31st December 2023 10.30am – Eucharist on the First Sunday of Christmas

31st December 2023 First Sunday of Christmas Eucharist: 

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The Readings

Isaiah 61. 10 - 62. 3

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.


Luke 2. 15 - 21

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.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


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 Canon Dr Alan Billings.

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

After all the initial anxieties and hardship,
After finding nowhere in Bethlehem to stay, save this outhouse beside an inn.
After the birth, with no cradle for the child, only an animal’s feeding trough.
After the first visitors, the locals, shepherds, have come and gone.
After all the pain and discomfort and stress, there’s a pause.

And this young mother, almost certainly a teenager, looks down at her son,
and ponders in her heart.

Ponders what, we might wonder?

Well, she’s probably thinking in ways that all mothers do as they take a
moment to look at their new-born child and wonder.

Wonder in both senses. Wonder at how something as amazing as this – a
new life – should have come into the world through them, and wonder too at
what they must now do and be for them, if they are to grow and live well.
What the gospel writer is drawing to our attention is the fact that this marks
the beginning of two vocations. Yes, here begins the story of Jesus Christ.
But here also begins another, inseparable story, that of Mary, his mother.
One reason why I particularly like St Luke’s gospel is because of all the
gospel writers, it is Luke who, even as he tells the story of Jesus, threads the
story of Mary through it as well.

So it’s in Luke’s gospel that we will hear how Mary and Joseph take the child
to Jerusalem for the ritual of Mary’s purification after childbirth. It’s then that
they will meet the old man Simeon who will tell Mary that her son is destined
for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and a sword will pierce through her
own soul also.

It’s in Luke’s gospel that we will hear how Mary and Joseph again take Jesus
to the temple at the age of 12 – the age at which boys become part of the
congregation of Jewish men - and accidentally leave him behind when they
return home.

And above all, it is Luke who will tell us how Mary will be present in
Jerusalem when her son is arrested, cruelly treated and put to death.
So Mary’s vocation as a mother also begins at Christmas.

But how is her mothering of the Saviour to be different from that of other
mothers whose children are not so destined?

The answer is, it isn’t different. The whole point about Christianity is that God
becomes one of us. This is the heart of the faith and the very thing that has
shocked many pious people down the ages.

It shocks devout Muslim friends of mine today: how can you say that God is in
Jesus Christ when Jesus Christ is humiliated, suffers and dies? God cannot
be subject to such frailty and failing. This cannot be God in the manger.
But we say: this is God choosing to come among us, revealing himself
through the life of this human child, who is no different from all the other
babies that were born that night.

And this takes us to the heart of Mary’s vocation.

Children do not come into the world with fully formed characters. They learn
by observation and imitation. If anything, we arrive self-centred and selfish
When we are hungry we don’t consider the needs of others, we cry until we
are fed. When we are in discomfort we scream until someone changes our
nappy. This is how a child survives – it is totally dependent on its parent or
guardian. We make the journey from being utterly self-centred to something
more considerate as we see in those around us other ways of behaving,
imitate them and are praised for our unselfishness.

If Jesus is to be kind, generous, loving, forgiving, he must see that in his
mother’s care. Because this is a critical way in which human character is
initially formed.

If this all seems so risky a venture, so it is.

But it’s what we mean when we say, the Word became flesh. God chose to
become human in order to show us the better ways of living. And key to that
is this young woman, his mother. He will imitate her.

This is the profound and frightening truth that she ponders as she looks at her
new-born child.


The Prayers
Prepared by Kath.

To be uploaded shortly.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright (c) 2010 The Archbishops' Council