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The Coming of Christ as a Child

The coming of Christ as a Child - Singing Mary's song today...
The Advent season continues with a service live from St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. The news of the coming of Christ as a child caused Mary to sing a prophetic song of justice. But how can we sing Mary's Song today? Readings: Isaiah 7.10-16, Luke 1: 46-55
Preacher: The Revd Dr Sam Wells. With the Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields, directed by Andrew Earis.
Producer: Clair Jaquiss.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 22 Dec 2013 08:10

St Martin-in-the-Fields 22/12/13

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Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

R4 Con

BBC Radio 4. “Singing Mary’s song today” is the theme of Sunday Worship for this, the fourth Sunday of Advent. It comes live from St Martin in the Fields and invites the world to contemplate the coming of Christ as a child. The service is led by Associate Vicar, the Revd Katherine Hedderly and begins with Graham Ellis’s setting of a 15th century text – ‘There is no rose.’





There is no rose,  Graham Ellis




Introduction and Prayer of Preparation


Good morning and welcome to St Martin-in-the-Fields.  Today we’re preparing for Christmas.  We’re reflecting on the way God takes away our masks of wealth and poverty, and how when those masks are taken away we see God’s face.  We’re recalling conversations that turn our notion of poverty and wealth upside down, and practising to enter those conversations ourselves in the next few days.   Our readings and prayers are led by staff and volunteers from the Radio 4 St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal and from our outreach ministry to those who aren’t in a position to access support from the welfare system.


Let us pray.


God of the humble and the proud, in Christ you make all things new.

Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,

and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, born in poverty yet reigning in glory.







announcement of hymn








O little town of Bethlehem (1,3,4)

1 O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

3. How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4. O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord, Emmanuel.




A reading from the prophet Isaiah, who looks forward to the angels’ message of hope:  God with us.


Catherine Murray

Reading – Isaiah 7.10-14



Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.’ Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 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.’


[This is the word of the Lord

Thanks be to God]






What child is this?  (Thomas Hewitt Jones)




Mary wasn’t the only one wondering what child this was to be. Here in a reading from the gospel of Luke, Mary speaks of the how, in this child, God will turn the world upside down.


Tim Bissett

Reading – Luke 1. 47-55 


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 forever.


[This is the word of the Lord

Thanks be to God]




What was the best news in the world didn’t seem like good news when Mary and Joseph first heard it. We’re now going to eavesdrop on a three-way conversation between Gabriel, Mary, and Joseph in the town of Nazareth two thousand years ago.







Chorus:           Purity and humility.

                        A story that turned the world upside-down.


                        Gabriel speaks to Mary.


Gabriel:           Mary, you’re rich.

Mary:              Oh, but I’m poor.

Gabriel            :           You’re richer than any woman. You’re carrying the joy of the world.

Mary:              How can a poor person like me carry riches?

Gabriel            :           New life is growing inside you. You’ll bring forth the glory of God.

Mary:              Then I truly am rich.

Gabriel            :           You’ll become poor in the eyes of the world.

Mary:              I’ll be poor in the eyes of the world.

Gabriel            :           God’s riches shine through your poverty.

Mary:              My life has been turned upside down.

Gabriel:           Your life will turn the world upside down.


Chorus:           Dust and woodchips.

                        A shocking announcement.

                        Still Nazareth.

                        Gabriel speaks to Joseph.


Gabriel:           Joseph, poor Joseph.

Joseph:           I’m not poor, I’m rich: I’m to have Mary as my wife.

Gabriel            :           Mary’s with child, Joseph.

Joseph:           It cannot be! I’m ruined.  Betrayed.  Bereft.

Gabriel:           Joseph; rich Joseph.

Joseph:           How can I be rich; I’m humiliated?

Gabriel            :           The child’s father is the Holy Spirit; your wife is God’s chosen servant.

Joseph:           I’m the poorest of the poor in the eyes of the word.

Gabriel            :           And the richest of the rich in the eyes of God.




Chorus:           Mary, poor Mary.

                        Joseph, poor Joseph.

                        A difficult conversation begins.


Mary:              Joseph, you’re a laughing stock.

Joseph:           Mary, you’re a fallen angel.

Mary:              God the mighty has come down from the heavenly throne.

Joseph:           And has lifted us, the lowly, and filled us with good things.

Mary:              God’s made our poverty the place of glory.

Joseph:           And given us riches beyond our dreams.





Cloth for the cradle, cradle for the child,

The child for our every joy and sorrow;

Find him a shawl that’s woven by   us all

To welcome the Lord of each tomorrow.


Darkness and light and all that’s known by sight,

Silence and echo fading,

Weave into one a welcome for the Son,

Set earth its own maker serenading.

            Cloth for the cradle......


Claimant and queen, wage earners in between,

Trader and travelling preacher,

Weave into one a welcome for the Son,

Whose word brings new life to every creature.

            Cloth for the cradle......


Hungry and poor, the sick and the unsure,

Wealthy, whose needs are stranger,

Weave into one a welcome for the Son,

Leave excess and want beneath the manger.

            Cloth for the cradle......


Wrinkled or fair, carefree or full of care,

Searchers of all the ages,

Weave into one a welcome for the Son,

The Saviour of shepherds and of sages.

            Cloth for the cradle......




Cloth for the cradle, a carol from the Iona Community.

Our preacher is the Vicar of St Martin’s, Sam Wells.







How does Mary’s song come alive today? I want to invite you to have a conversation with someone over the next few days – maybe with someone you know and love; better still with someone from a different place in society to yourself. Here are the four parts of the conversation I’d like to encourage you to have.


Tell me about the ways in which you’re rich.

Tell me about the ways in which you’re poor.

Let me tell you about the ways in which I’m poor.

Let me tell you about the ways in which I’m rich.

That’s it. So maybe the conversation might go something like this.  You’d say, ‘Tell me about the ways in which you are rich.’ And your friend might say, ‘I appreciate the way you see me for what I am and not just for what I’m not. My childhood was difficult, but I feel rich in the number and variety of people my parents brought into my life. My education wasn’t very successful on paper, but I feel rich in the way I learned to read people and look into their hearts. I’ve never had much money, but I have a wealth of friends and there’s always been someone who’s stepped out of the shadows to help me when I couldn’t manage everything myself.’

And then maybe you’d say, ‘Tell me about how the ways in which you are poor.’ And your friend might say, ‘You’re probably expecting me to talk about how I can’t pay the rent and can’t find a job. But the real way I feel poor is when I see a person who’s a lot worse off than me and I feel powerless to help them. The real times I feel poor are when I think of my daughter who died when she was just two and I was just 19 and I miss her with more sadness than I have in my whole heart.’

And then maybe you’d say, ‘May I tell you about the ways in which I am poor?’ And your friend might say, ‘Please do. I’d never thought of you, or someone like you, as poor.’ And you might say, ‘I felt like my parents really just wanted boys. All my life I’ve struggled with envy. I’ve always hated my brother, even though anyone would think we were the best of friends, and I’ve never been able to trust that the love I’ve had wasn’t just about to be snatched away from me. I wonder if I’ve ever trusted anyone enough to show them who I really am.

‘But I’m also rich. I can listen, or read, or even be silent and pray, for hours. And I can paint anything and make it laugh and dance and spring to life. I find it hard to talk to and trust people, but I share my heart through my paintbrush.’

When the two of you have shared your wealth and your poverty with one another in this way, you may want to leave it there. But you may choose to go a little further.

Your friend may say to you, ‘You’ve told me about how you’re rich. Let me tell you about how you’re rich. You’re rich because you don’t have to spend every waking moment of your day earning money so you’ve got time to do beautiful things and walk with people who’re in trouble. And let me tell you how you’re poor. You’re poor because you’ve never found a way to love your brother. You’re poor because you don’t have enough people like me around you to tell you the truth about yourself.’

And then, ever so tentatively, you may find the courage to say to your friend, ‘You’ve told me about how you’re rich. Let me tell you about how you’re rich. You’re rich because every child you ever meet loves you. You’re rich because you’ve already been through the worst that life can bring so you live without fear. But you’re also poor. You’re poor because you’re deeply hungry to do something really useful to others but you can’t find a way to do it.’

Poverty is a mask we put on a person to cover up their real wealth. And wealth is a disguise we put on a person to hide their profound poverty. Those we call the rich are the ones in whom we choose to see the wealth but are more reluctant to see the deep poverty. Those we call the poor are the ones in whom we choose to see the hunger but are slower to see the profound riches.

‘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.’ God takes that in each of us that is rich, and sees through it to our poverty. And God takes our poverty, and sees past it to our deeper riches.

And every day we come before God and enact these words. We think of our neighbour and our world, and we think about the ways they are rich. And we call that praise. We think of our neighbour in their poverty, and we call that intercession. We think of ourselves in our poverty, and we call that confession. We think of ourselves in our riches, and we call that thanksgiving. These are the four parts of prayer. Praise, intercession, confession, thanksgiving. The riches of the world, the poverty of the world, the poverty of ourselves, the riches of ourselves.

Have that conversation with someone this week. Make it the transforming moment of your Christmas. Make it the time you remember that Christ the mighty left his wealth and took on your poverty that the Holy Spirit might make you wealthy in the way God is wealthy. Make it the time you discover another’s poverty and another’s wealth, and redefine your own wealth and your own poverty. Have that sacred conversation with another person this week.

But have that conversation with God every day. For that’s what prayer is. Prayer is when we see God’s wealth and God’s poverty, and bring to God our poverty and our wealth, and our neighbour’s too. That’s how you can turn a courageous intimate conversation into a daily act of renewal.




introduces hymn








1. Longing for light, we wait in darkness.

 Longing for truth, we turn to you.

 Make us your own, your holy people,

 light for the world to see.



 Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts.

 Shine through the darkness.

 Christ, be our light!

 Shine in your church gathered today.


2. Longing for peace, our world is troubled.

 Longing for hope, many despair.

 Your word alone has pow’r to save us.

 Make us your living voice.


3. Longing for food, many are hungry.

 Longing for water, many still thirst.

 Make us your bread, broken for others,

 shared until all are fed.


4. Longing for shelter, many are homeless.

 Longing for warmth, many are cold.

 Make us your building, sheltering others,

 walls made of living stone.




Kamil first came to St Martin’s as a client of the day centre known as The Connection. Now he volunteers in our Sunday afternoon ministry with those aren’t in a position to access support from the welfare system. Here he speaks about the ways he’s poor and the ways he’s rich.




The way I am poor

I am poor when I am lonely. I remember when I had lost everything and I had  nothing at all, no friends, no social-network, no belongings. I lost my job, and then I became homeless- alone and in a very dark place. I felt completely unwanted, and unvalued. I felt I had nothing to hope for and no reason to carry on. I roamed the streets of London walking miles and miles. I was overwhelmed by sadness. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for anything from anyone. I was too ashamed. I only kept silent. I felt I had no energy to do anything. Although I am in the middle of a city of nine million people I felt utterly alone. My greatest poverty was my loneliness.


The way I am rich

God knocks on your door and you don’t listen. But one day you have to listen. A new door opened in my life, God starts his work. A door to start a new journey. When I was homeless I began to listen, began to feel. People told me about the Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields. I did not know that a place like this existed. In this time of homelessness I began to learn about giving. I believe that I too am on earth to give and not just to take. When I receive the help and care of some people it opened my eyes to how wonderful it is to practice what I myself have received - to become part of the giving community. Now I am a volunteer at St Martin’s I feel such satisfaction. In my previous situation there are 9 million people and no one notices you are there. When I am able to contribute, whatever gift I have I will do it. The love of people has brought me back to a new way of living. I have learnt to communicate again. It when I was in desperate need that I faced God and start to feel his love. A love that was hidden from me before. It is in the darkness that you learn to see God’s face.






Streetwalker’s Carol, Sasha Johnson Manning




Philippa Smethurst




The Streetwalker’s Carol was composed by Sasha Johnson Manning with words by                                                                              .

Our intercessions seek to build on the wisdom of the streets.


Abundant God, you show us the ways you are rich. Open the eyes of your children to the riches in those who are often called poor. Plant your seed of creativity, of understanding, and of friendship and open doors of companionship between any who find themselves separated by social divides. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.


Humble God, you show us the ways you are poor. Open the hearts of your children to your longing for us, your grief over ecological destruction and global inequality. Send your Holy Spirit on all your children whose lives are broken, souls bereft, or trust eroded, and infuse our fear with your joy. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.


Loving God, you know the ways we are poor. You see our sin, our suffering, our terror of death. Visit any of your children whose lives are fragile today, through physical sickness, mental ill-health, hunger, loneliness, or oppression. Exalt the meek and lift up the lowly. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.


Cherishing God, you know the ways we are rich. You see our hope, our life, our love. Turn our thankfulness into service, our plenty into a shared pursuit of your justice, and our privilege into a deeper quest for the community of your kingdom. And meet us in your tiny, infant presence this Christmas.


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed 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 them that 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. Amen.


Our final hymn speaks of the fragility of what God discloses through a tiny baby, who flickers ‘Like a candle flame.’




Like a candle flame

Flickering small in our darkness

Uncreated light

Shines through infant eyes


God is with us, alleluia (Men)

God is with us, alleluia (Women)

Come to save us, alleluia (Men)

Come to save us (Women)

Alleluia! (All)


Stars and angels sing

Yet the earth sleeps in shadows

Can this tiny spark

Set a world on fire?


Yet his light shall shine

From our lives, Spirit blazing

As we touch the flame

Of his holy fire






God has unmasked the veil of poverty and riches and made one people in the body of Christ. And the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you now and always. Amen.



Nick Wearne




R4 Con



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