God is With Us

Today is a Sunday where I am preaching locally and so what follows below is our complete service. You may feel free to say every prayer and sing every hymn or simply to skip to the sermon in the middle and the commissioning at the end (which is still kinda part of the sermon). This is not the same liturgy which we will be using this afternoon (Dec 18, 2022) in Chapel. To get to that liturgy click HERE.


Call to worship

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
          You who lead Joseph like a flock!
Stir up your might,
          And come to save us!
Restore us, O God of hosts;
          Let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
          The one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
          Give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O Lord, God of hosts;
          Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Opening Prayer

God of fire who created fire. God of light who gives us light. God of life who is the author of life. God of salvation who is our saviour. In case our lamps grow dim and lose the joys of this moment, give us your light in our hearts. May your light shine in the darkness. May it illuminate everything which is yet hidden. Holy Spirit, descend upon this place and be among your people. Be with us, Prince of Peace, and fill us with the promise of your love. As we gather here together in your name, fill us with the hope of new life. Rejoice, beloveds, and sing the praises of our saviour who is coming into the world!

Hymn – Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Candle Lighting 

Jesus is the light of the world
   The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it

Advent Poem by John of the Cross

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the Holy and say,
“I need shelter for the night.
Please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul,
you will witness the sublime intimacy,
the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever,
as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes, there, under the dome of your being,
does creation come into existence eternally,
through your womb, dear pilgrim,
the sacred womb of your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help:
for each of us is His beloved servant never far.
If you want, the virgin will come walking down the street,
pregnant with Light, and sing!

Invitation to Confession

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. So let us confess our sins to God, knowing that he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Prayer of Confession

Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, too often in life we do not make a place for you to rest in our hearts. You seek a place to be born and we are like the inn which has no room. May we rather be like the stable, O Lord. May we be humble and empty and welcome the birth of the Light of the World inside our hearts. We empty ourselves of the hustle and bustle, our distracting thoughts and our restless emotions, so that you may be born in us and transform us into the Light. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Words of Assurance

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 

Hymn – There’s a Voice in the Wilderness

Scriptures

Isaiah 7:10-16

Matthew 1:18-25

Sermon – God is With Us

The familiar Christmas story we are all used to comes primarily from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. That’s where we get the animals and the wise men and the shepherds who follow the star. The gospel of John, on the other hand, introduces Jesus in a very different way. 

Instead of talking about the circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth, John talks about how Jesus is God in a more abstract way. There is one line in particular which I would like to explore with you today. While referring to Christ’s eternal nature, John said, 

“What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is important because it helps us understand why Jesus is called Emmauel, which means God is with us. What came into being on that fateful Christmas morning was life itself. Christ is the author of life and also the source of all life. It was not an ordinary child who was born, but the fullness of vitality and grace. 

It was Emmanuel who was born of the humble Mother Mary. Mary gave birth to the one who had given her life in the first place. She gave birth to the Light of the World. The Light which shines in the darkness. The light which the darkness can never overcome.

This is Emmanuel, the long expected messiah, for whom we wait during the Advent season. The one who will show us the way to live and who gives us life in the first place. We await the coming of new life, the rebirth of all that has gone astray.

The birth of Jesus was a historical event, which happened roughly two thousand years ago. It is also something which happens everyday in the hearts of those who choose the light even in the midst of darkness.

John gave Jesus the name Life and he also gave Him the name Light. The light of Christ shines in the darkness and nothing can ever overcome it. It is the light which shines eternally without ceasing. It is the light which gives life to the world. 

The human heart is a kind of darkness. Not a darkness of sin but a darkness of ignorance. In the same way that our eyes cannot see the beautiful colours of the forest unless the sun is shining, our inner eyes are in darkness until they receive the light of Christ.

The light of Christ, when it shines in our hearts, gives life to our inner eyes, our spiritual eyes. This is why Christ said to those who did not receive Him, “you have eyes but do not see.” All of us have a great capacity for spiritual insight within us waiting to be brought into the light. 

The prophecy which Isaiah spoke about Emmanuel, the child to be born of a virgin, emphasised his ability to refuse what is evil and to choose what is good. The ability to distinguish the good from the bad is called discernment. 

The ancient monks who I study and write about would often say that discernment is the most valuable of the virtues because without it we may choose evil all the while thinking it is good.

When the light of Christ shines in our hearts, our inner eyes are opened, and we are able to discern the good from the bad. One of the beautiful things about the gospels is that they act like a window through which we can see what is good. 

Because Jesus was the incarnation of the eternal life force, the light which allows us to see what is good, his life can serve as a model which we emulate. For those of us whose inner eyes are still in darkness, the written words of the life of Jesus are like a blind man’s dog. 

It is all well and good to say that we should allow the light of Christ to shine within our hearts, but how do we actually do that? How can that beautiful imagery become a lived reality?

The key to understanding this is Mary. Mary is the example which the scriptures give us of what a person who has the light inside them looks like. If we emulate Mary, then we will also be able to have the light of the world dwell within us. 

Firstly, when the angel Gabriel approached Mary and told her that she was to give birth to the Son of God, Mary responded with the following words,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The first thing we must do, if we wish the Holy Spirit to overshadow us and fill us with the light of Christ, is to say yes. We must begin from a humble place of acceptance and a desire to be a servant. Christ himself was a servant, and so we must be like Him if we are to receive Him. 

The spiritual life begins with our choice to let go of pride and to embrace the humility of Mary. Christ prefers to be born in a stable amongst the poor rather than a glorious palace with servants. 

After Mary consented to receive the Christ Child within her, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she became pregnant with the divine. It is easy to skip over the pregnancy and go straight to the birth, but there is a lot of helpful imagery in pregnancy if we want to talk about how the light grows inside of us.

Pregnancy is a remarkable thing. I have been blessed enough these last few months to watch as my wife creates a new human being inside of her. When a woman is pregnant she has no control over the way the baby turns out. 

She cannot choose the gender or the colour of the eyes or how big the baby will be. Just like Mary, she has to submit herself to the process and trust in the outcome. To be pregnant and to give birth are acts of great faith.

In the same way, when the light of Christ first begins to shine within our hearts, we have no choice but to proceed by faith. We must give ourselves over to something which is happening within us but which is beyond our control. 

The expectant mother watches as her body changes before her eyes in ways she cannot predict. In like manner, we also change as the light of Christ grows within us. Just as a mother is forever changed by the experience of pregnancy, we are forever changed by the growing light of Christ in our hearts.

Yet, while pregnancy is a passive experience in so many ways, it is also a great effort on the part of the mother. She has to endure sickness and pain. She has to eat well and stay healthy. She has to prepare her home for the child who is to come. While she is not in control of the process, she still has an important role to play and without her efforts the child will never be born.

The growth of the light of Christ within us is something beyond our control, yet it is still a great responsibility. We must rise to the occasion and do everything we can to support and nurture that which is growing inside of us. 

We experience pain when the light illuminates the parts of ourselves we have always kept hidden. We feed and nurture the light by taking in spiritual food and studying the scriptures. We prepare a home for Christ in the world by loving others and helping them to find the light which is inside them as well.

If we do not participate in the illumination of our souls, then the light will go out and our hearts will be filled with sorrow. God calls us to care for and nurture the Christ Child within us. It is an act of creation which we do in partnership with God.

Once the light of Christ has grown inside of us and changed us and prepared us to give birth, the time has come for the light to be made manifest in the world. Christ is born into the world every day when people show mercy towards one another. Christ is born with every act of kindness and with every act of generosity. 

But today it is Advent and we are still waiting. In a week from now, when Christmas day is upon us, I encourage you to take a moment in the midst of all the festivities to ask yourself this question. How am I nurturing the light of Christ in my heart and how am I giving birth to what is holy in the way I live my life?

Hymn – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Prayers of the People and Lord’s Prayer

Say some prayers for the world and end it with the Lord’s prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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 those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

Hymn – Hope is a Star

Commissioning and Benediction

Mary’s little boy eventually grew up and changed the world. Her faith and her labour were both essential parts of the gospel. In the same way, our faith and our efforts are both essential if we are to be a gospel people. 

The good news is that Christ is forever coming into the world. So long as there are people who show love to one another Christ will be born again and again. 

There is a light which eternally shines in the darkness. Even when our inner eyes are blind, the light still remains. The light of Christ shines within you and is waiting for you just as much as you are waiting for it. 

The little boy in the manger eventually grew up and preached a famous sermon on a hill. In that sermon He gave us the following teaching:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

So let your light shine, my beloved sisters and brothers. The light of the human heart when it is given faith shines for all to see. It is a beacon of hope, peace, joy, and love. 

John, in the opening words of his gospel, said that Jesus was the light of the world. Jesus, in the opening of his sermon, said that we are the light of the world. It is the light of Christ which shines in us, so do not hide it under a basket. Instead, say yes to God and give birth to what is holy.


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