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Hear the Song

'Hear the Song' is the theme for a service for the third Sunday in Advent from the Chapel of Unity, Methodist College, Belfast.

"Hear the Song"
Singing is a common theme in the Bible and the Song the Angels sang to the shepherds on the hillside is our focus for the third Sunday of Advent. What is the 'Peace on earth' the angels' song proclaimed? Our service comes from the Chapel of Unity at Methodist College Belfast, with music from the Chapel Choir. The service is led by the Rev Dr Janet Unsworth and the preacher is Jonathan Rea.
Zephaniah 3.14-20
Luke 2.8-14
Luke 2.25-33

Producer: Etta Halliday.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 11 Dec 2016 08:10

Sunday Worship 11th December 2016 (Advent 3) – Methodist College, Belfast

1. Radio 4 Announcement

BBC Radio 4.  It’s ten past eight and time for Sunday Worship which, for the third Sunday of Advent comes from the Chapel of Unity at Methodist College in Belfast.  The preacher is Jonathan Rea and the service is led by the Reverend Dr Janet Unsworth.

2. JANET: Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
  shout, O Israel!
  Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
  O daughter of Jerusalem!

Good morning and welcome to Belfast, to the Chapel of Unity of Methodist College, or Methody, as the school is known locally. Founded almost 150 years ago, we are at the heart of the University area of the city, a vibrant and stimulating location for our 1800 pupils who come from many different faith backgrounds. Within the College our music society includes many instrumental groups and five choirs.

Singing is a common theme in the Bible and the Song the Angels sang to the shepherds on the hillside is our focus for the third Sunday of Advent

The Chapel Choir will lead us in our worship as we sing Once in Royal David’s City


4. JANET:  As the prophets looked forward to a time when Israel would be restored, they called upon the people to sing songs of joy. In Zephaniah chapter 3, the prophet urges the people to exult, rejoice, sing, and shout because of the hope they have in God.  Here’s our head boy, Paul Storrs, to read for us from Zephaniah.

5. PAUL: (Zephaniah 3:14-17)

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

6. CHOIR 2: Lully, lulla, Lullay (Stopford)

7. JANET: Let us pray.
Lord, we ask that in this time of worship, we would hear your voice.
We thank you for songs - old and new, 
for all that speaks of your coming among us in Christ.
Forgive us that in the middle of the busyness of preparations, we can be distracted and lose sight of what is really important.
Speak to us now through all that we shall sing and hear,
so that our lives may be touched again by the wonder and joy of your presence.

8. CHOIR 3: Christmas Tide (Chilcott)

9. JANET: When there is good news to tell, we cannot be silent. So it was on a hillside outside Bethlehem, when the Angels sang their song to the shepherds. In Luke chapter 2, we hear that with their music they not only told of God’s glory, they also sang of the promise of peace.  Our principal, Scott Naismith, reads for us now.

10. SCOTT: (Luke 2:8-14)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.   And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

11. JANET: …and so, having heard the song of the angels, the shepherds left to go and see the newborn child – a theme taken up by our choir as they sing How Far is it to Bethlehem?  After that, we’re going to hear from Jonathan Rea – the Creative Director of the New Irish Choir and Orchestra.

12. CHOIR 4: How Far is it to Bethlehem

13. JONATHAN: A couple of years ago there was a candidate on BBC1’s Apprentice who had a strong record in the tasks set by Lord Sugar. He was very confident and professional.  As a devoted viewer, my guess was that he was going to win. But his luck ran out in my favourite episode – the one where each candidate is interviewed by some of Lord Sugar’s most intimidating business colleagues. It was entertaining and excruciating in equal measure.

On his CV this chap had claimed he could solve a Rubiks cube in 3 minutes.  So the rather brusque interviewer passed one across the table to see if it was true. In the pressure of the moment, failure was inevitable. Under scrutiny, it also became clear that the candidate in question didn’t even own the business he was trying to pitch to Lord Sugar. The ridicule in the Board Room was brutal, and his fate was sealed. Fired – because his claims just didn’t match reality.

I have a friend who loves to say she never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. Without becoming too cynical, it appears that such sentiments are increasingly found in the whole discourse around public life and politics.

So does society still consider truth to be important? And do we even care when the reliability of public statements is doubted?

I think we do.

Because most of us, in our heart of hearts, still have a visceral desire for the truth to be told.  Even as young children, we feel a deep sense of hurt and injustice when a promise is broken.

This raises some unsettling questions about the triumphant song of the angels which we are considering today. Specifically, I am inclined to ask, what happened to the much-quoted promise of peace on earth?

Certainly there are acts of peace at Christmas time. We might try to show kindness to relatives we don’t usually get along with. Or we may give a card to someone who struggles socially, to try and cheer them up.

And sometimes there are bigger demonstrations of peace  - seasonal ceasefires – not least in the famous but unofficial football game between British and German soldiers during World War 1.

But we must face the stark reality that peace gestures like this tend to be short-lived. Lasting peace is thin on the ground.  And all around us, there is evidence that the world is broken by war, famine, disease and injustice.

So if Jesus was supposed to bring peace on earth, what happened to this utopian dream? Were the angels telling lies as they sang? And does the absence of world peace mean that Jesus is really no better than those candidates on the Apprentice, who assert their own brilliance but end up being a let down?

Surely if there’s no peace on earth, celebrating Christmas is just a waste of time.

But if we investigate the Biblical text further, it suggests that Christmas is not essentially meant to be about the thing we call “peace on earth”.  In fact, on one occasion, recorded in St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus asked a question – he said “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No – I have come to divide people!”

I’m sure that verse has never been printed on a Christmas card.

But thankfully Jesus said rather more than that. Because He seems to want us to have something bigger and better than the peace on earth we imagine. Here’s what He told His followers:

“I give you my peace. The peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.”

So what is Jesus talking about? What is the extra dimension offered in His peace, which distinguishes it from the peace the rest of the world can give?

It seems that primarily, He’s talking about peace with God.

When human beings try to make peace with each other it can be messy and fickle.  Usually some sort of compromise solution is reached, but without really changing the deep-seated attitudes of those involved. But Jesus brings peace that changes people in a profound way– by restoring our sense of connection with God.

God’s purpose for humanity has relationship at its core. But our preference for full control of our lives tends to make us reject God’s authority. 

The connection we are supposed to have with our Creator is broken, and if we are to be fully human, it needs fixing.

In his letter to the Romans , St Paul writes

“When we were utterly helpless, Jesus Christ came at just the right time”….

The birth of Christ did not happen just so we could be friendly to people at Christmas. He wasn’t born to sort our politics or wars. No - The principle reason Jesus came, is to give us peace with God.

But there is more to it than that. Because the narrative of Jesus goes beyond a manger.  Ultimately, the mission to bring us peace with God was accomplished as the result of a gruesome conflict – an intense spiritual battle between good and evil, with a Roman cross centre stage.

Peace with God was not bought with money – it was much more expensive than that, as God’s perfect Son died, carrying the full weight of our stubbornness on Himself. It was an outstanding gesture of love and self-sacrifice. 

So when we live at peace with God, it should be a really significant thing for us. Our attitudes and priorities ought to change. Again St Paul writes in the letter to the Phillippians:

“God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”.

Peace with God should make us better at sharing – better at putting others first – more generous, less aggressive, more thankful – and more willing to live as worshippers of the Creator, even when it’s costly to do that.

In fact that’s the context of Jesus’s point, when he said he came to bring division – He meant that sometimes there can be conflict between those who want peace with God and those who don’t. 

But in its proper context, peace with God ought to help us to show the love and grace of God- and that will make a real difference in our sphere of influence – in family, workplace and the wider community.

Moreover, Jesus promises that peace with God is eternal. Our Christmas peace efforts don’t usually last. But St Paul reassures us that peace with God is permanent. Again in Romans he says

 “we have peace with God because of what Jesus has done. We confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.”

So the angels were not telling lies as they sang. Thanks to the birth of Jesus, the true peace that is offered on earth surpasses all human imagination.

In a world where basic virtues like truth are undervalued, it takes faith and courage to believe in a bigger picture beyond the things we can see around us.

But such faith leads to a peace with God that can change lives, shape positive communities, and give others a reason to sing.

14. CHOIR 5:     I heard the bells (Rea).

15. JANET: As Zephaniah urged the people to sing for joy and the angels sang of a baby born so  that peace would come, we pray for peace, Lord.

  Hear us as we pray for peace in our world, our streets and in our hearts…

16. JAKE: We pray for our world:
  For those who long and wait for an end to violence because they have     known too much war;
  For those who have had to flee from persecution and who fear what the     future holds;
  For those in positions of power and authority that they may strive for      justice for all people:

  May your peace come, O Lord,
  May your peace come

17. OLIVER: We pray for peace on our streets
  For those people who long for the comfort of a home, but only know the harshness of a shop doorway or a refugee camp;
  For those who feel their voices go unheard and who have lost hope in this society;
  For those who live in fear of intimidation and discrimination:

  May your peace come, O Lord,
  May your peace come

18. SARAH: We pray for peace in our hearts:
  For those who long for healing as they live with sickness and pain;
  For those for whom this is a difficult time of year, as they live with the pain of grief, clinging to the memory of how things used to be.
  For those who feel alone and forgotten:
  May your peace come, O Lord,
  May your peace come

19. JANET:  O God, for whom we wait and watch,
  You sent the Angels to proclaim the Good News of your birth.
  Prompt us now to hear their song again,
  So that as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ,
  Our hope may be renewed and we may rejoice in your promise of peace,
  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
  In the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

  These, and all our prayers, we offer in the name of Jesus, Christ our Lord,
  Who taught us to pray together:

  Our Father, who art in heaven,
  Hallowed by they 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.

20. CHOIR 6:    Silent Night (trad)

21. JANET: May the song of the angels and the peace of the Christ child fill your hearts and minds  as you prepare to celebrate his coming,
  and the blessing of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be with you this day and always.

22. CHOIR 7:  Where Riches is Everlastingly  (Chilcott) 

23. ORGAN:     Von Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her (J S Bach)

24. Radio 4 Closing Announcement: 

Today’s Sunday Worship for the third Sunday in Advent came from the Chapel of Unity in Methodist College, Belfast.  The preacher was Jonathan Rea, the service was led by the Rev Dr Janet Unsworth, the organist was Dr Joe McKee and the musical director, Ruth McCartney.  The producer was Etta Halliday.

Next week’s Sunday Worship reflects on the contrast between the mad rush of last minute shopping and the future promise of Advent.  [The Reverend Lucy Winkett and Professor Robert Beckford are out and about town – and the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir sing familiar carols with a contemporary twist.]