An act of worship at home.
Reading Jeremiah 23:1-6
‘Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: ‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the Lord. ‘I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,’ declares the Lord.
‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.
That reading comes from a time when Jerusalem had fallen and Jeremiah was seeing this as God’s judgement. But even so Jeremiah is communicating God’s promise that He will give his people good leaders
instead of the bad ones who had brought them tragedy.
As one commentator wrote: ‘One of the characteristics of a prophet of God is that they see disaster where other people see peace, but also hope where other people see despair.’ In other words, there is the challenge to the people to stir themselves out of their complacency, but there is also the hope that there would be a future deliverance when all seemed lost. In Jerusalem’s darkest days Jeremiah never lost hope in God – and communicated that hope to God’s people.
In days gone by, when nearly everyone went to church, today was known by many as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. In the Church of England the opening words of the collect for the ‘Sunday Next Before Advent’ were ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’ and that was the cue after the service to go home and give the Christmas pudding mixture a really good stir. The preparations had begun.
Well, inevitably this years preparations will be different for us all. On the last Sunday of the church year we prepare ourselves for Advent just as Advent will be a time of preparation for Christmas.
Advent is coming and although it will be very different this year we can still use it as a time for spiritual growth; we may even find that we find it easier to focus on it’s true meaning.
And of course the arrival of Advent means that Christmas is coming.
Normally the coming weeks would be filled with Carol Services when we could come together singing with all our heart Carols, many of which bring back memories of childhood and the mesmerising twinkle of candles in the darkness, of being wrapped up in thick coat and scarf and gloves for our journey to church, or of times of worship in church if the heating wasn’t quite up to the job or we were sat too far away from the hot pipes.
For me, as for many of us, the Advent and Christmas services have always been some of the highlights of the year’s worship and are going to be hugely missed this year.
There has been speculation by press and media that Christmas might need to be cancelled this year, as though such a thing were possible.
Perhaps this year we will discover a new, deeper understanding to Christmas as, in our own homes we take the time to prepare ourselves to remember, to come to Christ and adore him, Immanuel, God with us, personally.
And as we prepare for Advent and for Christmas we can prepare ourselves too for what that will mean for us in the coming days.
When the days of Advent have come and gone, when Christmas Day itself has come and gone, there is still a great ‘not yet’. Jeremiah’s vision never came, or came only in part. Although God’s scattered people were in some measure gathered together and brought back home the time of security and prosperity under an ideal king ‘from David’s line’ never materialised. And even with a Christian understanding we still wait.
Christ had come, the transformation and redemption of the world has begun, God’s great future is yet to be.
We’re still waiting, but we do so in the sure and certain hope that God’s kingdom is coming.
We know it because Jesus, transforms our conception of the future, and, as Immanuel, waits with us.
Thank you Lord,
Living God, we pray for those who face the future with uncertainty or anxiety, those who fear it, who despair of it, or who feel they have no future. We pray for those in the troubled places of our world, those who long for peace, an end to conflict and a time of harmony. We pray for those who face trauma and upheaval in their lives what seemed secure swept from under them, what they had hoped for denied them, what they had trusted in proven false. We pray for those who doubt their ability to cope with what life may bring, those overwhelmed by pressures, paralysed by fears, crushed by sorrows We pray for those faced with difficult decision, circumstances beyond their control, unexpected dangers, awkward choices.
Living God, reach out to all for whom the future seems uncertain or unwelcome, and bring the assurance that even in the darkest moments, the greatest challenges, the most worrying times, you are there; able to bring light out of darkness, hope out of despair, joy out of sorrow, and good out of evil.
Grant the confidence that there is nothing in heaven or earth, in life or death, in the present or the future, that can separate us from your love.
‘The days are coming’, said Jeremiah, They surely are.
So we pray, in the words of that ‘Stir-up Sunday’ collect:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people; that they,
plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gracious God, continue to stir us up, we pray, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear Desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver;
born a child, and yet a King;
born to reign in us for ever;
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Charles Wesley (1707-88)
May the compassion of God thrill your hearts, the grace of God transform your minds, the peace of God flood your souls, and the love of God flow through your lives.
And may the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and forever more. Amen.