Welcome & Intimations
Welcome to our joint service for this, the first Sunday of Christmas. Traditionally today is also known as the ‘Feast of Stephen’, a memorial to the first recorded Christian martyr. Our thoughts turn to consider what we may be asked to forsake for the Gospel.
Call to Worship (based upon Psalm 148: 13-14)
Praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted.
His glory is above earth and heaven.
Praise the Lord!
HYMN 104 The Lord of heaven confess
Let us pray:
We have watched,
we have waited,
and now you have come to us.
You spoke through the prophets,
you spoke by your Spirit,
and now you call to us.
in this time of Christmas
we come before you in praise,
lifting high your name,
worshipping in your presence
and bowing before you.
As we worship,
accept the offering we bring
of both heart and mind.
Guide and inspire,
inform and enliven,
that we may truly serve you.
Open our eyes
to the need of the world.
May we bring hope,
compassion and mercy
wherever we go,
and do so in your name.
Open our hearts
that we would feel your touch,
that we would know your presence.
Open our hearts
that we would love your world,
and see its restoration.
it is you we honour this day;
it is your name that we bless;
it is your name that is lifted high.
Here us now, we pray,
as we join in your words, saying:
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.
Acts 7: 54-60 – The Stoning of Stephen
… [The Council] became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.
Luke 2:41-52 – The Boy Jesus in the Temple
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
HYMN 305 In the bleak midwinter
This may be a statement of the obvious but the world , today, needs hope!
I want to begin by sharing with you a story, a legend if you will, concerning a European aristocrat of the late 10th century. The man in question, a Bohemian duke by the name of Wenceslas, was reputed to behave like this: each night he would rise from the comfort of his bed and, taking with him but one servant, would visit the local churches and villages giving both moral and material support to the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. It’s the same Wenceslas of who we sing in the hymn. He didn’t become a king until the title was conferred upon him posthumously by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. His piety and sense of justice were deemed to have been worthy of such honour and dignity. Today we will sing this hymn, in part, because this is the Feast of Stephen. Stephen was the first recorded Christian martyr.
The story of this Bohemian king and the story of the first martyr may be nothing more than legend, yet all such tales have a basis in truth. Yet they point to truth in the form of a question. It is a question that does not sit very comfortably in our culture; it is this: what are you and we prepared to forego for the sake of the Gospel? For Wenceslas it was comfort, wealth, and most likely the respect of some of his peers. For Stephen it was his life. What are we prepared to sacrifice?
Throughout Scripture are regular references to sacrifice; it is there from the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, all the way to the new heaven and the new earth in the Book of Revelation. Most profoundly, for us as Christians, the language of sacrifice runs right through the heart of the story of Jesus. It is something that cannot be escaped. Yet is sacrifice present in our lives? I do not mean the minor giving up of treats during the preparation for Easter, nor giving up meat or alcohol for a month as a part of some charity drive or fad. Rather I mean the major, life-changing, sacrifices of the faith.
Right now, the world needs hope. It needs something or someone it can believe in that will not let them down and be true to their word. Right now we have the ongoing pandemic; NATO, Russia and China are at loggerheads with each other; we read what seems like never ending stories of children being murdered; we know that many individuals and families in our land are living in poverty having to decide daily whether to eat or heat. The world needs hope. The hope of the world is not an abstract idea, nor is it a stranger to us. The hope of the world is to be found in the love of God made real that first Christmas in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It is this same hope, this same Jesus, that inspired the actions of Wenceslas and provided the strength needed by Stephen to witness to his faith, making the ultimate sacrifice. Where, though, does that leave us?
I imagine it to be highly unlikely that you or I will ever be in the position to have to offer up our own lifeblood for the sake of the Gospel, but what may we be asked, commanded, to relinquish – time – talent – material resources? The truth is that it will be all three. Yet these are not just what we have as individuals but those things we hold on to as a people too. Our world needs hope, it needs the Gospel, it needs Jesus. But the world will only see this if we witness to it. While we fixate on status, position, tradition, and buildings it will not see. Could it be that we are being asked to forsake these things in order that the world may see its true hope? As the body of Christ in this place and time we need to consider that this may be the cost to us of mission.
These are not easy sacrifices in thought or in practice. But it is through such depth of sacrifice of those things that we hold dear that we will be freed to witness for the Gospel, as did Wenceslas, as did Stephen. It is when we are free of such great weights, such shackles, that we will be free to witness, to be ‘martyrs’ for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps then the world around us will see its hope shining through us, radiating from us. Perhaps then the world will see its hope; perhaps then it will see Jesus.
HYMN Good King Wences’las
Let us pray:
keep your church holy
and obedient to Your word.
May we follow the example of Christ,
from his boyhood to manhood,
from his birth to rising from the dead.
May we follow in wisdom and in grace.
grant to those of the world
with power and authority
both humility and mercy.
May they rule for the good of all.
May they strive for justice and equity,
lifting up the lowly and downtrodden.
bless the homes in this place,
both the ones represented here
and the many more that surround us.
May they be beacons in the dark,
radiating love, radiating peace,
and living in joy.
look on in compassion we pray
upon those who have lost loved ones,
especially those who have lost children.
In mercy look upon the sick
whether in heart, in mind, or in body.
Lord, be a healing presence in our midst.
we give thanks and praise
for those you have called home.
May we live by their example,
their hope, and their faith in you.
These prayers we bring in the name of Christ,
our living and resurrected Lord.
HYMN 322 Good Christians, all rejoice
Go from here in peace,
in joy, and in love.
And as you go
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Spirit Holy,
go with you
now and always.
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
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