Sunday 27th December – 1st Sunday of Christmas
The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.
God in Trinity,
eternal unity of perfect love:
gather the nations to be one family,
and draw us into your holy life
through the birth of Emmanuel,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
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.
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.
Post Communion Prayer
whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home:
help your Church to live as one family,
united in love and obedience,
and bring us all at last to our home in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1st Sunday of Christmas
Have you seen the star on one of our rare clear evenings – the proximity of Jupiter and Saturn appearing as a single planet which might have also occurred around the time the wise men were searching for the new born King? An appealing thought!
How well we know these words in Luke’s Gospel. Luke, a Greek physician, wrote ‘an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’ He carefully investigated the whole story of Christ’s birth and ministry bur uniquely among Gospel writers, Luke related Jesus’ birth, childhood and development with the concurrent political events in the Middle East. That is why this detailed record begins ‘In the time of Herod the King of Judea’ then chapter 2 roots the process of registration as at the behest of Emperor Caesar Augustus – the 1st Roman Emperor. Quirinius was Governor of Syria. So we know the successful expansion of Rome had reached Palestine, this growing Empire needed an Emperor at its head and different provinces were ruled by local governors.
The Emperor decreed everyone should be registered in his town of origin but he didn’t explain he wanted to know who was who for taxation purposes! Jesus did not serve in the Roman army but nobody could escape paying taxes. After all, an army of occupation and the civil authorities needed to run daily life effectively were expensive. In such a situation the local population does what it’s told, so people were travelling throughout the country trying to reach their home towns. It could have taken Mary and Joseph almost a week to walk from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David in Judea. As his betrothed Joseph took Mary great with child.
We join the story after Luke described the mean and lowly stable where Mary gave birth and the manger where Jesus was put down. Our images of cosy clean rural thatched huts may be far from the real thing. Often in those parts a stable was a cave in the rocky hillside used by cattle and sheep, the so-called manger a rough shelf carved out of the wall where food could have been left for the animals. It would have been filthy, smelling of the bovine detritus on the floor, and of sheep, and it would have been dark.
Into this squalid and brutally uncomfortable place came the King of Kings; the most vital birth in history took place in unexpectedly bleak conditions, a baby boy born to a young couple far from home and family support with precious little. They knew this was a very special child sent from God but they must have been astonished when a small group of shepherds burst in. They would not have heard the angelic chorus which followed the announcement by than angel – instead these doubtless grubby men who lived with their sheep and were generally regarded as unclean shot into the stable to see if the angle was right. To find themselves in the presence of t his tiny family with their infant wrapped in bands of cloth (still the custom in parts of the Middle East) exactly as they’d been told must have taken their breath away. From terror to utter joy within so short a time not only made an enormous impression on the shepherds but also on Mary and Joseph, especially Mary as we’re told she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There are some interesting links; the shepherds, very ordinary men at work doing a very ordinary job, were chosen by God to be the recipients of this earth-changing news. They ran to welcome the Lamb of God, born in the city of David, who himself had been a shepherd.
Here was the long-awaited Messiah, the subject of generations of prophesy which some Israelites hoped would be a King to lead them out of subjugation to Rome – not a servant king, the light of the world.
That birth and the subsequent life of Christ turned things upside-down. Lives have been turned inside-out by this pandemic. We’ve discovered, painfully perhaps, that we too must obey our political leaders, guided as they are by the scientists and medical advisors. Our lockdown worked, the R number went below one but now we’re faced with an unexpectedly scary development. A variation of the virus has brought much concern – an evolution thought to be much more infectious, possibly particularly among children who could spread it amongst their families. There’s doubt whether another lockdown will be sufficient to curb the virus now. But as Christians we know that Light always prevails in the darkness – vaccinations have already been approved and distributed and we have all learnt so much in these recent months.
As in the Roman Empire 2000+ years ago, we are governed by a government trying its best to deliver in very difficult circumstances. We’re used to following the orders of government, of professional people and those with status and power. But last spring and early summer which of will ever forget Boris Johnson telling us on March 23rd we must stay at home? Who can forget that interview with a distraught staff nurse coming from night duty and finding the supermarket shelves bare as she tried to buy food before she went home, her angry, anguished cries ‘Just stop it! Stop panic buying!’? She pointed out it was the likes of her who would care for others in their lowest and sickest moments and they couldn’t do it without the availability of fresh food to keep themselves healthy.
At a stroke the population began to see how selfish was their frightened behaviour. Gradually the tide turned and more and more acts of kindness and neighbourliness made the news. We’ve all learnt those who keep things moving are very often the lowest paid key workers, the carers, bus and truck drivers, those who stack shelves, the assistants to teachers and ancillary hospital staff, people many of us looked down on perhaps until we find we can’t do without them. Dustmen, postmen, cleaners – all sorts of basic grade workers. We hear calls fro better pay, more recognition for those at the lower end of society.
The queen on Christmas Day referred to the fact that regardless of background, gender, nationality we’re all equal and we all matter. She spoke about how her life had been guided by Christian principles of love and we know from experience this is true. Bishop Robert recently pointed out lots of church services and words are not enough to show what our Christian faith really means – we need action, genuine demonstrations of loving our neighbours, those little nameless acts of kindness and of love.
Jesus was born in poverty to show how much God loves us all. He was named on the 8th day in the way Mary had been told ‘You will call him Jesus’. Not an inherited family name but a Saviour, the Light of the World who brings the promise of peace and hope. The Light which no darkness can extinguish and assures us of a Godly (divine) love which never fails.
Allowing ourselves to experience this love and security allows us to share the light of Christ’s love with those around us, as we help those in need, the poor, the lonely, the sick and bereaved, the homeless. We must let ‘The light of faith illumine our hearts and shine in our words and deeds’. (Christmas Eve collect)