Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 29 November 2020, 10am

Morning Worship on Zoom

Advent Sunday

 

'A sign of hope'

Genesis 9.1-17

Speaker: James Cook

Series: Genesis 1-11

 

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Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

 

‘A Sign of Hope’

 

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, in which we recall the hope we have in Christ. 

On this Sunday, we’re often reminded how God told Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, because he trusted and put his hope in God. But today, continuing our series from Genesis, we’re also reminded of the sign of God’s hope that was given to Noah, assuring him that there could always be a new beginning.  

Later on in the Old Testament records, it becomes clear that this new beginning would point to the coming of Christ, to a Saviour being born, a king in the line of King David. He would rule the world wisely and bless all the nations. 

In Advent, especially as we light our Advent candles, we restate our belief in God’s promise to send Jesus again to this world to establish his kingdom upon the earth.  So do be ready with your own candle and be ready to light it at the place it says in the service…

 

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION       

Leader: Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you.

All:        And also with you.

 

HYMN: Hills of the North, rejoice  accompaniment here

 

LIGHTING THE FIRST ADVENT CANDLE

 

Leader: Today is the First Sunday of Advent, 

             in which we recall the hope we have in Christ.

Our hope in Christ is not limited by time or space;

so wherever we are let’s now light

our own first Advent candle…

 

Leader: People of God: awake!

The day is coming soon

when you shall see God face to face.

Remember the ways and the works of God.

God calls you out of darkness

to walk in the light of his coming.

You are God’s children.

All:        Lord, make us one as we walk with Christ

today and for ever.

Amen.

 

PSALM 80 verses 1-8

   

All:        Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

CONFESSION

Leader:   When the Lord comes,

he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness,

and will disclose the purposes of the heart.

Therefore in the light of Christ let us confess our sins.

          cf 1 Corinthians 4.5

Leader:   Heavenly Father,

you have created a universe of light:

forgive us when we return to darkness.

Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Lord Jesus,

you are the light of the world:

cleanse and heal our blinded sight.

Christ, have mercy.

All:        Christ, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Holy Spirit,

you give us light in our hearts:

renew us in faith and love.

Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader: Almighty God,

who in Jesus Christ has given us

a kingdom that cannot be destroyed,

forgive us our sins,

open our eyes to God’s truth,

strengthen us to do God’s will

and give us the joy of his kingdom,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Mark chapter 13 verses 24-37 or listen here

The Coming of the Son of Man 

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Speak O Lord as we come to you 

 

SECOND READING

Genesis chapter 9 verses 1-17 or listen here

Noah and the Sign of God’s Hope

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

‘THE RAINBOW: A SIGN OF HOPE’ (James Cook)

Genesis 9.1-17

You’ll remember the media frenzy a few weeks ago when Pfizer announced that their vaccine protected more than 90% of people from developing symptoms of the coronavirus. Will that day become one of those days about which people will ask, ‘Where were you that day the coronavirus vaccine was first declared effective?’ Of course, the Government quickly came on air to say that there were many hurdles still to get through, there was no guarantee of success; but nonetheless, it was a moment that brought a glimmer, however faint, of hope that this pandemic, and all the misery it’s left in its wake, can one day come to an end. And how appropriate to have that glimmer of hope as we returned again into a second lockdown. 

As it is, the longer this pandemic drags on, the more it feels as though it’s never going to end. We stop bothering to make any plans, because is there any point in doing so? And so we’re left with nothing to look forwards to, and no end in sight. And that lack of any hope is so debilitating. We humans seem to be so wired that we need hope, we need a sense of something to work towards, to keep us going. It’s a common narrative of adventure stories: the hero gets to the point where they just feel they cannot continue any more, it’s all just got too much, and they sink to their knees in despair. But then, they see or hear something that seems to promise an end to their quest, and reenergised by a renewed resolve, they pick themselves back up off their feet, and continue on their quest. We need hope; without it, what do we have to live for?

As we have already heard, today marks the beginning of Advent, the season in the Church’s calendar when we are reminded, in the dark, bleak days of winter, that the spring of a new age will one day come, and indeed even in the here and now we can taste and see the Kingdom of Heaven breaking through. It is a season of hope, a season of expectant watching, watching for those glimmers of light in the darkness that are foretastes of the age to come.

A MESS

Today, we also continue in our readings through the early chapters of Genesis, and today we’ve arrived at what is perhaps the first moment when humanity is given a glimmer of hope by God. Over recent weeks, we’ve seen how God created a perfect world, a world that he could declare was very good. But then, one act of disobedience, one act of mistrust, and humanity began to spoil that good and perfect creation. Before long, things descended to such a pitch that one person ruthlessly murdered another, and that beautiful world that God had made was looking bleaker and more rotten by the moment. Then came that awful, terrible moment last week, when God said effectively ‘enough is enough’, and he sent a devastating flood to cleanse the world of all the wickedness – all the ‘Zombeyism’, as Phil put it – that had taken root within it. God preserves the life of one righteous man, Noah, and his family; but we can’t help wondering whether keeping him alive is really going to change much. It’s a bit like if you’ve ever done pottery throwing, and you’re making this beautiful bowl, perfectly shaped, but then you make one tiny mistake, and the whole thing spins out of control, and try as you might to save it, you end up just making it worse, and sooner or later you have no choice but to chuck it. We’re pretty much at that point in the narrative of Genesis: things have spiralled out of control such that there seems to be little of God’s perfect creation left to salvage. Things look bleak for the human race. All seems hopeless.

And then we get to chapter 9. Chapter 9 is like the pottery teacher leaning over to you in your despair and saying, ‘No, it’s alright, it’s not quite all spoilt yet’, and they show you some little thing you can do that can begin to set right the mess you’ve made. It’s that point in the story when we might be feeling in despair for the prospects of humanity, and indeed creation as a whole, but God steps in for the first time and says, ‘Don’t despair: I’m not giving up on this world; this mess will be set right.’

And it’s clear that the mess is not insubstantial. Although there are some echoes of God’s words to Adam in the perfect days of chapter 1, with the command ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, it’s also clear that things are now very different and much darker. The animal kingdom now lives in fear and dread of the very ones who’d been appointed to govern and tend them. There’s a recognition too, a few verses later, that the murder of Abel by Cain in chapter 4 was by no means the first murder: this is now a world of violence and murder. To try and hold back this tide of bloodshed, God has to lay down the principle of the sanctity of life. Even animal life is to be respected: while God gives permission for the eating of meat, the prohibition on eating meat with the blood in is a way of respecting that this was a living being that we’re consuming. But it’s human life that’s most to be respected, for it’s humans alone that are made in the very image of God. These verses remind us of the preciousness before God of each individual human life. 

A COVENANT

And so we get a picture here of a humanity that has messed up, that has spoiled the good, perfect world that God in his love made for us to enjoy. And God’s response is astonishing. First, he renews the responsibility he gave to Adam and Eve for humans to steward his creation, despite them having spoiled it once already. If Phil went away on holiday and left me in charge of St Andrew’s, and I completely ruined everything, I’m not sure Phil would be all too ready to leave me in charge again! But here is God, graciously giving us a second chance – or rather he daily gives us fresh chances, for daily we continue to spoil the world he has made.

Secondly, if you look at verse 9, he enters into a covenant with Noah and his descendants. A covenant is relational contract in which individuals make commitments to each other. Marriage is a type of covenant. You’d probably think twice before entering into a contract with someone who’d messed things up, but here God willingly enters into a covenant with Noah and all the human race. God promises to Noah, and to us, that (v. 11) ‘never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ It is God’s clear “yes” to his creation. Back in chapter 6, we may have been forgiven for thinking that God was just about ready to give up on the whole creation project. But no. His covenant with Noah was his definitive commitment to the world and the people he has made, regardless of how bleak and rotten things might appear to get. His covenant with Noah is his declaration that he has not and will not give up on this world. 

A SIGN

But, when we look around us and everything seems so bleak and so rotten, we can so easily fall to our knees in despair and think there is no point in carrying on. And so God, in his extraordinary grace, established a sign to remind us that he has not given up, and so nor should we – there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The sign he established was the rainbow, that beautiful display of light that always comes after the misery of a downpour, and is seen against the backdrop of dark clouds. It’s at that very moment when the weather seems bleakest that God graciously gives us the sign of hope, the sign that this is not the end, the sign that God has not given up on his world, whatever the appearances might seem. It is the glimmer of hope to lift our spirits and give us reason to press on to another day. 

The Hebrew word, like the English, is the same word that is used for a bow-and-arrow, and though not all agree on this interpretation, I quite like the idea that this is God hanging up his bow in the sky, hanging up his weapons that he had used to destroy the world he’d made. More than that, if you think about it, the bow is pointing upwards, pointing as it were towards God himself (if we think of God as ‘up there’), as if to say that he’s putting himself in the firing line rather than us. But this was, of course, no empty gesture. Several thousand years later it was our God who put himself in the firing line of all our wickedness and sin by dying for us on a cross that we might be forgiven and set free, as he made a new covenant with us by his blood. Three days later, he rose again, the beginning of the restoration of this world from its bondage to decay, the fulfilment of what we see a first glimmer of here in Genesis 9: God’s unwavering commitment to his creation, to us. 

And today we have more signs of God’s grace, his commitment to us. How sad it is that we can’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper in these days, how we need that constant reminder of the depth of God’s commitment to us that we see in the broken body and poured-out blood of the Lord Jesus. But, just because we don’t have the sign, doesn’t mean we don’t have the reality. However you’re feeling as we enter Advent, as you look around and see a world that feels so precarious and uncertain, and weather that feels so bleak and dark, know that we are not without hope. Not some vague optimism, but the sure and certain hope of the Gospel, grounded in what Christ has already done for us.

And may that hope bring us to our feet, revive our spirits, give us the courage to face our fears and energise us with a vision that tomorrow will be better than today, as we see, against the backdrop of this bleak world, the brilliance of God’s grace for us bursting through.

 

A version of this sermon in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 29 November.

 

HYMN: Christ be our light 

 

PRAYERS 

 

As our response in the prayers today 
the following refrain will be sung:

 

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.

 

‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope’ (Romans 15.4).

‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’

(Romans 12.2).

 

Leader:    Lord of Hope, hear our prayer.

All:           Refrain

 

Everlasting God, as we come before you at the start of the Season of Advent we ask you to prepare us for the coming, of your son Jesus Christ and to hear us when we pray in faith for the needs of the Church and the world and to thank you for your goodness.

Drive away despair from our politics, revive our dreams of justice and truth, and restore our passion for what is good and right.

Establish your just and gentle rule throughout the world especially where there is conflict; where peace seems so far away and so many have lost everything, even the faint hope of a peaceful future. Govern the hearts and minds of all world leaders and those in authority that they may act justly, honestly and according to your will especially at this time of the global pandemic.

 

Leader:    Lord of Hope, hear our prayer.

All:           Refrain

 

Loving Lord, bring healing and life to all who are oppressed, groan or suffer pain.  Comfort all victims of intolerance, injustice and oppression.  Look with mercy on those who flee from danger, the refugees, those who are homeless and those who are hungry. We remember especially today the relief agencies and charities, and all those involved in bringing relief and hope as they seek to make a difference for the men and women they serve. May they know that your guiding hand is with them in their daily work and tireless endeavours.

We ask you to help us all to use our gifts and our talents to the greater good of all, challenge us to drive away complacency and apathy when we know in our hearts that we can do more to help and sustain those in need.

We pray for those amongst our families, friends and neighbours who will only see in Advent a hectic and worrying run-up to the excesses of a secular Christmas.  Help us as we try to set an example of a true spirit of preparation for that incredibly precious gift of the Christ-child.  May they see in our Services, our Carols and Christingles, whether in church or online, the true meaning of Christmas and experience your love for them through the giving of your Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Leader:    Lord of Hope, hear our prayer.

All:           Refrain

 

Holy God, we pray for your church today, gathering worldwide to praise you and to hear your holy word; give us a sense of expectation as we come and inspiration as we go.

We pray for your blessing on all those who lead, preach and teach and we pray especially for our own clergy here at St Andrew’s as they seek to do your will and guide us through our spiritual and worldly journey through Advent, until the day when we celebrate together the birth of your Son on Christmas Day.

 

Leader:    Lord of Hope, hear our prayer.

All:           Refrain

 

Lord God, whose Son Jesus Christ, understood people’s fear and pain before they spoke of them, we pray for those who are suffering in body, mind and spirit.

We pray for others for whom this day will seem long and hard, for those in hospital or ill at home, those struggling with despair or depression, those seeking work, and for those for whom this day may be their last.

Comfort and heal all who suffer, especially at this time of the Covid 19 pandemic, give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation. We especially pray for the Coronavirus situation and the procedures that have been put into force to try to halt its spread. Help us all to be responsible in the things that we do in our lives to prevent the spread of the virus by taking heed of the recommended precautions and avoidingsituations which may make things worse. Bring comfort and peace to those who are worried, fearful and uncertain as the virus spreads, and watch over those in the health service and in social care who may be risking their own lives to care for sick patients.

 

Gracious God, through the death of your Son Jesus Christ, 

you have freed us from the grip of the tomb. 

We pray that through your loving kindness 

you may hold and sustain in hope and peace 

all who mourn the loss of a loved one.

You turn our darkness into light,

and in your light shall we see light.

Advent Lord come even nearer.

Come to rejuvenate our faith, 

come to fortify our social conscience, 

come to widen our eyes of wonder, 

so that when the Saviour comes 

he may steal into our hearts and find them ready.
 

Leader:    Lord of Hope, hear our prayer.

All:           Refrain

 

A Collect for Today

 

Leader: Almighty God,

as your kingdom dawns,

turn us from the darkness of sin 

to the light of holiness,

that we may be ready to meet you

in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

All       Amen.

 

Leader: As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

All       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.

Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

HYMN: Lo he comes with clouds descending  

 

CLOSING PRAYERS

 

Leader:   Jesus came to Galilee, 

proclaiming the good news of God, and saying,

‘The time is fulfilled, 

and the kingdom of God has come near; 

repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

Mark 1.14,15

 

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All:        Praise to you, O Christ.

 

Leader:   Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you,

scatter the darkness from before your path,

and make you ready to meet him 

when he comes in glory;

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   With love and compassion,

All:        come, Lord Jesus.

 

Leader:   With judgement and mercy,

All:        come, Lord Jesus.

 

Leader:   In power and glory,

All:        come, Lord Jesus.

 

Leader:   In wisdom and truth,

All:        come, Lord Jesus.

                                               

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. How might it feel to have the pottery teacher lean over you and show you how to put the mess right?  

 

  1. How is the promise of God’s commitment to his creation an encouragement to you?

 

  1. What could you do this Advent to help you hold on to the hope we have in Christ?

 

 

 

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