Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night
they shall never be silent.
You who remind the Lord,
take no rest,
and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink the wine
for which you have laboured;
but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in my holy courts.
Go through, go through the gates,
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
clear it of stones,
lift up an ensign over the peoples.
The Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
‘See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.’
They shall be called, ‘The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord’;
and you shall be called, ‘Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.’
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
By Rev Dr Alan Billings
One of my sons has three children. Two are lovely, unobtrusive and mild. The third is also lovely but – well – noisy and in your face.
He was in his school nativity play last week. I asked what part he played. He was an angel.
Of course he was. He had to be very still and look as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. It was probably the hardest thing he has had to do in his young life so far.
In the run up to Christmas there have been countless nativity plays like this across the country in schools, town centres and churches, and we may have been sending and receiving Christmas cards that tell the same story: depictions of Mary, Joseph and the baby, lying in a manger.
I looked at our cards just before writing this. Like the school plays, they had one thing in common. They were all about as far away from the reality of Christ’s birth as you could get. They were sanitised. The holy family were in immaculately laundered robes, the baby nestled in straw as soft as tissue and the animals knew nothing of mud or blood or manure. Christmas as Walt Disney might imagine it.
But I think there will be people in some parts of the world this morning who will hear the Christmas story quite differently. They will not sanitise it or Disneyfy it but rather marvel at it.
Think of someone who woke up this morning in Ukraine. Woke up in a basement under the bombed and battered building where last year, before the war, they had a very different Christmas in their apartment on a floor above.
Today, they will identify immediately with this young couple who, like them, during the night just gone, had no heating, little light, probably not much food, no one they could contact if they needed medical help, and whose overwhelming emotion was one of anxiety, if not fear. Many Ukrainian families will find echoes of their own lives in today’s gospel.
And some, like Mary, may have had a baby born last night in such conditions. The Christmas story they will hear today is a story of people who have very little and who struggle to survive. Yes, there is joy that a new life has come safely into the world. But it is joy amid hardship and nagging worry about an uncertain future.
But because they hear the story of this birth unsanitised, the Ukrainian family will also marvel at it. They will marvel at what is the central message of today, that in this child, God comes among us, takes human flesh, becomes one of us.
And God does that in these harsh conditions and circumstances. He makes himself known in a way no one could have predicted or guessed, a way which, at first glance, seems unpromising and hard to understand. As a baby. In a manger. To people who have nothing.
We are not celebrating this birth in the stable. Nor are we celebrating it in a ruined apartment block in Ukraine. So what can we take from it? What might resonate for us?
Look again at the final part of the gospel reading. Notice Mary’s response. The angels depart, the shepherds go back to their flocks rejoicing and ecstatic. Mary notes what they say, treasures the words and ponders them in her heart.
I think we can all do that this morning. Treasure what you see and hear and experience in this Christmas morning eucharist. The one who brought all things into being, the one who holds all time eternally in his hands, is not remote from us, or disinterested in us, or unmoved by our circumstances. He knows what it is like to live our sort of life, not by observing it from the outside, but by living it from the inside, the inside of a human skin.
From this day, our human life is also the lived experience of the one from whom we come and to whom we go.
Let us leave church this morning, then, treasuring those thoughts and pondering them in our hearts. For in them is our comfort and joy.
Prepared by Veronica
Jesus, Saviour of the world, we thank you for coming to this world, not as a great ruler, but as a baby, born in a stable, because there was no room in the inn. You reached out to ordinary people from the start.
Hear our prayer.
We thank you that the first people to be called by the angels to come and worship you were humble shepherds, watching their flocks by night.
Hear our prayer.
We pray for all in need this Christmas, suffering war, oppression or hunger. Give us grace never to forget those who are anxious, worried that they cannot afford to eat or heat their homes. Above all, may we never forget all your people in other lands who are suffering real hunger and need.
Hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are suffering in mind, body or soul at this time. May they know your healing grace, and know something of the peace and joy of Christmas. In a moment of quiet we pray for all known to us who are sick at this time…………..
Hear our prayer.
We pray for all who have passed into your nearer presence, our relations, friends and close family. We remember those especially dear to us, and commend them to your gracious mercy…………
Hear our prayer.
Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, Mark, John and all your saints, we commend ourselves, our partner parishes, and all your peoples to your unfailing love.
Jesus, Saviour, Child of Mary,
You know us and love us,
you share our lives and hear our prayer.
Glory to you for ever and ever.
Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material which is reproduced here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2010