Welcome to the church
Call to worship
The psalmist implores us to: Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before God.
So let us come before God, to listen to his word, to pray for is world, and to praise his name.
And let us begin this morning, on this first Sunday in Advent, by lighting our first Advent candle.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined... For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:2, 6)
We light the first advent candle to remind us that light has shone in the darkness.
We pray for people living in darkness, we pray that they will come to know the light and life of Christ, and we pray that each one of us will be part of sharing that light and life with them.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Let us glorify and adore the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Almighty God the Father, gracious Lord of all, whose glory knows no bounds.
Lord Jesus Christ the Son, eternal Word of God, whose mercy never ends.
Most good and loving Spirit, source of power and life, whose goodness lasts for ever.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one eternal God, resplendent in brightness, radiant in purity, inconceivable in majesty,
to you we give all blessing, glory, honour and power.
In you is the source of all life, the fount of all wisdom, the well-spring of all grace.
Your days are without end, your loving mercies without number.
We depend on you; and we remember your goodness to us and to those who have gone before us.
We tell your story in every generation,
And we join our thanks and praise with the triumph song
of prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs,
of every age, and we pray that your grace may enable us,
unworthy though we are, to worship you adoringly on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Friends in Christ,
Here in the presence of God, let us open our hearts to confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by God’s infinite goodness and mercy, and so we pray together
we have sinned in what we have thought and said,
in the wrong we have done,
and in the good we have not done.
We have sinned in ignorance;
we have sinned in weakness;
we have sinned through our own deliberate fault.
We repent and turn to you.
Forgive us, for our Saviour Christ’s sake,
and renew our lives to the glory of your name.
Assurance of forgiveness
The apostle John tells us:
If any one sins,
we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous;
and he is the perfect offering for our sins,
and not for ours only
but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
hear Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”
Thanks be to God
Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the almighty
Bible readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sermon: Praise and thanksgiving
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
That’s how Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians – well, that’s verse 3, in verses 1 and 2 he introduces himself, and says who the letter is addressed to. But verse three begins with “Grace to you”.
The “grace” which we receive “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” - and for that matter from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4) - is more than just undeservered forgiveness, although God’s forgiveness is part of grace. Grace is also empowering for us (1 Corinthians 3:10, 1 Corinthians 15:10) to be witnesses to Jesus. And not only empowering us, but equipping us as well .
Paul doesn’t simply offer the Corinthians grace in his greeting, but he adds “peace” – “Grace to you and peace”. Peace, of course, is the traditional Hebrew greeting “Shalom”. Peace in this sense doesn’t just mean the absence of conflict among ourselves or in the world, but is about peace with God. Reconciliation with God, and covering lasting health, well-being, rest, and harmony.
Having greeted the Corinthians with grace and peace, he tells them the source of that peace, “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We can’t have God’s grace without Jesus. And nor can we have God’s peace without Jesus.
Jesus is the only way we have access to the grace and peace of God – Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). That might sound limiting… but it’s not because we know that Jesus came for all people. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. All we need to do is put our trust in him, and we will receive the grace and peace that Paul talks about.
Next Paul tells them that he thanks to God for the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:4). Paul knows the people of the church at Corinth as a blessing from God, as he tells them that they have been blessed, writing “in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1:5-7)
He’s building them up. He’s assuring them of their importance to God, and he’s recognising the way that God has equipped and strengthened them to be his church. This is important because later in his letter, Paul has some tough things to say. The church in Corinth was going astray in some ways, and Paul corrects them.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Corinthian church that was going off track – most of Paul’s letters address specific problems in the churches he’s writing to. But whenever Paul corrects or admonishes, he frames it against what is good. He doesn’t just tell them what they have to correct, but he reminds them of the grace and the peace of God.
I reckon that’s a great principle for us to follow, too. So often we – people in general – focus on the problems of the world and our lives and the negative things to the extent that we forget the good things.
One thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the Covid restrictions as we approach Christmas. I love my Christmas carols. I love going to St James church in the city for the service of lessons and carols, I love leading the carol service at Pymble Chapel where we typically get three or four times the regular congregation attending, and I would love to have a carol service at Carlingford too.
And I could write to my local member, and I could write to the premier, and I could point out all the inconsistencies in the restrictions, and how we can have crowds at football stadia, and at pubs and clubs, and schools, but we can’t even sing a few Christmas carols in church? Its unfair! You’re unfair! You’d better fix it!
Or I could write to my local member, and I could write to the premier, and I could say that they have done a fantastic job this year, that they have lead the state through an unprecedented time, and the state – the country – is coming through the pandemic amazingly well. While I appreciate the need to maintain restrictions, there seems to be some inconsistencies – could you correct them or explain why they’re in place?
It’s the same message, but its framed in a different way. And perhaps – maybe – it’s more likely to be heeded.
And just like Paul praises God for the Corinthian church – even though they’re getting some things wrong, so I think we should be praising God for our leaders.
Not only does Paul praise God for the Corinthians, but he assures them of the hope that they have – that he shares with them (and indeed, we share with them). “… so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (1:7)
He’s telling them that not only is there something to look forward too, but that they have everything they need to get there. There is a hope – and you, as followers of Jesus, will receive that hope.
It would have been easy for the Corinthians to look at the world around them and despair. They were a minority in a multi-faith society. What difference could they make?
It’s easy for us to do the same – to look at the world around us and despair. Increasingly a minority in a multi-faith society. A church struggling to engage with those around us. A church struggling to make a difference in a world that increasingly regards the church as irrelevant.
So we need to hold on to the hope that we have – the hope that Paul told the Corinthians about. And not only hold on to that hope, but be assured that we have every spiritual gift that we need to get there.
And it’s not going to be easy, but we read in verse 8 that “He will also strengthen you to the end,”
God will strengthen you.
At the beginning of verse 9, Paul reminds us that “God is faithful,” Our faith may not be strong, but God is faithful to his people. In the book of Daniel (6:26b) we read “For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end.” Or as we often sing from Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Later in in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells his readers “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
In our advent bible study last Wednesday, we reflected on the testing of Abraham – when God sent Abraham to a far mountain to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is testing that is unimaginably hard, but God strengthened Abraham. And in the end God provided the sacrifice in place of Isaac.
We think of Abraham as being faithful to God, but how much more was God faithful to Abraham?
God will strengthen you.
And the point of that strengthening is “so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God strengthens us so that we can remain faithful to him.
And all the time, God is faithful to us… Paul says “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1:9)
God calls us into the fellowship of His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). We may think that we enter into fellowship with Jesus when we decide to follow him, but we do so because God has called us. When we do that, we become part of the church – not simply Carlingford Uniting or Pymble Chapel Uniting, but the one holy catholic and apostolic church – the body of Christ. We become part of that body - that fellowship – when we decide to follow Jesus, it continues throughout our lives, and lasts forever.
It is good news. God reached out to each one of us – and the whole world – even though we didn’t deserve it by sending his Son into the world. To show us the way to reconciliation with God, and in his death and resurrection to open our path to everlasting life: peace – shalom – with God.
And so we praise God. And so we give him thanks.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and while the rest of the world might be counting down to Christmas, we can look beyond that to what Paul calls the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can still celebrate Christmas – I certainly will be.
Of course, commercial advent is the first 24 days of December, and you can go out and buy calendars where you open a section each day and get a present, usually a fairly small piece of chocolate, but there are other options - I strongly recommend Lego advent calendars, but there are also other options.
Over the next few weeks things will intensify until they reach fever pitch on Christmas Eve. And the shops will finally close, and all the presents will be wrapped. And the fridges filled to capacity. And the children will be sleeping soundly…
And then it’ll all be over in a flash. The presents torn open. Immense quantities of food consumed.
And then we’ll have boxing day! And we can take the boxes and wrapping paper out to our recycling bins, and feast on leftovers as we watch the cricket and the yachting.
So many things count down to Christmas… and then nothing. Or if not nothing, then something not very exciting. Christmas is the climax. And advent generally regarded as the countdown to Christmas, right?
The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’ – in the sense of ‘arrival’ or ‘beginning’ or ‘start’, and it’s the time of the church year when we should be focusing on – and looking forward to – the Second Coming of Jesus, when all that he came to earth to accomplish when he was born as a baby in Bethlehem, will be fulfilled, will be completed.
We don’t know when the day of our Lord Jesus Christ will be, but we know that it will come, and we know it gets closer every day. We are one day closer to the day when Jesus will return to put all things right than we were yesterday.
And we’re a year closer than we were when we celebrated Advent 2019.
We can’t count down to it, but we need to look forward to it, to expect it, and to respond to that expectation.
We shouldn’t be living as if this world will last forever. And we shouldn’t be living doing whatever we want for ourselves, without regard for God and without regard for other people.
And we do that, by living as the people of God. Living as God wants us to live. Trusting in God, trusting in the salvation Jesus has won for us by his death on the cross. Relying not on our own strength, but on God’s strength. Using the spiritual gifts that God has given us.
This Christmas is not going to be like any we’ve experienced before. And it may well be disappointing. So this Advent, let’s not just count down to Christmas, but consciously look forward to a time that won’t be disappointing.
Don’t count down to just a day’s celebration, but look forward to a bright and everlasting future.
A future to which God calls you, and for which God strengthens you.
And let us respond with praise and thanksgiving.
Hymn: God is our strength and refuge
Prayers of intercession
Hymn: O come thou long expected Jesus
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:
whoever contributes, with generosity;
whoever gives help, with enthusiasm;
whoever does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6, 8)
And so we pray:
In humble awareness of the service entrusted to us,
as stewards of your love and human relationships,
we offer our gifts to you.
Teach us to use them faithfully, to the furthering of your kingdom, and to the glory of your name.
May this time of advent be a time for us all look to forward to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,
May this time of advent be a time for us to share with others,
May this time of advent be a time for us all to better know the grace of God in our lives.
May this time of advent be a time of praise and thanksgiving.
And may we know the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit this day and always.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8
Theme: ‘The Wilderness and the Manger’
Preacher: Rev Dr Peter Walker