Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ashgrove West Church - Images from 2011

Community Care

James' Baptism

Busybodies Playgroup

Busybodies Playgroup

Prayer and Reflection

Assembling new cupboards

Assembling new cupboards

Assembling the new cubbyhouse

New cubbyhouse complete

Men's Breakfast

Adult Fellowship

Korean Church's market day

Isaac's Baptism

Harvest Thanksgiving service



Everything in Common Charity gift stall
Yarn Group 

Yarn Group ("Love Wraps" - rugs for charity.)

Yarn Group

Yarn Group

Friday, 30 December 2011

Service for Sunday, 1 January 2012

Worship Service for Ashgrove West Uniting Church
9.30am, Sunday 1st January, 2012

Year B. Christmas 1.

Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 148)

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord in the Heavens

Praise the Lord angels and the heavenly host.

Praise the Lord in Creation

Praise the Lord, sun, moon, stars

Praise the Lord, trees and plants,

Praise the Lord, rocks and mountains,

Praise the Lord, animals and humans,

Praise the Lord, all of his works,

At his word we came to be,

Through his will we continue to be.

Praise the Lord!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Service for Christmas Day

Worship Service for Christmas Day 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church

Call to worship
We celebrate the message of Christmas:
God is with us!

Hymn: Together in Song 303 Hark! The herald angels sing.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

God of Christmas
we thank you for the gift
and the mystery of Christmas.
That you would offer the hopes of all creation
in the form of a helpless baby.

As we come to worship,
this Christmas day,
we can barely comprehend
all that this means
that your love for us would be so great
that you would want to share our lives.
We can't begin to understand
the price this gift cost you.

We confess we sometimes fail to value
the gift of Jesus for us.
We confess all the Christmas celebrations
to which Jesus is not invited.
We confess the worry over what we will or won't have,
the frantic struggle to get everything done,
and that, as of that first Christmas,
there is often no room for Jesus.

Help us to change we pray -
help us to make room,
not only in our Christmas celebrations,
but also in the whole of our lives.
Help us to welcome Jesus -
to start over
and to live in friendship with him.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Newsletter Reflection for 25 December: Happy Birthday Jesus

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 25th December 2011

Advent Candle Liturgy:
Christmas – 1 kid, 1 young adult, 1 adult, 1 older adult.
Kid: It's Christmas! We hoped and hoped and now it's here.
Young Adult: Today, we put our trust in God to bring peace to a troubled world, and troubled people.
Adult: Today, we celebrate with joy the good news that in Jesus, God is right here in this world with us.
Older Adult: Today, we celebrate the love God has shown for us.
All: Thank God, it's Christmas!

Light all five candles.

Good morning,

At the start of Advent we put a banner outside the church that said “Happy Birthday Jesus”.

Over the past week, many of us have been preparing for parties or get-togethers with family and friends to celebrate today. Just like any other birthday party, we celebrate with food and cake, with family and friends.

When we celebrate birthdays, we sometimes tell stories (especially at significant birthdays, like 21st birthdays.) We talk about things that have happened in the birthday person's life – things that are typical of them, or have been memorable to others. We talk about things that made us laugh, or even that made us cry.

When we celebrate Jesus' birthday today, I wonder what memories of our time with him we might have?

When did you first meet Jesus? What is the most memorable thing he has done for or with you? What has made you smile? What has made you cry?

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, and a great year ahead. May you know the peace of Jesus with you.

Grace and Peace

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sunday 18 December 2011: Newsletter Reflection, and Kid's time, and Advent Candle liturgy

This Sunday, Bec is leading worship. If she has time, she will give me the sermon to put on the net for you. 
I'm still doing the Kid's Time, to continue the theme we've started with the candy canes through Advent, and of course, we're continuing with the same advent candle liturgy I have written for the whole of Advent.  

This week's newsletter reflection is included in this blog post as well.

Kid's Time:

Hey look everyone! There's a candy cane on the communion table (again!) Who keeps leaving these here?

You know I was thinking about candy canes through the week. Have you ever noticed we only seem to get them around Christmas time? They're kind of special. And they're made mostly of sugar, so they're really sweet.

And I was thinking, do you know what else is really special and really sweet?

I think God's love for us is. Don't you.

And will you look at this: there's a message on this candy cane too.

Someone find me an adult who reads really well and can tell us what this message says:

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord..... Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours.” Luke 2: 11, 14.

Week 4 – Love - Older Adults 18 December

1st Reader: Experience has taught us what lasts and what doesn't.
2nd Reader: Some things that seem important turn out not to matter after all.
1st Reader: When everything else is lost: strength, money, independence, one thing still matters more than anything.
2nd Reader: The greatest of all things is love.
All older adults: We welcome the love of Jesus this Christmas.

Hymn – all of Light one Candle (TiS 286)

Newsletter Reflection
Good morning

We hear a lot about love in our popular culture. If you believe television, music, books and movies, love can be a very dangerous thing. You can fall into love, and you can fall out of love. Love hurts, hearts break.

Now let's look at God's love. If you read I Corinthians 13, you find Paul's definition of love. Although we often use this passage at weddings, it's not meant to tell us about romantic love – or at least it's not meant to tell us only about romantic love. What Paul describes here is the love that God has for us – love that never ends. It's the love that would pay any price for the one who is loved – the love of Jesus becoming one with us and living our lives, dying for us and rising again for us. You notice that this love isn't the variable series of emotions of popular culture – it is something that is a conscious decision – God makes a choice to love us (as opposed to “falling” in love with no sense of control.) God chooses the best for us at personal cost.

When Jesus instructs us to “love one another as I have loved you” this is the love he means: love that's consciously chosen – love that will choose what is best for the other, even when that involves personal cost.

Grace and peace

Other notices: Weight Loss Group “Watchya Weight” resumes on Thursday 2 February 2012.
Community Care resumes 14 February 2012.
Iris will take three weeks holiday from Monday 9 January 2012, to Sunday 29 January 2012 (inclusive).

Today – Bec leads Worship
Christmas Eve – 6.30pm Bec leads Worship
Christmas Day – 7.30am Iris leads Worship

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Service for Sunday 11 December 2011

Service for Sunday 11 December 2011
Year B Advent 3

Call to Worship Luke 1: 46-55 (Responsive) NRSV Bible.

Hymn Together in Song 245 We have a gospel to proclaim

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

It's coming up to Christmas again, God,
and the shops are decorated
and the Christmas carols are being played -
and for once everyone seems to know something about at least a tiny part of the gospel.
We thank you for the message of your infinite love for us,
wrapped in the form of a helpless baby.
We thank you that in a cynical and secular world – this sign of your love still breaks through into the lives or ordinary people.
We thank you that everyday people are still inspired to acts of kindness and compassion, in response to the story of Christmas.

We confess that we see Jesus as the homeless baby of Bethlehem
but rarely look for him among the homeless in our city.
We confess that we see Jesus as the refugee, fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod's persecution
but we don't go looking for Jesus in the refugee detention centres in this country.
We confess that we see Jesus as your gift of love for all humankind
but we don't tend to share the gift with all of humankind, and we don't love our neighbours as ourselves.

We repent and are sorry for all our sins.
Turn us around,
may your love be born anew in us this Christmas.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 11 December 2011

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday, 11 December, 2011

Advent Candle Liturgy Week 3 – Joy – Adults

1st Reader: Sometimes we just go through the motions of Christmas.
2nd Reader: We do the preparation work and shopping, but we've lot the excitement, and the joy.
1st Reader: But when you think about it there's so much to be joyful for: the people we share our Christmas with, and that we live in a place where we are free to celebrate.
2nd Reader: Most of all, we can be joyful that in Christmas Jesus became a part of our world – the most amazing gift of all time.
All Adults: We celebrate the joy of Christmas.

Today in our worship we hear good news – God's proclamation of release to captives, sight to the blind. We hear Mary's song of joy over how God works in the world.

We hear this, yet we live in a world where still there are people blind, there are still many in captivity for all sorts of reasons, where wars continue.

Today, we're invited to rejoice in God's goodness in a world where there seems so little to rejoice about. Are we to deny the reality of everything that is wrong in the world around us? To have some deluded idea that ignores reality?

Actually, we are invited to be joyful, not by denying the realities of our world, but in the midst of them. We are invited to be joyful – to celebrate that there is more than we can see at work in the world. Yes, there is still evil in our world – but despite this, God loves us and this world enough to give us Jesus. There are problems in our world – but there is also the infinite goodness of God at work in the world. Human beings have done the most despicable things, but we are created in the image of a creative and loving God – and so have the potential to do some wonderful things as well.

This Advent, rejoice – not that this world is perfect – but that despite its imperfections God loves this world and gave Jesus for it.

Grace and peace

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sunday 4 December 2011 (Year B, Advent 2)

Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Year B, Advent 2)

Call to worship
Christ is coming to meet you.
Dress in clothes of compassion:
Pack faithfulness and hope in your bag
Have prayer on your speed-dial
Carry God's word as a map
Have a compass that points to God
And turn back, turn back to God
today, tomorrow, every day.
Somewhere on the road he will meet you.
Be ready.

Hymn Together in Song 647 “Comfort, Comfort, all my people.”

Prayers of Adoration and confession
Loving God,
Today we hear again John's call to prepare the way of the Lord,
and we thank you for all the many voices you have sent to us-
voices in the wilderness -
voices in the church -
voices in cities and markets -
voices in the past -
voices today -
voices of comfort -
voices of warning -
voices of people you have sent to carry your messages to your people.
We give you thanks for all of these voices -
and for the truth to which all of these voices point: That you are constantly aware of your creation – of its needs and wants; of its faith and lack of faith.
You constantly care about us,
about our lives as they are
about what we, in your love, have the potential to be.
All the voices you send to us,
remind us of your eternal love for us -
of your constant faithfulness to your promise to be our God
and your invitation to us to be your people.

We confess that we have turned away from you -
and day by day, we continue to turn away from you -

We turn away from you
in the things we think
in the things we say,
in the things we do.

We turn away from you
in the things we ought to think, but don't
in the things we ought to say but don't
in the things we ought to do but don't.

We act as if, when Jesus said “follow me”
he meant someone else, not us.

Turn us around to face you again -
give us the will and the ability
to hear Jesus' call again,
and to follow.
In his name we pray, Amen.

Kids' time

Remember what our candy cane reminded us about last week? (Shepherds)
There's another candy cane this week. I'm thinking if you hold it up like this it looks like a letter. Does some big prep kid want to tell me what letter this looks like? (J)
What name starts with “J” that we're thinking about at Christmas? (Jesus) You're right. Christmas is Jesus' birthday!
Guess what? This candy cane's got something written on it! Isn't that a surprise? Who can read it out?

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

(Does Bec have a present under the tree today? How does that help remind us about Jesus at Christmas?)

Advent Candle lighting liturgy (Young Adults)
1st reader: We have grown up in a world that's known continual wars.
2nd reader: From time to time, the place has changed, and the reason has changed, but fighting continues.
1st reader: Even within communities and homes, people don't seem to be able to live in peace.
2nd reader: Yet Jesus comes as Prince of Peace – as the one who can help us do what we just can't on our own.
All young adults: We look for Jesus to bring peace this Christmas.
(Relight first purple candle from last week, and pink candle for repentance this week.)

Hymn Together in Song 286 “Light One Candle” Verses 1 & 2 (Kids give out candy canes.)

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.


Last Sunday we heard words of hope – hope based in God's action of coming to us in Jesus.

Today as we progress through to the second week of Lent, we hear words of comfort, or peace, – but comfort which comes with a call for us to respond.

It is comfort mixed with something else. Let's start with Isaiah, very briefly. In Isaiah, God declares “comfort” for the nation of Israel because they've served their sentence – they've been punished enough. Israel may have been suffering, but not suffering innocently. The word for “comfort” can mean “be comforted or consoled” or it can mean “repent or be sorry”. Both meanings are very closely linked. We cannot be comfortable in our relationship with God, if we are not living in a right relationship with God. Repentance, which literally is “turning back” to God, is the way for us to approach God to come into that relationship.

Now let's look ahead to the gospel reading:

It's interesting to note here, that Mark introduces his gospel, not with a story of Jesus, but with the story of the appearance of John.

When we look at John's message, we need to see something of his character. John lived the message he brought – which is a good way to know if you can trust any leader.

John's birth was a miracle – his parents were already in old age and unable to have children. His birth had also been announced by the angel Gabrie, who gave instructions as to how he was to be raised – from birth he was dedicated to God in terms of the Nazirite vow – which included all sorts of rules of holiness. (Think of Samson – also bound by a Nazirite vow for life so not allowed to cut his hair.) Nazirite vows were usually taken on for a period of time, such as we might take on an extra spiritual discipline during lent. For John, it was his life, right from birth. That's why we hear about his clothes and diet – he's not taking on any luxuries of life, because he is totally dedicated to God.

John appeared out of the wilderness as a prophet – just as many prophets before him spent time in the wilderness. This is important, because in Jesus' day, people were expecting the prophet Elijah to return, and come ahead of the Messiah. John's appearance from the wilderness helped to put him in line with that heritage of prophets.

Many came out, expecting John to be the Messiah. At this time of history, with the Roman army occupying Israel, there were lots of “messiahs” wanting to bring a military or political salvation for the nation.

John was quick to dispel that belief. He made it very clear that his role was one of preparation – to get people ready for the coming of the Messiah they had been expecting for generations.

He called out to people to prepare through repentance. That's what John's baptism was about. It was a cleansing ceremony. That was something well known in his time – wealthy Jewish houses had baptisteries and cisterns for just such a purification ritual, which was done over and over again. It was not the same as Christian baptism which is a once-and-for-all-time incorporation into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

John's baptism was a declaration of an intent to turn back to God, to wash away the things that were wrong in life and start again fresh.

Let's have a quick look at the 2 Peter reading: in which people are also called to repentance, as a preparation for God to act. The reason Christ hasn't returned yet is because God has given us time to prepare, time to repent.

So in each of these three time periods: Old Testament, in Jesus' day, and in the post-resurrection life of the very early church, our hope that God will act is accompanied by a call to prepare through repentance.

The Biblical concept of Sin is about turning away from God. Conversely, the Biblical concept of repentance is turning around – to turn back to God.

We have a hope that God will act. We can rely on that, as our readings last week assured us. But in the meantime, we are called on to act in response to that hope and the assurance that comes with it. We must act by turning our lives to face toward God – to strive to be at peace with God. Again we see a link between peace or comfort and repentance.

The reason that the world has not ended before now – that Jesus has not yet returned, is not that God has forgotten and we should give up hope. Instead, it is because God is patient with us, and wants to give us all the opportunity to repent, to turn back to align our lives with God's will.

We are all given the opportunity to remember our origins – that we are creatures, made by God's hand – to turn back and live the lives we were created to live: at peace with our maker and with each other.

Hymn Together in Song 270 On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's cry



Prayers of the People

Merciful God,
Two millennia after John came out of the wilderness -
we hear his call to us today-
Repent, and prepare the way of the Lord.

You know the things we need to repent of:
things in the life of our world
things in the life of our nation
things in the life of our city and community
things in the lives of our families
things in our own lives.

Help us to face the things which are wrong, we pray
to accept that sin has been a part of our lives
and to let go of it.
Help us to turn around
to live lives in accord with your will
so that we may truly
prepare the way of the Lord.

God of peace – we pray for peace
we pray not just for the absence of war -
but for the peace of your Kingdom at work in the world.
We pray for wisdom among world leaders that leads to respect and understanding.
We pray for gentleness and respect and compassion among individuals.
In defiance of the way things are – we trust in your power and pray for what could be.
We pray for a world which takes seriously the Christmas promise of peace on earth and goodwill to all -
And we pray that you use us as you will, to help to bring this about wherever we are.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 264 Hark! A herald voice is calling


Threefold Amen.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Newsletter reflection: 4 December 2011

Advent Candle Liturgy Week 2 – Peace -Young Adults

1st reader: We have grown up in a world that's known continual wars.
2nd reader: From time to time, the place has changed, and the reason has changed, but fighting continues.
1st reader: Even within communities and homes, people don't seem to be able to live in peace.
2nd reader: Yet Jesus comes as Prince of Peace – as the one who can help us do what we just can't on our own.
All young adults: We look for Jesus to bring peace this Christmas.

Good morning

As we progress through our Advent readings, today Isaiah speaks to us of comfort and John calls us to repent.

We live in a world of turmoil, and often it seems our individual lives are in constant turmoil as well. What would it be like to be comforted, to actually be at peace? What would it take to achieve this – John's answer would be to repent – to turn back to God.

Sunday School children know the “right answer” to just about every question is “Jesus”. The same is true in the adult world – although nothing seems quite so simple from our point of view. What we want when we seek comfort in the turmoil of our lives is to be taken out of the turmoil – we want to be rescued. What God offers is usually something different.

When we repent – when we turn to face God – what we are doing is focussing on a different point. The turmoil is background, it's placed in perspective. We're not rescued from the trauma – we're shown that it is not as important as we thought it was. If we focus on the goodness of God, how important can any evil or pain in this world actually be? There is no comparison.

That's not to say we should not act, when we are able, to change things that are wrong with this world. In fact the prophets call down to us throughout the ages, that we must act for justice wherever God gives us the ability to do so – we must care for the widow and orphan, the homeless, the poor. Turning to face God will always inspire us to do better, to seek good not just for ourselves, but for all people and especially those least able to help themselves.

Today, as we journey through Advent, let's take the time to repent, to turn to focus our lives once again on God, and to get everything into perspective.

Grace and peace

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Service for Sunday 27 November 2011

Service for Sunday 27 November 2011
Year B. Advent 1.

Call to worship:
Happy New Year Everyone!

As Thom said last week – last Sunday was the final Sunday of the church year. Today, we begin the year again – with the first Sunday of Advent – our time of looking forward to the coming of Jesus – as the baby of Bethlehem, and as ruler and judge of the world.

As we look forward to the coming of Jesus, let us worship God:
Hymn Together in Song 276 There's a light upon the mountains

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Gracious God,
We come before you with hope
hope that your promises always will be fulfilled
just as they always have been.
Hope that things that are wrong with this world
will eventually be put right
hope that your in your love
all things really are possible.

We confess that at times
we look back to the past
and see you were at work there
we prepare for Christmas
as if it was only history and a time to party
as if the hope was gone.

We confess our fear, and anxiety
at the way the world is going
we read the news,
we hear and see the worst people can do
and we act as if you were powerless
as if all you could do has already been done.

Help us to trust you with the present and the future,
not just to see you as a part of the past.
And this Advent, help us to look
not just for the baby in the manger
But for Your Spirit at work in the world
and in our lives today -
and for Jesus' return in the future.

In his name, we pray.

Declaration of Forgiveness

What do these tinselly things on the pulpit today look like? Sort of like walking sticks? (Candy canes!)

Yum. Who likes candy canes?

Let's have a look at it.... You guys have been talking in Sunday School about when Jesus was born, right?

Well, this candy can sort of reminds me of someone who was there. There were some people who would have used sticks with bendy ends like this in their work. They would have used them to help pull sheep out of trouble, and keep them together. Who were they? (Shepherds)

How did they fit into the story of Jesus being born, can anyone tell me? (Let kids tell the story.)

Did I see one of you put a present under the Christmas tree just now? Can I open it? (It's a sheep!) Wow. Let's keep the sheep up here under the Christmas tree right up until Christmas to remind us about the story.

Now – I have some candy canes here with something written on them. Who can read it? (When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Child lying in the manger. Luke 2:16-17)

Who'd like one of these candy canes? Do you think we should share them with the adults? I've got a job for you to do right now – you guys are doing the advent candle this week – and then we're singing a hymn. While we're singing, you can give the candy canes out.

Advent Candle Week 1 – Hope – Kids

1st reader: Christmas is coming there's lots to hope for.
2nd reader: Presents, and lollies, and cakes, and a visit from Santa.
1st reader: Hope is young, it looks forward to what is coming...
2nd reader: Hope waits with excitement.
All kids: We hope for Jesus this Christmas.

Light first candle.

Hymn: Together in Song 276 Light One Candle – verse 1.

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

Today is the beginning of Advent. It's time we all started thinking about getting ready for Christmas. For a couple of weeks, maybe longer, the shops have had their Christmas decorations up and urged you to buy lots of things to prepare for Christmas.

Today my family will do things we have a long-standing tradition of doing on the first day of Advent – we'll put up our Christmas tree and nativity scene and decorate the house. Presents will start appearing under the tree over the next week or so.

In one sense that's all very appropriate – we are preparing for Christmas. In another we're a bit premature. We put out all of our nativity scene. Some families, and some churches, are a little more patient, and a little more in line with the events of Advent and Christmas. They begin with Mary and Joseph, adding baby Jesus and the shepherds on Christmas eve night, and then bringing in the wise men at Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas – the 6th of January.)

Putting the pieces in place as we remember them in the church calendar is perhaps more symbolic of what the season of Advent is about. It is a time of waiting, and it's a time of waiting for more than our celebrations of Christmas.

Advent is about waiting for Christ to come as the messiah – the baby of Bethlehem, which has already happened; but more than that, it is about waiting for him to return as judge and ruler of the world. So our readings for the four Sundays of Advent will take us through the ancient prophecies about the coming Messiah, the New Testament promise of the birth of Jesus; and also strange prophecies about the end of the world. Advent ties all of this together.

The Church is really an Advent people. We live in the time of already-but-not-yet. Christ has come, yet we wait for his coming, just as the people of Isaiah's time waited.

In the meantime, we live with the problems of the world around us. In Isaiah's time, the people of Israel were exiled, waiting for a leader who would take them home. They cried out to God for help, and the prophet brought them God's words of hope, using God's faithfulness in the past as evidence that could be relied on for trusting God in the future.

The earliest information we have about the Gospel writer Mark is that he was a disciple of Peter, and wrote down Peter's stories of Jesus. When Mark was writing, Christians had seen the fall of Jerusalem, the temple torn down. They had escaped the Holy City in time, but had become scattered. They had been persecuted firstly by Jews, and were beginning to be persecuted by Romans. Like Israel in exile, the church had become a people isolated from their spiritual home and not free to worship openly. Everything seemed to have been taken away from them.

And Mark found a message for hope for the Church in Peter's recollection that Jesus had said lots of bad stuff was going to happen, but that there was hope in the midst of the bad stuff. At some time, a time that no-one could predict (even though people will persist in trying), the son of Man would return, coming in the clouds. It was a reflection of what the prophet Daniel had said in Old Testament times.

In some of the passages we have read in the past few weeks, “keep awake” or “be prepared” has been a warning. Now it's a sign of hope. No matter how tough things get, don't lose hope; hold on, keep waiting and don't give up. Christ will come. No matter what happens, his promise can be relied upon – even if heaven and earth cease to exist – Christ's word will still hold true.

Her we are, in the 21st century since Jesus, and he still hasn't returned. We have been through the period of Christendom, when the church held sway over temporal as well as spiritual powers; when the church, in effect ruled much of the world. We've been through the Reformation, when we discovered that the church could become just as corrupt as any political power and does at times need to be challenged, and reformed. We've been through a time when Western nations considered themselves to be Christian nations, and the only division was between Christian denominations.

Now, we've reached a time when people are free to choose what faith they will have, if any. There's no longer any social expectation that people will be Christian. We've also reached a time where the popular perception of Christianity has been watered down enough that people can call themselves “Christian” without really knowing what that means, or practising the Christian faith in any way.

I was amazed a few years back, when census results showed that the small town of Kin Kin in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland had 100 Uniting Church members – I was amazed because Kin Kin was one of the congregations I was minister for at the time, and we had four people and one horse attending worship. (The horse was named Crystal, and she used to stick her head in the door and pay rapt attention to the service.) Our membership roll included four names (the horse hadn't been baptised or confirmed.) Attending worship is pretty much the most basic of the Christian disciplines. Yet people who clearly weren't doing that still felt free to call themselves Christian.

We're also seeing a rise of other faiths in our society: world religions, astrology, witchcraft, cults of all sorts, paganism, spiritualism, ancient gnosticism in its latest guise as New Age religion.

The world we live in is resembling more and more the world faced by the early church. Our problem is that we have been through the time of Christendom, when Christianity was seen as “normal” - and we've lost that understanding of what it is to be a community of faith, in a world that doesn't necessarily share that faith. And so people in our day and age throw up their hands in horror and exclaim it is hopeless, the church is declining, it's dying.

The truth is, time is moving, and we can't turn it back to some ideal past. (And if we could, we would probably discover that past wasn't so ideal, after all.) The church is not dying. It may have to change, but it's changed endless times before, and probably will endless times again. It may need to find different ways of doing things; but it is Christ's body in this world – and it will not die.

The world we live in is in many ways like the world of Mark's day. Christianity is one choice among many for people to believe in. Any sense of privilege that attached to being Christian has long gone. In fact, for many people, being Christian is seen with negative connotations. (And it was in Mark's day too.)

In Australia, we don't live under any particular persecution, although Christians in some countries really do. But there are times when sticking to our faith may make us seem different or strange.

The Mark reading is directed at a church which is in a lot of ways like us. They're not the centre of society (for them they never have been.) Sometimes they're considered with the suspicion (to say the very least) by their neighbours.

And Mark reminds this church – this is all OK. It's all OK because Jesus said all this kind of stuff will happen – but that doesn't mean it's the end. The problems we see (in their case the fall of Jerusalem, in our case a slow decline in the number of practising Christians in our country) are only a part of a much bigger picture. In the bigger picture – these things don't matter that much compared to the promise that Jesus will come back, and make everything right.

This is the future orientation of the advent season, indeed of the whole life of the church. At some time, Jesus will come back. This isn't the kind of hope for the future that involves doing as some groups which anticipate the end of the world do and go into bunkers or arm themselves to the teeth for some great battle. It's a hope – and it's based in God – not a fear based in some expectation of the evil human beings can do to each other. There is no point in going into hiding, or storing up food or doing anything to change the pattern of our days. There is no point, because we don't know when Jesus will return. (The church has been waiting more than 2000 years, so obviously a bit of patience is required with this.)

So if we don't prepare the way the radical groups and cults do, how do we prepare for Jesus' coming?

One clue is that the angels are sent out throughout the world to gather in the elect. Obviously, God's people are meant to be out in the world. We need to be in worship – but that's meant to be the fuel we use for life in the world. Our being an active part of the world is not supposed to change as long as this world exists. We are warned to keep awake, to be prepared at all times.

If we are to be out in the world doing what it is God wants at any time, we need to go back to the basics and ask so what is it God wants of us? Jesus summarised it in two simple-sounding instructions: Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.

They may sound simple – but they are difficult to sustain in the long-term. To always act in a way which shows infinite respect for God, others, and ourselves, is a tough call. It sounds easy – and it can be easy for a short time. But in human beings there is a tendency to want the best for ourselves – even if it costs others. (Or for some people to go to the other extreme and take so little care of themselves they are of no use to anyone else.) That's what makes it difficult long term, to put God first, and to measure our actions by what is loving towards God, and our neighbours as ourselves.

So in Advent, we are reminded to focus again on a question that has been with the Christian Church right from its birth – if Jesus were to return today, how would he feel about what he found us all doing?

And we look forward in hope, that despite all the things human beings have managed to do wrong in the world – Jesus will return – and all things will be put right for eternity.

Hymn: Together in Song 265 O come, O come, Emmanuel



Prayers of the People:
We pray for this world of yours
A world which is beginning to prepare for Christmas
A world planning to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace
while declared and undeclared wars rage around the planet
while people are still looking out for terrorists
while people in so many places are starving
while some of your people are in places where they are banned from celebrating Christmas at all.

Help us to
hear again this year,
the message given to the shepherds
of peace and goodwill from heaven to earth.
The promise that beyond the reality we know
is another reality – a reality which can give us peace in the midst of turmoil.
Help this world to have hope for the coming of Jesus -
and to learn to live his peace.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn: Together in Song 272 Come, thou long-expected Jesus


Threefold Amen.