Sunday Worship – 3rd December 2023 – Advent 1

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at Thornton Methodist Church and led by Martin Bashforth one of our circuit local preachers.

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

Today is the first Sunday of Advent: the season of the Church year when we re-examine the reason for Christ’s coming to earth in human form, placing it in the context of God’s master plan for the human race. The Old Testament chronicles God’s relationship with humans, from the time of creation, with Adam and Eve, through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then the exile in Egypt and the Exodus, led by Moses and finally, speaking through the prophets, in particular the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was the one who gave the clearest pointers to the coming of the Messiah. In chapter 60, from verse 1, he says: “Arise, Jerusalem and shine like the sun. The glory of the Lord is shining on you. Other nations will be covered by darkness, but on you the light of the Lord will shine. The brightness of his presence will be with you.” It was some 800 years after Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus was born, on that star-lit night in Bethlehem. As we shall now sing: Jesus was long-expected…..

Song StF 169 – Come, Thou long-expected Jesus


In this season of expectation, we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, the Messiah. 

Into the bustle of our lives and the hard-to-find moments of solitude, we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, the Messiah.

Into our homes and situations, along with friends and families, we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, the Messiah.

Into our hearts, and those often-hidden parts of our lives, we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, the Messiah.

For beneath the surface of your story, Lord, is an inescapable fact:
You entered this world as vulnerable as any one of us, in order to nail that vulnerability to the cross. 
Our fears, our insecurities and our sins – all that can separate us from God – exchanged by your Grace for Love.

We cannot comprehend the reasoning, only marvel – that Salvation comes to us through a baby born in a stable, and reaches out to a world in need.

In this season of anticipation, we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

Song – StF 178 – Long ago prophets knew    


John 1: 1–9 

Song – StF 171 – Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes


Gracious God, thank you for the life you have given us and for the love you have placed in our hearts. Grant us the help of your Holy Spirit, as we pray for the needs of the world.

God of peace, we hold before you all parts of the world, where people are suffering from violence. We pray especially for the situation in Gaza, where innocent people are suffering from bombardment and a lack of food, water and health care. And we don’t forget the people of Ukraine, whose plight has gone from the front pages of our newspapers, but who continue to suffer oppression and bombardment. Lord, please encourage the nations of the world to put pressure on the warring countries to seek political solutions, so that the suffering can be brought to an end.

We pray for people all around the world, who are suffering from the effects of extreme weather, caused by climate change. Whether it is ferocious heat, or downpours of rain, causing floods and landslides, as happened in our own country and across Europe, or hurricane winds, as recently in America and even in Jersey. Or wildfires, as in Canada, Hawaii, Spain and Greece. Lord, please open the eyes of the governments of the world, to see that we have it in our power to control and even reverse global warming, and that if we do nothing, this extreme weather will continue and our beautiful earth will be doomed. We pray also for the people of Morocco, and of Afghanistan, trying to recover from the recent devastating earthquakes.

Lord, we pray for people in our own country who are anxious about the rising cost of living, and many who are struggling to pay for food and energy. Give to our Government wisdom and compassion to take measures which will help everyone to get through these trying times. We pray for the foodbanks, which are rapidly running out of food to pass on to people, that they may find ways to replenish their stocks. We thank you that the recent season of Harvest Festivals, both in churches and in schools, has helped to refill the shelves, but there is still a great need for more food to be donated.

And finally, Lord, we bring to mind friends and families of members of our church, who have special needs at this time, for whom we wish to pray. And so, in silence now, we can each offer our own prayers, for those about whom we are concerned. Let us pray together…..


Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers and deal graciously with them. Comfort those who suffer and those who mourn; and bring your healing to the sick.

We ask all our prayers, in and through the name of Jesus, our living Lord and Saviour, who taught us, when we pray together, to say……

Our Father, who art in heaven…….

Song – StF 175 – Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness 


John 8: 12 – 18

Sermon  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.” John 1:5

Darkness is associated with chaos. With disorder. Before God made the world – according to Genesis – all was void and formless. It was a dark chaos. No pattern. No form. No purpose. Then God said “Let there be light” and there was light. And with the light came the possibility of order.

Darkness is also associated with evil. Human beings have created their own darkness – spiritual darkness – linked not so much with chaos (although that is often how it seems) as with selfishness, lust and greed. Spiritual darkness is the way of the flesh. The natural course of our human instincts. There have always been people living in spiritual darkness. And as long as people follow their human instincts, there always will be.

Jesus is God’s answer to spiritual darkness. He is – in His own words – the Light of the world. In the words of John’s gospel, “He is the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone.”

It is a piece of great symbolism that Jesus’ arrival as a baby was heralded by a bright light. A star which was brighter than any other star in the sky. And it led those with understanding to the place of his birth.

It is about the coming of Jesus to be Light for the world that I want us to think this morning.

The first point to note is that the main purpose of light is to reveal. It enables us to see clearly. Jesus revealed the nature of God. He also revealed the purpose of life, which God intends to be a life of love: loving God and loving every one of our neighbours.

Throughout his earthly life, Jesus was never far from darkness. At the very beginning of his life, his parents had to flee, as refugees, to Egypt, to escape the anger and brutality of Herod, who put to death every boy under 2 years old in Bethlehem. That was an awful tragedy, resulting from Jesus’ birth, and one which we are inclined to forget. In the fight between good and evil – between light and darkness – the darkness will not give up its struggle lightly. But we can be reassured by our text: The darkness has never put out the light. And it never will.

So Jesus’ coming revealed to us God’s love and his purpose. Our task is to see the light and recognise it. Sometimes it comes to us in a flash. A sudden realisation. We say, don’t we, the light dawns on us. But unfortunately, as John reminds us, not everyone sees it.

For a number of years, I helped to look after the hostel at Conistone, near Grassington. I well remember the time we stayed there during the winter of 1990. It was snowing as we drove up Wharfedale, and it snowed all evening, very heavily. So heavily, that it brought down the power lines and we were left without electricity. The power cut lasted from 11 pm on Friday evening until the following Tuesday. Fortunately for us, the snow abated on the Sunday, so we all made a dash for it and came home. All through the Saturday, we had no heat in the building and when the sun went down, we were left with a few candles to help us to get around the place. I’ll never forget, sitting in a circle in the lounge, huddled in jumpers and coats and scarves, inside our sleeping bags, trying to keep ourselves amused, as well as warm. I guessed we must have looked a real sight, so I took out my camera and took a photo, using my flash. This was before the days of digital cameras, and so I had to wait almost a week, until my photos were printed. I can hardly explain to you the feeling, when I first saw the photo I had taken.

My recollection of the occasion was of a pile of people and clothes in a very dark room. But the photo showed a brightly lit room, with everything clearly visible. Of course, for the fraction of a second that the camera’s shutter was open, the room was lit by my flash-gun. But we who were in the darkened hostel had not seen it. Not until so long afterwards. Too late to be of any use to us, in our time of need.

For those people who have not yet recognised the light of Jesus, we must pray that he will reveal himself to them, before it is too late. Let us pray that he will reveal himself to many this Christmas.

Jesus’ light reveals the truth – the purpose of life. When he was on earth, he did it through his teaching, especially his parables. Following his ascension into heaven, God has given us the Holy Spirit, to continue

His work of revelation. To light up our lives. A point comes in our lives when God’s truth falls into place and it all makes sense. It’s a bit like those scrambled pictures of faces we see on TV quizzes, which gradually re-arrange themselves and eventually show a clear, understandable image. You recognise the face.

That’s a good parallel of God’s revelation of himself, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Human beings’ understanding was confused at first. It became clearer through the Old Testament. Then God became seen very clearly through Jesus, and we now see him with the help of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not have the Spirit’s help cannot see God in Jesus. They are the ones whom John talks about as not recognising him.

So – the light is essential in all our lives, to remove the darkness of ignorance and misunderstanding.

Secondly, light dispels fear. We all know that some children at bedtime, are afraid of the dark. Maybe you are? At home even now, we like to leave the bedroom door open overnight, with the landing light on. My wife hates the darkness. When we used to go camping, there were of course no street lights anywhere near, and so we had to leave a small night light shining all night, just so she could relax and go to sleep.

For previous generations, a small light would not be much help, as it would have been a candle, and we all know how candles can cast eerie shadows around a room. Such shadows can be very frightening.

A story is told of Alexander the Great, who was a victorious general at the age of 18, a king when he was 20, and died aged 33, having conquered the whole of the then-known world.

Whilst Alexander was in his early teens, Philonicus the Thessalonian offered to sell his horse to Philip, Alexander’s father. The horse, called Bucephalus, was a trained but vicious animal. Philip took his son to see the horse being put through his paces, but the stallion proved so unmanageable that none of the men could even mount him. Alexander noticed that the horse seemed to be afraid of his own shadow, so he quietened the horse by turning him towards the sun. Then Alexander mounted the horse, and by keeping him headed into the sun, kept him under control.

Many people today are afraid of their own shadows. They need to turn to the light of Jesus, who chases away shadows and makes life bearable.

How reassuring it is, if we are fearful of the dark, when someone switches on the light. We see things properly – and in their proper perspective. We realise that there really was no reason, after all, to be afraid.

The same is true of the coming of the dawn, after a long and restless night. There was a hymn in the old Methodist Hymn Book which opened:

“Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart, star of the coming day,
Arise, and with Thy morning beams chase all our griefs away”.
Jesus is the light which dispels our fear. A friendly light. A guiding light.

Those of you in my generation, may remember a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, made famous by King George VI:

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

We can seek Jesus’ guiding light every day – whenever we are unsure of the way ahead. We can turn to him whatever our circumstances, because he has been there before us. Because of Christmas.

Because God was born into our human condition…

He knows our feelings and fears
He has suffered pain
He knows what it feels like to be rejected
He understands the need – at times – to weep.
And He knows the joy of laughter.

So, with his light in our lives, we can face the unknown with confidence. He even – no, he especially – gives us hope beyond death. We need no longer fear the grave…because of what waits for us on the other side. Jesus said: “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

And that brings me to my final point:

When we follow Jesus, we walk in the light. We become children of the light and we become a guiding light to others.

Those who cannot immediately see the light in Jesus, should be able to see it in us. Our lives should be a contrast to the darkness which is around us. And that will bring hope to our neighbours. It is an important aspect of mission.

A little girl was once with her family in a party of visitors being shown round one of the great cathedrals. As the guide was explaining about a historic tomb in one part of the cathedral, the girl was staring at a great stained-glass window, through which the sun was streaming, bathing the floor in colour. As the group was about to move on, the girl asked the guide: “Who are the people in the pretty window?”

“Those are the saints,” the man replied.

That night, as she was getting ready for bed, the little girl told her mother “I know who the saints are.” “Do you, dear?” replied her mother. “Who are they?” “They are the people who let the light shine through.”

So – walk…..   in the light of the child born at Bethlehem, beneath that bright shining star.

in the light of the man, who revealed to us the nature of God. The nature of love which took him to a cross for our sakes, to dispel fear for ever.

And in the light of the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us the truth and is our guiding light.

And let that light be seen, shining through your life, to hasten the day – of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Amen.

Song – StF 59 – Lord, the light of your love is shining 


May you live within the light of love in these coming days.
May love call forth the songs you sing.
May love enliven your celebrations.
May love be within you, and may love surround you.
May you know – deeply know – the abundance of God’s steadfast love. Amen.

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