Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christ in the Manger - Christmas Day

Christmas Day 2014

The time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

597  O come all ye faithful [1,2,6,7]

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Reading:  Luke 2:8-20

72        Away in a manger

Sharing Christmas Greetings

Christmas message
One word stands out for me this Christmas.

It’s the word …


My dictionary describes it as an adverb that means ‘in spite of that’.

It’s the very first word in chapter 9 of Isaiah – in the Authorised Version – what’s gone on in chapters 7-8 is pretty hellish – there’s civil war, the threat of invasion – words are difficult to find to describe how the people felt

Torn apart
In the darkness

Words are difficult to find … yet one word stands out


Nevertheless, in spite of it all

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In the darkness
A great light
In the shadows
The dawn breaks
A child is born
A son is given
Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

One hundred years ago today the world was pretty hellish – Europe was torn apart, divided shattered – people felt abandoned, alone, in the darkness.

Then comes that moment.

That word


In spite of all that

Something happened

Cue video clip of the Christmas  Truce

One of those things that has been to the fore in our minds this Christmas and even more so this Christmas Day is the famed Christmas Truce of one hundred years ago today.

When Pittville school brought their Year 7’s to share a carol service I did as you do and googled the Christmas truce in order to get a video clip to show them.

One thing struck me quite forcibly about the video clip.

The famed Chrsitmas truce complete with its football game happened in Ploegstrasse in Belgium.

The location meant something to me.
On 12th May 1915 my father was born.  On that day Private Reginald Cole was on sentry duty in Ploegstrasse – he raised his head above the parapet.  All was clear.  A second time he raised his head above the parapet and he was shot by a sniper.

My grandmother was cousin to Reginald Cole’s mother.  And so decided to name my father Reginald remembering the one who had died.

I have birthday presents given to my father by Reginald Cole’s father – To Reggie on his seventh birthday remembering another Reggie – it seems but yesterday.

Uncle Ab was Abraham Cole, founder of Cheltenham’s The Famous.

There’s something distinctive about the cemetery in Ploegstrasse where he is buried.  Both  Germans and British soldiers are buried side by side.

That Christmas truce is in a sense a ‘nevertheless’ moment.  In spite of that horror, that darkness there was this special moment of peace.

And yet … there’s more to Christmas than that.

There was a fascinating interview on the Radio a couple of weeks ago. 

It was an interview with the Great Great Grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Philip Kereel of Prussia, who was over here for a Carol service at Crystal Palace to mark that Christmas Truce.
That in itself was interesting because he was also the Great Great  Great Great Grandson of Queen Victoria.  Maybe a timely reminder of the way in which the countries of Europe have been interlinked for centuries, not least in their Royal Families.

To set the scene for the interview they played a recording of Rifleman Graham Williams who had been there at that first Christmas truce.  He described the Germans singing Silent Night …  he then went on to say “we felt we had to retaliate and so we replied with the First Nowell”

The recording over, the interviewer then asked his first question:

“Do German people remember the Christmas truce?”

“Not much actually.

“I wish it was - because it was such a special moment.”

Then it was that the Kaiser’s Great Great Grandson, and Queen Victoria’s Great Great Great Grandson took the interview in quite an unexpected direction.  The interviewer didn’t have a chance to ask another question!

“But for me as a Lutheran Minister,” he went on to say,  “one thing is even more important and that’s the war took place before and it went on afterwards so it was just like you said, a very short period of time.
“And concerning Christmas it’s not about having a peaceful time with your family or with your mates even among soldiers:  but it’s about the Prince of Peace coming to earth and letting him come into people’s hearts: that’s what it would all start with and what could change things.”

Prince Philip Kereel of Prussia then went on to refer to the item of news that had gone before this piece about the Christmas Truce.

It had been about the Refugee Crisis that has swept across the Middle East and the appeal the United Nations was making for the western countries to accept more refugees – 30,000 in  Germany and 90 in the UK.

“You just had the interview with Alastair Burt and he said the Refugee crisis would stop right away if the Assad Regime would stop killing their own people.

“There in this one person if he had peace in his heart then everything would change.  And that would have been the same in 1914 as it is today so  there is a much bigger story than this Christmas Truce.”

With that the interview came to an end.  Time was up.  It was time for the sports news.

It was a very, very powerful moment.

Think of Christmas as an interlude – a ‘nevertheless’ moment in the middle of a pretty grim world, a moment for celebration that passes, then what’s the point?

There’s something much more in the message at the heart of Christmas.

Put the Prince of Peace in our hearts not just for these few moments at Christmas but the year round and discover the difference it can make.

Putting the Prince of Peace in our hearts gives another dimension to life – a framework that brings God’s presence deep into our hearts as a strength that can see us through difficult times, through the times of the shadow beyond.

Putting the Prince of Peace in our hearts gives us a framework for living our lives that’s based on love for God and love for others.  It’s a way of life that can make all the difference in our homes, our work place, our world.

In the New Year ‘Question’ is going to run – a six week course for those who have questions to ask about faith, about putting the Prince of Peace into your hearts.

It’s what prompts us at Christmas to re-commit ourselves to the care of others – we are also going to have a focus on offering care in bereavement after Christmas. 

And it’s what prompts us to have a special Christmas collection for ongoing work the year round – not just for Christmas.

This year we are supporting Children’s Homes in Kerala State – a small initiative one person had, Sister Mary, who had worked alongside Mother Teresa, a small initiative that drew in another individual Robin Radley who had the inspiration to set up a trust to support initially one, then two then three homes in the Kerala countryside.   A small initiative that caught our Sue Cole’s imagination.  And for a dozen and more years Sue has been involved – has only just got back.

Briefly, Sue, give us an update on Chiks.

Drawing on her skills as a vet, Sue has contributed immensely to the sustainability project that saw the opening of a new cowshed while she was there – and its names as Susan Farm.

Before we take our Christmas collection we are going to sing the carol they sang in that Christmas truce.

As we sing these words, let’s seek to put the Prince of Peace into our hearts and discover the difference that makes in the living of our lives.

95        Silent night, holy night

Our Christmas Collection for CHIKS

Prayers of Concern

93        The first Nowell

Words of Blessing

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christ in the Manger - a Christmas Communion Service

Sunday 21st Christmas Communion


67 Once in Royal David’s City

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Happy Christmas!

Lovely poster in the porch with Happy Christmas in lots and lots of different languages.

How many Christmas greetings can we put together.

Today we give a special greeting to George and Barbar Cullis who join us in Church Membership from Market Street Church, Baptist URC church in Nantwich – with greetings from Sue Moult the Church Secretary.

We welcome George and Barbara Cullis into Church Membership

Reading:  Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1

1In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets,2but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one through whom God created the universe, the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end. 3He reflects the brightness of God's glory and is the exact likeness of God's own being, sustaining the universe with his powerful word. After achieving forgiveness for human sins, he sat down in heaven at the right-hand side of God, the Supreme Power.  That is why we must hold on all the more firmly to the truths we have heard, so that we will not be carried away.

News from around the world
– mission partners
Stefan and Birgit

Stefan has come over to Germany for a course and is with Marit spending Christmas with the family.   While Birgit, Simeon and Jacob are back in Rolandia, Southern Brazil where Stefan is lecturing in OT studies in one of Brazil’s biggest evangelical theological seminaries.  He has been teaching on a course in Germany – a student who will be returning back in the Sertao, a rural area in norther-eastern Brazil, antoerhs student works with Eastern European victims of human trafficking here in Germanyu. Another is a midwife in Paksitan, someone from Hamburg working with migrants and another from Japan.

Pretty lonely and isolated for them – as Birgit finishes the term teaching … and working in a drug rehabilitation centre –

Three gifts for the tree.

Another international link – Chiks –

News from Sue …

We light the fourth of our Advent candles … thinking of that world-wide family of the church we belong to …

Lighting the fourth candle

Hope – Peace – Love - Joy

Hy-Spirit Christmas song

Offering and Dedication
It’s party time for the younger children

What was missing from our Nativity?

Look at the picture –

Our Christmas nativity drew on the carol On a Starry Night – and it only tells the story of the shepherds.  So when we dressed up the youngsters there were only shepherds and angels – no wise men, no kings.

In part that’s traditional isn’t it?   The wise men came after the birth and are traditionally associated with Epiphany.

But … I hold light to that tradition … we’ve been singing We three kings quite lustily with youngsters from Belmont and from Pittville who joined us for their carol services.

Another way of looking at it is that we told the story of Chrsitmas from Luke’s Gospel – all about shepherds, nothing about Wise men, let alone Kings.

Matthew’s gospel has another perspective altogether – it tells the story of Wise Men, Magi – doesn’t really mention they are kings.  But it does mention another King at the time, King Herod.

So, let’s think of the story of the wise men – it’s a lovely story of three wise men thinking they would find the King in a palace, going to the palace in Jerusalem, the king of the day being terrified, after all he was king – arranging to dupe the three wise men into finding out where the child was to be born.

They find the Christchild – fall down and worship him and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Lovely story …

But dig away at the story and there is a dark side.

A dark side you will rarely find in a school nativity play.

And it is such a pity because the school nativity play reduces the story to a pretty children’s story.

Whereas the story is a very dark one indeed.

Herod the builder – with the palace you see from Bethlehem – the National Geographic verdict on Herod –

Herod blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination

This is a dark side to the story … that now unfolds further …

Reading:  Matthew 2:13-18

After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.”14 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt,15 where he stayed until Herod died. This was done to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, “I called my Son out of Egypt.”16 When Herod realized that the visitors from the east had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger — this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.17 In this way what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true:18 “A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children;she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.”

This is the cruel world Jesus enters into …

Let’s return to the message of Christmas – in some ways that says it all …

When horrific things happen, God is there with us, through those things – to give us a strength to go through them,

To keep going and not to give in

And to bring into those situations healing where people are hurting – and work for peace and for justice.

Another partnership we celebrate at Christmas time is the partnership we have with the de la Salles Scout group.

Christmas greetings personally from them,– and they share with us for Chrristmas a prayer …

This is the prayer that speaks into the horrors of a world at war where in that war even children are targeted in the atrocity that has hit home at us so hard this week.

Prayer for peace and justice
from the de la Salles school.

We pray to You, Lord
God of life and God of those who hope!
Listen to our prayer for the whole world
For peace among all peoples,
For prosperity in all lands.
We pray to You that evil may be overcome
And that all wars may end.

We pray to You especially for the members of our Lasallian Family,
Who suffer from war, injustice and intolerance,
And for the children
And young people
Who are poor and neglected.

We pray too, God, for peace in our lives,
In our towns, in our schools,
In our families and in our own hearts.
We pray for a peace that the world cannot give us
We pray for a peace that will make us whole
And transform us into ambassadors of Justice for your sake.

Lord, give us Your Peace!


From the squalor of a borrowed stable

Prayers of Concern

Point out the prayers for this week – in our Advent and Christmas prayer calendar – are based on the ancient prayers of the church – the O’s of Advent that is the basis of O come, O come, Emmanuel.

66 O come, O come Emmanuel

Christmas Communion

59 Hark the herald angels sing

Words of Blessing

Friday, December 19, 2014

Child in the Manger - our Christmas Nativity Service

Our Christmas Nativity Service

lead into the service … Taize recording

– the Lord is my light and salvation, in God I trust

“Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!

For bringing us to this place, we give you thanks, O Lord,

For the peace you promise and the blessing you give we give you thanks and praise, praise
Through all the worship we share help us to sense your peace, to know your blessing and to be sure that you are the Light of each one of us, that you are the God we can trust.

Be to each one of us such a blessing that we may go from this place and be a blessing to others, bringing your peace, your presence and your love into the lives of those we meet.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,

“Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!

Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and she wondered what his words meant.30The angel said to her, “Don't be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. 31You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, 33and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end!”

From the depths of her heart, Mary’s song echoes down through the ages …
“My heart praises the Lord;

47my soul is glad because of God my Saviour,
48for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!
From now on all people will call me blessed,
49because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me.

For Mary knew the kingdom that would never end would be a kingdom such as the world had never seen …

His name is holy;
50from one generation to another
he shows mercy to those who honour him.
51He has stretched out his mighty arm
and scattered the proud with all their plans.
52He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.
53He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors,
and has come to the help of his servant Israel.

Hymn:  Tell out my soul

Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
To children’s children and for evermore!

Mary knew in her heart of hearts this would be the one to come to the help of his people,
This would be the one to show love and mercy to us all, this would be the one

Our prayer as Christmas approaches is that the light of Christ may shine in our hearts, in our homes and in our world and fill this land with the  Father’s glory.

Our prayer as Christmas approaches is that the light of Christ may shine in our hearts, in our homes and in our world and flood the nations with grace and mercy …

The Chorus of Shine Jesus shine

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

Isaiah 9:2-3 - Gus
Isaiah 9:6-7 - Joel
Isaiah 12:1-3 - Bethany
Isaiah 12:4-6 - Marc


What’s on the news now is pretty distressing – if there had been TV news at the time of Isaiah it would have been disturbingly familiar – Isaiah 6-7 paint a picture of civil war the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the threat of war from the world power of Assyria –

But in that situation they are to focus on God and the light God brings – a wonderful word in verse 1 of the NIV - NEVERTHELESS

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan –

Gus Isaiah 9:2-3

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
They lived in a land of shadows,
but now light is shining on them.
3You have given them great joy,LORD;
you have made them happy.
They rejoice in what you have done,
as people rejoice when they harvest their corn
or when they divide captured wealth.

What’s important is to live under God’s rule – what does that look like?  Don’t look to the might of warriors – but to a little child – and through the child see that this is what God’s rule looks like – wonderful counsel, wise advice, a might God who is Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  And the heart of that kindom will be what is right and justice

Joel Isaiah 9:6-7

A child is born to us!
A son is given to us!
And he will be our ruler.
He will be called, “Wonderful Counsellor”,
“Mighty God”, “Eternal Father”,
“Prince of Peace”.
7His royal power will continue to grow;
his kingdom will always be at peace.
He will rule as King David's successor,
basing his power on right and justice,
from now until the end of time.
The LORD Almighty is determined to do all this.

Where do we put our trust?  In God – God is my saviour, and I will trust him.

Bethany - Isaiah 12:1-3

 A day is coming when people will sing, “I praise you, LORD! You were angry with me, but now you comfort me and are angry no longer. 2 God is my saviour; I will trust him and not be afraid.The LORD gives me power and strength; he is my saviour.3 As fresh water brings joy to the thirsty, so God's people rejoice when he saves them.”

It is to God that we turn for help and for strength – the God who is great … and the God who  lives among his people.

Marc - Isaiah 12:4-6

 A day is coming when people will sing, “Give thanks to the LORD! Call for him to help you! Tell all the nations what he has done! Tell them how great he is! 5 Sing to the LORD because of the great things he has done. Let the whole world hear the news.6 Let everyone who lives in Zion shout and sing! Israel's holy God is great, and he lives among his people.”

The Chorus of Shine Jesus Shine

It was dark on the hills around Bethlehem the night it happened,

It was a starry night and the hills were bright and the earth lay sleeping.

After our reading we are all going to remain seated and sing that Christmas song together …

Reading:  Luke 2:8-14

here were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, 10but the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. 11This very day in David's town your Saviour was born — Christ the Lord! 12And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

Starry night – song acted out by the children
It was on a starry night
When the hills were bright
Earth lay sleeping
Sleeping calm and still
Then in a cattle shed
In a manger bed
A boy was born
King of all the world.

And all the angels sang for Him
The bells of heaven rang for Him
For a boy was born
King of all the world.
And all the angels sang for Him
The bells of heaven rang for Him
For a boy was born
King of all the world.

Soon the shepherds came that way
Where the baby lay
And were kneeling
Kneeling by His side
And their hearts believed again
For the peace of men
For a boy was born
King of all the world.

And all the angels sang for Him
The bells of heaven rang for Him
For a boy was born
King of all the world.
And all the angels sang for Him
The bells of heaven rang for Him
For a boy was born
King of all the world.

Reading:  Luke 2:15-20

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. 17When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. 18All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. 19Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. 20The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

The shepherds went back singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen: it had been just as the angel had told them

The light of Christ shone in their hearts as they made their way home, the light of Christ filled the land with the Father’s glory.  The light of Christ shone in their hearts as they made their way home, and flooded the nations with grace and mercy

The chorus of Shine Jesus Shine

The shepherds went back, singing praises to  God for all they had heard and seen;  but what had they heard and seen?  For a few minutes you are invited to  have a look at the cribs of the Crib Festival … is there something in one of those cribs that makes you think anew about what you hear and see in the Christmas story.

A time for everyone to look at the Christmas Cribs

A time to share what people have heard and seen in the Christmas Cribs

From the squalor of a borrowed stable (Christmas words omitting verse with the Kings)

What’s the message of Christmas for today? – M’Ocean and Cooler’s input
Our young people shared with us their the thoughts they had come up with in discussion about the message of Christmas for today 


The (Cooler) message of Christmas

Before there was a wheel with six spokes, there were snowflakes with six points.

Each snowflake has its unique pattern, but each is made of the same basic material - a bit like people, and Christmas.

Christmas – at different times and in different cultures – can be celebrated in different ways.  But the basic material, the ‘irreducible core’ of Christmas, is God’s love for us, demonstrated in Jesus.

God’s Love

We have used the six points on the snowflake to convey something of the message of the Christmas story for us today.


Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy – for God has come in love to save us.
Let’s celebrate the amazing love of God – as well as enjoying all the food, fun and presents.

Let’s celebrate – even if for some it is through tears.  God’s love understands pain too; the road from Christmas to Easter runs through Gethsemane and Golgotha.

Be humble!

If a stable was good enough for the King of Kings, and the status of a helpless baby was good enough for Almighty God – then who are we to think they might not be good enough for us?

God was content with lowly surroundings and was prepared to be vulnerable. Maybe this Christmas we should think about following his example.

(two clicks)
Include everyone!
Christmas is for everybody - shepherds and carpenters, civil servants and innkeepers, wise men and kings, young and old, rich and poor, powerful and powerless.
God’s love embraces everyone. 

Leave your comfort zone!

Mary and Joseph had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The wise men set off from their home not quite sure where they were going to end up.

Jesus left heaven for earth.

To share God’s love we need to be ready to step out from the familiar into the unknown.

(two clicks)
Don’t be afraid!
There were lots of reasons why Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and others might have been afraid that first Christmas. 
There are lots of reasons why we might be afraid or anxious this Christmas.
So let’s listen to the words of the angels ‘Fear not! God is with you.’  

Be open to the unexpected!

Mary and Joseph were expecting to get married – but they were not expecting to have the baby first.

The shepherds were expecting a night on the hills with their sheep – but they were not expecting angels to turn up in the middle of the shift.

The wise men expected to find a new born king – but they expected to find him in the royal palace in the capital city, not in a humble stable in a small town.
Although the coming of the Messiah had been foretold by the prophets, no one was really expecting Jesus to turn up quite the way he did. 

So this Christmas, let’s be prepared to find God in unexpected places.

Which brings us back to …..


Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy for all people!

Quiet reflection on Luke 2:19 leading into prayers

Mary remembered all these things and pondered them in her heart –

Mary did you know – Christmas track

Prayers of Concern

Offering and Dedication

Final hymn:  Shine Jesus shine

Words of Blessing

The Lord is my light – Taize chant as people leave

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light