27 December 2020

This week’s service includes a celebration of Holy Communion, and you are invited to prepare bread and wine, or whatever alternative you prefer. The accompaniments for Iris, Mary’s child and Go tell it on the mountain are provided by Richard M. S. Irwin (https://play.hymnswithoutwords.com) and are used with his permission. The remaining music was recorded at Headingley St Columba URC. Where the words and music are in copyright, they are used under the terms of Headingley St Columba’s CCLI Licences 214974, 110169 and PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0020656.

Order of Service

Organ prelude: Pastorale on Adeste fideles – David Schelat (b. 1955)


Call to Worship
On this first Sunday of Christmas we light all five candles again. The world has received its Saviour, Christ is come to earth. We light the candles and give thanks that He has entered our world, that He has come down to raise us up. We light all the candles and rejoice that Christ is with us. We also light the candles to give thanks for faithful pastors and ministers.

To those who are seekers and travelling in the darkness,
    the Lord comes as He came to the wise men.
To those who are not sure of the way and get lost,
    the Lord comes as He came to the wise men.
To those who keep looking and longing,
    the Lord comes as He came to the wise men.
To those who are watching and waiting,
    the Lord comes as He came to the wise men.

Rest in His presence and be aware of His love.
Let His presence be a light in your darkness.
A candle in the dark.

[The five candles are lit]

The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, you are our light and our salvation.
To you be all praise and glory forever.
In the darkness of this passing age you sent your Son to be our Saviour.
The word became flesh and now dwells among us.
He descended and became human that we might ascend and share in the divine.
As we rejoice in your presence with us now, let your love fill our hearts and our days
and your praises be on our lips. Blessed be God for ever.

Lord, as we remember the shepherds in the hills above Bethlehem,
open our eyes to your glory, open our ears to the songs of angels,
grant us the joy of the shepherds, that we may come to your presence,
bow before you in love and adoration, and go on our way rejoicing.
Through Him who shared in our humanity, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Tune: Iris – traditional Flemish melody by an anonymous composer arranged by Richard M. S. Irwin based on an arrangement by Charles Wood (1866 – 1926).

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
ye who sang creation’s story,
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
watching o’er your flocks by night:
God with you is now residing,
yonder shines the Infant Light:
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Sages, leave your contemplations,
brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of Nations;
ye have seen His natal star:
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Saints, before the altar bending,
watching long in hope and fear,
suddenly the Lord, descending,
in His temple shall appear:
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

James Montgomery (1771-1854)

Introduction to the first reading
This continuation of Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation, the one which Jesus quotes in Luke 4 as His mission statement, is a song of celebration of what the Lord has done, as we celebrate that at Christmas.

Reading – Isaiah 61: 10 – 11

Organ interlude: Prelude on Irby – Philip Moore (b. 1943)

Introduction to the second reading
From words of rejoicing in Isaiah, we go to words of rejoicing from the prophets Simeon and Anna at the time of purification Luke speaks of. This would normally have been 40 days after the birth of a son, when in Jewish Law, the mother had to be purified, and the first born, if a son, would have been dedicated to God at the Temple. There would have been a sacrifice to redeem the child as well as for Mary’s purification.

Reading – Luke 2: 21 – 40

When I looked at my sermon records, I realised that I’ve rarely had opportunity to delve into these two characters, Simeon and Anna, although they’ve always held fascination for me. They are of course, prophets of their time, like John the Baptist, who we thought about in the Sunday Devotions a couple of weeks ago, and in the Advent course.

These two characters were devout people. Simeon had been looking forward to the consolation of Israel, in other words, when Israel would be saved by the Messiah. He was waiting expectantly. He was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Christ, that’s the Greek translation of Messiah. That day, the Holy Spirit guided him to go into the Temple . . . and in come the holy family. Simeon flows in praise of God.

It is in his words of praise we hear how special that baby is. He refers to Jesus as God’s salvation, a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. Yet this child will also be the cause of many falling from God and many coming to him in Israel, someone who will be opposed, and who will reveal people’s thoughts. And then the prophetic word to Mary herself, that her own soul will be pierced. Simeon recognized all that in this small baby, all that was to lie ahead, even to the cross.

Then we come to Anna. We assume Simeon is old because of what he says about the Lord dismissing him in peace, that he would see the Messiah before he died. That’s what he’s been waiting for. We’re told, however, that Anna was a widow of 84. Some of us, not including myself, may be near that age or an awful lot older!

Anna lived in the Temple courts, fasting, praying and worshipping God. She was a devout and holy woman. It was that day of the holy family coming to the Temple, that she came into the place where Simeon and the family were. She herself started praising God and telling everyone around who this child was, the redeemer of Jerusalem.

That’s all we have about these two characters. We never hear about them before or after, yet they made enough of an impression on Mary to be included in Luke’s gospel, telling of it to Luke in his thorough investigation (Luke 1: 1-4). They recognized God among them, the saviour, the redeemer, the Messiah.

In our own lives, it’s not always easy to see God, to see God in the events around us, in answers to prayer, or in people around us. Yet God revealed himself to Simeon and Anna in the baby Jesus. In many ways, as we keep our hearts open and expectant to see glimpses of God, we will see those things through the Holy Spirit, and see the glory of Christ among us.

As it’s still Christmas, I’m going to read a story I came across in the book, ‘A Stocking Full of Christmas’, complied by Mark Stibbe. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

‘There was a Scottish farmer who did not believe in the Christmas story. The idea that God would become a man was absurd. His wife, however, was a devout believer. The farmer sometimes gave her a hard time, mocking her faith and belief in the incarnation of God. “It’s all nonsense,” he said. “Why would God lower himself to become a human like us? It’s such a ridiculous story.”

One snowy evening his wife took the children to church while the farmer relaxed at home. After they left, the weather turned into a blinding snowstorm. Then he heard a thump against the window, then another. He ventured outside to see what was happening. There in the field was a flock of geese. They had been migrating south but had become disorientated by the storm. They were stranded on his farm, unable to fly or to see their way.

The farmer had compassion on them. He wanted to help them and realised his barn would give them shelter for the night. He opened the barn doors and stood back, hoping they would make their way in. But they didn’t realise. He tried to shoo them in, but they ran in all directions. He got some bread and made a trail to the barn door, but they still didn’t catch on. Nothing he did got them into the warmth and shelter of the barn.

Feeling totally frustrated he exclaimed, “Why don’t they follow me? Can’t they see this is the only place they can survive the storm?” He thought for a moment and realised they wouldn’t follow a human. He said to himself, “How can I possibly save them? The only way would be for me to become a goose. If only I could become one of them, then I could lead them to safety.”

At that moment, he stopped and realised what he had said. The words reverberated in his head: “If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them.” Then at last he understood God’s heart towards humankind. He fell on his knees in the snow and worshipped.’

That story, whether it’s true or not, and whatever the ending for the geese might have been – I’m sure, like me, you might have been wondering – that story shows the man recognizing God in his contemplations on how to save the geese.

Recognizing God comes in many different ways. They may be fleeting, glimpses of glory, yet glimpses which strengthen our faith, and help us to praise God, to give God the glory. They may be something we’ve read or heard, or something someone else has said that rings true, or they may even be a more solid experience of God’s presence or action in our world.

I’ll finish with another quote from the same book:
‘Elizabeth Browning, the 19th century poet, wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; and only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

Whoever quoted that, maybe the book’s compiler, Mark Stibbe, goes on to say, ‘Unless we open our eyes to the wonders of God, no revelation takes place, and our world sits and waits for miracles, while the wonders of God dance all around us. Let’s open our eyes and ears to the glory of God, the God who comes to us in the majesty of creation, the Lord of the universe who meets us in the child of Bethlehem.’

To me, that says it all, all I’d want to say. Except to wish you continued peace this Christmas-tide and lots of glimpses of glory this coming year.

Prayers of Intercession and the Lord’s Prayer

Generous God,
For the gift of yourself among us, for the glimpses of your glory that surrounds us,
in the wonder and complexity of creation, in the uniqueness and creativity of each person, we thank you.

May your Church in its worship, in whatever way we are worshipping, and in its life, reveal your glory. May we become a vehicle for light, life and love in the communities in which we live in and serve. Guide our ways.

We pray for the persecuted Church today, for the secret Church who can’t meet openly, even at Christmas. May the joy of Christ, even in their current struggles added to by the pandemic, so fill their hearts that it will flow over to their neighbours to draw them to you too.

We pray today for governments and leaders of nations all around the world, in this time continued time of struggle against Covid-19, that they would have wisdom in these times, and work to bring in your kingdom of justice and righteousness. We pray for war torn places, for the homeless and refugees, for all those who struggle to survive. Bring your peace and your strength. May governments and peoples alike glimpse your glory and be held by it.

We pray for all those for whom this Christmas has brought heartache, so many more through bereavements this year throughout our world. May they know your comfort and peace, Prince of Peace.

We pray at this time of the year for those known to us who are struggling and those who are alone. We pray too for children and students, teachers and lecturers, who have struggled this year. May they glimpse your love and your glory in us and others who reach out to them.

We give thanks for our friends and families, for those we have been able to see, and those we have not. We thank you for modern technology that has made seeing one another at a distance so much easier, and pray for those who are not so fortunate in our world. May your glory even be seen through our technological ways.

And we pray for ourselves. We lift to you all our burdens and concerns. We give thanks for yourself as a gift to us and ask you to help us to live for you.

For your glory we pray, Amen

I invite you to join with me in the words of the Lord’s Prayer . . .

Born in the night, Mary’s child
Tune: Mary’s child – Geoffrey Ainger (b. 1925) arr. Richard M. S. Irwin
Text: Geoffrey Ainger (b. 1925)

Words are omitted for copyright reasons.


Christ offers His peace to us:
The peace of the Lord be with you
And also with you

The Lord Jesus Himself invites all who love Him to share in this meal. As we celebrate this wonderful time of God coming to us in Jesus, we celebrate His birth,
we remember Christmas leads to Good Friday and then the hope of Easter Sunday. Christ’s sacrifice for us and resurrection brings us new life.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3: 23)
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins. (1 John 1: 8 – 9a)
Jesus says: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2: 17)
Let us confess our sins and seek God’s forgiveness.

Almighty God, we confess before you our own sin,
the sin of the Church and the sin of the world, in which we share.
We have not loved you with our whole being;
we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.
In your mercy, forgive us when we turn from you;
release us from the burden of our past,
and remake us in your image and likeness
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Come then to this table, not because you must, but because you may;
Come, not because of who you are, but because of who God is;
Come, not because you are righteous, but because of God coming to reach out to each of us in Jesus.

WORDS OF INSTITUTION (1 Corinthians 11: 22 – 26)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper, He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

We praise and thank you so much Lord, that you came to earth for us and gave yourself on the cross for our forgiveness. We thank you that you gave up the glory of heaven, to be born in the midst of humanity and suffering, to live a life like ours, to be identified with us in every way, even with the evil of our lives as you took it all into yourself on the cross. We praise and thank you for new life, that new life you assure us of by your resurrection. As we remember what you have done for us, we give thanks for this bread, symbolising for us your body, and ourselves as your body here on earth. We give thanks for this wine, symbolising for us your blood, poured out in love for the life of the world. We ask that as we eat and drink, we may be filled anew with your Holy Spirit, and refreshed to live for you, for your glory. Amen.

We break the bread to remember Christ’s broken body on the cross . . .
Christ’s body broken for us.

Christ’s blood was poured out that the world might have new life . . .
We have new life in His blood.

Loving God, you have fed us generously at this table,
as we have remembered Jesus and rejoiced that He is with us today,
we are ready now to follow Him afresh, and to be your people in the world.
May your Holy Spirit show us the way, make us holy and fill us with love.
In Christ’s name, Amen.

Tune: Go tell it on the mountain – North Americal Spiritual, arr. Richard M. S. Irwin

Go tell it on the mountain
over the hills and everywhere:
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
behold, throughout the heavens
there shone a holy light:
Go tell it on the mountain
over the hills and everywhere:
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled
when, lo, above the earth
rang out the angel chorus
that hailed our Saviour’s birth:
Go tell it on the mountain
over the hills and everywhere:
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lonely manger
the humble Christ was born;
and God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn:
Go tell it on the mountain
over the hills and everywhere:
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born.

Refrain: Traditional Spiritual.
Verses: J. W. Work (1872 – 1925) altd.

Now may the light of the presence of Christ fill you and your home, and surround you and those you love. And may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all now and in the coming year.

Organ voluntary: Postlude on Mendelssohn – David Willcocks (1919 – 2015)