Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Welcome's not just for Christmas - Christmas Day at Highbury

Happy Christmas!

Welcome to our Christmas Celebration! And a special welcome to old friends returning and new friends here for the first time. It seems a long time since the first of our Christmas services: it was back in November when Year 7’s from Pittville school joined us for their Christmas Carol Service. Since then we seem to have had so many Christmas services! They’re the same carols, the same readings and the same story. And yet, somehow, there’s something fresh each time we come to them. A lot has happened over the last year since last we sang those carols, read those readings and told that story. We come to them as different people in a world that’s changed. One theme has emerged through all those services. It’s a theme of welcome. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem: but someone found them somewhere to stay. No one had time for the shepherds: yet they were welcomed with open arms as they came to see all that had happened in Bethlehem. The Magi came from lands far away, from a different culture, from a different religion, with a different language: yet as they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh they too found a warmth of welcome. When Mary, Joseph and the Christ child fled the brutality of Herod they had a gruelling journey to make across a desert: but in Egypt they were welcomed and given refuge. Together with churches across the town we have joined Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees in giving a welcome to the Syrian families who have found refuge here in our town. It’s good to welcome everyone to our Christmas services … may that Christmas spirit of welcome shape the way we think, the way we talk and the way we act in response to the refugee crisis that’s not going to go away for a long time yet.


65 O come, all ye faithful

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Reading: Luke 2:1-7
Lighting the Christmas Candle

Reading; John 1:1-5 and 14

72 Away in a manger

Christmas Greetings

A welcome’s not just for Christmas!

There’s something about a baby that brings people together!

There was no room for them in the inn
But they were given a welcome nonetheless

The shepherds were outsiders
But they were welcomed into the stable

The wise men came from the East far away, a different language, a different culture, a different religion.  But they were welcomed as they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

There’s something about a baby that brings people together

But babies are very vulnerable.  And Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were up against it.  They lived under a brutal regime and they had to flee. Their flight of fear took them across the fierce Sinai desert to a country far away with a different language, a different culture, a different religion.

But there’s something about a baby and they were given a welcome all the same.

Not until the brutality of Herod’s regime came to an end with his death were they able to return and even then they could not go back to Bethlehem for fear of reprisals and so they went back to Nazareth far off in the North where they were welcomed home and the child grew and became strong and was filled with wisdom and God’s blessing was on him.

There’s one image for Christmas that sticks in my mind this year. It’s a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos, one of the great sculptors of the 20th century. Commissioned by a fiery, campaigning vicar of St Martin-in-the Fields, the church in Trafalgar Square, who himself had been a prisoner of war in 1958. It’s now in Cartmel Priory in the Lake District.

It captures a moment in the flight of Mary and Joseph and the Christ child.

It has a stark title.

They fled by night.

Joseph and Mary are sleeping. They are worn out. The child has woken and is looking around. Has something woken him up? Has something frightened him? Has he caught sight of the beauty of the dawn?
It’s an image that captures a moment in the Christmas story that this year speaks to our hearts.

It has been a year of divisions in our society, in our world. A year once again torn apart by war. Maybe the message of Christmas this year is that we pull barriers down and build bridges up and give a welcome to those in need.

We have been involved with other churches and others in the town in Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees. It was moving to join with people from other churches and indeed from other faith communities in a meeting in the university when we heard a woman from one of the five Syrian families welcomed into the town this year. She spoke of the warmth of welcome she had received.

There are practical things to do … and we have helped with practicalities.

There are political things to do. The scale of the refugee crisis demands a greater response from our country not least because of the involvement of our country in the catastrophic wars that have led to the refugee crisis.

Most importantly there’s a personal response we need to make. There’s a divisiveness in the air. A hostility towards ‘others’. A rising Xenophobia.

Someone made room for Mary and Joseph. The shepherds were welcomed, though they were the outcasts of their day. The Magi were welcomed too in spite of their different way of speaking, their different way of thinking, their different way of worshipping. And Egypt welcomed Mary and Joseph and the Christ child when they sought refuge in a far off country. The conversations each one of us has are important – they make a difference in the atmosphere. Will we make sure that a welcome’s not just for Christmas?

A Hy-Spirit song

Our Christmas Prayers

59 Hark the herald angels sing

Words of Blessing

Glory to God in the highest
And on earth peace
Peace in our hearts,
Peace in our homes
Peace in our communities
Peace in our world
Open our hearts that we may be Peace-makers
This Christmas and through the year to come.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christ at the Centre of our World

Text of the Week:  For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

Welcome to today’s services on the third Sunday of Advent and a very warm welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time. It’s Sunday Special today and so our children and young people are going to be together in the first part of the service, getting ready for Christmas. They will join us for the last part of our service. We invite all who love the Lord Jesus Christ to share with us in the Lord’s Supper this morning. This month our Communion collection and our giving at coffee after the service are going towards our Christmas Collectionfor CHIKS, Children’s Homes in Kerala State. It’s good to be joined by Robin Radley today. Robin has just returned from a visit to India and the children’s homes he helped to set up nearly twenty years ago. He will be updating us on the work that’s going on there, on the moves towards sustainability with the farm that Sue Cole helped to establish. It will be great to hear how the little children we were supporting when we first got involved at Sue’s prompting are getting on now they are well into their teenage years and needing to be helped towards independence. Do remember the work of CHIKS in your prayers and if you are able to Gift Aid your Christmas collection gift use the yellow envelopes in church and label them Christmas Collection.

Morning Worship

Welcome and Call to Worship

Hymn: A sound of singing fills the air

1     A sound of singing fills the air
          in praise of all that God has done,
       who sent, our human life to share,
          his Son, his own beloved Son;
            the Prince of life the Father gave,
            a wayward world to seek and save.

2     The sovereign King of all the earth,
          and Lord of all the worlds there are,
       he chose, as emblems of his birth,
          a stable and a shining star:
            within a manger-bed to lie,
            whose fingers formed the starry sky.

3     He came, the Father's final Word,
          from that celestial throne above;
       a child, and yet creation's Lord,
          to show the human face of Love:
            the love of God to earth come down,
            who chose the cross before the crown.

4     So lift our songs to fill the skies!
          From manger-crib and cattle-stall,
       from cross and grave, behold him rise,
          the high-ascended Lord of all,
            whose praise the whole creation sings,
            as Lord of lords and King of kings!

Timothy Dudley-Smith (born 1926) 
© 2014 Timothy Dudley-Smith in Europe and Africa.

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Christ at the centre of our personal lives, of our church lives, of our world.

Lighting the Advent Candles

Reading: John 6:48,51 & 15:1,5 – Angela and Angela

Christ at the Centre of the World

I am the bread of life. 
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.

We reach our Christmas Communion service – and two I am sayings that take us to the heart of communion.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

How appropriate as we light a candle and think of Christ at the centre of our world – the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

Christ for the world – the communion laid on the table that has the crib scene underneath – and  beside our stable.

Need to serve the world – speak of Robin, Christmas collection
The world-dimension of Christmas.

The needs of the world overwhelming

Cannot do it on our own – the second comes into play

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.

Apart from me you can do nothing.

But with me – in the presence of Christ – a power to change things and make a difference.

The call to live as children of light.

What that means – the meaning of Christmas in the singing – the songs of Luke 1-3

And so in our service we are going to share the three songs … and read them together – and sing them together.

The Magnificat – the Congregation

‘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 for ever.’

42 Tell out my soul

The Benedictus – the Congregation

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
   in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

599 O bless the God of Israel
The latest news of CHIKS - Robin

A Hy-Spirit Song
Prayers of Concern
58 Jesus, hope of every nation
The Lord’s Supper
Communion Offering & Dedication
A Hy-Spirit song
The Nunc Dimittis – the Congregation
Retiring Collection

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