Service at Home on 20th December 2020 Advent 4
for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church
YouTube playlist: Service at Home 20-12-2020 Advent 4
As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you may want to use these sheets if you prefer to read the words.
Welcome and Introduction
Watch: Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home. This week is the fourth Sunday in Advent, on which we traditionally focus on Mary the mother of Jesus. We look at what an amazing young woman Mary was and how she shows us that we must be obedient to God and rejoice in what He calls us to do.
But first, we light the fourth candle of our advent ring, followed by a short reflection from the NWBA on the Candle of Joy. This will be followed by a look at the meaning of Christmas through the figures in the nativity set that we sent out, also by the NWBA.
Watch: The Candle of Joy
Watch: Joy to the World
Watch: Opening prayers
God our Father, the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of your Son. Though Mary was afraid, she responded to your call with joy. Help me and all whom you call to serve you, to share like her in your great work of bringing to our world your love and healing. I ask this through Jesus Christ, the Light who is coming into the world.
Lord Jesus, Light of the world, thank you for Gabriel who brought good news; thank you for Mary your mother. Bless your Church preparing for Christmas; and bless all your children who long for your coming. Amen.
Lord God, Jesus’ mother Mary was happy to do what you asked her to do. Forgive me for the times when I have not done the things you would have liked me to do. Forgive me for the times when I have hurt your love with wrong thoughts, words and actions.
Mary trusted you through all her difficulties. Forgive me for the times when I have preferred to put my trust in the things of this world instead.
Take a few moments of quiet to think of the things you’ve done wrong and to say sorry to God ------. Lord, I am sorry and I ask for your forgiveness. Amen.
Jesus was born to bring God’s forgiveness to all who ask. Hear His word of love “Your sins are forgiven.”
And now say the prayer that Jesus taught us:
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 that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayers of intercession followed by Bible readings
Prayers of intercession by Lorna
Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus and the story of His nativity - the miracle of Emmanuel, God with us, who came as a baby, who grew and lived amongst us and died upon the cross, so that we all can know the liberating power of your love and forgiveness.
We sing with the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.’
Mary and Joseph accepted God's call to care for His son and chose to trust and obey, despite the difficulties and pressures this brought. Father we pray that we too, your church, will live in humble trust and obedience to your call. May we be steadfast and determined in sharing the good news of Jesus who is God’s gift to the world.
We sing with the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth’.
Christ was born in Bethlehem, the name of which means place of bread - Father we pray for all who hunger for physical bread, for the poor and those affected by war and famine throughout the world …
We pray for the leaders of the nations that they will govern with compassion and justice for all people. Father, we ask also that you will help us to do our bit for the people you call us to love and serve. We pray for the work of local charities such as ‘Porch Boxes’ and ‘Bury Red Door’, asking that you will sustain and bless them as they serve.
We pray also for people who experience a spiritual hunger, who are restless and feel an emptiness that nothing will satisfy. Father, we ask that they may seek and find Jesus who is the bread of life.
We sing with the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth’.
There was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, only a stable provided them rest and shelter and Christ our Lord was born in a manager. Father we pray for those who have no home and who are told there is no room for them - for the homeless and the refugees around the world and all those who work to bring shelter, comfort, and hope……
We sing with the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth’
Father you chose the humble shepherds to be the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. They were one of the least and last in society but in your eyes, they were the most and first. They recognised the importance of the news they had received and responded by immediately going to see Jesus for themselves. Father help us not just to hear the good news this Christmas but to respond by seeking to be with Jesus and worship Him as our Lord and Saviour for the whole of our lives.
Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd for all who will turn to follow Him. He sacrificed himself for his sheep and guides and protects them always. We pray for all who are sick in body, mind, and spirit and for those who are bereaved. We ask Father that they may know the tender care and saving presence of Christ our shepherd. We pray for healing, wholeness, comfort, and peace.
In Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, we pray, and we sing with the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!’
Watch: The Angel Gabriel
Sermon and prayer in response
Many years ago I had a manager who on several occasions called me into his office and told me that he’d got an opportunity for me. The opportunity always involved me taking on a bit of extra work that he said would give me good experience and help my career. He always made me feel that I was lucky to be chosen to do this work. And being young and naïve in those days I’d eagerly accept each new “opportunity”. I would leave his office feeling rather pleased with myself and to be honest probably a bit smug that I’d been chosen. But then, by the time I got back to my desk, I was thinking oh no not again, as I realised that the “wonderful opportunity” was in fact only an opportunity for yet more pressure and long hours! It left me regretting that I’d agreed to do it.
When we read about the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary, it would be easy to imagine that it was similar to my manager telling me he’d got an ‘opportunity’ for me. You could imagine the angel telling Mary how blessed she was to be chosen, but then leaving Mary to regret it when she thought about the consequences. And it would be very easy to understand why Mary could have regretted it. Imagine yourself in Mary’s position: Mary was probably only about 13 years old, she was engaged and had been looking forward to her wedding and living happily ever after in a new home with her husband. I’m sure she had the same thoughts, emotions and dreams that teenage girls have today. But then the angel had told her that she was going to have a baby, even though she wasn’t married and was still a virgin.
In Mary’s time in Galilee, having a child outside marriage was considered rather a bad thing. In fact, such a bad thing Joseph could have demanded that she was stoned to death, according to the Jewish laws of that time. And even if Joseph was lenient, Mary would have every reason to think that he would divorce her. Mary would be called an adulteress and would be publicly disgraced and humiliated and she’d be marginalised by the close-knit community in which she lived. Mary knew it was very likely that she would remain unmarried and live in poverty for the rest of her life. Women in those days didn’t get jobs and there were no state benefits.
But did Mary regret it? No, not all, and we know this because as we heard just now, when Mary visited Elizabeth, Mary expressed how she felt with a beautiful and powerful song of praise to God. This song of praise, known as the Magnificat or “Mary’s song”, is one of the most beautiful songs of praise found in the Bible, or anywhere for that matter. We’ll be hearing a hymn based on this at the end of the service. But how could Mary praise God when it must have appeared that He’d ruined her life? I believe that there are two answers to this question.
First, Mary trusted God. Mary didn’t worry about what her future life would be like, or worry that she’d even perhaps soon be stoned to death, because she trusted God. Even though things must have looked hopeless, Mary trusted that God would sort things out. And this is, of course, is what God did, as we heard in Matthew 1 verse 20. God sorted things out by telling Joseph in a dream what was going on, and that he must go ahead and marry Mary. And Joseph, like Mary was obedient to God, even though his mates probably laughed at him.
And the second reason that Mary praised God was because she did genuinely consider herself blessed. Mary would have known from the scriptures who Gabriel was talking about when he described Jesus. Mary must have known that her baby was going to be the long-awaited Messiah, sent to bring salvation to the whole world: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world”. And the Messiah was coming into the world quite literally through her!
And even if she didn’t realise it, or was struggling to believe it, Mary’s relative Elizabeth confirmed it when she greeted her by calling her the “mother of my Lord”. And remember that Elizabeth was married to one of the priests and was herself from the priestly family of Aaron, so Mary would have believed what she said. Just think how wonderful it must have been for Mary to hear those words from Elizabeth, to have it confirmed that God had chosen to use her to save the world. She would have felt truly blessed.
There’s no doubt that Mary was a remarkable young woman. So young and vulnerable and yet so strong and with such faith in God. So let’s look at what can we learn from Mary today.
First of all, we learn that God can use any of us to do His work. Remember that Mary was to all appearances just a very ordinary person. She didn’t have any qualifications in theology and she wasn’t a church leader. She was just a teenager, a group of people that much of society seems to look down upon and ignore. Yet God used this unqualified teenager to bring salvation to this world. This reminds us that God can any use any of us, regardless of age, qualifications or natural ability.
But having just said that God can use any one of us, there is in fact one essential quality that we must have before God can use us. How does Mary respond to the angel? She says: "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said." Or in other words she was obedient to God. And we too need to be obedient for God to use us.
I actually find this a very liberating thing to know because whatever happens, I know that all God ever expects of me is to be obedient and do what he calls me to do. Even if things don’t seem to have gone well, if not many people have turned up to something I’ve organised or they don’t like it, or they don’t like me, then it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because I know that I’ve been obedient to God and that’s all that he ever expects of me. God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers. God doesn’t expect us to come up with an invincible 5 year plan to achieve church growth. No, God just expects us to be obedient. It’s God who has all the answers and a wonderful plan to make more disciples, all we need to do is jump on board for an exciting ride. All we ever need to do is say to God “I’m your servant - let it happen as you have said." But, of course, we must mean it.
The second thing we learn from Mary is that we can trust God to sort out the problems that confront us when we do what God wants. When God calls us to do something, the problems can often seem insurmountable. How will I find the time to do it? Where will the money come from? Will I be safe? Won’t other people object? Who will help me? How will I learn how to do that? Those are often valid questions but we just need to remember that God will never ask us to do something we can’t do. We have to trust that God will sort out the problems for us. Don’t forget that nothing is impossible for God.
Incidentally, when I was training to be a local preacher, my biggest concern was finding the time to complete the course work. I was working very long hours at work, away from home, even sometimes at weekends, and logically it seemed impossible that I’d find the time. But I felt that God wanted me to do it so I prayed about it and put it in His hands to make it happen. And guess what, my management at work made some unexpected and quite illogical decisions, which meant that I had the time I needed to do the study and assignments.
The third thing we can learn from Mary is that whatever it is we do for God, we should do it joyfully and not moan about it. When Mary agreed to do what God asked her to do she praised God, even though it looked like it was going to wreck her life or even bring her life to a very painful and premature end. In the same way, when we do something for God, we should do it joyfully. Even if it’s inconvenient or spoils the plans we’ve already made for ourselves. Even if it’s unpleasant or a bit risky. Even if it’s tedious and dull. Even if we think we’re too important or gifted to do such a thing. It’s quite common to hear people moaning about doing God’s work isn’t it? Moaning about having to go to a church meeting. Or complaining about going down to church to do something. Or resenting having to clear up after a church event when other people have gone home. I must admit, I’ve found myself moaning about such things myself, especially about long boring meetings! But we should never moan about doing God’s work. We must never do God’s work begrudgingly and instead always do it joyfully. Every time we should say: “thank you God for choosing me to do this for you”, whatever it is that He calls us to do. And by the way, if you don’t think it is God’s work, then ask yourself why you’re doing it at all!
We have every reason to be joyful about doing God’s work when we consider the reward for doing so. Mary described herself as blessed and we too can call ourselves blessed whenever God calls us to do something for Him. When I look back at my life I think how dull and pointless it would have been if I hadn’t been doing things for God. And what reward could possibly be greater than knowing that God, the all-powerful creator of the universe and the source of all love, is using us to do something for Him? And when we think about it in that way, isn’t it amazing that God wants to use ordinary people like you and me to do His work? What an amazing privilege it is to take care of His flock, to tell His other children that he loves them and to perform His miracles.
So this Christmas, remember that 2000 years ago in Nazareth it needed a teenage girl to be a willing, obedient servant to God. And that today, God still needs willing, obedient servants to do His work. Also remember that, like Mary, we’re truly blessed whenever we do God’s work.
I’ll finish by asking you this question: are you “the Lord's servant", who will obediently and joyfully do whatever God calls you to do, trusting God to sort the problems out?
Dear Lord, I thank you for calling each one of us to do remarkable things in this world for you. I know that you can use any one of us, regardless of who we are or how useless we feel.
I’m sorry that sometimes I don’t do what you want me to do because I think it’s too difficult. Help me to always trust that you’ll sort all the problems out and that for you nothing is impossible.
I’m sorry that sometimes I don’t do what you want me to do because it’s inconvenient or unpleasant. I’m sorry that sometimes I ignore what you call me to do because I have our own plans. And I’m sorry that I sometimes moan about what I do for you. Lord, help me to always remember that there’s no greater reward in life than to experience You doing wonderful things through me.
Lord, in a short time of silence, help me to bring to mind the things that I’m doing for you or have done for you in the past…….
Lord, thank you for choosing me to do these things for You.
Lord, I’m your humble, obedient servant, just like Mary was. I say to you now, as Mary said: “I am your servant - let it happen as you have said."
In a short time of quiet, tell me what you’re calling me to do. Speak to me now Lord in the silence ……..
Thank you, Lord, for these new opportunities to serve you. Give me the faith I need to trust you. Fill me with your Spirit to empower me and give me the gifts I need. Come Holy Spirit, fill me afresh now………..
Watch: Tell out my soul