10th December 2023 10.30am – 2nd Sunday of Advent – Eucharist

10th December 2023: 

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The Readings

Isaiah 40. 1 - 11  

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

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.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
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.   


Mark 1. 1 - 8

Jesus said, As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’


Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Kath, Reader at St Mary's.

I’ve been reading the Bible almost every day for many years now. To start with I had a somewhat random approach then, although it’s not the best or recommended way to tackle it, I started at the beginning of Genesis and over a long period of time worked my way through to the end of Revelation so I know I’ve read everything at least once. There’s a lot of it that I can’t pretend to have understood! However, I keep trying and most of the time I read a particular book or reflect on a given passage, perhaps in preparation for writing a sermon and that usually works pretty well. Obviously some passages come up much more often than others and I’ve sometimes noted that it’s strange how something I’ve read many times can suddenly stand out in a way that hadn’t really struck me before. I think this is how and why the Bible continues to speak to us in new ways, even after centuries of people studying it. If we ever make the mistake of thinking we’ve got it all sorted, I have a feeling God would remind us that we haven’t.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent so we might reasonably be expecting to hear part of the Christmas story. But that’s not what we’ve heard in our readings. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t read Mark’s gospel for a while but I was a bit surprised that he begins where he does. This was one of those moments that I’ve just mentioned, where I was struck by something I hadn’t really noticed before. There’s no preamble about Jesus’s arrival in the world or about how his earthly parents came together or indeed about his life up to this point. Mark is straight into the story where John the Baptist; who he also hasn’t given us any background information on, is urging people to make ready to receive the Lord in the form of Jesus. Did Mark, whoever he actually was, assume that his readers would know all this so he didn’t feel the need to repeat it? That’s something we’ll never know. Fortunately for us though, we have been given a lot more information in Matthew and Luke’s gospels so we can see where this part of the story fits in. But why has it been chosen as part of our preparation for Christmas you may wonder? I think the key word here is “preparation”. This is the theme that links the passages from Isaiah and Mark.

I don’t know about you but when I’m reading pretty much anything, my mind is creating mental pictures and they’re often quite literal which isn’t always helpful to my understanding. When Isaiah speaks of levelling mountains and raising valleys to make a smooth way for the Lord, I’ve got a road and major civil engineering works in my head which is obviously not what the passage is about. If I’ve understood correctly, it’s a metaphor for what is likely to be a big task for us to make ourselves ready to receive our Lord.

However, my mental image of John the Baptist is helpful. There is nothing about this man that is self-aggrandising. Although he is clearly a strong and forceful character, John is humble about his relationship to Jesus. He lives in the desert; which isn’t exactly appealing. He wears camel hair clothes with a leather belt which sounds decidedly uncomfortable and lives on locusts and wild honey, again not very appealing. On the face of it, he is someone you might not want to associate with or who’s lifestyle you probably wouldn’t want to emulate, and yet by shouting his uncompromising message about repentance he was getting through to many people who were coming to him to be baptised because they wanted to be prepared.

Bringing things forward to today, this begs the question, how prepared are we? How should we prepare? Perhaps the questions we should ask are, if Jesus was to come back now, what would he make of us; our values, our words, our actions? Do they match up to what we profess to believe? How comfortable would we be to meet him now? That is something only we as individuals can ponder.

Our world is very complicated and very messy, perhaps more so now than it’s ever been and to a greater or lesser extent this has an effect on all of us. We may have to live with situations we really don’t like or make compromises that offend or trouble us deeply. Given some of what is going on we may genuinely struggle to know who and what is right when all the alternatives are awful and destructive and cruel. But it was the same in John and Jesus’s time. The Roman Empire was a harsh and cruel and devious place and life was very uncertain for most people. A few, like John we outspoken and courageous in expressing their faith and beliefs. Others, like Nicodemus felt the need to be more circumspect and quiet about it, and in the pages of the Bible we have just about every conceivable example of how people related to their faith in their own particular circumstances. It’s up to each of us, with God’s help and guidance, to decide how we do this. Although we will never get everything right, if we do our best to hold onto and live by the values Jesus taught us and as far as we possibly can, to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, we will be in a better place to receive him whenever that might be. Like those baptised by John, we will not be completely unprepared.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe.

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie,
our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, all here who lead us in worship
and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St
Mary’s, St John’s and St Mark’s.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

On this Second Sunday in Advent we hear and reflect on the words of
Isaiah. May we prepare the way for the Lord in our own lives at this time.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

We pray all those wounded, suffering, imprisoned and displaced in
Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, that the current crisis may be
brought to a just and peaceful conclusion. We pray for those who
have died in this conflict. We pray that other countries do not
become involved, and that a long-term solution be sought for the
region. We pray for the people of Ukraine and hope for a peaceful
resolution to that conflict.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of
Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As we prepare for
Christmas, let us keep in mind those less fortunate than ourselves
who may be having problems with the necessities of life – housing,
fuel and food – before they can even think of celebrating.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or
spirit, and those who find life especially difficult at this time. We pray
that you bring them strength, healing, and peace. In a few moments
of silence, we think of those we know who need your healing
presence in their lives.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

We pray for those currently close to death, and those accompanying
them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those
who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and
those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary, Mark, John and of all the Saints,
let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.
Merciful Father:
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright (c) 2010 The Archbishops' Council