Sunday 27th December 2020 – 1st after Christmas Day
A warm welcome as you join us for today’s service of prayer, music and readings for the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day.
We begin today’s worship with Isaac Watts’ great hymn, ‘Joy to the world! The Lord is come’ sung to the tune ‘Antioch’.
A prayer for today. Let us pray.
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image, and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that we, as he came to share in our humanity, may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
We bring before God our Prayer of Confession. Let us say together:
Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you,
in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart and soul
and mind and strength.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
In your mercy, forgive what we have been,
help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be,
so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
Hear the good news!
Christ died for us, Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.
The old life has gone; a new life has begun.
Believe the good news of the gospel:
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Today’s reading from the Old Testament begins in the 61st chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, beginning at the 10th verse.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Our 2nd hymn is ‘Lo, how a rose e’er blooming’, harmonised by Michael Praetorius.
1 Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung,
of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.
2 Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
the rose I have in mind;
with Mary we behold it,
the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
she bore to men a Saviour,
when half-spent was the night.
(repeat 1st verse)
The Epistle is written in the 4th chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, beginning at the 4th verse.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
The Gradual Psalm set for today is Psalm 148
O PRAISE the Lord of heaven : praise him in the height.
Praise him, all ye angels of his : praise him, all his host.
Praise him, sun and moon : praise him, all ye stars and light.
Praise him, all ye heavens : and ye waters that are above the heavens.
Let them praise the Name of the Lord : for he spake the word, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created.
He hath made them fast for ever and ever : he hath given them a law which shall not be broken.
Praise the Lord upon earth : ye dragons, and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and vapours : wind and storm, fulfilling his word;
Mountains and all hills : fruitful trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle : worms and feathered fowls;
Kings of the earth and all people : princes and all judges of the world;
Young men and maidens, old men and children, praise the Name of the Lord : for his Name only is excellent, and his praise above heaven and earth.
He shall exalt the horn of his people; all his saints shall praise him : even the children of Israel, even the people that serveth him.
The Holy Gospel is written in the 2nd chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, beginning at the 22nd verse.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him 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 turtledoves 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 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.
The Nunc Dimittis, or song of Simeon, sung by the choir of Wakefield Cathedral, set to music by George Dyson in D major.
We welcome a new contributor to our services this week, for her insights into today’s readings from the bible. Kirsty Massey, who is already known to several worshippers at St Andrews, is a member of the teaching staff at Birkdale Prep School and is currently undergoing training for ministry in the church. Many thanks, Kirsty, for your reflection this week.
Our 3rd hymn today is ‘Angels from the realms of glory’, sung to a traditional French melody.
Let us pray.
We thank you, living Lord and ever-loving Saviour, for bringing us safely to the end of another year. This has been a year of unusually strong contrasts of darkness and light, with much of the light prevailing over the darkness. There has been darkness in the natural world, which seems to be in turmoil in its apparent efforts to re-assert its authority over humankind after many decades of abuse. We are sorry for any part we may have played in upsetting the intricate balances of your world, for profit or for sport, intentionally or as a result of ignorance. We know that you have provided on the earth, sufficient for us to sustain and maintain life, and we are grateful for the creative gifts you have given us, which enable us to recognise and harness the amazing powers built into the forces of our natural world for the good of all. Grant us the wisdom to move forward in a spirit of understanding, that we may become better stewards of the earth, which you have made and provided for us. Help us to rebuild and restore the habitats of all your creatures; not only those who live on the earth, but also of the creatures of the seas below and the skies above. May it become our desire to live in true balance and harmony with nature, and to replenish the fruits of the earth which we use. Thank you, Lord, for your guiding Light.
Darkness has also been at work in the human world of politics and the clashing ideals of different cultures and societies. Even in our own society, there have been differences which have seemed almost impossible to resolve, and at times truth and justice have been difficult to distinguish from deceit and criminality. Truths appear to have been eroded by an excess of false information in the public domain, whilst realities have become blurred at the edges, and even replaced by virtual environments and a false sense of security. Many of us have been living under the threat of coronavirus for almost a year, escaping the worst by cutting ourselves off from one another in an attempt to stay safe. At the same time, some have ignored the dangers and flouted the advice of our councils and government officials, putting the rest of society at risk. Yet despite all these things, many people have been helping others by delivering necessities, caring for others and providing assistance to each other in times of need. Thank you, Lord, for your guiding Light.
This Christmas as at every Christmas-tide, we welcome the Light of the World into our midst, but rarely as enthusiastically and generously as we do at the present hour. May the power of the Lord help transform the negative elements of our world into positive ones; may the captives be let free; may evil intentions be made good; may the souls of the dying be brought into everlasting light; and may we all be refreshed in the coming year, newly fortified to bear the burdens of life with ease, supported by the loving-kindness of our God. Thank you, Lord, for your guiding Light. Amen.
We sum up our prayers using the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, saying:
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. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace. Be of good courage. Hold fast that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak. Help the afflicted. Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rest upon us and remain with us, this Christmastide and for evermore. Amen.
Our service today concludes with the hymn, ‘O love, how deep, how broad, how high’, sung to the tune ‘Eisenach’, led by the choir of Sheffield Cathedral.
1 O Love, how deep, how broad, how high!
How passing thought and fantasy
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.
2 He sent no angel to our race
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And he himself to his world came.
3 For us baptized, for us he bore
His holy fast, and hungered sore;
For us temptations sharp he knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.
4 For us to wicked men betrayed,
Scourged, mocked, in crown of thorns arrayed;
For us he bore the cross’s death;
For us at length gave up his breath.
5 For us he rose from death again,
For us he went on high to reign,
For us he sent his Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
6 All honour, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee,
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
Organ Voluntary: Postlude in D by Henry Smart, played by Anne Marsden Thomas on the organ of St Giles Church, Cripplegate, London.
Christmas Day – 25th December 2020
WELCOME to all of you who are sharing in this act of worship with us at St. Andrew’s this Christmas Day. If you have been using an Advent ring, today we add the 5th candle which symbolises the Light of the Christ-child. Our reflection today has been written by Judith Adam.
Today we celebrate the birthday of our Lord. Our introit anthem, which we last heard at the beginning of Advent, is ‘How beautiful upon the mountains’, by Sir John Stainer, which is also a setting of the first portion of our Old Testament reading. During the Introit, you may wish to light all five candles.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
A prayer for Christmas Day. Let us pray.
Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children. Grant us faith, O Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all of creation may sing new songs of gladness and walk in the way of peace. Amen.
The Old Testament reading for today is written in the 52nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, beginning to read at the 7th verse.
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Your watchmen shall lift up their voices,
With their voices they shall sing together;
For they shall see eye to eye
When the Lord brings back Zion.
Break forth into joy, sing together,
You waste places of Jerusalem!
For the Lord has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.
The first hymn today is, ‘O little town of Bethlehem’.
The Epistle is written in the 1st chapter of the letter of Paul to the Hebrews, beginning at the 1st verse.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous sceptre is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”
The appointed psalm for today is Psalm 98.
O SING unto the Lord a new song : for he hath done marvellous things.
With his own right hand, and with his holy arm : hath he gotten himself the victory.
The Lord declared his salvation : his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.
He hath remembered his mercy and truth toward the house of Israel : and all the ends of the world have seen the salvation of our God.
Shew yourselves joyful unto the Lord, all ye lands : sing, rejoice, and give thanks.
Praise the Lord upon the harp : sing to the harp with a psalm of thanksgiving.
With trumpets also and shawms : O shew yourselves joyful before the Lord the King.
Let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is : the round world, and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord : for he is come to judge the earth.
With righteousness shall he judge the world : and the people with equity.
The Christmas Gospel is Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, found at the beginning of the 2nd chapter.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it, wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Our next hymn is, ‘Away in a manger’.
Many thanks are due to Judith Adam for today’s reflection.
Some weeks ago, we feared that Christmas would be cancelled. What a prospect! No cheer in the middle of winter, a winter marked by anxiety and sadness for so many people. No services of lessons and carols! No pantomimes or parties! No family gatherings! No festive handshakes and hugs! Lockdown in November meant no Christmas shopping for four weeks! But, while this has certainly been a different Christmas, some things have happened as usual. Christmas lights went up in the city centre; Christmas trees appeared in house windows; Christmas cards dropped through the letter box, along with appeals from so many deserving charities. When shops did reopen, the crowds and queues gave cause for alarm. Other aspects of Christmas have happened in a different way. While whole families cannot gather round the table or congregations sing together in church, human ingenuity and creativity and technology have allowed us to ‘’see’’ family and friends, worship together while physically apart and enjoy a wealth of Christmas music. Not quite the same, but welcome, nevertheless.
How has this different Christmas affected you? While there are things you are no doubt missing, have the weeks before Christmas been calmer and less hectic than usual? The Christmas story alternates between movement and activity, calm and quiet. Caesar Augustus’ decree that people return to their home towns for a census disrupted lives, forcing people to undertake journeys, often long and arduous, including one particular weary mother-to-be, her baby’s birth imminent. When she and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem, they found it busy and bustling, the inns full. After Jesus’ birth there is a sense of calm as he sleeps in the manger with only his parents and a few animals for company. We move to another scene of calm, sheep in the fields, watched over by their shepherds. Suddenly the tranquillity is broken by an angel announcing the good news and ‘a multitude of the heavenly host’ singing! The shepherds’ fear turns to excitement – probably noisy excitement – as they hasten to find the baby. Luke tells us that they shared the good news and people reacted with wonder, while Mary simply treasured the memories of these events and contemplated what they might mean – another scene of calm and quiet.
Christmas has been different this year, but it has certainly not been cancelled. Christ was born and lived among us – there is still good news to celebrate. Can we make time for moments of quiet and calm to reflect on this and give thanks? Some of us may be on our own today, some people we love and care about may also be on their own; but Christ is with them and with us.
To finish, here is a message from Jane Bunyan-Murray, Synod Property Officer. It closed a paper which she sent recently on guidelines for worship over Christmas and Jane has kindly agreed to me sharing it.
‘’This Christmas will be different from any other that the majority of us can remember but I pray that for each of us it can be a meaningful one. The Christ child came as a flickering light into a disordered world, may his light shine on each of us and may he shine brightly in the darkness.’’
We sing the hymn, ‘See him lying in a bed of straw, also known as the Calypso Carol.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we have listened to your word, and proclaimed your praise. So prepare our hearts that we may be fit to receive your love, and our minds that we may understand your will. Endue us with the strength to bear witness to our glory in the world. You have spoken to us afresh through the prophets and reminded us again of your teachings, as we have celebrated your humble birth, in the knowledge of your ultimate suffering and death on the Cross and your glorious resurrection. We remember the witness of the generations of faithful men and women who trod this path before us; who followed and served you and who ultimately became your friends; grant that we, like them, may grow to become fruitful branches of your vine.
Today we remember especially the needs of your whole earthly family; grant peace and goodwill to all your people and restore unity and harmony throughout the world. Be with all those who are in need; the poor and the hungry, the cold and the sick, the dying and those who mourn, the oppressed and those who have no friends; the homeless and those who are neglected. Support and inspire those who care for them, and surround them with your love. As your kingdom draws near, help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to sing, and the lame to leap for joy! Let us rejoice together, therefore, with the souls of all who have gone before us into your kingdom, and with the whole company of Heaven, as we sum up our prayers in the words our Saviour taught us, saying:
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. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
And now let us go forth into the world in peace. May we be of good courage, holding fast to that which is good, and rendering to no-one evil for evil. Help us strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour one another; and love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon us, and remain with us this day and always. Amen.
Our final hymn today is, Hark, the herald angels sing, after which the choir will sing Sweelink’s acclaimed setting of ‘Hodie Christus Natus Est’ (Today, Christ is born).
RECESSIONAL ANTHEM: Hodie Christus Natus Est, by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, sung by Voices of Ascension
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: Variations on Noel X, by Claude Daquin, played by Pierre Bardon on the organ in Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.
Specification of the Organ:
The organ was built by Jean-Esprit Isnard, and his nephew Joseph Isnard in 1772, and is probably the finest classical French organ still preserved.
Stop List: I. POSITIF 50 notes, C-d3 sans le 1er ut dièse / without the 1st C sharp
Montre 8′ Bourdon 8′ Flûte 8′ Prestant 4′ Nazard 2-2/3′ Doublette 2′ Quarte de Nazard 2′ Tierce 1 3/5′ Larigot 1 1/3′ Fourniture III Cymbale III Dessus de cornet V Trompette 8′ Clarion 4′ Cromorne 8′
- GRAND ORGUE 50 notes, C-d3 sans le 1er ut dièse / without the 1st C sharp
Montre 16′ Bourdon 16′ Montre 8′ Bourdon 8′ Gros Nazard 5-1/3′ Prestant 4′ Grosse Tierce 3-1/5′ Grosse Fourniture II Petite Fourniture IV Cymbale IV Cornet V Trompette 8′ Dessus de Trompette en Chamade 8′ Voix humaine 8′
III. RÉSONANCE 50 notes, C-d3 sans le 1er ut dièse / without the 1st C sharp
Jeux de Pédale: Flûte 16′ Flûte 8′ Flûte 4′ Bombarde 16′ 1re Trompette 8′ 2e Trompette 8′ Clairon 4′ Jeux d’écho: Dessus de Flute 8′ Dessus de Cornet V Dessus de Trompette en chamade 8′
- RÉCIT 32 notes, g-d3
Cornet V Trompette 8′ Hautbois 8′
PÉDALE 32 notes, C-g1 Aucun jeu indépendant Tirasse permanente du 3e clavier / No independent stops Permanent coupler with Résonance Accouplements / Couplers: POS/GO RES/GO Tremblant doux, tremblant fort.
Sunday 20th December 2020 – 4th Sunday in Advent
WELCOME to our service of music and readings for the 4th Sunday in Advent. If you are using an Advent ring, please light four candles this week during the singing of the Introit Carol.
The 4th candle represents Love, which supplements the candles of Hope, Peace and Joy. There are many aspects of Love in our worship today, but chiefly the love of Mary, who learns that she is to bear a son by the Holy Spirit. We welcome back Chris Limb who has provided this week’s reflection on the bible readings.
Today’s Introit takes the form of a modern setting by John Joubert of an ancient English carol, ‘There is no rose of such virtue’, sung by the choir of Wakefield Cathedral.
There is no rose of such virtue As is the rose that bare Jesu; Alleluia.
For in this rose contained was Heaven and earth in little space; Res miranda.
By that rose we may well see That he is God in persons three, Pari forma.
Leave we all this worldly mirth, And follow we this joyful birth; Transeamus.
A Prayer for the 4th Sunday of Advent. Let us pray.
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
The reading from the Old Testament today comprises the 1st eleven verses and the 16th verse of the 7th chapter of the second book of Samuel.
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
For our 1st hymn today, we join the congregation of St. Mary’s Church of Ireland in Dromore, singing John Newton’s hymn, ‘Great Shepherd of your people, hear’.
The EPISTLE is written in the 16th chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, beginning to read at the 25th verse.
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
The GRADUAL PSALM today is verses 1 to 4, and 19 to 27, of the 89th Psalm.
The HOLY GOSPEL is written in the 1st chapter of the gospel according to Luke, beginning at the 26th verse.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
We sing the hymn, ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord’, sung to the tune ‘Woodlands’.
We are grateful to one of our regular preachers, Chris Limb, for todays reflection on the reading from Luke, chapter 1.
Luke 1: 26-38
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” So wrote the author, E.M. Forster. And it might seem a strange way to begin this 4th Sunday of Advent.
We’ve just listened to this morning’s Gospel Reading; immortalised in countless school and church nativity plays. The delightful story of Mary’s meeting with the Angel Gabriel. And yet, I’m pretty sure, had we been able to interview Mary before this happened, and been able to ask about her long-term plans for the future, I doubt very much if she would have predicted any encounters with angels. More than likely she’d have been hoping for a quiet life, to be spent with her husband-to-be, the village carpenter; raising a family, enjoying a (relatively) comfortable standard of living alongside their friends and neighbours. Not an awful lot to ask for, you’d think. Yet it wasn’t meant to be. Not in the way they’d expected, anyway. Her world was about to be turned upside down.
Although Mary plays such a pivotal role, we don’t really know all that much about her. If anything, Luke is the Gospel writer who gives us our clearest picture of her. And even this is rather sketchy. He’s the only one who tells us about this incident, and I can’t help feeling that in some ways it raises more questions than answers:
What was she doing when Gabriel spoke to her? Was she doing her chores, or sleeping, perhaps? Was it a kind of vivid, dreamlike encounter? I guess there’s no way of knowing.
But what about her reaction? What does that tell us about her? After Gabriel has greeted her (very respectfully), the Message Bible describes her as being “thoroughly shaken”. And who wouldn’t be? There seems to be a sense of confusion. “What on earth’s happening?” And so Gabriel immediately replies, “Don’t be afraid.” The very words Jesus himself would use many years later, when meeting his disciples after the Resurrection: “Don’t be afraid.” God is here. It’s going to be OK.
And so Gabriel gives her his message. He literally drops the ‘bombshell’: “God is pleased with you and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High.” (Verses 30-32 CEV). I’m guessing that’s enough to freak anyone out! Yet her response seems quite calm and reasoned, doesn’t it?
“How’s this going to happen? I’m not even married yet?”
We can only guess at her tone of voice, and what was going through her mind at the time. Mary lived in a very structured society with codes of conduct which everyone was expected to observe, without exception. And the idea of an unmarried girl finding herself pregnant was a cultural taboo. It really could have been disastrous for her. Just as in parts of the world today, she could have ended up being stoned to death. So the words of Gabriel would have most likely filled her with terror.
Gabriel’s response about the ‘Holy Spirit’; God’s very power of creativity making it possible (without any need for her to ‘sacrifice her honour’), seems to have put her mind at rest; along with the reassurance that she’s not on her own in all of this. Her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, quite out of the blue, has also become pregnant, and she, therefore, would be an ideal person in whom to confide.
And so, in Verse 38, Mary makes what’s really quite a stunning declaration: “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”
Yet, as time went on, and the truth of her predicament became a reality, I can’t help wondering if she ever had moments of doubt and anxiety? Did she ever ask the question, “Lord, why did you have to pick on me?” Especially when Joseph made out that he was going to walk out on the arrangement?
Again, it could never have been the kind of life either Mary or Joseph would have planned. Yet isn’t that so often the case? Doesn’t it resonate with our own experience of life? Particularly after the sort of year we’ve just had to endure! Perhaps if this year has taught us anything at all, it’s that life is full of uncertainties, and that we should never really take anything for granted. The old saying, “You never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, has never seemed more relevant.
For Mary and Joseph, it must have seemed as though the rug had been well-and-truly pulled from under them. Yet, at the end of the day, they learnt to face it together, head on, in the knowledge that God would ultimately bring them through it all. And it’s that knowledge which makes all the difference.
I once overheard a conversation between a rather cynical chap and a Minister. “Your ‘faith’ is nothing but a crutch to lean on,” sneered the cynic, to which the Minister replied, “No. It isn’t a crutch. It’s a full life-support system.” What a comeback!
In many ways, Mary represents the ideal example of a follower of Christ. Not that she’s some sort of a superhuman goddess. Because she isn’t. Doubtless she was an ordinary person with her share of flaws and faults. But what she did have was the ability to step willingly into the unknown, once she realised that it was what God wanted from her. “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” Again, what an astounding statement of faith and obedience. In an incredibly unique way that most of mankind will never really understand, Mary received into her body the yet-to-be-born, living Lord Jesus, becoming the Mother of the One who has always existed. Now that is utterly mind blowing!
In order to bring healing and hope to a corrupt, damaged, and terminally injured world, God literally stepped into the picture; the Creator became part of the Created. The ultimate act of Love on a cosmic scale. He wanted to empathise fully with us, as a fellow human being. He wanted to share our humanity fully, from birth to death, and beyond; to transform and renew us; as Jesus Himself said, “I came so that everyone would have life and have it fully.” (John 10:10 CEV)
And for her part, Mary was agreeing to co-operate in God’s plan to rescue and redeem humanity. How much of all this she understood at the time, who can say? I guess the bottom line is that she believed that God could be relied upon to do whatever was right, and whatever was needed to be done. And that’s all that really mattered.
I’ve said how Mary is the ideal example of a follower of Christ. And yet there’s an interesting episode, which Luke tells us of many years later, during Jesus’ ministry. He’d just been preaching and ministering to huge crowds, when a woman, clearly deeply-awed by what she had witnessed, is moved to say, “The woman who gave birth to you and nursed you is blessed!” (Luke 11:27 CEV). Possibly a mother herself, perhaps she was feeling a little envious and may have thought, “I wish you were my son!” Maybe this was an opportunity to bask in some reflected glory. But how does Jesus react?
“That’s true, but the people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God’s messenger.” (Luke 11: 28)
It isn’t about flesh-and-blood relationships, because by definition that’s too limiting. It’s about a much deeper relationship which God himself is creating and establishing with humanity. Jesus; the ultimate Bridgebuilder!
As Peter remarked, in one of his moments of inspired insight, “Lord, there is no-one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life.” (John 6:68 CEV)
Elsewhere, there’s another thought-provoking comment which Jesus makes on the subject of ‘family’:
“My mother and my brothers are those people who hear and obey God’s message.” (Luke 8 :21 CEV). That’s quite a staggering thing for him to say. Jesus, God in human form, brought into the world by a human mother; literally becomes, in every way, a part of the ‘Family of Man’; part of the human family, so that in turn, he can invite us into the family of God.
He taught us to pray to God as “Our Father”. We become a part of the Holy Family. Of course, at the end of the day, the choice is ours to make. As it was for Mary. She always had the option. God never coerced or forced her to do anything. So it is with us. Jesus invites us to be a part of his family. As he says in the book of Revelation (addressing a particular church but equally relevant to each one of us today), “Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together.” (Revelation 3:20 CEV)
Perhaps we should respond in the words of the 19th Century hymnwriter, Emily Elliott, who wrote: “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.”
May that be our prayer this Christmastime.
Today’s anthem is a tudor verse-anthem by Orlando Gibbons; ‘Behold, I bring you glad tidings’, sung by the choir of Manchester Cathedral*
Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, that unto us a child is born. Unto us a child is given, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace, good will toward men.
Let us pray for all God’s people, each according to their needs.
As we prepare our annual celebration of your incarnation, Lord, let us bear in mind the true meaning of the approaching season of festivities. When the time comes for us to greet one another in our various traditional ways, we are acutely aware that for much of humanity, the season of Christmas this year will be far from ‘merry’ and the New Year will be rather a sad one. Many people across the world will be restricted or prevented from meeting their friends and relatives due to the measures put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, whilst a significant number will be mourning the loss of loved ones. Help us, O heavenly Father, to focus our minds on the parts of Christmas which are most important, and cast away the secular irrelevances and commercial trappings associated with this season. Let us use the messages of the angels to refresh our intention to show peace and goodwill toward all people not only during Christmastide, but for another year. Inspire us through your Holy Spirit as we worship the Babe in the manger, that we may be a support to others in their time of need, and play our own part, however insignificant it may seem, in the fulfilment of your loving purposes on earth.
We recognise that we will be found wanting at times, and fall short of your expectations of us. We are sorry for our imperfections. Be with us when we fall and give us the strength to pick ourselves up and carry on. When, at the last, we can no longer bear the weight, look upon us with mercy, forgive us our sins and carry us homeward into your marvellous light. Light of the World, we come to you with open hearts. Come now, and enter in, our Lord Emmanuel.
We conclude our prayer in the words our Saviour taught his disciples, saying:
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. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Our service ends with the closing hymn, ‘Hail to the Lord’s Anointed’, sung to the tune ‘Crüger’.
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: Allegro from Organ Symphony No.2, played by Roger Sayer on the organ of Temple Church, London.
*The images shown during the verse-anthem were:
00:00 – Portrait of Orlando Gibbons – C17, artist unknown.
00:25 – “The Birth of Christ” (aka “The Mystical Nativity”) – Botticelli (Sandro Filipepi) (c. 1445 – 1510). Tempera on canvas. National Gallery, London.
01:30 – “A Winter scene with skaters near a castle” – Hendrick Avercamp 1585 – 1634. Oil on oak. National Gallery, London.
02:12 “Adoration of the Shepherds” (aka the “Allendale Nativity”) – Giorgione (c. 1477/8–1510). Oil on panel. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
02:54 – “The Hunters in the Snow” – Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1530 – 1569). Oil on wood panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
03:41 – “The Wilton Diptych” (c. 1395–1399) a small portable diptych of two hinged panels painted on both sides (tempera on oak). Unknown artist. National Gallery, London.
Sunday 13th December 2020 – 3rd Sunday of Advent – A Service of Readings and Music to celebrate the Advent and Nativity of our Lord
Welcome to a most unusual Carol Service. Most of the spoken parts of this service, and a small number of the musical items, were recorded at St. Andrew’s in 2005 when we hosted the CTBB Carols. Our Minister at that time was the Revd. Dr. Sarah Hall. The readers were members of the churches which made up the group, namely Broomhill Methodist Church, Hanover Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Parish Church in Broomhill and St. Andrew’s URC, and the choir consisted of our own choir members plus members of St. Mark’s choir and friends from the other churches. But Douglas has gone back in his archives to bring us a selection of recordings from his own history in which he has been personally involved as singer, conductor or accompanist. Please enjoy the choir items and join in the congregational hymns at your leisure. Thank you to all friends, past and present, who have contributed in any way towards today’s worship selection.
It is our custom to keep the 3rd Sunday of Advent as our Carol Service. If you are using an Advent Ring, please light the first three candles during the Advent Responsory. The 1st candle represents Hope, the 2nd Peace and the 3rd is for Joy. There is no digital reader this week. Just click on the arrows to navigate through the clips.
Let us worship God. Our service begins with the Advent Responsory.
INTROIT: The Advent Responsory (CTBB choir)
CAROL 1: ‘My Christmas Candle’ arr. Jones, (Hallam Choral Society at St. Mary’s, Walkley)
The Bidding Prayer and Lord’s Prayer (Sarah Hall)
HYMN 1: Once in royal David’s City (CTBB choir and congregation, 2005)
THE FIRST PART
READING 1: ‘The Tree of Life’
ANTHEM 1: ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’ by Anthony Piccolo (RSCM Southern Cathedral Singers)
The Southern Cathedral Singers were founded and directed by Martin How, the southern area commissioner for the RSCM, in which Douglas was an Alto singer. All the singers were selected from affiliated church and school choirs from the South of England and they sang on Saturdays and Bank Holidays throughout the year at cathedrals from Portsmouth in the south to Peterborough in the north, and from Canterbury in the east to Wells in the west. Each summer the choir spent two weeks residential at a single location. These courses included a BBC broadcast of choral evensong live on radio 3 and often a second service was recorded for broadcast later in the year. Douglas was also joint choirmaster and organist at Woodley Parish Church at the time, and several of the boy trebles were also members of the Southern Cathedral Singers.
READING 2: ‘The angel appears to Mary’
CANTICLE: Magnificat in E by Herbert Murrill (RSCM Southern Cathedral Singers)
HYMN 2: ‘The angel Gabriel from heaven came’ (St. Andrew’s Carol Service, 2006)
READING 3: ‘Christ’s death is foretold’
ANTHEM 2: ‘I love to hear the story’ by Douglas Jones (Hallam Choral Society at St. Mary’s, Walkley)
Douglas is also official accompanist to the Hallam Choral Society. In 2005, the choir sang a carol service at the parish church of St Mary’s, Walkley. This piece was originally composed for Birkdale Prep School choir, but it was Hallam’s rendering which was preserved by a recording. The piece heard previously, ‘My Christmas Candle’, was arranged at the request of one of the singers in the choir, who also sang the solo during the third verse. Douglas made the decision to accompany this service from the piano because it was very cold that evening and the organ could only be accessed by an external route!
THE SECOND PART
READING 4: ‘Isaiah foretells Christ’s birth and kingdom’
HYMN 3: God is working his purpose out
READING 5: ‘The angel appears to the shepherds’
HYMN 4: ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ (St. Andrew’s Carol Service, 2006)
READING 6: ‘Christ foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter’
THE THIRD PART
READING 7: ‘The prophet Isaiah proclaims the good news’
HYMN 5: Come, Saviour, dwell among us (CTBB Choir and congregation, 2005)
The tune ‘Leeds City’ was originally composed by Douglas for the hymn ‘A great and mighty wonder’, but he immediately realised that the original tune was so brilliant that the only way his tune would ever be used was if he wrote a new set of words to go with it, hence the advent of a new hymn for Advent!
READING 8: ‘The Word is made flesh’
ANTHEM 3: We have a king who came to earth’ by Ian Ord-Hume (The choir of Woodley Parish Church, 1980) first performance
Ian Ord-Hume was the Sacristan at Woodley Parish Church when Douglas first joined the choir as a twelve-year-old treble in early 1969. At the age of fourteen Douglas became organist of St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel (C.E.) in Castle Street, Reading where the minister was Revd. Robin Lever, an authority on Bach and Luther. He returned to Woodley at Ian’s invitation, to begin a long-held appointment as organist and joint choirmaster with Ian, when the post became vacant just over a year later. Ian was a young solicitor by profession but also a keen amateur musician. He usually conducted the choir whilst Douglas played the organ. Ian sang tenor and Douglas alto in unaccompanied pieces, and both young men composed and arranged anthems, descants to hymns, psalm settings and other pieces for the developing choir.
HYMN 6: Of the Father’s love begotten (The choir of Woodley Parish Church, recorded for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, 1977)
This hymn was originally recorded in the church of St. Andrew’s, Sonning-on-Thames, as part of an LP of Christmas Carols and Anthems sung by school choirs and choral societies in Berkshire for the Silver Jubilee of the Queen in 1977. Douglas had quite an interest in this album because he was also accompanist to the Twyford and District Choral Society who also contributed. Woodley Parish Church recorded two carols for the album, but the other one never made the final edit because the recording was made in the preceding Summer and sparrows could be heard chattering in the background! Douglas was at the organ for this rendering.
READING 9: ‘The risen Christ commissions his disciples to teach and baptize all the nations of the world’
HYMN 7: ‘O come, all ye faithful’ (St. Andrew’s Carol Service, 2006)
BENEDICTION and THREEFOLD AMEN (St. Andrew’s Carol Service, 2006)
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ by J. S. Bach (St. Andrew’s Carol Service, 2006)
SUNDAY 6th December 2020 – Choral Eucharist for 2nd Sunday after Advent
Today’s service follows the Fourth Order for Holy Communion of the United Reformed Church. The music of the service is by Franz Schubert in G major D167 sung by the Atlanta Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, and for any of you who would like to join them, music is included!
This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord; for God’s love endures for ever.
Prayer of Approach
Let us pray. Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
If you are using an Advent Ring, please light the 1st and 2nd candles during our INTROIT ANTHEM. The 1st candle is for Hope and the 2nd is for Peace.
The introit anthem today is ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace’, by Samuel Sebastian Wesley.
Let us confess our sins to Almighty God
God of tenderness and love,
breathe your grace into our lives.
Forgive our wandering ways,
and guide us along your paths of peace.
When we lose our way,
and forget the reason and purpose of this season,
carry us back to you.
Lead us up to that high mountain of faith and hope,
that we might truly proclaim:
“Here is our God!”
In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
Words of Assurance
“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says our God.
You have served your term. Your penalty is paid.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Gloria in excelsis
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
A Prayer for the 2nd Sunday in Advent
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today’s Lesson from the Old Testament is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, beginning at the 1st verse of chapter 40.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Our 1st hymn today is ‘Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding’, sung to the tune ‘Merton’.
A reading from the 2nd Epistle of Peter, chapter 3, beginning from the 8th verse.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.
The GRADUAL PSALM – Psalm 85, sung by the lay-clerks of Portsmouth Cathedral to a plainsong tone.
The HOLY GOSPEL is written in the 1st chapter of the gospel according to Mark, beginning at the 1st verse.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The hymn ‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’, sung to the tune ‘Winchester New’.
For today’s reflection, we welcome back the Revd Dr David Stec.
2 Pet 3:8-15
Isa 40:3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The writer of 2 Peter tells us that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (3:8; cf. Ps 90:4). On our human scale of measuring time, a year can seem a very long time, even if many of us feel that the years pass more quickly as we get older.
And what an extraordinary year this has been!
One year ago, no one had ever heard of covid-19. Life for everyone was “normal”, a normality which probably all of us took for granted.
For many years, scientists had warned of the possibility, or perhaps rather the inevitability, of a pandemic at some time in the future, and the emergency services had even rehearsed their procedures for dealing with just such an event. We all knew that this was something which might happen, but probably most of us thought, or at least hoped, that we would never see it in our lifetime.
Then early in December of last year, we began hearing the first reports of a mystery new virus in the Wuhan region of China. Early in the new year, it was already becoming apparent that this virus posed a much more serious threat to the world than other viruses which had emerged in recent times. By March, it was spreading so quickly and so many people were becoming seriously ill and dying that our government in common with several others imposed a lockdown.
Since then the lives of all of us have been changed in so many ways, and we have had to get used to a new order of things, like having to wear facemasks. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the new order of things is the need to keep social distancing together with the restrictions placed on mixing with loved ones and friends, something especially hard for the lonely, the vulnerable and those living in care homes.
As a church we have not been able (or at least, we have not deemed it sensible) to meet for public worship since March. Many people have lost their jobs and livelihood, particularly those working in hospitality and tourism.
During the summer it seemed as though the virus had been brought under control and stabilised at a low level of infection. But now here we are again, in the midst of a second wave, with levels of infection not seen since May, and a death-toll now reaching more than 57,000 in the UK. What lies ahead in the coming year is uncertain, though there are some encouraging signs of hope with the news that a vaccine may soon be approved for use.
In the season of Advent we begin a new Christian year, and I think that the passages of scripture set by the lectionary for today, the second Sunday in Advent have a particular relevance to us in our present situation.
Isaiah 40 is the opening passage of a prophet who worked among the Judean exiles in Babylonia. The exile had come as a catastrophe and a great upheaval to the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, as they had been uprooted from their homes and moved very far away. They had had to settle in a strange land, and doubtless life was not at all easy for them, as they had to make a new home and earn a livelihood among their captors.
Several decades passed by, generations came and went, and doubtless the exiles got very used to their life in Babylonia. With the passage of time, more and more of them had been born there and had never known anything different. It seemed that their situation as a community of exiles was a permanent state of affairs which would never change.
Then suddenly a new prophet came on the scene. We do not know who he was, but from his writings he strikes us as a superb poet with an inspiring and stirring message. He bursts onto the scene at the beginning of Isaiah 40 with the words: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”
It is not clear who is being addressed or who is to comfort whom, but what is clear is that something very significant is being announced to the community of exiles. Here “Jerusalem” stands for this community, rather than the actual city.
Jerusalem is told that her “warfare” is ended. The Hebrew word behind this has a wide range of meanings and has various military connotations, but here it is used to refer to a term of service, particularly hard service in the lifetime of an individual. The catastrophe of the exile was explained by the prophets as a punishment for the sins of the nation, but now this new prophet declares that Jerusalem’s sins are pardoned, and not only so, she has even received from God double the punishment merited by her sins. This can only mean one thing: God is now ready to make a fresh start with his people.
Verse 3 then opens with an interjection, “A voice cries!”, which is equivalent to something like “Hark! someone is calling out”. We are not told whose voice this is; one interpretation is that it is a heavenly being calling to other heavenly beings. He calls them to make ready for the imminent appearance of the glory of God on the earth, which will go with the exiles on their return to their own land. The words of the voice follow: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The normal route from Babylon to Jerusalem, and certainly the route that would be taken by a large company of people, was to go round the desert, not through it. But now the voice commands the preparation of a road across the desert for a miraculous journey. The prophet has in mind the earlier journey of the Israelites through the desert from Egypt to the promised land at the exodus under the leadership of Moses. The return of the exiles is to be a new exodus, an even more glorious exodus than the original one, so much so that even the geographical features of the land are to be transformed – the hills and mountains made low and the valleys lifted up, and the uneven ground made level – in order to assist them on their journey back home.
As we come to the end of what feels like a long year of gloom in which the lives of everyone have been overshadowed in all sorts of ways by the covid-19 pandemic, the colourful and uplifting words of the prophet behind Isaiah 40 point us towards the power of God to transform any seemingly hopeless situation. After all, the Judeans had endured about 70 years of their exile, an ordeal that it seemed would never end.
And in the season of Advent the words of the prophet point us forward to something even greater in the working out of God’s purpose. Mark in his typically terse style opens his Gospel with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And this is followed by the quotation of two verses of scripture intended to show that the Messiah was to be preceded by a forerunner.
The first of these verses attributed by Mark to Isaiah is actually from Malachi 3:1, and it identifies this forerunner with Elijah: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way”, the messenger being Elijah (as made clear in Malachi 4:5-6). The second of these verses are the words from Isaiah 40:3, which Mark quotes as: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Mark then proceeds with his account of John the Baptist, and presents him as this prophesied forerunner of the Messiah.
John is clothed with camel’s hair and has a leather girdle around his waist, which almost exactly matches the description of Elijah’s clothing in 2 Kings 1:8. John’s work takes place in the wilderness of Judaea, the location being seen as a fulfilment of Isaiah 40:3. The words of the prophet commanding that the way of the Lord be prepared, so that the exiles may return home, is taken as a command to prepare the way of the Messiah.
John prepared the way of the Messiah, firstly through his work of baptism. We are told that all Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him in the wilderness and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Doubtless, this is something of an exaggeration of their numbers, but John was a very popular figure, and had a huge following. His baptism was an outward sign of an inner repentance on the part of the people, which was a necessary prelude to the coming of he Messiah.
Secondly, John prepared the way of the Messiah with the message that he preached: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
Today, in normal circumstances would be a communion Sunday for us.
At the communion service we acknowledge that Christ has come, we celebrate his presence among us, and give thanks for all that he achieved for us through his perfect sacrifice on the cross and his glorious resurrection and ascension.
We are not at present able to meet together for worship and to celebrate the sacrament, but in this season of Advent we look forward to the Christian year which lies ahead and to our continued life and work together as a congregation of Christ’s people in the faith and hope that it not be too long before these things are possible once again.
Revd Dr David Stec
Let us pray for the world in all its richness, and for all who live in it.
God our creator, we thank you for the beauty of our world, and for all life’s richness and diversity. We are privileged to have inherited it as our home. Help us to care for it with the same degree of love and respect as you invested in it when you made it, and endue us with the wisdom to understand how to achieve this without abusing the abundance of resources you have made available to us. At this time, we pray for all people of science throughout the world, and we give special thanks for those who dedicate their time and energy toward the preservation of the lives and habitats of all your creatures, including ourselves. We especially bring to mind everyone who is involved in the worldwide effort to combat the coronavirus infestation which afflicts us; from those who have been involved in creating and testing vaccines, to those who are responsible for producing, distributing and administering them. In the meantime, Covid-19 continues to roll on like a tidal wave, infecting more and more people worldwide and leaving an increasing number of bereaved friends and relatives in its wake. Lord, we pray for all who care for the sick and dying in our communities; not only the professional health carers, but also those who voluntarily assume the responsibility of care for others in their times of need. We ask you to support and inspire them with your Holy Spirit. We pray that those who are nearing life’s close may benefit from the added comfort of your loving embrace in confident expectation of joining you in your heavenly kingdom. We also commend to you the souls of all those who have departed their earthly lives in your faith and fear. Be with them all at the last, and comfort their families and friends left behind.
At a time when truth and integrity are blurred at the edges and confused by a combination of mixed messages and misinformation of many kinds, we ask for your help this advent to discern what things are right, true and honest. Endue us with wisdom, that we remain clearly focussed on the rough path you have made plain, straight and level before us; by the prophets, by your Holy Word which was present at the beginning of time, and by the gift of your Son, that Word made flesh; even our loving Saviour, Jesus Christ; infant; Messiah; King. Amen.
The Invitation and the Gracious Words
Hear the gracious words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.
Continuing the theme of Peace, our hymn before the communion today is ‘Christ be our Light’.
If you are partaking of your own bread and wine in your home, you are invited to offer this prayer of blessing:
Eternal God, we come with these gifts to offer our sacrifice of praise and the service of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Narrative of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Hear the narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it was recorded by the apostle Paul. I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The Taking of the Bread and Wine
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and following his example, we take this bread and this cup, and give thanks to God.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
With joy we give you thanks and praise, Almighty God, Source of all life and love, that we live in your world, that you are always creating and sustaining it by your power, and that you have so made us that we can know and love you, trust and serve you. We give you thanks that you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life. We thank you that Jesus was born among us that he lived our common life on earth; that he suffered and died for us; that he rose again; and that he is always present through the Holy Spirit. We thank you that we can live in the faith that your kingdom will come, and that in life, in death and beyond death you are with us.
Therefore with all the company of heaven, and with all your people, of all places and times, we proclaim your greatness and sing your praise.
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Holy Lord God, by what we do here in remembrance of Christ we celebrate his perfect sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious resurrection and ascension; we declare that he is Lord of all; and we prepare for his coming in his kingdom. We pray that through your Holy Spirit this bread may be for us the body of Christ and this wine the blood of Christ. Accept our sacrifice of praise; and as we eat and drink at his command unite us to Christ as one body in him, and give us strength to serve you in the world. And to you, one holy and eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we give praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
We pray together the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, saying:
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. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Breaking of the Bread
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
The Sharing of the Bread and Wine
Before you take the bread, you may say:
Take, eat – this is the body of Christ which is broken for me; this I do this in remembrance of him.
Before you take the wine, you may say:
This cup, of which I drink, is the new covenant in the blood of Christ, shed for me and for many for the remission of sins.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Grant us peace.
The Acclamation and closing prayers.
Let us praise the Lord.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Blessing and honour and glory and power be to our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Most gracious God, we praise you for what you have given and for what you have promised us here. You have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. You have fed us with the bread of life and renewed us for your service. Now we give ourselves to you; and we ask that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom, and that our love may be your love reaching out into the life of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Go in peace to serve the Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with us evermore. Amen.
Our closing hymn is ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’, sung to the tune ‘Cross of Jesus’.
ORGAN VOLUNTARY: Fugue in E minor for Organ Duet, Op.152 (Marta Benk and Wiktor Ławnicki – organ)