to listen to the service and sing along with the carols. This will open up a new screen, at the bottom of the screen you will see a play symbol. Press that, then come back to this window so you can follow along with the service.
This service contains the sacrament of communion. You are welcome to share in bread and wine/juice at the appropriate time.
Daily Devotions from the URC Christmas Eve – Midnight Communion 2020
The Rev’d Dr Kirsty Thorpe
Good evening. I’m Kirsty Thorpe, minister of Wilmslow United Reformed Church in Cheshire. Later in this Christmas Eve service we will be celebrating communion. You may wish to pause now so you can prepare wine or grape juice and bread for yourself. This is a night for watching and waiting, for hope and anticipation. This is a time to light a candle in the darkness of the world’s pain and loss. This is a moment to be in unity with the whole Church, around the world, in heaven and on earth, past, present and yet to come. Let us share a brief silence as we prepare to worship:
Call To Worship
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, for a child has been born for us, a son given to us! Glory to God in the highest heaven! Let us worship the Prince of Peace.
CarolSilent Night, Holy Night Joseph Mohr (1792-1848)
Silent night, holy night All is calm, all is bright ‘Round yon virgin Mother & Child Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight! Glories stream from heaven afar; Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ the Saviour is born!
Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Glory be to you, God of grace and salvation. On this night we celebrate your presence with us, made flesh in Jesus and born in Bethlehem. You come to the world through one family, in one place, at one moment in time – an event transforming the future for every family, every place and the whole of eternity.
In this moment of innocence, expectancy, risk and hope we gather to await your birth and to reflect on our lives. We recognise our part in the cynicism and weariness of our world, our failure to look for your presence all around us, our preference for safe options and our lack of hope. (Silence)
Fill us with your forgiveness, gracious God, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Change us as we approach the mystery of new life. Renew our wonder and joy as we journey into the future with you. Amen.
Isaiah 9. 2-7
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
St Luke 2. 1-14
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
Twelve months ago, not even the most downbeat of us would have imagined that 2020 would prove to be such an unforgettable year for all the wrong reasons. Our world finds itself in the middle of a dangerous and deepening health crisis which, at times, can seem to threaten our entire future.
Meanwhile our planet teeters on the edge of unprecedented climate change which could already have slipped beyond our power to avert or control. As we look around us we’re faced on all sides by deep and disturbing struggles – between truth and lies, hope and despair, life and death, light and darkness. Can the world have ever needed Christmas Eve more than it does this year? Have I ever spent so much time before, exploring what I really believe and longing to see God take action to transform the world around me?
As I struggle with these questions I’m reminded of lines from a prayer by the Reverend Professor Stephen Orchard, former Moderator of General Assembly and retired URC minister. They appeared in the Prayer Handbook in 1989. The prayer is framed as a conversation about Christ’s birth in which humanity addresses God:
‘We thought we had laid you safe in the manger; we wrapped you in the thickest sentiment we could find, and stressed how long ago you came to us; why do you break upon us in our daily life, with messages of peace and goodwill, demanding that we do something about it?’
There’s nothing quite like Covid 19 for stripping the layers of sentiment away from Christmas. You can’t easily retreat into a glitter and tinsel version of God’s plan to redeem the world if you’re surrounded by reminders of pain and brokenness all around you. Those powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, about God’s light breaking in on a people who walked in darkness, resonate afresh with us now. Our world, too, is experiencing deep darkness. We, like the people of Israel of old, are waiting for light to break in on us and for our enemies to be defeated. In our case, the tramping warriors we’re up against take the form of a dangerous virus. This invisible foe has proved capable of dismantling normal life for vast swathes of the world’s people, over the last year. It has undermined our economic plans, reduced our social interactions beyond recognition, kicked people out of relationships, jobs, homes and routines, left many of us with seriously damaged physical and mental health and killed more than a million people already worldwide. And those who suffer most are primarily those who had least to start with – the refugees, the victims of civil war, the poorest of the poor, the landless and the lost of every community – those who are the back of every queue that forms, always, whatever the setting.
The garments rolled in blood, evoked by the prophet, remind us of the contaminated PPE equipment, the discarded face masks and used plastic gloves that have now crept into every corner of our lives and imaginations.
But, with God, it is when things are at their worst that the possibility of light, hope and a new beginning are always ready to break in and change things. Isaiah shares this glorious promise of an heir, a son, who will rule in a way that commands universal trust and respect – the ideal leader – the Prince of Peace. And, amazingly, there is nothing we human beings need to do or be in order for this to happen: ‘The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.’
By the time of Jesus’ birth this prophetic promise was seen to have been made long ago. The effect of Roman military occupation, of deep divisions within Jewish society between rich and poor and of a religious establishment which had lost the ability to bring people into a living relationship with God, had built up to create a deeper darkness than people could ever remember living through. The desire for a Messiah was as ardent as ever but the hope that God’s chosen one would actually arrive to turn things around for all God’s children was more of a vague longing than a real expectation. Which is when, under the radar, God chooses to slip into the world in the person of a new-born child, delivered away from home, in makeshift surroundings to a young mother and her partner. Anyone who has been present at a birth will know the combined impact of the mother’s urge to push, the breaking of waters and the drama of delivery. That scene of the birth of Jesus is one we have tried to wrap in sentiment and frame in an Old Master version, free from disturbing traces of bodily fluids or an accompanying soundtrack of labour.
In a normal Christmas we might, just, get away with that evasion of reality. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, the pretence can no longer be sustained. We, like generations of Christians who have gone before us over the centuries, are now hearing messages of peace and goodwill while living through previously unknown experiences of pain and loss. Do we do the equivalent of singing carols with our eyes averted from the news headlines and our fingers in our ears so we can’t hear the weeping around us?
Surely, like those socially distanced, ritually unclean shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, we need to get up in the dark and take a risky journey beyond our comfort zone this Christmas Eve. As we meet the new born Jesus, in the company of the poor and the humble, we may learn more about God’s plans for peace on earth and our place in bringing them closer to reality. We may be reminded, too, that blood and water are part of Jesus’ story right up to and including his death on a cross. Pain, loneliness, loss of hope, persecution and grief are parts of life that Jesus knows and understands because he’s been through them too. They can be midwives of hope, joy, laughter and a renewed impulse to love and care for others such as the responses a baby can draw out of us. Such experiences of renewed light and revelation are all the more powerful if discovered in deep darkness.
May we, by God’s grace, discover within ourselves the gifts we need to be followers of Jesus, God’s Messiah, the child of Bethlehem, in times such as these. And may God find the Church, this Christmas, not hiding away for safety but sharing good news in a way that will draw people to Jesus and transform their lives for the better.
CarolInfant Holy, Infant Lowly Anonymous Polish translated by Edith M G Reed (1885-1933)
Infant holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle-stall; oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the Babe is Lord of all. Swift are winging angels singing, nowells ringing, tidings bringing: Christ the Babe is Lord of all; Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
2: Flocks are sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new; see the glory, hear the story, tidings of a gospel true. Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet tomorrow, Christ the Babe is born for you! Christ the Babe is born for you!
Affirmation of faith
Out of Israel, God in due time raised up Jesus. His faith and obedience were the response of the perfect child of God. He was the fulfilment of God’s promise to Israel, the beginning of the new creation, and the pioneer of the new humanity. He gave history its meaning and direction and called the Church to be his servant for the reconciliation of the world.
Prayers for the Church and the World
God of light and love, you are present everywhere on the earth and in the heavens. On this hope-filled night we bring our prayers for the Church and for the world.
We remember before you the life of your Church across the world and the congregations we hold dear. Reveal to us the gifts we have which are for sharing and help us to support one another in mission and service. Jesus, light of the world, shine upon us.
We hold up to you the people of the world, especially those facing disease, violence, poverty and abuse. Reveal to us the roots of oppression and show us how to speak and act for truth and justice. Jesus, light of the world, renew us for service.
We remember before you those dear to us, who we long to be with but are kept apart from. Reveal to us the secret of waiting on you as we yearn for reunions and communion together once more. Amen.
We come together to share this holy meal accepting God’s invitation to honour the birth of our saviour, to treasure the life of Jesus son of Mary, to proclaim the truth of Jesus son of God, and to share the light which stretches from a manger in Bethlehem across the world and down the ages.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Peace be with you.
Hear the story of the Lord’s Supper. While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take: this is my body,’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ Taking of bread and wine
We take this bread and wine and bring to God our prayer of thanksgiving. Let us pray:
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
As we gather quietly and expectantly before the manger, in the company of anxious parents and watching beasts, we bring our thanks for the birth of God’s own son, Jesus. Born among us, one of us, Emmanuel – God with us – Jesus changes our life beyond all recognition. With the poor and humble, the stumbling and fearful, we give thanks for the love beyond all measure which is God’s gift to the world at Christmas. We give thanks for those who deliver new life as midwives of hope, faith and service. We thank you for those who help us to keep self-giving love at the heart of Christmas. We pray that through your Holy Spirit the bread which we eat may be for us the body of Christ and the wine which we drink the blood of Christ. Bringing our prayers together we say the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ.
The cup of blessing which we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ.
Let us pray.
Most gracious God, we praise you for what you have given and for what you have promised us here. You have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. You have fed us with the bread of life, and renewed us for your service. Now we give ourselves to you: and we ask that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom, and that our love may be your love reaching out into the life of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Hark, the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King, peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations, rise; join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem:
Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King.
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb: veiled in flesh the Godhead see: hail, the incarnate Deity, pleased as a man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel:
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings: mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise the things of earth, born to give us second birth:
God of new life, be with us as we celebrate the birth of your son Jesus. Jesus our saviour, draw out our concern for the weak and needy around us. Holy Spirit, rekindle our hearts with your hope and joy as Christmas dawns. May the blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, be with us and all those we love, now and for ever. Amen.
Opening Music: All Poor Men and Humble (a traditional Welsh Carol rendered as The Poor and the Humble in Rejoice & Sing) sung by the Victoria Scholars. Infant Holy, and Silent Night sung by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge. Hark the Herald from BBC’s Songs of Praise. Closing Music: God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman performed by Pentatonix.
Call to Worship from the Presbyterian Church of America’s publication Call To Worship (Advent and Christmas).Affirmation of Faith from the PCUSA’s 1967 Confession of Faith. Communion Prayers from Worship from the URC 2nd Order p. 22 and 4th Order p. 51 All other prayers by Kirsty Thorpe
Music during Communion – In the Bleak Midwinter from the album Midwinter by Christian Forshaw and the Sanctuary Ensemble
Thanks to… Andy Braunston, Victoria Turner, Rachel Harvey, Reuben Watt, Nick Booth and Dan Morrell for reading the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.
Kirsty Thorpe, Myra Rose, Andy Braunston and Dan Morrell for recording various parts of the service.
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