Sunday, 20th December; 4th in Advent

Welcome to our online worship today. It contains the prayers, the readings and the reflection from our service in church plus some lovely musical offerings. Our worship takes about half an hour.

advent-wreath-4th-sunday-of-advent – Church of the Nativity

The Prayer for Today: The Collect

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hymn: Like a Candle Flame

The First Reading: Romans 16: 25-27   Final Doxology

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

The Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38   The Birth of Jesus Foretold

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 Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel Appears to Mary (The Annunciation), by John Scott; GAK 241; GAB 28; Primary manual 2-05; Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:26–38; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Hymn: The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
"All hail" said he "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favoured lady," Gloria!

"For know a blessed mother you shalt be,
All generations praise continually
Your Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favoured lady," Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favoured lady," Gloria!

Today’s Reflection: from Rev Suzanne Johnson, our Curate.

You can click the link below to listen to this reflection or simply read the text below.

Nearly all of us know the story of the birth of Jesus, complete with Angels, wise men, shepherds, stables and, of course, a young couple struggling to find somewhere to stay in a busy and confusing city.

Christmas Day – The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord December 25 |  PagadianDiocese.org

Luke’s stories are so much part of our lives that we forget how disturbing they were for those who first read them.

Firstly, they set the birth stories in a context which clearly identifies Jesus as a King in Hellenic and Roman terms.  Secondly, these proclamations of his birth confirm Jesus as the expected Jewish Messiah.  Thirdly he completely and absolutely destroys the expectations of so many devout and holy Jews, who were dreaming of a powerful new Jewish kingdom led by a crusading Messiah and King.

Luke is a master storyteller, a champion of the poor, and able to use language in ways that our English translations cannot do justice to.

In today’s gospel we are introduced to one of the most shocking and troubling aspects of Jesus’ humanity.  His mother was unmarried when Jesus was conceived, and Joseph – her fiancé – was not the father.  Whether we take the birth stories literally or not, Luke is telling us something profound about Jesus – he not only comes from a normal background, but he also came from a disgraced mother.

I am not sure how many of us have daughters but let us imagine we do.  What would you say if your seventeen-year-old daughter, who had been happily engaged for a year, came to you and said “Sorry, Mum and Dad, but I am going to have a baby, and my fiancé is not the Father” – “not only that, but the Holy Spirit is the father, and I have to call the baby Jesus!”

My first reaction would be to shout and scream, then, once I had calmed down a bit, I would ask her what had happened – if she said that “the angel Gabriel told me”, I think my next reaction would be to call a psychiatrist for her and sob my heart out.  The last thing that would occur to me would be that she was telling the truth.  I am sure that her fiancé would also feel this way – probably with a little more anger and distress, and we won’t mention her dad’s reaction!

El ángel Gabriel visita a María | Fe verdadera | Angel gabriel, Pictures of  mary, Gabriel

Life was not that different when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she would have been about sixteen or seventeen (the common age for marriage at that time).  Joseph, according to Luke’s account, had already married Mary – however the marriage ceremony was one of commitment to each other, not one where they lived together, this took place a year later.  So Mary “did not know man” – as the old texts put it. 

It surprises me that she was not more shocked and dismayed by the news given to her by Gabriel, even more surprising is her reaction to an angel suddenly appearing – which contrary to popular belief didn’t happen very often.

We hear that Mary is, apparently, not concerned that she could be stoned to death – the punishment for conceiving out of wedlock – and how do you hide a pregnancy in a small town like Nazareth?

I believe that Luke is telling us something profound about conversion and discovery in his birth story: conversion is an ongoing and challenging process that never ends.  For Mary, Gabriel’s announcement is the start of a new phase of her life, a conversion.   She is discovering her true identity as a child of God, chosen to give birth to the saviour of the world.  This conversion not only changes her life but challenges all her beliefs as an orthodox Jewish woman.  As in all conversions, however, Mary had a choice – she could have said no – I wonder what the world would look like if she had?

Joseph, the forgotten hero of the birth stories, also had a choice and stood by Mary, despite being angry enough to consider divorcing her (as we read in Matthew’s gospel).  He too has begun a journey of conversion and discovery – what does it feel like to bring up another man’s child? Would it be even worse if it is God’s child?  It takes a special person to do that.  Mary’s family must also have struggled with it – reading between the lines it seems she was packed off to visit her cousin Elizabeth for a few months.

And all of this is because a young, insignificant, woman; disgraced in the eyes of her community; said yes to God, beginning a lifetime of pain and sorrow, yet full of conversion and discovery as she struggles to understand God’s plan for her.

Why should one keep an open mind? - Quora

We are also on a journey of conversion – one that never ends.  We need to continually discover what God has in mind for us, and we need to open our minds to the work of God in those we look down on, those we feel are a disgrace, perhaps even those we despise for their weaknesses: Who knows they may turn out to be one of God’s messengers or they may sit in the background but enable someone else to be one of God’s messengers.  Sometimes God speaks in strange ways – and always she speaks into our hearts and souls not only in person, but also through others.

As we pray for ourselves let us also pray for those struggling as mothers, fathers, families, refugees, homeless, rich, poor; for Jesus was and is in all of these situations, as well as in our hearts and souls.

Amen.

Hymn: In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air,
But only His mother in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

Our Prayers for Today. You can click the link below to listen to the prayers or simply read the text below.

Holy God, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ our Saviour, we ask that you answer our prayers and make us fit to greet him with eager hearts. May our Church leaders be blessed with wisdom and holiness to guide us through this season of Advent despite the pandemic, to a holy, peaceful and joyful Christmas. 

We raise before you our parish of St Nicolas and St. Anne’s and ask that our Advent celebrations may help us to prepare a place in our hearts and homes for you and your son Jesus Christ. Lord, we lift up to you all of the church and community activities at this time. We remember those for whom this time of year does not bring great joy, but highlights the grief, isolation, loneliness and loss that they feel day by day.

 Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Creator God, help the leaders of all nations to seek justice and peace which come from the Word of God. May there be good news for the poor and the broken hearted; release for those illegally or wrongly imprisoned and an end to the conflicts throughout the world that lead to so much grief and mourning.  We pray for all those who are striving to adjust to a new way of being “normal” in these difficult times as Covid 19 continues globally.

Lord we bring before you our schools, the children, staff and parents. So much has been lost this year, in terms of learning, socialisation, events and community involvement.  There are many different ideas, opinions and concerns about how to continue to educate our children in this time of pandemic. Lord, we ask for you to be with the decision makers, help them to see the full picture and make decisions that will be good and just for all. 

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Father God, your son Jesus lived an ordinary family life in Nazareth and understands the difficulties faced in families. We pray for all of those involved in providing support for troubled families and strengthening community life.  We especially pray for our family members who have not yet heard of the coming of Christ and that this Christmas they may hear and believe the Good News and receive the gift of the Christ Child.

Lord we ask, that now more than ever, you will use us, your Church as your hands, feet, ears and voice. Shake us up Lord from our places of comfort, and give us the courage to speak, act and do those things you place upon our hearts, that will bring joy, and speak clearly to others of your love. We declare that all we do, will be in your name and always for your glory.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Merciful God, may your blessing be upon all those who are in pain or sickness and those who are anxious or troubled. We know that you are always present with us, even when sometimes you seem far away. Help us to feel your presence when we pass through dark places, and sustain us all through our pains and sorrows.

Lord, we know that the world is suffering, and the pandemic is taking its toll on so many. We pray for the mass testing that is in place, that people will respond and be able to access the tests and follow the guidance given. We thank you Lord, for the start of the vaccine programme and pray for all involved in getting this to those who need it most; we know it is a huge task, so we place it into your hands.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Gracious God, may those who have died be granted the peace of your heavenly kingdom.  Give rest to the souls of those who have gone from our lives to meet with you and may they now, released from pain or sorrow, find life eternal at rest in your presence.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Faithful God, as we continue this Advent journey, teach us to turn to you in times of joy and pleasure as well as we do when faced with fear and sorrow.  Help us to put our differences behind us and to unite to spread your word and kingdom on earth.

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

Anthem: O Come, Emmanuel

Notices for the Week

To see this week’s notices, click the image below or go to this week’s pew leaflet.

Announcements clipart church, Picture #46089 announcements clipart church

Blessing

God of all hope and joy,
Open our hearts in welcome,
That your Son Jesus Christ at his coming
May find in us a dwelling prepared for himself;
and the blessing of God the Father
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit
Be with us all this day and for ever more.  Amen.

Final Hymn: When the King shall come again

When the King shall come again
all his power revealing,
splendour shall announce his reign,
life and joy and healing:
earth no longer in decay,
hope no more frustrated;
this is God's redemption day
longingly awaited.

In the desert trees take root
fresh from his creation;
plants and flowers and sweetest fruit
join the celebration.
Rivers spring up from the earth,
barren lands adorning;
valleys, this is your new birth,
mountains, greet the morning!

Strengthen feeble hands and knees,
fainting hearts, be cheerful!
God who comes for such as these
seeks and saves the fearful.
Deaf ears hear the silent tongues
sing away their weeping;
blind eyes see the lifeless ones
walking, running, leaping.

There God's highway shall be seen
where no roaring lion,
nothing evil or unclean
walks the road to Zion:
ransomed people homeward bound
all your praises voicing,
see your Lord with glory crowned,
share in his rejoicing!

Voluntary: Toccata (When the King shall come again)

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