Sunday, 3rd January; 2nd after Christmas

Welcome to our online worship today. We hope you enjoyed a restful, if different Christmas and our very best wishes for the New Year. As always, today’s online worship contains the readings, the prayers and the reflection we are using in church plus some lovely musical offerings. Our worship takes about forty minutes.

The Prayer for Today: The Collect

Almighty God, in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Hymn: The First Nowell

The first nowell the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep
on a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

They lookèd up and saw a star
shining in the east beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

And by the light of that same star
three wise men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

This star drew nigh to the north-west:
o'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

Then let us all with one accord
sing praises to our heavenly Lord
who hath made heaven and earth of nought,
and with his blood mankind hath bought.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

The First Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14. Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Hymn: King of Kings, Majesty

The Gospel Reading: John 1:1-18. 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. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”). From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Hymn: Hail, to the Lord’s Anointed

Hail to the Lord's Anointed,
great David's greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.

He comes with succour speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.

He shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains,
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains,
from hill to valley flow.

To him shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend;
his kingdom still increasing,
a kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never
his covenant remove;
his name shall stand forever;
that name to us is love.

Today’s Reflection: From Rev. Jane Cresswell, our Vicar

For many people 2020 couldn’t come to an end fast enough.  It has been for the entire world a year like no other.  But perhaps as we look forward in hope on this first Sunday in January to the year that lies ahead, we might fruitfully spend just a few moments daring to turn around and reflect on what is past so that we can go forward with greater wisdom and freedom.

Looking forward or backwards - Dentistry.co.uk

We can’t brush the challenging and difficult elements of last year under the carpet.  And I hope we will continue to remember and pray for those who have lost loved ones before their time, or who were unable to be with their loved ones in their final moments, or attend their funerals.  I hope we will continue to remember and pray for those whose critical medical treatment and planned operations had to be cancelled leaving them in pain and distress.  I hope we will continue to remember and pray for those who find themselves in financial difficulty because they have lost their job.  I hope we will continue to remember and pray for medical staff and other key workers who have selflessly battled their own exhaustion and grief in order to keep going and provide essential care and services. 

And what about ourselves? Whilst for many of us in Taplow, we’ve been cushioned from the worst of the crisis, we have still had our lives turned upside down.  Our church building was closed for long periods and we had to find new ways to keep in touch and worship; our personal freedom to go out, to see loved ones, to travel, to visit the theatre, or go to a concert, or enjoy a meal at a restaurant was restricted.  For some it has been a very lonely year, and for others a very busy one as they had to adapt to new ways of working.  We have all had to absorb and try to adhere to ever changing rules and regulations about what we may or may not do as the government sought to control the spread of the virus.

We cannot pretend that the last year has been anything but tough.  And if you need to grieve for what you have lost, then that is important.  Only in acknowledging and grieving well for what is lost do we find courage to let go, to pick ourselves up and move forward.

How God Brings Good Out of Bad Situations - YouTube

But it hasn’t all been bad.  And that is another good reason for taking a look back and allowing the rays of light from the past year to temper what we might be tempted to consign to history as a very black year.

In every community, neighbours and friends tried to look out for those around them.  In the spring, as we all reeled from the sudden shock of the first lock down, we found ourselves smiling and greeting strangers on the street in a way many of us had never done before. With air travel almost non-existent, we relished the blue skies and the sound of birdsong, and I for one found myself noticing and enjoying the gradual blooming and daily changing of different blossom and flowers.  

Many of you will know and love the poem written in 1911 by the welsh poet W H Davies.  Let me read it to you:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

2020 was for many a year where we were given the gift of time.  Time to be in one place, to notice the detail of what was going on around us in a different way because we weren’t charging around going to meetings or church, visiting or entertaining family, going on holiday or attending regular hair or other appointments.  And I, for one, value and give thanks for that gift.  Much as I missed meeting colleagues, conducting worship, seeing family and travelling, life was not all bad.  Working more flexibly from home meant I was free to walk more extensively around the area – great for chatting to parishioners and building relationships, and also for reducing my waistline!

2020 was also a year when we were given the opportunity to be creative.  A good example of that is the “Meet the Nativity” that took place outside in the churchyard on Christmas Eve instead of the usual crib service in church; or the simpler carol service we held followed by carol singing outside which took place just two weeks ago.  Sometimes, it is only when you can’t do what you have always done that you discover new ways of doing.  You will have your own examples, I’m sure, of ways in which you and your families and neighbours found new and creative ways of doing things last year.

And I wonder if I am the only one who despite missing the freedom to sing in church, has loved the simplicity and brevity of our said Eucharist over the past six months?  And for whom the beauty of a small choir singing during the distribution of communion has been appreciated and valued all the more for the quietness that surrounds it?

When you do your own looking back, I hope that you too will be able to find the rays of light shining in the darkness of 2020.  Let’s not consign the good things to the dustbin along with the bad.

And of course, that is what today’s gospel highlights.  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The Light Shines in The Darkness – Vessels Awaken

Pivoting now to look forward to 2021, the world as a whole is pinning its hopes on a vast programme of vaccination.  Whilst we know we are far from out of the woods yet, and facing a few more months of tough restrictions to try and limit the spread of the virus, we can begin to see light dawning on the horizon. In other news, we have at least some kind of deal to give us a framework in our ongoing trading and other dealings with the EU; and the United States is about to embark on a new era of government.   Nonetheless there are still challenges ahead of us and the rest of the world.

So my first message for this New Year is: “Don’t give up”.  

How much those first century Jews must have felt that liberation would never come, even as Jesus’ birth heralded the dawn of a new era.  The Christmas story proclaims that the light has come into the world and the light is shining in the darkness.  As Christians we hang on to that hope and commit ourselves to be reflectors of the light of Christ to those around us.  When my sister and I used to write our new year wish lists together, I would sometimes find myself writing “I would like to be a source of light and hope in the lives of all those I encounter this year.”  It’s not a bad aim to help focus and guide our behaviour and our conversation as we embark on a New Year.  And it is not dependent on what is happening in the world around us.  It is something we each have the freedom to do.

My second message for this New Year is: “Learn from what you have experienced.”  Let’s reflect and hold on to the good that has come out of the past years’ experience and let it shape and temper the way we do things in the future.  It may have been a difficult year, but let’s not allow it to be also a wasted one.

And finally my prayer for you all as you walk forward into this New Year, and the prayer I encourage you to pray for yourselves is this … taken from today’s collect:

“Almighty God, in the birth of your Son you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word, and shown us the fullness of your love: help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love that we may know the fullness of his joy.”

  • Don’t give up 
  • learn from what you have experienced 
  • walk in the light of Christ and dwell in his love so that you may know the fullness of his joy.

Hymn: Morning has broken

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the One Light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning…

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

Lord hear us as we come before you resolved to live your love more fully at the start of a new year. We have heard the Christmas story, about how you came to live among us.  We pray for the will to never give up in following the light of your star, to use the time you have given us to see and understand your truth as we move on in our lives, and that you will hear us in our prayers of intercession.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For your Church; our Bishops, our Archdeacons, our clergy and for all the members of the Body of Christ to whom a great mystery has been made known.  For our own parish community learning from the changes of the past year and creating new plans to live your love and to fulfil your mission in our community going forward.

May we be a light for all people and show the gospel’s promise of peace and love in our daily lives

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For our world upon whom your light has shone; for all the ends of the earth that have seenthe saving power of God:

Help all those overshadowed by war, tragedy, and violence; between races, countries and within families, to look beyond the turmoil in their lives and see and experience the radiance of your love and peace.

For all those far from home; for our own relatives and friends, and for migrants and refugees searching for a peaceful place to live and a safe place where they can feel they belong:

May they continue to walk by the light of Christ and find that star which will lead them safely home.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For this new year filled with hope and opportunity but also with apprehension and worry for many; for those who must travel a different path to the one which they had planned:

May this year be filled with God’s favour and light, especially for those ensnared in the darkness of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, depression and despair.

For our loved ones sick or suffering, for those in need of our forgiveness.  May they be clothed with God’s healing power.

For those who have died; for those we particularly miss in our own lives as we start another year.  May the glory of the Lord shine upon them

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Lord Jesus, wise men travelled from far away lands to worship you as a child.  As we journey on in our own lives, help all those of good will throughout the world see that to meet and to know others is the first step to understanding; and that understanding is the path to friendship; and that friendship is the key to your peace and love.

Living God, draw us deeper into your love;
Jesus our Lord, send us to care and serve;
Holy Spirit, make us heralds of good news.
Stir us, strengthen us, teach and inspire us
to live your love with generosity and joy, imagination and courage;
for the sake of your world and in the name of Jesus.

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

Anthem: Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
Cold on his cradle the dew-drops are shining;
low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
angels adore him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Saviour of all.
Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
odours of Edom, and offerings divine,
gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,
myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?
Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
vainly with gifts would his favour secure:
richer by far is the heart's adoration,
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

This Week’s Notices

A huge thank you to all who have made our worship over Christmas possible in such difficult and rapidly changing circumstances:

  • To our Clergy, Jane and Suzanne for their imaginative and creative ways of helping us focus on the wonder of Christmas.
  • To our Church Wardens:  Tony, Hilary and Janet for quietly managing everything and keeping us all safe.
  • To Neil, our organist and choirmaster for preparing such wonderful Christmas music for us to enjoy and to our lovely choir for lifting our hearts and minds from our earthy concerns to higher things.
  • To those who, without fuss have both cleaned and decorated our church; the lovely flowers, the candle wreath, the Christmas Crib, the Christmas tree.
  • To those who read at our Carol service, those who acted in our ‘Meet the Nativity’ and those who helped at these events.
  • To those who make it possible for people who can’t come to church, to enjoy our online worship offerings and keep in touch with us via our Facebook page.
  • To all who contribute to paying for us to carry out our mission in our community and to those who have donated heating allowances, bought the new Taplow book, Christmas Cards and woodwork items (the latter has raised over £900 this Christmas).

Remember our New Year Message:

  • Don’t give up 
  • Learn from what we have experienced 
  • Walk in the light of Christ and dwell in his love that you may know the fullness of His joy. 

A New Year Blessing:

May God make your year a happy one
Not by shielding you from all sorrow and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God's love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.  Amen. 

Final Hymn: Jesus shall reign…

Voluntary: This week’s voluntary has been specially recorded for us by Neil Matthews, our organist and choirmaster. It also offers the opportunity for a New Year quiz. How many Christmas tunes can you find and recognise?