I WAIT FOR THE LORD, MY SOUL WAITS, AND IN HIS WORD I PUT MY HOPE. MY SOUL WAITS FOR THE LORD MORE THAN WATCHMEN WAIT FOR THE MORNING, … FOR WITH THE LORD IS UNFAILING LOVE AND WITH HIM IS FULL REDEMPTION. (Psalm 130: 5 – 7)
WELCOME TO OUR FOURTH ADVENT SUNDAY WORSHIP!
OPENING HYMN: – (165) – O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. CHORUS: – Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe. CHORUS: –
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave. CHORUS: –
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. CHORUS: –
O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery: – Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
LET US PRAY:
GOD OF POWER AND GRACE, You call us again to celebrate the coming of Your Son. Remove those things which hinder love of You, that when Jesus comes, He may find us waiting in awe and wonder for Him. Heavenly Father, You chose the Virgin Mary, full of grace, to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour. Fill us with Your grace, as we wait for Your Word that in Your message, we may embrace Your will, and rejoice in Your salvation through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One Eternal God. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – ISAIAH 7: 13 -14.
ISAIAH SAID, “HEAR NOW, YOU HOUSE OF DAVID! IS IT NOT ENOUGH TO TRY THE PATIENCE OF MEN? WILL YOU TRY THE PATIENCE OF MY GOD ALSO? THEREFORE THE LORD HIMSELF WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN: THE VIRGIN WILL BE WITH CHILD AND WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL.”
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – LUKE 1: 26 – 31; 46 – 56.
IN THE SIXTH MONTH, GOD SENT THE ANGEL GABRIEL TO NAZARETH, A TOWN IN GALILEE, TO A VIRGIN PLEDGED TO BE MARRIED TO A MAN NAMED JOSEPH, A DESCENDANT OF DAVID. THE VIRGIN’S NAME WAS MARY. THE ANGEL WENT TO HER AND SAID, “GREETINGS, YOU WHO ARE HIGHLY FAVOURED! THE LORD IS WITH YOU.” MARY WAS GREATLY TROUBLED AT HIS WORDS AND WONDERED WHAT KIND OF GREETING THIS MIGHT BE. BUT THE ANGEL SAID TO HER, “DO NOT BE AFRAID, MARY, YOU HAVE FOUND FAVOUR WITH GOD. YOU WILL BE WITH CHILD AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS … 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 MERCYFUL TO ABRAHAM AND HIS DESCENDANTS FOR EVER, EVEN AS HE SAID TO OUR FATHERS.”
To be chosen by God often means to get at the same time a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow: – God chooses us in order to use us. Biblically, Mary is not a saint, but a model of discipleship. You look at Mary and you see Jesus even as you look at Jesus and see God. The overarching truth of Christmas is that this BIRTH goes beyond one mother, beyond one family, and beyond one nation. Finally, it is not Mary’s story at all; it is God’s story. Luke understands that, and we may yet understand it also. The Christmas-Child was not to be conceived in the normal, human manner but would be the creative work of God’s Spirit that brought all things into being. Working through the human system of birth, He would be a New Creation of God’s Creative Spirit, as the Bible tell us in its complex Message.
1 . – MARY DID NOT VOLUNTEER FOR THIS DIVINE RESPONSIBILITY. Her name did not even appear on a list of the most eligible of the land to be the mother of Jesus. She had no say in the matter; it was God’s choice. She could have refused as God does not force His will on anyone. Mary’s eternal credit was that she did not argue; she did not question God’s intention but humbly accepted the WILL OF GOD. What a difference life would be for most of us if we – like Mary – in simple trust and humility, would accept God’s choice for us in life! Instead, we too often turn from accepting God’s wisdom and put our own will on life’s road map. Then, when all our planning fails, and we have nowhere else to turn, we turn to God and ask, …and ask … How different life would be if we could answer God’s choice when it is first made known, at the beginning of our journey with Jesus Christ.
- – MARY DID NOT KNOW WHAT GOD’S FAVOUR WAS FOR HER. How could she know that the favour of the Lord would bring shame upon her, on Joseph, and on her family when she became pregnant prior to marriage? She did not know that the favour of the Lord would send her on a long trek down to Bethlehem, to suffer from labour pains leading to the birth of Jesus in a stable with only the help of her future husband. She didn’t know that in few days time she would be a refugee in Egypt, to protect her child from Herod, king of Judea. And definitely, could not have known that the Lord’s favour would one day send her beloved firstborn, through rejection by those He came to deliver – first, to a mock trial; then to a death on a cross where they hung Him out like a criminal. No, – How could she know that the favour of the Lord – accepted with joy in the morning – would one day bring a sunset that would break her heart? God’s favour does not guarantee peace, prosperity, pleasure, or unending happiness. Many times, God’s favour is discovered at the end of great difficulties, heartaches, or apparent failures, by confronting the hard circumstances, working through them, and realising that in fact they enriched our lives beyond anything we could imagine. Facing the hard moments and dark events of life are not only frightening but also a chance to discover the strength to continue even in darkness. Then, one day, we will emerge from the struggle, knowing that because of the favour of our God, we were called to live with and through the dark difficulty. God’s blessing still comes through the horror of crucifixion. God’s favour does not allow us to escape life’s hard places and difficult times. Nevertheless, His favour does enable us to grow in grace and truth, and trust in God. Because of Him we can deal with those hard places and difficult times, discovering the meaning and power of Christian faith in human life.
- – GOD PROMISED THAT JESUS’ KINGDOM WOULD NEVER END. Mary certainly could not have understood the full significance of this immense promise. Likely in her mind, she probably envisioned a dynasty linked to David instead of the Herods, that Israel would establish itself under Jesus and forever grow in power, territory, and world influence. It was only after all the events of experiencing the favour of the Lord, after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, that she realised, in part, the truth that His Kingdom was a Spiritual Realm – a New Creation of the Favour of God that would grow and last forever. Neither Mary, nor any of Jesus’ early followers would recognize His Kingdom’s boundaries today. After all, theirs was a world of limited geographical knowledge. Yet today His Kingdom – as the visible and invisible Church – knows no end. The centuries have rolled, and Jesus has and still does rule the hearts and lives of faithful followers in every land on this fragile planet. His Kingdom has outlasted any early kingdom and has changed profoundly people’s relations to life itself. It comes in my mind that Karen refugee met somewhere in the jungle of the Golden Triangle between Burma, Laos and Thailand, who accommodated me one night and offered me a very simple breakfast in the morning, saying: – Whatever God does and gives us, we are always happy and grateful. Since, I have only “simple” breakfasts, often remembering the faith of that humble Karen. If Mary could see the wonder and power of her Son’s Kingdom today – how it has grown from its beginnings in a manger to embrace multi-millions, how He has changed governments, councils, and individuals – what would she think? Perhaps she would find new meanings in the words of her song when told she had been chosen to be the earthly mother of God’s Son. In Mary we are shown that Christian faith is not about theological definitions or ceremonies, nor rise or fall of church memberships; no, – it is all about life, life in its fulness. It is about giving birth, and growing, and living, and loving, and dying with God. Mary keeps us connected with the human and the divine.
The response of the Christian Church to Mary has been quite varied. For some she is highly venerated. For others she is greatly … ignored. And because of both extremes, the example of true faith through Mary has been missed by most of us. Mary is an example of faith and grace discovered and lived out. Faith is not something we possess. Faith possesses us. That is why we have to remember Mary. Her song declares the grace of God, which had come to her and to all people, and her response to that Gift of Faith from God. She could have said NO to all this, but she said YES, and as a result millions sing her song during Christmas: – My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour! There is something about this season of the year that makes us aware of the possibilities that await people of faith. It was an impossible situation Mary faced, but faith made all the difference. I think, after all that she experienced Mary would still sing, – My soul magnifies the Lord… I remember reading an article about the nineteenth-century’s famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, who once was asked how she was able to do so much in her life to help others. She replied that she, a woman of ordinary abilities, had been led by God to do extraordinary things, and she believed that God should get all the credit. It may be time for many proud people today to consider this statement. A four-line of an unknown author so beautifully says:
THE CHRIST WHO WAS BORN ON CHRISTMAS DAY
LAID ON THE EARTH HIS TWO SMALL HANDS
LIFTING IT WORLDS AND WORLDS AWAY
UP TO THE LEVEL OF LOVE’S DEMAND. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
LIVING AND LOVING GOD, accept our glad thanksgiving for all You have given us, and bless our Christmas- celebrations in these testing times. We pray for those for whom there will be no celebration – the infected, the sick, the bereaved, the lonely, the poor, the homeless. Bless them, care for them, and give them relief. We pray for those whose celebration is marred by fear – those who are anxious for themselves or loved ones, who see no hope in the future, or who live under the constant threat of danger. We pray for those whose lives have been broken by tragedy, and for all who feel isolated – those who feel unloved, unwanted, who find it hard to show love towards others, or whose relationships have been broken by cruelty, discord, or division. Gracious Lord God, we pray for Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Family, and all the leaders of the world. Bless them and guide them in all their decision making for the welfare of their people. We pray for the NHS and all the doctors and nurses who are so overloaded and stretched to their limits. We pray for the Christian Church Universal in all its branches, for our Church of Scotland in all its presbyteries and congregations, We pray for our own fellowship here, asking Your support and blessing on all our members and adherents, young and old. We pray especially for the residents in our care homes who in normal times were visited by so many and now they are missing seeing even their loved ones… Bless, Lord, all the possible ways of worship in these difficult times and those who will not be able to participate in any. May Your light reach out into the darkest places of the world, so that there may be hope rather than despair, joy rather than sorrow, and love rather than hatred or death. Come now to our world through Jesus Christ, to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of the sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed free. Hear our prayers for our loved ones and for all those whom we now name quietly in our hearts…through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-163) – MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour: for He hath regarded the lowliness of His hand-maiden; for behold from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is Mighty hath magnified me: and holy is His name: and His mercy is on them that fear Him: throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts: He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away: He remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant Israel: as He promised to our forefathers Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory be to the Father: and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning: is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.
BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD; I WILL BE EXALTED AMONG THE NATIONS, I WILL BE EXALTED IN THE EARTH. THE LORD ALMIGHTY IS WITH US; THE GOD OF JACOB IS OUR FORTRESS (Psalm 46: 10). MAY THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL.
(2 Corinthians 13: 14)