Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Ps 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Cor 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

There is a God who steps free of the binding chains around our souls,
and calls us in a voice which also knows our name,
and always knows our pain,
who lifts our feet as though our life stands cupped in a saving hand
and cherished forever in a life-filled place.

Affirmation 1 (based on Psalm 139:1-6)
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it. Amen.

Song: Weave our lives together (Helen Wiltshire) (Tune: Glenfinlas 65.65)

Weave our lives together,
sinew, blood and bone;
shape us in completeness,
secret and yet known.

Knit our souls together, spirit, mind and heart;
weave us in the darkness;
craft our ev’ry part.

Hold us in enchantment;
nurture us in grace;
search us in our being;
carve for us a place.

Draw us to your presence,
gather us in care;
call us to your beauty;
nourish each one there.

Woven, shaped and living;
held within love’s womb;
may we spring and flourish,
grow and come to bloom.

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COCU9B.Baptism of Jesus.Epiphany 1B.7January 2018

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Old Testament – early thoughts: Howard Wallace
New Testament – early thoughts: Bill Loader

Traditionally observed January 6th, the Epiphany is the celebration of three events that are said to demonstrate the significance of Jesus – that is the divinity of Christ. “Epiphany” means “to show, make known, or reveal.”
It started in the Eastern Church in AD 361 as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added – the visit of the three Magi (which is our focus), Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River (next week’s Gospel reading), and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany, and its meaning is drawn from these occurrences.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings focus on firstly on the visit of the Magi and the theme of light or being enlightened and on the second Sunday of Epiphany we focus Jesus’ baptism. The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to publicly recognise the significance of the baby in the manger and offer their gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
All the readings for this Sunday have light bulb moments where the people of God take responsibility for either being a light to those beyond themselves or that light comes to them from those outside their community or faith. The theme of God’s expansive love is prevalent and that this love can and does stretch way beyond our human limits to include those who we might want to exclude.
(by Rev. Chris Vermeulen, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2013)

Call to Worship (Thom Shuman)
On that first day, when time began:
you gave birth to creation;
light danced through the darkness;
the waters of hope flowed free and clear.
On that first day at the Jordan, when redemption began:
you spoke of life for all your children,
as your Child stepped into the waters of forgiveness,
dancing in hope with his cousin, John.
On this first day of the week, when we begin anew:
you call us to faithfulness,
as we open our hearts to you,
your voice claiming us as your own.

A call to worship (based on Psalm 29) (Joan Stott)
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to share in revering the Holy One.
We greet you, God of holiness and mystery;
Creator of all life and wondrous beauty.
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to honour the name of Lord God.
We greet you, God of wisdom and truth;
God, the Quiet Centre of all life and hope.
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to celebrate with joy the glories of
our Great and Glorious God; whose majestic voice thunders through all of creation.
We greet you, God of radiant light and splendour, the Lord God Almighty, glorious in power; yet God’s holy voice also overflows with tenderness, peace and blessings. Amen.

The Celtic Caim (The prayer of encircling – a prayer of presence and protection)
Imagine a circle round yourself.
God is with you in the circle.
God our Father, keep faith in and doubt out.
Imagine a circle round us as a group.
God is with us in the circle.
Jesus, Son of God, keep love in and fear out.
Imagine a circle round a person for whom you are concerned today.
God is with them in the circle.
Holy Spirit of God, keep hope in and despair out.
Imagine a circle round the planet earth – in all its beauty and tragedy.
God is with us in the circle.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God, keep goodness in and evil out.
In the name of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. AMEN.
(by Rev Peter Neilson, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2015.)

Prayer of the Day (Thom Schuman)
Beloved’s Parent:
grace is the gift which flows to us from your heart;
joy is the seed planted deep within our souls,
that it might blossom into lives of service to all.
And we cry: “Glory!”
Servant of sinners:
you emerge from baptism’s water, to embrace us in your hopes;
you take our fears from us and toss them aside
as you lead us into your kingdom;
you shine the Light which brings us out of despair’s shadows.
And we cry: “Glory!”
Wind upon the water:
you move among us
sweeping aside our petty pride,
and offering us the gifts of humility and servanthood.
You whisper of your yearning for peace and reconciliation,
until it silences our angry voices and unclenches our fisted hearts.
And we cry: “Glory!”

Prayer of Praise (Genesis reading)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.
God our Creator,
We praise you for this wonderful world!
Not by chance, but by choice
You created this world
before we took a breath.
A theatre of your glory.
‘Let there be light’, you said.
A spotlight shines on the empty stage,
waiting for the scenery
the characters
the unfolding plot of creation.
Lord, as your light shines
on our creation today,
open our eyes to see
and marvel at all you have made.
We blink and marvel in the miracle of light.
God, our Creator,
We praise you for this wonderful world. AMEN.
(by Rev Peter Neilson, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2015.)

Song: John Preaches  (Tune Kingsfold #518 TiS 262, 585)
The herald of the one to come,
Came preaching inner peace;
“Turn from your sins and be baptized,
And God will give release.”
This Baptist wore a leather belt
And clothes of camel’s hair;
Wild honey, locusts were his food;
He breathed the desert air.

“The one expected”, John declares,
“Is one who is unique;
“Much greater than I am, is he:
“Compared with him I’m weak.
“Not worthy to untie his shoes”;
John takes the lowest place,
And with him we can see in Christ
The wonder of God’s grace.

When John baptized him, Jesus saw
The heavens from above
Were op’ning and then coming down
God’s spirit like a dove.
Now Jesus stands before us all,
We see a man who’s free;
We ponder on his deeds of love
Lived out so wondrously.
(c) George Stuart – can be used freely with acknowledgement

Call to Reconciliation (Thom Schuman)
You and I are now the ones who step forth out of the safe waters of baptism, to bring hope, to share a word of grace, to carry healing into the brokenness of the lives around us. Let us confess how we still struggle to follow in faith wherever Jesus leads us.
Timeless God, you cast Light into sin’s dark places and call us your Beloved.
Forgive us:
when we still linger in the shadows;
when we treat others in hurtful ways;
when we speak ill of your friends.
As he knelt in the waters of Jordan,
you proclaimed Jesus as your Child,
pointing to him as the way to you.
Forgive us:
when we put ourselves ahead of him;
when we think he is no longer needed;
when we fail to see him in the broken of our world.
Baptized and blessed in your living waters,
you would have us be your servants in our time.
Forgive us:
when we fail to welcome the stranger;
when we refuse to forgive as we should;
when we believe we are too good to kneel down
and tie the shoes of the lost, the least, the last, the little. A silence is kept

Words of Assurance
Touched by the waters of life, fed at the feast of grace and hope, embraced in the warmth of God’s love and hopes – this is good news! Blessed by baptism’s tears, called to servanthood by the Beloved, filled with the peace of the Spirit, we are indeed God’s people – redeemed, restored, refreshed to serve. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Prayer of Dedication/Offertory (Thom Schuman)
Bathed in the waters of baptism, we are graced people. Graced people, we recognize the gifts which have been poured out upon us. Recognizing these gifts, we take them and give them back to you, God of the waters, so that others might be bathed in hope, graced with joy, gifted with your peace and love. Amen.

Sending (Thom Schuman)
Go into the world as God’s beloved children.
We will go to share the gift of grace which flows from God’s heart.
Go into the world as baptized sisters and brothers of Jesus.
We will go to bring the light of hope to all in despair.
Go into the world as those filled with the Holy Spirit.
We will go to hear the whispered yearnings for peace and reconciliation.

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New Year prayers and blessings

‘You don’t think your way into a new kind of living,
you live your way into a new kind of thinking.’
(Source: Henri Nouwen, intro to Parker Palmer’s The Promise of Paradise)

The old year is worn and tired.
Time now to kiss it goodbye.
Take with you its wisdom – the authority and power of all that you have learned.
Remember the past year with love,
but let go of its despair.
Live the year that lies ahead
with fresh energy and hope.
Be strong, have courage.
It is time now for something new.
(Source: Contemplative Monk, Facebook post)

Well, we have a whole new year ahead of us.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful
if we could all be a little more gentle with each other,
and a little more loving,
have a little more empathy,
and maybe next year at this time
we’d like each other a little more.
(Source: Judy Garland quote)

New Year’s Resolution
Beginning, God created,
so beginning again
this New Year’s Day I
create, I play, I dream,
and dance with Wisdom,
hover with Spirit-Breath,
embrace with delight
this life I’ve been given,
this story to write, canvas
to paint, drama to play,
and I will play and I will see
all things as good that God
has made and I will make
a resolution to be good, to be
peace and love and hope
in a world created for hope
and love and peace and I will
begin again this New Year’s
Day, this new year, this
new day and the next day,
creating a life to delight in,
living a story to gladden
my reminiscing, singing a song
to catch you up in, in joy,
in peace, in hope, in love.
(Source: Sarah Agnew, Praying the Story)

Beannacht (a blessing for New Year)
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
(Source: John O’Donohue)

Yearning for a new way will not produce it.
Only ending the old way can do that.
You cannot hold onto the old,
all the while declaring that you want something new.
The old will defy the new;
The old will deny the new;
The old will decry the new.
There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.
(Source: Neale Donald Walsch)

Merciful and loving God, for the year that has passed with its sorrows and joys, we give you thanks; for in every moment of it, you remained faithful to us, rejoicing and struggling with us, though often we were slow to recognize you there. And with thanks for this past year, we now release it. May its treasures inspire us, but never bind us in nostalgia; and may its troubles teach us, but never hold us captive. For you who have created are still creating…making all things new, including this day. Amen.
(Source: Life in Liturgy)

Abdullah Kurdi gives a heartfelt message for the new year in this video.

“I wish you a very happy new year. Hopefully next year the war in Syria will end and peace will reign all over the world” (Abdullah Kurdi, 2016 New Year message)
(This video message could be good to download, as a catalyst for ‘prayers for others’)

My resolve is to be present in the moment and treasure the little things. Each moment together is a gift to celebrate and a memory made, each sadness is infused with joy and each joy tinged with sadness and God is present in all. Life can thrive and grow in the toughest of places, there is always hope. So laugh, cry, love, grieve and really live. Embrace the life before you with both hands.
(Source: Facebook post, Bronwyn Fraser, adapted)

A New Year’s Blessing
And so the New Year comes
and how she brings herself toward you,
outstretched and willing, beckoning. Give yourself to her.
Cast aside the year that was
down into the depths
of all that we cannot change,
but wish sometimes that we could.
It was a slap in the face year
and a pleading for change year
and a banging of heads upon a brick wall year.
It was the way the ice-cold water of politics
doused the fire of our passion.
It was the way governments upheld cruelty.
It was the way citizens would vote absurdly.
It was the way that millions seeking safety were given the cold shoulder.
And how we all feel the freezing
but many much more so
than I.
And so the New Year comes
and how she brings herself toward you,
outstretched and willing, beckoning. Give yourself to her.
She is trustworthy, as all new things are,
she is unspoilt, unstained, unbroken,
she has never once let you down,
she is waiting.
And though you will undoubtedly muddy her waters,
still, may you pour yourself out within them.
May you give yourself to the unfolding.
May you hold yourself up to the audacity of believing that things
can begin again, in you and in this world
No matter what has been.
No matter who you fear you have become.
No matter the broken or the stained or the spoilt.
No matter the draw toward safety
and the seduction of the western dream.
No matter the temptation. No matter the drug.
No matter the pull to live for yourself.
No matter. No matter.
May you find yourself,
trust the person that you meet,
give that person to a world that needs you.
Not a perfect you. Not a you with all the answers. Not a superhero. Just you.
You are becoming who they said you would never be.
Give this person the credence they deserve.
Sit with them. Listen to them. Be present.
So may all that sits unsettled and undecided within you,
may all that weighs heavy upon you,
may all that grasps and all that grabs and all that demands,
may all the loud voices and the persistence of self-doubt,
may the fear and the frozen and the fractured and too-broken,
may it all, may it all, may it all
wash from your skin
and out into the night,
to never
be able
to hold you
down again.
And so the New Year comes
and how she brings herself toward you,
outstretched and willing, beckoning. Give yourself to her.
(Source: Joel McKerrow, TEAR)

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COCU 6B.Christmas 1B.31st Dec2017

Note: COCU relates to a way of coding for the lectionary year.

Isaiah 61: 10-62:3 (the good news of deliverance)
God will show all nations God’s justice, and Zion will be saved and will blaze with God’s glory.
Psalm 148 (A call for the universe to praise God)
A psalm calling all creation and all people to praise God, for God’s greatness, and for strengthening God’s people.
Galatians 4:4-7 (No longer a slave but an heir)
At the right time God sent God’s son to become human, born of a woman, and now God has given us God’s Spirit by which we can know intimacy with God as with a parent.
Luke 2: 22-40 (Jesus is presented in the temple)
Mary and Joseph go to the temple to dedicate Jesus, and Simeon prophecies that this boy is the awaited Christ, and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. Then the widow Anna comes along and begins to praise God and tell others about the boy.

WCC prayer cycle – prayers for Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine.

First Thoughts on the Old Testament Readings of the RCL

Bill Loader’s First Thoughts on the New Testament readings here.

WCC prayers (Week 52: 21-27 December)
Let us pray with the people of Ghana, Nigeria: “O Lord, we beseech thee to deliver us from fear of the unknown future: from fear of failure, poverty, bereavement, loneliness, sickness, pain, age and death. Help us by thy grace to love and fear thee only. Fill our hearts with cheerful courage and loving trust in thee; through our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. AMEN.” (From ‘With All God’s People’, WCC Geneva)

Here’s a great story related to prayers for Nigeria (2014): More than 200 Muslim youth volunteers are part of those protecting Christians from any attack during church services to celebrate this year’s Christmas, says Pastor Yohanna Buru. According to him, the feat is the first of its kind after the series of crises that rocked the state in recent past. Buru said the essence of that was to protect the Christian worshippers as part of effort to strengthen peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the state. He noted the initiative was an indication that peace has come to stay in the state, saying the measure will strengthen a lasting peace between the two religions. He also prayed God to continue to bring about peace in the country the country, praying that other citizens would emulate the gesture. He urged Nigerians to learn to live in peace with one another irrespective of ethnic or religious differences.

We invoke you, Spirit of Unity, transform our divisions and reshape our vision.
All of creation, all living beings, cry in the midst of injustice and brokenness.
Spirit of Unity, reconcile your people.
We invoke you, Spirit of Unity, heal the wounds of our history,
remove from us all that sustains our present divisions.
Unstop our ears to hear your call for unity.
(From: ‘In God’s Hands’, WCC Geneva). See other WCC prayer resources here.

For more, click on the link……
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Note: COCU relates to a way of coding for the lectionary year.

Isaiah 52:7-10
The joy of seeing the messenger of good news, who announces peace and the reign of God, and of knowing God’s protection and care.
Psalm 98
A song of celebration of the God who comes to save God’s people, and who comes to judge the earth in righteousness and justice.
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
God has spoken to us through God’s Son, who is the likeness of God’s being, who has
been appointed as ruler over all things because of his love of goodness, and whose rule is just and eternal.
John 1:1-14
The eternal Word who created the world has come into the world as light shining in darkness and has given life – as children of God – to all who believed in him and received him.
(RCL reading summaries by John van de Laar, Sacredise)

If you came to this place expecting a tame story,
you came to the wrong place.

If you came for a story that does not threaten you,
you came for a different story than the one we tell.

If you came to hear of the coming of a God
who only showed up so that you could have a nice day
with your loved ones,
then you came for a God whom we do not worship here.

For even a regular baby is not a tame thing.
And goodness that cannot threaten complacency and evil
is not much good at all,
And a God who would choose to give up power and invincibility
to become an infant for you,
certainly didn’t do it just so you could have dinner.


If you came because you think unwed teenage mothers
are some of the strongest people in the world.

If you came because you think that the kind of people who work third
shift doing stuff you’d rather not do might attract an angel’s
attention before you, snoring comfortably in your bed, would.

If you came because you think there are wise men and women to be
found among undocumented travelers from far lands and
that they might be able to show you God.

If you came to hear a story of tyrants trembling
while heaven comes to peasants.

If you came because you believe that God loves the animals
as much as the people
and so made them the first witnesses to the saving of the world.

If you came for a story of reversals
that might end up reversing you.

If you came for a tale of adventure and bravery,
where strong and gentle people win,
and the powerful and violent go down to dust,
where the rich lose their money but find their lives
and the poor are raised up like kings.

If you came to be reminded that God loves you too much
to leave you unchanged.

If you came to follow the light
even if it blinds you.

If you came for salvation and not safety,
then, ah, my friends,
you are precisely in the right place.

So what are you here for?”

(Source: Quinn G. Caldwell, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Abingdon Press, 2014)
Artwork by Anthony VanArsdale for the National Black Catholic Congress

god today has a human face
blanket wrapping grubby grace
heaven’s child in earth’s embrace
god today has a human face

hope today has a human face
new life born in dusty shed
promise crying to be fed
hope today has a human face

peace today has a human face
war zone pierced by infant’s cry
from Baghdad to Palestine
peace today has a human face

joy today has a human face
angels pointing down our street
heaven swirling at my feet
joy today has a human face

love today has a human face
prodigals are welcome home
refugees no longer roam
love today has a human face

earth today sees heaven’s face
mystery present in this place
turning point of time and space
earth today sees heaven’s face
(Source: Craig Mitchell)

A Christmas blessing
May you find joy in perfect and imperfect harmonies. May angels witness your silence between sounds. And may you look to the heavens for a star to guide you to a home full of love and promise.
(Source: Facebook post by Moira Deslandes, 2017)

Michael Frost debunks the myths of Christmas
Keeping historically inaccurate and culturally anachronistic religious displays in shopping malls isn’t a victory for the gospel at all.
No A-Frame Stable
Jesus wasn’t born in a little stable constructed of twigs and peat moss. Most likely, he was born in the home of Joseph’s relatives in the section of the house where animals were brought in at night. Mary was probably attended to by the female members of Joseph’s extended family, strangers to her, but nurturing and experienced in the matter of childbirth. Rather than two lone parents in an isolated stable, the holy family were probably surrounded by fussing women and awkward men.
No animals and no donkey
Sure, there’s that line in Away in a Manger that goes “the cattle were lowing” but none of the gospels mention any animals. If Jesus was born in the part of the house where animals were housed at night, they would obviously have been shooed out for his birth. But more concerning for nativity lovers is the news that there’s no reference to a donkey either. Say what? No cute donkey? It has been conjectured that Mary and Joseph must made their journey to Bethlehem on a donkey because it was cheaper than traveling in a caravan, the far more common and much safer option. But the Bible is silent on how exactly they got to Bethlehem.
No Star
I know, this is hard for some of you. But the magi don’t arrive in Bethlehem until a year or two after Jesus birth, so the star doesn’t appear until they begin their strange journey from the east.
No Three Wise Kings
While we’re on the magi, they would have to be the most bizarre characters in the gospels. But who were they? Why did they come? What were they doing? They were eastern holy men, astrologers who divined the stars (although that was frowned upon by the Jews), who consorted with Herod (and later betrayed him), and who arrived in time to present the toddler Jesus with exotic gifts. But there’s no reason to believe there were only three of them. There’s nothing to suggest they were kings. Their names were not Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar. And there’s no basis for dressing them in silk robes and strange turbans.
No angel on the roof
Well, there were angels, just not at the actual birth of Christ. The gospels recount that a host of angels appeared to shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem. But there’s no mention that they schlepped into town with the terrified shepherds. So, those depictions of one or a handful of androgynous beings fluttering around the stable roof – yeah, that didn’t happen. What did happen was way more amazing. Luke’s gospel says “a multitude of the heavenly host” appeared, praising God. The Greek word for “host” is stratia which alludes to the stars in the sky. How many does that make? It’s impossible to know but it could be suggesting the night sky was filled with angels! That’s mind-boggling.
No silent white-skinned, blue-eyed baby boy
You know the line, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”? Yeah, again, unlikely. He could have screamed his lungs out like a banshee for all we know. And we can be pretty sure he wasn’t the porcelain-skinned cherub in those shopping mall nativity scenes either. All of which leads me to my original question: which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly? If it’s the eight pound, six ounce, newborn baby Jesus from Talladega Nights (“don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent”) you’re not fighting a war on Christmas. You’re championing tradition and the symbols of the ancient European nativity.
Jesus came to free us from enslavement to the things of this world. Those things include the commercialism and excess so celebrated in malls, themselves great temples to materialism. For his followers, Jesus is our king, our rescuer, our friend and our hope. Why do we so vehemently defend our right to set up shrines to him that in no way resemble the actual facts of his birth?

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Note: COCU relates to a way of coding for the lectionary year.

Isaiah 9:2-7
God offers a sign of God’s grace and protection to the King and people of Judah – in the darkness light shines, and the birth of child is the sign of new life and of God’s righteous kingdom to be established.
Psalm 96
A song of praise for God’s greatness and glory, anticipating God’s coming as righteous judge.
Titus 2:11-14
Through Christ God’s grace has appeared and God has enabled us to live lives of goodness.
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the Emperor’s census, and while there Mary gives birth to her son. Shepherds are told by angels about the birth and find the place where the holy family is to be found, telling the story of what they have been told about the child.
(RCL readings summaries by John van de Laar, Sacredise)

Christ of the cosmos, living Word,
come to heal and save.
Incognito, in our streets,
beneath the concrete,
between the cracks,
behind the curtains, within the dreams,
in ageing memories, in childhood wonder,
in secret ponds, in broken hearts,
in Bethlehem stable, still small voice,
Word of God, amongst us.
(Source: Brian Woodcock & Jan Sutch Pickard, Advent readings from Iona)

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COCU4B.Advent 4B.24th December 2017

Note: COCU relates to a way of coding for the lectionary year.

2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
God, through the prophet Nathan, declares God’s promise to David that he will establish his kingdom forever, will give him peace from his enemies, and will establish a nation for God’s people.
Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
A celebration of God’s choosing of David, and strengthening him to serve God as king.
Romans 16: 25-27
Paul celebrates the God who has fulfilled prophecy and has made known the Good News about Jesus so that Gentiles might believe.
Luke 1: 26-38
The angel Gabriel visits Mary and declares that she will give birth to God’s son. He also tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and Mary accepts her calling.
(RCL Readings summaries by John van de Laar, Sacredise)

General Advent resources here.

WCC prayer cycle – prayers for Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan.

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Holy One, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour….For God has shown strength with her* arm; she has scattered the proud in their illusions. She has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; she has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (
Luke 1.46-47, 51-53)
These are dark times.
Mary has no reason to rejoice in the present tense,
as if God has already accomplished this turnover.
The mighty are still in power, revelling in debauchery,
robbing the poor, looting instead of leading,
crushing the wanderer, destroying the temple.
The Emperor has not yet even begun to buckle.
Why does Mary sing God “has” shown strength?
Is her faith just wishful thinking? Abject delusion?
Is hope just crazy fantasy?

From the beginning God has established the power
not of death but of resurrection,
given love all the power
and hollowed out the might of the oppressors.
It’s too late already for the Emperor and his rage.
The true power in this universe
is not in the fearful hands of the mighty,
but the humble hearts of the loving.

Mary has already said Yes. Her sisters have said Yes.
The earth has turned.
A million peasant girls are out there,
ten million, a hundred million,
bearing the Divine, resisting, persisting, rising
like the dawn on the solstice.
The Emperor cannot stop this.
People of love and truth, people of humble courage,
bear the Holy Spirit into this world,
the Word made flesh, the Body of Christ, eternal,
crucified and risen, and coming again.

The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can’t overcome it.
Hope is not deluded. Hope is knowing
what the despairing Emperor cannot even imagine.
By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace
 (Luke 1.78-79)
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)
(*Steve has chosen to use the female pronoun for God. In Hebrew, gender is not used for God but in English gender pronouns are used, usually male. There is a lot written about this – here’s one article. It matters what language and images we choose to describe God. As Steve has chosen to use female pronouns for God I have left ‘she’ and ‘her’ in the reading. I usually endeavour to use as little gender specific language as possible). 

David MacGregor, Together to Celebrate, Christmas Eve


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Christmas Trees tradition and blessing

The use of the Christmas tree is relatively modern. Its origins are found in the medieval mystery plays which depicted the tree of paradise and the Christmas light or candle which symbolized Christ, the Light of the world. We see the evergreen tree as a reminder also of God’s everlasting love for us.

According to custom, the Christmas tree is set up just before Christmas and remains in place until the solemnity of Epiphany. Whether the tree is in a home or in the church we like the tradition of a tree blessing after the tree is decorated and before the tree is illuminated. Here are two suggestions:

Lord God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we illumine this tree.
May the light and cheer it gives
be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.
May all who delight in this tree
come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

God of all creation,
we thank you for this tree,
which brings beauty
and memories
and the promise of life to our home.
May Your blessings be upon all that gather
around this tree,
and who keep the Christmas festival by its lights.
We wait for the coming of Christ,
the days of everlasting justice and peace.
You are our God, living and loving,
forever and ever. Amen

(Source: Jenny Gallo, Carrot Top Studio)

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Blue Christmas


Unless we have lived through December heartbroken, it may not cross our minds how hard the lead-up to Christmas can feel for people in the midst of loss, failure, or hopelessness. Their imprisonments can look like being stuck in a dead-end job or a bad relationship; they might be crushed by grief or weighed down by depression. The unabated cultural frivolity cannot be avoided. It decorates our supermarkets, coffee shops, and shopping centres. It dominates our print, digital, and broadcast advertising. You would have to be a hermit not to hear about Christmas, and a robot not to have some sort of feelings about the season, past or present.
What a gift it is, then, to be reminded by Isaiah that the Messiah will come to walk with the widow, to comfort the lost, and to take to his knees with the oppressed. Mark this. The prophet promises release, liberty, comfort, rebuilding, binding up of the brokenhearted, and restoration of what has been lost. This is the good news.
Let’s look around, then, for who is not among us, or who is over-functioning, or who is simply too still or too quiet. Maybe we have been the ones, in some years past. Maybe some Advent future will hold that time for us. In this December present, let’s live out the good news in some small way. Let’s wonder how other people are feeling and offer them the oil of gladness, the phone call of comfort, the chai of concern. “May those who sow in tears,” says the psalmist, “reap with shouts of joy.”
(Source: Martha Spong, Christian Century)

All throughout these months,
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory,
by touch,
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you,
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you,
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.
This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away,
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.
So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
(Source: Jan Richardson, The Cure for Sorrow)
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Advent – general resources

Christmas Bowl 2017
Christmas Bowl resources, including songs, prayers and Advent Candle litanies are now available online.

Call to worship
God is here
And we are here to worship God.
In our darkness:
You are the God of Light.
In our despair:
You are the God of hope.
In our sadness:
You are the God of joy.
In our turmoil:
You are the God of peace.
In our heartache:
You are the God of love.
We worship you now:
God of everyone! Thanks be to God!
(Source: John Maynard)

Advent Prayer
God of hope,
who brought love
into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.

God of hope,
who brought peace
into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.

God of hope,
who brought joy
into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.

God of hope,
the rock we stand upon,
be the centre,
the focus of our lives always,
and particularly this Advent time.
(Source: John Birch, Faith and worship)

This world is God’s good creation; yet all is not well. We are a broken people. As the year descends into darkness and winter approaches, we feel in our bones the coldness and need of the human family. Evil abounds. Cruelty is policy. Injustice reigns. Racism, greed and sexual violence crowd the news. Hope flickers among dark shadows. We cry to God with Isaiah, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1).
But in our longing we do not just gaze at the sky. We get ourselves ready. We don’t just wish; we prepare. We trust God is at work in the midst of the mess with a transforming, life-giving power. Like Mary, we say Yes to that power unfolding within and among us. We become the change we want to see in the world. We become people of peace and gentleness, of love and courage. We become candles shining confidently in the darkness.
The Advent season is a time not just to ramp up to Christmas, but to open up to God. It’s a time to let God’s light spark in us, to let God’s Presence deepen in us. It’s a time of stillness, a time of prayer, a time of opening.
As we wait in the darkness, God’s light dawns in us, and we become people of joy. We are ready for new life. We are ready for Christ to walk into our living rooms. We are ready to bear Christ into the world. We become God’s love, enfleshed, vibrant, and powerful. Though we may fear people’s resistance, we are not the only ones who are crying, “O that you would come!” We bear love and grace and justice into a world that awaits us with hope. Welcome, Advent.
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)
Click on the link for more resources……

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