take this route often, which I would’ve given for a simple “U-turn” sign.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mark has this great way of starting his gospel: he says, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then, after saying that, Mark promptly does not talk about “Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Instead, Mark points to John the Baptist. And he does this by quoting John, who himself is quoting Isaiah. John’s words come from Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness ‘prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” But then John also quotes from Malichi. 3:1 (mashing the two quotations together into a single one). He says, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” Interestingly (for at least), both quotes refer back to the angel sent to the Israelites in the desert who led the people into the promised land in Ex. 23:20). And yet, at the same time, both quotes and John’s use of them, were all also understood to be about (not the past but) the future. Everything about John said something about the future.
John the Baptist’s message is filled with images and words that resonate with the people. For example, Mark says, “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Why do we need to know this? This was really important for John and Mark’s first listeners and readers. John appeared on the scene exactly where Elijah was taken up into heaven. John came where the people expected him to return. John came wearing the same clothes Elijah did and eating the same food. Every year at Yom Kipper, Jewish families put out a plate and a chair for Elijah. They wait for the one to come, bringing the message “prepare the way,” “repent and be forgiven.” Mark… Mark says in subtle terms that John is the Elijah everyone has been waiting for.
At the time of Jesus and John, the desert was a sacred place for escape. It was also a place to flee to in times of trouble because it was beyond the military control of the cities. No matter what was happening in the world, the desert may have been the best place to find peace if you wanted peace.
The desert also held a lot of memories for the Jewish people. It was the place where the people wondered before entering the promised land, and the river Jordan (where John did his baptism) was the border they had crossed to get there.
Just by standing in that spot and saying those words, John conjured up a lot of feelings for a Jewish people living in that very same promised land but now run by the Romans. Mark says, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.”
Now, it’s important to note that baptism was nothing new to the Jews.
Traditionally, Judaism used immersion (the Greek says “Baptizo” or “to plunge”) as a purification ritual. Baptizo is the same word used for washing clothes (you Baptizo or “plunge” them into the water). But the tradition of baptism goes back to the construction of King Solomon’s temple. Outside the Temple was the sacrificial altar where the people gave an offering for their sins, but there was also this gigantic bowl called “the brazen sea” where the priests were to bathe before religious ceremonies. In a sense (as with most of Christianity), baptism is a Jewish tradition first and as much as it is a Christian one. And that makes sense; Christianity is, in fact, a form of messianic Judaism. But John’s Jewish baptism seemed very different somehow.
In traditional Judaism, baptism was done for new converts, but it was also done before any formal worship rituals began. This meant that the priests bathed very often. Others… not so much. Yet, even for the ordinary person, this ritualistic washing was done at least thrice a year before each of Jerusalem’s three major pilgrim festivals. In John’s day, however (in the city), baptism became a fashion accessory or symbol of high status. Wealthy Jewish people living in Jerusalem had begun baptizing themselves all the time. Archaeologists have discovered over 150 early 1st-century baptismal pools. This is because wealthy Jewish families had immersion pools put into their homes. It became so popular that the Jewish religious leaders even had to come up with strict rules to follow to consider the pool to be “legitimate” and not just toys for the wealthy. To be an official immersion pool for ritual cleansing, the pools had two steps and a drying spot. They also had to hold at least forty seahs of water or 75 gallons (a large whirlpool tub holds 80). In short, what began as a rare religious rite (where people made themselves clean on the outside before asking God to make them clean on the inside)… well, it had pretty much just turned into bathing.
Now that’s not all bad. Bathing more than three times a year was probably a good thing.
In any case, ritual cleansing was certainly nothing new to first-century Jewish people. So what was so special about John then? Why did the whole city come out to be baptized by him in a river that, quite frankly – is pretty dirty?
What John was doing was very noticeably different.
John wasn’t concerned about a simple purification ritual. It was way more significant than that. His baptism was a one-time deal. John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He claimed to be able to do something only God could do… forgive.
For John, once you repent (and indeed mean it) (spiritually speaking…), you’re clean, so why would you ever need to do it again? This word he uses for “repent” says just that. The word he uses is μετάνοια metanoia meta-noi-a, and quite frankly, “repent” is not that great a translation. In classical Greek, the word is slightly different, being made up of both after and mind, but in the Konie form of Greek from Mark, the word means meta (turned) and noia (mind)… a turned… mind. The Greek lexicon refers to it as “a complete change of heart” and “a spiritual conversion.”
When John preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins, he’s not talking about remorse. He’s not talking about feeling sorry. He’s talking about a complete about-face. He’s talking about an absolute change in direction. He’s talking about making a complete, life-changing U-turn. He’s talking about a clear and intentional shift in thinking and in actions. See, it’s not remorse, it’s not an apology he’s after… it’s turned mind.
A .W. Tozer once said, “A thousand years of remorse over a wrong act would not please God as much as a single turn in conduct.” I once heard it put this way, “Values are what we say we believe. Behaviour is a reflection of what we believe.”
To truly repent is to change one’s mind and change it so much so that we cannot help but change our very deeds as well. It’s a metanoia (a spiritual u-turn).
For all this talk of repentance, John sees it not as his primary point but rather as a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, John wants to see repentance. It’s just not an end in and of itself. He says, “Repent for the forgiveness of sins.” This is what he cares about. It’s not people’s wrongs he cares about. It’s their forgiveness. John’s baptism is, at its heart, a mission of forgiveness. He wants people to know the grace of God. And what’s more, this forgiveness doesn’t come from him. John doesn’t want the accolades. John says he’s not even necessary. He wants people to repent, turn to God, and know His grace. John is just the messenger boy. He’s the “voice in the wilderness.” He cries out, “Make straight the paths” because you need to “Prepare the way for the Lord.” John says, “It’s not about me.” It’s all about Him.
Though Mark describes John’s fame vividly, fame was not what John wanted. Mark writes, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him,” but John didn’t like the attention. He was just the sign pointing people in the right direction; he wasn’t the destination. Yeah, he preached repentance, and yeah, he preached forgiveness, but Mark says, “And this was his [central] message:” “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John didn’t bring the message. He just pointed to it. He was the messenger saying, “Something big is about to happen,”; “Something great is coming,” “so get ready for it,” and “Make straight the paths” (make straight the roads that lead out from slavery and into the promised land, repent and be forgiven) get ready! You cannot imagine what’s coming! In the words of that great hymn, “Let every heart prepare him room.”
There were beautiful things about living in Montreal. But the signs I will never miss. Driving around for block after block in the wrong direction (my destination slowly disappearing in my review mirror), I’d have given anything for a U-turn.
And that is what John was. He was a voice calling in the wilderness. In a world where the religious symbols and rites were becoming void of their true meaning and commercialized… He was a big giant neon sign pointing the way to Christ and telling people to get ready.
This year, as the advent season progresses and we move closer and closer to our destination, closer and closer to the coming of our Lord, let us make straight the paths in our lives. Let us all metanoia. Let us turn our minds towards him, knowing that our deeds will surely follow.
God bless you as you turn, make straight the paths and prepare him room. Amen.
Song: People in darkness (124)
We respond to serve God: Our time of giving
Reflection on giving: This Sunday in Advent celebrates God’s gift of peace. When we look around the world, we see so many places where peace is missing, in neighborhoods and nations. But because we know the gift of God’s peace, we can trust that our gifts will help restore true peace to souls and situations by the power of the Spirit.
Dedication: God of promise, we offer our gifts in Jesus’ name, for we know peace through his forgiveness and faithfulness. Bless our gifts and our lives. Help us share the peace you offer with lives that touch ours throughout the world you love. Amen.
Prayer of peace
God in whom we live and move and have our being: As we gather our thoughts in prayer, we are aware of so many challenges – in our own lives, in the lives of those we care about, and in the world around us.
We wonder how you will reveal yourself in response to so many different needs.
We trust that your heart is moved by the pain and potential in each precious life for you never give up on situations which we find overwhelming…
We pray for those who are in the headlines this week, for situations that concern us deeply, and for all who cry out to you in the face of overwhelming odds:
Keep silence for 15 seconds.
Draw near to them with courage and wisdom
We pray for those who are suffering in quiet corners of our community, remembering those who are ill; those who are bereaved; those who struggle with poverty or unemployment; and all who face barriers through discrimination or disability:
Keep silence for 15 seconds.
Draw near to them with compassion and support.
We pray for those who are waiting for something significant – for a birth or a death, for diagnosis or treatment, for important news or a new opportunity:
Keep silence for 15 seconds.
Draw near to them in peace and faithfulness.
We pray for those struggle with their faith and those who have given up on you because of actions taken in your name that betrayed your love;
Keep silence for 15 seconds.
Draw them back to you in this season of wonder and love. AMEN
Song: Lord whose love (722)
Sending out with God’s blessing
Go in peace this day, ready to bear fruit worthy of your commitment to Jesus Christ and his kingdom of justice and peace.
And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Response: Amen, we praise your name, O God
Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).
The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.