Monday, 4 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 10 December 2017

A stained-glass window in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris, depicting four Old Testament prophets (from left): Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next (10 December 2017) is the Second Sunday of Advent. The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday are: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8.

There is a direct link to the readings here.


Since the First Sunday of Advent (3 December 2017), we have been in Year B in the cycle of Scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. We began yesterday with Mark 13: 24-37, with Saint Mark’s account of the Coming of the Son of Man.

But on this coming Sunday, we return to the beginning of Saint Mark’s Gospel. While Saint John’s Gospel begins at the beginning of Creation (‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God,’ John 1: 1), Saint Mark, unlike Saint Matthew or Saint Luke, has no Nativity narrative, has no story of the first Christmas (see Matthew 1: 18 to 2: 23; Luke 1: 1 to 2: 40).

Saint Mark, on the other hand, begins his Gospel with this passage, his account of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John in the River Jordan, which comes later in the other three Gospels (see Matthew 3: 1-17; Luke 3: 1-21; John 1: 19-34).

Indeed, because there is no Christmas story in Saint Mark’s Gospel, the main lectionary reading for the Principal Service on Christmas Day is going to be the Nativity Narrative in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 1-14 or 1-10) or the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-14 or John 1: 1-18).

As we prepare for next Sunday, it is worth planning ahead and remembering that the theme for the Second Sunday of Advent is the Prophets and for the Third Sunday of Advent (17 December 2017) is Saint John the Baptist.

If we preach on Sunday next on Saint John the Baptist, we may find ourselves struggling with thematic continuity the following Sunday, when the Gospel story tells of Saint John baptising Christ in the River Jordan.

So, on Sunday next, it might be interesting to think on the Prophets as the theme of the day. This would allow us to say something significant about the second candle on the Advent wreath and allow us to develop the theme of the Prophets, perhaps referring to Saint John the Baptist as the fulfilment of the hopes spoken by the Prophets.

Then, on the following Sunday, we could develop this theme by looking at Saint John’s own promise and his prophetic role.

Introducing the readings:

The readings for Sunday 10 December 2017, the Second Sunday of Advent, are: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8.

Isaiah 40: 1-11

The Organ Trophy and a carving depicting 17 musical instruments in Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin ... the church is associated with Handel’s ‘Messiah’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This Old Testament reading is going to be familiar to many people, and will have immediate Christmas associations, because of the opening words of Handel’s Messiah:

1, Sinfonia (Overture)

2, Accompagnato


Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40: 1-3)

3, Air:


Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry moutain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40: 4)

4, Chorus:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40: 5)

Prophets like Isaiah were a thorn in the side of the Temple hierarchy, proclaiming that God is not impressed by burnt sacrifices, does not dwell in a house built by human hands, is not confined to one holy land. The prophets proclaimed that God’s reach extends across every land, God dwells wherever justice and peace are lived out in community, and that justice and peace is the only sacrifice God wants.

Isaiah 40 speaks of a voice in the wilderness crying out that the Lord is coming, and we are to prepare the way.

This passage is a vision that marks the beginning of the part of Isaiah that was written from exile in Babylon. In verses 1-2, God speaks. Because ‘comfort’ and ‘speak’ are in the plural in Hebrew, God speaks to a group, probably of angels, but possibly of prophets. In other words, God says something like ‘may you comfort.’

They are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. But the city is in ruins, so they are to speak to the idealised kingdom of God’s people. They are to tell them that their time of sorrow is over, that they have served their punishment for their waywardness, and that their Exile is about to end. A new era is dawning, and it is inaugurated by God’s Word.

In language that echoes the pomp of Babylonian royal pageantry in Babylon, a heavenly voice or the prophet announces in verses 3-5: ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ God is coming, and he is about to lead a new Exodus through the ‘wilderness’ and the ‘desert’ to a promised land. God’s presence will be displayed for all people to see (verse 5).

Then a voice commands the prophet to ‘Cry out!’ (verse 6). But he asks what shall he tell them. Notice in verse 7 the use of the word breath, which also means spirit (see Genesis 1: 2, where the wind of God sweeps over the waters of creation.

Even though people fade and wither, the Word of God stands for ever (verses 6-8). The prophet is told on behalf of Jerusalem to tell out the ‘good tidings,’ to tell out the good news: ‘Here is your God!’ (verse 9-10). He is like a shepherd who gathers the weak (‘the lambs’) and gently leads them.

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13

In this Psalm we are told of God’s restoration of the people, and God’s overwhelming forgiveness (verses 1-2).

In between the verses we are reading, there is a prayer that God may again show favour to the people (verses 4-7). Then the psalmist hears God promising that he will bless the people with peace and steadfast love, which shall be the visible signs of God’s presence and power (verses 8-13).

II Peter 3: 8-15a:

The Epistle reading is written by Saint Peter at the end of his life. Aware that he is going to die soon, the apostle leaves an assurance of the fulfilment of God’s promises and a testimony of what being a Christian means as we wait for Christ to come again.

The writer says that the apparent delay in Christ’s coming is merely a delusion in time, for God does not measure time in the way we do (verse 8). Instead, God wishes all to be found worthy at the Last Day, and does not want any to perish. He is waiting patiently for all to repent of their waywardness (verse 9), but the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly, like a thief (verse 10).

The images of the end-times are drawn from popular Jewish and Greek philosophy of the day (see verse 10b).

The end is coming, what should our conduct be as we wait? The end is not annihilation, but ushers in ‘new heavens and a new earth.’

As we wait for this, we should be signs of it, being at peace, being ethically and spiritually perfect, prepared for Christ’s coming. His apparent delay is an opportunity for repentance and for attaining salvation.

Saint John the Baptist baptises Christ in the River Jordan ... a detail from a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading (Mark 1: 1-8):

We have seen the work of God, the Word and the Spirit in unison in the Old Testament reading. Now the story of the Baptism of Christ is the first revelation of the Trinity to the creation in the New Testament and is like the story of a new creation.

All the elements of the creation story in the Book Genesis are here: we know we are moving from darkness into light; the shape of the earth moves from wilderness to beauty as we are given a description of the landscape; there is a separation of the waters of the new creation as Jesus and John go down in the waters of the Jordan and rise up from them again; and as in Genesis, the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters of this beautiful new creation like a dove.

And then, just as in the Genesis creation story, where God looks down and sees that everything is good, God looks down in this Theophany story and lets us know that everything is good.

Or, as Saint Mark says: And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11).

God is pleased with the whole of creation, God so loved this creation, κόσμος (kosmos), that Christ has come into it, identified with us in the flesh, and is giving us the gift and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

The Birth of Saint John the Baptist … an icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Anopolis (1670), in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Both Saint Mark and Saint John have little interest in the first Christmas story. In this reading, Saint Mark begins telling the Good News with quotations from the Old Testament. God had promised the Israelites a ‘messenger’ (verse 2) to lead them. Tradition says that Saint John baptised near Jericho, in an arid region. People came to him in large numbers, repenting (changing their mind sets), ‘confessing their sins’ (verse 5), resolving to sin no more, and dipping or plunging themselves into the river.

Saint John dresses like a hermit or prophet (verse 6), yet sees himself as unworthy, compared to ‘the one who ... is coming’ (verse 7), so unworthy that he cannot untie his sandals, a task normally performed by a slave.

The Sadducees and the priests in the Temple believed that the blood spilled in the Temple sacrifices was sufficient to atone for all sins. The Pharisees said that God welcomes converts from any nation who wants to join God’s people and walk in accordance with God’s Torah.

On the other hand, Saint John the Baptist, who bases himself outside Jerusalem in the wilderness by the banks of the Jordan River, proclaims to all who listen that forgiveness is available to any who repent and are baptised. No Temple sacrifice is necessary. According to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, John the Baptist teaches that in God’s eyes blood ties to Abraham are of no account. The High Priest needs the baptism of repentance just as much as a Gentile convert does, and Abraham’s inheritance is there for anyone who receives the offer of it through that baptism.

John’s baptism is a sign of purification, of turning to God, of accepting God’s forgiveness and judgment; Christ’s baptism re-establishes a spiritual link between God and humanity. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

An icon of Saint John the Baptist by Adrienne Lord in a recent icon exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

To us, Saint John the Baptist comes to prepare for, and to announce, Christ’s coming. But if all we expect from the coming of Christ and Christ’s work among us is finding forgiveness for sin, finding a relationship with God, and joining God’s people if we are willing to repent and experience conversion, then we are in for a surprise. As the opening verse of the Gospel reading tells us, this is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is only the beginning.

During this Advent season, we expect the coming of Christ and the fulfilment of his reconciling work on earth. As the Epistle reading (II Peter 3: 8-15a) tells us, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home, where God’s justice is done (verse 13).

Christ is coming and is reconciling the whole world, each of us with one another and with God. His is coming with a vision of a world in which all of the barriers that separate us – poor and rich, North and South, male and female, Jew and Gentile, nation and nation – will be no more.

His coming is just the beginning of the Good News. Let us prepare the way of the Lord: cast down the mighty and raise up the lowly, let justice and righteousness go before him, let peace be the pathway for his feet, do justice and make peace. And let this be just the beginning.

The Advent Wreath on the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):

The Execution of Saint John the Baptist … an early 18th century icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Anopolis, in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first candle to light on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent was the Purple Candle, recalling the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The purple second candle, which we light next Sunday, represents the Prophets.

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the second candle:

The Prophets:

O God of history,
who has spoken through the prophets;
we pray for mothers in Ghana
who have learned to protect their children from cholera.
Bless those who bring life-saving knowledge
and bless families whose children are now healthy and full of life.

Saint John the Baptist and the Prophet Isaiah … a window in Saint John’s Church, Wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical resources:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)


Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:


Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:


Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

This collect is said after the Collect of the day until Christmas Eve:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Isaiah 40: 1-11 [6-24]:

120: Comfort, comfort ye my people
122: Drop down, ye heavens, from above
644: Faithful shepherd, feed me
6: Immortal, invisible, God only wise
535: Judge eternal, throned in splendour
134: Make way, make way for Christ the King
141: These are the days of Elijah

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13

695: God of mercy, God of grace
536: Lord, while for all the world we pray
49: Lord, bring the day to pass
539: Rejoice, O land, in God thy might
140: The Lord will come and not be slow

II Peter 3: 8-15a

567: Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
162: In the bleak mid-winter
164: It came upon the midnight clear
634: Love divine, all loves excelling
537: O God, our help in ages past

Mark 1: 1-8:

126: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
419: I am not worthy, holy Lord
134: Make way, make way for Christ the King
136: On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
491: We have a gospel to proclaim
204: When Jesus came to Jordan

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