Worship for Sunday 24th December 2023, by Rev. Caroline Wickens

Invitation to Worship:

Our souls magnify the Lord!

Our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour!

The mighty One has done great things for us!

Holy is God’s name!

Let us worship God.

For God is our Maker and our Redeemer;

from generation to generation God gives mercy.

Hymn: StF 187  The angel Gabriel from heaven came

  1. 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!

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

    3. 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!

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

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834 – 1924)


God, you approached the world in the words of an angel
asking consent, and bringing life unexpected.
Now we approach you, in the joy of welcome
knowing that you will never turn us away.
We celebrate you as we turn to you,
glad that we are gathered for the feast
of kindness and courage.

Today, 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.

God who strengthens, sustains,
raises up, redeems,
births, brings, gathers and celebrates,
God whose love is bigger than the skies,
firmer than the earth,
wider than the seas,
you who reveal your story and your goodness to us
through life and faith and courage and witness,
to you be glory and praise and all thanksgiving.

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.

Hymn: StF 178 Long ago, prophets knew

Long ago, prophets knew
Christ would come, born a Jew.
Come to make all things new;
Bear all people’s burden,
Freely love and pardon.

Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
When he comes,
Who will make him welcome?

God in time, God in man,
This is God’s timeless plan:
He will come, as a man,
Born himself of woman,
God divinely human.

Mary, hail! Though afraid,
She believed, she obeyed.
In her womb God is laid;
Till the time expected
Nurtured and protected.

Journey ends! Where afar
Bethlem shines, like a star,
Stable door stands ajar.
Unborn Son of Mary,
Saviour, do not tarry!

Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
Jesus comes!
Jesus comes!
We will make him welcome!

Fred Pratt Green (1903 – 2000), © 1971 Stainer & Bell

Reading: Luke 1:46 – 55

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’


Raising a child is one of the biggest roller-coaster rides in the world. You just think you’ve got the measure of this young person, and then they hit teenage and begin saying and doing things that take your breath away as they begin exploring their identity all over again.

Reading Mary’s story again this Christmas has left me wondering what her parents made of all that was happening to their little girl. It’s likely that she was in her early teens – that was the age when girls were married – and in the midst of the transition from child to woman, sharpened by the expectation that she would soon be married and beginning a new life away from her parents. Were her parents left speechless by this young woman singing so boldly of a God who would turn the world upside down through her son?

The song of Mary is often known as the Magnificat, its first word in Latin – ‘make great!’ Her words speak with complete authenticity of the God revealed in the Bible, who is there for the poor and hungry, who commands disciples to share what they have and recognises the right of every human being to be treated with respect and dignity. This God will speak in the words and the life of Jesus, son of Mary, as he challenges injustice and makes friends with society’s outcasts. But Jesus’ choices are foreshadowed in these words sung by his mother before he was even born, while she was barely more than a child herself.

Where did she find these words? Perhaps her parents had encouraged her to ask questions and to think boldly even as a child, though that would have been unusual in a society which tended to undervalue girls. It seems to me that there is a clear link between her song and the ‘yes’ to God which ends her meeting with the angel. ‘Let it be with me according to your word’: she has a choice and she accepts this great demand that the Lord makes of her. She faces real danger – in her world, young women pregnant outside marriage faced possible stoning, not just ostracism. Yet in the presence of God’s messenger, she trusts in God to watch over her and her baby as he waits to be born.

Radical obedience leads to a radical vision for a new world. Mary is caught up in wonder as she realises the greatness of what God plans to do in collaboration with her. She is to be mother of the Messiah, and an angel has come all the way to Nazareth to ask for her agreement. She takes the risk, and through it, she discovers the reality of God’s power and love. God turns her life upside down as part of the plan for restoring relationship with humanity, and in her song she bears witness to this revolution, not just for herself but for all the downtrodden, oppressed folk of this world. She finds freedom and hope in God’s promises. This is not the same as having an easy life – practically, things become a whole lot more difficult in almost every respect. Yet with God’s infinite love at work within her, she finds the resources and strength to cope and even to delight in what God is doing with her.

Mary is often presented as a figure of still perfection, someone we cannot ever hope to emulate. The Gospel pictures her very differently. This young woman is prepared to live with radical obedience to God and to handle the consequences, both bad and good. And as she engages with the God who changes life for good, she discovers the absolute joy of living in the power of God’s love.

May this Christmas bring to you too the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to God in your life, and to discover the grace and love of God at work in you, through you and with you – may you share Mary’s joy and delight in the Lord who comes to change the world for good through the presence of Jesus of Nazareth.

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

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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)


We pray for peace.
In those parts of the world torn apart by war and injustice,
we pray for peace in the hearts of those who have it in their power
to bring change and reconciliation.
And we pray for justice, that as a baby could become a King,
all things are possible through You.

Eternal God, in Your changing world, hear our prayer.

We pray for our fragile and beautiful earth,
that amidst the consumerism of this time
we will grow in love and care for her,
and be a people willing to make sacrifices to care for creation.

Eternal God, in Your changing world, hear our prayer.

We pray for families,
in particular families struggling with rising living costs
and the extra pressures that this season brings.
We pray too for the elderly
and those particularly vulnerable to cold and illness at this time;
and we pray that we will form communities
which nurture and support the vulnerable.

Eternal God, in Your changing world, hear our prayer.

We pray for our church,
that we will always rejoice in Your stories,
and find new ways of telling them and sharing them
with a world so greatly in need of Your message.

Eternal God, in Your changing world, hear our prayer.

Hymn: StF 206  It was on a starry night

It was on a starry night

When the hills were bright

Earth lay sleeping, sleeping calm and still

Then in a cattle shed

In a manger bed

A boy was born, King of all the world

And all the angels sang for Him

The bells of heaven rang for Him

For a boy was born, King of all the world

And all the angels sang for Him

The bells of heaven rang for Him

For a boy was born, King of all the world

Soon the shepherds came that way

Where the baby lay

And were kneeling, kneeling by His side

And their hearts believed once more

For the peace of all

For a boy was born, King of all the world

And all the angels sang for Him

The bells of heaven rang for Him

For a boy was born, King of all the world

And all the angels sang for Him

The bells of heaven rang for Him

For a boy was born, King of all the world

 Joy Webb (b.1932), © Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd.


Creator God,
we have heard of faithfulness throughout the ages,
and Your desire to enter so personally into the details of our lives.
As we leave this place, let us be confident of Your presence with us,
and commit to trusting You ever more deeply,
this Christmas,
over the coming year
and always.

Resources from rootsontheweb, Church of Scotland Weekly Worship and re:worship