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Sermon (2) and Liturgy For The Second Sunday of Advent - Year B
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; Mark 1:1-8
"Clear A Path and Make A Straight Road"


READING:  Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; Mark 1:1-8
SERMON :  "Clear A Path and Make A Straight Road"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-ad01sn 703000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC. 

   Sources:  The children's story is entirely that of Charles
     Kirkpatrick at  www.Sermons4Kids.com  (Dec 2002) and is reprinted
     with permission.   The sermon draws heavily upon one by Rev. Alex
     Stevenson, "Comfort, Not Condemnation"  Latimer UMC, Advent 2B
     1993 www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/1506/lection.htm using
     extensive quotes and rewording others as we attempt to follow his
     dictates and make it our own - to have the Spirit speak to us.  We 
     urge you to do the same - only more so.  The sermon also includes some
     extracts from a sermon by Rev. Christopher Heath, "Prepare Ye The
     Way of The Lord" (Mark 1:3), Parish of Somerton Park Diocese of
     Adelaide South Australia,  Advent 2B 1996
     (www.users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/myindex.htm).


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
                    

* ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING
L    Let us Sing our Advent Introit - "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord" from
     Voices United #10.   (As Introit is sung the candle lighters and
     readers comes forward)  

                    Prepare the way of the Lord!
                    Prepare the way of the Lord!
                    Make a straight path for him, make a straight path;
                    prepare the way of the Lord!

     VOICE     A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots
               a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest
               on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the
               Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and
               of the fear of the Lord.

     VOICE     He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide
               by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he
               will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions
               for the poor of the earth. 

     VOICE     In that day he will bring peace to the earth.  The wolf will
               live with lamb and the and the leopard will lie down with
               the goat.  No one will harm or destroy another, for the
               earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

     VOICE     Until that day we are called to live as Children of Peace,
               as ones who turn from the darkness of sin and death and walk
               by the light and in Spirit that God gives.

     Light the First and Second Candles

     VOICE     Let us Pray - Loving God, we thank you for the light that
               you have sent and are sending into the world, the light that
               even now lights our path.   Come among us and grant to us
               hearts that are humble and ready to receive your peace. 
               Reveal to us your glory and comfort all your people.  Fill
               us with your Spirit as we await the One in whom we hope.  Amen
 

* ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: "A Candle Is Burning"  (VU 6, verse 1)
     A Candle is burning, a candle of peace,
     a candle to signal that conflict must cease:
     for Jesus is coming to show us the way;
     a message of peace humbly laid in the hay.

     
CHILDREN'S TIME: "The King is Coming" (Mark 1:2-3)
Theme:    Preparing Our Hearts For Christ's Return
Source:   With permission - Charles Kirpatrick,  www.sermon4kids.com  2002.
Object:   A Mop and Pail, Window Cleaner, Sponges, Cleaning supplies.

Good morning....   My mother was a very good housekeeper.  You could come
to our house at any time and never find a thing out of place.  There was
never a bed unmade or a dirty dish in the sink.  You would never find
clothes on the floor or a dirty sock hiding under the bed at our house! 
There was a place for everything -- and everything was in its place.  

Even though our house always looked just fine to me, I can still remember
what it was like around our house when my mother found out that company was
coming.  She brought out the broom, the mop and pail, sponges, window
cleaner, bathroom cleaner, dust rags, and furniture polish.  Then she
called me and my two sisters together and assigned each of us the job that
we were to do.  When we were finished, mother always checked to make sure
that not a speck of dirt or dust remained. 

Can you imagine what it would have been like around our house if we had
been expecting a visit from a king?  Well, that is what I want to talk to
you about this morning.  A king is coming -- not just any king -- the King
of Kings!

Long before Jesus was born, a prophet named Isaiah said that before Jesus
would be born, there would be one who would come before him to prepare the
way for him.  His name was John.  The Bible tells us that John was like a
voice, crying in the wilderness, telling people that Jesus was coming and
that they needed to prepare for his coming.

When John told people that they needed to prepare for the coming of Jesus,
he wasn't talking about a clean house.  He was talking about a clean heart. 
He told the people that they needed to confess their sins, repent, and be
baptized so that they would be ready to meet the coming King.

Jesus, the King was born.  This is the season when we celebrate his birth. 
The Bible also tells us that he is coming again and that we must be ready
for his return.  How about you?  Are you ready to meet the King?

Dear Jesus, as we remember your birth,  help us also to make sure that our
hearts are clean and ready for your return.  Amen.


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER

     Dear Jesus -  as we remember your birth -help us also to make
     sure - that our hearts are clean - and we are ready for your
     return. -  Amen.

And together let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us -

     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 who trespass against us; and lead us not into
     temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom,
     the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

     
* HYMN: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"               - VU 1 - Verses 1, 3 and 4


TIME FOR SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries      
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God they will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!
               

A READING FROM ISAAH 40:1-11:
     (NIV)  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to
     Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been
     completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from
     the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 

     A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord;
     make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley
     shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground
     shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the
     LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the
     mouth of the LORD has spoken." 

     A voice says, "Cry out." 

     And I said, "What shall I cry?" 

     "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of
     the field.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath
     of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.  The grass
     withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

     You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain.  You who
     bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift
     it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah,  "Here is your
     God!" 

     See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.
     See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.  He
     tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and
     carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have
     young.

L    This is the Word of the Lord
P    Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 85 (VU 802) & the Gloria Patri (sung)

     Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
     As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
     World without end.  Amen


ANTHEM: "Arise, Your Light Has Come"


A READING FROM MARK 1:1-8     
     The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  

     It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead
     of you, who will prepare your way"-- "a voice of one calling in the
     desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" 

     And so 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, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 

     John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around
     his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And this was his
     message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of
     whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you
     with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

L    This is the gospel of the Lord.         
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "Let There Be Peace"                                    - SFGP 128


SERMON: "Clear A Path and Make A Straight Road"

     Let us Pray:  Bless I pray, the words of my lips and the
     meditations of our hearts - in Jesus name.  Amen.

At Vancouver School of Theology, where I took my Master of Divinity Degree,
the professors tape cartoons and newspaper clippings on their office doors. 
It made for interesting reading when students walked down the halls.  The
cartoons usually ones with a religious theme.  This is a common thing,
with Rev. Alex Stevenson recalling one such cartoon on the door of one of
his professors.   He writes: There is one I remember distinctly.  

     It was a cartoon of preacher right before a worship service.  The
     preacher is standing in the hall behind the sanctuary wearing a
     black robe, and he has a sneer on his face. Through the door to
     the sanctuary you can see the congregation seated waiting for the
     service to begin. In his hand the preacher has a file that says
     "Sermons On Hell."  And as he stands there before the service he
     is turning the heater up to 40 degrees. 

     The cartoon depicted more than a humorous way to communicate the
     torment of hell.  It depicted a common approach that many in the
     Church have to the human condition.  This approach begins with a
     correct observations. It recognizes that people hurt themselves
     and others through their sinfulness. And people who take this
     approach sincerely want to minister to that hurt.  So to get
     people to change their sinful and hurtful ways, these Christians
     turn up the heat. 

We all have seen or heard about street corner evangelists who carry large
signs announcing the end of the world - it is a favourite theme of many
cartoons.  Such people really exist - as certain billboards pasted around
this part of Ontario - and indeed in the rest of the country testify.

While there is a place for street preaching, this brand of it is
troublesome.  It announces the good news to people in such a way that it
becomes bad news.  Instead of being based on hope - it is based on fear.  
This kind of preachers try to scare people into changing their way of life
by telling them they are going to hell. They turn up the heat in an effort
to get people to change.  But, in doing that, they ignored the core of the
Gospel message which is that God loves and forgives. 

     Before we go on, I want to get something straight: God does
     punish.  Many times sin is its own punishment.  Our heavenly
     father doesn't tell us not to do certain things just to make life
     hard on us. God forbids or commands certain things because they
     are in our best interest. 

So when we sin we injure ourselves.  
Through sin, we separate ourselves from God, 
     from the only true source of life. 
And through sin we separate ourselves from one another,
     walls are built between people,
"the peace that was meant to be" - as one hymn puts it - is lost.

The evidence of God's punishment is before us in the Bible. 

It lies behind the prophet Isaiah's proclamation - the one we heard earlier
in this service
     and lies behind John's words as he goes forth to announce the coming
     of the Messiah and to prepare the way for his coming by preaching
     repentance and baptising people for the forgiveness of their sins.

God had given the children of Israel everything they needed.  
God had given them a land flowing with milk and honey. 
God had protected them from those who would have killed them. 
It was even God who brought their nation into existence and who rescued
them from slavery. 

And yet they repaid God with disobedience and rebelliousness.  
First it was the Golden calf.  
Then they complained that manna from heaven was not good enough for them.  
Then they refused to accept the land God was giving them - complaining that
conditions there were less than perfect.
.  
Then, once they possessed the land, they began worshipping other Gods. 

When God had made them wealthy, they did not care for the poor or look
after the refugees.   They sacrificed their children upon the alters of
success, and neglected the worship of praise and of service that is due to
our Creator.

     And God punished them.  It is clear from the Bible that God
     allowed them to be destroyed as a nation because of their
     disobedience and rebelliousness.  They were carried off into
     captivity and separated from the land they loved because of their
     sin.  When God was finished, there was not much left of that
     great nation.  Its temple was destroyed and its people were
     scattered to the four winds.   

It would have been easy for God to finish them off.  And in fact God does
send them a prophet to announce his judgement - his decision about them. 
God sends them Isaiah and instructs him in  his mission - saying to him,
and through him to us:

     "Comfort, comfort my people.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. 
     Announce to them that their warfare is ended, their punishment,
     over.  Tell them that I am coming to them - coming that I might
     lead them back to the promised land.  Tell them to make a path in
     the wilderness for my arrival.  Tell them to even out the crooked
     places and make them straight.  Tell them that there is good news
     for Zion - that I care for my people just as shepherds care for
     their flocks, that I will carry them in my arms and gently lead
     them to their fold."

Comfort, comfort my people....  

God could have given Isaiah a final oracle of doom. 
But instead God tells the prophet to comfort, not condemn. 
That is the kind of God we serve and worship. 
A Just God who is merciful, a God who sends comfort and salvation. 

This is the message of Advent, of John who cries out in the wilderness - 
     get the road ready for the Lord
and this is the message of Christmas, of the angels who announce -
     "peace on earth to everyone who pleases God."
This is in fact the message of our faith - of our Saviour who cries out
     from the cross: "Father - forgive them - for they know not what they
     do."

We Christians have a special message,
the message of God's coming - not in wrath - to destroy the world
but in love - to save all those who will listen to him.

In this, the season of Advent the church - that's you and me - is called to
prepare the way for Christ's coming.  We are reminded by both Isaiah and
John the Baptist that WE are to be the heralds of God's coming into our
midst, that WE are the ones that need to shout the news from the mountain
tops and cry out in the wilderness - "PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD"

Unfortunately, it's not always a pretty job.  

Often, like Isaiah and John, we're shouting in the faces of enemies and
skeptics; often we're ridiculed by the very ones that we think ought to be
shouting with joy and hope,  often we meet the strongest resistance to our
message from the very people who ought to be supporting our effort to reach
out to those who need to receive the word concerning God's time of 
reconciliation and peace.

But that is the cost of discipleship,
the cost of faithfulness.

Recall how building roads in the wilderness - involved as it is in the hard
work of levelling mountains and filling in valleys is not glamorous work;
and those who do every day upon our public highways are not normally
regarded by the well educated, the rich, the powerful, or the well
established as being important people - as being people like them.

In fact those who labour in this way are looked down upon by many people. 
They are assumed to have no culture, no couth, no class.

But the work is necessary for the sake of others and for our own sake.

The job of modern day disciples during Advent is to help point the way to
Christ's coming; and in so doing, deepen our own understanding of God's way
in our own lives. 

"Prepare" is the great theme of Advent, as it is the essence of nearly
everyone's preoccupation at this time.  Everyone is preparing for
Christmas, everyone is getting the cards ready, buying the presents, making
sure that the larder is full.  "Preparation" is something we all
understand. 

The Advent preparation we as Christians are given is in terms of a road. 

We hear in the gospel reading that the path is to be made straight,  the
valleys to be filled in, the hills laid low, uneven ground made level and
the rough places a plain - - so that in the journey of God toward us and us
toward God one doesn't have to have one's eyes fixed on the ground lest one
stubs one's toe or fall - one can look ahead confidently at the direction
on is taking.

I think we know what the valleys and hills are that need fixing.
And I think we know what role repentance plays in that fixing,
what role it in fact needs to play in our lives 
and in the lives of all people.

The coming of God - the coming of Christ to us is good news.  And the
message of preparation - the message of repentance - accompanied as it is
with the message of forgiveness is also good news. 

God is the greatest earth mover.  He plans the road we work upon - and the
work of levelling and filling and smoothing is in fact God's work in us and
around us, it is the work of the Spirit - of the one that is called not
only the great teacher, but also the great comforter.

We don't have to be great evangelists, great pastors, or great expounders
of the bible.  We don't even have to be perfect.  We simply have to
announce the good news and seek to live by the good news - and then get out
of the way of others on their pathway to God.

     "Comfort, don't condemn, comfort my people.   Let them know that
     through Jesus they can be forgiven. Speak tenderly to them of
     God's grace and forgiveness, And tell them to make a way in the
     wilderness for their God."


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE    (Singing #400 at the start and end of the prayer
                         time, Prayer Response to "Lord, hear our Prayer"
                         is "And in Your Love Answer")
          
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          send us love, send us power, send us grace!
     
Gracious God help us to meet you as you come to us.  Help us to prepare
your way in our lives - and to announce your coming in love to others
Take, O God, what we give and transform it, to your glory.
Take, O God, what we do and transform it to your acting.
Take, O God, what we say and transform it to your singing.
Take, O God, what we live and transform it to your creating.
Lord, hear our prayer....

Lord - hear too our prayer for those rough places in our lives 
and in the lives of others that we name before you.
Fill the valleys with your light,
level the uneven paths with your grace,
and grant that your Spirit might so move us and others,
that your saving presence might be visible to all.
Lord, hear our prayer....

Lord, on this Sunday of preparation, this Sunday which celebrates your
peace help there to be peace in our lives and peace in our churches, and
peace in our world.  Where we have sinned - move us to repentance - and
help us confess to those we have grieved and seek their forgiveness; and
where others have sinned against us help us to trust in your vindication
and grant that those who have hurt us might see your light and be made new
in Christ.  Lord hear our prayer....

Other intercessions and Bidding Prayer....

We ask all these things in the name of the one John pointed to - Christ
Jesus your living Word - Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION
          

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

     Loving God - accept what we offer to you at this time.   Make it
     and make us holy - so that what we give, and what we do, and who
     we are, may help prepare the way for your coming into this world
     and bring your peace to those around us.  We ask it in Jesus'
     name.  Amen 


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus"               - Red 389


* COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth into the
     world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace - love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may the power of the Holy Spirit make the rough places in your life
smooth, 
- may the dark valleys of your hearts be filled and the rugged mountains
levelled and the way of the Lord be made ready in you,
- and may He come unto you and bless you and shine forth from you 
both now - and forevermore.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2002 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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