URC Daily Devotion Sunday 3rd January 2021 – Who Would Think That What Was Needed

Sunday 3rd January 2021 – Who Would Think That What Was Needed

John Bell and Graham Maule’s Christmas carol is a moving reflection on how God surprises us.  It is often sung to Scarlet Ribbons rather than the tune White Rosettes for which it was written.

Isaiah 11: 1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Who Would Think That What Was Needed?
John Bell and Graham Maule © Wild Goose Worship Resource Group

You can hear this hymn to the tune White Rosettes here

and to Scarlet Ribbons here

Who would think that what was needed
to transform and save the earth
might not be a plan or army,
proud in purpose proved in worth?
Who would think despite derision,
that a child might lead the way?
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.

Shepherds watch and wise men wonder,
monarchs scorn and angels sing,
such a place as none would reckon
hosts a holy helpless thing.
Stable beasts and by-passed strangers
watch a baby laid in hay:
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.

Centuries of skill and science
span the past from which we move,
yet experience questions whether,
with such progress we improve.
While the human lot we ponder,
lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.  


‘Who would think that what was needed…?’

This past year has seen a major amount of re-thinking about what is needed, not only in health, but also in economics and finance, in personal life, in creation, in racial justice and in the whole sense of what it means to mutually belong to one another and care for each other. Is what lies ahead a return to what there was before? Or is it an abandonment of everything that has been, in favour of what is new?

Entering into the New Year opens up the possibility of seeing a new vision. But this vision is not one where the past is abandoned. It’s a vision which connects with the deeper roots and values that have sustained us, even in the midst of the most difficult times.

The birth of Jesus, in the darkness of the stable, and yet in the fulfilment of historic prophecies, points to the vision that sustains God’s people over the centuries, through plagues, pandemics, war and suffering. It’s not the myth of the inexorability of human progress that gives hope. It’s God’s surprising and loving presence, on the side of the poor and the meek, bringing together animals and children, there for the whole of creation, that opens up new possibilities.

Entering the New Year opens up a new vision, a vision rooted in the far distant past, yet opening up God’s future. Isaiah reminds us of God’s challenge to open our eyes and ears so that we see and hear more than is in front of us in the present moment. It’s a reminder not to be confounded by negativity, but to focus on God’s love that carries us through our suffering and enables us to carry others through their suffering.


Grant to me, O loving God, a share in the gift that you gave to Jesus
for all the world and the whole of time.
May I receive the spirit of wisdom and understanding.
May I see your creation with new eyes.
May I hear your word in new ways.
At the beginning of this New Year,
may I not be so distracted by the present moment
that I fail to grasp your eternal vision.

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired from pastoral charge, active ecumenically and theologically, member of St Andrew’s Church, Ealing.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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