Sunday Worship 31 December 2023

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

to listen to the service and sing along with the hymns.  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.

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 31 December

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston

 
Call to Worship
 
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let every heart prepare room for Jesus and his message.  
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let all creation rejoice in God’s presence, finding in their Source and Goal, the Light of life.  
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let sorrow and sin be cleared as weeds before the harvest.  
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  We long for our world be ruled by truth and grace so that Your righteousness may be seen O God.  
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Hymn     Joy to the World
Isaac Watts (1719) Sung by Parkway Worship Ministry of Parkway Baptist Church, Bardstow, Kentucky

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
 and heav’n, & heav’n & nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
 
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.
 
Prayers of Approach, Confession, and Forgiveness

In this season of love, wonder, and awe,
we come to worship You, Most High,
to rejoice in Your presence amongst us,
to sing our praises, to rest awhile,
to be led by You and to recharge our spiritual batteries.

In this season of giving, rest, and contentment,
we come to listen to You, Lord Jesus,
as you speak to us in word and song, reading and sermon,
silence and stillness and in each other,
that we may learn anew how to speak of You in our world.

In this season of joy, silliness, and companionship,
we come to be filled again by you, O Spirit,
that filled with your dynamism,
we may be better disciples in our world.

Forgive us, Eternal One,
when we don’t show the love, wonder, and awe that we should,
when we find worship tedious not joyful,
and when we turn away from Your loving energy.

Forgive us, O Christ,
when we ignore Your words to us,
turn away from our kin in the Church, 
and refuse to be still in Your presence.

Forgive us, Most Holy Spirit,
When we reject Your love and presence,
Preferring our own ways rather than Yours.
Forgive us, and give us time to change.  Amen

Here is good news: God loves and accepts you!
Jesus gave his life for you!
The Holy Spirit wraps you in the energy to change.
So, accept the forgiveness that is yours,
find the strength to forgive others and forgive yourself.  Amen.

Prayer for Illumination

Break open our minds, O God,
that as we listen to Your Word,
read and proclaimed,
we may understand and follow anew. Amen.

Reading     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.

Reading     Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Hymn     Good Christians All Rejoice
German/Latin, medieval; Latin Hymn, 14th cent. Translated by JM Neale Public Domain.  Sung by OCP Session Choir and podcast in terms with One Licence # A-734713  

Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ was born today.
Ox and ass before him bow,
and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
and we are blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!
 
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye need not fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
to gain his everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!

Reading     St Luke 2: 22 – 40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Sermon

This is an interesting time of the year.  We’ve had all our Christmas celebrations, the shops have moved into sales, many of us will be thinking about the return to work – or normal work – after the interlude of the holiday season and we’re all starting to think about what the New Year will bring.  The joy of seeing family and friends has given way to a need to be getting back to normal – if Christmas was spent alone then the need might be to get back to normal levels of social interaction.  We’re all starting to think about healthier eating and drinking regimes in the weeks ahead and the joy of the season will, hopefully, give us some energy as we go back to the regular routine of daily life.  We are still, however, half way through the Christmas season with the main celebrations last week which conclude with Epiphany next week.  So it’s a good time to think a bit about why we celebrate and what we should be proclaiming.  Each of our three readings can help.

Our reading from Isaiah relates to prophecies of a return from Exile.  The people carted off from Jerusalem had settled in Babylon, planted their trees, prayed for the welfare of the city, wept over their ruined homeland, and made lives for themselves.  Their children and grandchildren were raised in exile knowing Israel and Jerusalem only through the memories of their parents and grandparents.  They greeted these prophecies with joy and excitement as the longing to return to a return to a land they’d never really known became greater.   The return from Exile, however, was not the end of suffering.  The city needed to be rebuilt, a nation needed to be re-established, ways of being faithful to God at home rather than in exile needed to be remembered.  Righteousness and justice needed to be restored.  God promises that the once desolate land would now flourish but those who returned had the hard work to do of making it flourish.  

Whilst the Jews returned and could re-establish a national life of sorts,  they were still under the patronage of King Cyrus and later invasions by Greeks and Romans meant their national life was never again what it had been.  Yet the people claimed the promise of God and returned home.  

Despite all that lay ahead the prophet cried ‘for Zion’s sake I will not keep silent’ A powerful statement of declaring God’s purposes and not being cowed by the events and ideologies of the age nor the changing fortunes of political alliances and foreign policy.

The Jewish people soon found that the excitement of freedom gave way to the routine work of rebuilding.  The excitement of Christmas soon gives way to the normal living of life – maybe it gives way as soon as we have to face the washing up on Christmas Day!  Yet the joy of freedom propelled a people to re-establish themselves; the joy of Christmas can propel us to both understand and proclaim our faith.
In today’s extract from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians we read the core of Paul’s theology and explore why God became incarnate in Jesus.  Paul held that, just as God has redeemed the Jewish people through faith so now, in Jesus, God has redeemed Gentiles.  All have been adopted as children and heirs.  The message of the incarnation is that captives are redeemed and welcomed into God’s family with wide inclusive love.  

Paul, of course, has the zeal of a convert and is in many ways opposed to Jewish practice.  Before this passage he opines that Jewish practice is akin to slavery.  After this passage he, shockingly, scolds those who seek to accommodate Christianity and Judaism.  Often preachers are tempted to contrast the freedom we have in Christ with the strictures of the Jewish Law – without any of us really having a clear idea of Judaism as a lived faith.  Jews feel no more enslaved to the law than anyone does to the Highway Code! The Laws become a way of life which give joy, identity, routine, and a way of honouring God.  We should not confuse Paul’s understanding of the Law – which clearly for him hadn’t worked out well – and what a whole religion does with those laws.  We can appreciate ideas of freedom without trashing another faith.  

It’s hard to read these words post Holocaust but Paul’s concern was to distinguish faith in Christ from what had gone before.  What might we have been set free from?  

  • Have we been freed from ways of thinking and acting, attitudes and behaviours that demeaned ourselves or others? 
  • Have we been saved from lifestyles that were damaging? 
  • Have we been emancipated from workaholism to enjoy rest and recreation?  
  • Have we been liberated from our need to control and dominate?
  • Have we been released from our blindness to the impact our lives have on the environment?

Paul saw God as the loving parent who endows the children.  God is the liberator setting us free from slavery.  God is the gracious One who welcomes both Jew and Gentile into the family.  As we ponder the incarnation it’s good to reflect on what we’ve been freed from and what we still need to be liberated from.

Interestingly, given Paul’s preoccupation with Jewish Law, Luke was concerned to show that Mary and Joseph obeyed all the precepts of the Law after Jesus’ birth.  On the eighth day Jesus was circumcised.  The offering of turtle doves, instead of a Lamb (see Leviticus 12:8) shows their poverty.  At the Temple there’s these strange encounters with Anna and Simeon. 

Simeon’s “now your servant can depart in peace” has become part of the Night Prayer of the Church and set to music in so many ways.  His longing for God has been sated, but our yearning for God should never be satisfied – just as our yearning for a beloved is never fulfilled – time away from home increases the longing to be back.   But Simeon sees a crisis in God’s presence, a crisis that will pierce Mary’s heart, a crisis that would result in the rising and falling of many.  Simeon gets the order the wrong way round – he says fall and rise, where we think of the rise and fall – of the Roman Empire, of the Third Reich, of business empires, of political careers. Yet Jesus also reverses the order “unless a grain of wheat falls…and dies..”  On the journey to Golgotha Mary saw Jesus fall, at the Cross she saw his blood fall to the ground.  Later she saw her risen son.  That sword pierced her.  Yet this odd message of doom from Simeon had to be said, like Isaiah he could not be silent.

And nor should we.  The ancient prophet could not be silent in the face of the prospect of a return from exile – he had to shout out the good news despite all the work that needed to be done.  Paul could not be silent in the face of his grasp of the good news and how he thought some were trying to pervert it.  Simeon, after a lifetime of service to God, could not be silent when he finally saw God face to face, even though his speech had hard words for Mary to take in.  Many contemporary Christians find speaking about their faith excruciatingly difficult.  We struggle to articulate what God has done for us, why we go to Church, and the difference that faith makes.  We live in an increasingly secular age where no one really minds if you have faith or not but where the claims of Christianity are increasingly unknown.  What difference does faith make to you?  What have you been set free from or what are you being set free from?  What is it that you cannot be silent about and why not?  These are the things we need to shout about – not in bullish insensitive way – we’re URC after all – but in caring, tender, yet challenging ways we need not to keep silent, but to declare what God has done for us – at Christmas and throughout the year.  Let’s pray.

Eternal One,
help us to speak out and not stay silent when we need to share our faith.
Lord Jesus, help us to celebrate Your birth 
by sharing the good news that You became one with us.
Holy Spirit, help us to be free from all that drags us down 
and tries to hold us in bondage.
Most Holy Trinity,
fill us with the desire to share the Gospel.  Amen

Hymn     What Child Is This?
W. Chatterton Dix Public Domain sung by the 7pm Choir of St. Francis de Sales Church in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and used with their kind permission.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ, the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
haste, haste to bring Him laud,
the Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.

This, this is Christ, the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
haste, haste to bring Him laud,
the Babe, the Son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
come, peasant, king, to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
let loving hearts enthrone Him.

This, this is Christ, the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
haste, haste to bring Him laud,
the Babe, the Son of Mary!

Affirmation of Faith

What child is this who sleeps yet threatens the fall and rise of nations and empires?  
This is Christ the King!

What child is this who’s life and death will pierce his mother’s heart?  Who offers light, revelation and glory?
This is Christ the King!

What child is this born in poverty, whose parents couldn’t afford the full fee for the customary sacrifice, yet is worshiped by exotic magi?
This is Christ the King! 

What child is this who grows up to proclaim good news to the poor, liberation to the oppressed and who casts the mighty from their thrones?
This is Christ the King!

What kind of King is this, born in a stable, attended by shepherds, forced into exile, whose birth is attended by murderous rage?  
This is Jesus, the Suffering Servant, our wounded healer, our crucified God.

Intercessions 

Eternal One, in these days of rest and recuperation we bring our world before You.  We pray today for places in bondage to war, terror and inhumanity.  For those on the move for a better life, for those living in precarious shelters and for those seeking to bring aid, medical care and hope.  In particular, we pray for the people of Yemen, Ukraine and Russia, Palestine and Israel.

pause

Prince of peace, in these days of war we pray for all who seek to make peace:  those who negotiate behind the scenes, those who work for the United Nations Organisation, and the Red Cross and Crescent bringing relief and neutrality to a polarised world.  We pray too for political leaders as America and the UK head towards elections; that truth may be spoken, trust our public life may be increased and wisdom granted to us as we vote.  

pause

Holy Spirit,
we pray for Your Church that we may understand our faith and be emboldened to proclaim it, that we may continue to be freed from the bondage to sin and decay that drags us down and be willing to help emancipate others, that we may be filled with Your compassion and be willing to share it.

pause

Holy Trinity of Love,
We remember before You all whom we love and worry about.

longer pause

We join all our prayers together as we pray as Jesus taught saying,

Our Father…

Offering

Giving brings joy – to the one who receives and the one who gives.  Giving is a key hallmark of our discipleship as Jesus reminds us that where our treasure is so also is our heart.  We give in so many ways, of time, talent and treasure and we give of our treasure to charities, good causes and, of course to the Church.  We pray that the gifts we give will imbue joy in us as well as in those who receive them.  Let’s pray

God of all that is good,
we thank You for the many and varied gifts we have,
bless these gifts that we’ve given with joy,
that they make a difference in the world
and herald the coming of Your Kingdom.  Amen.

Hymn     Unto Us A Boy Is Born
Latin carol, 15th cent Translated Percy Dearmer (1928)  Sung by the The Cathedral Choir of Saint Gregory the Great, Singapore, Conductor: Angela Lim Organist: Alphonsus Chern www.youtube.com/@cathedralchoirsg Used with their kind permission.

Unto us is born a son,
King of choirs supernal:
see on earth his life begun,
of lords the Lord eternal, 
of lords the Lord eternal.

Christ, from heav’n descending low,
comes on earth a stranger;
ox and ass their Owner know
becradled in a manger,
becradled in a manger.

This did Herod sore affray,
and grievously bewilder,
so he gave the word to slay,
and slew the little childer,
and slew the little childer.

Of his love and mercy mild
this the Christmas story:
O that Mary’s gentle Child
might lead us up to glory!
Might lead us up to glory!
 
O and A and A and O,
cum cantibus in choro,
Let our merry organ go,
Benedicamus Domino!
Benedicamus Domino!

Blessing

May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary,
and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas;
and the blessing of almighty 
God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you now and always, Amen.

 
 

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