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)

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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