Reflection – 13 December 2020


Here’s my reflection for Sunday 13 December.

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week.

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 13 December 2020 – A Reflection

Our call to worship

Our souls magnify the Lord!

Our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!

The mighty One has done great things for us!

Holy is God’s name!

Let us worship God.

For God is our Maker and our Redeemer;

from generation to generation God gives mercy.

Prayers

Christ, come into our world of darkness
Light up our lives with your coming.
Fulfil all our longings with the joy of your birth
Strengthen our resolve to work for change in our world
And to share the hope of your birth that each Advent brings.
Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Today is the third Sunday in Advent and we will light the third candle in our Advent Wreath.

Last week Martin’s theme was Hope and this week it’s the turn of Joy. Something we could do with right now I think. Here’s an appropriate Christmas song.

Joy to the World. Words by Isaac Watts – as those who did my mini-course on Christ in All Things will remember a good Congregationalist himself.

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 us our songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy
,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

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, and wonders, of his love.

Readings

Psalm 126


When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s Song of Praise

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

The reading from Luke that we’ve just heard is the wonderful poem that Luke reports Mary as saying shortly after she hears the news that she wasn’t expecting – or in another way the news that she was expecting, unexpectedly. The Angel Gabriel has told her that she’s having a baby and she’s gone to see her cousin Elizabeth who is also pregnant with a baby who turns out to be John the Baptist of course.

I always think that this is an amazing reaction from a young girl that has been told that’s she’s pregnant in these unimaginable circumstances.

The appearance of Gabriel to Mary- the Annunciation as it’s called, has been the subject of many, many paintings by artists over the years. Before we move on I thought it might be interesting to have a look at a few examples of paintings that have been inspired by that event

This first one is by John William Waterhouse – a member of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Quite a traditional approach really – but do you notice anything unconventional.

The angel is depicted as female – whereas Gabriel is usually thought of as male.

Do angels have a gender?

The next two depict the angel as light. In the first one you can make out a shape of something with wings. In the second one just a column of bright light.

  • What do you think Mary actually saw? Anything?
  • What do you think an angel is?

The final one is this by an artist called Raphael – but not the Italian Renaissance one – this one is an American called Raphael Soyer. This is a very up to date image – these are modern-looking characters.

  • What do you think’s happening here?
  • Is one of these characters an angel?
  • Which one is Mary?
  • Is this actually after the annunciation – two young women talking in a bathroom about what’s happened to one of them.

Which one is your favourite?

Let’s have some more music. This next one is a lovely carol called Gabriel’s Message

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame.
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
all generations laud and honour thee.
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said.
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn;
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

Talk

I want us to think a bit more about Waiting and about Joy.

What is it you’re most looking forward to at the end of the Coronavirus crisis? When we can all get back to ‘normal.’

You might want to make a note here

We’ve been waiting for that to happen for a long time now. The first lockdown in this country started on 16 March this year. In 3 day’s time it will be nine months since then. That’s quite an interesting period of time to be waiting isn’t it – nine months?

We’ve been thinking today about Mary. The feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the time she was told she was going to have a baby, is celebrated on what date do you think? (in those churches that go in for that sort of thing).

Well it might not be a surprise to hear that it’s March 25th – exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Of course no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. There’s still a lot of speculation about the year let alone the date. Current thinking is that Jesus was likely born around 4 BC. None of that actually matters.

So even though the church sees Jesus as God’s Son there was no shortcut available to Mary. It was a nine-month pregnancy, a nine-month wait, just like any mother has to go through. Probably with all that goes with it, the sickness, the bad back, the exhaustion, the pain of childbirth. Nothing compared to what a man goes through when he has a cold of course.

But that wait was nothing like the wait for Jesus to start his ministry. Other than the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple nothing is recorded in the Bible about what Jesus did for about the first 30 years of his life. What must Mary have thought about that? She’d gone out on a limb for God, she’d told her friends and family that this baby was going to be a very special man indeed, and then for 30 years not much happened it seems. Do you think she felt a bit let down by God?

And if we go back to the Psalm we heard earlier on the wait for God to restore the fortunes of Zion – of Israel – had been going on a lot longer than that. The Psalms probably date from 500 to 1000 years before Christ.

Nine months waiting is nothing then in that context.

What matters is whether something is worth waiting for. And in the end that wait for Jesus – 9 months, 30 years, 1000 years – was worth it. Because Jesus did indeed, as the words of our first hymn  say bring Joy to the World.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;

let us our songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy.

So what of our wait to get back to normal?

Is that really what we want? Is it really what we are waiting for?

Wouldn’t it really be rather great if, instead of things going back to just the way they were before the virus, things could go forward to something better.

We’ve learned that the way you do church can be different and that different can actually mean better. We love the fact that our fellowship isn’t restricted now, that we have so many people from all over the place joining in, that we are going to have new church members from miles away, that we can do new and different things to make worship interesting. And of course we’ve decided all that needs to continue in the future. No more ‘5 hymn sandwiches’.

And the future of the world needs to look different too. There have been some encouraging noises about the environment. Our own government has quite rightly brought forward our carbon reduction targets. You won’t be able to buy a petrol car after 2030. The election of Joe Biden means that the USA will be part of the global effort on the climate again. Time is running out – but perhaps at last the world is beginning to take notice. And as church and as individual Christians I’m convinced we need to look hard at our response and do as much as we can to set a good example in being stewards of God’s world. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more on this fairly soon

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be the first in line when it comes to the pubs re-opening, going out for a meal with friends, being able to be as close to family as we once were.

But I also think we should take the opportunity to stop, take stock and move confidently into a brighter better future than we could have foreseen in those halcyon days before the virus.

Let us pray

Prayers of intercession.

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
   the humble remain humiliated,
   the hungry are not filled,
   and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us.

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.
Amen.

We have a third piece of music this morning. This is the Candlelight Carol by John Rutter – all about Mary’s love for her baby son. I think it’s sublime.

How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How do you measure the love of a mother
or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?


Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels are singing; the Christ child is born


Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him;
seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,

but Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels are singing; the Christ child is born


Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger;
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay;
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation;
a child with his mother that first Christmas Day


Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels are singing; the Christ child is born

“How do you measure the love of a mother or how can you write down a baby’s first cry” – just magical.

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

Amen

If anyone has any questions or comments about the above or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mark Taylor

07954 172823

newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com

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