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

Welcome to our evening worship

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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.