‘Comfort and Joy’ – 6th December 2020 @10:30am – The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday morning marks the first public service since the second lockdown.

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20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

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20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

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

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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 the Revd Caitlin Thomson from St Mark's Broomhill and Broomhall

My favourite carol has to be ‘God rest ye merry..’ – with a beautiful tune and memorable lyrics, it succinctly summarises the purpose of the Christmas season:

God rest ye merry, gentlefolk,
let nothing ye dismay;
for Jesus Christ our saviour
was born on Christmas Day;
to save us all from Satan’s power
when we were gone astray.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy –
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!

As I continue to remain mostly at home, it has felt important to me that I set this season apart to embrace its message – it could so easily melt into the indistinct blob of time which started in Lent… indeed, for many of us it may feel like we are still in Lent, awaiting the resurrection and celebration of Easter.

I’ve been putting extra effort into marking Advent – the Nativity set is out, my Jesse Tree is up to help me reflect on the journey from Creation to Christ, and my Advent playlist has been brought out of its digital slumber.

In many ways, it is starting to feel more like Christmas for me than past years now. I’m more engaged with the season, because my longing for its message is deeper.

I desire to be merry this season, and to put aside my fears and troubles.

I want to bear tidings of comfort and joy.

And so, this morning, because I long to share tidings of comfort and joy, I want to talk about the message of comfort that we heard in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

First, some context:

In the previous chapter of Isaiah, the prophet goes to see King Hezekiah who is being courted by the Babylonian empire (and is enjoying the attention). Isaiah warns him that the Babylonians are going to invade and carry off all the wealth that Hezekiah has been showing off – even some of the king’s sons will be stolen away as slaves. However, Hezekiah doesn’t care and is instead comforted as the misfortune will not affect him but his descendants!

So we enter chapter 40 with an Israel whose King cares only for himself – an Israel who, due to the actions (or inaction) of their King is going to endure a time of suffering.

And these are the opening words of God to this people:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

The consolation is immediate, the contrast clear – this is a ruler who cares. In the Hebrew, the instruction ‘comfort’ is plural, an instruction to the heavenly courts… it is as if God is calling his kingdom to rise up around the people in support and solidarity – not just one voice of comfort, but many. This message is also to be repeated – enduring and continuous as a more accurate translation of God’s action here is not just ‘says your God’ but ‘your God keeps saying’.

And what do the people need to hear? On the surface, verse 2 seems to indicate that Israel is being punished, but digging deeper reveals the opposite – the price has already been paid. The image of ‘receiving from the Lord’s hand double’ is not intended as an expression of harsh punishment, but instead paints a picture of how God’s wisdom is ‘folded over’ double on itself – difficult to understand, but always overlaid with love. This is an image of forgiveness laminated with grace – unconditional and generous.

This is, after all, the character of the Lord: gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. Whatever is happening, however far God’s people have strayed, the Lord’s loving kindness endures.

The passage then continues to express this message through three movements:

In the first movement a voice cries out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord!” This is a call to make ready to receive the royal procession, to welcome with joy and celebration the King of Love whose glory shall be revealed to all people. This is a ruler who cares for everyone (a stark contrast to the selfish Hezekiah), and who will move among his people.

In the second movement, the prophet turns back to himself and asks, “what shall I cry?” Humanity is held up in contrast to the divine nature – humans are fleeting and inconsistent  - the prophet even uses the word hesed which is the word used for God’s loving-kindness/goodness/mercy throughout the Old Testament but which you may be most familiar with in Psalm 23 – (surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…) Humanity’s hesed (in the NRSV translated as consistency) is like the flower of the field – it withers and fades – this is held in contrast to the eternal and unchanging hesed of God. Human purposes will falter and fade, and our experiences are transient – but the divine purposes never fail. The love of God underwrites all of history – it is always there and always constant.

The third movement carries us up the high and holy mountain; an instruction for the heavenly kingdom to herald the coming victory of God. The language used alludes to Miriam, the prophetess - heralding victory already accomplished and rushing to assemble a welcoming party to meet the Shepherd and those he is leading home.

So what is the comfort to God’s people?

  • That even through the hardest times, the Lord has not abandoned us. God is with us in the darkest valley and leads us through the wilderness to reach our home.
  • No matter what we believe about divine punishment, God’s mercy always extends further.
  • We have a divine ruler who cares about us and wants us to be happy – he wants us to be rejoice and be glad, and to be free from the shadow of despair. God is actively concerned with our wellbeing – and even wades in to retrieve us when we stray too far.
  • In all of this, God is constant – his loving mercy endures forever.

This is a message to sustain Israel through their trials – and one which is still relevant to us today. This message of comfort and joy can sustain us too - the Church of England has even identified it as the message which is most needed this year and has chosen ‘Comfort and Joy’ as our Christmas 2020 ‘strapline’.

The more I engage with this message, the more it means to me. As with many matters of faith, message circles deeper, and the more you encounter it the further in it draws you.

I began Advent this year recognising that comfort and joy seemed a bit further away, that the ‘different’ nature of this season meant I would need to work more proactively and intentionally to ‘feel’ Advent and Christmas. And it has been working – I am discovering comfort and joy because I am seeking it and expecting to find it.

It is this active involvement which is making the difference – just as there is a call in Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord and to herald his victory, so we are called to herald the birth of our saviour and celebrate with tidings of comfort and joy by living in expectation of their truth.

There are a myriad of ways that we can do this – whether you are counting the days to Christmas with an advent calendar or candle, decorating a Jesse Tree, baking, cooking, decorating your house, preparing gifts and activities for friends and family, or planning services and events in which we can communally celebrate the birth of Christ (even if we have to do so in different ways this year)… whatever you are doing to mark Advent and prepare for Christmas, I encourage you to seek eagerly in expectation knowing that you will find Jesus in the manger. The light of the world has come: it shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

And whatever you are going through this Advent, may you find comfort in this: the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. His love endures forever.


The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
our Mission Partnership churches, St Marks and St Johns,
and all who minister here at St Mary's
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for the leaders of the nations,
for those negotiating a mutually equitable agreement with the European Union
and for a peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for those who are struggling with loneliness,
for those undergoing medical treatment,
and for those who have no hope.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died, praying for Pam and all who mourn her loss.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.