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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

God our Redeemer, you chose the Virgin Mary, to be the mother of our Lord and saviour. Fill us 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 who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.   Methodist Worship

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.    Methodist Worship  

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.  Amen.   Common Worship

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.  Common Worship  

Collect for Christmas Eve

Almighty God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Common Worship

Almighty God, as we prepare with joy to celebrate the gift of the Christ-child, embrace the earth with your glory and be for us a living hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Common Worship   Shorter Collect

Collect for Christmas Night

Eternal God, who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of your one true light: bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly glory; 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.  Common Worship

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.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

First Bible Reading  Micah Chapter 5:2-5

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men.

Second Reading  Hebrews Chapter 10:5-10

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.'" First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

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

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.


Post Communion Prayer

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


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 so she took on more god like qualities and became removed from real life. Mary has eventually become, 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 Mary became removed from the stuff of our existence.

But do we really want a goddess, or do we want a real Mary, not least so that Jesus became real man, flesh like our flesh. An ordinary Mary was vulnerable like us and like the Bible tells us as she grew old she needed to be cared for. John 19-25-27. What value is it to create an otherworldly Mary who never had sex or a proper family. Perhaps 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. This removes another piece of the humanity of Mary and of Jesus.

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 not somebody we worship, she 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 not worshipped, but surely admired, honoured and set as our example.
In the words of the Magnificat which we read today Mary is subversive, 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 on a donkey. She has 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. Some see her 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. 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. But Mary says to Gods 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). 
She accepts God's plan for her in spite of all the sniggering which she will get. We should not let our reaction to some of the excess about Mary to blind us to her unique and noble example. That example is to us. To encourage us and to sustain us through our commitment.   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

 

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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