Worship for Sunday 17th December 2023, by Rev. Catharine Hughes

Advent 3: A Carol Service of Light

Prayer of approach

As Advent candles flicker,

Casting shadows spreading light,

Giving witness in the everyday,

Telling stories old and new.

Advent God

Shine from us today


When we’ve encountered God

We have a truth to tell.

When we have seen God’s light

We have a light to share. 

Advent God

Shine from us today


When our lives seem ordinary

And full of faltering steps

God’s light still shines

And bids us go and tell.

Advent God

Shine from us today


We share our very ordinary lives

Our sorrows, joys and faith

And trust that those we share with

Will glimpse the light of God. 

Advent God

Shine from us today


Advent God, 

we may feel we are not worthy to share your extraordinary message.

We may feel we’ll get it wrong, we don’t know all the answers.

We may feel we do not have the words, not erudite enough.

Shine upon us, light our path that we may speak and show and tell what you have done for us.


STF 175: Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness

Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness,

opened my eyes, let me see

beauty that made this heart adore you,

hope of a life spent with you.

So here I am to worship, here I am to bow down,

Here I am to say that you’re my God,

And you’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,

Altogether wonderful to me.


King of all days oh so highly exalted,

glorious in heaven above.

Humbly you came to the earth you created,

all for love’s sake became poor.


And I’ll never know how much it cost

to see my sin upon that cross. (Rpt)

Tim Hughes

Reading: Isaiah 9.2-7

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Unto us a child is born, from Handel’s Messiah

Micah 5.2-5a

‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.’

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labour bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace
    when the Assyrians invade our land
    and march through our fortresses.

‘Be Born’ – Music version produced for Christmas 2023 by the Methodist Church

(Adaptation of STF 213 – O little town of Bethlehem)

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see you lie!

Above your deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shine to the everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.

Be born in us, be born in us;

O come to us, abide in our hearts, be born in us.


How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.

Be born in us, be born in us;

O come to us, abide in our hearts, be born in us.


We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!

Reading: Luke 1.26-38

The birth of Jesus foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

34 ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.’

38 ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.

STF 186 – Tell out my soul

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!

Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice;

Tender to me the promise of his word;

In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.


Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his name!

Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;

His mercy sure, from age to age the same;

His holy name – the Lord, the Mighty One.


Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!

Powers and dominions lay their glory by;

Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,

The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.


Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!

Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord

To children’s children and for ever more!

Timothy Dudley-Smith

Little Donkey

Reading: Luke 2.1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.


STF 193 – Born in the night

Born in the night, Mary’s Child,

A long way from your home;

Coming in need, Mary’s Child,

Born in a borrowed room.


Clear shining light, Mary’s Child,

Your face lights up our way;

Light of the world, Mary’s Child,

Dawn on our darkened day.


Truth of our life, Mary’s Child,

You tell us God is good.

Prove it is true, Mary’s Child,

Go to your cross of wood.


Hope of the world, Mary’s Child,

You’re coming soon to reign;

King of the earth, Mary’s Child,

Walk in our streets again.


In our country it can be quite hard to escape the light pollution of built-up areas and to simply gaze up at the wonder of the night sky. This time last year we drove out into the Peak District in order to go to a ‘dark sky’ and see the stars. I have some terrible photos to prove it!

At the much less populated time of Jesus’ birth there would have been little light, except by torch and fire. Darkness would surround the buildings and settlements, and the noises of the wild animals would call across the wilderness. Guards at the gateways would peer into the dark to discern if anyone was coming, being on alert all the time for potential attack. For them there was no light switch or battery-powered torch or phone.

Into this came Jesus: the light of the world. The place of his birth was lit by a star. A choir of angels singing his praise flooded the night sky with light. In him we find the source of all light: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Our world at the moment can feel overwhelmed with ‘darkness’. War, and the threat of war, surrounds us on the news. We are bombarded with stories of political in-fighting. After hopeful reports from COP28 that there would be an agreement on stopping the use of fossil fuels it appears that the final agreement will be much watered down and near toothless. Wage growth has slowed, and universal credit is insufficient to meet basic needs, while the use and need of food banks has grown. Where is the light?

Last week, shortly after the death of Benjamin Zephaniah, Radio 4’s Today programme played a clip of him as guest editor arguing with John Humphrys about how our media only concentrates on bad news, and yet the world is full of good news. Humphrys was quite determined that good news was of no interest to people. But Zephaniah would not back down. The importance of good news to the human soul is essential. It shapes our world view, our behaviour and our hopes.

There is good news. It comes in the form of a baby, born in a manger. In him we see the true light of God. With him comes peace and justice, hope and joy, forgiveness and life eternal. Jesus, light of the world, that darkness can never overcome.

STF 216 – See him lying on a bed of straw

See him lying on a bed of straw;

draughty stable with an open door,

Mary cradling the babe she bore;

The Prince of Glory is his name.

O now carry me to Bethlehem

To see the Lord of love again;

Just as poor as was the stable then

The Prince of Glory when he came.


Star of silver, sweep across the skies,

Show where Jesus in the manger lies;

Shepherds, swiftly from your stupor rise

To see the Saviour of the world:


Angels sing again the song you sang,

Sing the story of God’s gracious plan’

Sing that Bethl’em’s little baby can

Be the Saviour of us all:


Mine are riches from your poverty,

From your innocence, eternity;

Mine, forgiveness by your death for me;

Child of sorrow for my joy:

Michael Perry

Prayers of intercession

Light of the world, step into our darkness

At a time of so much discord and disharmony, we pray for peace in your world.

We long for an end to divisions and hostility, death and destruction.

Light of the world, step into our darkness

We pray for our own country, where the desire for power often seems to overrule the basic needs of the most vulnerable in society. We long for greater equality of wealth and resources for all.

Light of the world, step into our darkness

We pray for situations where there seems to be little hope; and for ourselves, where we are sceptical, uncertain, filled with doubts, lacking optimism. Rekindle our belief in the future.

Light of the world, step into our darkness

We pray for those who have not thought of Christ or his coming:

Those who are trapped by circumstances beyond their control.

Light of the world, step into our darkness

We pray for those whom we know and love who are ill in body or mind,

And those who grieve, or are fearing an empty chair at the table this Christmas.

Light of the world, step into our darkness

Bring our prayers, and bring ourselves,

Into the glories of your presence,

Flooded with light and love.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation.

Deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,

For ever and ever. Amen.

STF 190 – Angels from the realms of glory

Angels from the realms of glory,

Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story

Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Gloria, in excelsis deo.

Gloria, in excelsis deo.


Shepherds in the field abiding,

Watching o’er your flocks by night,

God with man is now residing;

Yonder shines the infant Light:


Saints before the altar bending,

Watching long in hope and fear,

Suddenly the Lord, descending,

In his temple shall appear.


Though an infant now we view him,

He shall fill his Father’s throne,

Gather all the nations to him;

Every knee shall then bow down:

James Montgomery

Reading: John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

STF 202 – Hark! The herald-angels sing

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 man with men 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 man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth:

Charles Wesley


‘The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.’

Go now, as witnesses to the light, so that all might believe.
In the name of Christ,