Welcome to this Divine Service on the 3rd Sunday of Advent!
Prepare the way for the Lord. See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power. (Isaiah 40:3-10)
Liturgical greeting, Psalm 85:1-7, Prayer
Song: Christ whose glory fills the skies
Reading from the OT: Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort for God’s People
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The Word of God Stands Forever
6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
The Greatness of God
9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Song: Comfort, comfort now my people
Sermon: Luke 1:67-79
67 And John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
A sermon by Pastor Wolf von Kilian:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal 1,3)
Dear Sisters and Brothers
The third Sunday of Advent is dedicated to John the Baptist as different Bible translations call him. May I suggest that the description is inappropriate. John was neither a Baptist nor a Christian but a Jewish man and we should rather call him the Immerser. Immersion, according to Jewish understanding is different from a Christian baptism, because it is not a sacrament and can be repeated. Nevertheless, the life of John and his ministry is linked to Jesus’ mission and there are some similarities which we will find out later.
Let’s start with a simple question. Can you recall an event that changed your life? Meeting your future wife, getting the right job at the right time or buying shares at the right price which gave you peace of mind? How about your conversion, meeting the risen Lord in your own personal way? Life changing experiences are like cross-roads where you change directions and you also look at the world from a different angle. The event will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Let us look how God intervened in the life of Zechariah.
Zechariah was a priest by profession and serving the God of Israel in the temple of Jerusalem. According to the Gospel he was old and so was his wife, Elizabeth. We can deduct that Zechariah was between 50 and 60 years of age, so was his dear wife, Elizabeth. Both were committed to the Jewish way of abiding the law of Moses and following the regulations of the sages. However, one heartfelt issue was that they had no child because Elizabeth was barren. For a women she felt inferior when others started to talk proudly about their children. According to Jewish law, Zechariah could have divorced Elizabeth, but he was in love with her and remained a faithful husband.
If you are familiar with narrative of the fathers of faith then you know that barrenness was the problem of some women like Sarah or Hannah.
Now Zechariah was on duty in the temple and he was chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple, which was something like winning the lottery. It happened not to all the priests, but Zechariah was the lucky one this time.
He was allowed to enter the holy temple and he came as close as possible to the mercy seat of God. Think of it as a private audience with the Lord. Burning incense in the presence of God Almighty was a symbol of prayer and petitions with the request: Listen to our prayers and remember us!
During the burning of incense, an angel appeared to Zechariah and shared the most exciting news with the old priest. Your prayers are accepted by heaven, you shall live up to your name Zechariah which can be translated as : ‘God remembers’. You will father a son and his name will be John. He will be great in the eyes of the Lord and will be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in the power of Elijah. His mission will be to restore the hearts of the fathers and of the sons to the God of Israel.
Now the reaction of old Zechariah was disbelief, how will I know this for certain?
Imagine you would have a similar visitation and after that you would go home and announce to your wife: Honey , we are having a baby! Your wife’s response: Are you meshuga? Sit down and drink a cup of hot milk and I will call the doctor!
The old priest could not believe his ears and Gabriel punished him by striking him mute for his disbelief.
Zechariah had 9 months to reconsider what had happened and he was a broken man. Once in his life time the Lord had spoken so clearly to him by sending a personal message. He failed the test at his age.
9 months he was shrouded in solitude, repentance and meditation until the birth of his son.
2. John the Immerser
The eighth day was the day of circumcision and the day for naming the child. According to Jewish law he should have been little Zechariah but his father refused and wrote down on a tablet : His name shall be John, which means ‘God is merciful’.
On pronouncing this name, Heaven lifted the sanction against Zechariah and filled with the Holy Spirit he prophesied this wonderful oracle, which we read as our sermon text. This is the first part (V68-75) and the second deals specifically with his son John (V76-79): Blessed be the God of Israel for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.
What a wonderful Psalm and every line can be backed by the Old Testament. This is a praise of the faithfulness of God, who keeps his promises to Israel and to all generations. His word remains eternally and his reign endures forever. His kingdom is based on holiness and righteousness.
John was elected to become the forerunner of Jesus to prepare his way and to call Israel to repentance. His life was dedicated to the Lord to become a prophet and an evangelist. We do not know much about the upbringing of John, but for sure his parents did what good Jewish parents were doing. They cicrumcised him, taught him the Torah, enabled him to fulfil the commands and live a devoted life. Actually, John could have become a priest like his father but his calling was different. The Spirit of God prepared and formed him til he started his ministry next to the River Jordan.
The description of John’s appearance seems odd because he lived a secluded life in the desert. He looked like a cave man, did not cut his hair and instead of blue jeans and a T-shirt, he wore clothes made of camel hair. His food consisted of honey and locust. Perhaps not to everybody's taste!
He started with his ministry on the east side of the River Jordan, a reminder for the Israelites before the forefathers entered the promised land. Like an evangelist, he roared like a lion and his message was heard in Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee. People from all over Israel came, listened and were impressed. Why did they come?
Here was a prophet like Elijah calling the listeners to repentance and he did not mince his words. The short comings of the Israelites were apostasy, sexual immorality, greed, exploitation and corruption. With a sharp critique he condemned the Sadducees and Pharisees: You brood of vipers, bear fruits in keeping with repentance! What would you say if your pastor would call you that?
John knew exactly how the leadership of Israel operated and he pointed out their corruption and their sell out to the Romans. The office of the High Priest was sold by the governors and went to the highest bidder, eg. Caiaphas and Annas are well known for that. They collaborated with Rome like Herod the Great and later his sons. The leadership of Israel enriched themselves, trampling on the poor and uneducated. The Jewish faith was eroded and had lost its focus on the God of Israel.
John the Immerser preached without fear attacking and criticising priests, rulers and Israelites for disobeying the covenant.
Repentance according to John had to be a personal decision to turn away from the evil ways and choose the way of righteousness. Holy living and committing ones life in obedience to the Lord was the basic message. Immersion was a public sign of commitment, it did not cleanse the inner person by undergoing the procedure.
Immersion in the Jewish understanding did not clean a person from sin, but it was seen as a sign of purification. Only God can forgive sins after confession and a true repentance. Like Elijah his message was driven by a kind of urgency and holy fervour for the God of Israel and stern warning to the listeners. God will judge the whole earth and he will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not (Mal. 3, 18).
Faith, a life in righteousness and obedience had to go together and nothing has changed til today. God’s grace is sufficient and enables us to lead a holy life. This life on earth matters!
3. The message for today
Advent is the time of preparation. You can also say: Advent is a little lent. It is much more than the holidays, the gathering of families, good food and drink and enjoyment. The reason for the season is: God is coming and he reigns. He will fulfill his word and he calls us to change our lives. He speaks through daily circumstances on a personal level, through politics, through the news and mainly through his Word.
The corona pandemic stopped the whole business of the world. Life did not continue as usual. The lockdown gave us more or less 9 months, time to rethink our situation. Some people saw it as a wake up call of God, some couldn’t care less.
However, the weeks of Advent are a time of preparation and a call to restoration. God wants a reset of our lives and an alignment with his will.
John’s message is reminding us that his listeners should turn away from their evil ways and turn back to God. Knowing God, loving him and your neighbour and serving him should be the essence of our life.
Changing one’s life is a very concrete act and it means e.g. filling in your tax return honestly and paying your taxes, paying your employees and helpers at your workplace and at home a decent wage, adhering to the speed limit, giving generously to the church and the poor, learning how to listen to the word of God and studying diligently. Make time for God, give Him room and seek his presence.
Jesus honoured John the Immerser as a great man of God and as a prophet in the power of Elijah. The message of repentance was preached by both and after 2000 years the invitation remains the same: return to the path of righteousness, return to God.
Once Rabbi Eliezer, a great sage of Israel, gave a very good advice to his students. Finishing a talk on repentance he concluded : “Make sure that you repent one day before your death!” His disciples replied: “Does a man know on which day he will die? Today, tomorrow or in 30 years?” “Exactly”, answered the rabbi: “You don’t know therefore man should repent today”.
It means that a person should repent every day of his life, since he never knows which will be the day he will die.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding , keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phil.4,7
Song: Mary, did you know?
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Intercessory Prayer and Lord's Prayer
Heavenly Father, as once again we prepare for Christmas, help us to find time in our busy lives for quiet and thought and prayer, that we may reflect upon the wonder of your love and allow the story of the Saviour’s birth to penetrate our hearts and minds. So may our joy be deeper, our worship more real, and our lives worthier of all that you have done for us through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We pray for the church:
Grant that all who belong to your family may be enabled to renew their relationship with you this Advent season. Help us all to be glad of your presence, and to rejoice at the coming of Jesus.
May your blessing be upon all who worship with us, give us grace to live as faithful members of your family, that we may learn each day afresh to love and serve you
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for peace:
Give peace to the world
Give peace to the victims of war, the refugees, the widowed and the orphans.
Give peace to family and friends; to those who have quarreled and need to be reconciled.
Give peace in our own divided hearts.
We know that without justice there can be no peace.
Let peace come when all people are respected, regardless of race and religion.
Let peace come when trading weapons of mass destruction is a crime.
Let peace come when the earth’s resources are used wisely for the common good. Let peace come when money is used to serve and not enslave the world.
Let peace come through the transformation of our lives that we may do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Your Son came as the Prince of Peace and brought a message of Peace for all people. Help us to be peacemakers in our own homes, at our work or wherever we meet people, so that the peace and goodwill of Christmas can find a place in the hearts of all people.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for homeless people and for refugees who have no country to call their own. Let your blessing be with those who work to help the homeless this Christmas, and give to all of us the determination to help where we can.
We pray for people who are lonely,
those who are lonely because they have lost a partner,
those who are lonely because no-one seems to care,
those who are lonely because of handicap or illness.
Let your presence be with those who are alone at this season of friendship and may we take your friendship to those whom we know will be alone this Christmas.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for friends and family who are ill at this time, and remember them in the quietness of our hearts. We bring them to you in the confidence that you love them and know their every need and that your healing power is real. Bless all that is being done for their recovery and answer our prayers as you see best.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour and Brother, Jesus Christ.
Trusting in Jesus Christ, we join together in praying:
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.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
Song: Hallelujah (Christmas version)
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Postlude: Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
Segen und Frieden auf Ihre/deine Woche!
Blessings and peace to you this week!