Sunday, 7th February: 2nd before Lent.

Welcome to this week’s service which comes from St Nicolas Church. The service is about half an hour in length. The Collect, the Gospel reading and the text of our sermon and the intercessions are below should you wish to follow them or look at them again. The link to This Week’s Notices is at the bottom.

The Collect: The Prayer for Today

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things,
now and for ever.

The Gospel Reading: John 1: 1-14. The Word became Flesh

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.

Our Sermon: from Rev. Suzanne Johnson, our Curate

This reading from the start of John is an amazing reading. John doesn’t focus at all on the details of Jesus’ birth which we see in other gospels, but wants us to be utterly overwhelmed, as he was, that Jesus, this Jesus, was the Word of God. God himself come down to earth, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
And one of the amazing things is that, even though the Jewish nation had been looking for and longing for the Messiah for hundreds of years and were looking for signs that he might be coming, when he came the world did not recognise him.
I wonder, after the long, hard, strange year of 2020, as we enter 2021 which looks as dark and bleak as the last, as we all, desperately, look for signs of hope, are we willing and able to recognise the hope of God when it comes to us?  Because the story of Jesus’ birth which we read about in Matthew and Luke show us that when the hope of God comes it’s likely to come in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.

Mary probably expected to have her baby at home with her female relatives around her, but it happened far from home, maybe even in a stable.  The shepherds would have expected important messages to come from a person, but this time it was angels bringing good news.  The Magi expected to find the new king in a palace, but they found him in an ordinary home.  All of this was the light of the world coming in the darkness. Quietly, unrecognised by most, the salvation and love of God was born. His eternal plan, born in a tiny helpless baby, into the arms of a mother who was young and inexperienced.

Here’s the other important truth that John tells us – That light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it – other translations say, the darkness can never extinguish it.

Whatever has happened in the past year – and so many of us are carrying grief into this new year, grief of moments lost, connections missed, celebrations cancelled, and people who are no longer with us – we hold these things and we do not deny that this has been hard and heavy and, in many ways, dark – but we also must continue to hold the absolute, eternal truth that Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot, and will not, ever extinguish it.

Christina Rossetti’s poem, now a Christmas Carol, has been running through my head this year; 

Now, we all know that there was no snow or frost on that night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. But these words seem to describe this last year so well – snow on snow, hardness on hardness. The announcement that there is, as yet, no end in sight for the lockdown.  At the end of a long hard year, it is more bleakness, on top of all the bleakness we have been living through for so long.
And yet … the poem does not end there. The story does not end there. The bleakness is not left bleak.  Because into this, as every year, comes the Christ, the light of the world. Our remembering, the stirring in our soul, the warming of our hearts as we remember that God came to earth and made his dwelling among us.

We move on in the poem, and in the story of God:

Into the bleakness is born the hope of God. Unexpectedly. Unseen by so many. The light of the world comes, and from the second he was born, he shows us what relationships and connection are really like. And he continues to show us that the 3.5 billion packages that Amazon delivered over Christmas are not the bringers of hope.  No, it is through the birth of a small baby in a forgotten corner of a now almost forgotten empire that the hope and the light comes, and it comes unexpectedly, and it comes unrelentingly, and it comes eternally and always. It’s never, ever put out. Never ever buried under the bleakness.

Even if there are times in our lives when there seems to be so much desolation that we cannot even glimpse the slightest shard of light, God is with us.  We may not always see the light but it is always there.

Always, always just asking for our heart – ‘What can we give him?’, Christina Rossetti’s poem ends – ‘Give our heart’, even if it is a little broken.  Because whatever is different this year, God’s love for us never changes. It never fails. Nothing can separate us from the love of God and nothing can change the eternal truth of the eternal light that shines in the darkness.

This story is one of hope; of the birth of Jesus who blessed and lifted up those who were suffering and in poverty.  So let us pray for all who have had a difficult year, or will have a difficult year, full of worry, anxiety and fear for their future, that God will comfort them and let them know they are not alone.  That to all who have struggled with their emotional and physical health, God will bring healing and peace.
It is my prayer for each one of us that God will use us to bring light in the darkness.  That God will continue to give us the strength and the love to show our light to those in our community who are currently living without hope.  And that we may all find God, and hope, and joy in unexpected places this year.

Amen

This Week’s Notices: Click this link to read the notices