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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Christmas Eve Year C, Purple - Eve of Principal Feast

Opening Verse of Scripture— Luke 1:79

The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Collect Prayer Christmas Eve — Before we read we pray

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. 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  2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16

7:1-5 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent." Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you." That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?

8 -11"Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. "'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you:

16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me ; your throne will be established forever.'"

Second Reading  Acts 13:16-26

Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years. "After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'

Gospel Reading Luke Chapter 1:67-79

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us-- to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Post Communion Prayer

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. CW


The Year of the Refugee

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said this year.

"Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,"

I shared in a television programme this year about refugees. In Bedford we had announced that we would take four families a year in Bedford over a five year period. This equates to 100 refugees over the 5 years and the council are working with the Kings Arms Project and Bedfordshire Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support (BRASS). These refugee families have been made homeless and vulnerable by a devastating conflict and are in desperate need of a safe, stable home for their children.  The message has gone out from Bedford Borough that we will help take our share of these families to start a new, happy and stable life.

However the reason why I was on the programme was to put one side of the argument because others were saying that these refugees should not be allowed in. Jordan and Lebanon has four million people in refugee camps. Mr Trump says that those who have made it to America are going to be sent back. For a crisis for which we share some of the blame in making in the first place, we spend our time arguing over whether we should be taking this tiny proportion across our country.

How would we feel if we were like these poor people, fleeing conflict, seeking safety and we heard that four families a year was too many. You kmow that 3,671 have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year alone, you are unable to swim but you consider the overloaded dingy about to cross the sea in the hands of greedy traffickers is safer than what lies behind you. You look for some compassion and there is no room.

The Christmas story reminds us of our responsibilities towards those who are weak, defenceless, displaced, alone, poor, vulnerable. We worship a Saviour whose Father, like many fathers in Syria and Afghanistan today, got a tip off that his child was in danger and took his wife and child and fled to a foreign country. One of the newspapers I read on this exodus of refugees commented on how they had with them expensive phones. As if somehow they should have not bring anything with them anything of value in their escape ! Imagine if sky news had been around to film Joseph and Mary carrying bags with Gold, and expensive good.

Today it is not Herod who seeks to kill to make himself more powerful, but there are other Herods who are prepared to kill indiscriminately, like Assad and Isis. Religion has no monopoloy in this, atheist countries like North Korea show the same evil in human hearts.

2015 will exceed all previous records for global forced displacement.
The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) 59.5 million
During this year conflict and persecution forced 42,500 people every day to leave their home and seek protection

The Christian Gospel says soemthing very powerful to the world in this year of the Refugee

There have long been miracles stories surrounding the birth of great figures in history, Roman Emperors and the like. The thing which is special about Jesus is the manner in which the Gospel writers were unashamed that the amazing stories about Jesus centered on his poverty, and his rejection at birth. In his home town Joseph found no room, no relative. In his own country he finds danger and indiscrimiante slaughter, so that he must escape to a strnage land. These are things which you don’t make up to impress people or encourage followers. It is there because at the heart of the Christmas story is the message that God takes ordinary human flesh, lives alongside us and knows what it is like to suffer, be persecuted and ultimately to be killed by people who hate you.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called for
tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,
Humanly speaking tolerance, compassion and solidarity are sometimes short in supply, but at Christmas we thank God that he shows them to each one of us in abundance.

May we learn from God abundant mercy and generosity to us to show the same measure of mercy and generosity to those who seek our help. Charles Royden


What was the first Christmas like ?

The nativity stories in the Bible do not pretend that it was easy for Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. It was a troubled affair involving dangerous journeys. It was a humble time with no proper living conditions and the baby lying in the feeding trough. There were relationship problems between the happy couple with Joseph not long before wanting to break off the engagement because he believed Mary was an adulteress.

There is no idyllic scene painted by either Matthew or Luke, they give us the raw details of how life was for poor people in a country occupied by foreign troops with the mad dictator Herod in charge. We need to remember that the reason for Mary and Joseph being Bethlehem was not just about census, it was about a cruel tax . The child of Mary was born into a world where violence, famine, disease, poverty, unemployment, death were just normal. Make no mistake, the holy couple were in a state of fear and anxiety that first Christmas.

This Christmas is probably the one with most uncertainty surrounding it that I can remember. The sales have begun earlier than ever. The well off have perhaps been spending less, the poor are feeling really vulnerable. Those with jobs cling onto them because we all know that things are troubled and many are facing an uncertain future.

What is life like for you at the moment? Are you experiencing financial worries, relationship difficulties, are you frightened for the future? Well that is exactly what the first Christmas was all about. It is no surprise to God that we go through all of this and it was into such an environment that Jesus, the living presence of God on earth was born.

'Away In A Manger' is a beautiful Christmas carol, but we must remind ourselves each year that the line “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” is utterly ridiculous. Jesus was a refugee with a death sentence, he wept, grieved, knew hunger, thirst and fear. we must be careful not to imagine the first Christmas as a fairy story, a beautiful to tale to help us escape from the realities of life. Indeed the opposite is true, when we understand just how difficult life was for the holy family, then we can recognise that God is not distant or remote, but a participant in the worst of human experience.

This is important, becaue if the church pretends that good christian people are somehow protected by God through life's journey with bubble wrap then we have nothing to say of value. It is our responsibility to tell it how it really is, not even Jesus avoids the toil and trouble of the human condition, he goes through it every bit as much as we do.

So it is hard to sing with the angels, but we do so knowing that things were no better on the first Christmas night than they are today, and probably a lot worse. We can sing because with God we do not have to put on a smiley face when underneath are worlds are falling apart. With God we do not have to pretend that things are better than they really are.

The Christmas message of God in Jesus being born into the human situation reminds us that there is a God in whom we can trust in spite of the woes of the world. God does not protect us from the trials of human life, but God will share with us and help us to be part of the change needed in the world. God is in there with us taking the risks.The Christmas story tells us that God has not given up on us, nor will he.

The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas message said

'I'm not going away' is one of the most important things we can ever hear, whether we hear it from someone at our bedside in illness or over a shared drink at a time of depression or stress – or at a moment when we wonder what's happening to our neighbourhood and our society. This is the heart of what Christmas says about God. And it's the real justification for any local church or any national church being there. When people are pushed by all sorts of destructive forces into seeing themselves as hopeless, as rubbish, so that what they do doesn't matter any more, it's this that will make the change that matters.

If times ahead are hard then each one of us in our church community will need to hear these words that God is with us, standing alongside those who hurt or those who have missed out, and those who deserved better but were treated badly by others. Charles Royden

Sermon for Christmas Eve by The Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

At Christmas we hear many readings from the Gospel of Luke

Luke contains, the Magnificat, or Mary’s song, the Nunc Dimitis, or Simeon’s song and the reading we had tonight, the Benedictus or Zachariah’s song

They are all mosaics of Old Testament texts which connect the story of Jesus with the established tradition of the Jewish people
The Benedictus even starts off with the opening words of a Jewish blessing, ‘blessed be the Lord God of Israel…’
The Benedictus is an amazing piece of Jewish poetry because in Zachariah’s song in essence we have the last prophecy of the Old Covenant coupled together with the first of the New Covenant.

Tonight, Christmas Eve, we too are on that same cusp between the Old and the New Covenants
As it says in the Benedictus, ‘in the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from above will break upon us’
The night of the Jewish covenant was coming to an end and the dawn of a new era was on the world

Zachariah knew the Old Testament story well. He was a faithful Jew. He knew the Jewish tradition that a Messiah would come, just as today many know the Christmas story that Jesus will come

But not only did Zachariah know the story – in Christ he recognized that this was it, the story becoming truth in front of him. It was no longer just a story, something radically different was happening

The Messiah had indeed come, the new dawn; the light in person had come the dawn (or dayspring) had come and nothing could be the same again. The old world order was changed for good

Just like in Narnia where it was always winter but never Christmas, well now Christmas had come!
We’ve all come here on this cold evening. Scientifically cold doesn’t really exist. Heat exists, objects radiate or absorb heat, and we can measure and describe heat. Cold is just a word we use to describe the absence of heat. Similarly darkness does not exist. Light exists, can be measured quantified and described but darkness is just a word that describes the absence of light

In the same way, evil can be described as the absence of good

When the light of the world came the time of the absence of light was at an end. It was a radically different era. That radical change was that God Himself had become incarnate and through all His incarnation meant, offered humankind the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and to be radically changed into eternal beings

And as we are changed, so we begin to forgive others around us and they become changed too and drawn to the light, the absence of darkness

But to be changed we need to acknowledge that the light has come, to fully acknowledge the reality of the story in our lives, just like Zachariah, otherwise we continue to live our lives, or parts of our lives in the past, the old era, in the absence of the full light of Christ and the Christmas story is just that, the Christmas story, a season of goodwill and a time of being nice to one another but not a lot else

But if we accept the reality of the story in our lives, God offers something far more radical, as the dawn from upon high breaks upon us. The forgiveness of our sins, a new relationship with God and those around us, and the promise of eternal life, an end to the absence of light in our lives.

For Zachariah Christmas would never be the same. How about for us?


The Nativity - Christmas Eve Sermon

I wonder if this year you have had the opportunity to watch the Nativity on BBC 1 ?

It is in some ways quite refreshing to see what tries to be realistic presentation of the Christmas story. For some people it will be the first time that they have considered the Christmas story because they have seen it on the television. I am not sure what you thought of it but actually I thought that it was done well. It makes a refreshing change at Christmas to see something in the media of value which doesn’t just knock God, Jesus or the Church.

What did I like about it? Well it shows the vulnerability of the whole event. The message of Christmas is about God taking a huge risk and becoming part of the frailty of humanity. God becomes human in the form of a baby, this is an event which we struggle to get our minds around. It would have been so much easier for God just to appear in the desert a fully grown man, but instead we know that Jesus was born as a baby and grows up as a child and young man. God shares in growing up like we do and that was a huge risk.

The BBC Nativity captures the vulnerability of the first Christmas in a way which I thought was very helpful. We often think of Mary and Joseph setting off on their big adventure together with the little donkey. But it surely wasn’t a happy journey, it was dangerous hard work. We need to question why Mary would go off together with Jospeh in the first place, given that it was Joseph who had to register. Why did he not leave her in the safety of her parents at home?

The BBC Nativity tries to answer this by showing the young girl Mary, who is confused and worried and at risk in her home. She is disbelieved by her parents, stoned by the locals and has to escape with a reluctant Joseph who agrees to take her to Bethlehem for her own safety. Even then Joseph can’t bear to speak with Mary until slowly events start to convince him that what he imagined in a dream really is true and Mary is telling the truth.

In the BBC Nativity we see the Magi who also place themselves at risk because they venture into the land of King Herod. Herod is portrayed as a mad foul beast and indeed he was. When he came to power he murdered the entire Sanhedrin. Herod also murdered two of his own sons, which prompted Caesar Augustus himself to say, "It is safer to be a pig in a parent's household than to be a son in Herod's court."  It is interesting to consider what it means when we are told Herod "diligently inquired" (akribao) of the Magi where the child was to be born. Did he have them waterboarded?

God chooses Mary, chooses the situation of weakness and vulnerability. When God makes that decision he puts the baby at risk. There is no royal birth, no armed guard. God abandons the concept of safety and allows Jesus to become subject to the same vagaries of life that we are subjected to. Soon the Holy Family will have to leave Bethlehem because Herod will give orders for children to be killed. They will flee to Egypt as refugees. As an aside I want to say how pleased I am that this year there will be no children detained in Yarlswood over Christmas. It is a stain on our nation that we imprisoned refugee children who has committed no crime and the fact that it has ended gives me great pleasure this Christmas. Well done to all of those who fought against it, including some senior church figures.

My vision of the nativity scene is always influenced by visiting the location now preserved as the birthplace in Bethlehem. The church of the nativity was built by Constantine’s mother in the 4th century and under the church is a cave where pilgrims visit the place believed to be where Jesus was born. Alongside is another cave where Jerome translated the Bible into Latin about 400AD

We will never know for sure what or where the place was, and the story on the BBC showed a more traditional stable affair with animals around. But there are important clues in the Bible to what was going on.

She laid him in a manger. You only do this if things have gone wrong. Choosing to lie a child in an animal feeding trough is not what any parent would want to do.

There was no room. We are told that wherever it was that Mary gave birth, it was only chosen because the first choice was not available to them. In the nativity story according to the BBC, the reason there was no room was because nobody would have the adulteress under their roof. There might be a point here. Why could Joseph not find any relatives in his own town who will give up their own room when his wife is giving birth? It is hard to imagine circumstances in which people will be so cruel. Sadly it has to be said that religion itself and cultural pride will often drive people to unbelievable depths of cruelty. Even today there are those who believe that women should be killed for sexual offences. Parents will kill their own daughters, courts will condemn women to be stoned to death - even today. So perhaps it is unsurprising that Mary and Joseph are not welcomed. We all know that it is impossible to keep a secret in Bedford a town of 160,000, keeping some juicy gossip about sexual indiscretion quiet in Bethlehem with a few thousand folks would be impossible. Mary would live with a constant stain on her character and know what it was to have people talk behind her back about her poor morality.

Shepherds and foreigners came Little wonder then that the visitors are not close family, but shepherds and foreigners. As Sam reminded us last week, Shepherds were migrant workers who were looked down upon at the time. Magi were not God’s people they were foreigners. Isn’t there a remarkable irony that these two groups of people were unsuitable to be welcomed into religious worship, but they were the ones who God invited?

There is much to think about in this wonderful and compelling story. Perhaps the most poignant words which sum up so much of what was going on were the words ‘there was no room for them.’

Whatever is meant by the word ‘inn’, a guest house, a hotel, that is largely irrelevant. The point made is that the best place where the baby could have been born was not available for Mary, Joseph and the baby. They therefore had to find space wherever they could. There was no room in the hearts of extended family, friends, anyone they approached.
The good religious people were all so full of hatred, pride and prejudice that they had no room for Jesus. So this year we have to be the kinds of people who look for the people like Joseph and Mary, the rejected the poor. It is not our job as Christians to reprimand people, to cast judgement upon them, there are many around us who will do more than their fair share of that. It is our duty to make sure that we show such attitudes of love and acceptance that if Joseph had knocked on our door he would have been welcomed and Mary would not have been forced to give birth amongst the animals. Charles Royden


 "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 ?


  1. Once in Royal
  2. On Christmas night
  3. Silent night
  4. O Come all ye faithful

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

Additional Resources