‘The good and faithful servant’ – 27th December 2020 – John, Apostle and Evangelist

Welcome to our Sunday Eucharist

To watch our service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

20 12 27 St John Eucharist.docx

The Readings

1 John 1.1-end

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 21.19b-end

(Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

 

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Joe, a Reader at St. Mary's

Back in the early 1970s, we in the UK were pretty used to power cuts. I remember doing homework by candle-light, but as I was interested in astronomy the opportunities to see the night sky without light pollution was amazing. One evening, in a power cut and with a clear and pitch black sky, I popped outside with a pair of binoculars and found my target; a faint grey smear of light, barely visible to the naked eye. The Andromeda galaxy. That faint smear of light had taken 2 million years to get to my eye – it’s the farthest away object you can see with your naked eye.

In the darkness – even the faintest light can be seen. Even in a two million year journey, the light is not overwhelmed by the darkness.

This year has been a hard year for everyone, and it’s sometimes hard to see the light in the darkness.
This morning’s reading from the first Epistle of John includes the words:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

John gives us a rule for discerning the presence of God; that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness.
So, what can we draw from John’s words?

Well, if God is light without darkness, and we live in a world where we are surrounded by and assaulted by darkness, it suggests that we have to be able to differentiate between God’s will and the way in which the world unfolds. John’s already told us what the light looks like – it’s Jesus Christ

John goes on to say:
“If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true”
We walk in the darkness by turning away from God and Jesus. All of us have moments in our lives like that, when we follow our own wills rather than God’s will. Some people make use of this statement to suggest that God might use things we associate with darkness – death, pain, disease, natural disasters – to punish us to bring us in to line with his will. But as John says “in him there is no darkness at all” – this is not the way that God works; God works with all things to achieve his ends, but not all things are his works.

It may be hard to take this on under the circumstances that we find ourselves in now, and certainly in the circumstances that humanity finds itself in across the planet and across our history. Where was God at Belsen? During the great plagues of history? During the Thirty Years War? At Hiroshima and Dresden?

We currently cope with an illness that has turned our lives upside down; love can no longer be expressed by touching, hugging or kissing. We keep our distance from each other, and we are parted from our loved ones at the moment of death. The world often seems to be a dark place; even when we try to walk in God’s light as Christians, we are surrounded by darkness.

The darkness surrounds us but does not overwhelm us as long as we have faith. It’s easy to feel despairing in the modern world, that we are all sinners, that the world is full of pain. It’s easy to get in to thinking ‘What’s the point?’.
And John reminds us that we are indeed sinful; if we try to deny it, we’re fooling ourselves and the truth of God is not in us. But if we confess our sins, if we walk in the light with God and in companionship with each other, our sins will be forgiven and we will be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
The darkness around us in the world reminds us that there is a gap between the will of God and how things are being played out here on Earth. We pray that God’s will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven, because it ISN’T being carried out on Earth!

For us, that prayer cannot be just words. It must also guide us in what we do in the world. We must do what we can to ensure God’s will is carried out in OUR little bit of the Earth to the best of our ability.
When we come face to face with our Lord, we would all be hoping to hear the words from Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Note that Jesus doesn’t say “Well done, good and successful servant” or “Well done, good and perfect servant.” We are expected to be faithful, that is all – and that’s really as much as we can manage.

Now, what does faithful mean in times like this, especially in the light of the reading this morning from John’s epistle?

It is to accept that we are sinners, confess those sins, love one another and walk in God’s light in the world, no matter what the darkness is around us.

It is to do our best to follow our Christian vocation and allow others to see and detect the presence of God in the world, and to bring the light of God to others who still may find themselves in darkness.

And it takes a such a small amount of light from us to drive back the dark; after all, the darkness cannot even extinguish a tiny light that is two million years old.

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian song writer, says in his song ‘Anthem’:

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in”

In these strange times, we may not be able to sing together, but we still have some bells; our offerings of prayer and praise, and our way of celebrating the sacraments, may not be a perfect offering, but our efforts and our faithful presence as God’s people provide the means by which we let in the light of God to our lives and the lives of those around us.

“God is light; and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

May I take this opportunity to say “Merry Christmas and God bless all of us, all of us on this good Earth.”
Amen

The Prayers
prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.
As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we pray for His Church throughout the world. We for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.

Help us to be lights in the darkness for those around us during these difficult times.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and voices be used compassionately for the good of all. We thank you for the efforts of all those involved in the agreement of the UK-EU Trade deal, and ask that the transition of power in the United States takes place smoothly and peacefully.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As our communities once again face a threat from Covid 19, help all of us to work together for the good of all. We thank you for the skills and knowledge that scientists and medical staff have been able to use to develop treatments and vaccinations for this illness.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray for all those who are feeling isolated and lonely at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by your presence, Lord. We pray that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying in this Christmas season.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.

‘The hopes and fears’ – 25th December 2020 – Christmas Day

Happy Christmas from St. Mary's!

To follow our Christmas Day Eucharist please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

20 12 25 Christmas Day Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 9.2-7

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

Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Canon Dr Alan Billings

This year, the mood at Christmas services is quite different from any other year I have ever known.

Usually, as we tell the story of Christ’s birth, the dominant note is one of joy. ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come’, we would sing. Even the most subdued of carols are only telling us to restrain our joy, not suppress it:

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
glories stream from heav’n afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia:
Christ the Saviour is born.
Christ the Saviour is born.

Joy.

But this year we are more likely to find our thoughts settling on some other aspects of the story of Christ’s birth.

And there is one carol that captures this in a simple sentence. In the last line of the fist verse of his carol, O little town of Bethlehem, Bishop Phillips Brooks, wrote this: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Not joy, but hopes and fears. And surely, this year that is precisely where so many of us find ourselves. Suspended somewhere between hope and fear.

For the coronavirus has changed everything.

Way back in March – which now seems an eternity ago – we realised we were going to be impacted by the pandemic. But we were assured that if we locked down and obeyed the rules we might be able to celebrate again by Easter. Then it was the summer. Then it was Christmas. And now it is Christmas and we have become fearful again – because the disease is still with us. In fact, it seems to be resurgent, not only here in the north, but in parts of the country which had previously seemed less affected.

Of course, it is different now from March. There is the promise of the vaccine. There is hope. Our hopes were raised when that was announced. Though the initial euphoria has given way now to a more sober realisation that it will be many months before a majority of the population is vaccinated. And with all the seasonal illnesses of winter still to come, that makes us anxious again, and we worry.

This Christmas, then, we are suspended between hope and fear.

But let’s return to that carol with its line: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

When the carol talks about hopes and fears that's another way of saying, the things that matter to us. The things that matter to us are the things that give us joy – the things we hope for – and the things that worry us – our fears.

What seems to happen at Christmas is that, almost without our realising it, we find ourselves thinking at quite a deep level, and in a way we don't normally do, about these things that matter to us, our deepest hopes and fears.

Day to day we have to get on with life. We have our jobs, our families. There's work to do, the shopping, the housework, the gardening, the decorating, cleaning the car .... all the sheer busyness of life that just comes at us each day rather relentlessly. Little time to think even if we have been more restricted in what we can do this year. Each year – and perhaps especially this year - Christmas gives us a moment to pause and think about the things that matter to us, our hopes and fears.

Often these are the opposite sides of the same coin.

We have our hopes – for those we love – that life may go well for them. Our fears are that their well-being may be threatened in some way. We have hopes for ourselves – that we may be a better person, more loving, more understanding, more generous, more forgiving. Our fears are that we may fail this test of human character.

And then there are some even bigger hopes and fears – that our children and our children's children may have a peaceful, sustainable world to grow up in. And when we think of all that threatens that, we are fearful again.

And perhaps the biggest hopes and fears are around what in the end is the real nature of this world. Is it an accident? Is it ultimately in the hands of God? Are we ultimately in the hands of God?

The coronavirus makes us ponder these hopes and fears and the Christmas story gives us answers.

The one who brought all that is into being, comes into his world as a child of ordinary but loving people, to experience our human life as one of us, from the inside of a human skin; to reassure us of God's love; to reassure us that whatever life brings in the coming year, he is with us; to reassure us that the things we think matter really do matter, because they matter eternally.

You can't come before this child this morning full of yourself.
You can't come before this child this morning with hatred inside you.
The Christmas story stops all that.

You have to come here today with love in your heart. And that love you will take from here to the things that matter – that love will support your hopes and help you overcome your fears in the days to come.

That's why, even though we are suspended today between hope and fear, we will still wish one another, A Happy Christmas.

The Prayers
from Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.

Christ, born in a stable,
give courage to all who are homeless.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, for whom the angels sang,
give the song of the kingdom to all who weep.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,
give peace on earth to all who are oppressed.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, before whom the wise men knelt,
give humility and wisdom to all who govern.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, whose radiance filled a lowly manger,
give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you.
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,
you know us and love us,
you share our lives
and hear our prayer.
Glory to you for ever. Amen.

 

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included here, is copyright The Archbishops' Council (c) 2006

‘Shining in the darkness’ – 24th December 2020 – Christmas Eve: Midnight Mass

Welcome to our service of worship on this most holy of nights.

To follow our Midnight Mass on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtubehttps://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

20 12 24 Christmas Midnight Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 52.7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

John 1.1-14

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

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

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

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

 

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Kath, a Reader at St. Mary's

If a year ago someone had suggested to me that I would be happy to be standing in the rain on a cold winter day in the Botanical Gardens, I think I’d have at the very least questioned their sanity. You see I’m a very nesh person, as we say in these parts; to anyone not from round here it means someone who really feels the cold, so as you will understand, the prospect of being cold and damp was highly unlikely to appeal to me let alone make me feel happy. But a few days ago that is exactly what happened. After weeks and weeks of not being able to see my family we finally managed to arrange a time when we could meet. Having procured hot coffee and delicious cake from a lovely local café we trooped into the Botanical Gardens and gathered, suitably socially distanced of course, round a bench which we used as a makeshift table and for an hour or so we just enjoyed each other’s company in person. We chatted, caught up on news, asked how everyone was coping and had a laugh. We played hide and seek and chased my granddaughter, much to her and our delight and counted how many squirrels we could spot. It was all very simple and it was great and both my husband and I have said several times since then how much we enjoyed it. Our perspective on what constituted a good time had changed. This year has been hard. We have been robbed of so much that matters to us: freedom to come and go where and when as we please, freedom about who we can spend time with, freedom to shop as we wish or go to the cinema or theatre or pub or restaurant or to hold someone’s hand when they need it. Some have been robbed of their work or business which may have been a big part of their identity as well as their means of making a living, others are so much in demand that they have been robbed of their ability to have much needed time off to rest and recuperate.

Wherever we are on this spectrum I think the thing upsetting the majority of us most of all is being robbed of the ability to be physically close to one another, especially to our loved ones. We miss socialising, sitting next to each other, relaxed conversations that can only work properly face to face and without a mask or protective screen. Many of us really miss giving and receiving hugs. I know I do. Christmas is a time that accentuates this sense of loss and we feel it even more keenly than at other times. But perhaps something positive that the last ten months has shown is “what really matters” in the grand scheme of things and that maybe we have sometimes taken these things too much for granted. It also makes us aware of the way some people are routinely deprived and excluded from many of these and how that needs to change from now on. Again, we are being prompted to change our perspective.

I think many of us had thought or hoped that all would “come right” by Christmas but sadly it hasn’t and people are understandably upset that what they had looked forward to after a long period denial and sacrifice has yet again been taken away, as they see it. We as a family decided months ago not to make much by way of plans for Christmas so we haven’t been too disappointed by the changes enforced by the pandemic but I know many people set great store by their traditional celebrations and they feel very upset at the loss of them.

Perhaps this is where the Christmas story can help us. Mary & Joseph were on a long and difficult Journey and it didn’t all “come right” in the way they might have hoped and expected. I’m sure that Mary giving birth in a stable was not what they wanted but in spite of it, their Son arrived safely. Even then though, the dangers they faced didn’t go away, and no doubt having to go into exile shortly after Jesus’ birth was also not what they envisaged. Being away from home, family, livelihood and support network and being dependant on others for everything must have been hard and stressful and frightening and no doubt wearying for them just as it is for refugees today, but they sacrificed their normal ways of life and eventually made it through.

We are now collectively facing a massive time of trial. Most of us will make it through this current awful situation but sadly some won’t. I don’t know whether I’ll be one of those who does or who doesn’t and it’s the same for all of us. But what we do know is that we are here, together, right now. So let us make a conscious effort to change our perspective from that of being the disappointed victims of loss and denial to people who notice what we do have and give thanks for it. Mary & Joseph & Jesus endured what they had to endure until they got to a better place. With God’s help we can do the same.

As John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Hold on to that thought if things seem dark and difficult in the times ahead.

The Prayers
From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
Father, in this holy night your Son our Saviour
was born in human flesh.
Renew your Church as the Body of Christ.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night there was no room for your Son in the inn.
Protect with your love those who have no home
and all who live in poverty.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Mary, in the pain of labour,
brought your Son to birth.
Hold in your hand all who are in pain or distress.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night your Christ came as a light shining in the darkness.
Bring comfort to all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night the angels sang, ‘Peace to God’s people on earth.’
Strengthen those who work for peace and justice
in all the world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night shepherds in the field heard good tidings of joy.
Give us grace to preach the gospel of Christ’s redemption.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night strangers found the Holy Family,
and saw the baby lying in the manger.
Bless our homes and all whom we love.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night heaven is come down to earth,
and earth is raised to heaven.
Hold in your hand all those who have passed through death
in the hope of your coming kingdom.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Christians the world over celebrate Christ’s birth.
Open our hearts that he may be born in us today.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

Father,
in this holy night angels and shepherds worshipped at
the manger throne.
Receive the worship we offer in fellowship with Mary,
Joseph and the saints
through him who is your Word made flesh,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included here, is copyright The Archbishops' Council (c) 2006

‘Christingle Service’ – Thursday 24th December 2020 – Christmas Eve

Our Christingle service is available online from 4.00pm Christmas Eve

To watch the service, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

Christingle 2020 - PDF

Christingle2020 - Word

The Reading

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Talk
by Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

I expect many of you will know today’s Bible story very well. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, but have to shelter in the stable because everywhere else is full. Mary is heavily pregnant and while they are there, it’s time for her baby to be born. So she gives birth in the stable, wraps him up in swaddling clothes, and then places baby Jesus in a manger.

Meanwhile there are a group of shepherds outside in the fields, keeping an eye on the sheep. And they have a strange experience. An angel appears to tell them about the new baby.

Who were these shepherds? We don’t know exactly. They would have been on the edges of society, because shepherding was a difficult, dirty and dangerous job. Other people might have kept away from them, because they would have been dirty and smelly.

Pictures on Christmas cards often show them as mature men with beards. But it’s possible that they might actually be quite a bit younger - teenagers even, paid a minimum wage to stay awake whilst the regular adult shepherds get some sleep.

Teenagers are often natural night-owls who like to stay awake at night and lie in late the next morning. So watching the flocks whilst the adults sleep might seem like a good plan.

But teenagers are still young, still really children themselves. And, with plenty of wild animals about to threaten them and their sheep, these young shepherds might find their job quite scary. But they do it anyway, because their families are poor and need every penny they can earn.

So they must have been very scared to see an angel suddenly appear in all the glory of the Lord. They might know how to deal with a wolf or wildcat. But this is a new and strange experience. They would have been terrified.

But the first thing the angel says is “Fear not! I have good news for you! The Messiah has been born. You will find him in Bethlehem, the city of David. Come and see for yourselves!” And suddenly a whole band of angels appear, singing praises to God.

The angels leave and the shepherds become bold. Young people are naturally curious and if these shepherds were teenagers, this experience would definitely have sparked their interest. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see!” So they go. They see Mary and Joseph in the stable and the child in the manger. They tell everyone there why they’ve come, and everyone is amazed. And then, having seen for themselves, the shepherds return to their job, praising God as they go.

At our Christingle service we remember the work of the Children’s Society. The Children’s Society works with vulnerable children and young people, including those living in poverty on the edges of society, like the shepherds of our Bible story. The society helps these young people when they’re scared and enables them to thrive. They can then enjoy their curiosity to the full.

So as you enjoy your Christingle and your Christmas, you might like to say a prayer for the Children’s Society and all the children and young people they help. You might even like to give them a donation. If so, you can find details of how to do this in your order of service.

The Prayers
Prepared by the Children's Society

Lord Jesus,
you were born into an ordinary family:
We pray for families everywhere,
especially for families in difficulty or in poverty,
and for families and relationships that are breaking down.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
your bed was in a manger,
because there was no room at the inn.
We pray for all those who have no home:
those who sleep on the streets,
and all who have lost everything
through violence or disaster.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
the animals shared their stable with you;
We pray for the earth, and for all living things,
that we might learn to live in peace and harmony with the natural world,
and treat all of creation with honour and respect.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
you were worshipped and adored by shepherds and kings:
We pray for the people and nations of the world,
and especially for peace and understanding
between different faiths.
You came as the light for the whole world,
so in you may we find that we have more in common
than that which divides us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, God with us,
we pray for people we know who are in need.
We pray especially for children who are in difficulty,
and for the work of The Children’s Society
in standing up for justice
and bringing light and hope into darkness.
Help us to show to one another
the same faithfulness and love
that you revealed at Bethlehem.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
you came to be with us on earth
so that we might be with you in heaven:
Keep safely all those who have died.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

 

Prayers (c) The Children's Society 2020
childrenssociety.org
christingle.org

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord’ – 20th December 2020 – 4th Sunday of Advent (PM)

Welcome to our evening worship

To follow our service on YouTube, please click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, please click here:

20 12 13 Advent 4 Evening Prayer.docx

The Readings

Isaiah 7.10-17

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’

Luke 1.26-38

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 for ever, 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.

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By David, Reader in training at St Mary's.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How many of us here are on a rota? Either for church or some other voluntary organisation? I suspect most of us. We all have gifts and skills in different ways. Some in music, reading, leading prayers, preaching, others in administration, communications, organisational governance and welcoming people and creating a safe environment for them. That last one is very much in demand at the moment!

How did we end up on that rota, doing a specific task? It probably varied a little depending on the job and the organisation. Sometimes we bring skills from our paid working lives to our voluntary work. Sometimes we feel like we want to give something different a try. Sometimes a job just needs doing and there isn’t anyone else.

All of that helps explain the what, but not the how. How do we end up doing what we do?

For many jobs in the church the pattern has been that members of the congregation are asked by the vicar to take on a particular task. There may be different degrees of arm twisting involved. I’m sure this is something many of us can relate to, different clergy, different tasks but perhaps a familiar pattern. It could go something like this:

Vicar: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’

Mary: Looks much perplexed by his words and ponders what sort of greeting this is and where this might be going.

Vicar: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, would you like to put out the church bins on a Sunday evening? It’s a great job to do, and there will be no end to it.’

Mary: ‘How can this be, since I have to go home after the service and watch the Strictly results show?’

Vicar: ‘The Holy Spirit will enable you to get this done in time to get home for Strictly, your great aunt Elizabeth did this into her old age, so nothing will be impossible with God.’

Mary: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Yes, this is a complete caricature. Yes, it is facetious. But it raises important questions about how we end up doing what we do in church.

Why is this important?

Well, several reasons.

At the beginning of the year we prepared to move into a different way of operating as a church, working with St Marks and St Johns, we began to think about how it might all work.

How would we continue to worship God in a way that honours the tradition of St Marys?

How would we continue to serve the community of Walkley?

How would we continue to maintain strong links with our church school, and our cemetery friends group?

How would we support and encourage those seeking to explore the Christian faith?

The list could go on and on.

We had ideas. We had begun to form groups to focus on different areas of ministry, but it was all in an early stage.

Then the impact of the covid pandemic changed the way of life for almost everyone.

Much of what we might normally do we couldn’t, at least not in the same way. We were already gearing up for a period of adjustment and change, but we had to rethink and respond to fluctuating circumstances. It’s been tough, it’s been hard work and we won’t have got everything right.

But we have still grown and adapted. We have continued to worship God in a way that honours our tradition, but also allows people to join online.

We have, with input from St Mary’s school, our friends at Walkley Ebenezer Methodist and others, put together an online Advent Calendar.

We have collaborated with the Friends of Walkley Cemetery.

And much more besides.

As it looks like a vaccine will, over the next year, change our way of life again, we will need to reflect on the last 10 months. We will need to build on what we have accomplished, acknowledge what we have dropped and work out what we want to pick up again.

We won’t be going back to exactly what it was like before the pandemic.

Some things will return. I for one can’t wait to sing hymns again.

Some things will stop, we don’t know what those are yet. But let’s not be afraid of letting go.

I had an unusual experience in the church about 18 months ago. I stopped doing a task. It was quite weird. Of course the reason I stopped doing this task was because I had started doing another and the two were incompatible. But still I wasn’t sure it had really happened before, outside of paid employment. The new task is more rewarding, it feels like being in the right place at the right time.

We need to acknowledge that it’s healthy to review what we do from time to time. Better to do a few things well, than lots badly.

Mary, as a mother in the first century AD will have had her fair share of tasks, probably more than her fair share, it was after all a patriarchal time and place.

Did she really understand what she was getting into? Did she feel she had a choice? All questions we should ask when we take on a new task at church, or as will become more common as lay people, when we ask someone else to take on a task.

We will hear over the next month the Christmas story, the visit of the magi, the presentation of Christ in the temple at Candlemas. Mary is told by the prophet Simeon in Luke 2 that a sword will pierce her own soul. A sign of the grief to come at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. She didn’t know where her acceptance would lead.

Did she think she was taking on parenthood by herself? She would have known the implications of a having a child outside marriage. Luckily Joseph stands by her, though he is assumed to have died by the time Jesus is crucified.

Her task was lifelong. The details changed, she didn’t continue doing the same thing for God throughout her life. No doubt she said yes to God many times over the years, and who knows probably the occasional no. Many of us will have done that.

When we take on a task, however small it might be, and I say small, because no task done for God is insignificant. When we contemplate taking on a task let us remember it is one part of our pattern of loving service to God. Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship.

As we pray to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we say with Mary:
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Your prophet of old foretold a day when a virgin would conceive
and bear a son who would be called God-with-us.
Help us to look forward to your deliverance
and to seek the fullness of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Your angel declared to Mary that she was to be
the mother of the Saviour.
Help us to be open to your word
and obedient to your will.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Mary rejoiced with Elizabeth and sang your praise,
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.’
Help us to live joyful lives that sing your praise.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Mary bore a son of David’s line,
a king whose reign would never end.
Bless all the nations of the world with Christ’s gift of peace.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

The child Jesus grew in wisdom and stature
in the home of Mary and Joseph.
Strengthen our homes and families in all their diversity,
and keep under your protection all those whom we love.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

At the foot of the cross of Christ stood his mother,
and from the cross she received his lifeless body in her arms.
Give comfort and healing to all who suffer
and all who watch the suffering of those they love.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

The apostle John saw a vision of a woman in heaven,
robed with the sun.
Bring us with all those who have died in the faith of Christ
to share the joy of heaven with Mary and all the saints.
Lord, have mercy on those who fear you.
Holy is your name.

Almighty and everlasting God,
your handmaid Mary magnified your name
and rejoiced in your saving love:
trusting in that same love,
we ask all these our prayers
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘Reaching out to each other’ – 20th December 2020 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Welcome to our worship this morning.

To watch the service on YouTube, click here:

https://tiny.cc/walkleystmary-youtube

To download a copy of the order of service, click here:

20 12 20 Advent 4 -- Morning (Order of Service)

The Readings

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16

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 for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

Luke 1.26-38

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 for ever, 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.

Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes

This morning on the fourth Sunday of Advent we focus on your patron saint, Mary, the mother of our Lord. In the past few months I’ve been very conscious of women having to give birth alone because of Covid. Some have had to do that without having their partners present. And many have done it without having their extended families to support and celebrate with them. Mary did have Joseph with her when she gave birth to Jesus but she was far from home and among strangers. It must have been hard and possibly quite frightening for Mary, a young woman, to give birth to her firstborn son like that.

I think we also forget how potentially dangerous it would have been for Mary to be an unmarried mother in that society. We are used to that in this country now but we don’t have to look very far back in our history or very far around the world to find women for whom pregnancy brings enormous risks. Risks to their reputations and position in society. And risks to their lives. Maternal mortality is still horribly common around the world. And it is important that we celebrate Mary’s bravery and willingness to say yes to God. Although there are lots of things that we cannot do at the moment, we too need to be brave sometimes and say yes to God. We can cooperate with him in bringing new things to birth, if not now then in the months to come. With the news of the vaccine it feels as if this Advent is pregnant with possibilities. Though so much is dark and difficult at the moment, we also catch glimpses of light and hope for the future.

My wife Cathy is a retired obstetrician so pregnancy and childbirth have been a bit of a family business. The calls in the night. The rush to the labour ward. I have heard more than my fair share of hair-raising birth stories but I’ll spare you those. Instead, I want to share with you a bit of medical science which my wife passed my way recently. We’re all learning a bit about science these days but I’ll try not to blind you with it too much. I’m not a scientist myself so there won’t be time for questions afterwards. This bit of science come via the University of Michigan. And it concerns the placenta and something called fetomaternal microchimerism (microkimerism).

You may not have thought much about placentas but they are extraordinary things. The placenta is the only organ in human biology that is made by two people together, in cooperation. It is ‘built’ from tissue that is partly from mother, and partly from the growing baby. Because of this, the placenta is referred to as a ‘feto-maternal’ organ. In the creation of the placenta, cells from the embryo, ‘reach down’ towards the wall of the mother’s uterus. At the same time, the spiral arteries from the mother’s uterus are ‘reaching’ up towards the embryo. And this leads to the creation of the placenta. This reaching out might make us think of that picture from the Sistine Chapel where God and Man reach out to one another. Or more topically of the annunciation in our Gospel where God reaches out to Mary via the Angel Gabriel and she reaches out to God by agreeing to collaborate with him.

The placenta is the only organ that is designed to be disposable but unlike every other organs it has many different functions. It eliminates waste like the kidneys. It facilitates the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, like the lungs would do, and it provides nutrients, just as our digestive system does. The placenta even has an immune function. It is a magnificently complex shared organ that supports the formation of children in the womb.

In addition to all this, the placenta enables something called ‘fetomaternal microchimerism’ (microkimerism). This refers to the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. During pregnancy, small numbers of these cells travel across the placenta. Some of the child’s cells cross into the mother, and some cells from the mother cross into the child. The cells from the child integrate into tissues in the mother’s body and start functioning like the cells around them.

The presence of these cells is extraordinary for several reasons. One is that these cells have been found in various maternal organs and tissues such as the brain, the breast, the thyroid and the skin. These are all organs which in some way are important for the health of both the baby and the mother. They help to signal to the mother’s body that it needs to making milk. And they help to produce collagen which helps the mother’s body to heal. So that baby is actually helping the mother to recover from giving birth.

Usually, foreign or ‘other’ cells are detected by the host’s immune system and are destroyed. The fact that these foetal cells ‘survive’ and then are allowed to integrate into the mother’s body speaks of an amazing ‘cooperation’ between the mother and her child. It suggests that the physical connection between mother and baby is even deeper and more beautiful than was previously thought. Research in into these cells suggests that may help protect mothers from breast cancer many years after they have given birth.

This radical mutuality at the cellular level is something that we are just beginning to understand. We are not the singular autonomous individuals that we sometimes imagine. We know that at a theological level. We have a sense of our mutual interdependence. We have a deep sense of God’s presence in each one of us. And Christmas is a wonderful reminder of that. But now we have a profound biological illustration of that mutuality. We speak of Mary not just being the God bearer but of her being redeemed by her son. And now we can see that at a biological level. Mary’s body didn’t just help to bring Jesus into the world. It was also changed by that experience. Jesus brings life and healing to each one of us and he brought life and healing to Mary in a very particular way.

There was a time when science and religion seemed to be at loggerheads. Virgin births were dismissed as superstition. These days, virgin births are quite common technically speaking. And instead of being antithetical to religion, so much of science seems to demonstrate the wonder and majesty of God and his creation. The creation of Covid 19 vaccines is just one miracle that we have seen recently. Like Mary, we too need to be open to the miraculous and new. For, as the Angel Gabriel reminded her, nothing will be impossible with God. Amen.

The Prayers
prepared by Oli

Lord, as we look back on a year of grief, turmoil and restrictions, we look to your coming to bring a renewed hope to the world. may we humbly welcome and nurture this hope, as you were humbly welcomed in a stable, nurtured in a manger lined with straw.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, where we have experienced division and uncertainty - in the world, in our country, in our close relationships, and within ourselves; may we experience your healing peace and unite these fractures, seeking reconciliation in every broken place
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, in the quiet moments of prayer, in the chaotic buzz of Christmas preparation, in the ordinary and extraordinary, may we experience your joy, mercy and simplicity
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, as we approach the coming of Christ into the world and into our hearts, may we be always aware of your ever present love, unconditional and without end nor limit.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

Lord, as we look back on a year of loss and grief, we ask that your loving, healing presence be with all those who have lost family and friends and that your presence is also felt by all those who are sick in mind, body or spirit including those known personally to each one of us.
Lord Jesus, within the darkness,
Let us celebrate the coming of your light.

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ 13th December 2020 Evening Prayer – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Our service will be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

Click here to download a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

Click here to download a Microsoft Word document of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Isaiah 40.1-8

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 for ever.

 

Mark 1.1-11

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.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon

By Kath, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

For all that he is one of the best known characters in the Bible; it seemed to me that we don’t actually know that much about John the Baptist. This concerned me when I was allocated the task of preaching about him today, what was there to say about him beyond the stories that most of us know? In the interests of being thorough and making sure I hadn’t missed anything, I set about reading as much on John as I could find in the Bible and he is referred to in all four Gospels but to a large extent they say pretty much the same things. So what do we know about him? Well to start with his role is foretold in our passage from Isaiah; personally I think that the imagery used to convey something can sometimes get in its own way and I find it so with this passage which sounds more like a description of a colossal civil engineering project than telling us that someone will be sent ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way for him. Perhaps what it does successfully covey is the sheer scale of the task. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight”. No pressure!

To start at the beginning of his life we know that John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a blessing from God in their old age. We hear how the baby leaps in his mother’s womb when she is visited by her cousin Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. In a break from tradition the child is not named after his father. Because he had not trusted God at a critical moment, Zechariah had been rendered unable to speak but at the naming of his son, when he confirms in writing that he is to be called John, his ability to speak is restored and he begins praising God. The neighbours present are made rather fearful by what has happened and they spread word of it throughout the region. All who hear about it recognise that there is something very special about John and wonder “What then will this child become?” Zechariah makes a speech about God’s gift of the Messiah and on what his own son’s role will be. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

I think it would be fair to say that most of us take a long time to find our career or path in life. Many of us make a few mistakes, take wrong turns or things don’t work out as we had hoped or planned, some of us have more than one career or vocation, some trust to providence, some just fall into whatever is available at the time and sadly some never find their way at all. For John it seems that his role and destiny were preordained before he was even born.

We hear nothing further about his life until he begins his public ministry other than that he was in the wilderness where he grew and became strong in spirit. It seems that he was taken into the wilderness to hide and protect him from King Herod’s edict to kill all the infant boys less than two years of age. I always thought that wearing camel’s hair clothing and a leather belt and living on locusts and wild honey didn’t sound like the most appealing of job descriptions but when you put it into the context of literally surviving that gives a slightly different perspective. It also stood John in good stead later in that he couldn’t be accused of using his ministry to “feather his own nest” so to speak. Instead he was accused of having a demon. It seems that sometimes you just can’t win!

As far as I can make out from the information readily available, it is probable that John began his ministry in his early thirties, as Jesus did. In Luke’s Gospel we hear that he went out into all the region around the Jordan “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. From then on, great numbers of people from all walks of life went out to him to be baptised in the river Jordan and seeking advice about what they should do in order to be saved. What he told them was simple and practical, for example to tax collectors he said “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you”, and to soldiers he said “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” This might not sound particularly remarkable but bear in mind this was a society where many people used whatever means they could to further their own interests, even if it meant trampling on or cheating others because they could get away with it. Come to think of it, things are not always so different nowadays!

When some Pharisees and Sadducees came to John for baptism he didn’t hold back in his criticism of them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not say to yourselves we have Abraham as our ancestor. ... Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In light of what they saw and heard about John, many people wondered whether he was the Messiah but he always told them that he was not, saying “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 baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

When Jesus himself came to John for baptism, John was initially reluctant to do this and thought that Jesus should be baptising him. But Jesus said it was right for him to be baptised by John so that is happened; as described at the end of our passage from Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Immediately afterwards Jesus went into the wilderness and sometime later John was arrested by King Herod because he had openly criticised him for divorcing his wife and for his relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.

While in prison even John needed reassurance that Jesus was the Messiah. He sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another? Jesus sends word back “Tell him what you see and hear”.

It might seem that John is not the important one in this story and that is how he saw himself but Jesus says of him “he is the greatest of all prophets” and calls him “Elijah, who is to come”. John said of his relationship with Jesus “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He displays true humility!

It seems that John knows that his role has been fulfilled. While he is in prison, there is a big celebration for Herod’s birthday and Salome, the daughter of Herodias, dances for him. He is so delighted by this that he promises her anything she asks for. At her mother’s bidding she asks for the head of John the Baptist and because he doesn’t want to lose face in front of his guests, Herod orders John’s immediate execution and he is beheaded. His head is given on a platter to Salome who then presents it to her mother. To all intents and purposes, it would seem that John had failed and lost and that his life had accounted for little. His disciples took his body away and buried it and they told Jesus what had happened. John’s death effectively warned Jesus to leave the area to avoid persecution. I couldn’t find any reference to how Jesus felt about all this but I don’t doubt that he was very distressed and saddened.

So what are we to make of John’s life and his death, what can we learn from it? This set me thinking about how we make our value judgements about our own lives and the lives of others. In our time and society we tend to be judged by our “successes” which in turn are frequently measured by our social status and financial wealth; not to achieve these things is all too often seen as making us a failure or somehow “lesser” and therefore lacking in value. We can be manipulated to be over-concerned with how we appear to others who then make value judgements about us without real knowledge or understanding of who and what we are or why and this can be done with a total lack of compassion or care. We see this happen not just to celebrities and well known people but to pretty much anyone. I feel sorry for those who have grown up in this culture where there is little to challenge or counter balance it. How does all this distort our approaches to life and vocation, especially when it is seen as the norm for behaviour?

A phrase I have always liked is “Standing on the shoulders of giants”. It comes from a quote by Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We are all shaped, at least to some extent, by those around us and in our history. If we are wise we will learn from them, both from their successes and their mistakes. My parents did their best to equip my sisters and me for life and to make things better for us for which I am profoundly grateful, enriched and humbled. Their parents did the same for them. I in my turn try to do the same for my children and their children. This desire to make things better for others doesn’t have to be within a family context, it can apply to any relationship.

Perhaps we can all benefit from reflecting on this. Maybe it isn’t our place to be number one or the most famous or rich or important but we can still be giants to those around us or who follow after us, just as John was for Jesus.

It seems there was more to say about John than I first thought.

The Prayers
Adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

Watchful at all times,
let us pray for strength to stand with confidence
before our Maker and Redeemer.

That God may bring in his kingdom with justice and mercy,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That God may establish among the nations
his sceptre of righteousness,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That we may seek Christ in the Scriptures
and recognize him in the breaking of the bread,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That God may bind up the brokenhearted,
restore the sick
and raise up all who have fallen,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That the light of God’s coming may dawn
on all who live in darkness and the shadow of death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

That, with all the saints in light,
we may shine forth as lights for the world,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

We commend ourselves and all for whom we pray
to the mercy and protection of our heavenly Father:

Silence is kept.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘John the Baptist’ – 13th December 2020 -3rd Sunday of Advent

Our service will be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

Click here to download a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

Click here to download a Microsoft Word file of the order of service:

20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

Image credit: John Stephen Dwyer

Creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

The Readings

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-end

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
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.

 

John 1.6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

 

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings.

John the Baptist, whom we remember today with our third Advent candle, prepared people for the coming among them of Jesus. He was the cousin of Jesus, though a very different sort of person from him.

John was an ascetic. He believed you had to suffer a bit to be seriously religious. You had to go without creature comforts. Jesus, we know, took an opposite point of view. As a result, he was accused of being a bit too fond of the food and drink. His enemies said he was a drinker and a glutton. Compared to John the Baptist, he probably was. But that is not saying much. For John liked his religion lean and spare. No frills. Best practised away from the temptations and distractions of life in the city.

So John took himself off into the desert, while Jesus stayed in the towns. Not for John fine clothes. He dressed in a garment of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. Not for him fine food. He ate locusts and wild honey. Not for him the chatter and the laughter. What a contrast with Jesus who liked dinner parties, wore the tasselled dress of a rabbi, and joined in lively conversation.

But although he was very different from Jesus, even puzzled by Jesus’ behaviour; nevertheless, he could see who Jesus was and was very clear that his task was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, and to see him as the Christ. In that respect he was a very gracious and humble man.

He said: ‘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.’

He might have been humble but he was far from being timid. He spoke out, urging people to sort out their lives as part of this getting ready for Christ’s coming. He even on one occasion publicly denounced the King who had married his dead brother’s wife – something forbidden. That got him put in prison and his head chopped off. But while he lived he never lost sight of the fact that he had the task of preparing the way for Jesus.

This was not a matter of making the Jews godly. They were already believers. They had the Torah – the scriptures – they worshipped in the Temple and said their prayers in the synagogue. John the Baptist’s task was to help them see God in Jesus.

All of which made me wonder how we, the Church, collectively, might be John the Baptist for people now. How might we point people to Jesus and help them see God in him.

Strange as it may seem, I believe the last few months of living with this awful disease, the coronavirus, with all its restrictions, has made me think about that afresh. I’ve come at it this way.

In my day job I have 23 people who work for me in my office. Since March they have all been working from home. Twice a week we all get together by video call and so I’ve been listening to what they say. It has been really quite revealing.

Eight months ago they were all saying how wonderful it was not to have to drive in every day to the office – it’s opposite IKEA - spending so much time sitting in traffic. Now, while they still want to have some days working from home – and we can arrange that – they have come to value and appreciate the working day, which for the moment they have lost. They have realised how the job didn’t just provide them with a wage; it also brought them companionship, friendship, human contact. We have all missed that.

And that is something that the Church also supplies week by week. Friendships and human contact. We miss it and have re-valued it during these last months.

As well as missing something, my office also discovered something. They discovered neighbours – neighbours in the sense of people next door or down the street. They noticed people around them, looked out for those who were frail or on their own. They appreciated more than they had ever done before what it means to be part of a community, to live in a place. They discovered what the Church of England has always understood the importance of the place you live – which we call the parish – where our neighbours are, where we are rooted.

This is the Anglican way of being a Christian. In our journey through life we become the people God wants us to be, not by ploughing some lone spiritual furrow, nor by joining a congregation distanced and unconnected with where we live, but by making our journey alongside others who are part of the community in which we live. A Church on the road, in the parish. The parish church, as its name suggests, brings together neighbours and teaches us all to value the parish, the place where our lives and our Church is set and to find Christ there.

If, like John the Baptist, our task is to help our neighbours find Jesus Christ, we need to value again both the parish church and the parish.

The Prayers
Prepared by Siobhan.

Holy God, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ our Saviour we ask you make us a holy people fit to meet him. We pray for our leaders ordained and non ordained, may they be blessed with wisdom as they guide us through Advent despite the pandemic. Strengthen the links between St Mary’s and our partnership churches St John’s Ranmoor and St Mark’s Broomhill.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Creator God,help the leaders of nations seek justice and peace, may there be good news for the poor and broken heartened, release those wrongly imprisoned and may conflicts be resolved. We pray for our country as we draw close to Brexit may solutions and a way forward be found. Help all who are struggling at this difficult time as COVID 19 continues globally.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Father God, we pray for all who bear witness to the message of Christ by word and example. We pray particularly for the teaching staff at our church school and for all those involved in the education of young people. We pray for parents and grandparents and remember families who are troubled or face financial hardship. We pray too for chaplaincies, community leaders and for all who work with the homeless and marginalised in our society.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Compassionate God, we entrust to your tender care those who are ill or in pain, knowing that whenever danger threatens your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe. Comfort and heal them and restore them to health and strength. Be with hospital staff and medical researchers, give resilience, empathy and compassion to those caring for the sick.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Gracious God, may those who have died be granted the peace of your heavenly kingdom. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Faithful God, as we continue this Advent journey, may we open our minds and hearts to your word and presence in those we encounter. In silence we bring our own prayer intentions and those who have asked for our prayers before you.

Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘The Prophets’ – 6th December 2020 @ 6:30pm – The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday evening we hold the second in a series of Advent sermons focusing on the themes behind each of the Advent candles.  Our service will also be live-streamed from the church.

Click here to view the live-stream:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

Click here to download a pdf of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

Click here to download a Microsoft Word copy of the order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Ezekiel 34: 11-16

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

 

Matthew 5: 17-20

Jesus said ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St Mary's.

This time last year, the coronavirus was something we were dimly aware of as a health problem in China.  Few had heard of Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer.  Yet this week “JVT” as he is now being styled, is fast becoming a national treasure, someone we trust to tell the truth about anything concerning the pandemic.  He tells it like it is, dishing out the advice he’d give to his mum, and voicing his concerns about some of the official advice given by politicians.  

JVT likes to use metaphor to explain things.  Where another person might slip the occasional metaphor into a sentence when explaining something, JVT picks one and runs with it.  So you get a whole paragraph describing in detail how the latest situation with respect to lock-downs or vaccines is like a football match (complete with goals, extra time and penalties) or railway journeys (the train has slowed safely and stopped at the station.  It will call all over the country – so please get on board.  More trains will follow).

I wonder if JVT is familiar with chapter 34 of Ezekiel?  Because like JVT, Ezekiel likes to take a metaphor and exploit it to the full. We only heard a few verses this evening, but the prophecy of chapter 34 is best read as a whole.  It explores the well-used Biblical metaphor of sheep and shepherding from many different angles. 

Ezekiel’s prophecy voices the word of God:

In verses 1-6 God addresses the “Shepherds of Israel”.  They have fed themselves and not their sheep, whose wool they continue to take.  They have not healed their sheep when sick, and have not sought them out when they’ve strayed.  As a consequence the sheep have been scattered far and wide.

In verses 7-10 God declares that he has therefore stripped the shepherds of their responsibility.  They no longer have charge of the sheep.  God himself will rescue the sheep.

In verses 11-16, which we heard this evening, God declares that he himself will seek out all the lost sheep from the many places they have strayed.  They will be brought back to good grazing land in Israel.  He will strengthen the weak and destroy the strong.  Justice will come about.

Then in verses 17- 22 comes a message addressed to the sheep themselves.  Feed on good ground, but beware of trampling on the food and spoiling it for others.  It is not to be a mad dash survival of the fittest.  God will destroy those sheep who have become fat at the expense of others.

Forget any notions of romantic rural idylls.  Shepherding was a difficult and responsible management job, leading the sheep to places where they’d find decent food, keeping them safe from wild animals, rounding up the strays and keeping the flock together.  

Of course Ezekiel is not declaring God’s word to actual shepherds and sheep, but to people.  In the Ancient Near East, kings were often described as “shepherds”.  The Kings had overall responsibility for the welfare of their people – safety from enemies, enough food to eat, shelter, care when sick, keeping people together in the community, maintaining harmony within the community and above all, religious guidance.  

Ezekiel is thought to have been among those from Judah who were deported to Babylon when the Babylonians invaded the land and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Yet he addresses them as if they are the whole nation of Israel.  He is highly damning of the leaders who have failed in their responsibility to their people.  And now they are being punished.  They no longer have care of their flock.

Ezekiel addresses the ordinary people too – in this time of great upheaval, it has been everyone for themselves, with people fighting over scarce resources and some thriving at the expense of others.  They too are warned of the consequences of this.

But the prophecy does not end with doom and warning. In verses 23-4 God promises to restore his servant David as shepherd of the people.  God is ultimate king, but David is his human representative on earth.  David, or someone descended from him will come to restore things.  As a result, verses 25-31 foresee a renewal of the Covenant of peace, the land restored with fruitful trees and plentiful harvests.  The people will be released from slavery and will be safe from both wild animals and threats from other nations.  All will know that the LORD is God and that the people, the House of Israel, are his people.

Ezekiel’s prophecy holds true for the world today just as it did for the remnant of Judah in exile in Babylon.  Times are very tough.  Our leaders do not always seem to be getting things right.  And as the pandemic drags on, patience is being severely tried, tempers are becoming frayed and some people are looking out for themselves and forgetting the more vulnerable.

In this second week of Advent we focus on the prophets.  Times were grim, but the prophets foresaw a time when a king from David’s line would be restored and all would be well.  It would be, as Joe said last week, around 14 more generations before the birth of this new king.  A long time to wait.  But he would be born and all would be well.

Times are grim at the moment and we won’t be able to celebrate the birth of this new king quite in our usual way.  The vaccines are almost ready to be rolled out, so hopefully we won’t have to wait 14 generations before we can freely mix with our friends and families at Christmas.  In the meantime, like Israel we watch and wait, and we take encouragement and guidance from the words of the prophets of old and the deputy chief medical officers of today.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
our Mission Partnership churches, St Marks and St Johns,
and all who minister here at St Mary's
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for the leaders of the nations,
for those negotiating a mutually equitable agreement with the European Union
and for a peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for those who are struggling with loneliness,
for those undergoing medical treatment,
and for those who have no hope.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died, praying for Pam and all who mourn her loss.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘Comfort and Joy’ – 6th December 2020 @10:30am – The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday morning marks the first public service since the second lockdown.

Click here to view the live-stream

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv0KDKmAwGyIsE1i07xmiiw

Click here to download a pdf order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

Or here for a Microsoft Word order of service:

20 12 06 Advent 2 Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 40.1-11

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 for ever.
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.

 

Mark 1.1-8

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.’

 

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By the Revd Caitlin Thomson from St Mark's Broomhill and Broomhall

My favourite carol has to be ‘God rest ye merry..’ – with a beautiful tune and memorable lyrics, it succinctly summarises the purpose of the Christmas season:

God rest ye merry, gentlefolk,
let nothing ye dismay;
for Jesus Christ our saviour
was born on Christmas Day;
to save us all from Satan’s power
when we were gone astray.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy –
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!

As I continue to remain mostly at home, it has felt important to me that I set this season apart to embrace its message – it could so easily melt into the indistinct blob of time which started in Lent… indeed, for many of us it may feel like we are still in Lent, awaiting the resurrection and celebration of Easter.

I’ve been putting extra effort into marking Advent – the Nativity set is out, my Jesse Tree is up to help me reflect on the journey from Creation to Christ, and my Advent playlist has been brought out of its digital slumber.

In many ways, it is starting to feel more like Christmas for me than past years now. I’m more engaged with the season, because my longing for its message is deeper.

I desire to be merry this season, and to put aside my fears and troubles.

I want to bear tidings of comfort and joy.

And so, this morning, because I long to share tidings of comfort and joy, I want to talk about the message of comfort that we heard in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

First, some context:

In the previous chapter of Isaiah, the prophet goes to see King Hezekiah who is being courted by the Babylonian empire (and is enjoying the attention). Isaiah warns him that the Babylonians are going to invade and carry off all the wealth that Hezekiah has been showing off – even some of the king’s sons will be stolen away as slaves. However, Hezekiah doesn’t care and is instead comforted as the misfortune will not affect him but his descendants!

So we enter chapter 40 with an Israel whose King cares only for himself – an Israel who, due to the actions (or inaction) of their King is going to endure a time of suffering.

And these are the opening words of God to this people:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

The consolation is immediate, the contrast clear – this is a ruler who cares. In the Hebrew, the instruction ‘comfort’ is plural, an instruction to the heavenly courts… it is as if God is calling his kingdom to rise up around the people in support and solidarity – not just one voice of comfort, but many. This message is also to be repeated – enduring and continuous as a more accurate translation of God’s action here is not just ‘says your God’ but ‘your God keeps saying’.

And what do the people need to hear? On the surface, verse 2 seems to indicate that Israel is being punished, but digging deeper reveals the opposite – the price has already been paid. The image of ‘receiving from the Lord’s hand double’ is not intended as an expression of harsh punishment, but instead paints a picture of how God’s wisdom is ‘folded over’ double on itself – difficult to understand, but always overlaid with love. This is an image of forgiveness laminated with grace – unconditional and generous.

This is, after all, the character of the Lord: gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. Whatever is happening, however far God’s people have strayed, the Lord’s loving kindness endures.

The passage then continues to express this message through three movements:

In the first movement a voice cries out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord!” This is a call to make ready to receive the royal procession, to welcome with joy and celebration the King of Love whose glory shall be revealed to all people. This is a ruler who cares for everyone (a stark contrast to the selfish Hezekiah), and who will move among his people.

In the second movement, the prophet turns back to himself and asks, “what shall I cry?” Humanity is held up in contrast to the divine nature – humans are fleeting and inconsistent  - the prophet even uses the word hesed which is the word used for God’s loving-kindness/goodness/mercy throughout the Old Testament but which you may be most familiar with in Psalm 23 – (surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…) Humanity’s hesed (in the NRSV translated as consistency) is like the flower of the field – it withers and fades – this is held in contrast to the eternal and unchanging hesed of God. Human purposes will falter and fade, and our experiences are transient – but the divine purposes never fail. The love of God underwrites all of history – it is always there and always constant.

The third movement carries us up the high and holy mountain; an instruction for the heavenly kingdom to herald the coming victory of God. The language used alludes to Miriam, the prophetess - heralding victory already accomplished and rushing to assemble a welcoming party to meet the Shepherd and those he is leading home.

So what is the comfort to God’s people?

  • That even through the hardest times, the Lord has not abandoned us. God is with us in the darkest valley and leads us through the wilderness to reach our home.
  • No matter what we believe about divine punishment, God’s mercy always extends further.
  • We have a divine ruler who cares about us and wants us to be happy – he wants us to be rejoice and be glad, and to be free from the shadow of despair. God is actively concerned with our wellbeing – and even wades in to retrieve us when we stray too far.
  • In all of this, God is constant – his loving mercy endures forever.

This is a message to sustain Israel through their trials – and one which is still relevant to us today. This message of comfort and joy can sustain us too - the Church of England has even identified it as the message which is most needed this year and has chosen ‘Comfort and Joy’ as our Christmas 2020 ‘strapline’.

The more I engage with this message, the more it means to me. As with many matters of faith, message circles deeper, and the more you encounter it the further in it draws you.

I began Advent this year recognising that comfort and joy seemed a bit further away, that the ‘different’ nature of this season meant I would need to work more proactively and intentionally to ‘feel’ Advent and Christmas. And it has been working – I am discovering comfort and joy because I am seeking it and expecting to find it.

It is this active involvement which is making the difference – just as there is a call in Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord and to herald his victory, so we are called to herald the birth of our saviour and celebrate with tidings of comfort and joy by living in expectation of their truth.

There are a myriad of ways that we can do this – whether you are counting the days to Christmas with an advent calendar or candle, decorating a Jesse Tree, baking, cooking, decorating your house, preparing gifts and activities for friends and family, or planning services and events in which we can communally celebrate the birth of Christ (even if we have to do so in different ways this year)… whatever you are doing to mark Advent and prepare for Christmas, I encourage you to seek eagerly in expectation knowing that you will find Jesus in the manger. The light of the world has come: it shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

And whatever you are going through this Advent, may you find comfort in this: the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. His love endures forever.

Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by David, adapted from Common Worship Times and Seasons.

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for our Bishops, Pete and Sophie,
our Mission Partnership churches, St Marks and St Johns,
and all who minister here at St Mary's
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for the leaders of the nations,
for those negotiating a mutually equitable agreement with the European Union
and for a peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for those who are struggling with loneliness,
for those undergoing medical treatment,
and for those who have no hope.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died, praying for Pam and all who mourn her loss.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.