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Virtual worship - 19 December 2021

Advent 4: Thinking about BLESSING

Hymn:

STF 187 The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came

Introduction

Christmas is only days away now. How will you welcome Jesus into your home this year? After last year’s loss and longing, will the blessings of this year’s Christmas celebrations have any extra special meaning for you? Today’s worship is focussed on signs of greeting and blessing.

Call to worship

Come, greet one another in the name of the Lord.
Come, bring all you have and be blessed.
Come, and worship the God of the great and the lowly,
and share your hopes and fears.
Come, young and old – for God is calling you.

Collect for today

As we light this Advent candle,
may its flame be for us a sign of blessing.
As Mary and Elizabeth greeted each other,
and Mary praised God for the blessings received,
may we know God’s blessing in our lives and community,
as we offer prayers and praises in Jesus’ name. Amen

Hymn:

STF166 Christmas Is Coming The Church Is Glad To Sing


How do you greet people – not just the words you might say, but your actions as well? Do you greet everyone the same, or does it vary according to who it is or where you are – if so, how? What happens when a hugger and a non-hugger greet each other?

Finally, have you ever sung your greeting to someone, or used poetry? We are about to hear the story of someone who did! Use all your knowledge and experience of different kinds of greetings to imagine how this scene played itself out. For example, when it gets to the bit where ‘the child in her womb leapt for joy’, how do you think Elizabeth would have reacted? And then Mary started to sing! (We shall come to what she sang in a few moments.)

Gospel Reading:

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Reflection: What do we mean when we talk about blessing?

The word ‘bless’ is used in many situations: ‘Ah bless’ we might say when a toddler covers themself in spaghetti sauce while exploring the world of solid food and spoons; ‘Bless you’ said sincerely to the nurse taking a blood sample may bring a smile to a weary face and calm down the anxious patient; ‘Bless you’ may also be our automatic instinctive response to a sneeze; ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ said by a grieving family over the body of an elderly parent who has just died in hospital is almost certainly a heartfelt prayer. From the playful to the profound, words of blessing convey deep meaning and carry particular power. Where, when and how should we bless others? What are sources of blessing to us? And what do we mean when we use the word ‘bless’ or ‘blessing’?

Some find blessing through music and song. In 2020, a song sung by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes, based on those words – The Lord bless you and keep you – went ‘viral’, as they say. Millions of people all round the world have heard and responded to it, with different countries and even towns putting their own version together. What a wonderful way to share God’s blessing – send someone a song.

So, when we bless someone, what is it that we are doing? One way of putting it might be that when we bless someone in the name of Jesus, we are saying that we want the best that God has for them, and that we want them to know God in a new and more vibrant way. Do you want your neighbours to be blessed by God? Do you want your neighbourhood to be blessed by God? Then why not do it? Pray God’s blessing over your friends and neighbours, and over your village/town/city. Pray The Lord bless and keep you… but not just over them. Pray God’s blessing over people who are struggling, people who are suffering, people in any kind of need.

It is a human interaction to bless people, but it is also a divine one. God is the sources of all blessing, whether we do it through song, through words and prayers, or through gestures such as hugging – doesn’t hugging mean so much more to us now, after over a year of it not being allowed! And, remember, God’s blessing is not restricted only to those we think deserve it. God even blesses you and me!

Hymn:

STF 104 God Moves In A Mysterious Way


The meeting between Elizabeth and Mary is a regular part of our Advent worship, although it sometimes gets squashed out by Nativities, Christingles, or Carol Services. As if Mary doesn’t have enough to think about, she finds Elizabeth’s greeting yet another cause for wonder and surprise. ‘The child leapt in my womb!’ Surely, this child will be important. He will change lives, he will change the world, and the world most definitely needs changing!

Gospel Reading:

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary sang, ‘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.

Reflection

Most of us will pray the Lord’s Prayer every day or every week. The phrase, ‘Your kingdom come, on earth as in heaven,’ sums up the human hope that God will change the world. The phrases which follow ‘Give us bread’ and ‘forgive each other’s debts’ have their roots in the injustices and grinding poverty of society in and around Jesus’s day. Jewish hope for a levelling of society goes right back to Moses’ day when the Israelites gained freedom from slavery in Egypt. This is what Mary sings about in her song. The baby she carries will bring about the changes everyone hopes for. The privileged and mighty will be brought low, and the poorest and the least will be raised up. The hymn writer Frank Kaan catches a contemporary vision echoing the strains of Mary’s song. It is poignant because the world has not changed, yet we still long for that change. It is a Christian duty to hold onto that vision, and to enter into the work of Jesus today, working for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is central to the Christmas message – peace on earth to all people is meant to be real, not just a sentiment. Isn’t that what is meant by Blessing?

1. Sing we a song of high revolt;
Make great the Lord, his name exalt:
Sing we the song that Mary sang
Of God at war with human wrong.
Sing we of him who deeply cares
And still with us our burden bears;
He, who with strength the proud disowns,
Brings down the mighty from their thrones.

2. By him the poor are lifted up:
He satisfies with bread and cup
The hungry folk of many lands;
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
With him for what is just and right
To sing and live Magnificat
In crowded street and council flat

Fred Kaan (1929 - ) based on Luke 1.

This Autumn the image below was shared with members of our District Synod. It captures in a very visual way the vision and hope which Mary sings about, which John the Baptist preaches about, and Jesus himself declares to be God’s purpose for his ministry.

[The difference between the terms equality, equity, and liberation, illustrated; © Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire]

Hymn 4: 

STF 170 Darkness Like A Shroud Covers The Earth

Prayers:

Lord Jesus, born for us in a borrowed stable, a long way from your home,

we pray for: those a long way from their homes… those with nowhere to lay their heads… those with nothing to keep them warm… those with no one to care for them… those with no one to share Christmas with… those with no rejoicing to do… Amen.

Lords Prayer

Hymn:

STF 346 Christ Is The World’s Light, He And None Other

Blessing:

Now may the love of truth guide you, the warmth of love hold you and the spirit of peace bless you, this Christmas time and in the days to come. Amen

Written and prepared by Deacon Merry Evans using material from ROOTS and NRSV Bible.

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