GOD AND CITY PEOPLE
Led by Rev David Neilands, College Chaplain
Preacher: The Right Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Chapel Choir, directed by Ruth McCartney
Organist: Liam Crangle
CHOIR/ORGAN: A CHRISTMAS BLESSING (Stopford)
REV DAVID NEILANDS Peace be with you from a very snowy Belfast. Welcome again to the Chapel of Unity at the heat of Methodist College - a school with over 2000 pupils from a huge variety of religious background - or of none - and a school with a long and living tradition of making music.
This College is in the busy university area of Belfast- a city which has known much violence and unrest and tension. And today , this Sunday before Christmas, we’re concluding our Advent series on God and the city, as we think about God with city people. We’re pleased to welcome as our preacher, the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian General Assembly, Dr Norman Hamilton.
The Chapel Choir began the service with a Christmas Blessing by local composer Philip Stopford and now they greet the coming of the prince of peace in Charles Wesley’s "Hark the herald Angels" sing.
CHOIR/ORGAN: "HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING"
REV DAVID NEILANDS: King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we worship you.
We bless you for all your goodness and your grace.
We praise you for creating all things and for recreating them in Jesus Christ.
For when the time had fully come, you sent your Son, born of a woman, that the world might be saved.
Christ, the light of the world, has come to dispel the darkness of human hearts. In his light, we examine ourselves and confess our sins.
You sent your eternal light into the world, but we often choose to remain in darkness.
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
You show your love for us by sending your Son into the world but often we do not love each other.
Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy
You offer us the privilege of becoming your children but often we do not recognise our receive Jesus your Son.
Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy
Lord, before you the Judge of all the earth, we seek your pardon,
not because we deserve it, but because you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The Collect for the Last Sunday in Advent:
God our redeemer, who prepared the blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son:
Grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour,
so we may be ready to greet him
when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen
CHOIR/ORGAN: SHEPHERD PIPE CAROL (Rutter)
READER: A reading from 7th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
Jerusalem was under threat of attack when Isaiah assured King Ahaz that God would defend his people and, as sign of this, a child would be born Immanuel- God with us
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah* said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel,
15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
This is the Word of the Lord
ALL: Thanks be to God
REV DAVID NEILANDS: The Virgin Mary’s Song of praise, the Magnificat, speaks of how God will revolutionise social life. This version is by Andrew Carter.
CHOIR/ORGAN: MARY’S MAGNIFICAT (Carter)
READER: A reading from the 22nd Chapter of the Book of Revelation at the 12th verse:
A promise to the persecuted churches in the cities of the Roman Empire that their faithfulness to Jesus Christ would vindicate them upon his expected imminent return.
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
This is the Word of the Lord
ALL: Thanks be to God
CHOIR/ORGAN: AWAY IN A MANGER
REV DR NORMAN HAMILTON: Christmas is not a great time to have a baby. That’s what a friend said to me the other day. He lives on the other side of this city and he and his wife are expecting their second child in just a few days but with all the other stresses, strains and expectations around Christmas, looking forward to the birth of number two is a little bit harder than it otherwise might be!
If having a baby now isn’t easy, it certainly wasn’t any easier in Bethlehem all those years ago. Mary, the Mum, had just been on a long journey, was heavily pregnant, wanted somewhere to lie down and sleep – but all the local Bed and Breakfasts were full. I’ve often wondered what she felt as it became ever more obvious that they might literally be homeless that night. They had the money to pay for the B&B, but the ‘No Vacancies’ signs were everywhere…. Surely there must be somewhere?
Anywhere… except the street… Would they have to go on to the next village? Too much to face, for things might be no different there… I know for sure that if my wife and I had ever found ourselves in any similar situation there might well have been a sense of panic. There would certainly have been fear … and tears wouldn’t have been far away….]]
As for Joseph – feeling really bad at the situation he and Mary were in – probably feeling guilty that he wasn’t looking after her properly, and anxious about her health and the health of the baby if there really was nowhere to stay.
And then there were still those niggling doubts in his mind about the origins of this baby, a conflict in the centre of his being with an angelic dream he had had telling him this baby was special…Such conflicts are the common stuff of life, in city and country across the world. The question of trust goes to the core of how we live out all our human relationships.
Yet how easy it is to overlook the fact that here were two very ordinary people who were well in touch with the God of heaven himself. Matthew describes Joseph as a ‘righteous man’ – or to put it another way – a ‘good’ man in God’s eyes, and Mary had sung a magnificent song of praise to God when she first learned that she was to be the mother of Jesus… to quote from that song in Luke’s gospel – From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name!
And now, on that cold night in Bethlehem, their faith was being put to the test on that narrow street as they faced some very practical and immediate issues…. More great things were needed from the Mighty One right then, right there … bed certainly / breakfast possibly / birth facilities imminently.
And the Mighty One – God himself – saw their need, understood their fears, heard their prayers, and provided for them in a most unexpected way.
After the birth as the visitors came and went, we read that Mary took the time to ponder deeply on all that had happened.
The streets of Bethlehem were crowded then and Mary Joseph and Jesus were very much on the margins of the buzz, as far as most people were concerned -sleeping each night in a cow shed. The streets of our cities and towns will be crowded this afternoon as millions come in to worship in retail temples. There will be buzz and there will be welcoming lights. There will be entertainment and special offers galore. There will be lots of fun.
Yet those same streets will also be hostile and lonely places. Many will be intensely lonely as they join in the last minute rush for presents , for they already know what it means to be rejected or to live life alone. Many will be fearful as they spend money they do not have, or worry about what the coming year might bring. Many others will not be on the city streets at all, for there really is no money to spend. And for some, those streets will be their home this very night. For even if the B and Bs are not full, they will not be welcome, for there is no money to pay the hotelier or even the owner of the hostel.
Cities are often places of dire need, and we can see the tip of that iceberg in the appeals by so many wonderful charities to help them in their work supporting children, older people and families this Christmas.
It is no accident that three times in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, a clear, profound message comes from heaven itself – Do not be afraid. For one of the other names given to Jesus, as we heard in our first reading, was Immanuel – which means ‘God is with us’. Throughout the whole hard saga Mary rejoiced in God her saviour. She quite literally held God in her hands, but that did not mean that her life was easy – indeed quite the reverse, for there were plenty more trials and dangers ahead for her and the family.
For the millions in our cities this afternoon, as well as in our towns and villages, and you may well be among them, what a difference it would make to be able to look forward to Christmas, and celebrate it knowing that God is with you. You will not be able to cradle Jesus in your arms but God’s gift is his invitation not to give way to fear, but to trust him for the next step for his promise is to be with you.
It is deeply ironic that the Bible doesn’t mention any people from Bethlehem who had any idea of what was happening right in front of their noses. God didn’t force his presence or his actions on anyone there. Even the shepherds and the wise men had to make decisions, a response to what they saw and learned.
And it is just the same today. Millions in our cities will celebrate they know not what – for God still doesn’t force his way in. Mary was certainly on the margins but she had the wisdom to ponder what God was doing in her, for her and through her. That alone made her part of a very particular minority. That’s the minority I’m blessed to be part of too, and why it is a privilege this morning to invite you to join that minority who know what it means to have Jesus with us – whether we live in the city, the town or the country. Christmas may not be a great time to have a baby but it certainly is a great time to get to know THE baby!
CHOIR/ORGAN: IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER (Stopford)
REV DAVID NEILANDS: Let us pray.
Father we offer you thanks and praise.
All your actions show wisdom and love
Through your word you spoke creation into existence and made us in your image and likeness. When we disobeyed and drew away from you,
You did not leave us in darkness
But sent your Son, the Word made flesh,
To be the light of the world.
To bring hope in our fears, calm in our confusion
Rest in our restlessness and forgiveness for our sins.
Emptying himself of all but love
He was born of Mary,
Shared our human nature and died on the cross.
Yet you raised him from death to life
And sent your holy and live giving spirit
To make us your people, a people of light
To reflect your glory in all the earth.
Reader1: Father, Jesus was born as a human child.
Reader 2: Renew your Church as the Body of Christ
R1:Father, Jesus was born in the city of David
R2:Bless all who live in cities and those responsible for their governance
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer
R1: Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn.
R2: Protect with your love those who have no home to call their own
R1: Jesus was born to a poor peasant family.
R2: Bless the poor of this world and help those of us who have much to be ready to share with those who have so little.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer
R1: When Jesus was born the angels sang “Peace to God’s people on earth.
R2: Strengthen all who work for peace and justice throughout your world.
R1: Jesus was born as light shining in darkness
R2: Bring comfort and hope to all who suffer in this world
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
R1: Jesus was born and Christians all over the world celebrate that birth
R2: Open our hearts that he may be born in us today
REV DAVID NEILANDS: When Jesus was born, shepherds and wise men came to worship. Lord, receive the worship we offer in fellowship with the whole church on earth and in heaven.
ALL: Accept our prayers
For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN
ALL: Our Father who art in heaven, hallow'd 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 who 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.
CHOIR (7) O LITTLE ONE SWEET (arr JS Bach)
REV DAVID NEILANDS: May he who by his incarnation Gathered into one things earthly and heavenly,
Fill your lives with is light and joy and peace
And the blessing of God,
The Father, the Son and the holy Spirit,
Remain with you always.
CHOIR/ORGAN: (8) TOMORROW SHALL BE MY DANCING DAY (Gardner)