Sunday November 28th 2021
A warm welcome to worship on the first Sunday of Advent.
Hymn 273 O come O come Emmanuel
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Loving God we are in awe and give grateful thanks
for all the good things in life.
We know we don't always get things right.
When we lose focus and direction,
set us back on the right path of love.
When we feel cross, and bitter words leave our lips,
remind us of the abundance of your love
When we feel overwhelmed by daily tasks,
show us the power of stillness;
empower us with inner, quiet strength.
When we turn from you,
turn us gently back so that our focus is on you, on love, on light, on the
goodness at the heart of all creation through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying Our Father…
Hymn 290 The race that long in darkness pined
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 5: 16-19
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Hymn 277 Hark the glad sound
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
One of the things that has intrigued me over the years as I’ve been studying and meditating on the New Testament story is the way almost all the New Testament writers emphasize the idea of “newness”. Jesus tells his disciples that he is giving them a new commandment: that they should love one another. He suggests that his message is like new wine that cannot be put into old wine skins. St Paul says the great promise of Jesus is “newness of life”, and in Revelation we are told that in the end God will make all things new.
This has always seemed to me one of the most important and attractive aspects of Christianity. After all, what could be wrong with newness?
And yet the New Testament also shows again and again that Jesus and his disciples faced stubborn resistance in many quarters to the newness which they offered, and I’ve often wondered why. But over the past months I’ve begun to get an inkling of a possible answer and it comes from observing a very common experience that many people go through in their lives – moving house.
A few weeks ago my parents moved house. After nearly forty years owning a home in St Andrews, they decided that the time had come for a change. They were down-sizing from a home with a garden a few minutes’ walk from the beach to a more manageable third-floor flat in Edinburgh near the great Crewe Toll Roundabout.
When David and I visited them last week, they were still in the process of settling in, and what a settling-in it has been! Cardboard boxes piled everywhere, nothing where it should be, and things that were a necessary part of life a month or two ago having now mischievously hidden themselves somewhere or other, or perhaps been lost for good. Putting their new life together seemed a bit like assembling a large jig-saw puzzle without quite knowing what the picture was supposed to be. In some ways they were almost like refugees in their own home.
And that was only for starters, because of course beyond their flat lay an entirely new environment---new neighbours, new streets, new shops, new bus routes, new places to walk the dog, even a new way of parking their car. And in the larger picture, there were questions about where to find a church to worship on Sundays, questions about the cultural life that Edinburgh offers, questions about organising travel and holidays from Edinburgh. In fact there seemed to be nothing but questions, and I have to confess there were times when I wondered whether moving was really worth the hassle for them.
The old way of life, after all, was manageable and they knew St Andrews like the back of their hands, whereas a new life in Edinburgh threw up the challenge of newness at every turn. Newness requires learning all over again things you thought you knew perfectly well. Newness requires a willingness to explore, and discover, and understand things that can sometimes be surprising and even disconcerting. And newness requires above all a willingness to recognise that perhaps the old way needs to be changed to fit the new world that you find yourself in.
None of that is easy, even if you’re only choosing to move house from one part of the country to another. Imagine how much worse it would be for the millions of real refugees fleeing the turmoil unleashed, for example, by the British and American attack on Iraq in 2003 or the involvements in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and other places where people’s settled lives have been turned upside down forever by foreign interference. My parents chose to change their lives, but how much worse must it be when change is forced upon you in far-reaching and drastic ways, whether you like it or not.
And yet, in spite of all that, we must also recognise that there is another side to the challenge of change. Along with its disruptiveness and difficulty, newness can also offer opportunity. And opportunity can offer the chance of something better.
And here, I think, we can begin to grasp the problem that confronted many people in Palestine when Jesus appeared among them at that first Christmas 2000 years ago. Right from the beginning of the Christmas story it was clear that something big was happening, something new and life-changing. The shepherds tending their flocks by night could see that, and so could the wise men travelling from the East. And yet nobody fully understood what all this meant and it was only with the passage of the years that Jesus, in his life and ministry, gradually revealed just how tremendous the change he was offering actually was.
Jesus himself said in the Gospel of John (10:10) that he came to bring people life in all its fullness, but he also indicated that this life would come because, as he put, they would be “born again in the Spirit” (John 3:7). In a spiritual sense, Christians would be new-born into a new life. The life promised by Jesus would be something new and different from the life people had known before, and I think St Paul was right to refer to this as a promise of “newness of life”.
As the ministry of Jesus progressed, it became increasingly clear that this “newness of life” meant a radical challenge to the old way of life for many people who were quite settled and comfortable living as they always had lived. The challenge of Jesus for some people, like the Scribes and the Pharisees, was so disruptive that in the end they even plotted his death rather than accept the chance he offered for a better life.
But others, like the disciples and all the thousands of people who eventually gathered to hear his message by the lakeside in Galilee or in the streets of Jerusalem, could see the opportunity which newness presented, the opportunity for a life refocussed, transformed, and enriched beyond anything they known before. As one Bible commentator has said, “the God of the Bible is emphatically the God of new beginnings.” For those who were daring enough, and resilient enough, to commit themselves to the change Jesus promised, and to let that promise work in their lives, nothing was ever the same again.
And for many that change came none too soon. We tend, I suppose, to imagine the people who gathered around Jesus as being rather like ourselves: reasonably comfortable, relatively well-off, educated, as we are, while at the same time willing to approach life with a certain blithe spirit of adventure. But many of the people who came to Jesus were really in quite a different situation. We see again and again in the New Testament Jesus encountering people who were at the end of their tether---sick in mind or body, oppressed, poor, despised for being the people life had made them. For them change was not merely an attractive alternative---it was a necessity. For them, a life unchanged had become an unbearable life, and it was at that point that Jesus met them and took them by the hand to lead them towards newness of life.
This was what that first Christmas in Bethlehem really promised to mankind. Many people saw this at the time, and many more should have seen it. And one might make the same observation today. Millions of people around the world see the great opportunity Christmas offers for a better and richer life. But many others still do not see all that the coming of Jesus meant, and so, as the great Christmas hymn says, we find ourselves, even now, in a place where
“with the woes of sin and strife,
the world has suffered long;
beneath the angels’ hymn have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and warring humankind hears not
the love-song which they bring…”
As we enter the Advent season this year, the truth of those words is still painfully evident. And those words continue to remind us that the opportunity for newness of life which Jesus offers remains the greatest challenge, and the greatest promise, that Christmas brings once more to us and to the world.
Hymn 303 It came upon the midnight clear
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (Gwen)
Hymn 475 Christ is coming
May the hope of Advent fill your hearts and your homes. And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all, this day and forevermore, Amen
Closing voluntary: For unto us a child is born from Handel’s Messiah
Tarff and Twynholm Guild
The next meeting of the Guild at Tarff and Twynholm will be held on Tuesday 7th December at 7.30pm in the Church Hall. The theme is “Light of Christmas Past- Celebrations through the Ages” with carols, readings, traditions and memories, followed by non alcoholic mulled punch or tea/coffee and mince pies and shortbread. Please wear a mask when singing and, because food is being served, contact details will be taken for Track and Trace. All are welcome.
This is advance warning of our next Food Bank collection on Tuesday 7th December, 9 - 9.30 am, at Kirkcudbright Parish Church. Please note this is a week earlier than the usual 2nd Tuesday of the month. This is to allow us time to make up Christmas boxes for delivery during Christmas week.
At this collection we will be grateful for all food stuffs - except tea, biscuits and pasta (of which we still have excessive stock) but we are particularly short of small packets of cereal (eg pack of 12 Weetabix or similar) and tinned vegetables. Please mark food items clearly with their expiry date as this makes the sorters' task much easier.
You might also like to bring items for our Christmas boxes. As well as basic food stuffs in each box, we include extra Christmas food treats (eg mince pies, cake, salmon, ham etc) as well as a small gift for each member of the family.
Please ensure that food items are well within Christmas/New Year date, as these boxes are not distributed until Christmas week. Gifts need not be wrapped but, if you do, please indicate a suitable recipient - adult or child, gender and, for children, an approximate age. This helps us to make sure each person gets an appropriate present.
Thank you for your continuing amazing generosity. It is always appreciated - but even more so at this time of year.
You can bring foodbank donations to Church in Gatehouse or Twynholm next Sunday, December 5th.