Introduction & Welcome
Welcome to worship today, God’s gift to us because God is good! all the time!
and all the time! God is good!
Forerunners and messengers advance the advent of our God. While John the baptizer’s voice in the wilderness may be the principal focus of the day, Malachi’s prophecy could as easily herald the coming Christ as forerunner of the Lord of hosts. Finally, all the baptized are called to participate in the sharing of the gospel. In so doing we prepare the way for the coming of Jesus and assist all people in capturing a vision of the “salvation of God.”
Confession and Forgiveness
Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God,
who alone does wonders,
who lifts up the lowly,
who fills the hungry with good things.
Let us confess our sin, trusting in the tender mercy of our God.
Silence is kept for reflection.
God for whom we wait,
in the presence of one another,
we confess our sin before you.
We fail in believing that your good news is for us.
We falter in our call to tend your creation.
We find our sense of self in material wealth.
We fear those different from ourselves.
We forget that we are your children
and turn away from your love.
Forgive us, Blessed One,
and assure us again of your saving grace.
God, in Christ Jesus, has looked with favor upon you!
Through the power of the Holy Spirit,
☩ your sins are forgiven.
You are children of the Most High,
inheritors of the eternal promise,
and recipients of divine mercy.
God strengthens you anew to follow the way of peace.
Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
God announces a covenant with Israel. A messenger like Malachi (his name means “my messenger”) will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by purifying and refining God’s people, as silver and gold are refined.
1See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Psalm: Luke 1:68-79
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us. (Lk. 1:78)
68Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel,
you have come to your people and set them free.
69You have raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of your servant David.
70Through your holy prophets, you promised of old to save us from our enemies,
71from the hands of all who hate us,
72to show mercy to our forebears,
and to remember your holy covenant.
73This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
74to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship you without fear,
75holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life.
76And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,
77to give God’s people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
79to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11
The apostle Paul was the pastor of many new churches. He writes in this letter about his joy to be in partnership with the Christians of Philippi. Listen to how tender-hearted Paul, sometimes a stern preacher, is with his friends as he encourages them to grow in love and knowledge.
3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God
Alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord. All flesh shall see the salvation of God. Alleluia. (Luke 3:4, 6)
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
John the Baptist is a herald of Jesus, whose way is prepared by “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” As we hear the careful record of human leaders, we sense the spectrum of political and religious authority that will be challenged by this coming Lord.
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
Meditation by David O’Brien
I remember when I used to work as a corrections officer in a cell block. Sometimes I worked with a partner, but often I worked by myself. The supervisors, our bosses, would come around each day to make their inspections. We always had to make sure the place was clean and that the inmates had their cells in proper order and that they were behaving. We had this system where the officers in the area the supervisors had just visited would call ahead to let us know they were on their way. When the warden, the supervisor’s boss, was coming by, that got stepped up a notch. Nobody wanted to be caught not being in compliance with policies when he came around. Once in a great while, we had the department director, the warden’s boss, come into town. The director’s secretary usually called the prison several days in advance when this was going to happen, so that everybody knew to take care, getting everything up to snuff. Even the warden got into the act, making more frequent inspections, sometimes several in one day. Some of the more problematic inmates were moved out of the general population areas into segregation “under investigation” to make sure they didn’t make a scene when the director made his visit. Everything had to be just so for the director, and everyone tried to have their act together.
I was thinking about this when reading the Gospel today. John is like the director’s secretary, calling ahead of Jesus’ coming, letting us know it’s time to get our acts together. John is like a herald, sent ahead of the king to announce his imminent arrival, the king of course being Jesus Christ. He is the voice in the wilderness, crying out that we need to prepare the way of the Lord. How were the people of Israel, or the world for that matter, supposed to prepare for one such as the Christ? John proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. In other words, he told us to clean up our acts. Cleaning up our acts doesn’t mean that we hide our problems, such as moving more problematic inmates out of the way. It means we recognize them and attempt to deal with them. For us, as Christians, that means confessing our sins and seeking God’s grace in forgiveness.
The prophet Isaiah said that John would call on us to make the paths of the l Lord straight, fill in the valleys and level the mountains and all the rough ways should be made smooth. (I wish ODOT would listen to that last part.) The idea being to make everything right for the coming of the Lord, so that He will be pleased with our efforts.
During the time that John was preparing the way for Christ, Israel was in a pretty bad way. Politically, the Jews were ruled by foreigners, and religiously, Annas and Caiaphas had been illegally put into their positions by the Roman authorities, and constantly used their power to line their own pockets and increase their own authority. Annas was even sometimes called a viper who hissed or whispered in the ears of judges and politicians in order to influence their decisions. The political and religious condition of Israel was so fallen and corrupt, it was clearly time for the Messiah to be revealed. But before the Messiah is fully revealed, a prophet must rise and call the people back to God. That’s where John came in.
John was a relatively unknown person, living in the wilderness, not one of the powerful people mentioned in the first part of the Gospel. I think it’s important to point this out because it illustrates that you don’t have to be powerful or well known for God to use you to His purpose. So how did John become this important prophet of God? Was it because he lived in the wilderness and ate locusts? I really don’t think that’s it. I think that he became strong in the Spirit because he became strong in the Word by studying it. That is, by studying the Torrah and praying. It’s like anything else in life, if you want to be good at something, you have to practice. In college, I practiced playing my trombone so that, as part of the college jazz band, I could play fairly well. Having been out of college for some time, and not practicing any more, I expect that my playing would not be up to snuff at all. The point I’m trying to make is that if we want to remain strong in the Spirit, we will need to practice those skills that will get us there. Reading our Bible, praying daily and being with other Christians, both in weekly worship and spiritual friendship, doing the work that God has assigned us in our communities and showing our love for our brothers and sisters, and giving to those in need.
I pray that we all will continue to do what it takes to remain strong in the Spirit like John was and be ready for Christ when He comes again.
Prayers of Intercession
In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.
A brief silence.
You send messengers into the world to proclaim the day of your coming. Make our Elizabeth and Daniel. our bishops, Howard, our pastor and all bishops, pastors, deacons, and lay preachers confident in their preaching, that their words and our lives witness to your grace. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Send your Spirit to all living creatures that are endangered. Provide them with shelter and care, and bring us into right relationship with the earth that you create and call good. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Send leaders to our nations, cities, schools, and businesses to work on behalf of those who have lost parents, spouses, and loved ones; immigrants; the imprisoned; those living in poverty; and all who are oppressed. Make them bold in their commitments to justice and reconciliation. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Send your servants to care for those who suffer. Use our ministries and our lives to reach out with compassion to those who are hungry, oppressed, lonely, or ill, especially those whom we remember in our prayer list and on our prayer board. Grant them healing and wholeness. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Send prophets to speak difficult truths, even when they are poorly received. Embolden those who ask hard questions and challenge accepted ways. Instill in youth and elders alike a passion for pointing to Jesus in all things. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
We remember your saints, both those publicly celebrated and those more humbly remembered. Confident that your work will be completed, we live in faith until the day of your coming. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.
Together, let us profess our faith using the words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
And now, as our Savior, Christ, continues to teach us, we boldly pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.
God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing,
so that we may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
through Christ Jesus for whom we wait.
Go in peace. Christ is near.
Thanks be to God.