On Sunday December 7th I led worship at Pannal Chapel. The Advent candle was lit and we sang a couple of verses of the hymn before we sang ‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist cries.’ I led the opening prayers before I did the children’s address. Before worship began I hid a few stones and one big container with stones in for the children to find. A couple of brothers searched for the stones and soon most of the 10 little stones were collected and the one big container. I then explained that the stones represented wrong things we do; it was much harder to find the little stones than the one big stone. We might think little things we do wrong don’t matter as much as one big wrong thing like stealing lots of money, but it will be harder to put them right later if we don’t say we are sorry each time we do something wrong. 2 men went to visit an old wise man as they were both worried about what they must do to be forgiven for wrong things they had done. He suggested they collect to stones to represent what they had done wrong and one man collected one big stone, whereas the other man collected lots of little stones. The wise man asked them to take them back to where they had found them, which the one who had only one big stone found easier to do. We always remember when we have been really naughty and ask for forgiveness but unless we say we are sorry for the small wrong things we do each time we make those mistakes it will be more difficult to put them right later.
Before I blessed the children as they left for their groups we sang, ‘Give me joy in my heart keep me praising.’ We then heard the readings from Isaiah 40v1-11 and 2 Peter3v8-15a before we sang, ‘The kingdom of God is justice and joy.’ Before I preached the sermon we had the dramatised reading based on Mark 1v1-8.
Mark began his gospel with references to the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah which set the ministry of Jesus in context. The gospel was not compiled as a complete biography of John and Jesus but was the proclamation of the good news. The gospel has Jesus as central in the message proclaimed. It began with the preaching of John the Baptist after Mark quoted from Malachi 3v1; ‘I send my messenger before you and he will prepare the road for you.’ In Malachi’s day the priests were not offering the correct sacrifices and Malachi’s message was to tell them to cleanse themselves and offer correct sacrifices. In the same way John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus, leading the Jewish people to repentance, baptism and forgiveness and prepare them for a new start. Isaiah’s central message to the people was that their punishment was over and salvation was imminent for them. They would return from exile led by Yahweh. Such a day would see the return of the glory of the God leading not just the Jews but all nations. The weakness and frailty of the broken people in exile were given the promise of God’s word, reviving and restoring them to their home like a shepherd leading his flock.
It was not just John’s preaching which impressed the crowds who came in repentance to submit to baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but it was also his lifestyle. The Jewish people were waiting for the return of Elijah and saw the fulfilment of that expectation in John the Baptist. John was a man of the desert used to solitude and desolation which gave him a greater opportunity to hear God’s voice. He was dressed in the authentic garb of an Old Testament prophet. He ate a simple diet of locusts and wild honey. John had such authority that the people had to listen to him. He was humble as he recognised the fact that he was not worthy even to perform the slave’s duty of removing the sandals of the one who was to come. He asked for nothing for himself, rather he wanted people to be prepared to meet the one who was yet to come, who would baptise with the Holy Spirit, not just with water.
Peter was writing his letter to fellow followers of Jesus, who were getting impatient that he had not yet returned as he had promised. Peter told them that God’s timing was not the same as our timing, as 1000 years could be the same as one day to God. Peter also said that the delay was also for the benefit of the people, as God was giving us time to turn away from our sins and turn back to him. Verse 9 expresses God’s mercy and patience; ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ May we keep close to Jesus each day so we can be gradually transformed into his likeness and be ready each moment to meet him.
We sang ‘God’s spirit is in my heart, he has called me and set me apart,’ before I led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang ‘Rejoice the Lord is king.’
In the evening I attended Helen Lunn’s recognition service as a local preacher. Worship began as we sang, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ before the opening prayers. The choir sang the anthem, ‘Closer to you,’ before we sang, ‘O Come O come Emmanuel.’ Helen’s husband Matt read the reading from Isaiah and Helen’s brother read the reading from Luke’s gospel. Helen’s former tutor gave the sermon emphasising the message of hope and the charge from the Lord. We then sang ‘Go tell it on the mountain’ before Fran Page, the local preacher’s secretary formally recognised her as a fully accredited local preacher. We then sang the hymn specially chosen by Helen, ‘How wonderful, how marvellous.’ The prayers of intercessions were led by Helen’s minister Roberta Topham. Worship concluded when we had sung, ‘Is it I Lord’ and our superintendent minister Mark gave the blessing. It was a joyful occasion.