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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church Service for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 19th December 2021
Phil Hearing / Unsplash
The Rev’d Jonnie Hill
Opening Music: The Magnificat Sung by Aubrey Brawner & Kate Templeton from St Peter’s Episcopal Church Savannah, Georgia.
Good morning! And welcome to this service of worship for the fourth Sunday of Advent. I’m the Revd Jonnie Hill, and I serve the Greater Manchester South and Cheshire Missional Partnership in the North Western Synod. We are a group of 15 worshipping communities and I bring to you greetings from us all. Well, we’re almost there… just six more sleeps to Christmas Day. Are you all set? Have you everything sorted? Or have you still got it all to do? Wherever you are up to, whatever you have done or not done, you are welcome to this time of prayer, reflection and pause as we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child. And we’re in good company, as today we prepare ourselves with the help of the mother of Jesus Mary and her song.
Call To Worship
We wait for the Lord! We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
We wait for the Lord! We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. We wait for the Lord! We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. We wait for the Lord! We take courage; we are stout hearted for we wait for the Lord!
HymnThe Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came Basque carol adapted Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
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!
2 ‘For known a blessed Mother thou shalt be, all generations laud and honour thee, thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold; most highly favoured lady.’ Gloria!
3 Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head, ‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said. ‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name’: most highly favoured lady. Gloria!
4 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!
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
Loving God, this advent season, as we ponder once again the mysteries of God made flesh – we rejoice in your desire to know us, to be in relationship with us.
We praise you for your love, so uniquely revealed in the life of Jesus Christ– who was born of Mary, who learned and grew, who healed and taught, who embodied the fullness of human flourishing– revealing your ways of justice, love and peace. And so we pray –
Come, Christ Jesus, be born in us this advent, be born in our hearts, in our minds, and in our lives. Holy one – Emmanuel open us to the truth of God with us, God for us, God in us. Amen.
Loving God, when we distort your truth, when we cast you in our own image when we turn from the way of love forgive us. Silence
Loving God, when we withhold generosity, when we are too busy to care, when we judge the price of fairness as too high forgive us. Silence
Loving God, when we ignore your light within us, when we subvert our human needs, when we elevate ourselves to judge and jury forgive us. Silence
Loving God, even before the words are on our lips, even before we take that first step towards you – in love, you rush out to meet us.
You drape us in the robe of forgiveness, you adorn us with the ring of love. Help us to forgive others,help us to forgive ourselves. Amen.
Candle Lighting Prayer
Light in our darkness, help us remember the faith of your mother, that we may sing your praises and bring light to this world. Amen.
Prayer of illumination
God, yours is the voice we seek. May we hear clearly, through ancient words spoken aloud and made alive today by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reading St Luke 1:39—55
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
HymnOf the Father’s Love Begotten Prudentius (348-c.413) tr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877)
Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.
2 O that birth for ever blessed, when the Virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Saviour of our race, and the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed his sacred face, evermore and evermore.
3: This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word; now he shines, the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore.
4 Let the heights of heaven, adore him; angel hosts, his praises sing; powers, dominions bow before him, and extol our God and King; let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore.
6 Christ, to thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to thee, hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be, honour, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory, evermore and evermore.
I’ve sometimes thought that being Christian is a bit like being a character in a science fiction novel or an episode of Star Trek – a time traveller, always with one foot in the past. Of course, we live in the present, in the here and now, but how we understand and orient ourselves is often with a significant emphasis on the past, learning from and living by those ancient words of scripture such as we just heard read to us from Luke’s Gospel.
Very often the Church has been accused of being stuck in the past and not moving with the times. And perhaps that is a fair assessment. We might be forward thinking in many ways, but arguably our centre of gravity pulls us back to the events that took place thousands of years ago.
Advent is a Church season when we are especially transported back in time as we prepare ourselves to celebrate that fateful arrival of the Christ child into our world. Our traditions and rituals, our songs and Bible readings, they connect us to this one-off event in history.
In a similar way, the Magnificat, the song of Mary’ mother of Jesus, recalls the song of another woman of great faith, Hannah, mother of Samuel. In remembering, in recalling, in reciting ancient words, we are connected across the centuries to our mothers and fathers in faith. And this is of course a good thing.
But I wonder if sometimes our emphasis on things past, becomes an over-emphasis, something we know for which the Church is criticised. And in this over-emphasis on things past, we miss some of the future-oriented promise of Advent – that Advent is also an affirmation of the future coming of Christ.
Remember the ancient words from the eucharistic liturgy? Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again… Christ will come again… and with Christ’s future coming, is the promise that all will be made right And what of Mary’s song, the Magnificat? I don’t know if you noticed, but the grammar of the English translations of the Magnificat doesn’t help my case much. It’s almost entirely sited in the past tense – rooted in what God has done for Mary. How God has shown strength in scattering the proud, how God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty. God has done all these things?
But how can Mary sing this song, that great things has the Lord done for her? A young unmarried woman, pregnant and of limited means, singing that God has – past tense – already blessed her and ended all these terrible injustices. All she’d have to have done is open her eyes and take one look around to see that injustice was rife.
But far from being delusional, Mary, prompted by the action of the Holy Spirit in her cousin Elizabeth’s response to her, surely intuited that she was carrying the hope of the world in her womb. That God was entering into the world in a new way, that in and through the Christ child, whose advent was already bringing about God’s ways of love would continue to fulfil God’s ultimate promise – an end to all injustice, the lifting up of the lowly.
The Magnificat is neither solely about what has happened or what is to come – it is both, it is the already and the not yet.
This can be a challenge for us to understand, because in English we don’t have a particular tense of verb that was available to those who wrote in New Testament Greek – the Aorist tense for those interested in such things.
The Magnificat speaks of the already and the not yet. Mary’s song is proclaimed with a confidence that testifies to what God has done in the past, is doing in the present and will do in the future to lift up the lowly, to reconcile all of creation, to usher in God’s reign of justice, mercy and peace.
This final Sunday of Advent, we are less than a week away from Christmas. No doubt we’ve been busy preparing in all sorts of ways – decorating our homes, buying gifts, stocking the pantry. And we have been preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child. Advent and Christmas are undoubtedly about looking back commemorating this historic event. But perhaps we might all learn from Mary’s song, that Advent, like the Magnificat speaks of the already but the not yet – God already is, has been and will be at work in our world, binding up wounds, lifting up the lowly, welcoming the outcast, subverting systems of oppression.
Perhaps as Christians we truly are called to be a kind of time traveller in faith. But rather than our focus being on things past, with all the sweet, wistful nostalgia typical of the season, we might ask ourselves – is God calling us to a way of being that integrates past, present, and future?
One that like Mary’s song, references and learns from inherited wisdom. One that is strongly anchored in the present reality. One that affirms with the confidence of Mary’s song, a future time when the Christ who she birthed will fulfil all the promises made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever. Mary has not always been an easy figure for us as reformed Christians. But I hope that as we hear her song afresh today, we will appreciate and give thanks for her. Of course, as the faithful mother of Jesus, but also, as a prophet of unique standing in our faith – a revolutionary, who sang a song of a world transformed in and through the love of God made flesh. This is the kind of Advent of which Mary’s song speaks. Alleluia. Amen.
HymnLet All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence Liturgy of St James translated Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
2 King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords in human vesture, in the body and the blood, He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.
3 Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way, as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the powers of Hell may vanish, as the darkness clears away.
4 At his feet the six-wingèd seraph; cherubim with sleepless eye, veil their faces to His Presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry: ‘Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia, Lord most high!’
Affirmation of Faith
Do you reject Satan? We do. And all his works? We do. And all his empty promises? We do. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? We do. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? We do. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? We do.
God, the Creator almighty, has given us, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, new birth and forgiveness for all our sins. May God also keep us faithful to Jesus Christ, our coming King, for ever and ever. Amen.
Caring Jesus, we pray with confidence that you understand our needs not just through oneness with our creator and sustainer, but as one who lived as fully human— one who knew hunger and pain, joy and sorrow.
Caring Jesus, human and divine: bring justice, peace and relief from suffering. At this time of twinkly lights and warm glows, let’s not forget those whose Christmas is looking cold and blue— we pray for parents who can’t afford the toys on the list, for the newly bereaved dreading the empty seat at Christmas dinner, for hospital workers battered by a second Christmas of death and disease. Caring Jesus, human and divine: bring justice, peace and relief from suffering.
The trees are decorated, the presents are bought, the larder is filling up but what will it cost our earth? We pray for our own efforts to tread more lightly, all who work and protest for climate justice, for children and young people speaking truth to power. Caring Jesus, human and divine: bring justice, peace and relief from suffering.
As we celebrate your coming Jesus, we are full of expectant hope, but for many of our churches, the future remains uncertain— we pray for worn out elders worried about who will take their place, for all who wonder if this Christmas will be their church’s last, for all lives affected by the closure of our churches. Caring Jesus, human and divine: bring justice, peace and relief from suffering.
In one voice, let us share in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, Our Father…
Practising gratitude is a bit of a trend right now, partly because psychologists have confirmed that adopting an attitude of gratefulness is good for our wellbeing. But for millennia, people of faith have understood this wisdom well, but not just as an attitude of gratefulness, but as a practice – giving from what we have been given. Let us pray,
God of all goodness, our very lives are a gift, help us to live fully from this knowledge, that we might live generously giving of our time, our talents and our money. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
HymnO Come O Come Emmanuel 18th century, based on the ancient Advent Antiphons translated John Mason Neale (1818-1866)
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.
2 O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things, far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
3 O come, thou Branch of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; and trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave:
4 O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery:
5: O come, Desire of nations, bind in one our lives all humankind; Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; and by yourself our King of peace.
And so, we leave this time of worship and reflection. And we return to the busyness of the season. And as we do so, I pray that we go with a renewed sense of confidence in the hope expressed in the Magnificat, Mary’s song. That we would join Mary in magnifying God by making this hope a reality. May we join with God in all God is doing already and will do. May the blessing of God, Creator, Christ and Spirit, be with you and all whom you love this Christmas and always, Amen. Closing MusicRug Muire Mac Do Dhia (Mary Bore a Son To God) sung by Cara Dillon from the Album Winter’s Night (P) 2016 Charcoal Records.
Sources and Thanks
Call to Worship adapted by Andy Braunston from Psalm 37, Affirmation of Faith adapted form the Apostles’ Creed, all other liturgical work by Jonnie Hill.
Thanks to Rhona Newby, Dan Morrell, Katie Henderson, Sue Cresswell, Diana Cullum-Hall, Pam Carpenter and Ray Fraser for reading various spoken parts of the service.
The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came – Basque carol adapted Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) – Sung by the choir of King’s College Cambridge Of the Father’s Love Begotten – Prudentius (348-c.413) translated John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877) sung by an unknown choir on Youtube Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence – Liturgy of St James translated Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885). Sung by Fernando Ortega from the album Christmas Songs Curb Records. O Come O Come Emmanuel – 18th century, based on the ancient Advent Antiphons translated John Mason Neale (1818-1866) sung by unknown choir on Youtube
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776, some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762.
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776, Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762