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Worship, prayers and Bible study resources for Christmas

Christmas Day

Liturgical Colour - White or Gold


Picture of a traditional stable Introduction

There was lots of room at the inn. Lots of warm snuggly beds, and food and drink enough for everybody. On that night in Bethlehem a real welcome could have been rolled out for Mary and Joseph and a safe place found for her to have her baby. Instead we are told they were rejected and found a place to have the baby among the animals.

There is some doubt about what kind of building it was in which Jesus was born. The word we translate 'inn' might just have easily been a guest room, or a cave, as the stable which we all think of. However what is not in doubt is the fact that Jesus was born in an unsuitable place with animals because 'there was no room.'

So now we all know what God is like. God chooses to be born to a poor unmarried teenager, and arrives in this world to be placed in a manger used for feeding cattle. God is making a point he is alongside the poor, the rejected the despised and the forsaken.

The Christmas message for all of us is that God cares for those people who might feel that nobody does. So if we want to be followers of Jesus, then we have to do the same. If we care for those who are in need, it is as if we are doing for Jesus himself.

  Opening Verses of Scripture  John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Eternal God, in the stillness of this night you sent your almighty Word to pierce the world’s darkness with the light of salvation: give to the earth the peace that we long for and fill our hearts with the joy of heaven
through our Saviour, Jesus Christ. CW

First Bible Reading  Isaiah 9: 2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. NRSV

Second Reading   Titus 2: 11-14

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. NRSV

Gospel Reading   Luke 2: 1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

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. NRSV

Alternate Reading

John Chapter 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

God our Father, whose Word has come among us in the Holy Child of Bethlehem: may the light of faith illumine our hearts and shine in our words and deeds; through him who is Christ the Lord.

Commentary

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

We read this story of the birth of Jesus time after time and year after year and still we discover new truths about our God and our faith. Take this simple statement, ‘because there was no room for them in the inn.’ In one sense it is just a descriptive note, but in another sense it is penetrative comment upon the fact that when Jesus was born nobody made room. There was loads of room in the inn at Bethlehem on the famous night. There were many other people who could have spent the night in the cave or the stable, or wherever it was that Jesus was born. We would expect that a mother about to give birth would take a high priority over most other people. But the point is that nobody would make room. Mary was just not important enough to make people loose their room and go to the inconvenience. You can imagine the comments directed towards the young pregnant teenager, ‘it’s her own fault’, ‘she’s brought it on herself,’ and ‘we all have to take responsibility for our own actions.’ She was just another example of the undeserving poor. Would we have behaved any differently?
 

How do we react when we hear of the plight of the other Mary’s of this world. The story challenges each one of us to be different. This year we have as our church appeal the work of Mildmay. This is a charity which helps victims of Aids related diseases from London to Africa. The Christmas challenge to us all is that we have to make room for those in need. Jesus takes his place alongside the rejected and the despised, the weak and the vulnerable. That is the message of the Christmas story, are we prepared to do the same?
 

This year in the Advent course we looked at the nativity stories and we asked ‘are they true?’ We saw that on one level people have raised all sorts of questions as to whether pieces of the nativity events really happened. The truth is that we will never know the exact historical details and we do have to be careful about filling in the gaps with our own ideas - something which perhaps the church has done with the added information about Mary and the Magi. But whatever misgivings we might have about the nativity stories, the truth of the message which they convey should never be in doubt. As Christians these stories are true for us and they remain as a challenge to us for all time.

Children need to be told that we have a Saviour who was God made flesh, who chose to be born in the muck of the stable not the comfort of a royal palace. The Christmas story is a message that Jesus is involved in our ordinary lives and it is also a challenge to each one of us that we have to make room.

In our reading we also read the story of the shepherds. We tend to think of shepherds as decent country sorts, looking after sheep. But these were not valued members of the community. They were unclean in terms of their way of life and also spiritually. They were not able to keep the Jewish laws and they were despised and looked down upon. Yet the nativity stories, tell us that these were the people who were told about Jesus first! You might not believe in flying angels with wings, but what you cannot get away from is the fact that, right from the start, the stories of Jesus show that God goes out of his way to invite the very ones which society disapproves of. God has a special place for the waifs and strays, God cares most for those we do not make room for. We are told that the angels told the shepherds, the angels are messengers of God, the point is that God spoke directly to the hearts of ordinary folk, with no religious or community prestige. Luke knew that God did that when Jesus was born and he wanted the reader of his Gospel to know that this was how God operated. Luke knew that you didn’t have to be rich and famous, his Gospel was full of this teaching that everybody mattered. So today we have to be God’s angels. To us the task is given to proclaim the message of the birth of Jesus in word and deed. The uncomfortable truth is that Jesus has told us that we have an opportunity to do that every day of our lives. When we care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without the necessities of life, the sick. We care for Jesus. When we show kindness to those in need, or those whom society overlooks or despises. We show kindness to Jesus. The message of Bethlehem and the first Christmas is just as important today as it ever was, the big question is ‘what will be our response?’ Charles Royden

Out of all the:
beautiful houses
Well-to-do families
Professionals in Bethlehem
Families of the Pharisees
Beautiful girls in Judea
Richest cities in the world
Jesus was born
In a cattle shed
To a poor, insignificant but obedient family
To a carpenter named Joseph
And a young woman, Mary
In Bethlehem

May your Holy Spirit enable us to realise that your birth indicates that our mission involves working with the:
Marginalised
Destitute
Forgotten
Aids victims
Widows and orphans
And untouchables
Whatever we do to the least of his brethren .....
Goodwin Zainga  

Commentary on John Chapter 1:1-14

Today we have a reading from the Gospel of John which starts,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

So let me ask you what does that remind you of ? I suspect that many of you will immediately think of the very first verses in the Bible from Genesis Chapter 1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 

John starts his Gospel just like Genesis, with the picture of God creating the world through his pre-existent or word. According to standard Jewish belief, this word existed before the rest of creation, John wants the reader to know that Jesus also is not created but is truly divine. From this we should be left in no doubt that John the Gospel writer sees his Gospel as being like Genesis. The appearance of Jesus on the earth in human form was every bit as important as God creating the world in the first place. God the creator was acting in a dramatic new way and a new order was being established in Jesus, a new creation was taking effect. In Genesis God had spoken and his words had caused things to be brought into life. Now we see Jesus as the living embodiment of God, he is God’s living word.

Throughout the Old Testament scriptures ‘the word’ of God is connected with God’s powerful activity in creation and deliverance.

  • It was by the word of the Lord that creation occurred. God simply speaks and his powerful word creates Gen 1:3, 6, 9
  • When some of his people faced illness and were on the brink of death, God sent forth his word and healed them, he rescued them from the grave Psalm 107:20
  • The word brings deliverance and judgement Isaiah 55:11, Ps 29:3

This personification of the word is also seen in the later writing composed after the Old Testament such as Wisdom. John wants to show how Jesus is the embodiment of all God’s revelation in the scriptures, and so only those who accept Jesus fully accept the law.

It was a masterstroke to use the term ‘Word’ or the Greek ‘ Logos’ to describe Jesus, since the ‘Logos’ was a word rich in meaning for Greeks as well as Jews. Greek philosophers believed that the world had order. The Stoics for example believed that the world was not a cosmic accident but had logic to it. This is why there were seasons and created order. They would understand what was meant by logos or word.

Whilst Jew and Greek would understand what John meant by 'word', nevertheless this was still an amazing new thought, since neither Greek philosophers or Jewish teachers would ever suggest that the word could become flesh. Since the time of Plato it was thought by Greek philosophers that the ideal was invisible and eternal. There was a rationality or logic which lay behind created order, but to suggest that the divine could take corrupted human flesh presented a radical change. Likewise for the Jews this was a reamarkable new way of thinking, even Moses was only able to see a part of God’s glory (Ex 33:20). John is presenting a radical new truth, that in Jesus the heart of God is available for the whole world to see. Jesus is not a divine messenger, one through whom God speaks, Jesus is God come fully into human life. Charles Royden

Meditation

O God, it is easy to love the whole world, but hard to love the person one works next to;
O God it is easy to campaign for world peace, but hard to contribute to the peace within my own home; O God it is easy to be fascinated with some new truth, and miss you in the thing I have known so long; O God, it is easy to share my home and possessions with people I like. Teach me how to be generous towards others. Enable me today to say something that will make a difference to the discouraged, to the inexperienced, to the despairing. Let no selfish concern with my own affairs put me off from any today. For your love’s sake. Rita Snowden.
 

Hymns

  1. God rest

  2. Christmas Bells and Come and Join the Celebration

  3. See him lying

  4. O little town

  5. Good Christians all rejoice

  6. O come all ye faithful 110
     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead


Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

Send, O God, into the darkness of this troubled world, the light of your Son: let the star of your hope touch the minds of all people with the bright beams of mercy and truth; and so direct our steps that we may always walk in the way revealed to us, as the shepherds of Bethlehem walked with joy to the manger where he dwelt who now and ever reigns in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. John Wallace Suter

Loving father, help us to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds and the wisdom of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be your children and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus sake. Amen.

Gentle God, you know that for us, this is a season of hopes and fears. We are caught up in our excitement and plans. We worry whether everything will get done, and whether our relationships will blossom, bend, or break in the stress of the season. Slow us down, God, and help us to place our hope in you. Be our clam centre, that we may be channels of peace to the people around us; through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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