A Shorter Communion Service for Christmas Midnight

HYMN - Once in royal David’s city  BCS 4 - Irby

1 Once in royal David's city

Stood a lowly cattle shed,

Where a mother laid her baby

In a manger for his bed:

Mary was that Mother mild,

Jesus Christ her little Child.

2 He came down to earth from heaven

Who is God and Lord of all,

And his shelter was a stable,

And his cradle was a stall:

With the poor and mean and lowly,

Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

3 And through all his wondrous childhood

Day by day like us he grew,

He was little, weak, and helpless,

Tears and smiles like us he knew:

And he feeleth for our sadness,

And he shareth in our gladness.

5 Not in that poor lowly stable,

With the oxen standing by,

We shall we see him: but in heaven,

Set at God's right hand on high,

Where like stars his children crowned,

All in white shall wait around.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.

Lord of grace and truth, we confess our unworthiness

to stand in your presence as your children.

We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The Virgin Mary accepted your call to be the mother of Jesus.

Forgive our disobedience to your will.

We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

Your Son our Saviour was born in poverty in a manger.

Forgive our greed and rejection of your ways.

We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The shepherds left their flocks to go to Bethlehem.

Forgive our self-interest and lack of vision.

We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The wise men followed the star to find Jesus the King.

Forgive our reluctance to seek you.

We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

May the God of love and power

forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by his Spirit

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

Eternal God,

who made this most holy night

to shine with the brightness of your one true light:

bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth,

to see the radiance of your heavenly glory;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen


FIRST READING - Isaiah 52.7-10.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

HYMN - Silent Night BCS 15 

1. Silent night, holy night,

all is calm, all is bright

round yon virgin

mother and child.

Holy infant, so tender and mild,

sleep in heavenly peace,

sleep in heavenly peace.

2. Silent night, holy night,

shepherds quake at the sight;

glories stream from heaven afar,

heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ the Saviour is born,

Christ the Saviour is born!

3. Silent night, holy night,

Son of God, love's pure light;

radiant beams from thy holy face

with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

GOSPEL - John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

SERMON

“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them…”

We are often told that we are highly sophisticated in our beliefs and understanding of the world and that we do not need the props and explanations that religion gave to our ancestors – we have simply outgrown all that. Science as explained so much that religion is unnecessary and faith simply impossible to the rational mind. Why is it, I ask myself, that it is on this day, indeed at this ridiculous hour that churches throughout the whole of what used to be known as Christendom have double the normal Sunday congregation? 

Is it the hour – should all services be at 11.30 at night? Perhaps not. Is it because there is something wonderful about peering at a hymnbook in candlelight? Maybe, but I doubt it. Is it because the Christmas story is the best-attested, most historically believable part of the Christian message? I am afraid not. Is it out of a nostalgic celebration of a past, which like romanticise we like to celebrate but never wish to return to on a regular basis? Maybe, but would nostalgia drive be out into the cold at this hour? Surely not of itself. 

Why are we here? The question is a serious one, not a rhetorical flourish. What is it that has brought us here? What is more true tonight than at any other time in the year? What do we find in this moment in this place that is absent at all other times? I don’t ask these questions because I want this sort of congregation every Sunday (though of course I do), but because I really do want to know. Why does the least believable, most fantastical of all Christian festivals, bring people into church. Only two of the gospel writers thought it necessary to include an account of Jesus’ birth, and the two that do tell very different stories – at least in the detail.

Is it just sentiment, all that sloppy baby stuff? I’ve had three and it wasn’t an experience I will ever be sentimental about  - it was dammed hard work, with sleep deprivation and a permanent state of worry thrown in. Is it because of its fairy tale like quality? Surely not, being born in an animal feeding trough with all the attendant smells and lack of hygiene, with a lots of equally smelly shepherds in attendance is not my idea of a fairy tale, more rags to rags than rags to riches, via a handsome prince – the only prince about was a murdering megalomaniac who slaughtered numbers of babies and children.

So why are we here? No, why are you here? I would be here (even if I wasn’t paid to be here) because on this night we celebrate a moment that changed the world – or to be more precise, a moment that had the potential to change me – to make me different from the person I might otherwise have been. Not necessarily any better or worse, not holier or baser, but different, with a different view of the world – a different way of viewing the world – and my life in it.

There are many more logical milestones in the Christian year, less arbitrary in their timing and less fantastical in their telling. But this night celebrates the whole of it. This night we place as the moment of incarnation, because we have to – we have to locate it and honour it and we have chosen tonight, on the night of what used to be the winter solstice. When light takes the upper hand and the encroaching darkness finally recedes.

The very idea of the incarnation is as incredible as anything spoken of in the world – it just totally unbelievable. As a concept, as an idea, its mind boggling, it must turn people off Christianity as a faith in their droves. It certainly drove a permanent wedge between Christianity and Judaism and remains utterly incomprehensible to Moslems and Buddhists. So why do we persist in it? Because of the experience of believing it.

Without the incarnation – literally the enfleshment of God – any understanding of God must inevitably make him seem remote and distant, far above it all, watching with varying degrees of anger and amusement the mess we make of the life he has given us. This view of God finds his service in unbending law and regulation, words once given to the chosen few. This view of God so often hears the thunder and feels the terror, but so often fails to perceive the love and compassion.

In a God made incarnate – a God found expressed in human flesh and blood, in Jesus – we find a God who cares that people are sick, who is disgusted by poverty and injustice, who will suffer pain, humiliation and even death to bring hope and life and, most of all – himself – to all mankind.

I am here tonight because the nature of the God I believe in is perfectly expressed in this moment of incarnation – and in the stories told of it. The birth in the most hopeless of places, a mother unmarried and highly vulnerable, in a family with no influence or wealth: and the people called to witness it, the poorest of men, humble Shepherds. Into all the ordinariness of simple human life, breaks the glory of God – and the presence of God.

This is God engaging with our humanity. Now when we look at God we do not see only the terror and dread, the fear and awe, but Jesus taking his throne on a mother’s lap. The distance between us and God is torn down and he becomes as close as bread and wine; and the barrier between us, all of our own imagining.

That is why everything is different because of this night – why I will celebrate this night – because everyday is new with hope and possibility, forgiveness and new beginnings. Because this is who our God is – the God who meets us where we are in order to bring us to where he is. Come to think of it… that’s worth celebrating every week!

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Sheila Forbes

God our father, the stones of our churches have been here through plagues, civil war and two world wars. They have stood as a symbol of faith and trust in God throughout time; a God whose love is made manifest this morning in the gift of the child. This birth promises peace as the world has yet to know and a kingdom based on justice and love. May we now take this into our hearts, make our way to the stable and be joyful! 

Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer.

God of healing, as the virus spreads, we feel, at times, as if we are sailing into dark, unfathomable waters. We pray for our leaders making decisions for us: endue them with foresight, with courage and with the confidence to act for the common good. Alongside them, we pray for the scientists to whom we turn for answers and the doctors and nurses providing medical care whom we rely upon to restore us to health. The virus is no respecter of holidays: refresh, renew and guide all those working to protect and keep us safe. 

Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer.

God our Mother, stretching from Scotland to Jersey, we have family whom we can neither visit nor invite into our homes. We know of people who are anxious and of parents struggling with the demands of Covid on family life. Thousands are unwell and many are spending today in hospital. We bring them all to you and ask that as a loving mother you hold them in your arms, bringing the comfort and reassurance so needed.

Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer.

God our comforter, Christmas brings back memories of times past; console those who carry grief within them. Steer them towards the images of the richness and blessings we received from those we still love - but who now dwell with you.

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

THE PEACE

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace 

The peace of the Lord be always with you

and also with you

HYMN - It came upon the midnight clear BCS 25 - Noel

1 It came upon the midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth

To touch their harps of gold:

'Peace on the earth, good-will to men,

From heaven's all-gracious King!'

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

2 Still through the cloven skies they come,

With peaceful wings unfurled;

And still their heav'nly music floats

O'er all the weary world;

Above its sad and lowly plains

They bend on hovering wing;

And ever o'er it Babel sounds

The blessèd angels sing.

3 Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not

The love-song which they bring:

O hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing!

4 For, lo! the days are hastening on,

By prophet bards foretold,

When, with the ever-circling years,

Comes round the age of gold;

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendours fling,

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.

The Preparation of the Table

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,

the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;

for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.

All things come from you, 

and of your own do we give you.

Eucharistic Prayer H 

The Lord is here.

His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;

in your love you made us for yourself.

When we turned away

you did not reject us,

but came to meet us in your Son.

You embraced us as your children

and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

In Christ you shared our life

that we might live in him and he in us.

He opened his arms of love upon the cross

and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

On the night he was betrayed,

at supper with his friends

he took bread, and gave you thanks;

he broke it and gave it to them, saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;

do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:

his body is the bread of life.

At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,

he gave you thanks, and said:

Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,

which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;

do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:

his blood is shed for all.

As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,

send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine

may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son.

As we eat and drink these holy gifts

make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

With your whole Church throughout the world

we offer you this sacrifice of praise

and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 

your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.

Though we are many, we are one body, 

because we all share in one bread.

Jesus, lamb of God: have mercy on us.

Jesus, bearer of our sins: have mercy on us

Jesus, redeemer of the world: grant us your peace.

As Mary’s body was given for Jesus,

so Jesus’ body is given for us.

Here the Word made flesh

comes to us,

cradled in bread and wine.

[Please come to the table to receive the bread, respecting the necessary distance.]

Post Communion PRAYER

God our Father,

in this night you have made known to us again

the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

confirm our faith and fix our eyes on him

until the day dawns

and Christ the Morning Star rises in our hearts.

To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen

BLESSING
May the eagerness of the shepherds,

the joy of the angels,

the perseverance of the wise men,

the obedience of Joseph and Mary,

and the peace of the Christ-child

be yours this Christmas,

and the blessing of God Almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be upon you and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN - O come all ye faithful BCS 13 - Adeste Fidelis

1 O come, all ye faithful,

Joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;

Come and behold him

Born the King of Angels:

Refrain:

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

2 God of God,

Light of Light,

Lo! he abhors not the Virgin's womb;

Very God,

Begotten, not created: [Refrain]

6 Sing, choirs of Angels,

Sing in exultation,

Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above;

Glory to God

In the Highest: [Refrain]

7 Yea, Lord, we greet thee,

Born this happy morning,

Jesu, to thee be glory given;

Word of the Father,

Now in flesh appearing: [Refrain]

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ. Amen