The Prodigal Father – Worship @ Home Sunday, 28 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner
Based on an idea by Chris Howlett

Unknown artist

Song: Have you ever stopped to think

Have you ever stopped to think how God loves you?
It sounds quite incredible, and yet it’s true.
Nothing on this earth or in the heavens above
Is as sure and certain as God’s love.

O it’s as high as the sky and it’s as deep as the sea,
And it’s as wide as the world, God’s love for you and for me.
We can’t escape his love, or take ourselves out of his care,
So where could we hide from his love?
His love is everywhere.

Everything is changing in the world today,
There’s one thing reliable in every way,
Other things may alter but it’s clear and plain
That the love of God is just the same.

Wider than the human mind can realize,
His love is unlimited and never dies;
Though we don’t deserve it, every day it’s new;
That’s the love of God for me and you.

John Gowans

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

ELLC version

Bible Reading: Luke 15:11-32 NLT

Parable of the Lost Son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

The Prodigal Father

At the funeral of a soldier in a Corps where we once served, we heard a story of this Godly family man that we hadn’t known, but which didn’t at all surprise us. As a parent to three lively sons, he took issues of discipline very seriously. Whenever they arose, he’d give the boys a verbal chastisement and send them to their respective rooms where they were expected to remain.

After a while, their father would take a drive out and it was this sound that began to stir the notes of joy and hope in the boy’s hearts whenever they heard this. It was because not long after his departure the father would be back, calling them downstairs again and gifting them each with a tub of ice cream! Yes, their father had given them a real telling off as of necessity, but he wanted always to remind them of his love for each of them. 

Our Bible passage for today tells a story that is very well-known. It’s usually called The Prodigal Son, but as Chris Howlett, from whom we have borrowed this sermon series, explains, “‘prodigal’ means extravagantly wasteful. Whilst the younger son is wasteful of his inheritance, it is the father in the story whose extravagance is on display as he celebrates his son’s return.

In Jesus’ day, the son could well have been killed for bringing shame onto the family, but the heart of God is revealed in the seemingly wasteful (graceful) actions of the father. We’re being invited to participate in the redemption celebration along with the elder son.”

Let us take a little glimpse of that Father heart of God by focusing on the father’s actions in this story.

“And so the father liquidated assets and divided them”

v.12b The Voice

It seems that there is no attempt on the father’s part to change his son’s mind. There’s no cross examining the boy about what he intends to do with the money, nor does the father tell him what he should do. Quietly the father gives the boy what he asks for, giving freely, without any conditions. We might wince at the audacity of the son asking for his inheritance ahead of time, but God encourages us to come to him and ask him for what we need. As James 4:2 tells us,

‘you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it’

NLT

For the one who has accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and placed their faith and trust in him is considered to be part of God’s family. Family members are usually happy to share resources and manpower freely, because of their relationship. God invites us to tell him what we want, and he will give it. In the book of Malachi, God calls his family, the Israelites, to remember those who fulfil a particular function in Priestly service. Their duties mean that they are not free to work and draw a wage. As well as keeping the Temple as it should be, they also need the means to care for their own families. So, the people were asked to set aside part of their income, a tithe, for this purpose. God reminded them that whatever they gave to him, they would in no way be impoverished.

In Malachi 3:10 we read the astonishing words

Feel free to test Me now in this. See whether or not I, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will open the windows of heaven to you and pour a blessing down upon you until all needs are satisfied.

(The Voice Translation).

It is not possible to out give God; he is the eternal prodigal, extravagantly wasteful and graceful Father.

©Sweet Publishing from https://freebibleimags.org

Back in our story, the wondrously prodigal father was opening the windows on all his resources so to speak, to pour his grace gift into the lap of his youngest son, a loved and valued family member. It doesn’t take the boy long to decide that he is off, taking all the wealth he has been given with him. When it was all gone, he found himself in the poorest paid work feeding pigs. Only when he reached that low point could he recognise how well-off he had been at home, and further, how well off were the family’s servants. That was when he made the best decision he would ever make: to return home.

Did the father know such a day would come? Maybe he did, for we are told, “The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him” (v.20). Had anyone but the father laid eyes on him first, he might never have reached his homestead, as Howlett reminded us earlier ‘the son could well have been killed for bringing shame onto the family.’ Because of the father’s vigilance, the son lived to see another day; for in the embrace of the father, no one dared lay a hand on the son. Since the father showed the community that he accepted his son, so the community could accept him also.

The son begins the speech he’d been mulling over and over in his mind. But all the speech the father hears is all that he needs to hear: “Father, I have done a terrible wrong in God’s sight and in your sight too. I have forfeited any right to be treated as your son” (v.21). The boy swept away from his home in swaggering pride, but has now returned home a humble, repentant man. In his letter to the Christian Church, James tells us that

‘God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests. That’s why Scripture says, God opposes the proud, but He pours out grace on the humble’

James 4:6 The Voice

In taking the steps that he took to return home and in acknowledging his folly, the son confessed his need of the father. God delights to respond to such inclinations and confessions still. Just like the father in the story, God confers the title of son or daughter on the man or woman, boy or girl who humbly seeks his face and asks for his forgiveness, and he swings into action as God would much rather that people know his love. 

‘“Quick! Bring the best robe we have and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Go get the fattest calf and butcher it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate because my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and has been found.” So they had this huge party.’

(v.22-24)

The father’s acceptance of his son was full and complete, grace upon grace, and he was received into the family home with all the rights and privileges of a son, not the servant he thought he might become. Clearly, even the son did not know his father all that well – a prodigal, extravagantly wasteful father who wanted his son to know that he was loved.

This is the Father heart of God; he is intent on redeeming his people, restoring them to the family fold, lavishing his love upon them. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians,

But now, because of Jesus the Anointed and His sacrifice… God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King.’

(Ephesians 2:13 The Voice)

But not everyone was happy about the joyous celebration nor could comprehend the father’s grace as a wonderful thing. “The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with to join the celebration” (v.28). The extravagantly loving father, whilst jubilant about his youngest son’s return, grieves for the presence of his beloved firstborn. And just as the father went out earlier to embrace the repentant younger son, so now he came out to embrace the petulant older son, keen as ever that he should know his love for him.

©Sweet Publishing from https://freebibleimags.org

Yet his eldest son, who had faithfully worked by his father’s side, could not understand. The man who had known his father’s presence and grace daily became a boy once more, peevishly airing grievances which could have been talked about and rectified long before, if only the son had been honest and asked. Grace had stared him in the face, had surrounded his environment, but had never been received and enjoyed.

How the father ached to see that his dear firstborn had evidently been impervious to his love, as we hear in his response: “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. Isn’t it right to join in the celebration and be happy? This is your brother we’re talking about. He was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found again!” (v.31-32)

Was the son moved by the tenderness of the father’s words for him? Did the love that surely shone from his father’s face as he addressed him release the catch on his elected cell of cold duty and loneliness? We shall never know the answers to those questions, and I don’t think we were meant to. However, it is a story meant to make us think about our answers and responses as to where we might see ourselves in this story.

What are the attitudes of our hearts concerning God’s prodigal, extravagant, wasteful, gracious love for every living person, who is also our brother or sister and whom Jesus came to redeem? Can we choose to dance to the tune of God’s heartbeat and join the celebration party? Or will we choose to withdraw into cheerless cells of self-imposed misery? You know where God would rather place you, right in the centre of knowing and receiving God’s unconditional love, which has to be the sweetest thing you have ever tasted. 

Song: O love that wilt not let me go

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson

Prayer

Our loving Heavenly Father, this story from the Bible thrills us, challenges us and haunts us by turns. How wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of such unconditional, prodigal, wasteful, extravagant, graceful love!

How disconcerting it is for us to feel the elder brother’s misery and know that our own attitude towards others is sometimes nearer to the older brothers’ than to yours. Father forgive us please.

We long to be fully formed in your likeness and love, so that we may help inaugurate your transforming love in ever-increasing waves in our families, in our communities and in our world.

We do love you Lord and want to share life with you in honest conversation and in living, so that we follow your lead, and are ready to join in the celebration party whenever a redeemed brother or sister comes home to you. In the precious name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Song: Teach me to dance

Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart,
Teach me to move in the power of Your Spirit,
Teach me to walk in the light of Your presence,
Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.
Teach me to love with Your heart of compassion,
Teach me to trust in the word of Your promise,
Teach me to hope in the day of Your coming,
Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.

You wrote the rhythm of life,
Created heaven and earth;
In You is joy without measure.
So, like a child in Your sight,
I dance to see Your delight,
For I was made for Your pleasure,
Pleasure.

Let all my movements express
A heart that loves to say ‘yes’,
A will that leaps to obey You.
Let all my energy blaze
To see the joy in Your face;
Let my whole being praise You,
Praise You.

Graham Kendrick & Steve Thompson.
© 1993 Make Way Music.

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

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A Strange Romance – Worship @ Home Sunday, 21 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Worship @ Home Sunday, 21 February 2021
Major Steven Turner
(Based on an idea by Chris Howlett)

Series Introduction: Redemption

In ancient times, life centred around the extended family, overseen by a Patriarch (literally Great Father). When family members lost their status and security through poverty or enslavement, the patriarch would use all his power and wealth to rescue the lost family member and bring them back into the fold.

In the Bible, God presents himself as a patriarch, redeeming his lost family members from their enslavement to sin, and making them co-heirs with his Son, Jesus. Our reflections over these coming weeks will lead us from our consideration of God’s covenant his people, the Israelites, to their ultimate redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the New Covenant.

Song: Let us with a gladsome mind

Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord, for he is kind:
For his mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us blaze his name abroad,
For of gods he is the God:
For his mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

He, with all-commanding might,
Filled the new-made world with light:
For his mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

He the golden-tressed sun
Caused all day his course to run:
For his mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

All things living he doth feed,
His full hand supplies their need:
For his mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

John Milton (1608-74)

Chorus: Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His Glory and grace

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from the evil one.
for yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.

Bible Reading

3 The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’

2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.’

4 For the Israelites will live for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

Hosea 3:1-5

Song: What a faithful God

Lord, I come before your throne of grace;
I find rest in Your presence
And fulness of joy.
In worship and wonder
I behold Your face,
Singing what a faithful God have I.

What a faithful God have I,
What a faithful God.
What a faithful God have I,
Faithful in every way.

Lord of mercy, You have heard my cry;
Through the storm You’re the beacon,
My song in the night.
In the shelter of Your wings,
Hear my heart’s reply,
Singing what a faithful God have I.

Lord all sovereign, granting peace from heaven,
Let me comfort those who suffer
With the comfort You have given.
I will tell of Your great love for as long as I live,
Singing what a faithful God have I.

Robert & Dawn Critchley.
© 1989 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music.

A Strange Romance

Throughout our lives we continually lose relationships and create new ones. Some of them come to a natural end: you lose touch with old workmates when you start a new job, or with neighbours when you move to a new house. Some friendships are based on shared interests such as sports or music; as our interests change, so do the relationships. A child’s attachment to a parent becomes looser with marriage, and even more if children come along.

But other relationships break down because of the behaviour of one person. Marriages end due to unfaithfulness, mistreatment or disagreements over money, responsibilities or some other issue. Friendships can be broken through perceived betrayal or harsh words. Family members fall out over all kinds of things and communication breaks down. Church members quarrel over what songs to sing, who is responsible for cleaning the building and whether someone is committed enough. The shared love or affection comes to an abrupt end and the relationship falls.

What do you do when that happens? Shrug your shoulders and walk away? Cry yourself to sleep at night? Wish (or even plan for) a catastrophe for the other person? Tell everyone around how bad the person is? Spend your days obsessing over the betrayal?

In our Bible reading, Hosea is in just such a situation: his wife (who was a prostitute before they married) has gone off with another man, who presumably mistreated her, as she is now for sale in the slave market. We might forgive him for saying, “You’ve got what you deserve!” But Hosea goes to the market and buys Gomer back. Why would he do that?

If you read the opening of the book of Hosea, you’ll realise that his was a Strange Romance. God told Hosea to take “an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness! (Hosea 1:2a). By this action and in the naming of his children, Hosea was mimicking the situation between God and Israel.

The Israelites had agreed a covenant with God during their wandering in the wilderness. But since arriving in the Promised Land, they had been drawn aside to worship the Baals (literally “lords”) of the Canaanites. The religious practices were full of sexual activity, and the gods promised fertility for both land and people. Who would turn down pleasure and profit?

But in turning to false gods, they had broken the first condition of the covenant with the living God, who became angry with them. (Hosea 2 begins to list God’s complaints against his people. Following our reading, the complaints continue for another 11 chapters!) As a sign of his displeasure, God ordered Hosea to call his second and third children, Lo-Ruhamah (“not loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). It may appear from this that God was rejecting the Israelites. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Although much of Hosea’s message rails against the sins of the people—greed, idolatry, unfaithfulness, dishonesty and more—there are hints of hope throughout the prophecy. Beginning in 1:10-11, God promise a reunion of his beloved people, until they grow to numerous to count. God will be faithful to his covenant; he will not give up on his people and will welcome them back when they repent. This is the meaning of Hosea’s purchase of Gomer.

In verse 3 the phrase “live with me for many days” is a little hard to understand. If we compare it with verse 4, it seems to suggest that Gomer would be welcomed back to the house but would not initially enjoy all the benefits of married life.

In the same way, the Israelites would live through a period of exile when they had relations neither with God (as Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed) nor with the Baals (who were assumed to reside in Canaan). This period was presumably intended to encourage Gomer to be faithful to Hosea and Israel to be faithful to God.

Hosea’s story has some parallels with the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). The younger son had claimed all the benefits of his position but squandered them on “wild living” (v13). But when he came to his senses and went home, his father was so glad to see him that he ran out to meet him, brought him home and threw a party.

How do you handle a relationship that has gone sour? Do you cut off all ties with the one who has upset you? Do you wish or even pray for their downfall? Do you ignore them in the street or repeat your tale of woe to anyone who will listen? That’s how most people would handle these situations.

The Bible confirms what psychologists tell us: that holding grudges and harbouring bitterness and resentment are bad for our health and our relationship with God (Proverbs 14:10; Ephesians 4:26).

Jesus gave both a challenge and a warning to his disciples regarding strained relationships:

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13:34-35

Love is to be the mark of the followers of Jesus. We are to emulate both our heavenly Father and his Son in our love for others. John expands on this in chapter 4 his first letter, especially:

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

Jesus also told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21‑35), ending with the warning:

35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ (Matthew 18:35).

No one should pretend that this is easy; like Hosea’s Strange Romance, it takes great strength of character and a firm trust in God’s work through his spirit in us. Our family and friends may not understand us and even turn against us. But many Christians will testify that it is possible, and even brings a sense of release.

If you have suffered a broken relationships, here are some suggestions for restoration:

  1. Pray for the other person (Matthew 5:44). It’s hard to hate a person for whom you are praying!
  2. If possible (and if it is safe), try to meet with the other person to resolve your differences (Matthew 18: 15).
  3. Regardless of how things work out, make sure that your actions always seek peace (Romans 12:18).

God never breaks his side of the covenant, and he calls us to do the same in our relationships with others. Will you take up the challenge and seek to build a Strange Romance?

Song: Waymaker

You are here, moving in our midst
I worship You I worship You.
You are here, working in this place
I worship You, I worship You.

You are here, touching every heart
I worship You, I worship You.
You are here, healing every heart
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, turning lives around
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, mending every heart

Way maker, Miracle worker
Promise keeper, Light in the darkness
My God, that is who You are.
Way maker, Miracle worker
Promise keeper, Light in the darkness
My God, that is who You are

You wipe away all tears
You mend the broken heart
You’re the answer to it all, Jesus.

You are here, touching every life
I worship you, I worship you.
You are here, meeting every need
I worship you, I worship you.

Way maker…

Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu
2016 Integrity Music Europe (Admin. by Integrity Music)

Prayer

Father God, we are amazed at you faithfulness towards your people, even when we are unfaithful to you. In these days of Lent, may we encounter you afresh. Revive our love for you, we pray.

And as you have loved us, help us to so love others, that we would not only be able to restore our broken relationships, but also help them to restore their relationships with others.

Through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus, we pray.
Amen.

Song: Boundless as the might ocean

or can be sung to the tune Cwm Rhondda

Boundless as the mighty ocean,
Rolling on from pole to pole,
Is the boundless love of Jesus
To the weary sinful soul,
Boundless mercy,
Making guilty sinners whole.

Boundless as the starry heavens,
Filled with fiery orbs of light,
Are the promises of Jesus
For the soul in nature’s night,
Ever shining
Till our faith is changed to sight.

Boundless as eternal ages,
As the air we breathe as free,
Is the boundless, full salvation
Jesus purchased on the tree,
Boundless cleansing
From all sin’s impurity.

Boundless is the grace to save us
From the guilt and power of sin;
Boundless is his power to keep us
Now and every instant clean.
Boundless praises
We our glorious Lord will bring.

Josiah Henry Walter (1865-1938)

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

Cliff Barrows
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Divine Love – Worship @ Home Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner

Song: Love Divine, all loves excelling

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of Heaven, to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every longing heart.

Come, almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above;
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.
Amen

Bible Reading

11 Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life! 12 No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendour. But if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us. 13 And he has given us his Spirit within us so that we can have the assurance that he lives in us and that we live in him.

14 Moreover, we have seen with our own eyes and can testify to the truth that Father God has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 Those who give thanks that Jesus is the Son of God live in God, and God lives in them. 16 We have come into an intimate experience with God’s love, and we trust in the love he has for us.

God is love! Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. 17 By living in God, love has been brought to its full expression in us so that we may fearlessly face the day of judgment, because all that Jesus now is, so are we in this world. 18 Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection. 19 Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us.

20 Anyone can say, “I love God,” yet have hatred toward another believer. This makes him a phony, because if you don’t love a brother or sister, whom you can see, how can you truly love God, whom you can’t see? 21 For he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also demonstrate love to others.

1 John 4:11-21 The Passion Translation

Song: Praise is rising

Praise is rising, eyes are turning to You, we turn to You
Hope is stirring, hearts are yearning for You, we long for You
‘Cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day
In Your Presence all our fears are washed away, washed away

Hosanna, hosanna
You are the God Who saves us,
worthy of all our praises
Hosanna, hosanna
Come have Your way among us
We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

Hear the sound of hearts returning to You, we turn to You
In Your Kingdom broken lives are made new, You make us new
‘Cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day
In Your Presence all our fears are washed away, washed away

Hosanna, hosanna
You are the God Who saves us,
worthy of all our praises
Hosanna, hosanna
Come have Your way among us
We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

Divine Love

On Valentine’s Day we are reminded of the special gift of love, not just between those who become life partners. We remember with thankfulness the love that we know and share with others in a wider context. Some friends once told us how they exchanged cards and a small gift for each other at the breakfast table one Valentine’s Day.

Suddenly, their small daughter blurted out, ‘Where’s mine?’ ‘What do you mean?’ one of the parents asked, bemused. ‘My Valentine’s card and present,’ the child insisted, bursting into tears as she exclaimed, ’don’t you love me?!’

The love that we share in relationship with our family members and friends is truly special and life enhancing. If we didn’t fully appreciate this before, we certainly do so now, a year into a global pandemic that has kept loved ones apart from each other!

As Christians, we are blessed with still richer circles of love, as we accept and receive God’s unconditional love. We are loved, guarded and guided by a triune God who, as Father, Son and Spirit, is ever-present and attentive to our hearts’ cry. We are his family, and other Christians, by their devotion to God, become family to us also. This brings as many challenges in relationships as in any natural family.

Even so, if we are to live by the values of God’s Kingdom and help others understand this better, more wholesome society we belong to, they must be modelled and demonstrated by those who are members of God’s family. Regardless of status, ethnicity, age or denomination, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and are committed to loving one another in actuality and not hypothetically. It isn’t easy and is work that will take a lifetime to perfect. Still, loving each other is God’s imperative for us. If we are serious about loving and living for God, loving people we feel the least inclined to love or even like, just as well as those we are most inclined to love, is what we must do.

You may have read 1 John 4:11-21 many times over the years. Its rallying call to love God and to love others, which we will focus on in our message today, is unlikely to be new. So, it helps to read familiar passages of the Bible in different translations. 

I like the following description The Passion Translation makes in our Bible passage for today. In the synergy of wholly loving God and loving others, we are told that ‘love has been brought to its full expression in us’ (v.12 & 17). What a beautiful state that would be for the one who would give themselves over to such a way of living; for that person would know great joy, harmony, fearlessness and peace.

This would be because God would be able to live fully in that person. Since God himself is love, and since he loves everybody unconditionally, our loving without reserve allows more of his spirit to dwell in us: ‘if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us’ (v.12).

When we are contemptuous, suspicious or uncaring of others, we open the door to the likes of disrespect, resentment, or fear. With the presence of these attitudes in our lives, the Spirit of God is squeezed; so, with less of him inside us, we cannot know the harmony, joy, fearlessness and deep peace we were meant to be filled with, much less love others as we ought. With God fully resident in us, such wellness and state of being is possible, whatever is going on in our world or our lives.

That doesn’t mean that we glide around in a bubble, as it were, unconcerned for those around us, grinning bizarrely with a superior ‘I’m okay Jack!’ attitude. No! With God dwelling fully in us, we cannot help but care for and be moved for those who are suffering and struggling in the world around us. God loves them just as surely as he loves us. 

We must offer what we can in the way of help, from practical support to prayer, and patiently, lovingly introduce them to Jesus, who alone can meet all of their needs. With God dwelling fully in us, we can operate from a position of poise and power, unruffled by life’s potholes, because we are leaning on and depending on Jesus, who enables us to move forward with him in confidence.

Our Bible reading makes it clear that the quality of our loving others correlates with our love for God. Were we to show little regard, love or concern for another, or offer minimalist support, when in fact we have the resources to do so much more, God would receive that as the extent of our love for him. Is that really what you want him to receive from you? Or would you want your love for him to be more finely expressed? Perhaps you would, but the way to do this is by loving others: ‘Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us’ (1 John  4:19). This truth is clearly expressed in the parable that Jesus told about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

1 Cor. 13:4 reminds us that

‘Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all.’ (TPT)

This way of loving is divine, Godly love. It is only possible for us to offer this love in so far as we allow God’s Spirit to dwell fully in us and operate through us, permeating our mind, heart and attitudes so that we show God just what he means to us by the way that we love and care for others. 

Prayer

Our Loving Heavenly Father, on this day when love is being reiterated and celebrated in many places, we want to Thank You for the special loves that we have known, shared and still have today. Whether that love is for life partners, children, grandchildren, parents, nieces, nephews, other family members or friends; we thank you Lord for them all.

Even within these good relationships, there are times of upset and falling out. For the most part, we are able to come together again, committed in our relationship to loving them as we should.

Where rifts still mar our family connections, Lord, give us the will to address these matters, so that we, as your children, may obey you in being committed to reconciliation, as you are with all people.

Father, you call us to love more broadly, beyond the borders and bounds of our natural family to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and still further to loving our neighbours and those we find it a challenge to love.

Father, we recognise that of ourselves we cannot love as well as we ought. We need you to dwell fully in us, to condition us to loving as you love, and thereby showing our great love for you. Would you come and help us to begin to love you and others just as we should and do want to.

I thank you Father God, Lord Jesus Christ and Blessed Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Song: Loved with everlasting love.

Loved with everlasting love,
Led by grace that love to know;
Spirit, breathing from above,
Thou hast taught me this is so.
O this full and perfect peace!
O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease
I am his and he is mine.

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am his and he is mine.

His for ever, only his;
Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah with what a rest of bliss
Christ can fill the loving heart.
Heaven and earth may fade and flee,
First-born light in gloom decline,
But, throughout eternity,
I am his and he is mine.

George Wade Robinson (1838-77)

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

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Covenant: God’s Gift of Christ – Worship @ Home Sunday, 07 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
(Based on material for Vision and Commitment 2021)

Introduction

In January of each year, in The Salvation Army United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, we have a period of reflection on our relationship with God and his direction for us as a part of his church. The Vision and Commitment season for 2021 has centred on covenants in the Bible, especially God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34. A covenant is a means to express our commitment to a relationship with another person, including how we intend to maintain and strengthen that relationship.

In the final Sunday of this season, we shall think about God’s covenant with us through Jesus, and consider how he wants us to respond as individuals. Towards the end of today’s programme, you will be invited to pray, to ask God what he wants to say to you,  and to sign your own commitment card. Although we will be doing this in the privacy of our own homes, it will still be a corporate act in the sense that God calls us into a community of believers, to support each other and to reach out in love to our communities.

We pray that, as you enter into this time of worship and reflection, you will experience your own encounter with God.

Majors Steven and Elizabeth Turner

Song: Lord of Creation

Lord of creation, to you be all praise;
Most mighty your working, most wondrous your ways;
Your glory and might are beyond us to tell,
And yet in the heart of the humble you dwell.

Lord of all power, I give you my will,
In joyful obedience your tasks to fulfil.
Your bondage is freedom, your service is song,
And, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.

Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
Rich truth that surpasses man’s knowledge to find.
What eye has not seen and what ear has not heard
Is taught by your Spirit and shines from your word.

Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart:
Your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide,
Your presence to cheer me, whatever betide.

Lord of all being, I give you my all;
If e’er I disown you I stumble and fall;
But sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom to the end of the way.

John Copley Winslow (1882-1974)

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.

Psalm 42:1

Song: As the deer

AS THE DEER pants for the water,
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

You alone are my strength, my shield,
To You alone may my
spirit yield.
You alone are my
heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

I want You more than
gold or silver,
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy-giver
And the apple of my eye.

You’re my Friend and
You are my Brother,
Even though You are a King.
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything.

Martin J. Nystrom.
© 1983 Restoration Music Ltd./Adm. by Sovereign Music UK
.

Prayer

Lord God, we praise you for your greatness and power, for the beauty and majesty of your creation, culminating in human beings. However, we recognise that we are not all that we were made to be. Your word tells how you have “loved us with an everlasting love”, even as we have run away from you.

Yet in our hearts, we know that we need you more than anything. As we approach you in this act of worship, may we encounter you afresh, experience your love and grace, and know just how you want us to live out your love in our fellowship and our community.

Let us conclude our prayer time by using the prayer
Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be 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,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Bible Reading

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

Luke 22:14-20

Song: My life must be Christ’s broken bread

My life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign.
That other souls, refreshed and fed,
May share his life through mine.

My all is in the Master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love’s demands
To give, for his dear sake.

Lord, let me share that grace of thine
Wherewith thou didst sustain
The burden of the fruitful vine,
The gift of buried grain.
Who dies with thee, O Word divine,
Shall rise and live again.

Albert Orsborn (1886-1967)

Covenant: God’s Gift of Jesus Christ

Introduction

Love is the most common theme within songs and poetry in almost any culture. And even within the darkest forms of literature, we see the need for everyone to love and be loved. Sadly, that love can be twisted and broken for all kinds of reasons.

The Bible tells us that God loves people. As early as the Exodus God declared of himself:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6

And soon afterward, Moses declared:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Deuteronomy 7:9

‘God loves people’ is the reality that informs and drives the idea of covenant. A covenant isn’t a deal or a bargaining position that results in a contract. It is the foundation of an everlasting relationship between God and people that reveals the incredible truth, that God wants to be with us… to love us.

Broken Covenants

Unfortunately, God’s unfailing love towards his people was not always returned. When Jeremiah begins to talk about the New Covenant which God wants to make with Israel, he has this damning indictment of their behaviour:

‘It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.’

Jeremiah 31:32 MSGhttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+31%3A32&version=MSG

Then Jeremiah begins to describe a completely new relationship with Israel, that will not be based on a contract – “you do this and I’ll do that”. When one party breaks a contract, the other is free to take measures to gain compensation.

Consider the row over the supply of vaccines to the European Union. Due to problems at the factory, the manufacturer was unable to deliver the agreed quantity on time. In retaliation, the EU introduced export controls, in case the manufacturer tried to “sneak” some vaccines into Britain.

Contracts imply co-operation and trust from each party, but are written on the expectation that they will fail, and so safeguards are built in. In a covenant, the two parties are bound together much more tightly. If one defaults, the other will still try to make the relationship work.

Consider marriage, in which two people commit to each other, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do us part.” (Christians often add, “according to God’s holy ordinance”, recalling God’s covenant of love with his people). The list of “for”s recognises that the relationship will go through times of difficulty, but that the couple will stick together to work it out.

Marriage has a unique place because it speaks of an absolute faithfulness, a covenant between radically different persons; and so it echoes the absolute covenant of God with his chosen, a covenant between radically different partners. ‑Rowan Williams

In his New Covenant, God promises that he will never abandon his people. Of course, we’d like to think we are good enough to “deserve” this treatment, or that we can earn God’s love by our good deeds. But the reality is that we mess up:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23

That’s where God’s mercy comes in, restoring the relationship and giving us another chance.

‘There’s a crack in almost everything, That’s how the light gets in.’

Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’ from 1992 album The Future 

Broken Justice

This life isn’t fair. If you always INSIST on justice, you’ll be angry all of your life. (Don’t make a ‘god’ out of justice.)

David Riddell

Pretty soon in human relationships, we find someone offends against us. They may say something that hurts us, take something of ours, or even directly or indirectly cause the death of someone we love. In that situation, we expect them to pay for their misdeeds. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God gave the people laws to tell them how to behave towards each other. The most famous is, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). The context is when a person’s actions lead to injury to someone else; the concept is that the punishment fits the crime. These principles have formed the basis of our legal system for a long time.

Unfortunately, retributive justice—hitting the offender with a hammer to give him a matching broken leg—doesn’t really do anything for the victim; he still can walk and probably can’t work. And in bigger cases, victims often feel left out of the process.

Restorative Justice seeks to heal and restore people, perhaps by introducing the victim and the offender, and allowing a relationship to develop and repentance and forgiveness to be exchanged.

God’s love transforms everything and heals the damage that is done to relationships. Human experience suggests that retributive justice does not work very well in families… or in any other context! Good parents love their children unconditionally, even if there is personal hurt and cost in loving this way, and as such this reflects the way in which God loves people.

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace. (Saint Ignatius)

Going forward together in covenant means that we must love each other to the extent that all of our relationships are transformed. The Church is to be characterised by the extent of our love for others. She is a loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive community of people that is like nothing else on the planet.

Broken Bread

At the Last Supper, Jesus took a ceremony that was linked to the Passover and the Old Covenant, and used it to introduce the New Covenant. The Feast of Passover commemorated the night when God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt.

The Israelites were told to cook two things: a lamb and unleavened bread (bread without yeast). Before cooking the lamb, its blood was spread on the doorposts and lintels to identify this as a house of faith. The Angel of Death “passed over” the marked houses, but killed the firstborn son in every other house (mainly the Egyptians). The unleavened bread was food for the journey. (Read the full story for yourself in Exodus 12)

When Jesus took the bread and wine, blessed them and shared them with his disciples, he was indicating that he would be killed in the same way as the Passover lamb, so that we would not be killed for our sins, but could have eternal life.

The breaking and blessing (note the contrast indicated in the two words) of the bread imply that brokenness and healing (death and resurrection) are key components of human relationships and the means by which humanity will flourish and thrive.

Such sacrificial, covenant love demands a response from us. Hence Albert Orsborn writes:

My all is in the Master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love’s demands
To give for his dear sake.

Albert Orsborn, SASB 610

Conclusion

‘When God makes a covenant with us, God says: “I will love you with an everlasting love. Iwill be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.” In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts.

When we makea contract with a person, we say: “I will fulfil my part as long as you fulfil yours. Whenyou don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.” Contracts areoften broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wantsour relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage,friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our livestogether.

Henri JM Nouwen

In following the example of Jesus, in the laying down of our lives so that others can pick up theirs, we arrive at the heart of discipleship and we share God’s vision of the new Kingdom community.

Questions for reflection

Personal

  • Jeremiah seems to suggest that instead of punishing us, God decides to love us all the more. Can you think of an example of when you experienced this kind of love? When did you offer it to someone else?
  • In your corps or family, what specifically can you name and thank God for as you reflect on his covenant of love?

Community

  • In what ways is our corps fellowship ‘a loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive community of people that is like nothing else on the planet’? In what ways are you loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive? How can you be more like this?
  • ‘Going forward together’ – is there one thing that might enable our fellowship to move forward? What might be preventing the fellowship moving forward? Offer prayers for wisdom for your corps leaders.

Renewing my covenant with God

Re-read God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34, to make a new and living covenant with his people. Take time to reflect on your relationship with God: what is the best thing; where you might have fallen short; what you desire for the future; how God might want you to live in the coming days.

Pray the prayer below, and (if you wish) download, print and sign the Covenant Card from The Salvation Army website as a marker that you commit to follow Jesus throughout this year.

O God, we cry to you in our anger that people hurt each other.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

We feel the fear and pain of an innocent and trusting child.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

We carry with us things that have been done to us which hurt and destroy.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

They stand before us and weigh us down. They stop us living with joy and hope.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

Lift us up on the wings of your Spirit.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

For you are stronger than all the forces that stand against us. Set us free, heal our wounds, O God who never leaves us nor forsakes us. Amen.

‘Service of Healing’, Dorothy McRae McMahon in “Human Rites”, Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, editors (Mowbray 1995), 135.

Song: O Jesus, I have promised

Traditional Version
Livelier version

O Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end,
Be thou for ever near me,
My Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle
If thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway,
If thou wilt be my guide.

  1. O let me feel thee near me;
    The world is ever near;
    I see the sights that dazzle,
    The tempting sounds I hear.
    My foes are ever near me,
    Around me and within;
    But, Jesus, draw thou nearer
    And shield my soul from sin.
  2. O let me hear thee speaking
    In accents clear and still,
    Above the storms of passion,
    The murmurs of self-will.
    O speak to reassure me,
    To chasten or control;
    O speak to make me listen,
    Thou Guardian of my soul.
  3. O Jesus, thou hast promised
    To all who follow thee,
    That where thou art in Glory,
    There shall thy servant be;
    And, Jesus, I have promised
    To serve thee to the end;
    O give me grace to follow,
    My Master and my friend.

John Ernest Bode (1816-74)

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless us with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep with our hearts.

May God bless us with holy anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
so that we may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless us with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and transform that pain to joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really can make a difference in this world,
so that we are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

Our regular benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day
As you trust him and walk in his way.
May his presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

Cliff Barrows
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Tales of the Unexpected – Worship @ Home Sunday, 27 December 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps

Carol: Once in Royal David’s city

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.

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.

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

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.

And our eyes at last shall see him,
Through his own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above;
And he leads his children on
To the place where he is gone.

Cecil Frances Alexander

Carol: O come let us adore him

O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

For he alone is worthy;
For he alone is worthy;
For he alone is worthy,
Christ the Lord.

We’ll give him all the glory;
We’ll give him all the glory;
We’ll give him all the glory,
Christ the Lord

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Bible Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Visitors from the East

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Carol: As with gladness

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,.
As wish joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Ever more be led to thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heav’n and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek the mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bore,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heav’nly King.

Holy Jesus! every day
Keep us in the narrow way
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star so guide,
Where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There for ever may we sing
Hallelujahs to our King.

William Chatterton Dix

Tales of the Unexpected

Tales of the Unexpected (Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected) is a British television series that aired between 1979 and 1988. Each episode told a story, often with sinister and wryly comedic undertones, with an unexpected twist ending[1]. Dahl, a master writer of fiction for children, as well as those from his books for adults that inspired the tv series, beautifully captures the ‘light and shade’ of human nature in the characters that populate his stories. The odd and odious characters, in contrast to the open-faced and outstandingly good-natured ones, memorably parade through his books stirring the spirit of a pantomime audience with a ‘boo, hiss’ for the baddy and a protective watchful ‘behind you’ cry for the goody!

When a cosmic sign in the skies appears and is noted, by the Wise Men (Magi) – highly respected Babylonian astronomers and astrologists living at the time of Jesus’ birth—the men conclude that it must signify the arrival of the Messiah, King of the Jews. Charting the star’s position and saddling up provisions for the journey, including gifts for this significant arrival, the wise men sally forth. With the star as their guide and reference point they painstakingly cross borders and countries in order to see the King of all kings.

Topically, excitement about the planets Jupiter and Saturn crossing paths in the night sky (21st December 2020), and appearing to the naked eye as a “double planet”, has caused astrophysicists and theologians to speculate that this is a return of the star of Bethlehem! This being the case, what significant event we might witness in our days? Let us keep watch and pray that we will be alert to whatever may transpire. 

The Magi arrive in Jerusalem, naturally assuming that anything of significance must be happening there and if not, the people there would be well aware of events and so be able to point them in the right direction. What they don’t know is that King Herod is a highly jealous and paranoid king. He was not in the least bit aware of the presence of another king; now that he is, he is far from pleased. A King who would usurp his, Herod’s position? “Never!” he may have thought. This one, whoever he is must be stamped out – and fast! The Bible narrative tells us that not only was Herod ‘deeply disturbed’ when he heard the news but so too was ‘everyone in Jerusalem’ (Matt. 2:3).

It was not without good reason that the people of Jerusalem were also ‘disturbed’. They knew their egocentric, despotic king well. And any disturbance for him spelled disturbance for them. Immediately, Herod sets to work in an effort to get to the bottom of this revelation. Men of the Magi’s stature didn’t just set out on a whim across continents in search of some perceived Messiah. They knew what they were talking about and he’d better learn what they were talking about fast, so that he could actually do something about it! And so it is that we learn that Herod, ‘called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”’ (Matt. 2:4)

Quoting from the book of the prophet Micah, they tell Herod that the designated birthplace of the Messiah is Bethlehem, just about 6 miles away. In a private meeting with the Magi, Herod shares his information in exchange for some information from them. ‘When did this star appear exactly?’

Did they imagine that he was sharing their excitement about the star and its meaning as they talked animatedly about their discovery? It seems that perhaps they did, not sensing the masked malevolence in his congenial directive to “go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” (v.8)

The fact that this meeting took place in private is interesting. Herod clearly had no wish to bring the learned scholars altogether to allow each to share their information around the table, so to speak. He didn’t want the Magi, leading priests and teachers of religious law to become caught up in what they would have worked out as the fulfilment of ages. Better play it down, keep the two parties separate.

Magi, well you might be onto something. Bethlehem is where the Messiah will supposedly be born. Go there and check it out and come back and let me know, because I ought to worship him too. Leading priests and teachers of religious law – why did I want to know where the Messiah would be born? Oh no reason at all really. Just got to thinking about it when I couldn’t sleep the other night; nothing for you to worry about!

Furnished with the information they need, the Wise Men continue on their way and rejoice to see the star that they had noted, charted and followed all this time directly over the place in Bethlehem where the young child was. With reverence and respect, they offer him their gifts and perhaps hear the various accounts concerning this special child, those of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna and now their own tale added to the picture.

This would have been further confirmation to both Mary and Joseph, if they needed it, that here in Jesus, God had indeed come to dwell on earth and draw everyone high and low, young and old to him in reconciliation. Everyone, that is, who was open and willing to receive the gift of Jesus as Saviour; but those who thought they were somebody, who walked around with a sense of entitlement would never see it.

Herod claimed and demanded supremacy, going out of his way to secure it too. The very idea that he should require a saviour would have been an offence to him. Just as soon as he had word of the precise whereabouts of this boy from the Magi, he would act once and for all! But, where were they? It didn’t take days to journey six miles, pay their respects and return. He had met their request, how were they not meeting his?

His seething simmered, finally splashing out in full blown rage when he realised that he had been thwarted! It was clear that the Magi were never coming back that way. Well now he would show them that the King of kings, whoever he was, would be no more. He, Herod, alone would be King! How good it was that he had thought to ask them when this star first appeared. And to make certain that the specific boy was eradicated; he would order the killing of every male child from the age of two years and under.

But Herod was reckoning without God, who knew exactly what was in Herod’s heart. Warning both the Magi and Joseph of the impending harm to the child, the Magi returned to their country by a different route. Joseph calmly removed his wife, child and their belongings under cover of darkness, so as not to draw any attention to themselves, and set out for Egypt, where they remained until it was safe for them to return to their own home in Nazareth.

Of course the terrible sadness is that all the little boy children living in Bethlehem at that time were all unexpectedly slaughtered, plunging their families into the darkness of grief and bringing them back to the days of their ancestors when under the Pharaohs’ rule in slavery in Egypt, he had decreed the death of all baby boys. But Moses was plucked from a tar lined basket hidden in the reeds on the riverbank by Pharaoh’s own daughter who opted to raise him as her own. Furthermore, Moses, knowing his heritage, followed God to deliver his people from slavery.

The boy Jesus would grow up to deliver his own, in every land, from the darkness of sin by another unexpected twist in his story. A horrible death on a cross followed by a dramatic resurrection from a stone-sealed tomb. Where God is concerned, the unexpected always emerges for our ultimate good.

Will we trust him then, to deliver us? Or will we steer our own course like Herod, with disastrous and harmful consequences? Should we choose to go with God, the journey of our lives will still have its hazards and pains in plenty, but held securely in the palm of his hand, we will be ultimately carried to the joys to which nothing compares, and the losses we lived with compensated in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

As it is written in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” We should prepare for the unexpected in every good way, as we surrender to him.

Carol: What child is this?

What child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nail, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

So bring him incense, gold and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own him!
The King of kings salvation brings:
Let loving hearts enthrone him!
Raise, raise the song on high!
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

William Chatterton Dix

Prayer

O God, who stands beyond both the darkness and the light, who is hidden by the names we give you and yet who moves in great mystery to touch our lives, wake us from our indifference and cynicism to see your grace and to respond to it.

We pray for all our brothers and sisters who stand beyond the margins of our comfort and our security: for all who are alone in this season which affirms love and community; for all who are homeless and jobless in this season of compassion and new life; for all who live in pain of body or mind in this time when love is declared incarnate.

We pray for the children of this earth; for all who are abused or neglected; for all who suffer the consequences of our carless acts or words. Link us again with their sense of play and wonder, their capacity to trust and to forgive;

We pray for all who are victims of hate and oppression, including all we unknowingly hurt through our blindness. Enable us to feel their pain and rejection. Help us to reach out in understanding and reconciliation.

And for ourselves we pray that we might find the time to consider the direction of our lives, the values and people we cherish, and so discipline ourselves to be more intentional as agents of hope, as channels of your grace, as a people who have seen your presence in their lives.

Pastoral prayer by Rev. Arlene Bodge
http://chilmarkchurch.org/service/index.php/2010/12/prayer-for-the-sunday-after-christmas/

Carol: On Christmas Night

On Christmas night all Christians sing,
To hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night all Christians sing,
To hear the news the angels bring:
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King’s birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before his grace,
Then life and health come in its place;
When sin departs before his grace,
Then life and health come in its place;
Angels and men with joy may sing,
All for to see the new-born King.

All Out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and forevermore. Amen.’

English Traditional (after Luke Wadding)


[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Unexpected_(TV_series)

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The Gift of Love – Worship @ Home Sunday, 20 December 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Various sources compiled by
Majors Steven and Elizabeth Turner

Carol: O come all ye faithful

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of angels:

O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the
Virgin’s womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created:

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heav’n above;
Glory to God
In the highest:
(For Christmas Day only!)
Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory giv’n;
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:

18th century, Anon. trs. Frederick Oakley

Carol: In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, Heav’n cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heav’n and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air:
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the belovèd
With a kiss.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what can I give him?
Give my heart.

Christina Rosetti

Carol: A Starry night

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.
(Repeat chorus)

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.

Joy Webb

Advent 4 – Love

Last Sunday, we lit the candle of Hope, remembering the hope which comes in Christ, the candle of Peace, remembering God’s dream of a peaceful world, and the candle of Joy, remembering the Spirit within us who brings joy. (Light Candles). Today we light the fourth candle of Advent, the candle of Love.

Scripture tells us “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18). God created this world in love and this world will end in the love of God. God’s love pervades all aspects of this life. From birth to death, God’s love is there.

We light this candle in Love. (Light Candle)

On this day, we remember God is Love.

Dear Jesus, may the light of your love always shine in our hearts. As Christmas draws closer, we marvel at your great love for us. Let your love transform every aspect of our lives and touch everyone we encounter. Our hearts are open to you, Jesus. Amen.

(Source: https://www.liturgylink.net/2016/11/22/advent-wreath-liturgies/)

(Prayers source: https://holyfamilyep.org/2019/11/16/advent-candles-and-prayers/)

you can watch an excellent virtual Nativity play by arranged by The Salvation Army’s Music and Creative Arts team, entitled No Zoom at the Inn!

Reflections

With the announcement on Saturday (19th December) that Christmas is shortened to one day (and for some in England, “cancelled” altogether), many people’s plans for Christmas have been turned upside down. Suddenly, we will have to post presents which we were planning to deliver in person on a journey south. People who were looking forward to sharing the day, or even a few days, with family or friends must now spend it alone.

The ideal Christmas of the adverts—a large family gathered round a loaded table tucking into turkey with all the trimmings and laughing at dad’s corny jokes—exists only in the eyes of the script writers and in the homes of a fortunate few.

Far more people experience loneliness at Christmas than at other times of the year. Some will share Joseph’s desperation to find a place to stay, or to make the house they live in feel like a home.

Whilst the image we have of the poor couple with their baby in a draughty stable may be historically inaccurate, it’s fair to say that even the first Christmas was far from ideal; an overcrowded house forcing the couple to bed down with the animals. Yet it heralded the greatest gift that we could possibly receive. As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16)

So let’s not consider Christmas “cancelled” this year. Rather, let’s receive God’s gift of his love, reaching out to a lost, confused and broken world, and let us share that gift with all those we meet.

Carol: The Infant King

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King;
Angels are watching, stars are shining
Over the place where he is lying:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King,
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
Soon will come bitter grief and weeping
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King,
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
Then in the grave at last reposing:
Sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe awaking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the infant King,
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning,
Conquering death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!

Sabine Baring-Gould

Prayer

Father God, our lives have been turned upside down this year, and we are sad and distressed that we cannot celebrate Christmas as we would like.

Lord Jesus, we recognise that you also came into a world that was troubled, and your birth was disrupted by government decrees and travel chaos.

Holy Spirit, in the midst of our turmoil, breathe your peace into our hearts, that we might experience joy at the Father’s gift of love, and share our hope with those around.

In your threefold name we pray, Amen.

Carol: Sweet Chiming Bells

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Sweet chiming bells,
O how they ring,
To welcome Christ, the new-born King.
Sweet chiming bells,
O how they ring,
To welcome Christ, the King.

All thy people’s consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of ev’ry nation,
Joy of ev’ry longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now thy gracious Kingdom bring.


By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Verses: Charles Wesley
Chorus: Anon
.

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The sounds of Joy! – Worship @ Home Sunday, 13 December 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner

Advent 3 – Joy

Last Sunday we lit the candle of Hope, remembering the hope which comes in Christ, and we lit the candle of Peace, remembering God’s dream of a peaceful world. (Light Candles). Today we light the third candle of Advent, the candle of Joy.

In Advent, we are in a time of waiting. Like the Israelites who wandered through the Wilderness, waiting to come into the Promised Land, we wait for the coming of the Joy of Ages. We wait for the day where we can join our voices with the angels to sing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” We wait for the day when everlasting joy will be on each of us.

We light this candle in Joy. (Light Candle)

On this day, we remember the Spirit who breathes joy into our lives.

Dear Jesus, help us keep focussed on you during this busy season. May we stay aware of the joy you bring into our lives. We want to find you in the everyday moments and come with hearts of gratitude to your manger on Christmas. Amen.

Song Angels from the realms of glory

(For a reflection on this carol, restart the video from the beginning)

Angels, from the realms of Glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth:
Ye, who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Come and worship,
Christ the new-born King;
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the new-born King.

Shepherds in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In his temple shall appear.

Sinners moved by true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you, breaks your chains.

James Montgomery

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever. Amen.

(New English Version – adopted by the Church of England in 1977)

Bible Reading: Luke 1:46-56

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.

Song Joy to the World

Design: Elizabeth Turner
Photo: Steven Turner

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King,
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n, and Heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savour 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.

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.

Isaac Watts

The Sounds of Joy

Joy is a visible, vocal characteristic that’s impossible to miss in another person. Love can be hidden for a time. Certainly, the casual acquaintance may miss the clues in dealing with a person who is in love or acting out of love; they do not know them very well. But joy is different; a person who is filled with joy is impossible to bypass. What’s their joyful mood about? What has happened? Do explain!

When a friend of ours recovered from the harrowing experiences of receiving a cancer diagnosis—having to face two pretty devastating operations for a woman, suffer hair loss in the course of her chemotherapy treatment and then the discomfort of radiotherapy—she threw a big party. Thankful to God, her family, friends and neighbours for all that they had done to support her through that time, she wanted them to share her joy in a celebratory ceilidh. She wanted no presents, but should anyone want to join her in participating in giving to her nominated charity, then they could do so at the party.

At a certain point in the evening, our friend addressed us all, gave her testimony and talked about the charity she wanted to support. Then the wig that she had had to wear at the height of her cancer treatment was passed around, so the donations that anyone wanted to make could be placed inside! This one-time symbol of our friend’s distress—being bald, having to wear an uncomfortable, scratchy wig—was now being used as a vessel to aid others in their distress. What a joyous occasion it was, especially to hear her addressing us all as she did that evening; it was a poignant, significant moment.

In our Bible reading today, we are listening in on a song of joy in a private moment between Mary, a young woman, and Elizabeth, her older cousin, as they each celebrate God’s intervention in their lives. Mary is right at the start of her reproductive life and Elizabeth is well past her un-reproductive life, but at the behest of God, his messenger Gabriel is despatched from his presence to bring the joyful news of two special delivery baby boys to each of the women. For Elizabeth the one who would herald the coming of God’s Saviour, for Mary that very Saviour himself. Remind yourself of their stories by reading the whole of this first chapter of Luke.

In acceptance and excitement of God’s assignment to her in birthing the long-awaited Saviour of the world, Mary goes in search of her older cousin, certainly to celebrate and to rejoice in their separate gifting’s of these special babies, but also perhaps for support and advice. ‘What if Joseph rejects me, believing I’ve been unfaithful to him? How do I cope with the knowing looks, the whispers or the pointed comments coming from around the neighbourhood? What is it like Elizabeth? What can I expect at particular stages of pregnancy?’

But before any confidences of that sort are shared, which we are not party to, the presiding state is one of great joy. That joy is evident first from Elizabeth’s ecstatic words of prophecy, and then it spills out in Mary’s song after Elizabeth’s address. It is a wonderful moment of sheer joy and adulation to God and of celebration between the two women. However, because of Luke’s thorough research (an interview with Mary no doubt) we have been given a glimpse into this very private moment. Mary is stunned but joyous that she, a mere ‘lowly servant girl’, should be selected to become universally and eternally known.

Mary’s song of joy moves from
exultant praise of God,
through awe that he should notice her (v.48),
to excitement in God’s righteousness and mercy coming to rest on generation after generation,
who reverence him (v.50).

Then there is the joy at God’s power to reverse situations of injustice those who think highly of themselves who look down on those around them (v.51b);

the ruthless titled removed and in their place the humble are positioned, ready to do God’s bidding (v.52);

those who are hungry are amply supplied, those who already have plenty, gain nothing extra (v.53);

the downtrodden and disregarded can no longer be ignored (v.54);
those who were scoffing at the notion of a Saviour must now take note: he is here (v.55).

It’s a socially and politically intoned song. Those who oppress the nation of Israel have had their day. The promise made to Abraham and his children is about to be fulfilled. What’s not to rejoice about in all of that?

What Mary was to undertake in obedience to God was both wondrous and a worry. She was very young and vulnerable, she did not know at that stage how Joseph would react, but she chose to trust God to work out his plan and in that she would be joyful. Later, the apostle Paul was to write in his letter to the Thessalonian Church:

‘Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil’

(1 Thess. 5:16-22).

These verses could well have reflected Mary’s attitude and stance when the angel appeared to her. Her confusion and disturbance seemed to centre more on the words the angel spoke rather than in his appearance! ‘Favoured woman! The Lord is with you!’ How so favoured? What did it mean for the Lord to be with me? Mary knew from the history of her people that the Lord came amongst his people at particular times for specific purposes and special tasks. What could she, a young, ordinary, Galilean girl about to marry, do for God?

Well, with a willing heart and faithful obedience she was about to find out and the essential theme of it filled her with joy. The Saviour was imminent, and the impact of his coming was to be felt throughout all generations from now and forever!

Being joyful in the Lord—even though Mary was living in a time of confusion, care and concern and that tone was to intensify through her participation in God’s plan—is the means by which Mary’s faith and trust in God is deepened. This is certainly a positive lesson that we can learn from her as we face our own troubled times and personal situations. Mary also gave herself space to reflect on God’s revealed purpose for her as she surrounded herself with good, godly, likeminded people to talk to, by going to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

On her arrival, Mary received confirmation of her state as ‘the mother of my Lord’ (v.43), yet she had only just crossed the threshold of Elizabeth’s home and called out ‘a greeting’; she had not yet told her story. But the baby in Elizabeth’s womb ‘jumped for joy’ at the sound of Mary’s voice and an understanding filled Elizabeth’s being as a result, causing her to commend her young relative for believing “that the Lord would do what he said” (v.45)—unlike her own husband Zechariah, whose unbelief meant that his voice would not resound until after their baby’s birth! (v.20)

Could the sound of our ‘greetings’ to others generate joy within our own spirit as people react positively to us?

Could the words we speak inspire others by our joyful attitude of faith, trust and thankfulness to God for the wonders he has and wants to work in and through our lives?

They surely can as we choose to follow Mary’s example in trusting God and allowing an attitude of thankfulness to fuel our joy.

Let’s be part of a movement to set the sound of joy ringing through our community by our greeting and word or song of testimony to the power of God, bringing the Saviour to reign over broken lives to bring health, healing and wholeness to them.

Song: As with gladness

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,.
As wish joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Ever more be led to thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heav’n and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek the mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bore,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heav’nly King.

Holy Jesus! every day
Keep us in the narrow way
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star so guide,
Where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There for ever may we sing
Hallelujahs to our King.

William Chatterton Dix

Prayer

Lord Jesus, your coming into the world brought joy to so many people, beginning with you mother Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.
As others heard you speak, they discovered the joy of a full relationship with God.
Following your death and resurrection, countless millions have experienced the joy of sins forgiven and the start of a new life.
This Advent, as you people, may we open our hearts to experience that joy for ourselves, and then go out to share it with others.
In you precious name we pray.
Amen


Song: Hark, the herald angels sing

Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born 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 th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King.

Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the sun 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 new-born King.

Charles Wesley
Verse 3 by Martin Madan


Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

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The Promise of Peace – Worship @ Home Sunday, 06 December 2020

Arrangement and photo: Steven Turner

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Steven Turner

Advent 2 – Peace

Last Sunday we lit the candle of Hope, remembering the hope which comes in Christ. Today we light the second candle of Advent, the candle of Peace.

God has a peaceful dream for the world, and we dream it too. We dream of a peaceful world where wolves, leopards and lions each eat, sleep and dance in companion with lambs, kids, and calves. We dream of a peaceful world where the people of the nation’s come together, war only a memory, and we eat as friends at one table.

We light this candle in Peace.

On this day, we remember the Lord of All who brings peace surpassing all understanding.

Dear Jesus, you entered our world on Christmas as the Prince of Peace. This Advent, as we strive to become the-best-version-of-ourselves, fill us with a deep and abiding peace. Help us share that peace with everyone we encounter, especially those who need it most. Amen.

Song Come thou long expected Jesus

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Sweet chiming bells,
O how they ring,
To welcome Christ, the new-born King.
Sweet chiming bells,
O how they ring,
To welcome Christ, the King.

All thy people’s consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of ev’ry nation,
Joy of ev’ry longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now thy gracious Kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Verses: Charles Wesley
Chorus: Anon.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Bible Reading      Isaiah 9:1-7

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 –

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

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.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Song It came upon the midnight clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold;
Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From Heav’n’s all-gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong.
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hast’ning on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears

The Promise of Peace

Introduction

It’s often been said that since the First (or Second) World War, there have never been a day of true world peace. This “fact” depends a little on how you define War, but it’s almost certainly true that some sort of conflict or argument happens every day, somewhere (and probably in many places) around the world.

Whether siblings bickering, politicians arguing, hotly contested sports matches or physical fighting, confrontation seems to be part of the human make up. Although much is made of the struggle for peace on so many levels, we seem incapable of achieving it or sustaining it for any length of time.

Yet at Christmas time, we hear again the song of the angels:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

Luke 2:14

and pray that it might be true for us in the coming year. But it’s important to understand the biblical foundation of peace.

The Prince of Peace

Isaiah spoke his famous words at a time when the kingdom of Israel (the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali in verse 1) had been overrun by the Assyrians, and the inhabitants of the southern kingdom of Judah were in the firing line.

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.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

(Isaiah 9:6-7a)

Although some scholars think this poem or hymn may have been written for the birth of a royal prince, it seems to have its greatest resonance towards the future restoration of Israel, based on a promise God made to David many years earlier.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

(As an aside, have you ever wondered how Jesus, God’s Son, could be called “Eternal Father”? A better translation would be “Father of Eternity”, in the sense of the originator or creator. This ties in with John’s statement that “through him [Jesus, the Word] all things were made”, John 1:3)

Although not without faults, David had been a King after God’s own heart. Perhaps this quality is what God had in mind when he promised that one of David’s descendants would sit on an eternal throne.

Isaiah first reminds his hearers of the defeat of the Midianites accomplished by Gideon, of the lowest family in the smallest tribe, with no military experience – but by the power of God. And he ends his opening prediction with the phrase:

The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

(v7 end)

In other words, the people cannot at this time rescue themselves.

A tiny baby

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Israel had to wait over 400 years for the actual birth announcement of this baby, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

(Luke 1:31-33)

Although Peace is not mentioned directly, this message was clearly meant to echo the words of Isaiah. It probably seemed as far-fetched to Mary as the earlier prophesy did to the besieged population of Jerusalem. Whoever heard of a young girl getting pregnant before she had lain with a man?

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

(v35)

Again, peace will not come through human action, but through God’s Mighty Arm (see v 55 in Mary’s song).

A different kind of peace

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus also gave the promise of peace to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

(John 14:27)

And Paul, Peter and John open their letters to the early Christians with the greetings in the form “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:3). There’s even a similar greet to the seven churches at the beginning of the Revelation.

All of these are to stress that true peace comes only from God.

However, the peace that is spoken of here is only temporary, in the sense that it is a gift of God despite the turmoil around us. This is what enables victims a horrendous crimes to forgive the perpetrators, those who endure protracted and debilitating illness to remain joyful, and countless ordinary people to carry on in the face of tragedy, grief and loss.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

But Isaiah’s prophecy looks even further forward, to a Prince who sits on an eternal throne; a time when God will once again live with his people, as he did in Jesus, when he inaugurates the New Heaven and the New Earth.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

(Revelation 21:3-4)

In that day, we won’t simply be asking for peace in the midst of war, family disputes, contentious politics or natural disasters. In that day, the Prince of Peace will rule over all things and all will be peace.

Conclusion

In this year of Coronavirus, when our lives have been turned upside down, we have witnessed great sacrifice and community spirit. However, we have also seen great selfishness and greed, hunger for power and control. Sometimes bitter arguments have raged over PPE, lockdowns, herd immunity and more.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

The global pandemic has revealed how interconnected we all are, and how actions in one country can affect another. Large parts of our economic and social structures have been shown to be fragile. We have seen people at their best and their worst, and it is still not over. Some leaders have described this time as a war – a little dramatic, perhaps, but we are certainly not at peace in this moment.

Into this turbulent time, as in similar situations down the centuries, Isaiah’s prophecy, Gabriel’s announcement, Jesus’ promise and Paul’s greeting offer us a promise of peace, whatever our circumstances, when we put our trust in God.

This begs the question: how are you and I facing the battles of daily life, whether personal or global? Are you trying to find your own way through?

Let’s take a moment now to lay our concerns at the feet of Jesus and ask for his peace amidst the storms that surround us.

Prayer

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

Lord, in a season when every heart should be happy and light, many of us are struggling with the heaviness of life—burdens that steal the joy right out of our stockings. Tragedy arrives as innocent victims suffer, and an inner voice whispers, “Be afraid!” We need your peace, Jesus.

We confess that our hearts are too often filled with wonder of a different kind: wondering when the bills will be paid, when the terror will stop, when rest will come. Will it ever? Is the message still true?

In a world where worry, not peace, prevails, stir up that good news again. This Advent, make it real in our hearts. Never have we needed Your joy and peace more than now.

Thank You for the gift of Jesus, our Immanuel, the Word made flesh. We not only need Your peace and joy; Lord, we crave it. You’ve promised rest for the weary, victory for the battle-scarred, peace for the anxious, and acceptance for the broken hearted—not just at Advent, but every day of every year.

Your name is still called “Wonderful,” “Counsellor,” “The Mighty God,” “The Everlasting Father,” and “The Prince of Peace.” We know that peace on earth can only come when hearts find peace with You.

You are still our Joy. You are still our Peace. You are no longer a babe in the manger. You are Lord of lords and King of kings. And we still celebrate You as Lord—this Christmas and always.

~Edited from Rebecca Barlow Jordan’s
A Prayer for Peace & Joy at Christmas” 

Song Hark the herald angels sing

Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King.

https://angel119.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/sing-when-it-hurts/

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 th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King.

Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the sun 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 new-born King.

Charles Wesley
Verse 3 by Martin Madan

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

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A whisper of Hope – Worship @ Home, Advent Sunday, 29 November 2020

Arrangement and photo by Steven Turner

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
(Major Elizabeth Turner)

Advent Candles

The Advent Wreath is an important symbol of Advent. The wreath is of German origin and is made of evergreen, either real or artificial. Its circular shape represents eternity, for it has no beginning and no end. The evergreen was chosen, as it symbolized growth and everlasting life.

By Jonathunder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12311700

There are four candles, three purple and one pink. They represent the four weeks of preparation. As another candle is lit each week, we are reminded of the growing light of Christ’s presence. Purple is the colour used during Lent, another period of time spent in preparation and reflection. The rose or pink coloured candle a lighter colour than purple, symbolises joy, celebration, a happy time of buoyant mood. This too is observed partway during Lent, anticipating the joy that comes to us through Jesus: his coming to earth as a baby, his coming to the person who confesses their sin and accepts him as Saviour and his coming to earth again in judgement when he will establish his kingdom of righteousness. 

We have provided you with five little battery powered tea lights, with which to make your own advent wreath. This could be made from real or artificial foliage, or you could use a green cloth or green card or paper. If you don’t have any materials, just choose a prominent place and set up the five candles to form a focal point.

Advent 1 – Hope

Today we light the first candle of Advent, the candle of Hope. (Light the Candle now)

We put our hope in the one to come, the promised one who comes from God to bring good news of salvation. We hope in the one who will lead us to walk in the light of the LORD. We hope he will not let us live in dark valleys, but on the high mountain of God.

We light this candle in Hope.

On this day, we remember to look hopefully for the coming of Christ.

Dear Jesus, you are the hope in our messy world. This Advent, help us slow down, listen to your voice, and focus on what’s really important. We place our hope in you as we prepare our hearts to celebrate your birth on Christmas Day. Amen.

Source: https://www.liturgylink.net/2016/11/22/advent-wreath-liturgies/
Prayer: https://holyfamilyep.org/2019/11/16/advent-candles-and-prayers

Song           A light came out of darkness

Tune: Ewing

By Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55225270

1. A light came out of darkness;
No light, no hope had we,
Till Jesus came from Heaven
Our light and hope to be.
Oh, as I read the story
From birth to dying cry,
A longing fills my bosom
To meet him by and by.

Shall you, shall I, meet Jesus by and by?
And when we reach the Glory Land,
We’ll swell the song of the angel band.
Shall you, shall I, meet Jesus by and by?

2. How tender his compassion,
How loving was his call,
How earnest his entreaty
To sinners, one and all.
He wooed and won them to him
By love, and that is why
I long to be like Jesus,
And meet him by and by.

3. Yet deeper do I ponder,
His cross and sorrow see,
And ever gaze and wonder
Why Jesus died for me.
And shall I fear to own him?
Can I my Lord deny?
No, let me love him, serve him,
And meet him by and by.

William A. Hawley (1870-1929)

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Bible Reading     

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village
among all the people of Judah.

Yet a ruler of Israel,
whose origins are in the distant past,
will come from you on my behalf.

The people of Israel will be abandoned
to their enemies
until the woman in labour gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.

And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honoured around the world.
And he will be the source of peace.

Micah 5:2-5a NLT

Song           Lord of all hopefulness

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labors, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome, your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray
Your love in our hearts, Lord, at the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment. whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping. and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

Jan Struther

A Whisper of Hope

By Elekes Andor – Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=46003745

As we start this season of Advent, reflecting on the coming of Jesus the Saviour we each need so much, we remember too, that we are mere days away from the start of another new year. It is at this time of year that we hear the word ‘hope’ spoken about more often: children hope for a particular gift and perhaps a ‘white’ Christmas, adults hope they have enough resources in terms of finances and energy to meet the various expectations.

And older people hope to spend just enough time with loved ones that busyness dictates they see so little of during the year, and then want to retreat to their own space, away from the noise of the bigger group, to be themselves and savour the special moments they’ve had.

Created by Steven Turner

Hot on the heels of those Christmas hopes, New Year hopes rain thick and fast: hopes for a job or new job, a new home, a special relationship to start or a bad one to end, a family to grow, a chance to travel, enough health and longevity of life to enjoy key moments in the lives of loved ones. So many hopes at Christmas time and at the start of a New Year; some hopes are realised, others take time and still others never materialise.

But I guess this year, the word hope will be used with more fervency:

Yet even after the absurdities and challenges of this past year, there may have been positive benefits to hang onto:

As Vaclav Havel noted,

When all around us seems bleak, dark and hopeless, don’t we look for and long for with intensity, and strain our ears for just the slightest of whispers that things will be different and that difference will be for the better? As Thomas Fuller said, ‘If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.’

When Micah delivered the proclamation he had heard from God to the wearied Israelite nation, baited and beaten time and again by their enemies, it was like a whisper of hope which was to grow in intensity. With a rising crescendo, that whisper of hope foretelling deliverance was to be seen coming when Jesus, the Saviour of the world and babe of Bethlehem, was laid in a manger.

The prophecy told of Israel’s continued struggles but assured them of a definitive time when their long hoped for release from their oppressors would come.  It was only as they followed this Saviour ‘whose origins are in the distant past’ (v2), marking him out as genuine and true, would they know peace. He would lead them with the all the knowledge, authority and dexterity of a good Shepherd, guiding his flock away from danger and on toward truly good and habitable places.

Whispers of hope when times are difficult are always welcome. But almost as soon as we catch the strains of such words, we want them to be fulfilled NOW! Right from the beginning of our battle with coronavirus and the whisper that scientists were working on a vaccine, we’ve wanted to know when such a vaccine would become available. However, apart from the confidence that such a moment would come, no one could say when; it would take time. Until then we would have to wait.

Whilst the people of Micah’s day would certainly have to wait, they were given pointers to watch for as to when that time would come. They were to watch and wait actively, encouraging those coming after them to do the same, and so on. There was a place to keep an eye on: Bethlehem, the house of bread, where God’s gift would be offered in the flesh of a tiny baby; the giver, nourisher and sustainer of life, himself needing nourishment and care. The Saviour who would bring hope not only to Israel, but to all the nations, was missed by the Israelites in the event.

Detail from “Belén” display at El Corte Inglés, Elche, Spain

Only a few faithful souls—Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Anna and Simeon, some marginalised shepherds and some foreigners from afar—actively watched, waited, and were rewarded for their diligence. Yes of course there were those who had watched but never saw that wonderful moment. But as they had looked and talked about it in joyful hope and expectancy, they would have passed the practice on, like a gift. They will have played their part in keeping that hope alive, ‘evergreen’ so to speak.

In Proverbs 13:12 Solomon wrote, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’ (NIV). Holding on to active hope means that one day that careful attention will result in seeing the fulfilment of that glorious promise. And when in the fullness of time that moment finally arrives, Solomon describes it as a ‘tree of life’. Hope has sprung evergreen and there is abundant, vibrant, vigorous, fruitful life.

During advent, we remember and observe the events that led to that first visitation of God incarnate, in Jesus the Son of God. Rend Collective, a lively Christian band, have produced a great new song worthy of topping the Christmas pop charts. For those of you who are able, why not check it out on YouTube; it’s called ‘This is the Saviours Day’ (not to be confused with Cliff Richards chart topper of some years ‘The Saviours Day’!) The song makes reference to the fact that in Jesus ‘hope is alive’. Indeed it is, but we must also remember to keep the hope of his second coming alive; for Jesus assured us that one day he would return to earth not as a tiny baby, but as King to reign in power, to deal definitively with all that is wrong and evil, and to establish his joyous kingdom of abundant life and goodness.

So as we read and remember the story of the Nativity, catching the joy and wonder of that very first coming of Jesus the Saviour at Christmas, let us keep in mind that Jesus will return one day and re-read those particular Bible passages concerning his coming. Let us be careful to live in such a way that, if his coming were today, we are ready. And if that day is to come long after we are gone, let us play our part in shaping the lives of those who come after us, offering them the gift of hope that lives actively and expectantly. Evil will not gain the upper hand, even if that is how things look in our twisted, messy world, littered with broken hearts, minds and lives.

Let’s encourage ourselves and other believers by these passages from the Bible and be modern day whisperers of hope, building the momentum until the moment of crescendo when Jesus appears.

‘Let us hold tightly without wavering
to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise’

(Hebrews10:23).

 ‘Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.’

(Hebrews 6:11-12)

’Stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope,  comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.’

(2 Thess. 2:15b-17)

(Sources: The Bible and https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/hope-quotes)

Song           A child is born

A ray of hope flickers in the sky,
A tiny star lights up way up high,
All across the land dawns a brand-new morn,
This comes to pass when a child is born.

A silent wish sails the seven seas,
The winds of change whisper in the trees,
And the walls of doubt crumble tossed and torn,
This comes to pass when a child is born.

A rosy dawn settles all around,
You got the feel you’re on solid ground,
For a spell or two no one seems forlorn,
This comes to pass when a child is born.

It’s all a dream, an illusion now,
It must come true sometime soon somehow,
All across the land dawns a brand new morn,
This comes to pass when a child is born.
This comes to pass when a child is born.

Fred Jacobson and Circo Dammicco
© Beechwood Music Corp.

Prayer

Father God, every word in scripture points to the gift of hope that we have because of Christ Jesus. The Christmas story wasn’t the beginning of that message of hope because the old testament is full of glimpses of your plan to redeem your people and restore them into a relationship with you, but we are able to truly begin to see and understand just how great your love for us is when we read the story of Jesus’ birth in scripture.

Help us to see that you are with us. Nothing is too difficult, too messy, or too dirty for you. Jesus came to give us the gift of eternal life through the salvation that only you, our Heavenly Father, can give when we believe on your Son, repent of our sins, and confess Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

That first Christmas, you gave us the gift of hope wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Thank you, Father, for your immeasurable gift. In Jesus’ precious name, we pray. Amen.

Hope Bollinger
https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/7-powerful-advent-prayers-devotions-of-peace-and-joy.html

Song           Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells

The bells ring out at Christmas time
Their message loud and clear;
Our hearts are stirred as on the air
The joyful sound we hear.

Sweet chiming Christmas bells,
Sweet chiming Christmas bells;
They cheer us on our heav’nward way,
Sweet chiming bells.
They cheer us on our heav’nward way,
Sweet chiming bells.

Thanks be to God, since all may learn
The bells’ exultant theme:
The babe of Bethlehem was born
This lost world to redeem.

Glad message of the Christmas bells
Of God whose name is love!
O, may this music all our days
Our hope and comfort prove!

Miriam M. Richards
© Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd.

Benediction        

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

Cliff Barrows
© 1982 Cliff Barrows

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Divine dependence, Divine deliverance – Worship @ Home Sunday, 15 November 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner

Song Be strong in the grace of the Lord

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
Be noble and upright and true,
Be valiant for God and the right,
Live daily your duty to do.
Be strong! Be strong!
And God will your courage renew.

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
For wholehearted service prepare;
Be thoughtful for all who are weak,
And hasten their burdens to share.
Be strong! Be strong!
Be eager to do and to dare.

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
Be armed with the power of his might;
Be daring when dangers abound,
Courageous and brave in the fight.
Be strong! Be strong!
And victory will be your delight.

Walter Henry Windybank (1872-1952)

Prayer

O Holy God of Israel,
you faithfully keep the promises
you made to our ancestors
and lead your people into the future,
providing hospitality on the way.

Help us who inherit the pilgrim life
to journey faithfully at your command,
that we may be a band of disciples
called to be sojourners in your service.

Amen.

Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers
© 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress.

Bible Reading      Judges 4:1-24

Deborah Becomes Israel’s Judge

After Ehud’s death, the Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight. So the Lord turned them over to King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-haggoyim. Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots, ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment. One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”

Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

“Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 At Kedesh, Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors went up with him. Deborah also went with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, had moved away from the other members of his tribe and pitched his tent by the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 he called for all 900 of his iron chariots and all of his warriors, and they marched from Harosheth-haggoyim to the Kishon River.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his 10,000 warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle. 15 When Barak attacked, the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and warriors into a panic. Sisera leaped down from his chariot and escaped on foot. 16 Then Barak chased the chariots and the enemy army all the way to Harosheth-haggoyim, killing all of Sisera’s warriors. Not a single one was left alive.

17 Meanwhile, Sisera ran to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because Heber’s family was on friendly terms with King Jabin of Hazor. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come into my tent, sir. Come in. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “Please give me some water,” he said. “I’m thirsty.” So she gave him some milk from a leather bag and covered him again.

20 “Stand at the door of the tent,” he told her. “If anybody comes and asks you if there is anyone here, say no.”

21 But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

22 When Barak came looking for Sisera, Jael went out to meet him. She said, “Come, and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he followed her into the tent and found Sisera lying there dead, with the tent peg through his temple.

23 So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. 24 And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Chorus I want to be a soldier of the cross

(Sorry, no music available for this)

I want to be a soldier of the cross,
Brave-hearted and true;
I want to be a soldier of the cross,
I do, I do, I do, I do.
I want to be a soldier of the cross,
Telling out the story,
Walking with Jesus
All the way to Glory.

Divine dependence, Divine deliverance.

We all love a story where the unlikely becomes a hero, the insignificant person triumphs, or the weak proves to be strong. We are heartened when, as of necessity rather than neglect, a child has had to master a situation that an adult would usually contend with, or an elderly person despite frailty of body and health shows great fortitude in a crisis.

Such stories speak to a part of us that wrestles with personal insecurity, fear and anxiety about our capabilities. They remind us that we don’t have to have all of the answers, the certifications, the experience or gravitas to succeed. Like the little mouse in Aesop’s fable, coming to the rescue of the mighty lion caught in a trap by doing just what he could do best – nibble through the net that ensnared the lion – so may we, with just enough daring, do that which seems impossible; as these stories impress us with the truth of this.

The Bible reading we are reflecting on today is one of those stories. Deborah is the wife of Lappidoth, about whom we know nothing. But Deborah (we are informed) is a prophetess and a judge (Judges 4:4). In a society that neither values women, nor validates their testimony, this is remarkable.

Whilst women today are able to hold high office in all spheres of industry and their testimony, counsel, initiatives, and strategies are considered, weighed and implemented with much more respect than any previous generation of women, still discrimination against women rears its ugly head (more so in some societies). Deborah’s position in her culture is impressive, as the nation is in a period of estrangement from the One who is at the heart of her success.

At this time the Israelite nation, God’s people chosen to be a shining example to all nations, have forsaken the ways of God. Israel’s reluctance to drive the Canaanites out of the land on entry to the place that God had promised to them, had led to this constant ‘seesawing’ of power problem.

A peaceful co-existence with the pagans in the land was never going to be an option for the Israelites as they moved into the beautiful land flowing with milk and honey. As we see, they became beguiled with the pagan habits and practices that were far from good or godly. No longer are the Israelites an example to others, but an affront to God by their sinning and waywardness and a nonentity among the nations.     

But clearly not all the Israelites were like that; some were still careful to know and follow the ways of God as Deborah did, leading those who sought her counsel in the ways of God too. Despite the nation as a whole turning its back on God, Deborah listened to God, allowing him to shape her life and thinking. In speaking out for God, Deborah developed a respected, prophetic voice. And as a woman of integrity, Deborah became a judge of renown, so people would appeal to her to settle their disputes (Judges 4:5). The descriptive location of where that counsel was given is interesting: ‘beneath the palm tree of Deborah, situated in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel.’ (Judges 4:5) It sounds rather idyllic, and the fact that the palm tree is known as ‘Deborah’s’ suggests she spent a lot of time there. I wonder if really that was first and foremost her special meeting place with God, but that as she became known as a woman of God the people came and sought her out there. The people, it seems, were finally realising that their relationships and communities were in a mess, that their nation was not what it should be. They had lost their way; their enemy had the upper hand. Could Deborah help guide them through?

Prior to this particular period of time, Ehud had been a judge who had dramatically liberated the Israelites and faithfully steered them in the ways of God, effectively for a lifetime – 80 years – and then he was followed by another liberator. Like his predecessor Shamgar, continued to hold peace for Israel (see Judges 3 for their stories). But how long he lived to keep the Israelites in that place of peace we do not know. Perhaps not for long as Judges 4 begins with the statement, ‘After Ehud died, the people returned to doing what the Eternal said was evil.’ Shamgar is effectively being ‘leap-frogged’ over here; unless they were contemporaries. And though Shamgar’s prowess as warrior is not without significance, Ehud’s influence is the greater.

Oppression from King Jabin’s army under the leadership of Sisera, who had a fighting force mounted on 900 iron chariots, caused the Israelites to cry out to God for deliverance. Deborah, discerning the voice of God in this situation, summoned Barak the leader of Israel’s army to hear and heed God’s instruction. Whilst Barak attends to Deborah’s request, his response is surprising: ‘I will do this if you will go with me; but if you won’t, then I won’t go either.’ (Judges 4:8) His reaction seems to be a ‘how certain of this message are you?’ sort of response, which is somewhat disappointing for a leader of the Israelites. As people of God, they ought to have been accustomed to the ways of God, even if they hadn’t particularly been adhering to them in recent years. Yet Deborah was certain and fearless enough of God’s Divine call to lay her own life on the line and declare that she would head out to battle with Barak.

Michael Wilcock, who wrote a commentary on the Book of Judges, sees Barak’s response not as one of ‘flat disobedience’ (p.63),  but rather as of a similar one to that uttered by Moses, when in an exchange with God in Exodus (33:12-17), Moses says,  ‘If Your presence doesn’t travel with me, then don’t lead us away from here’ (v.15). Wilcock argues that since Deborah’s dependence on God is renowned, she represents the Divine presence without whom they will not succeed. Further he notes that it is Barak’s name that is listed in the letter to the Hebrews’ ‘faith hall of fame’ (ch11:32) and not Deborah’s!

Although he does have a point, I believe that the women have suffered a great disservice here, as Deborah’s assertion that whilst she will do as he asks, ‘this battle will not lead to your personal glory. The Eternal has decreed that the mighty Sisera will be defeated by a woman.’ I would have written ‘By faith Deborah exercised Divine dependence when she led Barak and his men into battle at the Lord’s command; and by faith Jael struck the fatal blow to Sisera strengthened by the hand of God, to deliver his people!’ Certainly, Deborah’s comment leaves us in no doubt that the better response would have been to accept God’s command as it was told to him, and step out in faithful obedience. In so doing, he might have had the full honour of personally defeating Sisera with God’s help.

This particular Bible story is an inspirational one, if a little gory! Deborah’s confidence in God and her courage in going out to the battlefield is a challenge to each one of us. Once in the situation, her confidence in God continued unwavering. “Get up! For this is the day that the Eternal has given you victory over Sisera” (Judges 4:14), Deborah told Barak, pinpointing the decisive moment for action. What a woman! And Deborah’s faith in God’s word to her was rewarded by her witnessing the incredible scene in the moment that Barak and his army faced the enemy. ‘As Barak and his forces watched, the Eternal threw Sisera and all his chariots and his entire army into a panic before them;’ (Judges 4:15).

What if we, like Deborah, intentionally spent some extended time with God each day: reading a portion of the Bible, thinking deeply about it, asking God what specific thing he wants us to learn from it, or do as a result of it? What if, as well as praying about our concerns, those of our loved ones and those of our world, we also took some time to listen to God, asking him what he particularly wants to say to us? Might we, like Deborah, walk with greater confidence, poise and faith with God in even the most terrifying situations. 900 iron chariots would have been quite a formidable sight! But then, that jaw dropping moment when those 900 chariots writhed in a melee of confusion! Wow, what a God! I wonder how we might see God move in our lives, in our neighbourhoods, in our country and in our world if each one of us took a little more time to sit and listen to God speaking. I certainly know it’s something I need to do.

What about you?

Song He walks with God

Tune: Ellers

He walks with God who speaks to God in prayer,
And daily brings to him his daily care;
Possessing inward peace, he truly knows
A heart’s refreshment and a soul’s repose.

He walks with God who, as he onward moves,
Follows the footsteps of the Lord he loves,
And keeping him forever in his view,
His Saviour sees and his example too.

He walks with God who turns his face to Heaven,
And keeps the blest commands by Jesus given;
His life upright, his end untroubled peace,
Whom God will crown when all his labours cease.

Dorothy Ann Thrupp (1779-1847), alt

Prayer

You, O God, are our dwelling-place
from generation to generation,
our shield from anguish and distress.
You arm us as children of light
with the hope of salvation,
and you protect us by your love.
Give us grace to build up
and encourage one another,
as we seek wisdom and abundant life
in the strength of your Word
and the assurance of your Spirit. Amen.

Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers
© 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress.

Song I’ll go in the strength of the Lord

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord,
In paths he has marked for my feet;
I’ll follow the light of his word,
Nor shrink from the dangers I meet,
His presence my steps shall attend,
His fulness my wants shall supply;
On him, till my journey shall end,
My unwavering faith shall rely.

I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To work he appoints me to do;
In joy which his smile doth afford
My soul shall her vigour renew.
His wisdom shall guard me from harm.
His power my sufficiency prove;
I’ll trust his omnipotent arm,
And prove his unchangeable love.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To conflicts which faith will require,
His grace as my shield and reward,
My courage and zeal shall inspire.
Since he gives the word of command.
To meet and encounter the foe,
With his sword of truth in my hand.
To suffer and triumph I’ll go.

Edward Turney (1816-72)

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