Prepare the way

13 Dec 2020 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Call to worship and welcome

On this third Sunday in advent, we gather here to worship God, to hear from his word, to pray for the world, and to sing songs of praise.

Lighting the advent candles

 “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near: This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

We light the third candle to remind us of John the Baptist, and all of those who have prepared the way for Jesus to enter the lives of people.

Prayer: We remember all of those people who do not know Jesus, and pray that the Holy Spirit will be working in their hearts to prepare them for the message of Jesus. We pray especially for those who will visit churches over the Christmas season, and for those who will welcome them.



Prayer of adoration and confession

Let us offer our adoration to God,
the Maker and Redeemer of all: 

            Almighty and everlasting God,
            Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
            sovereign Ruler of all creation:
            as we call upon your glorious name
            we give you praise,
            we offer you worship,
            we bow in adoration. 

            You alone are our hope,
            you alone are our salvation,
            you alone are our life. 

            To you belong all majesty and glory,
            dominion and power,
            always, now and ever,
            and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Prayer of Confession

Let us pray a prayer of confession. 

God of mercy, hear the prayers of your people.
For every time we have attributed your miracles
in our lives to our own hands alone,

Forgive us, we pray.

For every time we promised to trust you
but turned to our own way
when your response did not come soon enough
or in the way we expected,

Grant us mercy, O God.

For the many opportunities to extend forgiveness
that we have refused,
Show us what it means to love, again, dear Lord. 

For each way we put our own understandings above
your wisdom,
For each time we resist your command to be reconciled
with those who believe differently from us,

Direct us in the way of peace, we pray.

For our silent sins, our quiet acts of violence,
and our indifference to the suffering round us,

Forgive us, Loving God,
and quench our thirst with your grace;
Remake us into vessels of tenderness
and compassion.

For Christ’s sake we pray.



Assurance of Forgiveness

Friends: God sent the Son into the world,
not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Those who believe in him are not condemned. 

[So] If anyone 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. 

Sisters and brothers,
hear the Good News of grace:
In Christ, we are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Bible Readings

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11   New Revised Standard Version

The Good News of Deliverance

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,  and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,  and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,  the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness,the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing;  I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,  and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge  that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,  my whole being shall exult in my God;  for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,  he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,  as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise  to spring up before all the nations.


John 1:6-8,19-28     N R S V

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

---The Testimony of John the Baptist

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


Sermon: Prepare the way

Here we are on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, counting down to Christmas, and looking forward to the return of Jesus; Reflecting on the Old Testament prophecies we see fulfilled in Jesus, and holding on to the hope of prophecies yet to be completed. While we often mix and match our advent hymns and our Christmas hymns, they’re not quite the same.

Our Christmas hymns – our carols – are ones which talk about Jesus’ birth and the triumph of Christmas. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born king, O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant and so on.

But the advent hymns have a common thread of expectation, of waiting, of wanting. Come thou long expected Jesus, O come O come Emmanuel, even our first hymn today, Tell out my soul! Which Mary sang in expectation of what was to come.

And although we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and we know that he lived and taught and healed, died for us and rose again, we still long for him to return to fix everything that’s wrong with the world. This year, especially, we’ve found ourselves crying out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait?”

And that’s why we continue to sing the great advent hymns… they prepare the way: Oh, come, strong branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell your people save and give them victory over the grave.

Let the light banish the darkness. Just take it away. Save us, Lord!

The people of God have always known hard times. The prophet Isaiah was speaking to people who were living in exile – they were displaced, they were devastated and they were despairing. And in Chapter 40, several chapters before today’s reading, Isaiah shares hope with them “Comfort, o comfort, my people, says your God.”

And then as we pick up today’s reading, Isaiah says in Chapter 61 (1-2,4),  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.’

Things are bad, but there is hope. And God sends Isaiah to bring good news to the oppressed and the broken-hearted. To proclaim freedom to those who are prisoners. And to comfort those who mourn. To bring them what they need what they desire.

There’s a foretaste of what Jesus will later preach in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:4-6) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

And there’s a promise not just of hope, but of help as well: “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

Isaiah was sent into the devastation, to prepare the way. To give hope and to give help.

Which might just remind us of the Christmas story: That God would send someone into the fallen world, to give hope and to give help.

In fact, Jesus himself preached on this reading from Isaiah 61… In Luke chapter 4, Jesus went to his hometown to the synagogue and he proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners”.

That’s sometimes described as Jesus’ mission statement: To bring good news and repair to a broken world.

When the world is broken and devastated, God sends a saviour – his only Son - in humanflesh, to bring good news to this fallen world and to rebuild us into the people God has called us to be.

As an aside, when Jesus preached on Isaiah 61, it didn’t end well: “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:29)

But I think this shows that the message of Isaiah 61, the same message that Jesus shared in his hometown, is a disruptive one.  It disrupts the way of the world. It disrupts the establishment. And it disrupts those of us who have become a bit too comfortable in the way things are.

God sent Isaiah into the fallen world to prepare the way for Jesus – to remind people of the promises of God – the saviour that God would send. So often we read from Isaiah in the lead up to Christmas – the people walking in darkness, unto us a son is born.

And so on through the prophets.

And as Peter shared last week, and we’ve been reminded in today’s reading from John’s gospel, just like he’d sent Isaiah hundreds of years before, God sent John the Baptist into the fallen world to prepare the way for Jesus.

And it’s the same today, God sends people into the fallen world to prepare the way for Jesus. Because people today don’t need to be prepared for Jesus to arrive in Bethlehem. Instead, they need to be prepared for Jesus to arrive in their lives or in their hearts.

But what Jesus brings is not simply disruption for disruption’s sake. Jesus isn’t just dealing with what’s wrong, but he’s offering something better. It’s as Isaiah tells us, it’s “to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. … They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities”

Rather than tearing down, it’s building up. Rather than destruction, it’s growth. Rather than death, it’s new life.

During the time of Isaiah, the people practiced a ritual of putting ashes on their heads when they were in mourning – we don’t typically do that, so the garland instead of ashes might not speak to us, but “a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit [or a spirit of despair in some translations].” What we wear often reflects our mood. When we go to a funeral, we often wear black. Black, typically, is a colour of clothing is serious and sombre. We don’t see too many people who wear bright clothing to funerals (unless there’s a particular request to do so). But what Jesus does is take our black clothes of mourning and give us bright clothes of praise.

It’s not just on a personal scale, though: he says they will “build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities” the nation of Israel as they return from captivity in Babylon will need to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, but they will also need to rebuild their relationship with God. They were God’s chosen people, but they had gone astray time and time again.

But no matter how much they tried, how many times they repented, they failed.

But then, in Jesus, it became possible, because, in Jesus, God provided the way back.

God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. The gospel is the story of salvation, forgiveness, a restored relationship with God. But again, it’s not just on a personal scale.

God so loved the world. God’s desire is to bring all people into relationship with him , including poor people, and oppressed people, and people of all backgrounds and traditions. The gospel is about more than getting people a ticket to heaven: It’s about bringing God’s love and healing to a broken world. It’s about love and justice and mercy here and now.

Jesus came into the world – the fallen world - to make things right in the world. Jesus was here to challenge injustice for the poor, for prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. Jesus was here to live out – to show us - God’s desire for things being just and right.

Isaiah tells us that God loves justice. But not just the sort of justice, that happens in a court room, where a wrongdoer gets the punishment they deserve. Sometimes we call it social justice.

The prophet Micah explained what God wants of us: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). If you think about it, they’re not three separate things – they’re three aspects to living as God wants us to live.

In our bible study over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about God’s peace – ‘shalom’ as we looked at other readings from Isaiah. The peace that Isaiah talks about an overarching peace in creation and relationships. Peace not just among nations or among people, but between all people, and between all people and God. Isaiah gives us a picture of restoring what is broken, and of bringing healing to those who are hurt.

Isaiah 61, refers to “the year of the Lord’s favour.” This is often understood as referring to the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year, after 7 sabbath years. (Every 7 years was a sabbath, after the 7th sabbath or year 49, there was the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year.) This was a year of rest for the land, forgiving debts, freeing slaves, restoring relationships.

That’s the sort of peace that Isaiah is talking about. The poor whose lives have for so long been filled with nothing but bad news get the gift of good news. Those who are in prison get their freedom. Sombre ashes get blown make way for colourful flowers.

We’re called to be part of this. We’re called to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. And we’re called to do it as individuals. And as a congregation. And as a church. And even as a society.

And not just sometimes. But all the time. If we are truly following Jesus, then we need to be living our lives as he wants us to live. Doing justice. Loving mercy. And walking humbly with God.

And they’re things that we can’t just do on Sunday mornings.

And it’s going to be hard. And sometimes its going to be hard to discern what the right way is.

But let’s not be too negative about it. Listening again to the words of Isaiah 61, there is work to be done, but there is also ample reward: comfort for those who mourn, gladness instead of sorrow, praise instead of despair.

Often we get preoccupied with what’s not working, or what’s not going right. But we need to remember and rejoice in what’s working. The gospel is literally good news, and we should be celebrating it. I think joy is the most neglected fruit of the spirit.

We can be daunted by the hard work that faces us. As a church we can feel insignificant in our society. We can be overwhelmed by all the things of the world.

But the tone of Isaiah 61 is positive: it looks to God’s triumph.

The justice and right living of Isaiah 61, of Jesus’ ministry, is something that we need to mindful of constantly. Every day. All the time. It’s part of the mission that Jesus calls us to.

We get to be part of Jesus’ mission, but the mission is not dependant on us. We are empowered to be part of that mission. Sometimes we’ll fail: but the mission won’t.

Our mission, like John’s mission, is to prepare the way: To prepare the way of justice and to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the hearts all people everywhere.

To the glory of God,


Prayers of Intercession

God, as we continue to prepare for Advent we did not know how, this year, what Advent would feel like, that we would feel the need to calm things down. That this year, the gardens, and the world would feel so different, perhaps it’s just that we are not yet ready for festivities, or this season’s not. Perhaps the tinsel on the tree is all a glitter on something false, and instead, there’s a drawing to the garden’s unkempt bed, where the real trees are adorned with nature’s rustic ornaments.

Perhaps we want to keep washing our hands, scrub them clean as a gardener in from outdoors. Perhaps we want to start again.

And maybe that is it, Advent’s truth in a nutshell, is the babe in virgin arms, new to a tired, unsure world.

God of hope, who brought love into this world, be the love that dwells between us. God of hope, who brought peace into this world, be the peace that dwells between us. God of hope, who brought joy into this world, be the joy that dwells between us. God of hope, the rock we stand upon, be the centre, the focus of our lives always, and particularly this Advent time.

Let us pray for the people of this world as we celebrate Christmas. May the Holy Spirit be with  those charged with the responsibility of governments  all over the world,  that they might rule in peace, justice and mercy,.   Give your wisdom on all who govern, that in honouring the earth and its diverse races, cultures, and religions, we may celebrate the light of this holy birth.

Let us pray for the Church around the world as it celebrates the birth of Christ. Bless all those who are entrusted with Christian ministry that your Word might be proclaimed with truth and courage across our world.

Smile upon those who will not enjoy Christmas this season, for whom life is a struggle for survival as a result of poverty, famine, disease, war, or the greed of others. We pray, too, for those striving to rebuild their lives after the devastation of natural disasters, terrorism and Covid-19. Be with those countries still struggling with this pandemic. We thank you that our Governments throughout Australia worked tirelessly together to keep us safe.

We pray for All Churches in Australia that with restrictions of numbers they may still be able to encourage and witness to those in our communities. We pray for our Uniting Church Synod and our Parramatta Nepean Presbytery as they keep us informed and up to date with Government regulations.

We pray for our neighbouring Churches that they all will be able to celebrate and witness to those living around them.

We pray for our Church here in Carlingford, the Church Council, and the JNC. We pray that the way forward may  stir us  to move with God’s calling ….., maybe God want US to make the first move, we can’t always just sit back and do nothing , we should realise God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as we accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it, IF we want the world to be a better place. We thank you for Richie and his leadership here at Carlingford, as he continues to lead us  through Advent with God’s message for us.

We remember now anyone known to us who are in special need of our prayers, and name them in a moment of silence ……. For others, the Lyle Family travelling to Perth, sadly to attend to the funeral of their son Andrew, for family members who are overseas and their need for our prayers , for Friends who are in hospital undergoing treatment, and for their Families and loved ones, for others who are sick or unwell at this time  may your arms surround them with your Love and Peace, that through your Spirit they might know your strength, your healing,  and your amazing love for them.

Lord, we give you thanks with a grateful heart.

God grant us the light of Christmas, which is faith;

The warmth of Christmas, which is purity; 

The righteousness of Christmas, which is justice;

The belief in Christmas, which is truth;

The ALL of Christmas, which is Christ.

Offering prayer

Almighty God,
All the riches of the earth are yours, all the riches of our lives are yours.
Accept the riches that we offer gladly to you, and we ask you to guide us in their wise and faithful use.
May the gifts that we offer here and elsewhere enable ministries that share the hope of your son with all people.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,


Benediction and blessing

As you go out into whatever the week has in store, go out to prepare the way for Jesus to enter into the lives and hearts of those around you.
May know the joy of Christ in your heart and show the joy of Christ in your lives.
And go with the blessing of God almighty; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Next Sunday (20 December 2020)

Bible Reading: Isaiah 11:1-5, Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 2:1-12
Theme: God’s Christmas Tree

Lectionary Readings for next Week
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 or Luke 1:47-55
Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38