Evening Prayer (Vespers)
You may wish to light a candle and place it before you as you begin.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have beheld Christ’s glory.
To us a child is born, to us a Son is given. In the Word was life and the life was the light of all people.
FIRST READING: Isaiah 41:14-20
A reading from: Isaiah
14 Don’t fear,
worm of Jacob,
people of Israel!
I will help you, says the Lord.
The holy one of Israel is your redeemer.
15 Look, I’ve made you
into a new threshing tool with sharp teeth.
You will thresh mountains and pulverize them;
you will reduce hills to straw.
16 When you winnow them,
the wind will carry them off;
the tempest will scatter them.
You will rejoice in the Lord
and take pride in the holy one of Israel.
17 The poor
and the needy seek water, and there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the Lord, will respond to them;
I, the God of Israel, won’t abandon them.
18 I will open streams on treeless hilltops
and springs in valleys.
I will make the desert into ponds
and dry land into cascades of water.
19 I will plant in the desert cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive trees;
I will put in the wilderness cypress, elm, and pine as well,
20 so that they will see and know
and observe and comprehend
that the Lord’s hand has done this,
and the holy one of Israel has created it.
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
PSALM: Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36
Save me, God,
because the waters have reached my neck!
2 I have sunk into deep mud.
My feet can’t touch the bottom!
I have entered deep water;
the flood has swept me up.
3 I am tired of crying.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes are exhausted with waiting for my God.
4 More numerous than the
hairs on my head
are those who hate me for no reason.
My treacherous enemies,
those who would destroy me, are countless.
Must I now give back
what I didn’t steal in the first place?
5 God, you know my foolishness;
my wrongdoings aren’t hidden from you.
30 I will praise God’s name
I will magnify him with thanks
31 because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves.
32 Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
You who seek God—
let your hearts beat strong again
33 because the Lord listens to the needy
and doesn’t despise his captives.
34 Let heaven and earth
the oceans too, and all that moves within them!
35 God will most certainly save Zion
and will rebuild Judah’s cities
so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.
36 The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,
and those who love God’s name will dwell there.
Gospel: John 1:29-34
A reading from: John
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’ 31 Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
These first two texts are full of so much frustration, it feels like facing a solid brick wall without a sledgehammer. It feels like darkness.
The Psalm makes it clear that bad stuff is happening. The images are vivid! I am sunk in deep mud. I have more enemies than hairs on my head. I have cried so much my throat is hoarse and my eyes are exhausted.
The passage from Isaiah gives us hope that life will soon be better. But what is in going on that is in need of improvement? The people need to be redeemed, they are thirsty, the land is desolate, their enemies abound.
Isaiah and the Psalm both include words of promise. They don’t allow us to stay in the darkness. Trust God to redeem you, to give water to the thirsty, to plant trees where there are none, to defeat the enemies of the people, whatever and whoever they are. And, the promise is for good things for those who praise God. God listens to the needy and will rebuild that which has been destroyed.
Unfortunately, bad stuff continues to happen despite the promises of God through the prophets and the psalmists. Bad stuff has never stopped happening. There are wars and terrible diseases and conflicted politics throughout the centuries and around the world. There is brokenness in our society, in our country, in the world, in our homes. There is even brokenness in the Church and within congregations.
Brokenness is the result of our sinfulness, as individuals and as groups of people. In the face of this sinfulness, John the Baptist came to say there is good news. There is one who comes to take away the sin of the world. “I have seen him, I have seen a dove alight on him, and I have heard the one who sent me to baptize say that this is the one who brings the Holy Spirit.”
Through Jesus, our own sinfulness is removed, forgotten, erased from God’s memory. This is really good news. We don’t have to worry about our relationship with God.
Unfortunately, even when the frustrating, bad times are over, we still remember our own sins and the sins of those who hurt us. We remember that our enemy still exists. We remember those times when we were hungry or thirsty or oppressed. Those memories haunt us, and cause us pain.
When we are experiencing pain, the only way to get relief is to look to Jesus to take it away. Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit we find forgiveness and relief from our pain.
So, here is a story from a novel I am reading. Notice how the Spirit works in the people in the story, just as it works in us in real life.
It is 1943 and Sylvia is angry that her husband has decided to enlist in the army along with her brother and her brother-in-law. Because of the war, Sylvia, her sister Claudia, and her sister-in-law Agnes have chosen to live together. After the men left, Sylvia discovers she is pregnant and a few months later, she can’t find good news anywhere. She feels like she is living in darkness.
Still, she agrees to go to Christmas Eve worship with Agnes and Claudia. The preacher speaks about finding the light of Jesus in the darkness they are now living in, with the war and rationing and uncertainty of ever finding peace. He reminds them that Jesus brings the light of peace and hope and reconciliation to the world, and no darkness can quench the light. In response, each of us must also bring light into the world, so the darkness cannot prevail.
As she listens to the sermon, Sylvia wants that light, but she is afraid and alone and living in deep darkness. Suddenly, she feels a hand tightly clasp her own. Her sister Claudia has reached out to her. After a moment, Sylvia reaches out to hold Agnes’ hand, too. Suddenly, she understands. They are all afraid and lonely. They have to be light to each other. The three women hold hands for the rest of the sermon. As they sing the final hymn, Sylvia begins to feel the peace she so has longed for. They must be light for each other, no matter how dark life seems.
Whenever we find ourselves living in the darkness, it’s important to remember that Jesus forgives, and brings us light. And his light grows when we share light with others. Amen
Jesus said, I am the Light of the world,
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.
In peace let us pray to the Lord, saying, “We pray to you, Lord.”
That this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful, We pray to you, Lord.
That the work we have done this day and the people we have met may bring us closer to you, We pray to you, Lord.
That we may be forgiven our sins and offences, We pray to you, Lord.
That we may hear and respond to your call to peace and justice, We pray to you, Lord.
That you will sustain the faith and hope of the weary, the lonely, and the oppressed, We pray to you, Lord.
That you will strengthen us in your service, and fill our hearts with longing for your kingdom, We pray to you, Lord.
Other prayer petitions may be offered here.
For all this and more, We pray to you, Lord. Amen.
Let us pray as Jesus taught us. Please mute yourself and pray the version you prefer.
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. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours now and forever. Amen.
May the Lord of peace give us peace in all ways and at all times. Amen
ANNOUNCEMENTS AND GROUP CHAT
Scripture from Common English Bible © 2012
Liturgy from ELW Annual Liturgy License 26504