24TH & 25TH DECEMBER 2021
A child is born to us! A Son is given to us!
He will be called Wonderful Counsellor!
Mighty God! Eternal Father! Prince of Peace!
WELCOME & GREETING
I bring you good news of great joy
a Saviour has been born to you. Alleluia.
Unto us a child is born,
Unto us a Son is given. Alleluia.
He is Christ the Lord. Alleluia.
We worship and adore him. Alleluia.
COLLECT FOR PURITY
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
BLESSING OF THE CRIB
God our Father, on this Christmas day
your Son Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary
for us and for our salvation;
bless this crib which we have prepared
to celebrate that holy birth;
may all who see it
be strengthened in faith
and receive the fullness of life
that he came to bring,
who is alive and reigns for ever. Amen
CANDLE IN ADVENT WREATH
Christ the Light of the World
O God our Father,
the light of whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem;
grant that the radiance of that true light,
which enlightens our minds by faith,
may shine brightly through our words and deeds;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
PRAYERS OF CONFESSION
Hear the words of the angel to Joseph:
‘You shall call him Jesus,
for he shall save his people from their sins’.
Therefore, let us seek the forgiveness of God.
through Jesus the Saviour of the world.
The Virgin Mary accepted your call
to be the mother of Jesus.
Forgive our disobedience to your will.
We have sinned:
forgive and heal us
Your Son our Saviour
was born in poverty in a manger.
Forgive our greed and rejection of your ways.
We have sinned:
forgive and heal us.
The shepherds left their flocks to go to Bethlehem.
Forgive our self-interest, and lack of vision.
We have sinned,
forgive and heal us.
The wise men followed the star
to find Jesus the King.
Forgive our reluctance to seek you
We have sinned
forgive and heal us.
May the God of all healing and forgiveness
draw us to himself,
and cleanse us from our sins
that we may behold the glory of his Son,
the Word made flesh,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
GLORIA in Excelsis Deo
sung by Dougie Byers
ISAIAH 9: 6-7
read by Annabelle Guthrie
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
LUKE 2: 1-20
read by Annette Beagrie
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
JOHN 1: 1-14
read by Rev Janice Aiton
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ from St John chapter 1 beginning at verse 1
Glory to Christ our Saviour
The Word Became Flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious Gospel
Praise to Christ our Lord.
There are many different characters and personalities in the Christmas story and tonight I would like to look at the innkeeper. We have all watched or heard the responses children make as innkeepers to the question of Mary and Joseph, do you have any rooms? One innkeeper said: you should have booked; another “Yes, sure. Lots of room. Come on in!” or “no, but there is plenty of room at my house?” Many depict the innkeeper as a grumpy old man, but tonight I would like to look at the innkeeper through a different lens.
Many have deduced from the line in the scripture, that if there was no room in the inn that there must then have been an inn keeper. But actually, there was no inn – no stable – no unwelcoming innkeeper. The word mistakenly translated “inn” is the Greek word kataluma, and it actually means a guest-room. It’s the word used later on in Luke’s gospel to describe the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the word kataluma doesn’t refer to an inn either, but to a sleeping place or even a campsite. A kataluma is a place to rest – it’s not an inn or a hotel.
In Jerusalem, in a well-to-do household, it would be a large separate room. In Bethlehem, a rural village, it was probably a space at the end of the main living area, which was raised a bit and separated by a low partition from the lower area. In such houses what normally happened was that the family lived “upstairs”, as it were on a kind of mezzanine level, with the animals on a lower level, but all in the same building. What Luke seems to be telling us, is that the upper level was so crammed with people that, to give him a bit of space, the baby Jesus was laid in the feeding trough on the lower level. Just as you, if you have ten or 20 adults all having a noisy and cheerful dinner together, might put the baby down in another room to give him a bit of quiet. But of course, the feeding-trough, the manger, became the sign to the shepherds that this was the right baby, the One.
This means that the message we sometimes draw from nativity plays, the dramatic picture of Mary and Joseph being turned away by the inn-keeper, being rejected and refused in their hour of need, is perhaps not quite accurate. No-one refused them; no-one actually rejected them, or the baby Jesus. They were taken in, as would be a matter of course with strangers in those days. It was something everybody did. There weren’t any inns in towns, only on the open road (like the one between Jerusalem and Jericho which the Good Samaritan took the injured traveller to.) But in this case, and at this time, the house was very busy, it was very full of people, and there wasn’t actually space for Jesus in the guest room, in the upper part of the house – he just didn’t quite fit in.
I read that someone on a visit to the holy land asked their Palestinian guide what he understood was happening at the birth of Jesus. And he talked about typical Palestinian homes even today which, like many old houses in country areas in Britain, would have the animals brought in overnight at one end of the building, or in a cave underneath the house, where the animals would be safe and their bodies would provide some heat for the inhabitants of the house above them, whether that was in a separate room or sleeping on a platform set up above the place where the animals would be.
The Palestinian guide was horrified that Western people could imagine Palestinians being so inhospitable that they would not make every effort to give house room to a pregnant woman in need, in a culture where hospitality is much more valued than in our own. So, it’s very likely that the scenario which Luke describes is one where Joseph and Mary are squeezing into the house of a stranger or some family relative. With a new baby arriving, there simply isn’t enough room upstairs for a birth and a baby. Certainly, there’s no privacy with all the people who are already in the lodging place, the sleeping place, the kataluma and so the only place of privacy the innkeeper could think of was the cattle shed.
Contrary to traditional renditions of the Christmas story, the inn keeper was thinking and acting with respect for a woman, a mother to be, a human being, without knowing that she was carrying Jesus Christ. The inn keeper was in fact living the Christmas nativity with the spirit of Christmas, love, care, kindness and generosity. And so the baby ends up with his mum having a bit more privacy, away from the rest of the family, down in a corner of the place where the animals are kept; not in an inn but in somebody’s multi-purpose home.
Let’s just put ourselves for a moment in the innkeeper shoes. Here is what the innkeeper might say: They think I’m some kind of cruel, heartless landlord. Someone must have told them that. But they’re wrong, just plain wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight, once and for all.
People say I’m an innkeeper. I suppose you’d call it an inn. To us it’s just a big house. My grandfather built it back when his trading business was at a peak. And he built it big enough to fit all fourteen kids. Well, a few years ago, the missus and I were just rattling around in that big house–kids grown up and all–and we were thinking, maybe we could take in a few travellers. Rachel has always been mighty good in the kitchen, so we just let out word that we’d take people in, and they started to come. Every night we’d have a person or two, sometimes more. People would always come back when they came to town again, intent on another bowl of Rachel’s lamb stew.
Then came that blankety-blank census the governor thought up. Taxation, pure and simple! People from all over the province flooded into town that week. Filled us clean up. Rachel and I slept in the main room where we always do, and we started putting guests in the other three rooms. They kept coming. Then we doubled up two or three families to a room. They kept coming. Finally, when we had filled the main room with four families plus Rachel and me, we started turning people away.
I must have gotten in and out of bed ten times that night, stumbling over bodies to get to the door. “No more room, sorry folks. No more room. Come back in the morning. We have a couple of families leaving then.” They’d mutter something and head back to their party, and sleep somewhere next to a house under the shelter of a blanket. I just couldn’t make any more room. That’s the honest truth.
But I did make room for one more couple. Joseph was a burly man with big arms and strong hands, down from Nazareth, I think he said. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I would say, “No, I’m sorry,” and he’d tell me about his “little Mary.” Well, when I saw “little Mary” she wasn’t very little. She was just about as pregnant as a woman can get, and awfully pale. While Joseph was pleading, I saw her grab her tummy in pain, and I knew I couldn’t let her have that baby outside in the wind and sleet.
The barn. That would just have to do, I told myself, and led them and their donkey out back. Now it was pretty crowded, so I shooed several animals into the pen outside to make room in one dry corner. Joseph said, “We sure are grateful, sir.” Then with a serious look, he asked me, “Do you know where I can find a midwife in these parts? We might need her tomorrow or the next day.”
That man didn’t know much about having babies, it was plain enough to see. I ran to Aunt Sarah’s house and pounded on the door until her husband came. “One of the travellers is having a baby,” I told him. “I’ll wait while Aunt Sarah gets dressed.” I stopped a moment to catch my breath. “And tell her to hurry.”
By the time we got back to the barn, Joseph had “little Mary” settled on some soft, clean hay, wrapped up in a blanket, wiping the perspiration off her brow, and was speaking softly to her as she fought the waves of pain. Aunt Sarah sent me to get my Rachel, and then pushed Joseph and me out of the barn. “This ain’t no place for men,” she said.
We waited just outside in the shelter of the barn for hours, it seemed like. Well, all of a sudden, we hear a little cry. “You’ve got a baby boy,” Aunt Sarah was saying as we peeped around the corner. She hands the young-un to Rachel, and she wraps it up in those swaddling bands she had saved. Cute little thing, I tell you. Well, Joseph goes over to Mary and gives her a big hug, and a kiss on the cheek, and Rachel hands Mary the baby, and then comes over to me and takes my hand. ” That’s how I left them as I walked Aunt Sarah home. By the time I got back, Rachel was in bed, and I was about ready to put out the light, step over sleeping bodies, and get under the warm covers, when I heard some murmuring out by the barn.
I’d better check, I told myself. When I peeped in, I saw shepherds. Raggedy, smelly old shepherds were kneeling down on the filthy barn floor as if they were praying. The oldest one was saying something to Joseph about angels and the Messiah. And the rest of them just knelt there with their heads bowed, some with tears running down their faces.
I coughed out loud, and Joseph looked up. I was almost ready to run those thieving shepherds off, when Joseph motioned to me with his hand. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “They’ve come to see the Christ-baby.” The Christ-baby? The Messiah? That was when I knelt, too. And watched, and prayed, and listened to the old shepherd recount his story of angels and heavenly glory, and the sign of a holy baby, wrapped in swaddling bands, to be found in a stable-manger. My Lord, it was my stable where the Christ-baby was born. My manger he rested in. My straw, my lamp, my wife Rachel assisting at his birth. The shepherds left after a while. Some of them leaned over and kissed the sleeping Christ-child before they departed. I know I did.
I’ll always be glad I made room in the barn for that family– that holy family. You see, I’m not some mean inn-keeper. I was there. I saw him. And, you know, years later that boy came back to Bethlehem, this time telling about the Kingdom of God. Oh, I believe in him, I tell you. I was there. And, mark my words, if you’d seen what I’ve seen, you’d be a believer, too.
Hospitality and generosity were the key words that defined this so- called innkeeper. He made room for two needy human beings. We are also inn keepers of our homes and hearts, and we can respond like the inn keeper with generosity of spirit and hospitality of heart. Today more than ever we have so many people needing shelter: refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people. Do you know how many refugees are approximately in the world tonight? The answer 26 million, half of which are children. This month, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that Afghanistan would see a rise in people in need of humanitarian assistance from 9.4 million in 2020 to 24.4 million in 2022 (that’s 59% of the population). What is our reaction to refugees and the homeless… do we go down the traditional Christmas storyline and say no room at the inn? You may say well, is it ever safe to say there is room at the inn in this day and age and welcome strangers into our homes?
Probably not but we can all do something. There are countless agencies that have the knowledge, expertise and skills to meet the needs of the most vulnerable but they need our help and support. They need our hospitality and generosity in providing food and all manner of medicines and resources for the needy and they need our financial support and prayer as they work for refugees and advocate their case with political powers.
What space is God creating in your heart, our inn, tonight for others. How will you be a generous and hospitable inn keeper? Amen
Father on this holy night/ on this Christmas day,
your Son, our Saviour was born
as a vulnerable and helpless child among us.
We think of those children in our world
that are vulnerable and helpless,
particularly thinking of children living in conflict areas in the world,
and those children living in poor conditions,
either in places of asylum or in refugee camps.
Father, bless them and help them,
through us and through aid agencies.
Hear our prayer.
On this holy night (day) there was no room
for your Son in the inn,
protect with your love
those who have no home
and all who live in poverty.
Help us to work with them
for better living standards.
Hear our prayer.
On this holy night (day) in the pain of labour
Mary brought your Son to birth.
Hold in your hand of protection
all who are in pain or distress this night.
Surround them with your compassion, courage and peace.
Hear our prayer.
On this holy night (day) your Son came
as a light shining in the darkness.
Bring light and comfort to those who mourn
and to all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
Hear our prayer.
In this holy night (day) the angels sang
peace to God’s people on earth.
Strengthen those who work for peace and justice.
Hear our prayer.
On this holy night(day) Christians the world over
celebrate his birth,
open our hearts
that He may be born in us today.
Hear our prayer.
Father on this holy night (day) angels and shepherds
worshipped at the manger throne.
Receive the worship we offer
in fellowship with Mary, Joseph and the saints
through him who is the Word made flesh,
our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Amen
God our Father, in this night you have made known to us again,
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
confirm our faith and fix our eyes on him
until the day dawns and Christ the morning Star rises in our hearts
to him be glory both now and forever. Amen
May God the Father who led the wise men by the shining of a star
to find Christ, the Light of the World lead you and bring you to wonder and worship and the blessing….