You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.
A Children’s Time video can be found here.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Mark 1: 1-8
Music: “Dream a Dream”, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”
A few years ago, on the night of the Advent Carol Service, I was handed my part, a reading featuring John the Baptist. In it, John dripping with rage calls the religious leaders, “A brood of vipers!” . . . I looked at my colleague and said, “Really?” To which she replied very flatly, “We felt you were the best one to pull this off.”. . . I was not sure whether I should be pleased or a little insulted. . . . I’m still not sure. But ever since then, John the Baptist has always had a special place in my heart.
This year, the Advent reading about the Baptizer comes from the Gospel of Mark and he is the opening act. He kicks the door open, looks around and then starts barking out orders. “Prepare the way of the Lord! Knock down those mountains! Fill in those valleys! Straighten out that part of the road! Fill in those pot holes! What are you waiting for? Get busy! And while you’re at it, REPENT! Doesn’t exactly sound as if he is full of Christmas cheer does he?
Advent is a busy time – normally. Even this year, in the midst of a pandemic, when we’re asked to stay home and minimize our running around there is still a lot to do to get ready; like decorating and cooking and trying to figure out that perfect gift, even if it is online shopping.
So, how do we respond to this wild eyed prophet? How do we respond when so many other things have changed and we can’t even go to church in the usual way?
Friends, this year, it may not be possible to go out and get our hands dirty by literally knocking down mountains and filling in valleys. But, Advent can be a time to look through that door that the Baptizer has opened and to see what needs to be done to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
On this Sunday in Advent the focus is on peace and I want to talk about that for a few minutes.
I have huge respect for Eleanor Roosevelt. What I admire the most about her is how she stood up for human rights at the end of WWII and wanted stronger global cooperation and accountability. She worked closely with the New Brunswicker, John Peters Humprey, who was the principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
She is right. I suspect if I took a poll all of you would say that you believed in peace.
I believe in peace too, in large part because I know what a lack of peace can lead to.
When I was much younger, I use to wonder why so many Veterans would have too many adult beverages on Remembrance Day. After I was ordained and as I sat with some of them, especially older vets, some dared to open their hearts and revealed the deep wounds they suffered as a result of war; not physical but psychological and spiritual. The wounds they suffered still caused deep pain and suffering decades later.
Most of you know my time in Bethlehem had a profound effect on me. It was an important time for me for many reasons. For one, I don’t even have to close my eyes to imagine the deep valleys that John spoke of, I know the mountains too and how twisting and rough the paths are in the desert.
But, those are not the things that affected me the most. What really got to me and made me more firmly committed to peace was watching the Israeli military day after day violating and abusing the human rights of Palestinians guaranteed under the UN Charter of Human Rights, the charter drafted by a New Brunswicker and ratified by virtually every government in the world. What most affected me though was sitting in hospital rooms with mothers whose children had been shot by the Israeli military.
Watching the innocent suffer would drive anyone to work for peace.
Now part of what I admire about John the Baptist was how he dared to rage at the religious leaders when he saw how they twisted the word of God to suit their own purpose.
There are days I wish I had the courage to rage in person at political leaders for supporting governments that oppress others or when ministers tell us it will take more time than what they promised to resolve the water advisors in First Nations communities or when they allow problems to fester for decades and then tensions arise and suddenly there is violence or when they refuse to acknowledge there is systemic racism. But, my ragging is easily ignored.
What I know clearly is what others have said in much the same way; there can be no true, lasting peace without justice.
I had great hopes with the truth and reconciliation process in Canada. We heard stories that tore at our hearts and souls and helped us to better understand the issues faced by First Nations. We took some steps. But, then something happens to show us that there are still mountains to be brought down and valleys to be raised up. Jesus showed us a better way, the way of love and commitment.
So we wonder what we can do to bring about peace, what can we do?
I’m glad to tell you there are many things that you are already doing for peace and justice.
St. Paul’s contributes to the international work the United Church of Canada does in support of human rights. Our new General Secretary, Michael Blair, is a strong supporter of the cause of justice and peace. I am confident he will work hard to help our denomination focus on that work nationally and globally.
Today, many of you will join in the Amnesty International campaign, Write for Rights, in support of political prisoners and those facing injustice for supporting human rights. There is an announcement in this week’s email about how to take part.
Those of you who have knit mitts for our virtual tree or who are offering White Gifts are contributing to building peace and justice in our community.
And yes, your prayers for peace make a difference too.
I want to take you back to Bethlehem when I returned two years ago. I arrived just in time for the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Manger Square. All of the troubles were still there and the situation was even worse than what I had seen before. I was there all by myself, with probably 20,000 people jammed shoulder to shoulder. People were asking where I was from and what it was like. They were wishing me a Merry Christmas. A lot of them hugged me and thanked me for being there. They took selfies with this tall, fair skinned Canadian. They welcomed me in the name of the baby born so long ago in that small town.
Standing in the midst of all the thousands, many of them being the ancestors of the first followers of Jesus I knew that I and all of the others were united in God’s powerful love.
Friends, nothing can stop Advent and Christmas, not an occupation and not even a pandemic. It can’t be stopped because it is the power of God unleashed in the world.
A love that can bring about healing and reconciliation, a love that can change this world from places filled with problems to a paradise where all will experience the transformative power of love and all will live in peace.
So let’s get ready, let’s bring down those mountains and raise those valleys. Let’s straighten the path and fill in the pot holes. Let’s do what we can to prepare the way of the Lord, in our hearts, our homes, our community and around the globe.
God of Life, open our hearts, that we might receive you and hear your voice. In prayer, open us to the possibility of true change, in us and in others, that we might be made whole.
God of Peace, as we anticipate Mary and Joseph’s journey of long ago, we pray for the people of today’s Bethlehem, of Israel and Palestine; for refugees who have nowhere to lay their heads; for those who find themselves alone in strange lands. God of the morning star, protect all your people and guide us in the ways of mercy.
God of All, on this day when we proclaim your peace, we join with Amnesty International’s call for justice. We pray for prisoners of conscience, especially women who are targeted and silenced; for those who, like John, proclaim truth in the face of oppression, and who speak peace in the midst of violence. As we call attention to defenders of human rights, and write on their behalf, we ask that you would soften the hearts of those in power and transform our world with your love.
God of Love, on this day we pray for all those affected by the global pandemic; for those far away, whose names we will never know; for those nearer to us, yet whom we cannot visit. We pray especially for those who have lost a loved one during this challenging time, whose tables will have an empty place this year; for those who will spend parts or all of this season alone; for those for those in care home and hospital; and, for our loved ones who live now in your eternal joy.
God of heaven and earth, of fulfillment and promise, restore us we pray. Remind us of your promise, made again to every generation, of your enduring love. May things on earth be as they are in heaven. We pray these things in the name of the One who comes, Jesus Christ. Amen.
God of Peace, guide us to the stables of our world,
where the lonely and longing gather.
Lead us to the mangers of our time,
where hope and renewal are born again.
Make us heralds of your love and joy.