Follow the Star - Looking Forward
Marking Advent Sunday from Holy Trinity Scottish Episcopal Church, Melrose, led by The Rev Philip Blackledge,
with an introduction by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Marking Advent Sunday from Holy Trinity Scottish Episcopal Church, Melrose, led by The Revd Philip Blackledge
and The Revd Rosie Frew, with an introduction by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
The service takes as its theme the Church of England's Advent materials "Follow the Star."
Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew: 24: 36-44
Hymns: Hills of the North, rejoice (Little Cornard)
Behold! The mountain of the Lord (Glasgow)
When out of poverty is born a dream that will not die (Kingsfold)
Lo, he comes with clouds descending (Helmsley)
Veni, Veni Emmanuel (Kodaly)
Conductor: James Lowe
Organist: Chris Achenbach.
Producer: Mo McCullough
ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN WELBY
It is good to prepare for Christmas, to remember the promises of God, his coming in Jesus, and celebrate by sharing love with family and friends. But there is so much more to look forward to! The prophet Isaiah paints a vivid picture of a time when all nations will be at peace, when there will be no more tears and pain, no weapons or division and justice will prevail.
A group of Christians has been taking the words of Isaiah literally in recent years. In places where gun and knife crime are maiming and destroying communities, they have been collecting guns and knives, melting them, and turning them into garden tools, inspired by Micah and Isaiah’s vision of God’s people beating their ‘swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’.
Christian waiting and looking forward is never just a passive thing. It is about allowing our hope for the future to change the world in which we live. It is about being open to the challenge of the Spirit, recognising where God is already at work so we can join in. We are not just imagining the future. We have a God who works today in our lives to make this future a reality and calls us to join in with him.
INTROIT to Tallis' Third Mode melody
The Advent of our Saviour God Let us our prayers employ,
That we may meet him on his road With hymns of holy joy.
Son of God Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant's form put on, To set his people free.
REV PHILIP BLACKLEDGE – INTRODUCTION
Good morning, and Welcome to Holy Trinity Scottish Episcopal church in Melrose. I'm Philip Blackledge, the Rector of this church. You join us here among the hills of the Scottish Borders, and as Scotland awakes from our celebration of St Andrew's day yesterday, here in Melrose, we are home to a saint who was once a contender for the crown of the patron of Scotland, St Cuthbert. He was a local shepherd boy on the hills around us, before becoming a monk and later making a name for himself at Lindisfarne.
Melrose Abbey is now a ruin, but the Spirit of St Cuthbert lives on. Melrose is a place of good will, community, and neighbourliness, and I'm delighted that the Revd Rosie Frew, Minister at the local Church of Scotland church here, is leading this service with me this morning.
REV ROSIE FREW – PRAYER
Let us pray
Lord, throughout the world Christians are beginning the season of Advent, a time of watching and waiting for the coming of your kingdom. As we gather together, we know you are with us; so may our watching not be in vain, and may our waiting be also a time for rejoicing.
HYMN: HILLS OF THE NORTH REJOICE (Little Cornard)
Advent, we are told, is a time for waiting - but waiting for what I wonder?
Well our first reading gives us something of a vision for what might be to come...
The word that Isaiah
son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
This is the word of the Lord
ALL: Thanks be to God
Isaiah's words are comforting and familiar to many of us. But to his first listeners, they must have been daunting too. To take your swords and turn them into ploughshares, into gardening tools, meant never having recourse to them. For people who have known conflict, to put your weapons out of use is a frightening thought, to let go of that security. And Isaiah goes further - he says that they shall no longer even learn about how to go to war, how to fight. The knowledge of how to win in battle will pass away. To a warrior, it is a hard task. It means losing much of your identity, and losing your sense of security. Finding peace takes risks.
Climbing the mountain of the Lord can be a tough climb. It was for Isaiah, who was persecuted because of his vision of the peace of God.
It was for St Andrew – the Saltire, the flag of Scotland, shows the cross on which he was traditionally executed.
It can be a hard road for us too, but it is a journey we are called to make, because on the mountain, steep though the climb may be, is a land where all is peace.
HYMN: BEHOLD! THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD (Glasgow)
For Isaiah, and all the prophets that we celebrate in Advent, there is an intensity in the way they talk of the coming Kingdom. They speak with urgency and passion because they understand that we are often too comfortable with what we know, even if what we know is far from the will of God. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom to come, he spoke about something that would be so different, and would come upon us so suddenly, that we might be shocked at its arrival.
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
ALL: Glory to Christ our Saviour
About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
HYMN: O COME, O COME EMMANUEL (Veni Emmanuel)
Now may the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
O Come O Come Emmanuel - the most famous hymn of Advent. But do we really want him to come? Because if we are to believe Matthew's Gospel, it doesn't sound very pleasant.
Advent is officially the beginning of the church's new year, but our readings hardly make it sound like Hogmanay. We are told to be alert and awake, constantly ready in a state of expectation, for the rapture, for the end of days.
In the early days of the church, the faithful believed that the end times were just around the corner. But they never came. Two thousand years seems a long time to wait for something imminent. So how long do we have to wait and for what?
If the Gospel writers thought the end was near, they were clearly wrong. Christ seems to have missed his deadline. And, like waiting for a friend in a café, waiting for a bus in the rain, we check our watches, drum our fingers, and prepare ourselves for disappointment.
Sometimes, it feels that the waiting in Advent is a bit fake; as though Advent is a ritualised vestige of the time when we waited with true expectation for Christ to come and fulfil all things. Ritualised in Advent calendars and in Advent wreaths, candles lit, doors opened. Ritualised, because in our hearts we know it will not be now, it will not be soon.
Waiting for Justice to arrive for many seems a long wait. For the ravaged and broken people of Syria, the mountain of the Lord seems very far away. There are no ploughshares left in a land which has more craters than fields of grain.
For those bereaved, wounded and traumatised by the events on London Bridge on Friday, the mountain of the Lord is a long way from the dark valley they walk through. For those affected by climate change, justice seems to ebb further away, as the waters rise and the hurricane destroys their land and their homes.
For those who suffer because of their gender or their sexuality or their race, they find that justice is not something they can afford to wait for, because while they wait, they are persecuted, oppressed, broken by an unjust world.
That is not the waiting we are called to do in Advent, a passive hanging around until God gets his act together. There is no place in scripture where God gives us the indulgence of helpless passivity. If we throw up our hands in despair and ask God how he can let these things happen, the answer in the Gospels comes back clear and strong, that God has in fact given the hungry all that they need to be well fed, he has given the persecuted all that they need to receive justice, he has given the war-torn all that they need to find peace - because he has given them us. He has given them us, and what we wait for in Advent is for the Spirit of God to take us over, to fill us with such compassion that we have to act, because we cannot bear to see so many in such pain.
The presence of God makes us discontented with a world which should be like the Kingdom of God, but isn’t. The presence of God makes us hungry for justice and hungry for an end to starvation, and corruption, and war. The presence of God calls us not to be content with the world as it is. The presence of God gives us courage to walk the hard road of making change.
And when we try and change the world, the world may not like it, just as in Jesus' own time. We will be resisted, and sometimes we will be rejected, which is why of course we throw our hands up in despair and declare we can't do anything. The fact is we can. But it might hurt.
Because to change the world, as Isaiah said, means we have to put down our most cherished weapons, we have to abandon and unlearn the paths we have trod into a world we do not like, we have to remove ourselves from the comfortable myopia that indolence and isolation bring. Advent is where we wait for something that will change us, even though we may be frightened by the change.
Throughout British literature, there are many characters who are called to do great things, called out of their comfort into a braver world. Some are noble, some are heroic, but the one I feel most empathy for is none other than the Mole from the Wind in the Willows. He begins his journey like this.
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs. But Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!' and `O blow!' and also `Hang it!'. Something up above was calling him imperiously.
Something up above was calling him. Many of us, like Mole, say “bother” and “hang it”. And yet we listen. And the Spirit calls. It stirs us up. This Spirit of Divine Discontent and longing.
That is the Spirit of Advent, the Spirit of divine discontent and longing. We wait for it to stir us, and when it does, the world changes. When we share the compassion of God for all of his children, when we see the children of Syria as though they were our own, when we weep for all those who suffer as though they were our own family, as indeed they are, when that Spirit of divine discontent and longing takes us over, that is when God is incarnated and the Kingdom draws near.
And that, I think, is the message of Advent. That is what Matthew was trying to say. To listen, to be awake to the call of God, calling us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And when we see the images of starvation, war and violence in our world, we must pray all the harder that God will shake the world, by shaking us.
What we pray for in Advent, is for our daily bread to make us hungry.
This year Christian Aid Scotland has asked choirs and congregations across the country to sing a particular hymn this Advent Sunday. It is written by Kathy Galloway of the Iona Community, and speaks of the Spirit of divine discontent and longing – ‘When out of poverty is born a dream that will not die’.
HYMN: When out of Poverty is born (Kingsfold)
As we pray for the Spirit of Divine Discontent and longing to be with us, we pray using music from the Assyrian Orthodox church.
CHOIR REFRAIN (SOPRANO SOLO AND CHOIR)
Come to us, God of Light and truth; and come to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
We remember those affected by the attack on London Bridge; for the bereaved families, for the hurt and the frightened, and for those who love them.
We remember all who live under the dark cloud of war; those whose lives are daily at risk, whose families are scattered, whose future has been betrayed.
We pray to the God who calls us to a place of peace, a God in whom we put our trust. Lord of all peace, hear us.
Come to us, God of wisdom and righteousness, and come to those who yearn for justice.
We pray for unity in a divided and fractured world.
We pray for all who are persecuted because of their faith, or their race, or their gender, or their sexuality.
We pray for those who govern and who seek leadership at a divided time. Give them a hunger for justice and mercy, that they may be humble, wise, and diligent in their work. God of Justice, hear us.
Come to us, God of charity and love, and come to those who feel lost and alone.
We pray for those who work in places of danger and difficulty, in order to alleviate suffering and bring healing.
We pray for the anxious in a fractious and difficult time.
May we seek and strengthen what binds us closer together.
May we have the courage to release ourselves from old divisions.
May we find new ways of caring for one another.
May we be the light-bringers, the hope-carriers,
the deliverers of
goodness and love to those who need it most.
God of mercy and compassion, hear us, as we pray in the words our Saviour Christ has taught us.
MUSIC: LORD’S PRAYER (BARITONE/SOPRANO/CHOIR)
When we wait for the Lord, we do not wait with our feet still and our hands empty. When we wait for the Lord we wait with hope and eager expectation, with our feet upon the path and our hands labouring for the Kingdom of God. When we wait for the Lord we do not wait with passive idleness and anxious desperation. When we wait for the Lord we wait with hearts full of hope, and our minds set upon the task of building a world that reflects God's glory. When the Lord comes, may he find us watching and waiting.
HYMN - LO HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING (Helmsley)
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.
Now may Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon us, and scatter all darkness from before our path; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father son and Holy Spirit, be with us and those for whom we pray, now and always. Amen.
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: IMPROVISATION ON VENI EMMANUEL