4th Sunday of Advent – 20th December 2020

Welcome

Good morning – and welcome to our service today at All Saints.

I want to remind you today of an epic tale. It’s a story of ordinary people being caught up in epic events in history. It’s a story of light versus darkness and of individuals empowered by an ancient faith to stand against their contemporary culture and that encroaching darkness. Wookies and Ewoks, Cantinas and Sand People…  blasters, lightsabres and TIE fighters.

Of course, it’s Christmas, so I’m excited about Star Wars again!

But seriously. We’ve reached the last Sunday of Advent – the period of preparation and expectation coming up to Christmas – and it seems to have flown past. We’re getting close now to Christmas, and to remembering the coming of Jesus. Our Lectionary readings today remind us of the importance and scale of these events and how they turn on the actions of individuals. The OT reading in 2 Samuel 7 details God speaking to King David and promising the future of his people, and the establishment of his kingdom forever. Then, almost 1000 years later, our reading pericopes in on Mary – a young girl being brought into this epic promise and charged with accepting the plan of God to see this kingdom established in her son.  The hope and expectation of the nation of Israel was to be fulfilled, and a new covenant agreement forged by the active obedience of Mary and the actions of the babe born at Christmas. This is God’s full and final revelation of Himself and his Character to mankind, himself poured out in love into form as a human being to reconcile us to him. We are each invited to be a part of God’s purpose – having life to the full in Christ in the world around us.

Words of preparation.

We have come together in the name of Christ
To offer our praise and thanksgiving
To hear and receive God’s holy word,
To pray for the needs of the world,
And to seek the forgiveness of our sins,
 that by the power of the Holy Spirit
we may give ourselves to the service of God.

All: We come from scattered lives to meet with God.

Let us recognize his presence with us.

Silence is kept.

As God’s people we have gathered:

let us worship him together. 

Worship

Confession

Jesus said “before you offer your gift, go and be reconciled” . As sisters and brothers in God’s family’
We come together to ask our Father for forgiveness

We have not always worshipped God, our creator.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We have not always followed Christ, our Saviour.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
We have not always trusted in the Spirit, our guide.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
You made us to be one family,
yet we have divided humanity.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
You were born a Jew to reconcile all people,
yet we have brought disharmony amongst races.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
You rejoice in our differences,
yet we make them a cause of enmity.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We confess to you
our lack of care for the world you have given us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We confess to you
our selfishness in not sharing the earth’s bounty fairly.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
We confess to you
our failure to protect resources for others.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We confess to you our selfishness and lack of love:
fill us with your Spirit.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We confess to you our fear and failure in sharing our faith:
fill us with your Spirit.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
We confess to you our stubbornness and lack of trust:
fill us with your Spirit.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May God who loved the world so much
That he sent his Son to be our Saviour
forgive us our sins
and make us holy to serve him in the world,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Our next song speaks about how huge and awe-inspiring God is – and reminds us therefore of just how significant an event the birth of Jesus was and is. Even more than that, it reminds us that this same one is the one that has a stake and an interest in our actions and lives.

Colossians 1:15-23

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Father, you gave up your Son for us all.
You give us all things with him;
you call us, justify us, glorify us.
Father in heaven
we give you thanks and praise.

Nothing separates us from your love:
neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any heavenly powers,
neither the world above nor the world below:
nothing in all creation can separate us
from your love in Jesus Christ.
Father in heaven
we give you thanks and praise.


In all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loves us,
and has freed us from our sins
and made us a kingdom and priests
to serve you for ever,
with all the company of heaven, saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

 

Lighting the Candle

Turning towards each other
in this holy season of Advent,
we light the final candle,
trusting that you will always bring
your covenant of love to completion.
God, among us, in hope and expectation
in fulfilment and flourishing.
Amen.

Word

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 favored! 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 favor 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 forever; 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.

Luke 1
26-38

Making a Difference

 

We’ve now reached the last Sunday before Advent which means the Christmas is less than a week away.  I don’t know about you but everything seems to start too early these days with Christmas cards appearing in August but suddenly we’re more than half way through December and it is upon us.

 

Today’s reading tells the story of the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary.  A normal girl, in a backward part of Israel whose life’s path was mapped out for her and who certainly could not have expected that she would make a significant difference

 

And yet there are many times when decisions are taken and the outcome is profound change – and it is not always adults who do this.  Before we look deeper at Mary’s story I wonder if you know who these people are.  I realise that you cannot shout out their names at the moment but just take a look and consider if you recognise them.

 

Greta Thunberg  is a Swedish environmental activist who is internationally known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change.   Although she has Ausbergers, OCD and selective mutism, Greta initially gained notice not only for her youth but also her straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she criticises world leaders for their failure to take sufficient action to address the climate crisis. She became Time person of the year in 2019

 

Mary Jones was 15 years old when, in 1800, she walked 26 miles barefoot over the Welsh hills to Bala to buy a copy of the Bible in Welsh from the Rev Thomas Charles– something she had saved six years for.  Her copy of the Bible is still in the national library of Wales.  Rev Charles and another Welsh pastor Rev Hughes were so impressed by her that they persuaded the Religious Tract Society, to do something more to provide Bibles in Welsh and in other languages.  This led directly to the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society (or simply, the Bible Society).  Today there are more than 150 Bible societies around the world.  Billions of scriptures have been distributed in over 270 languages

 

Malala Yousafsai is originally from Pakistan. In 2012, at the age of 15, she was shot in the head by the Taliban while making her way home from school – because she spoke publicly about the right of girls to go to school. Malala did not allow this horrible incident to hold her back. Instead, today she is a worldwide advocate for education for all girls. And in 2014 she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  And this year she graduated from Oxford.

 

These were all ordinary girls doing something extraordinary? But what does that have to do with our reading today?  What can we learn from Mary’s story?

 

As I said earlier, Mary was a normal girl living a totally normal life in a simple agrarian village.  It is estimated that she was no more than 13 or 14 years old i.e., younger than some of the girls in our church family here.  This modern picture of the Annunciation by John Collier shows her as modern day school girl rather than the mature woman that is often depicted.

 

Girls were betrothed as soon as they were physically able to bear children –  this was much more than romantic engagement that we are used to today.  This was a legally binding contract, in fact it was considered the act of marriage,  until the wedding which would take place a year later. During that year negotiations would take place and it wasn’t until the wedding that the woman would leave her parents’ home.  Mary was betrothed to Joseph; she was still living at home but she knew where her future lay – and then the angel appeared and changed everything.

 

The angel says she is favoured by God and that God is with her.  It is interesting to note that Luke records that Mary was troubled.  I think we can safely say that is probably an understatement.  It was not normal for God’s messenger to suddenly appear and certainly not to someone like Mary. 

 

We have become so used to the story that it is sometimes difficult to imagine just how extraordinary was the angel’s statement and Mary’s acceptance.  Mary recognises and accepts the radical choice that God has made. Whilst she knew that being pregnant and unwed could lead to being socially ostracied, even by her own family, rejection by her betrothed or possibly stoning or slavery, she could not possibly have known where her acceptance of God’s will would lead her.  And there were probably times when she may well have questioned the statement that she was highly favoured – when she became a refugee with her infant son, when she could see people abusing and conspiring against the child she loved and when she later watched him die.  But Mary did not know this at the time.

 

But God was at work in her.  From the time she accepted the will of God for her life she was changed – not only by what happened but by knowing that God was with her – the angel told her that ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you’.  I do not think that Mary was the simpering, acquiescent plaster cast saint she can sometimes be made out to be.  Yes she was humble and obedient but to deal with what she dealt with she had to a) have been confident of the presence of God in her life and b) have been strong enough to handle the things she might have expected and those she had no idea were coming.

 

Mary was not called because she was special; she was special because she was called.  We of course are not Mary’s – only Mary was called to carry and give birth to the Saviour of the World.  But we are all still called by God.  By accepting God into our lives and allowing his spirit to work in us we cannot help but be changed.  And that change – in outlook, in hope, in expectation, in love, in values and priorities changes our relationships with others and the world around us.  We are not just called to be changed by God – we are called to be the cause of change in the world around us.

 

And as we learnt in the Advent study this week on the subject of Trust, God trusts us.  I have to admit that I had never thought of it in quite that way and it has been the cause of much reflection this week.  We often sing songs such as ‘I will trust in you alone but He has entrusted us with the message of the gospel.  He will equip us and guide us but he has left the work of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to those who believe and trust in him but there is a sense of urgency in this.  At Advent we not only look back at the birth of Christ and celebrate with wonder but also look forward to his coming again.

 

It can sometimes be hard to believe that we can do anything but the story of Mary should be a great encouragement to us all.  It is the story of a young girl who, against all the odds, was used by God to do the impossible.  Mary did not know what was to come – but said yes ‘I am the Lord’s servant’.  In the same way, we may not know what is to come but He still calls us.  What will we say?

 

 

What will we say?

Witness

Prayers

God our heavenly Father,

In our uncertain world we bring before you today our concerns. We are sometimes fearful of the condition of the world with the evidence of so much uncertainty, carelessness, and greed. Have mercy on our world and all humankind. We pray for leaders of the nations, that they would gain vision to understand the important issues of our time. May they have courage to uphold what is just and right. We think of our own nation, gripped by new COVID-19 advice and restrictions, faced with the difficulties of Brexit negotiation and our severe societal inequalities.

We think of other countries in the world with their own COVID-19 struggles – particularly Tailand and Germany, the US, Turkey, Belize, Lithuania, Panama, Denmark, Serbia, Croatia, Azerbajan and Georgia..

We think of the earthquake in Iran, and the cyclone leaving a trail of destruction in Fiji.

So many places other places in the world are beset by war and hunger and poverty – Lord we lift all these nations and worries and problems to you.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer

We thank you that we are free to celebrate Christmas and to worship you together. We know our brothers and sisters around the world do not always enjoy that same freedom. We pray for all those who face persecution , imprisonment and death because they worship you our God. We pray for your Spirit to be among them, giving strength and succour to face the day and to stand steadfastly. Change the hearts and minds of those who oppose your followers and let them see the beauty of your coming Kingdom of justice, peace and love

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer

We pray for families, and those in our location of Totley. Lord Jesus you came into the world and lived in a human family, so you know the ups and downs of normal life. We thank you for our blessings and ask for your guidance for the future. We pray for our own families, friends and contacts and especially the children of our community as they grow up, that they might learn how to face the difficulties and celebrate the joys of everyday life. We remember those this year who are caught in financial difficulties, those who face unemployment and hardship. May all who suffer know the constant comfort of the knowledge of your love and care for them.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer

We remember those suffering in mind, body or spirit. In a moment of silence we name them before the Lord……   We remember those who are hurting and we ask that your tender mercy would reach them and fill their lives with your peace and healing grace.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son , our Saviour Jesus Christ.

We say togther the Lord’s Prayer

Amen

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Blessing and Dismissal

Closing prayers

God, you are everything to us,

giving us life,

filling us with love,

and setting us free from sin

that we might live in you.

Accept the work of our hands,

take our lives,

give us your peace

and renew us in the service of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all,

now and evermore.

 Amen.

 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ

Amen

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church

There are also the sermons available from the Bishop’s senior staff here: https://www.sheffield.anglican.org/video-sermons.