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CAROL SERVICE 2019


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CAROL: ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID’S CITY
Introduction. 01 Intro Once in Royal (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The words to this carol were written by Mrs. C.F. Alexander ( 1818 - 1895 ) and makes wonderful use of the English language to paint a picture of the events of the nativity. Mrs. Alexander wrote many poems for children, chiefly on religious subjects and was the wife of the Bishop of Derry.
The music was composed by H.J. Gauntlett. This carol is believed to have first been published in the early nineteenth century.

Audio file:
02 Once in David's City (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
1.
Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

2.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

3.
And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honour and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

4.
For he is our childhood's pattern;

Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

5.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

6.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
2
All in white shall wait around.

PRAYER
03 Prayer-3 (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Gracious, eternal God, as the world begins to celebrate the coming to earth of Jesus, we remember that if Jesus had not come , there could not be eternal fellowship with you. So it is with reverence and gratitude that we kneel at the crib in recognition of not only the miracle of a virgin birth but also your gift to offer us redemption for our sins.We pray that by our sincerity of our gratefulness, those who regard Christmas simply as a time of revelry will be challenged to discover the Christ in Christmas and all he can mean to them.For Christians everywhere, we pray that their celebrations will be a time of joy and sacred reflection of just how much you love us.
As we remember once again the birth of Jesus, we are privileged, dear God, to share your message of joy to the world. May it reach every corner of every nation. In Jesus’ name we pray this. Amen

JOY TO THE WORLD
Introduction: 04 Intro Joy to the world (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Words are by Isaac Watts and are based on Psalm 98, 96 Genesis 3.

Audio file: 05 Joy to the world (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1

Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King

Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

2
Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

3

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders of His love


BRASS: CHRISTMAS PRAISE
Introduction: 06 Intro Christmas Praise (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
A brass band playing Christmas music somehow seems to bring an extra blessing and we listen now to some sounds of Christmas.

Audio file:
07 Christmas Praise (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

CAROL: HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Introduction 08 Intro Hark the herald angels (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
“Hark the herald angels sing” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley founder of the Methodist church, in 1739. A sombre man, he requested slow and solemn music for his lyrics and so “Hark the herald angels sing” was sung to a different tune originally.
Over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed a cantata in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the words of the carol.

Audio file:
09 Hark the herald angels sing (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
1
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"


1. CHORAL: BREAK FORTH INTO JOY
Introduction: 10 Intro Break forth (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
For those who love the music of Bach and for whom Christmas would not be complete without it we have his ‘Break forth into joy’, which is based on Isaiah 52:9: Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.

Audio file:
11 Break Forth Into Joy (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 


CAROL: THE FIRST NOWELL
Inroduction: 12Intro The first Nowell (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The First Nowell is generally thought to be English dating back to the sixteenth century. There is a misconception that the First Nowell was French and it is believed that this is because of the French spelling of Noel as opposed to the olde English Anglo-Saxon spelling of the word as in Nowell. The carol was first published in 1833 when it appeared in "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern," a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys.

Audio file:
13 The first Nowell (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1

The first Nowell the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Refrain:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

2
They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east beyond them far,
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.
Refrain
3
And by the light of that same star
three wise men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went.
Refrain
4
This star drew nigh to the northwest,
o'er Bethlehem it took its rest,
and there it did both stop and stay
right over the place where Jesus lay.
Refrain
5
Then entered in those wise men three
full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.
Refrain
6
Then let us all with one accord
sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
that hath made heaven and earth of nought,
and with his blood mankind hath bought.
Refrain



BIBLE READING
MATTHEW 1:18-28
Audio file: 14 Matthew 1_18-28 (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


CAROL: O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
Introduction: 15 Intro O little town (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The text was written by Phillips Brooks (1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, then rector of Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia and later of Trinity Church, Boston. He was inspired by visiting the village of Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church, and his organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) added the music. Interestingly neither composer of the words or music thought the carol would live beyond the year in which it was written -1868. Today it is still one of the most popular Christmas carols.

Audio file:
16 O Little Town of Bethlehem (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
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
2
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth
3
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his 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 to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

MARCH OF THE THREE KINGS
Introduction:
17 Intro March of the three kings (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The Crusades-those religious expeditions to rescue the holy places in Palestine from the Moslems -created an enormous interest in both faith and fighting in the Middle Ages. French peasants from Provence in the 13th century, when the tune for this "March of the Kings" was being sung and danced to, must have endowed the Three Kings of the Christmas story with all the virtues and appearance of their own folk heroes nearer at hand. These were the French dukes, clad in gleaming armour, carrying brilliant banners and bejewelled shields, who fought for the Pope far more willingly than they would have for the lives of their own serfs. Hence the martial references in this text, sung to a tune that is perhaps even older than the verses.

Audio file:
18 March of the Three Kings: (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

Three great kings I met at early morn
With all their retinue were slowly marching
Three great kings I met at early morn
Were on their way to meet the newly born
With gifts of gold brought from far away
And valiant warriors to guard the royal treasure
With gifts of gold brought from far away
Their shields all shining in their bright array

For Thy mercy and Thy grace
Constant through another year
Hear our song of thankfulness
Father and Redeemer hear

Dark the future; let Thy light
Guide us, bright and morning star
Fierce our foes and hard the fight
Arm us Saviour for the war

In our weakness and distress
Rock of strength be Thou our stay
In the pathless wilderness
Be our true and living way

Keep us faithful; keep us pure
Keep us evermore Thine own
Help, O help us to endure
Fit us for the promised crown


CAROL The Holly and the Ivy
Introduction: 19 Intro The holly and the Ivy (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Dating back to almost 1,000 years, 'The Holly and the Ivy', the author and composer are unknown but Cecil Sharp first published the modern version that we find today. Holly and Ivy are considered as symbols of hope and longevity. The colours of these plants, their green leaves, white flowers and red berries are all associated with Christmas.
Audio file:
20 The Holly and the Ivy (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown:


Refrain:
The rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.


2
The holly bears a blossom,
As white as a lily flow'r,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our dear Saviour:
Refrain

3
The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To do poor sinners good:
Refrain

4
The holly bears a prickle,
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
On Christmas Day in the morn:
Refrain


5
The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
For to redeem us all:
Refrain


6
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown:
Refrain


CHORAL: Chorus From Oratorio De Noel
Introduction: 21 Intro Ontario de Noel (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Who could not respond to the Chorus from the Oratorio de Noel by Saint Saens. Certainly it is music which enhances our sense of Christmas joy. The composer ends the oratorio with this chorus- a majestic hymn of praise

Audio file:
22 Chorus from Oratorio de Noel (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 


BIBLE READING
LUKE 2:8-20
Audio file: 23 Luke 2_8-20 (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Luke 2:11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Luke 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone 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 about.”
Luke 2:16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2:17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
Luke 2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


CAROL: O HOLY NIGHT
Introduction: 24 Intro O holy night (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The words and lyrics of the old carol 'O Holy Night' were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. Cappeau was a wine seller by trade but was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas. He obliged and wrote the beautiful words of the hymn. He then realised that it should have music to accompany the words and he approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams(1803-1856). He agreed and the music for the poem was therefore composed by him. Adolphe had attended the Paris conservatoire and forged a brilliant career as a composer. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893).

Audio file:
25 O Holy Night (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name


POEM: WISE MEN
Audio file: 26 Wise Men (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The star was shining brightly
But it was far away,
And wise men had to travel
Day after endless day;
How could they be so certain

A king was waiting there,
So confident they bore gifts,
Gold, frankincense and myrrh?

No band of holy angels
Were seen their way to guide,
A single star kept shining,
No clouds its light could hide;
Through eastern lands they travelled,
The infant king to find,

God chose them first to welcome
The Saviour of mankind;
But if they had protested
The sign was much too vague,
Had doubted God had spoken
And in their homeland stayed,
Who would have told the story
Of God’s incarnate Son,
The baby in the manger,
And what man could become?
All heaven rarely opens
Revealing all God’s plan,
A single star led wise men
To find God’s precious Lamb.
Today God’s signs may differ
Approaching Christmas morn
But God still calls all wise men
To tell that ‘Christ is born!’
(Malcolm Westwood)

CHORAL: GABRIEL’S MESSAGE…

Introduction:
27 Intro Gabriel'smessage (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Gabriel's Message is a Basque Christmas folk carol about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
It is based on Luke 1:26-38

Audio file: 28 Gabriel's Message (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow
His eyes as flame
"All hail" said he "thou lowly maiden Mary
Most highly favoured lady, " Gloria, Gloria.

"For known a blessed mother thou shalt be
All generations laud and honour thee
Thy Son shall be Emanuel
By seers foretold
Most highly favoured maid, " Gloria, Gloria.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
"To me be as it pleaseth God, " she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name."
Most highly favoured lady, Gloria, Gloria.



CAROL Ding Dong merrily on high
Introduction: 29 Ding Dong (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
The composer of Ding Dong Merrily on High is unknown but the carol is reputed to be French dating back to the sixteenth century. The text to Ding Dong Merrily on High was originally in Latin - "Gloria in Excelsis Deo". Children especially enjoy Ding Dong Merrily on High due to the onomatopoeia (Ding dong – the word conveys the sound) and the breathless state achieved when singing “ Gloria…” So dear friends, brush away the vocal cobwebs and join us in singing Ding Dong Merrily on high!


Audio file:
30 Ding Dong (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

E'en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And "Io, io, io!"
By priest and people sungen.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!


CHORAL: REJOICE GREATLY, O DAUGHTER OF ZION (MESSIAH)

Introduction: 31 Intro Rejoice Greatly (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
from Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is a dramatic and involved aria for soprano. A fast major-key beginning and end require virtuosic singing, and the slow minor-key middle section gives the singer lots of room to be expressive.

Audio file:
32 Rejoice Greatly(To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

The lyrics are:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem,
behold, thy King cometh unto thee.

He is the righteous Saviour,
and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem,
behold, thy King cometh unto thee.


CHORAL: AWAY IN A MANGER
Introduction: 33 Intro Away in a manger(To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
We present a slightly different arrangement of the carol ‘Away in a manager’ based on the original tune by William Kirkpatrick in 1895. It was originally published in 1885. The publication of the carol was in a Lutheran Sunday school book and created the misconception that the lyrics of the carol were written by Martin Luther himself but the author is unknown.

Audio file: 34 Away in a manger (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1
Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

2
The cattle are lowing
The Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
'Til morning is nigh.

3
Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there.

CAROL: WHO IS HE?
Introduction: 35 Intro Who is he (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Benjamin Russell Hanby who wrote the words and music was an American composer, educator, and pastor who wrote approximately 80 songs although he died from TB at the tender age of 33. Here is a piano arrangement of the carol played by my good friend-the very talented Richard Phillips.

Audio file:
36 Who is he? (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1
Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
Who is He in deep distress,
Fasting in the wilderness?

Refrain
’Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
’Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!
2
Who is He the people bless
For His words of gentleness?
Who is He to Whom they bring
All the sick and sorrowing?
Refrain
3
Who is He that stands and weeps
At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?
Who is He the gathering throng
Greet with loud triumphant song?
Refrain
4
Lo! at midnight, who is He
Prays in dark Gethsemane?
Who is He on yonder tree
Dies in grief and agony?
Refrain
5
Who is He that from the grave
Comes to heal and help and save?
Who is He that from His throne
Rules through all the world alone?
Refrain

SERMON

me0021-3-3

Dr. Malcolm Westwood


Audio file: 37 Sermon (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 
Probably over the years most of us, if not all, will have heard the account of how Jesus came to earth of Bethlehem. The carols, both old and new, have been sung, and events like the school nativity plays have become a part of our upbringing. The shepherds and the wise men coming to the stable to see the baby Jesus are etched into our minds and they continue to appear on Christmas cards and are even used to advertise goods to be sold. Each year the celebration of Christmas seems to get earlier and more commercialised and we begin to wonder how children separate truth from fiction as they gather round life-size model reindeers who can somehow sing with a human voice about Father Christmas getting stuck up the chimney. As one small child, attempting to appreciate and understand the story of the birth of Jesus said, "but wouldn't it have been dangerous for baby Jesus to fly through the air on a sleigh?"
Hopefully as that child grows up he will be able to separate fact from fiction.
And perhaps as he grows up he will, like us, come to see the miraculous hand of a God who offers redemption to a sinful world.

There are aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus which we may have probably heard many times and sometimes just the singing of familiar carols is enough to remind us what the coming to earth of Jesus means for us. Who hasn't heard a sermon or two about the angels appearing to lowly shepherds of all people, and an observation that they were the first to be told the news of the arrival of the baby Jesus; and of wise men travelling for days just following a star which led them to Bethlehem and being able to be directed exactly to the stable where Jesus was born. For such things to happen, so many miracles were necessary.
So may I take it as read that those familiar scenes will be in our minds as we are once again building up to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
Of course there is merit in remembering those individual scenes because whenever we recall them, the blessings come again and the sense of wonder dawns anew. They never lose that sense of experiencing something miraculous.

But today, my thoughts have been guided in a slightly different direction.
We can notice that the story is carefully planned. Of all the angels at God's disposal, the one he chose to see his plan through was Gabriel. He it was who God used to deliver important messages. The birth of Jesus could not have been more carefully planned. It was Gabriel who almost frightened the life out of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, who as a priest was serving in the Temple. A priest only officiated at this particular sacrifice once in his lifetime. As Zechariah placed the incense on the altar, the angel Gabriel appeared. The plan for the redemption of the world was about to be revealed. Zechariah was to play a part in that plan as was his wife Elizabeth. Their son was to be the one who would "go on before the Lord..."

It cannot be just "one of those things" that God sent Gabriel on that day to that person. He could have sent Gabriel to any number of priests as they served in the temple as Zechariah was doing and they may have had wives who were of childbearing age. But God’s dealing with man in his redemption plan which ended with the miracle of the Resurrection would start with two elderly people who had for many years longed and prayed for a child but it hadn’t happened for them. Now they were to be the parents of the one God wanted to prepare the way for Jesus.

We might wonder why God would select people who the world might consider were getting to that stage where they might be thinking of taking it easy. But age is of little consequence to God when he identifies who he wants to use for his special task. If he requires a miracle to equip them for that task-so be it.

Zechariah was a priest and perhaps he should have not been as astonished as he was that God would not only use him but perform a miracle to open the way for him to be used. So if this Christmas time, you are aware that the years have passed and now you really don't expect God to place his hand on you as he did on Zechariah, even if it requires a miracle, let’s be aware that God’s plan for each of us lasts a lifetime and if we think we are past it, can I encourage you not to believe that! If it takes a miracle to open doors for God's plan to materialise in our lives, miracles are God’s speciality. And age doesn't matter!

But Gabriel's not finished on his mission. God sent him on to the next stop which was in human terms about three days journey to a hardly respected area called Galilee. Nazareth had little to suggest that God would send a messenger there whose message would reverberate around the world. Again we are sometimes inclined to think if we were in a better situation with more obvious opportunities for God to use us, we could more easily believe that God could use us. But there is so much truth in the chorus we sing:-

Just where he needs me
My Lord has placed me,
Just where he needs me
There would I be,
And since he found me,
By love his bound me,
To serve him joyfully

We are where we are and though God is aware of our surroundings and our situations, whatever they may be, his miracles can happen just where we are.

And then we think of Mary in this place which hardly anyone would think anything special was likely to happen, let alone an angel from God visiting. I'm sure most of us could think of places which might be described as nice places to leave! But God had a plan that required a girl he had identified. It wasn't that she was particularly holy. The Bible says that she had found favour with God. That doesn't mean that Mary merited God's favour. It was purely an act of grace by God that he chose Mary to bear his son.
It is true, isn't it, that we have a mindset which convinces us that God wouldn't want to use someone with the imperfections and failings that we have but we are never asked to believe that Mary was perfect. Goodness me, the likelihood is that as a teenager she had hopes and dreams any teenager would have.
We know she was betrothed to Joseph and that Jewish betrothal had two steps. Firstly the formal engagement which had a contract and an agreement of the bridal price. About a year later, the wedding ceremony takes place. Mary's expectations were settled but God chose to bless her in a very special way with privileges and blessings which would be beyond description even though there would certainly be some challenges for her. All she had to do was to agree to the role God was giving her. To her eternal credit, Mary said to Gabriel, "I am the Lord’s servant. May be to me as you have said."

So if we ever happened to be in an unlikely setting and we don't feel especially special, and we think we are the last people on earth who God would want to use, let alone send an angel to offer us a miracle, God is always looking for those who will say to him, "I am the Lord servant." God is not short of miracles. He is, however, too often short of those who will say and mean, "I am the Lord’s servant."

And then we find Gabriel on the final leg of his journey as he speaks in a dream to Joseph to reassure him that Mary hadn't done anything wrong and God wanted him to be very much part of his plan. Joseph found himself in a situation which was not of his choosing. Sometimes there isn't a lot we can do about situations in which we find ourselves. Things happen in families over which we have very little control. Inevitably, we suffer bereavements, people lose their jobs, health sometimes fails. Joseph, faced the prospect of having a lifestyle he never envisaged. He just wanted a life of a local carpenter with a girl he loved as his wife.
But out of nowhere for him came the challenge of being the earthly father of God’s son. The trust God places in ordinary people is in itself miraculous.

I can't imagine the emotion God must have felt to entrust his plan to such ordinary people... like
Zechariahe and Elizabeth... And you…. and me, ….just where we are…. in whatever circumstances we are.
Isn't
that miraculous?!

Wherever you may be, be you young or old, in whatever circumstances you may find yourself, God wants to use you to serve him and all he asks is that we say to him "I am the Lord servant."
May I invite you to come to the manger this Christmas with those words on your heart and allow God to bless you and use you.


CAROL: SILENT NIGHT
The origin of the Christmas carol we know as Silent Night was a poem that was written in 1816 by an Austrian priest called Joseph Mohr. On Christmas Eve in 1818 in the small alpine village called Oberndorf it is reputed that the organ at St. Nicholas Church had broken. Joseph Mohr gave the poem of Silent Night (Stille Nacht) to his friend Franz Xavier Gruber and the melody for Silent Night was composed with this in mind. The music to Silent Night was therefore intended for a guitar and the simple score was finished in time for Midnight Mass. Silent Night is the most famous Christmas carol of all time

Audio file:
38 Silent Night (To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

1
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
2
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born
3
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

BENEDICTION
Audio file: 39 Benediction(To hear the audio file please right click mouse, then left click to open new tab) 

May the wonder of God’s gift to the world be with you wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you may find yourselves both now and through the years to come. May you never lose the awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit who guides you to know Jesus as a Saviour. Amen


If you would like to
comment on the service,  please e mail 
Dr Malcolm Westwood 
on
mw@veilministries.org