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Worship, Prayers and Bible Resources

First Sunday of Christmas Year B

 


Introduction

We don’t hear very much in the Gospels about the family life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. But we can piece together quite a lot about them from the hints given in the accounts and from the work that Bible scholars and historians have contributed. Over time, beliefs about Mary and Joseph were formed by the expectations and values of the different ages in which the Bible was read. In Victorian times, for example, much emphasis was placed on Mary as a meek and mild wife. Jesus was described as a dutiful and obedient child. This sort of moral and social belief about the Holy Family is fantasy, because we simply don’t know these details about their life. 

At some periods of history, things that we do know about the Holy Family from the Gospels have been ignored or denied. For example, the fact that Jesus’ brothers are referred to on several occasions, was quietly ignored by those who wished to focus on Mary’s eternal sexual purity. The fact that she was a mother to anyone other than Jesus did not suit certain ideas, and hence the phrase 'first born' in reference to Jesus lacks it's meaning, scriptural references are passed over.

The facts of Jesus’ early life suggest that it was lived in fear and upheaval as Joseph moved his family from Judea to Egypt and then on to Galilee, because Judea was too dangerous for them. The Holy Family became akin to what we would now call political refugees or asylum seekers. Does this change our perspective on modern day refugees? 
It is all too easy to concentrate on the bits of the Bible that we agree with and to ignore the uncomfortable teachings. As an example, Jesus says far more about greed and meanness being spiritually dangerous than he said about sexual morals. Yet Christians have over centuries been happy to use the Bible as a weapon to beat the “immoral” with while hoarding up wealth. 

The teachings of Jesus make uncomfortable reading for us, just as they did for the people who first heard them, and God understands our pain and anxiety. Yet painful choices have to be made in order to gain a greater, eternal kind of security.  

Opening Verses of Scripture  Matthew 1:21

”You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

God in Trinity, eternal unity of perfect love: gather the nations to be one family, and draw us into your holy life through the birth of Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. CW

First Bible 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. NRSV

Second Reading Galatians 4:4-7

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.

Gospel Reading Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: help your Church to live as one family, united in love and obedience, and bring us all at last to our home in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

Commentary 

Meditation

Mary could not have known what she was saying “yes” to: we pray for her trust.
  1. Joseph could not have known where his trust was leading him, we pray for his patience.
  2. The wise men could not have known the end of their journey, we pray for their boldness and adventure.
  3. The shepherds could not have known the meaning of their vision: we pray for their open minds.
  4. The Christ-child could not have known what was happening to him, we join with him in his fragile humanity in bringing before the unknown of divinity our prayer, praise and wonder this Christmas.

Peter Armstrong

A Meditation for Today 

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude


Hymns

  1. In the Bleak Midwinter 
  2. Go tell it on the mountain 
  3. See amid the winter’s snow
  4. Joy to the world

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.

Thank you God, that the time of waiting is now over, that with Simeon we can bless you for the coming of Jesus into the world. We praise you for a new intimacy you invite us to share with you.
We too are inspired by the Spirit.
We confess those many times we fail to see your purpose, your presence, in what lies before us. We confess closed minds and stunted expectations, spurning the creativity and spirit with which you have entrusted us.
We too are inspired by the Spirit.
We pray for millions of people today who in material terms can afford very little to honour the birth of Jesus. We pray that you will constantly move us to stand alongside our sisters and brothers in need.
We too are inspired by the Spirit.
Direct what we think, say and do that we may be transformed by your new beginning in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Salvation. Give us a passion for your Gospel and a vision of your kingdom in which all are included.
We too are inspired by the Spirit. Amen. Gray Featherstone 2002

God in our hopes and fears, our smiles and tears, of all the years, take our hand as we cross over the border between this year and the next. Sustain in us faith, hope and love. Help us to hear in the cry of the new-born Christ the first sounds of your great 'perhaps'. Amen. Paul Johns

Lord God, in the birth of Jesus your Son I see the fulfilment of your promises, not just for all the world but in particular for me. I thank you for the reassurance this gives me of your love. I look back on the year and see your presence in my life. Help me to live securely in your love during all that the coming year brings. Amen.

May Christ be born afresh into our hearts. May doors be flung open to welcome, bless and inspire. May new gifts be discovered cherished and expressed. May love be nurtured, gently given and received. May courage continue in dark nights. May joy flash at dawn. May bread and wine be always a sign of grace, forgiveness and redemption. And may each prayer, each day, of this New Year draw us closer together as we rejoice in our diversity and seek to serve the world in all its need. In Jesus' name, Amen.
God who became as we are, may we become as you are. Amen (after William Blake)

We thank you Lord, that we are citizens of a world made up of different races. Your grace touches us all, whatever our race and colour. We rejoice in the richness of our cultures, our music and dance, our folklore and legends. We thank you for all these gifts. We delight in the joy they bring to our lives. Amen. (Women of Brazil)

Enlarge our souls, O God, with the gift of divine grace, that hoping all things and enduring all things we may become for others instruments of your healing mercy. In all things attune our hearts to the impulse of your Kingdom and our lives to the harmony of eternal love; that your will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen James Martineau, 1805-1900

 

Additional Material

Commentary

We don’t hear very much in the Gospels about the family life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. But we can piece together quite a lot about them from the hints given in the accounts and from the work that Bible scholars and historians have contributed. Over time, beliefs about Mary and Joseph were formed by the expectations and values of the different ages in which the Bible was read. 

In Victorian times, for example, much emphasis was placed on Mary as a meek and mild wife. Jesus was described as a dutiful and obedient child. This sort of moral and social belief about the Holy Family is fantasy, because we simply don’t know these details about their life. 

At some periods of history, things that we do know about the Holy Family from the Gospels have been ignored or denied. For example, the fact that Jesus’ brothers are referred to on several occasions, was quietly ignored by those who wished to focus on Mary’s eternal sexual purity. The fact that she was a mother to anyone other than Jesus did not suit certain ideas, and hence the phrase 'first born' in reference to Jesus lacks it's meaning, scriptural references are passed over. 

The facts of Jesus’ early life suggest that it was lived in fear and upheaval as Joseph moved his family from Judea to Egypt and then on to Galilee, because Judea was too dangerous for them. The Holy Family became akin to what we would now call political refugees or asylum seekers. Does this change our perspective on modern day refugees? 

It is all too easy to concentrate on the bits of the Bible that we agree with and to ignore the uncomfortable teachings. As an example, Jesus says far more about greed and meanness being spiritually dangerous than he said about sexual morals. Yet Christians have over centuries been happy to use the Bible as a weapon to beat the “immoral” with while hoarding up wealth. 

The teachings of Jesus make uncomfortable reading for us, just as they did for the people who first heard them, and God understands our pain and anxiety. Yet painful choices have to be made in order to gain a greater, eternal kind of security.  

Sermon

Sermon on the Holy Family