‘The Prophets’ – 6th December 2020 @ 6:30pm – The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday evening we hold the second in a series of Advent sermons focusing on the themes behind each of the Advent candles.  Our service will also be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream:


Click here to download a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

Click here to download a Microsoft Word copy of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Ezekiel 34: 11-16

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.


Matthew 5: 17-20

Jesus said ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.


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 Catherine, a Reader at St Mary's.

This time last year, the coronavirus was something we were dimly aware of as a health problem in China.  Few had heard of Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer.  Yet this week “JVT” as he is now being styled, is fast becoming a national treasure, someone we trust to tell the truth about anything concerning the pandemic.  He tells it like it is, dishing out the advice he’d give to his mum, and voicing his concerns about some of the official advice given by politicians.  

JVT likes to use metaphor to explain things.  Where another person might slip the occasional metaphor into a sentence when explaining something, JVT picks one and runs with it.  So you get a whole paragraph describing in detail how the latest situation with respect to lock-downs or vaccines is like a football match (complete with goals, extra time and penalties) or railway journeys (the train has slowed safely and stopped at the station.  It will call all over the country – so please get on board.  More trains will follow).

I wonder if JVT is familiar with chapter 34 of Ezekiel?  Because like JVT, Ezekiel likes to take a metaphor and exploit it to the full. We only heard a few verses this evening, but the prophecy of chapter 34 is best read as a whole.  It explores the well-used Biblical metaphor of sheep and shepherding from many different angles. 

Ezekiel’s prophecy voices the word of God:

In verses 1-6 God addresses the “Shepherds of Israel”.  They have fed themselves and not their sheep, whose wool they continue to take.  They have not healed their sheep when sick, and have not sought them out when they’ve strayed.  As a consequence the sheep have been scattered far and wide.

In verses 7-10 God declares that he has therefore stripped the shepherds of their responsibility.  They no longer have charge of the sheep.  God himself will rescue the sheep.

In verses 11-16, which we heard this evening, God declares that he himself will seek out all the lost sheep from the many places they have strayed.  They will be brought back to good grazing land in Israel.  He will strengthen the weak and destroy the strong.  Justice will come about.

Then in verses 17- 22 comes a message addressed to the sheep themselves.  Feed on good ground, but beware of trampling on the food and spoiling it for others.  It is not to be a mad dash survival of the fittest.  God will destroy those sheep who have become fat at the expense of others.

Forget any notions of romantic rural idylls.  Shepherding was a difficult and responsible management job, leading the sheep to places where they’d find decent food, keeping them safe from wild animals, rounding up the strays and keeping the flock together.  

Of course Ezekiel is not declaring God’s word to actual shepherds and sheep, but to people.  In the Ancient Near East, kings were often described as “shepherds”.  The Kings had overall responsibility for the welfare of their people – safety from enemies, enough food to eat, shelter, care when sick, keeping people together in the community, maintaining harmony within the community and above all, religious guidance.  

Ezekiel is thought to have been among those from Judah who were deported to Babylon when the Babylonians invaded the land and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Yet he addresses them as if they are the whole nation of Israel.  He is highly damning of the leaders who have failed in their responsibility to their people.  And now they are being punished.  They no longer have care of their flock.

Ezekiel addresses the ordinary people too – in this time of great upheaval, it has been everyone for themselves, with people fighting over scarce resources and some thriving at the expense of others.  They too are warned of the consequences of this.

But the prophecy does not end with doom and warning. In verses 23-4 God promises to restore his servant David as shepherd of the people.  God is ultimate king, but David is his human representative on earth.  David, or someone descended from him will come to restore things.  As a result, verses 25-31 foresee a renewal of the Covenant of peace, the land restored with fruitful trees and plentiful harvests.  The people will be released from slavery and will be safe from both wild animals and threats from other nations.  All will know that the LORD is God and that the people, the House of Israel, are his people.

Ezekiel’s prophecy holds true for the world today just as it did for the remnant of Judah in exile in Babylon.  Times are very tough.  Our leaders do not always seem to be getting things right.  And as the pandemic drags on, patience is being severely tried, tempers are becoming frayed and some people are looking out for themselves and forgetting the more vulnerable.

In this second week of Advent we focus on the prophets.  Times were grim, but the prophets foresaw a time when a king from David’s line would be restored and all would be well.  It would be, as Joe said last week, around 14 more generations before the birth of this new king.  A long time to wait.  But he would be born and all would be well.

Times are grim at the moment and we won’t be able to celebrate the birth of this new king quite in our usual way.  The vaccines are almost ready to be rolled out, so hopefully we won’t have to wait 14 generations before we can freely mix with our friends and families at Christmas.  In the meantime, like Israel we watch and wait, and we take encouragement and guidance from the words of the prophets of old and the deputy chief medical officers of today.

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.