Sunday Worship – 11th December – Advent 3

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) Hymns & Psalms (HP) Mission Praise (MP) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our Circuit and with the congregation at Thackley Methodist Church led by Rev Phil Drake, one of our Circuit Ministers.

Click on the blue links to follow them for Bible readings and associated links.

Call to Worship

It’s Advent. Not yet Christmas.
It’s not just time for you and me to prepare,
it’s time for all the world’s different people to prepare;
it’s time to see God’s message in all living created things,
the cosmos, the environment around us.
For we are intertwined, earth and heaven and people and plants
and birds of the air and fish of the sea and beasts of the field.
Let us take time to see the glory of the created world
in all its bounty and beauty.
When God reigns there is room for all of nature.
Let us take time to understand our interconnections.
When God reigns there is room for all of nature.
Let us take time to see how our words, our deeds, our lives
help or harm God’s created order.~
When God reigns there is room for all of nature.
Let us take time to see the environment around us today, flooded fields
and parched wilderness, searing heat and icy cold.
When God reigns there is room for all of nature.
Let us take time to make time to be passionate
about God’s gift of the created world.
When God reigns there is room for all of nature.

Song: Joy to the world

1. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3. He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love, And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.

Isaac Watts

Lord of life, who brings the desert into bloom,
we come before you with open hearts.
Lord of life, who brings sight to the blind 
and hearing to the deaf,
we come before you in all our weakness.
Lord of life, who fills the world with joy,
we come before you with eagerness.
We bless you for your love for us
and praise you for the glory of your name. Amen.

Opening prayer

Isaiah 35.1-10

Matthew 11.2-11


John’s question to Jesus: ‘Are you the one who is to come?’

The season of Advent is all about this question. The word Advent means ‘coming.’ It is the period in which we prepare ourselves for celebrating the coming of Christ at Christmas. Traditionally, Advent has also been the time when Christians have reminded themselves of the promise that ‘Christ will come again’ – his second coming.

For John the Baptist, of course, the question was asked in very particular circumstances. The early part of Matthew’s gospel – as in each of the four gospels – contains an account of John’s preaching in the desert, of his encounter with Jesus, and how he recognised in Jesus the chosen one of God. Yet here we are again, several chapters later, with a further exchange between the two. And John no longer seems so certain. The message he had so clearly announced on a previous occasion has now become a question: ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?’

Of course, circumstances have changed. John is no longer a free man. He is in prison. The threat of death hangs over him. It is understandable, therefore, that he should have doubts as to what is happening around him and what might happen in the future.

I think it’s important to remember that the time prior to Christmas need not always be one of joy and expectation. For some, there might be a deep questioning of their own faith, and if they are facing adverse circumstances, feeling imprisoned by their situation their might be a wondering as to whether they have a faith worth hanging on to at all.

But John is most surprised by what he hears about Jesus’ ministry. It suggests that in some way Jesus was not living up to John’ expectation of the Messiah. It may be that John, like some others at that time was expecting a political Messiah, a military hero who would lead the Jewish people to victory over their Roman occupiers. But there is no real evidence that this was the case for John. So what was it that took John so much by surprise? Well, Jesus reaffirms his ministry among the people – the blind receive heir sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. It is like the flowering of the desert that is pictured in Isaiah.

And Jesus seems to be quoting from the prophet Isaiah, both from chapter 35 and 61 – but with one important exception – there is no mention of the day of vengeance that is a feature of the prophet’s writing. This is what may have taken John aback, because in his own preaching we hear much about the axe laid to the root of the tree and the chaff for the burning, and yet in Jesus’ words we see a desire for wholeness without vengeance, restoration without revenge.

To think about: the flowering of the desert can offer a spectacular display (see the photographs above of flowers in the Judean desert). What signs of flourishing do you see in your own life or in the lives of others? If you are experiencing a period of dryness or uncertainty in your life, ask God for a refreshing in the Spirit that you may flourish once again. Pray for those you know who are struggling at the present time with illness or sadness.

A personal prayer

Sometimes I am a desert, Lord.
I am dry and hard and difficult;
nothing will grow in me – no good idea or kind thought. 
Sometimes I am like rock –
I offer no comfort and can find no comfort in myself.
Heal me, Lord, with holiness like streams.
Restore me. Let me rest in you.
Fill me with blessed space and let me wait, 
attentive for whatever you might say. Amen.

Sing or read a hymn reflecting on the ministry of John the Baptist in the wilderness:

Singing the Faith 183: Praise to the God who clears the way

Hymns and Psalms 84: On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry

Mission Praise 554: Peace is flowing like a river


Generous God, make us generous.
Make us generous in joy, generous in love, generous in peace.
Make us wellsprings of your kingdom, Lord,
that we may offer the water of life to a thirsty world.
Generous God, make us generous. Amen.

Acknowledgments: Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayers taken from Roots resources, copyright Roots For Churches Ltd. Photographs: Daviddarom, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yuvalr, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Gideon Pisanty (Gidip), CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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