Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church Sunday, 5th December 2021
Advent Wreath/Tree – DSJK
Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV) – JW
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Prayerful Reflection – JW
Luke’s list of rulers and religious authorities does more than date John’s ministry to 28 or 29 CE. It also contrasts human kingdoms with God’s reign. The claims to authority that Tiberius or Herod or the high priest may make are not ultimate. God’s people owe allegiance first and foremost to God. And it is God’s word that sets John’s ministry in motion. John has been commissioned to prepare the way not for lord Caesar or any earthly lordling, but for the one true Lord.
John’s baptism of repentance means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. He challenges the crowd to change their behaviour. Preparing the way of the Lord involves radical transformations – straightening paths, filling in valleys, levelling mountains, and making ways smooth. That’s quite an image of serious roadbuilding! Or it can also be seen as cutting to the chase, getting to the important points and not being distracted by irrelevancies.
As we continue our Advent journey towards Christmas, what does John’s cry from the wilderness say to you?
Jill White, Zealandia (2019)
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Lk 3:4b)
Welcome and Notices – DSJK
We have gathered together this morning to meet with each other and to meet with God. It doesn’t matter how young we are or how old we are. God is present here with us all this morning. We are glad you are here.
Prayer for Others
Offering and Dedication Prayer – DSJK
Song – While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night
Introduce the theme – CW
Each year we sing, ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’, but what do we really know about these early witnesses to the birth of Jesus? What did it mean for them to experience a sky filled with angels and be the ones chosen to hear the good news? Today, we will focus on the shepherds and their rags to riches story. From the rags of the field to the riches of heaven, let us follow their journey and discover it anew for ourselves. How does God visit us in our rags and bring the riches of the good news of Jesus, news that changes our lives?
So, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
Quiz – JW
Here’s a quiz to help us set the scene.
Display the PowerPoint
When we think about the Christmas story, it is easy to imagine a New Zealand scene. Rolling green hills and fluffy white sheep. It is hard for us to think about sheep farming without picturing our New Zealand landscape. This morning we are going to step into the shoes of some unlikely people, over 2000 thousand years ago, on the other side of the world, out in a field looking after their sheep. What did this first Christmas look like?
Just in your seat, create small groups of 4-6 people to be a team. Don’t call out the answers, though! You will be given four options and your group will need to choose the option they think looks the most like Christmas. Give it your best guess!
- Sheep: which of these four looks the most like the sheep in the Christmas account?
- Shepherd: which of these four looks the most like the shepherds in Christmas?
- Field: which of these four looks the most like the field in Christmas?
Rags to Riches Intro – DSJK
Slide 4 of Ppt.
These pictures help us to imagine what life was like for the shepherds who turn up in the Christmas story. Imagine the fields. Rocky ground, dotted with olive trees. Not much grass to be found and certainly no fences. And in the darkness of night there were wolves and bears, out to steal the sheep. Imagine the shepherds. Many of the shepherds would have been young, charged with the task of looking after the family’s animals. If you know the story of Samuel anointing David as King, you will know that David was a young guy out being a shepherd when Samuel called him. These shepherds were people of the land, smelling like lanolin and dust. They were dressed in clothes covered with the dirt of their jobs. Rags. But as we often see in the Bible, this made them the best people for the good news to be announced to. God chooses the unlikely. These shepherds in rags received the message of the riches of heaven. Let’s hear all about it from a book in the Bible called Luke. We pick up the story in chapter 2!
CW and JW to dress as shepherds while DSJK is doing the intro
In their shoes
Narrator [DSJK]: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…
Shepherds burst onto the stage and interrupt the narrator. The narrator looks puzzled.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: That’s us, he’s talking about us!
Shepherd 2 [JW]: (Turns to audience) We were out in the fields near Bethlehem, that’s where the good grazing is at the moment. My poor sheep have been struggling to find enough food at the moment.
Narrator [DSJK]: Keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: Every night. You can’t be too careful when your family depends on you.
Shepherd 2 [JW]: We have had a real problem with wolves at the moment, and Dad says if we lose too many more then we are in big trouble.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: Did you hear about Bartholomew and the bear attack?
Shepherd 2 [JW]: …begins to speak but the narrator interrupts
Narrator [DSJK]: An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: Well, that’s an understatement if ever I heard one. Out at night, looking after my flock when the whole sky lights up. And God’s glory? It knocked me off my feet!
Shepherd 2 [JW]: Terrified? Absolutely petrified!
Narrator [DSJK]: But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid’.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: The number of times I have heard that from the Torah, an angel shows up and the first thing they do is tell people not to be afraid.
Shepherd 2 [JW]: And here we were, hearing those words for ourselves
Shepherd 1 [CW]: Shepherds!
Shepherd 2 [JW]: Smelly, raggy, farmers!
Narrator [DSJK]: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: It’s this part that I still find hard to put into words! Wow! That the God of heaven chose to share this good news with us.
Shepherd 2 [JW]: The Messiah! (turns to audience) Do you know how long we have waited for a Messiah, a Saviour? Do you know how often we have wept and raged at God? Why is it taking so long? When will you come and boot out the Romans? When will we see justice?
Shepherd 1 [CW]: And here we were, dressed in our rags, hearing this good news of God’s riches, born in the small town just over there (point off stage)
(All three pause and look off to the side of the stage. Pause as if they are contemplating how amazing this all is and letting it sink in)
Narrator [DSJK]: This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in
a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
Shepherds and Narrator move off to the side
Song – Angels from the Realm of Glory
The Narrator and shepherds re-enter the stage.
Narrator [DSJK]: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, (interrupted)
Shepherd 1 [CW]: Let’s go! That’s what we said. Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
Narrator [DSJK]: So they hurried off.
Shepherd 2 [JW]: Sprinted actually. We left Esther and Benjamin to look after the sheep and we sprinted as fast as we could.
Shepherd 1 [CW]: That’s the benefit of working outdoors all the time, you build up your fitness.
Narrator [DSJK]: …and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they…
Shepherd 2 [JW]: (interrupts) Hold on! Let’s not skip over that part! That’s the most important part of the story.
Nativity scene – JW
Do you know what we saw when we got to Bethlehem? Get suggestions from the congregation. Have the children in simple costumes/props form a scene up the front.
Baby Jesus – doll
Mary and Joseph – head scarf and headdress
Shepherds (could just be JW and CW depending on the number of children present and willing to participate)
3 Wise Ones – gold, frankincense, myrrh – possibly headdresses
Animals – toys? painted ones on sticks?
Song – Away in a Manger
Narrator [DSJK]: When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Rags to Riches – DSJK
A short message. This could be shared between a couple of people, or choose someone from your church who is not often sen on stage.
This group of shepherds had an extraordinary night. We can imagine them out in the field, under a starry sky, gathered around a fire. Theirs was not a life of glamour or privilege. Theirs was a hard life of working in the fields, with dirt under their fingernails. This night they are out in the fields near Bethlehem. That’s King David’s home town. I wonder if the shepherds took some pride in knowing that they came from the same place as David, who when he was a boy was also a shepherd? King David was a shepherd just like them.
Then the angel turns up to announce to them that a new king has been born. In fact, the angel reminds them that this new King is born in the same town! And they as shepherds are the first people outside the family to find out! God seems to have a soft spot for shepherds.
So, they ran, the Bible says they hurried off. Imagine how keen they must have been to go and see for themselves what they had been told by the angel. They wanted to check it out for themselves.
I wonder what was going through their minds as they ran towards Bethlehem that night? What were they thinking and feeling?
And afterwards, as they walked back across the fields to their sheep, what did they feel then? I can imagine that the sun was just starting to rise. Luke tells us they were glorifying and praising God. What did that look like I wonder? Maybe they burst into song and dance?
And I wonder what happened next? I wonder if that one night changed the way they thought about themselves? That they, shepherds dressed in rags were witnesses to the riches of heaven come to dwell with us. They got to be a part of the story. I wonder what difference that made to the way they lived their lives?
As we jump forward a few thousand years, I wonder what runs through our minds as we read this story again? Can we imagine ourselves into this story? How does it feel to know that God announces this good news to us too? The same gift of Jesus that was offered to the shepherds is offered to us too. I wonder how that makes you feel? I wonder what
questions it raises for you? I wonder what difference it makes to the way you live your life?
Reflection – JW
A question and a thought – Ppt slide – small group discussion:
Come up with one question you think the shepherds might have had as they ran to see the baby Jesus? (e.g., why has the Messiah come as a baby and not a King in a palace?)
Come up with one thought you think the shepherds might have had as they walked back to their sheep after visiting baby Jesus. (e.g., isn’t it amazing that God chose us to be the first visitors!)
Feedback – CW
Invite two people of different ages to share their question and thought with the whole church.
Closing – DSJK
God chose the unlikely shepherds to be the first visitors to the baby Jesus. Rags to Riches, the dirt of the field to the Kingdom of Heaven. And God calls us too, to experience the riches of the good news. Praise God that we are part of this story!
Benediction: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, The Communion of the Holy Spirit Be with us all now and forever. Amen