Sunday 20th December

 

Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer

 

Lord God, we praise you for the wonders of your creation.  We look around us in this beautiful part of the world, where we are privileged to live, we see your daily blessings, and we thank you for them.  For the night sky and for the glory of dawn; for the green hills and the fertile valleys; for all your creatures, from the greatest to the least. Lord God we praise you.  Lord for this time of celebrating Christmas, for the joy and goodwill between all, for the gathering together, however circumscribed by the strange times and Covid restrictions we live with, we thank you.

And as we consider your generosity to us, we come before you today Lord, aware of our shortcomings; of the sins of action, and of inaction, of word, thought and heart, of friends and family we have hurt by deeds or neglect, of all the dishonourable thoughts and words that besmirch our lives.  We confess before you our need for your cleansing love.

You Lord are a God of Love, a God of forgiveness, and you call us, just as we are, to come to you for your loving blessing.  None of us is perfect, and never will be this side of heaven, but through the redeeming love of our saviour Jesus, we can come to you for forgiveness.  Lord have mercy on us.

We rejoice in your marvellous gifts to us; the gift of speaking and of singing your praise; the gift of laughter and the joy of music; the gifts of cleansing tears, and of healing forgiveness.  Lord we praise you.

We praise you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, for his marvellous birth and life, his sacrifice for our salvation, for his love and for our redemption.  And in the words he taught us, we are bold to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name………

Amen.

As we walk through these dark days of the drawing in of winter, walking toward to light and the hope of Christmas, God is the One who journeys with us, whose nature is steadfast love and faithfulness, and whose wisdom and spiritual purposes are hidden from worldly minds.  The people of the Old Testament knew about waiting, longing for change, longing for God’s blessing.  Before we consider Mary, and her place in the wonderful story of Jesus birth, we’ll take a moment to ponder on the build up to the Holy Birth – the long years of waiting for the coming of the Messiah that is so poignantly portrayed in the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel.

 

 

 

 

 

Hymn CH4 273  Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel.

 

1.   O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
                  Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
                  shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

2     O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
    who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
    in ancient times didst give the law
    in cloud and majesty and awe:

 

3     O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
    thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
    from depths of hell thy people save,
    and give them victory o’er the grave:

 

4     O come, thou Key of David, come,
    and open wide our heavenly home;
    make safe the way that leads on high,
    and close the path to misery:

 

5     O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
    our spirits by thine advent here;
    disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
    and death’s dark shadows put to flight:

 

Our text for today is the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce the coming of Jesus.  As we approach the birth of the Christ Child, we may reflect on Mary as mother but extend our thinking to God as Mother, in the way suggested by the mystic, Julian of Norwich. Julian, who lived through the Black Death (1347-51) and the Peasants’ Revolt(1381), wrote of God as the One who gives birth to us, and who bestows upon us infinite grace.

In the vision of the hazelnut, she said: “He showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘What is this?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, ‘It exists, both now and for ever, because God loves it.”

In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God.  In the midst of our strange times, of over a million virus-related deaths around the world, we may focus the attention of our soul on the simple hazelnut: God loves the world, everyone and everything in it; God’s Presence permeates all that is.

Thus the mystical encounter between the divine messenger, Gabriel, and the young girl, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

 

Luke 1:26-38 

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Today we meditate on the virgin birth of Jesus.  Or, to be more accurate, the virgin conception of Jesus, which began with the pregnancy of his virgin mother.

The Bible is very clear that Mary conceived the boy Jesus before she had slept with any man.  She was engaged to Joseph, but had not slept with him (v27); she would not sleep with him until after they were married and Jesus was born (Matthew 1 v25).  She was a godly young woman; Joseph was a righteous man.  They lived in a culture that valued virginity before marriage, in a way that has become foreign to our society, but right and beautiful.  They knew as well as we do that babies are not conceived except by the natural process of human procreation.

So when Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive a baby, she is surprised.  Very, very surprised.  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v34).

The virgin conception of the Lord Jesus is both wonderful and meaningful; it points us to at least three facets of the incarnation.  First, this miracle makes it clear that the sending of Jesus was entirely the sovereign work of God himself.  There have been astonishing births recorded in the Old Testament – Isaac, Jacob and Esau and others.  In the New Testament the birth of John the Baptist equally astonishing, but all these births involved both a father and a mother who wanted a child,, who were at least trying for a baby, sleeping together, and praying for conception.  But Mary’s conception is quite simply a miracle wrought by God alone, at His decision and involvement.

Secondly the virgin conception of Jesus proves to us that God did not adopt Jesus as his Son.  We, through our belief in Jesus are adopted into the family of God, but Jesus was not.  Some people suggest that Jesus was a remarkable man, and so God decided to adopt him as his Son,perhaps at his baptism, perhaps at his birth. But the virgin conception means that from the very first moment of his human existence, Jesus was and had always been the Son of God.  This moment, this hidden, unwitnessed instant in the womb of the virgin Mary was the most astonishing miracle in all of human history.

And this mystery points the third facet of Jesus’ birth.  This baby boy was at the same time both fully human, having inherited a fully human nature from Mary, and also fully divine.  He was, as theologians later described it, one undivided person possessed of two natures: the divine nature he had possessed from all eternity as part of the triune Godhead, and the human nature he was given from Mary.  In some astonishing way we can never completely describe or analyse, Jesus Christ was and is fully man and fully God.

And this really matters, it means that standing in heaven now at the right hand of God is the perfect priest – one who is able to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet who did not sin. (Hebrews 4 v15)  Jesus understands our selfish decisions of our own comfort over others, our loss f temper and control, our lustful or covetous thoughts.  He knows.  And yet he was without sin, so he can save you out of it all.

No wonder Christians down the ages have stood in awe and wonder as the – and now we – have contemplated the miracle of Jesus Christ, son of God made flesh.

 

As we come to the end of Advent and look forward to Christmas, let us offer to God all that is on our hearts, all that is good and lovely, all that is dark in our lives and in the world, all that fills us with hope and light, all that concerns and distresses us today, for we are told in the book of Proverbs - “ Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Let us pray:

Lord God we come to you with thankful hearts for the love and hope of Christmas, the promise of Jesus and the joy and peace He brings each one of us.  O God our Creator, thank you that you have compassion on us, that you love us and want our good.  Father God, you who embody all justice, all mercy and all truth, hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto you;

O God our Creator, bless all those who know nothing of Jesus, or having heard of Jesus do not want to know of  him. Help us as your Church to reach out to them, that this Christmas they may know the radiance, the reassurance and the hope of the love of Jesus.

O God our Creator, help all those who lead the nations of the world to make wise decisions.  You Father have put people in positions of authority and leadership;  may they conduct themselves with honour, with integrity and with truth, and may they see Jesus as the light of their world, hear his voice and follow his guidance.

O God our Creator, we pray for all those who live in darkness or despair. We remember before you all those who struggle in these times of disease and fear, those in other lands who live with war, of oppression, injustice and disaster.  We remember before you all those who are in prison, who are ashamed and afraid.  Help them to know that you love them, and to believe that you can bring them out of darkness and into light.  Give us hearts of compassion, Lord, that we may truly be Your hands and feet in these hard places.

O God our Creator, we remember before you all those who are sick, in body or in mind.  We remember before  you all those who struggle with addiction.  We remember before you all those who grieve and mourn, those who face a winter and a Christmas of loneliness and despair.  I particular at this time we bring before you Sally’s husband Allister and her children and grandchildren.  We remember those known to us who are unwell, (Jessie Thomson) and in a time of quietness we lift them to you now.  …Lord, comfort them with your peace and your presence, that they may know they are not alone.

And finally, O God our Creator, we offer up to you ourselves and our loved ones, asking that you would encourage and guide us as you know to be needful, that we may truly reflect your loving face to  this broken world.

Lord, hear our prayers through Jesus, who faced so much darkness for our sake.  In his precious name,       

 

Amen.

Closing Hymn CH4 285 The angel Gabriel from heaven came

 

  1      The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,
          his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
          ‘All hail,’ said he, ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,
          most highly favoured lady.’
          Gloria!

  2      ‘For known a blessèd Mother thou shalt be,
          all generations laud and honour thee,
          thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold;
          most highly favoured lady.’
          Gloria!

  3      Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
          ‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said.
          ‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name’:
          most highly favoured lady.
          Gloria!

  4      Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
          in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
          and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say,
          ‘Most highly favoured lady.’
          Gloria!

 

Blessing

 

May the God of all creation, who brought the light of Jesus into the world, fill you with his love and his glory.  And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you now, be in your homes and in your families and with all those whom you love and for whom you pray.  Amen.