Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth - Carols by Candle Light

Sunday, 18th December 6-30
Carols by Candle Light

Our carols were chosen and illustrated by Sue Cole and Shirley Fiddimore accompanied on the organ by Richard Sharpe.  The prayers were prepared by Janet Partington.  The sequence of readings follows recent preaching themes where we have been exploring the Prophets of the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus.

67  Once in Royal David’s City  verses 1,2,4   UNANNOUNCED

Richard - Welcome


In very troubled times 8 centuries before Christ, four prophets drew word pictures of what it would take for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Those word pictures shaped all that Jesus stood for and all that Jesus did.

Those same word pictures shape all that we as Christians stand for and all we seek to do as we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

One of those word pictures is in Isaiah 11:1-9

It  speaks of the strength that comes through wisdom, knowledge and skill, it comes through reverence for God.   It speaks of justice and integrity, of a justice that ensures the poor are treated fairly and the rights of the helpless are defended.  It speaks of the power that lies in the word rather than the sword.  And it is built on reconciliation and peace. 

Reading          Isaiah 11:1-9 - Peter

What the angel said to Mary in that sixth month in a town in Galilee called Nazareth suggests that the one she would bear would be shaped by that very picture Isaiah and the prophets that followed him had sketched.  The one named Jesus she would conceive and give birth to would be regarded as ‘great, and will bear the name of the kings of old, he will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever and ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary knew in her heart of hearts that all Jesus stood for would do justice by the hungry and by the oppressed.

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.

Each verse of our next carol takes up one of those word pictures from the ancient prophets and uses it to speak of the Jesus who enters into the hell of this world to turn tyranny on its head.  O come, Emmanuel, true branch of Jesse, bright daybreak, key of David, great Lord of might.

Carol   66  O come, O come Emmanuel

This was no pie in the sky idealism.  It was into a brutal world of oppression that Jesus was born …

Reading:  Luke 2:1-7 - Marion

Maybe the next of our carols is not as sentimental as we might imagine.  Stay by my side until morning is nigh is plea that Christ Jesus stays with us through the hours of darkness until the dawn comes.

Carol 72 Away in a manger

It is through the hours of darkness that the prayer becomes real … Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay.

In our candle-lit service we have four Advent Candles to light.  When one of our members, Janet Partington, was asked to prepare Christmas prayers for other people it made her think …

Janet – Prayer 1

Janet:  As I was considering these prayers of concern it occurred to me that, so often, it can feel a bit ‘us-and-them’; as if praying for the needs of the world is somehow separate from myself, something from which I can be detached.

And it struck me that, while my prayers may be no less heartfelt for being something I do for (or to!) other people, for me there is something missing.

Because we are all part of the Community of Need.  We may be more, or less, aware of this at different times, but we are all, inescapably, ‘us’.

And so I invite you, as we make our prayers of intercession, to hold in yourminds the thought that we are all in need, and if any of the prayers speak to situations or experiences in your own lives, to take comfort and strength from the fact that, as you are pray8ng for others you are also praying for yourself and being prayed for in return.

Let us pray,

As we look forward to a time of feasting, we remember those for whom there is little or no food because crops have failed, disasters have destroyed harvests or there is simply not enough money to provide essential sustenance.

We remember those who seek to provide for this most basic of needs across our world.

And we remember those for whom eating and drinking can be fraught with practical difficulties, with unseen dangers or for whom consuming to excess is a way of hiding from problems too painful to face.

As we look to a time of cosy homes with family and friends, we remember those who have no home to call their own, who are forced to rely on the kindness of friends or strangers for shelter or to sleep rough.

We remember those whose homes lack basic amenities, and those whose comfortable homes are a cause for anxiety in this time of economic hardship.

We remember those who are alone in the world and those who feel isolated even while surrounded by loved ones.

We remember those for whom ‘home’ means unhappiness, stress or fear.

We remember those who seek to bring physical, mental and emotional comfort to others, both friend and stranger.

Loving Lord Jesus, we are one Community of Need:
In the need we share, we hold out these prayers to you.  Amen

Light the first candle

600 In the bleak mid winter  CP 1,2,4 - UNANNOUNCED

The angels take up another element in that picture of long ago – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace …

Luke 2:8-20    Shirley

We take up that song of the angels, and echo the thoughts of that prayer,
They kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace -

94  While shepherds watched

Janet Prayer 2

Let us pray

As we look forward to a time of joyful activity, we remember those for whom activity is limited, who may feel left out, frustrated or depressed by their inability to join in.

We remember all those without jobs, or who are facing redundancy and may find their sense of self-worth and ability to contribute in a meaningful way as limited as their income.

We remember, too, those who are slowly being worn down by the demands of an increasingly pressurised workplace, those who worry that however much they do, it will  never be enough and those who are concerned about the impact of long hours and greater pressure on their health and relationships.

As we look forward to a time of wishing one another ‘good health’, we remember those for whom poor health, both long and short-term, makes life difficult.

We remember those for whom poor health brings stigma, incomprehension and prejudice, or feelings of anger, sadness or depression.

We remember all those who care for the physically, mentally emotionally or spiritually sick, providing support and practical help all year round.

And we remember those whose caring is wearing them out and damaging their own health and well-being.

Loving Lord Jesus, we are on Community of Need:
In the need we share, we hold out these prayers to you..  Amen.

Light the second candle

77  Angels from the realms of glory   - UNANNOUNCED

The world Jesus was born into was a world of brutal oppression.  There were so many echoes of the cruel world of Isaiah’s time.  Jesus shaped all he did according to those word pictures of Isaiah and his followers.  God’s rule is about justice, equity, commitment to the poor, peace, reconciliation.    He did not come to get us to heaven: he came to bring heaven down to earth.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

This is something for all peoples.  So it is that ‘wise men from the east ‘seek in him the hope of nations;’  Is it had been in the time of Isaiah and his followers, so it was in Jesus’ day a threat to the powers that be.    Herod the Great thought nothing of killing members of his own family to get to power and three of his own sons when they aspired to rule in Jerusalem.  His reaction to the quest of the wise men at first seems alluring, but in reality is brutal in the extreme.

Matthew 2:1-11 – Mary Michael

This is not a cosy scene.  Make no mistake about it this is a world of sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying.

Carol:  We three kings

1     We three kings of Orient are;
       bearing gifts we traverse afar
       field and fountain, moor and mountain,
       following yonder star:
       O star of wonder, star of night,
       star with royal beauty bright,
       westward leading, still proceeding,
       guide us to thy perfect light.

2     Born a king on Bethlehem plain,
       gold I bring, to crown him again-
       King for ever, ceasing never,
       over us all to reign:

3     Frankincense to offer have I;
       incense owns a deity nigh:
       prayer and praising, gladly raising,
       worship him, God most high:

4     Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
       breathes a life of gathering gloom;
       sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
       sealed in the stone-cold tomb:

5     Glorious now, behold him arise,
       King and God, and sacrifice!
       heaven sings alleluia,
       alleluia the earth replies:

John Henry Hopkins (1820-1891)

Janet – Prayer 3

Let us pray.

As we look forward to a time of peace on earth, we remember those places in which peace is hard to find; where countries are at war; where personal relationships have broken down; where what I want is all-important and having is more important than being.

We remember the people for whom ‘peace’ means not rocking the boat, avoiding conflict for fear of retribution or not caring enough to get involved.

We remember those who make it their business to be peace-makers, whether mediating in the squabbles of children or getting involved on an international level.

Loving Lord Jesus, we are one Community of Need:
In the needs we share, we hold out these prayers to you.  Amen.

Light the third candle

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

Ding dong merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing

E’en so here below, below
Let steeple  bells be swungen

Carol - Ding dong merrily on high

1   Ding! dong! merrily on high
     In heav'n the bells are ringing;
     Ding! dong! verily the sky
     Is riv'n with angel singing.
     Gloria! Hosanna in excelsis!
     Gloria! Hosanna in excelsis!

2   E'en so here below, below,
     Let steeple bells be swungen,
     And 'Io, io, io!'
     By priest and people sungen:

3   Pray you, dutifully prime
     Your matin chime, ye ringers!
     May you beautifully rime
     Your evetime song, ye singers!

George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934)
7 7 7 7 and Refrain
Copied from HymnQuest 2011: CLUE Version
HymnQuest ID: 52188

Matthew 2:12-18        Sue Cole

When you see how much of the world’s conflict is centred on the Middle East and seems to find its focus here in Jerusalem and Bethlehem it’s enough to turn people away from religion.  It makes me want to do the opposite and ask what should religion truly be about. 

I notice that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all look to Isaiah and his followers and revere them as Prophets.  In each of those faiths are people working for that kind of justice, righteousness, commitment to the poor and peace and reconciliation. 

In very troubled times those  prophets drew word pictures of what it would take for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Those word pictures shaped all that Jesus stood for and all that Jesus did.

Those same word pictures shape all that we as Christians stand for and all we seek to do as we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

I don’t believe being a Christian is about getting people to heaven – I believe it is about bringing heaven and that pattern of justice, righteousness, commitment to the poor down to earth.

I am no longer comfortable singing one of my favourite carols – O Little Town of Bethlehem – I cannot sing ‘how still we see thee lie’.  The churches and Christians we are in contact with there invite us to stand with them in that very task.  We are going to sing the version of that carol our own Graham Adams wrote after visiting Bethlehem while he was training for the ministry.  Graham is now a minister in inner city Manchester and with Sheryl his wife will be having an extra special Christmas this year with their baby daughter, Bethan.

Carol - O Troubled  Town of Bethlehem

1          O troubled town of Bethlehem,
with conflict still you lie.
Above your deep but restless sleep
indifferent stars go by;
yet in your dark streets may you find
resilient, endless light:
for hopes and fears of all the years
were borne in you one night.

2          For Mary's child was born, and cried,
unnerving powers-above,
whilst God of Life who bears our strife
encouraged hope and love.
O morning stars, now sniper-fire
obscures such hopeful births;
but mothers sing of everything-
their prayer still 'peace on earth'.

3          How silently, how violently,
your wondrous gift was given;
while God is grace for every race,
your streets with fear are riven.
As Jesus came amongst the poor
(confronting powers-that-be),
through risen will and faith he still
invites us 'Set them free.'

4          O daring child of Bethlehem,
empower us all, we pray,
to work for peace that wars may cease
and love be born today.
With all the nations' angels
proclaiming we shall tell:
'Heal Bethlehem, join "us" with "them"'-
Amen, Immanuel!

Graham Adams (born 1975)
© Graham Adams

Copied from HymnQuest 2011: CLUE Version
HymnQuest ID: 77760

Janet – Prayer 4

Let us pray.

As we look forward to a time of birth and giving, we remember those who are feeling the pain of death and loss.

We remember those for whom the taking away is a pain almost beyond bearing, and those for whom it is a relief; those for whom it has come suddenly and without warning, and those who have watched loved ones slip away over months and years.

We remember those for whom the bringing of new life into the world is an unimaginable joy, and those for whom it is a long, hard and dangerous process.

We remember those whose gifts of time, energy, skill and compassion help to bring us into this world and to ease our passage out of it.

We remember those for whom life will never be the same again.

Loving Lord Jesus, we are one Community of Need:
In the need we share we hold out these prayers to you.

Let’s say together the prayer Jesus taught us to pray

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the Glory
Forever and ever.

As we sing the next of our carols we shall make our offering for the work of the church here at Highbury.  Our Christmas Day collection next week will be for County Community Projects and its work throughout Gloucestershire as a key provider of much needed care services.

91        See him lying on a bed of straw [including the offering]

Along with many churches throughout the English speaking world we have marked this, the 400th anniversary year of the Authorised Version of the Bible, as the Year of the Bible.  Between writing these notes and the time of our service, our attention has been drawn to the address given by Prime Minister David Cameron in Oxford only a day or so ago to mark that anniversary.  He is to be commended for taking his stand on what he called ‘biblical principles’.  These are the ‘biblical principles’ that are at the heart of the Christmas story.  The commitment of the prophets to justice, righteousness and integrity, their commitment to the poor and to reconciliation and peace.  This is what Jesus took his stand on and lived his life for.  These are the principles we as Christians are not only committed to ourselves, but they are the principles to which we are to hold those who rule us to account.  Many a service of lessons and carols will finish with a reading from John chapter 1.  These wonderful words are all about heaven coming down to earth, about the Word made Flesh.

John 1:1-14  - Janet Partington.

59  Hark the herald angels sing - UNANNOUNCED

Words of Blessing

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