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Service at Home – 13th December

Service at Home on 13th December 2020 Advent 3

for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church

YouTube playlist: Service at Home 2020-12-13 Advent 3

As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you want to use these sheets if you prefer to read the words.

Welcome and Introduction

Watch: Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home.  This week is the third Sunday in Advent, on which we traditionally focus on John the Baptist.  We look at what we should be doing to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to prepare for when Jesus returns in glory.

But first, we light the third candle of our advent ring, followed by a short reflection from the NWBA on the Candle of Peace. This will be followed by a look at the meaning of Christmas through the figures in the nativity set that we sent out, also by the NWBA.

Watch: Advent Reading 3 The Candle of Peace

Watch: Getting ready for Jesus week 3

Watch: Jesus Hope of the Nations

Opening prayers

Watch: Opening prayers

God our Father, you gave to Zechariah and Elisabeth in their old age a son called John.  He grew up strong in spirit, prepared the people for the coming of the Lord, and baptised them in the Jordan to wash away their sins.

Help us, who have been baptised into Christ, to be ready to welcome him into our hearts, and to grow strong in faith by the power of the Spirit.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Light who is coming into the world.

Father God, in a moment of quiet we call to mind the things we’ve done wrong.  Things that have hurt you and hurt others and we say sorry. ---------

'I am making all things new,' says the Lord.  This is Christ's gracious word: 'Your sins are forgiven.'

And now say 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 that 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.

Watch: Make me a channel of your peace

Prayers of intercession followed by Gospel reading and a narrative

Watch: Prayers of intercession Gospel reading and narrative

Prayers of intercession by Pete from Bolton Road

Loving, Heavenly Father, we praise you that we can come and kneel at your feet, in the knowledge that you delight in our prayers and want to answer them.

Lord, you created a perfect world with resources enough for everyone, yet it has become a fractured world because of sin.  There is war, drought, famine, oppression and sickness in many parts of the world, and it is our collective responsibility not to ignore it, but to embrace the challenges presented.  Help us not to get donor fatigue and become complacent in our lives, but to offer support in any way we are able. We pray that the world would not turn away from the images of hardship we see in the news, and that you would move people to act.

You can see the devastating impact of coronavirus throughout your world, Lord.  We mourn the loss of so many brothers and sisters around the world, and we pray for those who have lost loved ones, but we also thank you for such advances in science and medicine that have produced vaccines.  We thank you for the talent and hard work of those involved in their speedy development, and we ask, Lord, that you would be with all the agencies involved in the huge task of vaccinating people.  We also pray that distribution and access to the vaccine would be done fairly and according to greatest need across the globe, and not depend on which governments can pay most money.

We pray for families, unable to be together for so long, and for those living alone.  We pray for the vulnerable, those who live rough, on the edge of society.  We pray for those whose medical treatment has been delayed because of COVID-19.  We pray for those suffering from anxiety and depression, and for those in difficult relationships.  We think, Lord, about those who are losing their jobs and are unable to make ends meet.  Touch them with your healing hand and meet each at their point of need.

We pray for our own church fellowship, for those members who are unwell, for our minister and stewards.  We pray, Lord, that as we are able to come together in worship once again, and enjoy the fellowship we crave, that you would strengthen and re-kindle our faith, and build us up to be a beacon in our community.

Lastly, we pray for our government in the final Brexit negotiations, that a deal would be found that will be agreeable to both sides, and which will protect jobs, particularly the livelihoods of our farmers and fishermen.

Father, we ask all these prayers in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, and for His sake. Amen

Bible reading

John 1:6-9, 19-28

Narrative: Could he really be talking about the Messiah?

Could that man out in the desert really be talking about the Messiah?

Everybody’s talking about him.

At first, I was very sceptical. I thought he was just another deranged nut case talking a load of rubbish.  I thought, it’s been 400 years since the last prophet, so why would there be one now?

But then my friend went to see him and he was so excited when he got back.  He told me I really must go and hear him for myself.

So off I went, across the desert to Bethany.  And there he was, talking to a crowd of people.

I realised straight away that this man isn’t a fake.  He’s the genuine article alright.  He’s just like the prophets we read about in the Scriptures.  He reminded me of Elijah – has Elijah returned, I wondered?  But he says he’s not a prophet.

What he said made me feel uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable indeed.  He made me realise how often I’d disobeyed God’s commandments.   He made me realise that I don’t live my life as I should.   He made me realise how much I needed God’s forgiveness.  So I went forward, repented and was baptised in the river to wash away my sin.

And then he started telling us about the man who was coming after him.  He said that this man would be much greater than him – which is really saying something!  What’s more, this man would baptise us with the Holy Spirit.

There’s only one person that could be that great. There’s only one person that could baptise us with the Holy Spirit.  And that’s the person who the prophets told us would come.  The Messiah!

But can he really be talking about the Messiah?

Is the Messiah really coming?  Is he already here?!  He said he’s among us now but we don’t recognise him.

Can it really be possible that I’ll see the Messiah with my own eyes?

I feel that I should be doing something to get ready.  Is it enough just to have been baptised - or should I be doing more?

What should I be doing to prepare for the coming of the Messiah?

Watch: On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry

Epistle reading and sermon

Watch: Epistle reading and sermon

Bible reading

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Sermon

The first Bible reading we heard, from John’s gospel, tells us what John the Baptist did to prepare for when Jesus first came to this world. The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, tells us what we should be doing to prepare for when Jesus returns. Together they tell us a great deal about what we should be doing to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas; and what we should be doing to prepare for when he returns.

First, let’s look at that reading from John’s gospel. John the Baptist made a very big impression on the people at the time. It’s not surprising when we remember that more than 400 years had passed since Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. God had seemed to be very quiet but then suddenly John appears: preaching and baptising and drawing huge crowds. His clothes made of camel hair would have reminded them of Elijah. This is significant because the Jews believed that Elijah hadn’t died and would return again to announce the end time.

Understandably, the religious leaders and teachers wanted to know who John was. So delegations of priests and Pharisees were sent to question him. Was he Elijah? Was he the next prophet? Was he the prophet that Moses foretold in Deuteronomy? Was he even the Messiah, they wondered? Or was he just a fake - who would cause confusion and trouble?

John replied with the words of Isaiah, which we heard last week: “I am ‘the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!” So in other words, John told them that his mission was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. He was a witness to the light that was coming into the world. He was preparing the way for Jesus!

So what does the Bible tell us about how John was preparing the way for Jesus? First, John was preaching to huge crowds and convincing them that they must repent their sins and seek God’s forgiveness and baptising them in the River Jordan to wash away their sins. And second, John was telling them that someone was coming very soon who was much greater than him, which, as we looked at last week, was certainly saying something.

The second Bible passage is part of the summary at the end of one of Paul’s letters to the early church in Thessalonica. Paul is also telling people to prepare for Jesus, like John the Baptist did. But when Paul wrote the letter, Jesus had of course already been crucified, returned to life and ascended into heaven quite a few years before. So Paul was clearly talking about when Jesus returns to this world in glory. This reminds us that now, 2,000 years later, it’s our responsibility to prepare the way for when Jesus returns to this world. It’s now our responsibility to testify to the true light, so that through us everybody might believe. This is  clearly a huge responsibility, and it’s one that falls upon every single Christian in the world.

So let’s now look at what these two Bible passages tell us that we should be doing to prepare the way for Jesus today.

The passage from John’s gospel reminds us that we must prepare by doing what John the Baptist did: by telling people about Jesus. Just as John told everyone that someone amazing was coming, we must tell everyone today that Jesus wasn’t just a cute little baby who was born in a stable. We must tell them that Jesus grew up into the most amazing, exciting, important and powerful person that ever lived, who sacrificed himself for us so that we could have God’s promise of eternal life. We must tell them that Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone, and destroys darkness and enables everyone to see the truth.

And we must tell them that Jesus will return in awesome glory to judge the living and the dead. And, like John the Baptist, we must also prepare the way by convincing people of their need to examine their lives and recognise their desperate need for God’s forgiveness. I’m not saying that we should go around looking cross and telling people what they’re doing wrong, because that’s not going to help and anyway, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 verse 1, we shouldn’t judge others. But nonetheless we should encourage people to examine their lives in the true light of Jesus. Then, once people recognise their need for forgiveness, we can then lead them to put their faith in Jesus, so that they too can be saved and know the promise of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Let’s now look at what Paul’s letter tells us we should do to prepare ourselves for when Jesus returns. First, it tells us that we must “rejoice always”. We won’t always be happy as unpleasant and hurtful things will continue to happen, but we must always rejoice and be filled with a deep and everlasting joy. The joy that comes from knowing that God loves us. And when we’re filled with that joy then we’ll be at peace. At peace with others, at peace with ourselves, at peace with God and at peace with whatever situation we find ourselves in, even with the restrictions placed on your life by COVID-19! Note that in verse 23, Paul describes God as the “God of peace”.

So if you’re feeling a bit low on joy and peace, which can happen to anyone, especially this year, you need to remind yourself how much God loves you and what this means to you. Because even the worst problems in the world can’t detract one bit from God’s love, and His promise of an eternal life with Him in His Kingdom. And when better to remind yourself of God’s love than at Christmas, when we celebrate that God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be born in this world, because he loves us so much.

Second, Paul’s letter tells us that we must “give thanks in all circumstances”. Instead of moaning about things, we need to focus on the good things that we have and give thanks to God, because God is the source of everything we have and everything that we are. When we moan, we’re denying that God provides for us and therefore we risk damaging our relationship with God. And when we moan, we destroy the joy and peace that we should have.

Third, Paul wrote that we must pray at all times. I think most people would agree it would be very difficult to have a meaningful relationship with someone if they never talked to them. So how can we have a relationship with God if we don’t talk to Him? If we don’t talk to God then He will become a stranger to us. And how can we be prepared for Jesus to return if, when we meet him, we don’t know him? And how can we experience God’s love – and be full of joy and peace – unless we spend time with God in prayer?

And fourth, Paul writes “do not quench the Spirit and “reject every kind of evil”. The Holy Spirit guides us and gives us the strength to resist temptation and stand up against evil. Paul wrote that we must keep our “whole spirit, soul and body” blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. So in other words we must live a blameless life to prepare for when Jesus returns. We can only do this by letting the Holy Spirit work powerfully in us.

It’s very important that we continually rejoice, give thanks, pray and live a blameless life so that we prepare ourselves for when Jesus returns in glory. But it’s also very important because it helps us to prepare others for when Jesus returns. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by standing out as being different. We need to stand out as being different as well. You’ll be pleased to hear that wearing camel hair and eating locusts won’t be necessary, but what it is necessary is to continually rejoice, give thanks, pray and live a blameless life. When people see our underlying joy and peace, we stand out as being different in a world where there is so much bitterness, anxiety and discord. When we’re thankful for what we have, even if we don’t have very much, we stand out as being different in this selfish society that craves physical pleasure and possessions. When, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we live blameless lives, we stand out from the immoral and dishonest behaviour that is evident. And when we stand out as being different, people will want to know why, and this then gives us an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, like John the Baptist did. We can then prepare them to accept the truth about Jesus. When people see the Light of the World shining in us, we can then be a witness to the light, like John was and lead others into the Light.

So I’m going to finish by challenging you to prepare the way for Jesus this Christmas in three ways.

  1. Put aside some time every day to pray. Take a break from getting ready for Christmas and talk to Jesus so that you make sure that he isn’t a stranger when you celebrate his birthday. Spend time with God so that you experience His love and become filled with his joy and peace.
  2. Make sure that you stand out from the crowds this Christmas. I’m sure that there’ll be times in the next couple of weeks when you’ll be surrounded by people who are impatient, selfish and bad tempered, made worse by the frustration and concerns caused by COVID-19. When this happens, show that you’re different by being patient, helpful, loving and cheerful. Be friendly and smile, shine like a light in the darkness and prepare the way for Jesus.
  3. I repeat the challenge that Kathy gave you last week: use this Christmas as an opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus, perhaps on the phone or on social media. Be a witness to the light so that they may believe.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ, to this world on that first Christmas so that my guilt could be taken away and so that I’d have your promise of eternal life. Help me to remember that although Jesus was born as a helpless baby, he grew into the most wonderful and influential person who ever lived.

Lord, I know that Jesus will return to this world again in glory.  I know that it’s our awesome responsibility, here today, to prepare for this.

So Lord, help me to prepare myself by finding time to pray.  Help me to talk with you so that you’re not a stranger to me. Help me to spend time in your presence so that I experience your love and become full of the joy and peace that only you can give. I come before you now, open to your immense love by emptying myself of bitterness, worries and other unhelpful thoughts…….

In a moment of quiet, help me to experience your love and become full of your joy and peace………

Lord, I pray that you’ll fill me with your Spirit, to help me to resist evil and temptations, so that I live a blameless life.

Lord, I pray that others will notice that I’m different. I pray that this will give me opportunities to talk to people about you this Christmas. Help me to make the most of every opportunity, through your Spirit living in me, giving me courage and the right words to say.

Lord, I pray that you’ll fill me with your Spirit so that your true light shines from me in the darkness so that others will see the light and turn to you. Come, Holy Spirit, fill me now to make me shine in the darkness and to be witnesses to the light………

Amen.

Watch: Like a Candle Flame

Watch: Spirit Break Out