Week Commencing Sunday 20th December 2020

Week Commencing Sunday 20th December 2020

 

Please note for this week only our afternoon prayer session from 2.00-4.00pm will take place on Tuesday 22nd December (not on the usual Wednesday)

Call to worship

‘Then the angels said to them, ‘’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’’ Luke 2:10

Our first carol reminds us of the Incarnation: “God of God, Light of light lo He abhors not the Virgin’s womb”. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come into this world as an unknown baby, born in a manger, a stable, because there was no room for him in the inn:

Carol                     

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of Angels
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

God of God, Light of Light
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin's womb
Very God
Begotten, not created
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
All glory in the highest
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning
Jesus, to Thee be glory given
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

From the Latin (18th Century) tr. Frederick Oakley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8dgI4-bVPU

Opening prayer

“We thank you for coming to us. We praise you Lord for your magnificent love shown to us. In becoming human, in order to save us- making us your own, sanctifying our lives and you will one day take us to be with you. We praise you for the generosity you have shown to us in entrusting yourself to us and sharing our vulnerability. We praise you for the courage and determination it took to empty yourself and allow yourself to be abused and killed to free us from sin. You are Immanuel, God with us.”

Reading. Matthew 1:18-24. Gordon Francis

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’’ (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Item

‘Mary did you know? Andrew Breese

Sermon. ‘The Joys of Christmas’

For many, Christmas is a sad time rather than a glad time. Psychiatrists are busier following Christmas and the New Year than at any other time of the year. Perhaps this is because many people are reminded of how empty and meaningless life without God has become for them. Jesus came into the world to show us God and God’s salvation. In so doing Jesus communicates love, takes away our fear and grants us a peace we find nowhere else. He is willing to take us from selfishness and introspection and make us into generous givers: to make us like Himself. Jesus is the joy bringer.

    Many are empty because they have fallen for the lie that Money brings joy. Money can bring happiness for a limited time, but Money does not bring joy. If you do not love Christ I can guarantee you are a worshipper of Money. Your faith, security and hope are in what Money can provide. Jesus said “ Noone can serve 2 masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt 6:24).Money is the great rival god- but a cruel master. He promises you so much, drives you on and finally enslaves you. This isn’t just the outcome for characters like Gordon Geko in the film Wall Street. How many families will be left with crippling debts this Christmas?

So many today think a materialistic existance is all we have, they worship what has been created-the gifts God has provided rather than God himself. They look to Money to fuel whatever their addiction might be- drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, power, popularity. As Romans 1 verse 25  puts it: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” An accurate description of our own society. Money does not bring joy. And a solely materialistic view of life is bleak and meaningless- a breeding ground for disillusionment and depression.

We cannot know the joy God intended for us while we rebel against Him and worship that which is less than God.

Let’s think about genuine causes for joy:

Joy begins when we recognise God is the great Giver. Paul in his first letter to Timothy writes: ‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.’ (1 Tim.6:17). God is the great giver. As our Creator He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Well, Christmas reminds us of just how much God has given us in His Son-the Lord Jesus Christ-and this is cause for great joy.

First, God gave us Himself in the person of his Son. When we look at the baby Jesus it’s staggering to think we’re looking at God Himself. Scripture clearly asserts that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father: Matthew 1:18: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit”, and Luke 1:35- Gabriel’s declaration to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God”. The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send his Son-the Lord Jesus Christ- into the world as a man. In last week’s update we saw how the virgin birth is not too difficult for an omnipotent God who can re order and work above the physical laws He created.(See Update 13/12).

The virgin birth clearly teaches the truth of the Incarnation. That in Christ God became man. He entered completely and fully into our human experience from the very moment of conception. This is a cause of great joy. The Incarnation reveals that life is not meaningless or futile. It gives the answer to those agnostics who do not know if God exists. We don’t need to speculate whether God exists or not. Rather God has clearly revealed himself in the Person of his Son. God has also revealed knowledge about Himself through Creation (See Update 14/6, Appendix) and through conscience (See Update 21/6, Appendix). These are His general revelation to us, but supremely God has revealed himself to humanity in the person of His Son. This is what God is like. As Jesus himself taught “Anyone who have seen me, have seen the Father”. When you study a Gospel and you see Jesus’ matchless life, words and deeds you realise this is God at work bringing about the life God always intended we should know. The Incarnation should fill us with grateful appreciation. God gave himself to us in the person of his Son.

But more than this. When we probe further as to why God should take the way of the Incarnation we see that He himself wanted to bring us the salvation we so desperately need. Luke 2:11 “today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you”. And in Matthew 1:21 Joseph was told that Mary would give birth to a son and Joseph was to give him the name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins”.

Salvation from our sins is a cause for joy. Our own sins are the source of all our sadness and problems. Our own sins pollute our relationships and destroy our own lives. Our education is powerless to do anything about them. The Law can’t root them out. No social or political system of thought has a firewall or fence to keep sin out- indeed “perfect systems” tend to be tainted/abused by people because people are sinners. But more than the social implications of sin, sin separates from having the relationship with God. Indeed we must face God’s wrath and judgment for our sins because God is holy. So we need someone to save us from our sins.

We need God to save us from these.

It was at the Cross, of course, Jesus was to bring about that Salvation promised at His birth. We should be punished for our sins, but on the cross Jesus bore our sins. Fully man he shared our human condition and so could represent us before God. Fully God, his was the perfect sacrifice: Jesus was the only person to ever live a holy, righteous life fully pleasing to God. Now the Bible teaches that Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us. That shows the great scale of God’s love for us! His righteousness is made ours simply by faith in him.It’s not just that our failure is erased/our sins freely forgiven- but we pass with 100%! Athanasius spoke of  “the amazing exchange”. In God’s sight all who accept what he has brought about through His Son are so justified before Him. God doesn’t see us anymore. He sees Christ. Believers are forgiven in Christ. We are accepted as sons and daughters with ready access to God as Father-just as Christ is. And God comes to live within us by His Spirit and empowers us to actually make us more like Christ. What mercy, what grace is this! Such generosity! For all these undeserved blessings “in Christ” the Christian is joyful. And this explains why he or she loves Christ so much. John  puts it like this:“This is love, not that we loved God  but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoneing sacrifice for our sins”. (1 John 4:10).

Have you ever seen the programme “The Secret Millionaire”? The format is always the same- each week a millionaire gives up his riches for 2 weeks and lives among/serves ordinary people in some of the poorest parts of our country. At the end of this time he reveals to the people he’s not poor like them but actually very rich. He then gives them some money in an attempt to improve their lives. One woman was very overcome by this and said “This doesn’t happen in real life. Someone just doesn’t come and live like us and then try to help us”. However in a far deeper and greater way this is what Jesus did do! He gave up the riches of Heaven and became poor so that we might become rich.

At Christmas we thank God for all he has given us-supremely he has given us himself in the Incarnation and He himself has brought us salvation from our sins:

Now we will reflect on some of the other joys of our salvation:

Peace. When a person becomes a Christian they experience peace. Luke 2, the angels declared “peace to men on whom his favour rests”. Christians have peace with God through sins forgiven. But they are also at peace with other people. Where once there was hostility now there is forgiveness/reconciliation.

Ephesians 2 Paul describes how Christ ‘is our peace, who has made the two groups (believing Jews and Gentiles) one’ We gentiles were foreigners to the covenants and promises God made with Israel but Christ has ‘preached peace’ to us who were ‘far away’, and peace to the Jews who ‘were near’. Both peoples are now reconciled to each other through the cross ‘by which he put to death their hostility’ So both are now at peace with God and with one another.

I read of an elderly woman who had come into contact with Christians. She was a bitter person, but over a number of weeks she heard the Good News. Noone had told her what to do, but her life was changed. On top of her wardrobe was a small portable type- writer which she had not thought about for a long time. But each time she went in the room she could not get it out of her mind. Then she had a strange urge to write a letter to her sister whom she had not contacted for years and ask her forgiveness for the rift between them. Eventually she got the machine down and typed a letter. Even before she posted it, she was folding up the letter, she said her body felt as if it were washed all over and she had a sense of being forgiven. The two sisters have been restored to each other. Salvation means peace with God and peace with other people.

Liberation from Fear. Herod’s fear of a rival king led to evil. He was mastered by the love of power/status. But Christians need not live under the tyranny of fear.

See how the Lord led Joseph and his family in the midst of heartbreaking and dangerous circumstances that would otherwise have left them bound in fear and anguish: So the angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife even though she was pregnant and they had had no sexual union. And later an angel also warned Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous attempt to kill the new born of Bethlehem.

The Lord is also our Guide. We have His abiding presence. Our living Lord has promised to be with us day by day. He is the light of the world. When we follow him we do not stumble in the darkness. (Matthew 28:20, 1 John.1:9).

Annie Johnson Flint’s poem puts it well:

I know not but God knows;

Oh, blessed rest from fear!

All my unfolding days

To Him are plain and clear

Each anxious puzzled ‘Why?’

From doubt and dread that grows,

Finds answer in this thought:

I know not, but He knows

I cannot but God can;

Oh balm for all my care!

The burden that I drop

His hand will lift and bear,

Though eagle pinions tire-

I walk where once I ran,

This is my strength to know:

I cannot but God can

Fear of Death has been described as the fear behind all our fears. It is something we will all face, we cannot control or escape it. But for the Christian Christ’s salvation even liberates us from this fear. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica: ‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again; and so it will be for those who died as Christians; God will bring them to life with Jesus. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Comfort one another with these words’ (1 Thess.4:14,18)

I cannot but God can! Liberation from fear.

Finally the joy of Christmas is the joy of giving . The Lord is intent on making us into givers. We know God’s generosity toward us, and so he calls us to show His generosity; His love towards others:

We can give the gift of our faith to those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as Saviour. We can share the testimony of what He has come to mean to us and encourage others to put their confidence in Him

We can give the gift of helpfulness to those about us who carry heavy burdens

We can give the gift of encouragement to those who are depressed

We can give the gift of friendship to those with whom we are associated

We can give the gift of forgiveness to those who have mistreated us.

We can give the gift of acceptance and affirmation to those who are uncertain and insecure

We can give the gift of kindness to those who are suffering physically, emotionally or spiritually

We can give the gift of gratitude to those who have been kind to us and to those who have ministered to others.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the great joy giver. He gives us Himself and brings us all his gifts of salvation. Do you remember the joy you knew as a child, coming downstairs on Christmas morning to open your presents? The joy of receiving? Now God wants you to come to Him in the same way and know the joy of opening the gifts that really matter in life. May you truly have the joy of

..............................................................

Carol

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by name
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

(Instrumental)

Now to the Lord sing praises

All you within this place

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace

This holy tide of Christmas

For all the human race

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

God rest ye merry gentlemen
God rest ye merry gentlemen

(Instrumental)
God rest ye merry gentlemen

Traditional, arranged by Phil Keaggy. From the album ‘Welcome Inn’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTDzmpkH8bc

Prayers

Lord, in a world where worry, not peace, prevails, stir up that good news again. This Christmas, make it real in our hearts. Never have we needed your joy and peace more than now. Thank You for the gift of Jesus, our Immanuel, the Word made flesh. Forgive us for forgetting—that your love never changes, never fades, and that you never abandon the purpose for which you came: to save us from our sinful condition, and to give us life eternal, the joy of relationship with a holy God. Your birth—and your death—sealed your promise to us forever.

For those whose hearts are battered by sorrow or broken relationships, for those whose lives know only conflict and confusion, for those whose bodies are tired and tested beyond their ability to endure this year—precious Saviour, draw them close to You. Let them know you are still the same Jesus who was born of a virgin, not in a hospital but an animal barn, laid in a manger of hay. You are still the One sent by a heavenly Father who offered not condemnation for our sins, but love and forgiveness—and daily, divine fellowship.

We not only need your peace and joy; Lord, we crave it. You’ve promised rest for the weary, victory for the battle-scarred, peace for the anxious, and acceptance for the broken hearted—not just at Christmas, but every day of every year.

Release the joy in us that’s been crushed by pride, wrong priorities, or world events. Tear down the strongholds that have held us captive far too long. Extinguish the flames of apprehension that rob us of a calm, quiet spirit. Show us again the beauty of that holy night so many centuries ago.

Your name is still called “Wonderful,” “Counsellor,” “The Mighty God,” “The Everlasting Father,” and “The Prince of Peace.” As Your children, we cry out for a fresh filling, and a new awareness of who you are. We choose by faith to make the “good news of great joy” a reality in our own lives, so others can see us as lighted trees of life, pointing to you this Christmas. We know one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that you are Lord. And we also know that peace on earth can only come when hearts find peace with you. Amen. (crosswalk.com).

Carol

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Isaac Watts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzhCMwqn6OQ

Blessing

The joy of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds and the peace of the Christ child fill your hearts this Christmas time.

David Barnes 15/12/20