Rev Olwen Woolcock

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 20th December 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 20th December 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 20th December 2020

Featured Image: The triangular window at the front of church “Lady of the Wayside”, in Connemara, Ireland. Olwen refers to this in the sermon.

Click the play button above to view the service.

Order of Service

Good Morning everybody. Welcome to our service of worship on Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Fourth Advent candle will be lit today in church to remind us of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We say this short prayer.

A candle burns,
the sign of your love.
God of Mary,
come to us again this Advent.
May the light of your love
be born anew in us. Amen.
  
HYMN Hail to the Lord’s anointed

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you
And also with you.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
When the Lord comes,
he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness,
and will disclose the purposes of the heart.
Therefore, in the light of Christ let us confess our sins.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
forgive us all that is past
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name.
Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE COLLECT
God our redeemer,
who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son:
grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour,
so we may be ready to greet him
when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen

Old Testament Reading:

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leadersof Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 

16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. 

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

HYMN: The angel Gabriel form heaven came.

GOSPEL READING

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
Glory to you O Lord.

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’[b] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’[c] 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

This is the gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

SERMON
Mary at the wayside.

A few years ago, on holiday in Ireland Ray and I came across this small modern church on the side of the road out in the desolate stretches of Ireland near the rock plateau known as the Burren. Absolutely in the middle of nowhere. There was a sign outside which simply said ‘Stop and Pray.’  So we stopped. I googled it the other day – and discovered the church is called Our Lady of the Wayside and it’s in Connemara.

The reason that I remembered it so well and was able to find it though the Google search engine is because the whole of the front of the church is an incredible triangular stained-glass window which stretches right up to the apex of the building – and it depicts Mary, the mother of Christ. But this isn’t Mary in blue, Mary meek and mild – this is Mary wearing a hooded red cloak and the cloak swirls across the window in shades of red and pink. It was the red cloak that I remembered. Mary is shown wearing it because that was the colour of the cloaks the girls in Galway wore in the 19th century – it was their traditional dress.

So, here’s an image of Mary as a Galway peasant girl. It makes Mary real. It takes her away from our images of haloed statues, religious paintings, nativity plays and a hundred thousand pious images and figures and reminds us that she is an ordinary girl. Mary lived in a rural subsistence economy and life would have been tough. Day to day work was hard labour in the fields and in the home, girls got married young, and the village had strong ideas about how you were to live and conduct yourself. I’m sure that was the case in 19th century Ireland too. The point is that Mary could be any village girl anywhere, she could be a girl from Galway or Southern Spain or the Russian steppes – going about her business. We’re meant to relate to her, she has something to say to us. That image on the front of the church bring her to us -in the moment.   

So, it was to an ordinary girl that the angel Gabriel came. And after he’d left nothing was the same. That’s what happens when you get visited by an angel. Gabriel brought three things to Mary when he dropped in that afternoon. He brought disruption, promise and hope.

Disruption – because after her encounter with the angel Mary’s life trajectory was changed forever. Nothing was going to be the way it was planned. Her quiet betrothal to the local carpenter was upended. Instead, Mary would find herself with the shame of an unexplained pregnancy, the criticism of neighbours, the questions of her family and Joseph, and when those tensions are resolved – there would be a birth in a stable in an unfamiliar town, followed by life as a refugee, and then the lifelong bitter-sweet experience of being a mother to Jesus.  Thirty-three years later Mary is standing at the foot of the cross.  But that is in the future.

Promise – Gabriel brought to Mary the promise of a baby. A baby is a very special promise and this was going to be a special. The angel told her  the child she would carry would be ‘the son of the Most High’, and occupy the throne of king David and rule over Israel and would have a kingdom that lasted forever.’  This would be the child that would fulfil Israel’s longing for a king who would save them, the one who the whole of Israel had been hoping for.  

And with that promise came hope.  Hope of a new future. Right after this story Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth – as the angel has prompted her to. Elizabeth in her greeting, affirms the words of the angel when she recognised that Mary is carrying the Lord and in response Mary breaks into prayer and song. She speaks out the hope her child brings. The hope of a different world where the powerful are brought low, the rich are sent away empty and the hungry are filled with good things. The hope of God’s new way, God’s new kingdom.  Mary’s Magnificat– my soul magnifies the Lord.

 So here’s Gabriel’s message – it’s an offer of promise and hope but there will be disruption –  and Mary takes it.  She willingly puts herself in the path of God and God’s purposes and says yes. Mary is brave beyond her years.  Bible commentators write about her submission to God’s will at this point – but I think it is more about rising to a challenge. Of course, it is an answer rooted in her faith – but it is brave and forward looking. It comes from a resourceful, tough, peasant girl who knows how to get by and get on.  

Look at what Mary puts up with that this promise the angel brings might be fulfilled. She bears in herself, – the insults of her village, the burden of the pregnancy on her young body, the journey to Bethlehem at full term, the gritty birth, the soldiers searching for her child to kill him, the flight to Egypt and life there as an alien before she can return home. And then there’s all the hard work that we don’t hear about of being a first-time mother and making a home for the little family away from her relatives and support base. She bears all this – she is a strong young woman.

The context for every sermon is necessarily what we are going through at the moment. It cannot be ignored. The scriptures only speak to us if we can connect with them – and connect them to our human condition and our search after God. At the moment it is nearly Christmas but this year we are wary of entering into this time of good cheer, we aren’t free to be cheery.

Instead, we are living through our own time of disruption when life trajectories have been irrevocably altered and future plans have gone out of the window. Over the last few months disruption has been the by word of our lives. And during this time we have been bearing burdens too, bearing troubles and sorrow and frustrations, and inconveniences. Carrying worry, unsettled by fear.  This season of our lives has been a burden.

The disruption has been brought about by a disease and not an angel but there is a message for us today in Mary’s response to Go and to the message the angel brings.

Like Mary – in our struggles we can also choose to put ourselves in the path of God and God’s purposes. We can seek to stand in a place of faith in the middle of this trouble and trust God. We can seek to show his love to others. That is always God’s purpose – that we should love God and love our neighbour in whatever way is presented to us. Like Mary – we can rise to the challenge that has been given us – the challenge to keep going and to keep bearing the burden of this time in the best way possible and to keep praying?

The reason to respond this way is the same reason as Mary’s – we carry within us God’s promise of a the one who is our Lord and our saviour and the hope he brings. Mary carried Jesus in her body, we carry Jesus in our hearts. When we find him there then  the knowledge of his love for us and his presence with us will bring joy and hope even in the hardest times. 

Mary of the Wayside whose swirling red cloak encompasses us all.

Let us pray for God’s strength.

Lord our God we thank you for that image of Mary at the wayside, a strong young woman bearing her burdens for you. Help us to be strong and carry the burdens that are given to us trusting in your love and giving love and hope to others. Fill our hearts with joy in Jesus this Christmas. Amen.

THE CREED
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[ PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
]

HYMN: Of the Father’s love begotten

THE PEACE
In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

Let us hold one another in the peace of Christ in a moment of prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
Let us pray with confidence as our saviour has taught us

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done,
in 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.   Amen


THE BLESSING
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you,
scatter the darkness from before your path,
and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory;
and the blessing …

HYMN: Tell out my soul

DISMISSAL

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
Thanks be to God.



Mary’s Lullaby : Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir
Composer: John Rutter

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