As we consider the immensity of the problems and the pain currently racking the world, it’s hard to know where to begin with our prayers or to understand how they can possibly make a difference. So we simply offer to you our deep longings for a more peaceful, more fair, more flourishing world – trusting that somehow our longings can be caught up into yours and contribute to the healing activity of your spirit.
We offer our longing for reconciliation between and within the nations of the world
Particularly at this time we hold up to you the United States of America in their turmoil, and ask your blessing on the new leadership as they seek to heal the deep rifts in their society.
We offer our longing for the restoration of health
We hold up to you the vast damage and suffering of the Covid crisis, and ask your blessing on all who are racing against time and exhaustion to bring it under control.
We offer our longing for comfort where there is distress
We hold up to you those who are sick and those who are dying, the frightened, the anxious and the bereaved – and we ask your blessing on all who are striving to offer care and compassion.
We offer our longing for togetherness
We hold up to you those who are struggling with loneliness, and those who feel unwanted or unsupported by society. We ask your blessing on all who are committed, in public and private ways, to building a more caring community where everyone will feel welcome and valued – as they are in your kingdom.
Heavenly Father, help us to hang on to the single truth that you have never stopped loving this world and that in Jesus you chose to become part of it. We thank you for the hope and the promise of his name Emmanuel – the God who is always with us.
Hymn: Wise men seeking Jesus
Organ voluntary: Prelude on the introit for Epiphany (Maurice Duruflé)
Johann Vexo plays the organ of Our Lady of Refuge Church, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Hello and welcome to our circuit service online for Covenant Sunday.
Leader: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations People: You are the one true God who reigns forever.
Hymn: A great and mighty wonder
Prayers and reading: Psalm 50
Leader: Almighty God, you search our hearts, and you know every part of us. All our desires are known to you, and from you no secrets are hidden. By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, cleanse our hearts so we may perfectly love you and glorify your holy name. We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Leader: Now as God’s dearly loved children, let us pray together:
People: Our Father in heaven, holy is your Name Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven Give us today your daily bread And forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil For the Kingdom, the power, and glory are yours, both now and forever. Amen.
Reading:Psalm 50 (NRSV) 1 The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’ 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.
7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. 8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt-offerings are continually before me. 9 I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. 10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the air,[a] and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,[b] and pay your vows to the Most High. 15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’
16 But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? 17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. 18 You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers.
19 ‘You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child. 21 These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
22 ‘Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. 23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me; to those who go the right way[c] I will show the salvation of God.’
Song: Blessed be your name
Reading and prayers
Reading: John 15:1-8 (The Message) 1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. 4 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. 5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
Leader: Dearly loved brothers and sisters, the Christian life is a life found in Christ, redeemed from sin, and consecrated to God. We are those who have entered into this life and have been admitted into the new covenant of Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of this covenant. He sealed it with His own blood so it would last forever.
On one side of this covenant stands God, who promises to give us new life in Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Every day God proves His goodness and grace to us, showing us that His promise still stands firm.
On the other side, we stand as those who promise to no longer live life for ourselves but instead to only live for Jesus Christ because he has loved us and given his life for us.
There are times in our lives when it is important for us to remember and reaffirm our promises and vows. In this same way, we come today to renew our covenant with God. Many generations have done this before us. In these moments we make the covenant our own, renewing with both joy and sincerity the covenant that binds us all to God.
Leader: We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:
People: Father God, you have set forth the way of life through your Son Jesus Christ, whom you love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of him and have been reluctant to follow him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed your beauty to us, but we have been blind. You have stretched out your hands to us through friends and strangers alike, but we have passed them by. We have accepted your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of your unchanging love.
Leader: We now confess to you our sins. Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship… for the selfishness of our prayers… for our inconsistency and unbelief… for the ways we neglect fellowship and your grace… for our hesitation to tell others about Christ…. for the ways we deceive others…
People: Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.
Leader: Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.
People: Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.
Leader: Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.
Words of Assurance and Pardon
Leader: God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Leader: Let us, gathered here before the Lord now in covenant commit ourselves to Christ as his servants. Let us give ourselves to him so that we may fully belong to him. Jesus Christ has left us with many services to be done. Some of these services are easy and honourable, but some are difficult and distasteful. Some line up with our desires and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we please both Christ and ourselves, but then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Jesus Christ, we offer You this prayer:
People: Let me be Your servant. Let me follow your commands. I will no longer follow my own desires. I give myself completely to your will.
Leader: The power and strength to live as true servants is given to us in Christ. We accept the place and work that He gives us, acknowledging that He alone will be our reward.
People: I am not my own. I am yours alone. Make me into what you will. Rank me with those you will. Put me to use for you. Put me to suffering for you. Let me be employed for you. Let me be laid aside for you. Let me be lifted high for you. Let me be brought low for you. Let me be full or let me be empty. Let me have all things or let me have nothing. With a willing heart, I freely give everything to your pleasure and disposal.
Leader: Christ is Saviour to those who are his servants. He is the source of all salvation to those who obey. To be his servant is to consent fully to his will. Christ accepts nothing less. Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.
Now confirm this truth in holy covenant. Make it a reality in your life in these ways:
First, set apart time in your day, more than once, to be spent alone with the Lord. Seek to perceive God’s special care for you and gracious acceptance of you. Carefully think through the words of this covenant and its conditions. Examine your heart, even if you have freely given your life to Christ. Name the sins in your life. Reflect on whether you are willing to choose Christ’s commands. Be sure you are clear in all of these, so you do not lie to God!
Second, uphold a spirit of holy awe, reverence servanthood.
Third, claim God’s covenant. Do not trust in your own strength and power but rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength. In this way, God will empower you to keep your promise.
Fourth, be determined to be faithful. You have given your heart and life to God. You have opened your mouth to dedicate yourself to the Lord. With God’s power, never go back to your former way of living.
And last, be prepared to renew your covenant with God. Fall on your knees. Lift your hands. Open your hearts.
People: My righteous God, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, be with me now. Forgive my unfaithfulness when I have not done your will. You promise mercy if I turn to you with my whole heart.
Leader: God requires that you rid yourself of every idol in your life.
People: From the bottom of my heart, I here and now renounce every idol in my life, covenanting with you that I will not commit any known sin. In your loving power I will watch for any temptation that will lead me away from you.
Leader: Through Jesus Christ, God offers to be your God again.
People: Before all heaven and earth, I here and now acknowledge you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as my Lord and God. I vow to give all of myself, body and soul, to be your servant and to serve you in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.
Leader: Jesus Christ is the way and is God with us. God has given us Jesus as the way of life in all its fullness.
People: Jesus, I here and now accept you and the only new and living Way. I join myself in covenant with you. I come to you hungry, sinful, miserable, blind, and naked, unworthy even to wash the feet of your servants. With all my strength, I accept you as my living Lord. I renounce my own unworthiness, and vow that you are the Lord, my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom and take you for my only guide. I renounce my own ways and take your ways upon myself.
Leader: Christ has told you that you must suffer with him.
People: Jesus, I here and now make this covenant with you and accept whatever comes in life. Through your grace I promise that neither life nor death will separate me from you.
Leader: God has given holy ways as the rule of your life.
People: I here and now willingly take on your yoke and burden. All your ways are holy, just, and good. I accept them as my way of life, for my words, thoughts, and actions, promising I will strive to order my whole life around your direction. I will not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.
Leader: The Almighty God searches and knows you, even the thoughts of your heart.
People: O God, you know that we have made this covenant today in sincerity, without deceit or reluctance. If you find anything false in us, guide us and help us to set it right. And now, glory be to you, God the Father. From this day forward, I shall look upon you as my God. Glory be to you, God the Son. You have loved me and saved me from my sin. From this day forward, I shall look upon you as my Saviour and Redeemer. Glory be to you, O God the Holy Spirit. By your almighty power, you have turned my heart from sin to God. From this day forward I shall look upon you as my Comforter and Guide. O mighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have now become my Covenant Friend. And I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant. You are mine and I am yours. So be it. May this covenant that I have made here on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Hymn: Here on the threshold of a new beginning
Dismissal with blessing
Leader: May our God, who establishes covenant relationship with those who seek to enter the Kingdom, be with you always. May Jesus Christ, who seals the new covenant with his blood on the cross, bring you peace. May the Holy Spirit guide your life both now and for ever. Go in peace to serve the Lord!
Hello, and welcome to this online service for the third day of Christmas from the Oxford Methodist Circuit. I’m Ian Leck, a Local Preacher from Woodstock, and I look forward to sharing with you in worship today. Whoever you are and wherever you are, you are most welcome.
Our call to worship comes from the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist:
“Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel who has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty saviour born of his servant David… In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Amen.
Prayers of thanksgiving and confession:
This week, most of us will have been getting presents from other people and giving presents to them. We’re going to begin our prayers now by saying “Thank you” for all the presents that God has given us, and the presents that God will be going on giving us in the New Year. We’ll follow that by asking for forgiveness for our failure to use God’s presents as we should. Let us pray.
Ever-loving God, we thank you this morning for all the joys Christmas has brought us even in these troubled times – joys like those that come from giving and receiving presents and cards, and above all the joy of celebrating your gift of Jesus and the assurance of your love that he brought .
We thank you for whatever other good times we’ve had in the year that is now ending, and for the people who helped to make those times good.
We thank you for giving us life itself, and for being with us and offering your help even in the bad times we’ve lived through in this strange year.
And we thank you that in all the years to come you will remain with us, to give us hope and to help us to know and to do what is best for us and for our world. For all your good gifts, we thank you, God.
We also remember before you that we have often misused your good gifts. We are your children, made in your image, but we have defaced that image. All too often we have used selfishly the talents and property you have given us, rather than using those gifts to benefit other people; and in failing to love other people as ourselves, we have failed to love you.
Open our eyes, we pray, to see how we so often misuse your gifts. Make us penitent and forgive us. And strengthen us in the years ahead to follow more faithfully the loving teaching and example of Jesus – to obey him as our supreme Lord. We ask it in his name. Amen.
We’re now going to hear the gospel appointed for today, which follows on from the story of the shepherds visiting the baby Jesus in Luke’s gospel. And following that reading, we shall have the first of our two songs, no.229 in Singing the Faith – a song by Andrew Pratt, a present-day Methodist minister, which is based on our reading.
Reading name: Luke 2:22-38
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’),and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
“Mary and Joseph came to the Temple” (StF 229)
Being asked to lead this online service has highlighted for me the impact that Covid-19 has had on our patterns of worship. Instead of being able to meet Sunday by Sunday, we’ve been locked out of our church buildings some weeks, and the rest of the time we’ve been having to decide whether to take the risk of infection that even attending a shortened service in masks may involve. And only those of us who have computers of some kind have been able to tune into online services like this one. Whatever long term effects all this may have on the numbers of people sharing in services of worship week by week, it gives us a good reason for thinking about why we should do this. And the story in today’s appointed gospel reading about Simeon’s and Anna’s encounter with Jesus when they were worshipping in their main church, the Jewish Temple, is a good place to start. That’s especially so if we link it to the other two times in Jesus’s life when Luke’s gospel tells us that he visited that Temple – one when he was twelve, and one when he was probably in his early thirties. I’m grateful for the Iona Community for opening my eyes to that link, through a song from them that focuses on it.
We begin with Jesus’s first time in the Temple, the time that we’ve already heard and sung about. Although Jesus was only a little baby on that first visit, seeing him there opened the minds of two old people, Anna and Simeon, to new insights – in particular, insight into the good news he was to bring, of which Simeon said “my eyes have seen your salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30, 32).
In our church too, we can meet Jesus and receive new insights from him, through hymns, prayers, readings and sermons, and through each other as we share our hopes and fears, our doubts and convictions, and our love. And as I’m within two months of being ninety, I’d like to think that like Simeon and Anna we’re never too old to receive new insights!
I remember a service in Woodstock when Michael Skinner was still ministering there. He said then that our faith that God had created the universe and all kinds of living things did not mean having to believe that this only took six days of twenty-four hours. After that service, someone who was in her late eighties at the time and is now no longer with us said “I’d never realised that before. Wasn’t I silly?” Her ability to accept a new insight in her late eighties was actually the opposite of silly. She, like Anna and Simeon, reminded us to be open to what’s new, to welcome new insights, however old we are, and however old those are who have new insights to share with us.
So much for the experiences of those who met Jesus on his first visit to the Temple. Jesus’s second visit to the Temple which Luke’s gospel describes is the one when he was twelve years old and went there with his parents to celebrate the Passover – and he stayed behind when his parents had set off home. When they went back to look for him, they “found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2: 46). And when Jesus’ parents told him of the anxiety he’d caused them, he said “Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
What does this story say to us about the experiences we may have when we go to church? Well, just as the teachers in the Temple had questions put to them by the child Jesus, so we are likely to find ourselves faced by questions – questions raised in our minds by the worship and the study of our faith in which we share in church, and questions from those whom we meet there. In particular, like the teachers in the Temple we may face questions from children and others with a childlike faith, and Jesus may speak to us in their questions. I know that my wife Ann, who’s one of our Junior Church leaders at Woodstock, has found her own faith being challenged and so helped to develop by the questions that our young people have asked her. That’s how it must have been for the teachers who met the child Jesus on his second visit to the Temple.
The third of Jesus’s times of visiting the Temple which Luke’s gospel describes began on the first Palm Sunday. Luke says that after Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, ‘he went into the Temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers”’ (Luke 19:45-46).The temple authorities were robbing the pilgrims who came there to pray, by charging them highly inflated prices both for the animals and birds that they were expected to sacrifice and for the currency that they needed to pay the temple tax that they were charged. The profits those authorities could make from the people who came to worship mattered more to them than the people themselves did.
What can we churchgoers learn from Jesus’ third visit to the Temple? One thing which we and our capitalist society need to hear at least as much as the people did who were in the Temple that day is that people matter more than profits. And more generally, that story of Jesus challenging those in the Temple by witnessing to the importance of people reminds us that it’s often when we’re together physically or on line for church worship that the teaching and example of Jesus will challenge us.
So to sum up, it’s often when we’re worshipping in church, physically or virtually, that Jesus comes to us, just as he came to those in the Temple on the three occasions we’ve been remembering. He came and comes to challenge us and our priorities – not only by his own words and example as he did on his third visit to the Temple, but also by the words and examples of the other people we meet at church, including both those who are young, as Jesus himself was on his second visit to the Temple, and those who are old, as Anna and Simeon were at Jesus’ first Temple visit.
May God help us to know when Jesus is challenging us – challenging us through the written word, through other people, and in other ways, both in church and out of it.
And when Jesus does challenge us, may we listen and respond, and so reflect more brightly in our own lives that “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” of which old Simeon spoke. Amen.
Prayer for ourselves:
We’ll now bring our prayers of intercession to God, beginning with a prayer that we may listen and obey whenever and however Jesus challenges us. Let us pray.
Eternal God, we give you thanks for the teaching and example of Jesus our Lord, and we thank you that he continues to challenge us in so many ways – in services of worship; in our interactions with the people, young and old, whom we meet day by day; in our own reading of what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ words and deeds and of what others have written about him; and in the secret thoughts and feelings of our own hearts and minds. For all these experiences we give you thanks, and we pray that whenever Jesus challenges us you will help us to listen, and to obey by loving and caring for our neighbours worldwide and so showing our love for you. Amen.
Ever-loving God, as we move into an uncertain new year, we pray for our troubled world in its struggle against the effects of the current pandemic and of climate change on health and wellbeing. We pray for our troubled nation as it loosens its ties with Europe. We remember particularly the leaders of this and other nations, and all who work for health and wellbeing.. May your heavenly light shine upon them,and give them strength and wisdom.
We pray for the Church and other faith communities throughout the world, as we continue to adjust to changing patterns of worship through and beyond the pandemic.
May your heavenly light shine upon us,and enliven our faith.
We pray for people who are sick in body, mind, or spirit, and for all those who care for them. We pray for those affected by poverty, violence, racism, climate change, and all the suffering that people inflict on each other. May your heavenly light shine upon them,and bring them hope.
We pray for those who are bereaved, that you will comfort and strengthen them in their dark days.
May your heavenly light shine upon them,and grant them peace.
We pray for ourselves. As Jesus inspired faith, keep us faithful to our calling. As Jesus brought hope, make us messengers of hope. As Jesus gave peace, turn us into peacemakers. As Jesus embodied love, rekindle love in us, so that the light that shone on Simeon and Anna in the Temple may shine on through us today. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our second song is no. 190 in “Singing the Faith” – Angels from the realms of glory – which so far as I know is the only well-known carol that mentions Simeon and Anna – the “saints before the altar bending” in verse 4.
Lord, your faithful servants Anna and Simeon had dreams and visions that sustained them into their old age. Enrich us all with visions and dreams that sustain us from one year to the next, so that our eyes may always be bright with the life that we see all around. And send us out, today and all days, to love and to cherish the world and all its people. Amen.
Organ voluntary: In dulci jubilo, BWV 729 (J.S. Bach)
Mark McDonald plays the organ of Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC, Canada
Hello and welcome to Christmas day and our service of celebration at this holy time, as we mark the coming of Christ and of God in the babe Jesus, God of all people. Some kings have tried in vain to count the multitudes of their subjects. You instead invite all to a feast that celebrates the truest vocation of humanity to create community and give glory to you who made all. Today you invite us and we together turn to you in gratitude and thanks for your invitation. Amen.
Prayer and Introduction to “O Come all ye Faithful”
Let us pray. We sing a song today, a song for all of the wonder of your goodness. Authority resting on the small shoulders of a child who calls us to everlasting peace. Amen, amen, amen. Praise be to you o God, born among us. And we sing our first hymn, it’s the carol “O come all ye faithful”.
Hymn – O Come all ye Faithful
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Let us pray. Jesus of Nazareth, small child of Bethlehem, you were not born in a stable but you were laid in a manger. A manger filled with warm hay, probably in the living room of Joseph’s kinsfolk in Bethlehem. We have all woken in homes today, some busy some quiet, some owned some temporary. Help us to see that our homes are the places where you come to live in all your glory and gather us here your people, held in the quiet of your birth among us, ordinary and extraordinary all at once. What are we but ordinary people to be called as witnesses to the great birth. We are the people you have called and we approach you in joy and humility, in gratitude and hope, glad to honour what is most important today, that all life is to be honoured and peace is to be sought. Jesus of Nazareth, the smallness of your birth in the confusion of a city calls us to smallness, and so often we too cause the confusion we get lost in so many things. We turn now from those ways of stress. We take a moment to recognize the quiet voice in us calling us back again and again to what matters most. Forgive us. Take us, quieten us, to pay attention to love. Amen.
Introduction to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
We sing our second carol together now, which is “O little town of Bethlehem”
We sing our next carol! It’s the hymn “It came upon the midnight clear”.
Hymn: It came upon the midnight clear
[text given below]
What is it that excites you most about Christmas Day? Well there could be many things in your mind, not least that some of those excitements have been denied us because of the current restrictions across the country and elsewhere in the world. We’re grateful for the technology that allows us to speak to people, not just in the UK, family and friends but also those further afield. I read this poem which I’m going to share with you. The first Christmas by Marianne Swinger, and it puts us into the context of that first Christmas.
It never snows at Christmas in that dry and dusty land instead of freezing blizzards there are palms and drifting sands and years ago a stable and a most unusual star and three wise men who followed it by camel not by car while sleepy on the quiet hills a shepherd gave a cry he’d seen a crowd of angels in the silent starlit sky in the stable ox and ass stood very still and calm and gazed upon the baby safe and snug in Mary’s arms and Joseph lost in shadows, face lit by an oil lamps glow stood wondering that first Christmas day two thousand years ago.
Well we might ponder as Mary did on the difference between our Christmas Day, assuming it goes reasonably as planned, and Christmas Day as described in that poem. In the busyness of today, how can we stay focused on the peace of the manger? God, it seems, has a habit of working in the most unlikely of places and through the most unlikely of people. We noticed the emperor exercising his power and declaring that all the world should be registered, yet in the midst of this display of power, with all its accompanying noise and chaos, we are taken in the story to a baby lying in a manger. We are reminded that amid the voices of power and the noise of life, God is quietly and gently and always present working in the most unexpected places. There’s something about taking the time to notice. It’s a gift that many have, recognizing that in the ordinariness of our everyday lives, God is at work. Imagine the shepherds in the field that night, tending to their sheep as usual, then all of a sudden an angel appearing and instructing them to go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place. They encountered God in their place of work, not in a synagogue or a temple, not in a place where spiritual things are meant to happen, and having got their attention God takes them to the basement of an ordinary home. Is God trying to get your attention in order to look somewhere different? In luke’s gospel Emperor Augustus is portrayed as someone capable of ordering people half a world away to move around to be registered. That phrase is repeated three times in three verses. Still today there are people who have inordinate power over others half a world away. Politicians such as the President of the United States or the premier of China or even Boris Johnson, our own prime minister, come first to mind, but we might also think of those who influence the world’s media and social media, not just the owners, but also the so-called opinion formers, with millions of followers. But in the Gospel reading the focus quickly moves from such powerful people to Mary, pondering these things in her heart. I found this little poem which has helped me as I’ve prepared for this Christmas. It may help you too.
Stop focusing on the affairs of princes, presidents, prime ministers and other potentates on earth. Don’t get carried away like excitable shepherds. Just stop this day and ponder the things of heaven.
Amen and God bless you and all this Christmas.
Introduction to “Mary did you know”
Of course we love to share together in the traditional carols of this Christmas season, but it’s also wonderful to know that people are still in these contemporary times writing wonderful music to mark this most wonderful of events, and we now are going to have our next song, which is called “Mary did you know”.
As we delight today in receiving gifts from friends and family in a memorial of those gifts that were bought by the wise ones and the shepherds and all those who attended the birth of our Lord, we pray together. Our God, you remind us that the truest gift is the gift of love. Today, giving and unwrapping gifts with joy and maybe even some disappointment, let us love one another because love comes from you and love is the best thing worth celebrating. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession, and the Lord’s Prayer
We turn to our prayers again now, as we pray for others and especially for those in need on this Christmas day. Today O Lord, in all the demands we pray for those who are facing a Christmas without someone they love. God of goodness, hear us and be with us today. In all the delights, we pray for those who are facing a Christmas alone. God of goodness, hear us and be with us today. In all the celebration we pray for those who are facing conflicts. God of goodness hear us and be with us today. At all the time at tables we pray for those who are hungry. God of goodness, hear us and be with us today. As we look back on a difficult year for the whole world, we pray that you would bring us peace. God of goodness hear us and be with us as we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Introduction to “Hark the herald angels sing”
And so as I wish you a very peaceful and holy Christmas we sing our final carol, “Hark the herald angels sing”.
And a blessing: God send us out into the world now, knowing that in small moments today and every day we can see you and honour you, and the blessing of God, father, son and holy spirit, be with you and with those you love and seek to love, now and for evermore Amen. Happy Christmas.