Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 26 December 2021

by Rev Jacky Quarmby 26 December 2021

Welcome to our worship for Boxing Day. You may find it helpful to have a bible to hand as you share worship with us today.

Carol: See Amid the Winter Snow

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Opening Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you this morning, our Saviour and our eternal God.Amen.

Introduction:  The Gospel according to Luke
This year the lectionary readings are based on the Gospel of Luke and so today I thought that we would focus on the infant narratives that we find in Luke’s Gospel, Chapters 1 and 2.  Typically, in a carol service we combine readings from Matthew and Luke and in doing so, we lose a sense of how distinctive the two accounts of Jesus’ birth are.  Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy tracing Jesus’ ancestry through the carpenter Joseph back to King David.  He goes on to tell the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of his father Joseph, and then to tell the story of the three magi and King Herod’s fear at the thought of the birth of a new King.

Meanwhile in Luke, we find the story of two women, the childless Elizabeth and the young, newly betrothed Mary and their amazement at finding themselves pregnant.  We meet the rough and ready shepherds, the first to be told the good news of Jesus’ birth and then in the temple at Jerusalem, the elderly Simeon and Anna who are overjoyed to see the infant Jesus.  

In Luke we meet ordinary people, people who would be regarded as insignificant in Jewish society, who suddenly find themselves caught up in extraordinary events.  It is a wonderful account, with angels and songs and people filled with joy and we’re going to immerse ourselves in it today.

Here is how Luke begins his Gospel …  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

As we make our way through the first two chapters, we will focus on eight different people – caught up in the events of Christ’s birth – and we’re going to begin with the priest Zechariah.

First Reading:  Luke 1: 5 – 25  

Zechariah was a priest, who took his turn in ministering in the temple in Jerusalem.  There were many priests, so there was a rota.  Zechariah was part of a division called Abijah, which was on duty twice a year, for a week on each occasion.  

Zechariah was married to Elizabeth and we are told that they were a devout and godly couple.  This made their childless state hard for them to understand, as people believed that those without children were being punished by God.  The disgrace would have been hard for them to bear – and as Elizabeth was now elderly and beyond child-bearing years, they had had to become accustomed to the condemnation of their neighbours. 

On this particular occasion at the temple, Zechariah had been chosen to burn the incense.  This was a great privilege.  A priest could not offer incense more than once in his lifetime and some priests were never chosen.  For Zechariah then – this offering of the incense was the most important moment in his life.

And it is while Zechariah is alone in the Holy Place offering the incense that the angel Gabriel appears and tells him that Elizabeth will give birth to a son, a man in the spirit of the great prophet Elijah, who will prepare people to meet their Lord.  Well, Zechariah is skeptical and demands a sign, “How can I be sure of this?” he says, “I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”

The angel Gabriel is incensed, “I am Gabriel,” he says, “I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to tell you the Good News.”  

How dare Zechariah doubt the word of an angel sent from God himself.  Zechariah would get his sign all right, though it would not be the sign he wanted.  He would be silent, unable to speak, until Gabriel’s words were fulfilled. 

Zechariah was slow to believe the angel’s words.  He had been waiting for so long for a son, that he had lost hope and no longer believed it was possible.

Are there things that we are praying for that we no longer believe will happen?  Are we tired of waiting for God to answer our prayers? Have we, like Zechariah, lost hope in God to make a difference?

Read this short meditation by Raymond Chapman …
In this world, we count the time of waiting as time wasted.
We fret as we wait for the bus or at the supermarket checkout, and resent the time, we could, as we think, use more to our advantage.

God’s time of waiting is different; it is patient, creative, purposeful.
It is the love of a Father who knows when it is time to give
And when to withhold.
It is the compassion that reveals itself when we are ready and open to receive it.

Centuries of our time passed until time and place were ready together.
Waiting with God is not time lost, but time of being truly alive.
Patient God, turn our anxiety and anger into patience
Unchanging God, turn our restlessness into quiet and constancy
Faithful God turn our doubts and fears into assurance Amen

In our second reading from Luke, we will focus on Mary.
Second Reading:  Luke 1: 26 – 38 

Carol:  The angel Gabriel from heaven came

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Imagine this … you are about 16 years of age … and you have met the man of your dreams … a carpenter.  Wonderful!  You’re sat at home one afternoon - planning the fitted kitchen that your talented fiancé will build in your new home - once you’re married - when all of a sudden a large man turns up unexpectedly in your living room.  That in itself is rather strange - but you are polite - and try not to draw attention to the large wings that appear to be sprouting out of his back.  Then he says, “Greetings, you’re a lucky lady, because God has chosen you to carry his child - you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a Son and you will call him Jesus.”  On the face of it - it sounds quite exciting - but then you begin to weigh up the consequences - what would your fiancé think?  Will he still marry you?  Will you find yourself cast out from your community as an unmarried mother?  Will you ever get that fitted kitchen?  The consequences are huge.
So many risks.  And Mary does an extraordinary thing. She says to Gabriel, “Yes. I am God’s servant.  May it be as you have said.”  An ordinary woman agrees to an extraordinary task.

Mary's decision to accept God's will and obey him was costly and demanding.  She could have made many excuses, but instead she said yes to God. I wonder how quick we are to say “yes” when God calls us to take a risk and do an extraordinary thing?

In our prayers now, we ask God to help us to stop making excuses and to say yes to the cost of following his way.
Loving God, we are tempted to find all kinds of reasons for not responding to your voice and obeying your will.
When we worry more about what people will think, than about your calling on our lives, make us loyal to you.
When we consider our personal convenience to be more important than willing service, make us faithful to you.
When we allow fear of consequences to overcome our desire to serve you, make us confident in you.
When we become so distracted by this world’s crises that we forget our heavenly calling, make us committed to you.
In a time of silence let us bring before God those situations in our lives that seem difficult or confusing and ask God to help us to make the right decisions and take the right steps as we move forward … 


Loving God, when tasks threaten to overwhelm us and duties weigh us down, help us, like Mary to say yes to your call.
When frustration and trouble drain us of energy and enthusiasm, help us, like Mary to say yes to your call.
When conflict and opposition fill us with fear and tempt us to run away, help us, like Mary to say yes to your call.
For we ask these prayers in the name of Jesus, Amen

Our third reading focuses on Elizabeth.

Third Reading:  Luke 1: 39 – 45  

In this lovely story, Mary rushes to see her cousin Elizabeth to congratulate her on her pregnancy and to share her own amazing news.  As the women embraced, the baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb and she bursts out into praise, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Instead of Elizabeth pointing to her own miraculous pregnancy, she focuses all her attention onto Mary’s. What amazing humility.  Most parents love to show off about their children.  There must be very few mothers who are willing to admit that someone else’s son is more important than their own.  But Elizabeth did just that.

She recognized that her young cousin was to play the starring role and that hers, while significant, was only a bit part in the drama that was to unfold.  

I wonder if we are humble enough to recognize when we are not the most important person in the room.  I wonder if we are willing to accept being upstaged with the same grace that Elizabeth showed, when Mary came to visit her.

Envying the status or wealth of others, or the attention that they seem to get from other people undoubtedly leads to unhappiness.  Perhaps Elizabeth in her old age had discovered that to be content with who we are and what we have, in the places in which we find ourselves, is the secret to a fulfilled and happy life.

So Elizabeth in her humility, was able to share wholeheartedly in the joy of her young cousin, who expressed her own praise to God in the words of the Magnificat in Luke 1: 46 – 55.  We’re going to share in that praise as we sing together a hymn based on those words of Mary … Tell out my soul …

Carol:  HP 86 Tell out my soul


YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

Well, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home just before Elizabeth gave birth to her son.  We’re going to hear that in our fourth reading, in which we focus on John.
Fourth Reading:  Luke 1: 57 – 66 

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy … the words of the prophesy are known as “the Benedictus” and we are going to say it together now …Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, who has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,  born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets God promised of old to save us from our enemies,  from the hands of all that hate us,

To show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of all their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness  and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

So John was born and we are told that the child grew and became strong in spirit and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.  John’s role was not to draw attention to himself, but to prepare the way for Jesus – and this he did “preparing the way” and then “getting out of the way” with the same gracious humility that his mother Elizabeth had shown thirty years before.  

We’re going to share now in a prayer for the church.
Loving God, as John came proclaiming your message of justice, may we, the church, be prophets for our own time.  Help us to speak out for those who have no voice – for Christians throughout the world who are persecuted; for refugees with no home of their own; for children who are neglected and unloved.  We ask that by our words, prayers and actions, we may prepare the way for your kingdom of love and justice and peace. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

Loving God, as John came to prepare the way for your coming, may we, the church, seek to prepare the way for you to come into the lives of other people.  Help us so to follow Christ that in all our relationships, something of his love and his goodness may be seen in us.  We ask that by our words, prayers and actions, we may prepare the way for Christ to enter the lives of others. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

Loving God, as John came to challenge the religious people of his day, may we the church always be ready to challenge our own attitudes and traditions in the name of love.  Help our church to become a place of healing, where the anxious and depressed, the sick and bereaved and those who feel worthless may find acceptance and love.  We ask that by our words, prayers and actions, we may prepare the way for others to know the joy of life in Christ.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

For we ask these prayers in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Our fifth reading brings us to the birth of Christ …
Fifth Reading:  Luke 2: 1 – 7 

All the to and froing of angels, Zechariah’s silence, Elizabeth’s joy and the quiet anticipation of Mary have led us to this point, the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Let us reflect on this as we listen to “Unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Messiah.

Music:  Unto us a child is born (Handel)

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, we hear very little of Joseph.  It is in Matthew’s gospel that we get a sense of Joseph’s gentleness and compassion.  On finding Mary was pregnant, Joseph could have insisted on her public trial and humiliation, but even though he believes that she has been unfaithful, he does not want to harm her and he starts to put plans in place to separate from her quietly and spare her the condemnation of others.  Already Joseph is showing that special strength of love and kindness that make him the perfect choice to raise a son. 

After meeting the angel in a dream, Joseph stands beside Mary throughout her pregnancy, no doubt enduring the sniggers and finger-pointing of their neighbours and after the birth of Jesus, adopted him as his own, giving him his identity as “the carpenter’s son”.  Joseph accepted his destiny to nurture and protect the son that was not his own but was entrusted to his fatherly care.

Like Joseph,
May we be quick to forgive and slow to condemn
May we be prepared to do God’s will, even when others despise us for it
And may we be ready to protect all God’s children, whoever and wherever they may be.

 In our sixth reading we meet the shepherds.
Sixth Reading:  Luke 2: 8 – 20 

Carol: It came upon a midnight clear

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

The Shepherds
In first century Palestine, shepherds did not have a good reputation.  No self-respecting Jewish parents would have wanted their daughter to marry a shepherd. They had about as much standing in the Jewish community as tax collectors.  In part this reputation was not their fault.  For their work inevitably meant that they could not keep the Jewish ceremonial law – the ritual hand-washings and other rules and regulations that were expected of devout Jews.  However, they also had a reputation for being dishonest – for stealing from other people – and for allowing their flocks to wander and graze on other people’s land.  

And yet it was to the shepherds that God sent the choir of angels.   “I am bringing you news of great joy …” said the angel.  The message must have amazed the shepherds – nobody had ever brought them good news before.  Socially and religiously they were at the bottom of the heap.  Cold shouldered by all god-fearing people, they were on nobody’s guest list.  But suddenly they discovered they had been singled out by God to be the first visitors at the manger.  

Here indeed is “Good News of Great Joy” – for the love of God in Jesus is not just for the good or the important or the religious – it is for everyone – for the sinful, for the ordinary and for the unbelieving.

And with that in mind, we are going to bring our prayers of intercession to God …
Loving God, born as a baby
We pray for children who cry and are not comforted
And for those who live without a home, without bread, without protection.  
Help us to work for a world in which all children may know love and safety.
God of Love, Hear our Prayer

Loving God, for whom there was no room at the inn
We pray for those who are denied shelter; for those uprooted by civil war and for those seeking safety in places strange to them.
Help us to work for a world in which all may find a place to call home.
God of Love, Hear our Prayer

Loving God, whose arrival was heralded by angels, and announced with words of peace, we pray for our violent and dangerous world;
We pray for those who have lost homes and family through war and those who fear for their own survival.
Help us to work for a world where differences are celebrated, not feared
God of Love, Hear our Prayer

In the silence let us bring our own prayers to God for the world.
God of Love, Hear our Prayer

Loving God,
We pray that the light of Christ might bring hope to all those living in darkness and despair. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

In our seventh reading, the baby Jesus is taken to the temple, where we meet Simeon and Anna.
Seventh Reading:  Luke 2: 21 – 40  

Simeon and Anna
At eight days old according to custom, Jesus is circumcised, as a sign that he is a member of God’s chosen people.  Mary and Joseph name him Jesus, which means “God saves” as the angel had told them.  Jesus’ reception into the community of faith is followed a few weeks later by Mary’s purification ritual, which allowed her to re-enter the worshipping life of the family. Mary and Joseph then take Jesus to the temple to present him to God. They bring an offering of two pigeons, an inexpensive sacrifice, reflecting the modest financial circumstances of the family.

It is while they are in the temple that they meet the old man Simeon.  Simeon is said to be a righteous and devout man – righteous in the way he treated other people and devout in the way he responded to God. Simeon had been kept alive by the hope, the promise, that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  When he sees Jesus in Mary’s arms, he instantly recognizes the small child as the heart of God’s saving work … “Sovereign Lord, my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Now Simeon will die in peace – knowing that the Messiah has come and God’s light and love is breaking into the world for the whole of humanity.

Also in the temple is the prophet Anna.  She was only married for seven years, before her husband died, and has been a widow for fifty or sixty years or more.  Life must have been very hard for her, as without a husband there was no one to support her financially. But despite this, Anna had not become bitter.  She did not blame God for her circumstances. Instead, in her widowhood, she has spent every day in the temple fasting and praying.  

Anna too sees the child and gives thanks to God, because she recognizes in this tiny baby, the fulfilment of God’s promises to the people of Israel. 

Here we have two elderly people, who have lived closely to God every day of their lives – who have waited and prayed for this day to come, never giving up hope, but trusting that God’s promises would come true.  What a wonderful example of faithfulness and trust in God.  What an example too, of the wisdom and spiritual maturity that come when we immerse ourselves in prayer …  here are some words by the spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill …

Nothing in all nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment, as a fish in the sea. Its surroundings give to it a beauty, quality, and power which are not its own. We take it out, and at once a poor, limp dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life. So the soul, sunk in God, living the life of prayer, is supported, filled, transformed in beauty, by a vitality and a power which are not its own.  

The souls of the saints are so powerful, because they are thus utterly immersed in the Spirit: their whole life is a prayer.  

Well, Anna and Simeon bring us to the end of the infant narratives of Luke.  Jesus is born and even as a baby his arrival has brought great joy to Mary and Joseph, good news to the shepherds, peace to the aged Simeon and hope to the prophet Anna.  

But it is only just the beginning - and the best, as we shall discover in the year ahead as we journey through Luke’s Gospel, is still yet to come …

We share in the Lord’s prayer

Carol: Joy to the world

YouTube shows adverts which may not be appropriate to the video we have selected.

The Blessing
May the joy of Mary and Joseph,
The wonder of the shepherds
The hope of Anna and Simeon
And the peace of the Christ-child
Be yours today and always.
And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all evermore.  Amen