Sunday 19th December 2021

Welcome to our service for this, the last Sunday before Christmas. As we gather again around the story of the birth of Jesus let us reflect on how God can call the most ordinary of people to do the most extra-ordinary of things in His name.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 80: 1-3)
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Hymn 320 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Reading: and Prayer

John 1: 1-14 – In the beginning
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Prayer
Let us pray:

Christ Jesus,
you are the light of the world;
We come before you this day
seeking that you would bring light to our life.
May our lives so shine before the world
that the peoples would look and see you, not us.

Christ Jesus,
you are the hope of the world.
We come before you in hope this day
asking that you would fill our lives with hope.
May that hope so fill us with love
that we would reach out and bless the world.

Christ Jesus,
the joy of the world.
We come before you this day
seeking the joy of the Gospel.
May the joy you give so overflow
that we would praise you as Mary did.

Christ Jesus,
your love has redeemed the world.
We come before this day in humility
praying that we would know your salvation.
May your saving grace flow from us
that the world may have hope in your name.

Christ Jesus,
author of light, peace, joy, and love
may your name be so lifted in our worship
that the world would know that you are our Lord.
May your name be honoured this day,
and for all eternity to come.

Christ Jesus, hear us we pray,
as we come to you in the words you taught,
saying together:

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 for ever. Amen.

Reading:

Isaiah 9: 2-7 – Unto us a child is born
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Hymn 304 O little town of Bethlehem

from Chet Valley Churches

Reading:

Matthew 1: 18-25 – Jesus is born
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, 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.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Hymn 310 See him lying on a bed of straw

(from “Hymns & Songs”)

Reading:

Luke 2: 8-20 – Shepherds, and angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

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 that has taken place, 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. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Hymn 301 Hark! the herald-angels sing

(from Northern Baptist Association, Newcastle Big Sing)

Reading:

Matthew 2: 1-12 – Wise men bring gifts
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Hymn 309 Silent Night

Thought for the Day

What would you do? Imagine yourself, for a moment, in Mary’s shoes. She is only a teenager, and she finds herself to be pregnant but not through the usual way. What would you do? The thing is that she can’t be open about it; Mary is unmarried, and so could be stoned to death as an adulteress. What would you do? She ran; ran to the nearest relative with whom she may be safe. This was her cousin, Elizabeth, who herself was with child. What would you do?

What do you do when faced with a new, and potentially threatening or frightening, situation? Imagine being in circumstances where you do not know. Imagine facing the difficulty alone, feeling uncertain about your life, and needing just some sign of hope or blessing, something to say more than, “it’ll be alright”. Most of us will turn to family or friends for advice, those folk who know us best and who we, perhaps, have known throughout all our life. We seek advice, support, companionship. We need to feel that we are not alone and will not be overwhelmed. We may not think of it like this, or choose to use this form of language, but what we need is a blessing. Mary ran to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer, a prophet, and is blessed.

To us, what Mary does may not seem that odd, after all in some places there remains something of a stigma attached to being an unmarried or single mum. But is our lack of surprise because we know the story too well? Is it that we are so familiar with the tale that we cease to be struck by it?

If we look again, though, at the story of Mary and the announcement of the incarnation we see something truly wonderful, miraculous, taking place. Mary is ordinary, a nobody, until the angel of God brings his message to her. She reacts by saying not “no” but “how can this be”. Surely the Messiah would be born into a royal palace, not to an unmarried mum. Yet her faith, her trust, carries her through. In all her ordinariness what marks her out is her faith; it is this that makes her “blessed among women”. It is here, into the ordinary, the difficult, the painful, and dangerous, that God takes on human form and becomes one of us. It is into all this that someone ordinary proves to be someone most blessed and wonderful.

We find ourselves in challenging situations, perhaps even life-threatening ones even if not like Mary’s one. Yet we, like her, find ourselves in need of blessing. We find ourselves in need of the faith that will carry us through. Yet not only carry us but enable us to rise victorious as a child of God. The story of Mary tells us that God chooses, again, to work through the ordinary and humdrum of our world. It tells us that God can choose to work through you and me. We, like Mary, may not consider ourselves worthy to play any significant role in the plans and purpose of God. Yet we can and are!

In the challenges that lie before us as a congregation and as a people let us be like Mary, let us hold on to our faith in God. Let us rise above our challenges and fulfil our places in the will of God. Let us, like Mary, be blessed.
Amen.

Prayer:

Let us pray:

God of all,
we pray for the lowly in our world,
for those living in communities
where they are regarded as inferior
due to race, creed, colour or gender.
God, show them mercy
and raise them into your presence.
God of all,
we pray for the powerless in our world,
for those with no control or say in their lives
through those who consider themselves to be
superior, better, more important.
God, show them justice
and set them free from all oppression.

God of all
we pray for all children
and those who depend on others.
In their need of care or protection
may they experience love and compassion.
God, show them your protection;
may your Spirit come down upon them.

God of all,
we pray for ourselves.
Where we live in darkness may we know your light.
Where we are divided may we know your peace.
Where we are despondent may we know your joy.
Where our hearts are breaking may we know your love.
God of all, be with us we pray.
Amen.

Hymn 306 O come, all ye faithful

(from Westminster Abbey)

Benediction:

Go from this time
living out the true spirit of Christmas:
Walk in light, make peace, share the joy,
and live in the love of God.
And as you go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
go with,
now and always.
Amen.

Sung Amen

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org

Embedded content from youTube does not infringe copyright
https://www.youtube.com/static?template=terms