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Worship, Prayers and Bible Resources

First Sunday of Christmas

Year B. Colour: White

 

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Second

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2 15-21

Luke 2:22-40

Commentary: Painful Choices
Meditation: Facing the Unknown
Prayers: for Sunday and the week ahead

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 Verse 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

God of glory, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us in your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share in 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.  Amen. Methodist Worship

Radiant God, in Jesus Christ, your light shines in our darkness, giving joy in our sorrow and revealing your presence in our loneliness. Fill our hearts with your light that in the darkness of this world our lives may shine with your eternal splendour; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Methodist Worship  

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 may we share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen  Common Worship

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. Common Worship Shorter Collect

First Bible Reading  Isaiah 61:10-62:3

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the shoot come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. 

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendour in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Second Bible Reading  Luke 2:22-40

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. 

When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Post Communion Prayer

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: help your Son 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. Amen

Commentary

In today’s Gospel passage we see Jesus undergoing three ancient ceremonies which every Jewish boy had to undergo.

  1. Circumcision. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. So sacred was that ceremony that it could be carried out even on a Sabbath when the law forbade almost every other act which was not absolutely essential; and on that day a boy received his name.
  2. The Redemption of the First-born. According to the law (Exodus 13:2) every first-born male, both of human beings and of cattle, was sacred to God. That law may have been a recognition of the gracious power of God in giving human life, or it may even have been a relic of the day when children were sacrificed to the gods. Clearly if it had been carried out literally, life would have been disrupted. There was therefore a ceremony called the Redemption of the First-born (Numbers 18:16). It is laid down that for the sum of five shekels – almost a month’s pay – parents could, as it were, buy back their son from God – and the sum had to be paid to the priests!
  3. The Purification after Childbirth. When a woman had borne a child, if it was a boy, she was unclean for forty days, if it was a girl, for eighty days. She could go about her household and her daily business but she could not enter the Temple or share in any religious ceremony (Leviticus 12). At the end of that time she had to bring to the Temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering. That was a somewhat expensive sacrifice, and so the law laid it down (Leviticus 12:8) that if she could not afford the lamb she might bring another pigeon. The offering of the two pigeons instead of the lamb and the pigeon was technically called the Offering of the Poor. It was the offering of the poor which Mary brought. We see that it was into an ordinary home that Jesus was born, a home where there were no luxuries, a home where the cost of everything had to be considered carefully, a home where the members of the family knew all about the difficulties of making a living and the haunting insecurity of life.

These three ceremonies are strange old ceremonies; but all three of them have at the back of them the conviction that a child is a gift of God. That gift of God, Jesus, to Mary and Joseph in turn became God’s gift to the world – a present which can be unwrapped every day of the year by each and every one of us.

  • It was and is a gift that will share in the happy and joyous occasions which we look forward to in our lives.
  • It was and is a gift that will share in our sad and lonely times when we long for the comforting arms of love and support to be wrapped around us.
  • It was and is a gift that will journey through those times when we long for the answers to difficult questions and it was and is a gift that will lead us to eternal life.

Mrs Claire Peck
 

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