Worship for Sunday 20 December, by Rev. Caroline Wickens

Call to Worship:

Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God.
And our spirits rejoice in you.
We will praise you as long as we live.
We will sing praises to you our whole lives long.
We will not trust in the powerful of this world,
But will trust in you–Creator of heaven and earth,
the One who gives food to the hungry,
the One who enacts justice for the oppressed.
Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God
As we worship you in this place.

Joanna Harader, from Spacious Faith.

Hymn: There’s a light upon the mountains (StF 188)

There’s a light upon the mountains, and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and we hail it with a song. 

There’s a hush of expectation, and a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving in the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit is the travail of His own. 

He is breaking down the barriers, He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels to build up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human, not the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army are the heart-beats of our love. 

Hark! we hear a distant music, and it comes with fuller swell;
‘Tis the triumph song of Jesus, of our King Emmanuel;
Zion, go ye forth to meet Him, and my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest for the triumph of our King.

Henry Burton (1840 – 1930)


Prayer of Approach and Praise

O God, 

you broke down the barriers when you crept in beside us.

In Jesus, your hands touched all, and touched us.

You opened our eyes

to see how the hands of the rich were empty,

and the hearts of the poor were full.

You took the widow’s mite and the child’s loaves

and used them to show us the Kingdom.


Here in the company of all those who worship you this day,

and the self from whom we turn,

we ask to love as Jesus loved.


Make this the place and time, good Lord,

when heaven and earth become one,

and we in word and flesh

know ourselves beloved. Amen.

From the website of Old South Church in Boston, USA


A prayer of confession

Today, days before we celebrate your self-giving
in life, in conversation, in generosity and in courage,
we turn to you 
knowing how often we fall short
in life, in conversation, in generosity and in courage. 
Forgive us, and make us more like you, 
not because it will make you love us more,
but because it is for our sake, 
and for the sake of the people you love so much, 
that you came among us. 

From the Roots website

Hymn: The Angel Gabriel from heaven came (StF 187)

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!

“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy Son shall be Immanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

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!

Of her, Immanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:1
“Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834 – 1924)


Reading: Luke 1:26 – 38

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.



Today, we remember Mary and honour her for her part in bringing the Messiah into the world. Here are some reflections on her life that she might have shared when she was old…

The day the angel came began like any other. I was sweeping the house, in my old clothes, and then suddenly, in a shimmer of gold and a beating of great wings, he was there. Like any Jewish girl, I’d prayed that I might be the mother of the Messiah, but that God should answer my prayer was wholly unexpected. The angel spoke of all the promises of Scripture coming true through my son, child not of Joseph but of the Holy Spirit. And from somewhere I found the strength to say yes – by the grace of God -and at that moment, I knew God’s power, alive within me. There was no going back.

I needed to be with my cousin Elizabeth, also bearing a child by God’s grace in her old age. She, if anyone, would understand; maybe also help me understand. For in spite of the angel’s words, I was confused and afraid. Not so much for myself, though I knew that pregnancy outside marriage could mean that Joseph would no longer want me, would certainly bring criticism in the village, somehow I trusted God to take care of my future. And God did; with Joseph quietly backing me up, no-one could threaten me. No; my fear was for the baby’s future. You know how vulnerable they are, how we lose one in three of them – almost every family has its memories of a little one who didn’t make it. I was young then, just a teenager, certainly no expert in child-care. What if I lost the Messiah through my carelessness or ignorance? Later, Jesus used to get impatient with me, and maybe I was over-protective, but I remember those three days battling with panic when he was lost in Jerusalem, not just my own son but the one God had entrusted to me. What if I failed in the responsibility of raising the Messiah?

And what if I raised him in the wrong way? I knew the prophecies from Scripture – a ruler, a shepherd, a man of peace – but how does a village girl from Nazareth prepare a child for such a destiny? I had no experience of ruling or greatness; I only knew poverty and hard work. How was I to raise this child?

So I went up into the hill country to look for my cousin Elizabeth. Grey hair, lined face, and the bump showing the wonder of God. And she spoke the words of the Spirit, naming God’s blessing on herself and on me, both of us stunned by the impossible things God was doing with us. And suddenly God’s topsy-turvy world made sense. She was bearing new life though she was old; I was bearing a royal life though I was poor. The transformation came through holding the two opposites together. My life was transformed through God, who had chosen my poverty, and not the wealth and power of a palace, to change the world. I would raise my son to know poverty, and hard work, and hunger – I would have no choice about that. But I would raise him to know how powerfully God could work through those who depend on him for everything.

And God confirmed my understanding when Jesus was born. That was a nightmare, frankly: bumping along on a donkey for miles, the panic of finding nowhere to stay when we got there, the agony of giving birth for the first time, and then putting my precious baby in the animals’ feeding-trough. And out of the darkness rolled the shepherds – dirty, smelling of sweat and sheep, shouting about angels and glory. Were they drunk? Joseph and I were vulnerable enough, strangers in a foreign town. And then, this intense silence and wonder when they saw my baby – the lives of the poor and outcast transformed, just by looking at him.

You might say that the mother of any crucified criminal went wrong somewhere in her upbringing; but I was proud of my son on the Cross. Proud – and heartbroken. Those little hands, that had reached up to me, smashed by the nails; and when the Roman shoved the spear into his side, I remembered old Simeon’s words about the sword that would pierce my own heart. But I knew why Jesus was there – or at least, I understood some of the reasons. I’m not educated and I don’t pretend to understand what Paul says about salvation and justification. The part of his death I understand takes me back to his birth, and the way God held together the opposites to raise a servant king. And not everyone got the idea. The rich, the leaders, found him too threatening. Some of the poor were disappointed – they had been looking for a quick fix. And so he died, caught between the schemes of the chief priests and the crowds yelling ‘Crucify’. He carried to the cross the beliefs I had shared with him; the ideas God had given me bore their fruit. And so grief and horror mixed with pride and love. And then God once more brought opposites together and changed the world by uniting death and life.

Elizabeth is long gone now, bless her; she didn’t live to see what Herod did to her son. But I shall never forget her words and how she helped me through my anxiety to understand what it was God wanted of me. She and I both spoke of blessing that day; and to bear and raise the Son of God, flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, has brought me blessing beyond description. But not an easy or a comfortable blessing, but one where God has joined together impossibilities – but then that’s what the whole thing was about: at the heart of it, that baby, at once human and God. I still don’t pretend to understand it, but I can bear witness that through my son Jesus I have ben blessed, and it is because of him that all generations will call me blessed.

 Hymn: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord (StF 186)

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 to 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 evermore!
© Timothy Dudley-Smith (b.1926)


Prayers for those in need

Lord, as we wait in queues
to buy a lot more food than we need
for just the next few days,
help us to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas:
for nothing will be impossible with God.

We pray for those without the money
to provide what they would like for their families.
Help us to share the message that 
Christmas is more than material things: 
for nothing will be impossible with God.

We pray for those whose health prevents them
from celebrating Christmas as they would choose to do
for those who fear that this may be their last Christmas
for those who mourn a loss, from this year or any year.
Help us to remember that in you, all our lives are made whole:
for nothing will be impossible with God.

We pray for children in homes 
where there is not enough love to go round – 
that they might know that they are loved by you:
for nothing will be impossible with God.

We pray for a deeper understanding 
and knowledge of you for ourselves,
and those we love:
for nothing will be impossible with God.

Based on a prayer from Roots

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.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

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

For ever and ever


Hymn: It came upon the midnight clear (StF 205)


  1. It came upon the midnight clear,
    That glorious song of old,
    From angels bending near the earth,
    To touch their harps of gold;
    “Peace on the earth, good will to men,
    From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.”
    The world in solemn stillness lay,
    To hear the angels sing.


         2. Still through the cloven skies they come
            With peaceful wings unfurled,
            And still their heavenly music floats
            O’er all the weary world;
            Above its sad and lowly plains,
            They bend on hovering wing,
            And ever o’er its Babel sounds
            The blessed angels sing.


  1. Yet with the woes of sin and strife
    The world has suffered long;
    Beneath the angel strain have rolled
    Two thousand years of wrong;
    And man, at war with man, hears not
    The love-song which they bring;
    Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
    And hear the angels sing.


  1. For lo, the days are hastening on,
    To prophets shown of old,
    When with the ever-circling years
    Shall come the time foretold
    When the new heaven and earth shall own
    The Prince of Peace, their King,
    And all the world repeat the song
    Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810 – 1876)


Sending-Out Prayer

God of surprises,
you chose Mary as the ark of your covenant with us. 
And with her ‘Yes’, 
you entered the world of body and blood. 
Nurtured by your body and blood,
we go out,
to look for surprise
and wonder 
all around us.