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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Advent Sunday 4 Year C, Purple


AnnunciationClick here to see a copy of our Advent Wreath lighting ceremony

Introduction

God might have chosen many ways in which to take human form and become known to us. By inhabiting the womb of Mary a very clear message is made about where God's priorities lie. There is no bias towards respectability, wealth, prestige, indeed all of things which we might value seem to have been deliberately avoided. Imagine today an unmarried peasant girl praising God for honouring her with a child in this way, would any of us listen?

Perhaps one of the things which we need to learn from Christmas is to expect God in unlikely places. Our Bible notes this week explore just how much Christmas is about God working in spite of appearances to the contrary
 

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 80:19

Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Collect for Advent 4

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of  the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

First Bible Reading  Micah Chapter 5:2-5

The LORD says to his people: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. NRSV

Second Reading  Hebrews Chapter 10:5-10

When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God” (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’ When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. NRSV

maddona in prayer by sassoferato Gospel Reading Luke Chapter 1:39-45

Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

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


Post Communion Prayer

Heavenly Father, who chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of the promised saviour: fill us your servants with your grace, that in all things we may embrace your holy will and with her rejoice in your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW


Commentary

O little town of Bethlehem

Mary is a figure we learn quite a lot about in the pages of the Gospels. However the church has added quite a lot more detail in traditions which have developed about her. Some of these traditions give the appearance of later embellishments without any real substance. Later traditions seemed to want to make Mary out to be something god-like, as the vulnerable peasant girl was jettisoned in favour of Mary the equal to the Egyptian goddess Isis and other female deities. Other important female goddesses had virgin births, perhaps the Christians wanted Mary to sound better than the others, and as she took on more god like qualities she became removed from real life. Mary eventually became, sinless, taken into heaven, an intercessor on behalf of us sinners. As Christianity grew in the Greco-Roman world it took on some shocking characteristics. Other worldliness became prized, a devaluation of the bodily and the physical. So it was quite early on that for some it was important that Mary was removed from the stuff of our existence.

Jesus became real man, flesh like our flesh so do we want a goddess, or do we want a real Mary?  The majority of Christians across the world adhere to the belief that Jesus was an only child, that he never had real brothers and sisters and never dealt with real family life. Is there really any gain in this otherworldly Mary who never had sex or a proper family?

I don’t like the thought of Mary suffering because she is vulnerable like us, but she does. She watches her own child suffer and die a cruel death before her own eyes. Christianity has always been able to address the dreadful crises in which we humans find ourselves, because we believe that in taking flesh Jesus went through what we go through. When we open our papers or listen to the news and read about innocent people being caught us in armed conflicts, children being shot in schools, it is because of the earthly humanity of Mary and Jesus that our faith has something to say in situations of grief and suffering. 

Mary is somebody who shares our humanity, goes through the pain and suffering of our mortal life and even as a young girl responds to an unasked for pregnancy by praising God ! Such a figure is surely admired, honoured and set as our example.

In the words of the Magnificat today we see Mary turn to God in what we would see as a mighty big problem and recognises that God is bigger still. Mary is not daunted by the challenge of those who will look down on her because she sees that God is on the side of those who are at the bottom of the social ladder. Mary’s voice rings out in the words of a subversive song, using words which are a magnificent radical agenda for social change. Mary's song is a statement of what she believes about God. Like the song of Hannah on which it is modelled, it celebrates the character of God as the great turner of tables. The whole of the history of Israel is about God tearing down the arrogant and lifting up those who are down. He is the God of the poor and the oppressed, under his hand the meek inherit the earth. 

All of this is so much more powerful because it is spoken by an ordinary person who is one of us. What we really do know about Mary makes her instantly likeable. We can all relate to Mary, she embodies characteristics of humanity in which we want to rejoice. A young girl, who has to travel away from her home, to struggle and take on a difficult journey, to give birth in a stable. She encounters and triumphs, even when confronted by an evil king and she has to become refugee or asylum seeker and escape to Egypt. She might be seen as a wayward adulteress, a scrounger or an economic migrant, yet for us she is a role model because Mary goes through the kinds of stuff that we go through. 

Like every parent Mary sometimes made mistakes, she struggled to understand what Jesus was up to. She is fallible, just like us Mary makes mistakes. In the Temple (Luke 2:41-51) at the age of twelve Jesus rebukes His mother for not understanding that He must be in His Fathers house. At the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus once again rebuked Mary for failing to understand Him. Eventually Mary joins his brothers who want to take Jesus by force because they think that he has gone mad. (Mark 3:21, 31-35).

Yet for all of her failings, in spite of her inability to understand so much of what is going on, just like us Mary keeps her faith in Jesus . Mary isn’t superwoman, she is ordinary woman, ordinary human. That is her attraction and her strength for us a role model. Mary hasn’t a clue what lies ahead of her, yet to God she says ‘yes’

Mary faces a mind bending proposition. Her whole life is going to be changed. She is to become pregnant, bring disgrace on her family and herself and Joseph. However Mary says to God’s challenge 'let it be' and in saying 'let it be' she affirms her belief that somehow God is not bound by any human constraints. She affirms her willingness to suffer a life which will ultimately lead to a sword through her soul. (Luke 2:35). Mary accepts God's plan for her in spite of all the sniggering which she will get. Mary is our noble example, to encourage us to magnify God and see that he is bigger than any challenges which we might face.  Her child is Immanuel which means ‘God with us’ and there are no circumstances which we might face in which God will not walk with us. Charles Royden

Picture of Bethlehem taken from www.bethlehem.edu

 

Meditation

Victor Jara was 38 when he died. In the 1960s he wrote songs of protest against the ruling elite of his country. He was one of the founding fathers of Chile's 'New Song' movement which in 1970 helped elect the democratic popular unity government of Salvador Allente. As a result Chile's right wing hated him.  On 11 September 1973 Victor Jara had been due to sing in the Santiago University. Instead, with the coup of General Augusto Pinochet, underway, he was arrested and led to Santiago's boxing stadium. Over four days he was tortured, beaten, electrocuted, and his hands and wrists broken to ensure he could never play guitar. Finally he was machine-gunned to death, at the age of 38. His widow Joan was told where to find his body which was thrown to the street, and was later found in the morgue among many anonymous bodies that she saw that day.
Chileans loved Victor Jara's songs and painted murals with his images. He even wrote in the boxing stadium where he was being tortured and eventually murdered. The scraps of paper where it was written on were smuggled out by those who survived. The song remains unfinished. The lyrics literally stop mid-sentence as he was led away to the changing rooms of the stadium and was shot repeatedly through the chest. "Silence and screams are the end of my song" he wrote.

Hymns

  1. The angel Gabriel 
  2. O Little town of Bethlehem
  3. Joy to the world
  4. What child is this ?
  5. A Messenger named Gabriel
  6. The people that in darkness sat
  7. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
  8. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of
  9. When came in flesh the incarnate Word,
  10. To the name of our salvation
  11. There is a redeemer
  12. The race that long in darkness pined
  13. O come, O come, Emmanuel
  14. Long ago, prophets knew
  15. Joy to the world!
  16. Hark the glad sound! the Saviour
  17. Come, thou Redeemer of the earth
  18. Earth has many a noble city
  19. Bethlehem, of noblest cities
  20. A great and mighty wonder

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

God, in the name of the one who gave bread to the hungry, we remember all, who through our human ignorance, folly, and sin are condemned to live in want. Show us, who have so much, what we can do to help those who have so little; and bless the efforts of those who work to overcome poverty and hunger, that sufficient food may be found for all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Church of Scotland

All-powerful God, let the splendour of your glory rise in our hearts like the dawn, that the darkness of the night may be scattered and the coming of your only Son may reveal us as children of the light. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

Drive from me, O King of Peace, all vain and idle thoughts. Let my soul dwell on your love. Grant me peace of heart and quietness of the mind. Grant me the grace of your presence. Having begun a great work in me let it continue to the end and, in the end, that I may pass at last into the glory of your kingdom; for your own name’s sake. Amen Henry Lunn, 1859-1939

O Lord our God, the life of all that look to you, and the help of those who fly to you; cleanse our hearts and our consciences, that we may venture forth with perfect love and pray to you with confidence and hope; through Christ our Lord. Amen. St Basil (c.330-379)

 

Additional Resources

Commentary

year once more we will sing carols declaring a silent and holy night in Bethlehem. Those living in Bethlehem are of course under military siege and for a considerable time the town has been surrounded by a three-metre-high fence of razor wire. The land of the birth of our Saviour will not echo to angelic songs this Christmas, but rather the continuing sounds of violence. Jesus came to bring peace and reconciliation yet the Christians and Muslims and Jews who share that land seem so filled with hatred and bitterness that they are willing to live in communities torn apart by murder and claim God’s blessing in so doing.

What is it about religious faith that causes so many people to hate each other? In America recently Christians were furious with President George Bush after he said that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God. When he declared that Islam was as a religion of peace, Christian leaders were so inflamed that they could barely contain their hatred. When religious leaders behave like this, is it any wonder that we find it so difficult to bring about peace on earth?

So, in the midst of the increasing separation, division, hatred and anger, we need even more this year to hear the song of Mary, the message of the Magnificat. In the midst of a very unfortunate pregnancy for Mary, she was able to express her faith that God was working with people who would trust him. Mary was not overwhelmed by the difficulties which surrounded her, rather she felt able to face the future with confidence and excitement. This was not blind optimism, just a conviction that since God was active in the world, despair could not overcome hope. No more than darkness, no matter how intense is able to extinguish the flame of a single candle.

Hope is the one thing in which we Christians are rich and that hope shows its real integrity when the darkness seems to be at its worst. We can all have hope and optimism when things are going well, but real hope is what keeps us singing carols when we know just how bad the world really is. Mary sang out her song of joy, not because she thought that God was going to stop bad things from happening, indeed the coming months would see the birth of her son bring about the deaths of other innocent children. Mary sang because she knew that God was love and that God loved so much that his promises would triumph and could be believed. It was because of this love of God, in spite of human sin, that there was a future and faith and trust in God would be rewarded.

The song which Mary sang is modelled on the song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10), which followed the birth of her son, Samuel. Both songs begin by exalting God and both also speak of reversing the ways of this world. The bows of the mighty are broken and the weak find strength. God raises up the poor and provides them with places of honour. Mary celebrates the blessings that she has received from "God my Saviour." A Saviour is important to us only if we think we need saving. Perhaps this year we need to pray for those religious people who think that they are obedient to God but whose hearts have strayed far away from God’s peace.

Mary celebrated the fact that God could be trusted, even when human events seemed so dreadful. This was because God would actually reverse human roles. The proud would be scattered, the powerful would be taken down a peg or two, and the lowly would be lifted up. This is not good news to those who speak words of hate and create division. However it is good news for those who feel weak and powerless to affirm the importance and value of all humankind, Arab, Jew and Gentile. The birth of Jesus affirms this essential human dignity. All people are made in the very image of God and God is incarnate in our image. Poor people struggling with few choices, children growing up in drug filled estates, single parents struggling to get by, prisoners, refugees, the frail elderly--all are human beings with dignity. All people are blessed in the sight of God.

Meditation

 "In our own time, there are so many needs which demand a compassionate response from Christians. Our world is entering the new millennium burdened by the contradictions of an economic, cultural and technological progress which offers immense possibilities to a fortunate few, while leaving millions of others not only on the margins of progress but in living conditions far below the minimum demanded by human dignity. How can it be that even today there are still people dying of hunger? Condemned to illiteracy? Lacking the most basic medical care? Without a roof over their heads?" Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50


Are we random players in a blind universe where everything happens by chance ?

Hymn

A messenger named Gabriel
came to the land of Israel;
and he proclaimed that Mary's son
was God's messiah, holy One.

O Jesus Christ, strong Son of God,
once born for us at Bethlehem:
we listen to the angels' song
and worship you for ever.

Angelic hosts of God most high
with radiant glory fill the sky;
enraptured voices joyful sing
to welcome Christ, the new-born king.

In awesome fear and bitter cold
the shepherds huddle in their fold;
then since the message is for them
they make their way to Bethlehem.

Within the sacred stable-shrine
they see the holy child divine;
the manger stands amidst the straw
and humble folk their God adore.

Since then have passed two thousand years
of human misery and tears;
yet Christ alone can bring release:
he loves us still - the prince of peace.

Words MJ Walker
Traditional melody arranged Noel Tredinnick

 

What child is this, who, laid to rest
on Mary's lap is sleeping?
whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
haste, haste to bring him laud
the babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate,
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians fear: for sinners here,
the silent word is pleading:
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you:
hail, hail the word made flesh,
the babe, the son of Mary.

So bring him incense, gold and myrrh,
come, peasant, king to own him,
the King of kings salvation brings,
let loving hearts enthrone him:
Raise, raise the song on high
the Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born
the babe, the son of Mary.

William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) and others
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