Christmas Morning Service 2023 from the United Reformed Church

Today’s service is led by the Revd Susan Durber

Call to Worship
A boy has been born for us; a child has been given to us.
Once we were no people; now we are God’s people.
Once we walked in darkness; now we have seen a great light.
Hymn     See Amid the Winter’s Snow
Edward Caswall (1858) sung by Annie Lennox PRS LOML licence: LE-0032076

See amid the winter’s snow,
born for us on earth below,
see, the gentle Lamb appears,
promised from eternal years.

Hail that ever blessèd morn,
hail redemption’s happy dawn,
sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Say, ye holy shepherds, say,
what your joyful news today.
wherefore have ye left your sheep
on the lonely mountain steep? 

Hail that ever blessèd morn,
hail redemption’s happy dawn,
sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Sacred Infant, all divine,
what a tender love was thine,
thus to come from highest bliss
down to such a world as this. 

Hail that ever blessèd morn,
hail redemption’s happy dawn,
sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Prayers of Approach and Confession

Loving God, we come, 
through empty expectant streets and lanes, (or on Zoom),
on the one day of the year that feels really different.

We bring with us to worship on Christmas day the excited child inside us 
and the harassed, overworked grown up, 
the person who aches for the loss of someone once here
and the joy of love or life so cherished.

We come bringing the person we are everyday
and the person we would like to be and hope to be.
We come like the shepherds, because someone told us to come.
We come like the wise men
because we’ve worked out for ourselves that this is wisdom.
And we come like Mary and Joseph, 
because it’s what we always do in response to your call.
We come in awestruck praise like people visiting any baby
and we see, as if for the first time, the miracle of your love for us.

As we worship you, and see what you reveal to us this day,
give us a different place from which to look at the world,
to let go of our old selves, and to be human beings newly born.
Like parents of a new child, change us forever.

Before the wonder of your gift to us, of your very self,
may we know that you offer nothing less
than forgiveness, hope and peace,
and may we receive these gifts this day and all our days, 
for they come from your open and loving hands. Amen.

A Declaration of Forgiveness

Today, a child is born, and we are re-born,
forgiven, free, remade, restored, to start again on the way of life,
with the news of our redemption, fresh and joyful, 
on this holy day of new birth.  Thanks be to God. 

Hymn     Who Would Think That What Was Needed
©1990 GIA/Iona Community/  WGRG, Iona Community, Govan, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland Reprinted and podcast podcast in terms with One Licence # A-734713  Sung by Northallerton Methodist Church Choir and used with their kind permission.

Who would think that what was needed
to transform and save the earth
might not be a plan or army,
proud in purpose, proved in worth?
Who would think, despite derision,
that a child should lead the way?
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.

Shepherds watch and wise men wonder,
monarchs scorn and angels sing;
such a place as none would reckon
hosts a holy helpless thing;
stable beasts and by-passed strangers
watch a baby laid in hay:
God surprises earth with heaven
coming here on Christmas Day.
Centuries of skill and science
span the past from which we move,
yet experience questions whether,
with such progress, we improve.
While the human lot we ponder,
lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven
coming here on Christmas Day.
A Prayer for Illumination

Oh God, who switched on all the lights with the birth of your Son, shine your light into our hearts today that we may be bright with your love and bring joy and hope to your beloved world, Amen

Reading     Luke 2:1-16

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 


Merry Christmas! 

I imagine that many of you, like me, have heard the Christmas readings many times. We are so used to them that perhaps we have almost stopped listening to them. Most of us can remember that something happened when Quirinius was Governor of Syria (and have stumbled over saying his name) – and perhaps we remember that you have to read that bit about Joseph, Mary and the baby lying in a manger very carefully so that it doesn’t sound as though the manger was a bit crowded! 

But, encouraged by a scholar who knows a lot about how people lived and how they still live in the Middle East, I’ve been pondering what it really means when the Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary gave birth to her son, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

I know that most of us have grown up with the idea that Mary went into labour while riding a donkey, that Jesus was born in rather a rush on the night when they arrived in Bethlehem, that all the hotel rooms were full and that a grumpy innkeeper let them use the stable round the back. But, strangely, and disappointingly for some, none of that is in the Bible at all… let alone three Kings called, Belthazar, Caspar and Melchior…

But what is in the Bible turns out to be just as interesting. It’s not a dramatic or a fairy story – but a tale of something much more like ordinary life. And that means it’s a story much closer to you and me… 

I was thinking the other day about the first Christmas I can really remember. It was when I was five years old. My father was away at sea and my mother and my brother and I were living with my grandmother in a tiny terraced house. I remember getting a little battery- operated keyboard for my present, with coloured keys and a book with coloured notes so that I could learn to play. But I remember the house too. It was an ordinary house of the time. Two up and two down – with no bathroom and only an outside toilet in the yard. We all lived and did everything together in the back room – the front room was only for guests (who never seemed to come – so it was mainly unheated and rather bleak..) The back room was where all we lived and where everything happened. 

It turns out that ordinary houses in Palestine in the time of Jesus were not very different from that – except they were only one storey. There might be two rooms – and like my grandmother’s house, there would be one room where everyone lived and one room for guests. But there was one crucial difference. Every household would have had animals and at night the animals would be moved into an area of that main back room of the house – to keep safe from being stolen and so that the warmth of their bodies would warm the house. And inside that main room there would be a manger or two, a place where the animals’ food would be kept. The people then didn’t have stables, as we think of them – the animals lived at night in the house and were fed there – and in the morning they’d be pushed out into the open air. 

When Joseph took Mary back to the home of his ancestors in Bethlehem he would without doubt have had relatives, many cousins like people do in Pembrokeshire where I live now –  any number of whom might have taken him and his pregnant wife in. If there was no-one else in the ‘front room’, in the guest room, they would have stayed there. But the story tells us that the front room was already occupied – that’s what the word that we sometimes translate as ‘inn’ implies. It doesn’t mean the local pub or Premier Inn – it just means that there were already relatives staying in the front room. So, they made room for Mary and Joseph in the back room – the family room where everyone else was, including the animals. 

You see the story is telling us not that Jesus was born ‘in a stable’, or that he and his parents were barred from the pub. On the contrary, they were welcomed into an ordinary family home – just as many of us might be being welcomed as guests into a family home. It wasn’t a grand home, it wasn’t a poor home or a degrading home. It was just an ordinary home, like the one from my first remembered Christmas.

This is what the Gospel writer wants to tell us. Jesus was born, God came, into the most ordinary of ordinary homes, into ordinary human life. And that’s what God always does. You don’t have to be special or privileged or even specially deprived – you just have to be a human being… and God comes. 

What do you think might count as an ordinary home where you are? Perhaps it might be a ‘starter home’ on a new estates – with minimum sized rooms and a space to park the car. You can lose benefits now for having spare rooms, so perhaps Jesus might come to a home where there is no spare space. Because God wants to be with us in the living space we actually use, in the lives we actually lead… as Jesus was – in the back room of an ordinary home, placed in the manger used every day for the animals… 

One theologian has said that ‘the value… of life is not so much to do conspicuous things… as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value…’

I think that what Christmas reveals is that God places an enormous value on the ordinary … that God came not to a palace or a hovel, not to the home of a celebrity or a superstar, but just to someone ordinary, like you and me. I suppose that most of the places where we live are kind of ordinary … and the wonder is that God comes here, to us, where we are. That’s worth an extraordinary celebration… Amen.

Hymn     Away in a Manger
Attributed to Martin Luther public domain, sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head;
the stars in the heavens looked down where He lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
and stay by my side until morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.

Affirmation of Faith

On Christmas Day, we celebrate and rejoice
for the grace of God has dawned upon the world, bringing salvation to everyone.
Now we wait in joyful hope for the glory of God to be revealed,
in every home and every nation, so that people everywhere will be glad this day. 

Prayers of Intercession for the World

O God, we will say ‘thank you’ today in many ways,
for presents kindly meant,
for just what we wanted
for people we love 
for good food..
But right now we say ‘thank you’ to you
for showing us that human life is holy
and that our flesh can carry your presence and your love …
We pray that you will help us to learn and live
the faith that all flesh is holy, 
all people made in your image, all of us your beloved children..

Help us to see your image in our own families and friends..

Help us to see your image in those who are hungry in Yemen and fearful in Ukraine.

Help to see your image in those in prison today and those who are fleeing poverty.

Help us to see your image in those who are sad and depressed and those who can find no peace.

Help us to see your image wherever there are people in need or sorrow..

Give us grace, from this day on,
to see every human face as made in your image
and every human body as a place where you are known.  

Bless our own bodies and our own lives with your holy love,
So that whatever befalls us we will know our true dignity and our true worth, and that we are loved. 

In the name of God,  whose beloved Son taught us to pray saying…

The Lord’s Prayer…

Offertory Introduction and Prayer

We are not all shepherds, not always wise,
and we might not sing like angels. 
We have no gold,  no incense and no myrrh, 
but we offer what we have, our selves, our lives, our wealth,
to the child in the manger… this day and always, Amen

Hymn     O Come All Ye Faithful 
Attributed to John Francis Wade; Translator: Frederick Oakeley 1841 public domain sung by members of the Northern Baptist Association and used with their kind permission.

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; 

O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation;
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! 

O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!


‘Then spread the table, clear the hall, and celebrate till day is done;
let peace go deep within us all, and joy be shared by everyone:
laugh and make merry with your friends, 
and praise the love that never ends!’  
May the love of the Creator made present in the child of Bethlehem
and with us today through the Holy Spirit, 
bless you with joy, hope and peace, today and always. 

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

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