Into the Neighbourhood - The Coming Kingdom of Joy
The third of the Hope and History Advent Candle Liturgies that we will be using in Belfast South Methodist this morning as an introduction to our "Gift Service", where members of the congregation bring gifts for the Belfast Central Mission Christmas Gift Appeal. These gifts go to help families facing less than "joyful" circumstances, and will hope fully brighten up some young people's lives this Christmas. But real joy is not to be found at the foot of a Christmas tree wrapped in gaudy paper, at the bottom of a bottle or on a table laden with food. Real joy, from a Christmas perspective is something that is independent of material circumstances, but one day we can know perfect joy when we are in tune with our creator and the rest of creation. That is as much of a sermon that I am offering here this morning. You will have to come to Belfast South Methodist if you want more... But if you scroll to the bottom you will find a wonderful rendition of "Joy to the World" performed by Aaron Neville and The Blind Boys of Alabama.
VOICE 1: The wasteland and the no-go zones will be glad;
VOICE 2: the barren wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
VOICE 1: Like a crocus, it will burst into bloom,
Herald of the coming spring.
VOICE 2: The awesome wonder of God’s creation will be restored,
VOICE 1: the splendour of nature will be seen in all its technicoloured glory.
VOICE 2: Exercise the hands that have grown feeble,
VOICE 1: Work on those wobbly knees;
VOICE 2: say to those with fear-filled hearts,
"Be strong, do not be afraid; your God is coming,
he is on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs
to bring judgement and salvation."
VOICE 1: Then blind eyes will be opened and deaf ears unstopped.
VOICE 2: The lame will leap like a deer, and the voiceless will break into song.
VOICE 1: Springs of water will burst forth in the wasteland
VOICE 2: and streams will irrigate the barren land.
VOICE 1: Burning sand will become an oasis
VOICE 2: Parched ground will bubble with water.
VOICE 1: And even the dark haunts where jackals preyed,
Will become a place of growth and refreshment.
VOICE 2: And the King’s highway will be there;
VOICE 1: it will be called the Way,
VOICE 2: the Way of Holiness.
VOICE 1: The unclean will not walk on it;
VOICE 2: Only those who follow the Way;
VOICE 1: The wicked and the foolish will not use it;
VOICE 2: Predators will not prowl along it.
VOICE 1: But only those bought out of slavery will walk there,
VOICE 2: Those whom the Eternal I Am has ransomed from captivity will return along it.
VOICE 1: They will enter God’s holy city with a song on their lips
VOICE 2: And their heads will be crowned with everlasting joy.
VOICE 1: Gladness and joy will overwhelm them,
VOICE 2: and sorrow and sighing will be banished.
From Isaiah 35:1-10
VOICE 1: We lit the first two candles
in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of peace and justice.
Now we light the third candle
as a celebration of the joy that kingdom will bring
in place of despair
and as a symbol of our commitment
to rejoice in the Lord at all times
in this neighbourhood.
Glens of the north, rejoice;
river and moorland-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing:
Christ comes, the promised Prince of Peace;
To rule and make all conflict cease.
Hills all across the south
Welcome the coming king,
Hear the words of his mouth;
Justice and peace they bring:
He comes the humble poor to raise,
Let every voice proclaim his praise.
Lands to the east, awake,
soon you shall all be free;
the chains of slav’ry break,
and rise to liberty.
In all your towns, cold, damp and grey,
will dawn that promised joyous day.
VOICE 2: Let us pray:
We look forward with joy, O Lord
To your kingdom of peace and justice
When crying and mourning will be no more,
And all tears will be wiped away.
There is a time to weep and there is a time to rejoice.
We humbly admit that in the past
we have got our timing wrong.
At times we have celebrated when we should have lamented,
And at times we wallowed in the doom, misery and despair abroad in the world,
rather than rejoicing in the great good news of Jesus Christ.
We pray that you would forgive us
and heal the hurts that prevent us from
weeping with all those who currently weep
and rejoicing with those who rejoice,
in anticipation of that great and glorious day
when our joy will be complete
ALL: for we ask it in the name of your son Jesus Christ
And for the sake of his coming kingdom. AMEN