URC Daily Devotion Thursday 7th January 2021

Thursday 7th January 

St Mark 1: 1 – 13

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight”’,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.


I really like Mark’s gospel, it’s known by some as the Gospel of action – it doesn’t meander, its one jam-packed event after another, no waiting around, just “Pow! Pow! Pow!” and then on to the next event.
The beginning of the Gospel sets us up for how it is going to continue, and it is powerful – Mark starts with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”, it is just the start, and not just the start of the book, but the start of everything, the start of hope that has endured for over two millennia. 
In 13 short verses a lot happens, we get a declaration, a reference back to Hebrew scripture, we meet John the Baptist – who would win “I’m a Celebrity” without even trying, John prepares the way, we see Jesus, Jesus is baptised, the Spirit drives Jesus to the desert to be tempted for 40 days, and we break off as the angels are looking after him. 
I know that it might not carry the pomp and splendour of Matthew’s gospel or the creative imagery of John’s gospel, but it gives us everything that we need to know Jesus, to want Jesus in our lives, to become followers on the Jesus Way. We are inspired by this Jesus who shows us how to live. 
I encourage you to sit and read the whole of Mark’s gospel in one sitting, maybe do it on zoom with others, it will take 2-3 hours but could bring unexpected changes in your faith and mindset. It will at the very least inspire you and offer the light of hope in a world that continues to feel dark and uncertain. 
Let us embody the Hope of Mark’s gospel as we engage with the world.


God of action, you sent Jesus to be our example of how we should live and move through the world.  Remind us of the Hope we have through Jesus when things feel impossible, and help us freely share it with those around us without judgement.  Amen.

Sunday’s Coming

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Faith in Lockdown

Hello Lockdown My Old Friend….

Dear Friends,

Now all the nations of the UK are in various forms of lockdown I thought it might be useful to remind you that, even in these difficult times, we will still be sending out a daily reading, reflection and prayer early each morning AND, every Sunday, we will still be sending out a service.

We realise that many churches will wish to suspend in person worship – out of love for their members, their minister and those who lead worship, as well love for the wider community.  Many churches are able to provide some form of virtual worship but many others aren’t and these, in particular, might value the Daily Devotion services.  Here in Scotland all churches on the mainland, and in Skye, have to close leaving only one of our congregations, the Peedie Kirk in Orkney, able to open for worship.  We are also aware of many people who are shielding and limiting the occasions when they go out regardless of whether their church is offering in person worship. Of course, many people who are still attending in-person worship like to supplement that with the range of preachers that we’ve recruited for the Devotions services.  

We don’t know how long these restrictions will continue for but Dan and I have worship already produced until the end of February and preachers booked until Pentecost in May.  Over the next few weeks we will have worship is led by the following ministers:

Sunday 10th January, the Rev’d Memona Shabaz                
Sunday 17th January, the Rev’d Dr John McNeil Scott       
Sunday 24th January, the Rev’d Mike Walsh            
Sunday 31st January , the Rev’d Nicola Furley Smith
Sunday 7th February, the Rev’d Sue Fender
Sunday 14th February, the Rev’d William Young, 
Sunday 21st February, the Rev’d Samuel Cyuma                   
Sunday 28th February, the Rev’d Jenny Mills

The material for January has already been sent, and the material for February is about to be distributed to contacts in local churches who burn the services to CD or save to memory pens to give out and/or print the orders of service and post to people.  If you would like to do this for your church please join the early bird mailing list here – please only sign up if you will be distributing to others; the services are all queued to be sent out in the normal way to everyone.  We will, by Thursday evening, resend the January material as well as send the February services.

I hope that despite the race between virus and vaccine we all keep faith that things will get better and that God continues to hold us in the palm of His hand.

with every good wish


The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC

URC Daily Devotion  Monday 4th January – O Come All Ye Faithful

Monday 4th January – O Come All Ye Faithful

The earliest version of this hymn, in Latin, is in a book by John Francis Wade but there is note in it attributing it to an earlier author.  The English version sung is by the Catholic priest Fr Frederick Oakelely and dates to 1841. The hymn puts in verse form  traditional theology about Jesus.

St John 1: 1 – 14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

O Come All Ye Faithful
Latin 18th Century, possibly by John Francis Wade (1711-1786)

You can hear the carol here

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! 

2 God of God, Light of Light; 
lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb; 
very God, begotten not created;

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

4 Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning: 
Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n; 
Word of the Father, late in flesh appearing; 


John’s description of Jesus as ‘the Word’, was understood by both Greeks and Jews of his time. For the Greeks, it referred to the powers that sustain the universe, whilst for the Jews it was a reminder that back in Genesis, when God spoke, the world was created. The Word was an expression of God’s wisdom and creative power and the audience of the day was perplexed by the audacious claim that ‘the Word’ became a person and was both 100% human and 100% divine.

The hymn writer picks up the theme in this favourite carol, and whilst I’m slightly uncomfortable about the triumphalism of the first line, I love to sing it as the descant soars and we celebrate Jesus with us in the world (when we’re allowed to sing), though I wonder, do we think about the lyrics?

O come, let us adore him! 

How do we ‘adore him’ now, in the 21st century, at a time of pandemic with present and future economic crisis? What can we learn from God becoming human?

The clue is at the end of the Bible passage and the final line of the carol: “… the Word…lived among us … full of grace and truth”. Another translation says: “…full of unfailing love and faithfulness”. Jesus lived as human and humans must live like Jesus, sharing our faith in unfailing love for others. 

At the start of this new year, worse than most of us can remember, there are many people who are lonely, isolated, unwell in body and spirit, grieving loved ones and sorely missing family and friends
SO come on! Let us adore him by looking after our neighbours, strangers, families and friends; spend time with them, if not in person, then on the phone, do the shopping, deliver some food, or small homemade gifts, and help them meet the Jesus we adore. 

God of unfailing love and faithfulness, 
we ask that you bless us as we try to be like you,
as we try to share our faith,
try to help our neighbours.
Sometimes we forget
even worse, sometimes we choose to turn away
when we see someone in need.
Help us to be as you were in the world
and help us, in loving others
to show them just how much we adore you.

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Worship – 3rd January 2021

URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service – 3rd January 2021

Epiphany- The Magi

Opening Music  Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
The story of the wise men who came to visit the infant Christ is one of the most popular in the Christmas cycle of readings.  We don’t know much about these mysterious visitors – they appear only in St Matthew’s Gospel.  We’re not told how many of them they were – just that they brought three gifts – and St Matthew doesn’t name them as kings.
There is, however, an older prophecy that kings will come and bow before the Messiah and this, older prophecy, unites in the Church mind with the story from Matthew’s Gospel and so the idea of the three kings was born.  I’ve seen a reliquary in Cologne Cathedral where the bones of the three kings are supposed to lie – these strange people from the east captured the minds and imaginations of earlier generations of Christians who came to see them as the first fruits of further flung peoples to hear and accept the Gospel.  In our service today we think of those mysterious astrologers who came to pay homage to Jesus as we bring our own gifts, adoration and love to Christ as the start of this New Year. 
Call To Worship
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,
for a child has been born for us, a son given to us!
Glory to God in the highest heaven!
Let us worship the Prince of Peace.
Hymn       Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
James Montgomery

Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
Great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
To set the captive free;
To take away transgression,
And rule in equity.
2: He comes with succor speedy
To those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy,
And bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing,
Their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying,
Were precious in His sight.

3: He shall come down like showers
Upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
Spring in His path to birth.
Before Him, on the mountains,
Shall peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains,
From hill to valley flow.
4: Kings shall fall down before Him,
And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore Him,
His praise all people sing;
For He shall have dominion
O’er river, sea and shore,
Far as the eagle’s pinion
Or dove’s light wing can soar.

5: For Him shall prayer unceasing
And daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing,
A kingdom without end:
The mountain dews shall nourish
A seed in weakness sown,
Whose fruit shall spread and flourish
And shake like Lebanon.

6: O’er every foe victorious,
He on His throne shall rest;
From age to age more glorious,
All blessing and all blest.
The tide of time shall never
His covenant remove;
His name shall stand forever,
His name to us is Love.

Prayers of Approach, Confession, Forgiveness
Lord, we come to you today, in the darkest months of the year,
as people surrounded by light.
The light that shines from your son, Jesus Christ
We lift our hearts and voices in praise and worship
Hear our prayer
Forgive us when we stray into the darkness
At times it is hard for us to find your light, 
As we stumble and fall 
Allow us to be guided, as the Magi were, out of the darkness and into your light.
Lord, hear our prayer
Allow us to follow the pathway of Christ
To not be blinded, but to be led in the teachings show to us
Let us be your example here on earth 
For all to see, that they too may follow
Lord, hear our prayer
May we always be guided by your words
Should we be tempted to stray, as Herod was,
Let us be reminded of the leadership shown to us through Christ
Guiding us back onto the righteous path
Lord, hear our prayer
Forgive us when we place more importance on the gifts we bring
Than on the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit
Settle our restless minds and provide  us with patience
Filling our hearts with love and kindness 
Lord, hear our prayer
Allow us time to contemplate the true meaning of epiphany
The realisation that Christ is your true son
The light to our dark world
Our guide and saviour
And in this time and place, hear us now Lord, as we say together the prayer taught to us by your son..
Our father who art in heaven….
Prayer of Illumination
Open our eyes Lord, that we may see your light
Open our ears Lord, that we may hear your voice
Open our hearts Lord, that we may understand your teachings
Open our mouths Lord, that we may share your work with others.
Matthew 2: 1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,  and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,  until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Magi – We Knew it Would be worth it
We knew it would be worth it the moment we saw the star,
worth the hassle,
worth the effort,
worth the sacrifice.
But there were times when we wondered, I can tell you!
As we laboured over those dusty barren tracks,
        as we watched fearfully for bandits in the mountains,
        as the sun beat down without a break,
        and still no sign of an end to it,
        we wondered, all too often.
We asked ourselves whether we’d got to wrong,
        misread the signs.
We argued over whether we’d taken the wrong turning
        somewhere along the way.
We questioned the wisdom of carrying on as the days dragged by.
And when finally we got to Jerusalem
        only to find his own people had no idea what was going on,
        then we really became worried.
Quite astonishing – the biggest event in their history,
        and they didn’t even realise it was happening!
Thankfully they looked it up, eventually,
        somewhere in one of their old prophets,
        and we knew where to go then.
It was all there in writing if only they’d taken the trouble to look –
        God knows why they couldn’t see it!
Anyway we made it at last,
        tired, sore and hungry,
        but we made it.
And it was worth it, more than we had ever imagined,
        for in that child was a different sort of king,
        a different sort of kingdom,
        from any we’d ever encountered before.
As much our ruler as theirs,
        as much our kingdom as anyone’s.
So we didn’t just present our gifts to him,
        we didn’t just make the customary gestures of acknowledgement.
We fell down and worshipped him.
Can you imagine that?
Grown men,
        kneeling before a toddler.
Yet it seemed so natural,
        the most natural response we could make,
        the only response that would do!
Hymn       Gaudete
                 Bob Hurd

Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus,
ex Maria Virgine, Gaudete.
Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus,
ex Maria Virgine, Guadete.
Rejoice, rejoice, 
Christ is born of the Virgin Mary)

Nature marvels at the sight,
angels sing the glory,
God becomes a little child,
shepherds tell the story.
2: Hail Mary, ever blest,
Mother of the promise.
By your word
the word the Word made flesh
came to dwell among us.
3: With the wise men from the East,
with the stars of Heaven,
with the shepherds and the sheep,
come, let us adore Him.
4: Now is born Emmanuel,
now is come salvation.
Sing we all noel, noel!
Sing in exultation!

Meditation of the Magi
Well, we made it at last.
After all the setbacks,
    all the frustration,
    we finally found the one we were looking for –
    our journey over,
    the quest completed.
And I can’t tell you how relieved we were.
You see, we’d begun to fear we’d be too late,
    the time for celebration long since past
    by the time we eventually arrived.
It was that business in Jerusalem which caused the delay,
    all the waiting
    while Herod and his entourage rummaged around
    trying to discover what we were on about.
They were unsettled for some reason,
    taken aback, it seemed, by the news we brought,
    apparently unaware a king had been born among them.
A rival claimant, they must have thought,
    and who could tell what trouble that might stir up?
Anyway, they pointed us in the right direction if nothing else,
    but we’d wasted time there we could ill afford,
    and although the star reappeared to lead us again
    we were almost falling over ourselves with haste
    by the time we reached Bethlehem.
It was all quiet,
    just as we feared –
    no crowds,
    no family bustling around offering their congratulations,
    no throng of excited visitors,
    just an ordinary house –
    so ordinary we thought we’d gone to the wrong place.
But we went in anyway,
    and the moment we saw the child, we knew he was the one –
    not just the King of the Jews,
    but a prince among princes,
    a ruler among rulers,
    a King of kings!
We were late,
    much later than intended,
    the journey far more difficult than we ever expected,
    but it was worth the effort,
    worth struggling on,
    for, like they say, ‘Better late than never!’
Hymn       The First Noel
                 Anonymous 1833
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!
2: They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
3: And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
4: This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.
5: Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

6: Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Magi – Do you know what we gave him?
Do you know what we gave him –
that little boy in Bethlehem?
Go on, have a guess!
A rattle?
A toy?
A teddy bear?
No, nothing like that!
In fact, nothing you’d associate with a child at all,
            even if he was destined to be a king.
Gold!  That’s what I brought!
And my companions?
Wait for it!
Frankincense and myrrh!
Yes, I thought you’d be surprised,
for, to tell the truth
we’re pretty amazed ourselves, looking back,
unable to imagine what on earth possessed us
to choose such exotic and unusual gifts.
It wasn’t so much that they were costly,
though they were, of course –
to a family like his they were riches beyond their dreams.
But we could more than afford it –
little more than small change to men of our means.
No, it wasn’t the price that troubled us afterwards,
but the associations,
the possible meanings his parents might have read into our presents
when we’d gone.
Now the gold, there was a problem there –
a gift fit for a king and designed to say as much, of course.
But frankincense?
Well, the main use his people have for that, as we learned later,
is to sweeten their sacrifices,
to pour out onto their burnt offerings
so that the fragrance might be pleasing to their God.
Hardly the most appropriate gift for a baby.
But compared with myrrh!
Don’t tell me you don’t know?
It was a drug used to soothe pain,
either for that or as a spice for embalming –
more fitting for a funeral than a birth,
having more to do with suffering and death than celebration!
So what were we thinking of?
What possible significance could gifts like those have for a little child?
Frankly, I have no idea.
Yet at the time the choice seemed as obvious to us
as following the star,
as though each were all part of some greater purpose
which would one day become clear to all.
Were we right?  Well, after all I’ve said, I hope not,
for if this king was born to die,
to be offered in sacrifice rather than enthroned in splendour,
then his must be an unusual kingdom,
very different from most we come across –
in fact, you might almost say, not a kingdom of this world at all!
Hymn       Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness
                 J. S. B Monsell (1811 – 1875)
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his Name!

2: Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness,
high on his heart he will bear it for thee,
and comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.
3: Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness
of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine;
for truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
these are the offerings to lay on his shrine.
4: These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
he will accept for the Name that is dear;
mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
trust for our trembling and hope for our fear.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his Name!
Affirmation of Faith
Out of Israel, God in due time raised up Jesus.
His faith and obedience were the response
of the perfect child of God.
He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel,
the beginning of the new creation,
and the pioneer of the new humanity.
He gave history its meaning and direction
and called the Church to be his servant
for the reconciliation of the world.
We join together now in our prayers for others, let us pray:
Lord God, 
In this Season of Epiphany, 
shine your light upon us,
Into the recesses of our spirits, into those places where we experience
anxiety, depression, fear and despair.
We ask today, that you lift up in particular all among us who are struggling.
And in this time of silence, we bring those who we love into your light….
Shine your light upon us, 
into those places of conflict and tension, within our families, 
in our friendships, in our work and community relationships.
May your light be a healing balm, 
bringing with it forgiveness and reconciliation.
Shine your light upon us, 
Across the common human ties that bind all people together
Neighbour and stranger, friend and enemy alike.
In your light, remind us that we are all created 
In your image, unique and beloved by you.
Shine your light upon our country and its leaders
That they may govern justly and wisely, showing empathy for all.
Taking into account the needs and concerns not just of the most wealthy and powerful,
But especially of those who are poor, those who struggle with physical and mental illness,
Those who are forgotten and forsaken.

Shine your light on all the places around this world
Where violence and war are found:
For all people who are living in daily fear for their lives.
With your light bring peace to those who languish
In fear, violence and despair.
We thank you for the light that shines
The light that we see in the glory and wonder of your creation,
In the snowy mountain tops and cold frosty valleys.
Thank you for the light that shines through our community and its members, 
young and old, who remind us of your presence in tears and laughter, 
teaching and learning, order and disruption, work and play.
Shine your light upon us.
Around us,
And within us,
That we, too may be a light to the world. 
As of old when gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh
were offered to the Christ Child,
so we bring our gifts to You, O God.
As you revealed yourself of old,
we pray that these gifts will aid others see you now
in the life of the Church.
Help us always to give ourselves,
our talents
and our treasure to you.  Amen.
Hymn       We Three Kings Of Orient Are
                 John Henry Hopkins Jr. 1872

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light
2: Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign
3: Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all folk raising
Worship Him, God most high
4: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb
5: Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav’n replies

Fill us today with the light of Christ,
That we may feel his love and guidance 
In our words and deeds throughout the coming week
So that we may shine his light for all to see.
May the illumination of God’s words fill our hearts, 
May the light of Christ shine into our lives
And may the brilliance of the Holy Spirit guide us along our path.

Closing Music – Handel’s Sarabande
Meditations by Nick Fawcett from his Reflective Services for Advent and Christmas (C) 2001 Nick Fawcett.  Published by Kevin Mayhew Ltd. 
Opening Music: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba  ( performed by Bela   Banfalvi  © Warner Chappell, Warner Chappell, UNIAO BRASILEIRA DE EDITORAS DE MUSICA – UBEM, UMPG Publishing,)
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed- James Montgomery- Sung by Phil & Lythan Nevard
Gaudete- © Bob Hurd OCP Publications 1996- Sung by Portsmouth Cathedral Choir
The First Noel- Anonymous 1833- Sung by Kings’ College Cambridge Choir
Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness– J. S. B Monsell (1811 – 1875)- (Choir of Christ Church St. Laurence from the album “What Sweeter Music”)
We Three Kings- John Henry Hopkins Jr. 1872- Sung by Kings’ College Cambridge Choir
Closing Music: Handel’s Sarabande (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Entertainment One U.S., LP (on behalf of Silva Screen Records); UMPG Publishing.
Thanks to
Dan Morrell, Andy Braunston, Victoria Turner, Reuben Watt, Rachel Harvey, Lesley Thomson, John Young, Rameez Birkat and Johnson Olubenga Awe for reading the spoken parts of the service.

URC Daily Devotion Saturday 2nd January – Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

Saturday 2nd January  – Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

Published in 1833 this song has its origins in the medieval mystery plays where the actor playing Christ would sing the verses and the audience would sing the chorus.  It was not uncommon to have the baby Jesus singing all 12 verses foretelling his life, and death linking the incarnation with the redemption.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, 11

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day
William Sandys 1833

You can hear this here

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
this have I done for my true love

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,
of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance. 

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. 

4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. 


The metaphor of battling exists in various ways in the English speaking mindset.  We battle through traffic, battle through life, we stand our ground, fight our corners…  Life is a struggle, a battle of wills – may the strongest survive!  But what if instead of a battle, we see life as a dance?  To see life as a dance… tango, foxtrot, waltz, jive – whatever the style, you have to accept and move with your partner for the dance to work.  If you fight your partner in every step choice, you won’t get a 5 let alone a perfect score of 10.  Battling focusses on opposition and winning, but dancing focuses on movement, beauty, and partnership.

Dancing is the metaphor used in this song, as it reflects key points in the life of Jesus.  Every life event is an opportunity to “call [Jesus’] true love to [his] dance.”  His life, death and resurrection is our invitation to join in the dance.  His prayerful intercessions for us at the right hand of God not the solemn occasion you might expect, but rather a dance that we are invited to join!

And if, like me, you hear the Byrds singing “turn, turn, turn” as you read the passage from Ecclesiastes, maybe the turning is not just the turning of time, but the turning that comes with dancing – “in every season” – the good and the difficult times.  We can try to fight the turning of time, and many people do – with facelifts, mid-life crisis, or just makeup and a really good wardrobe selection.  But to dance even with time, the many stages and happenings of life – can we join that dance here, before we join in the dance at the heavenly wedding feast one day?
God, we cannot fully grasp all you have done – from the beginning to the end.
Christ, we are amazed at your dancing through your life on earth and your resurrected life.
Holy Spirit, call us to join in the dance.  Teach us the steps.  Help us to move to your rhythms, we pray.

URC Daily Devotion Friday 1st January 2021 – What Child Is This?

Friday 1st January 2021 – What Child Is This?

Born in Bristol, Dix spend most of his life selling marine insurance in Glasgow writing hymns in his spare time.  He wrote this hymn for the late medieval tune Greensleeves contrasting cute images of the nativity with the horror of what is to come.

St Matthew 2: 1-6

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

What Child Is This
W Chatterton Dix (1837-98)

You can hear this here

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.

2. Why lies He in such mean estate,
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, 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.

3. 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 a song on high,
the Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

As a child I adored this hymn and its tune, Greensleeves.  I still love it. It’s a Christmas hymn telling difficult truth while affirming that Holy Christ is the child of Mary.  It tells the truth of Jesus’ death whilst asking us to enthrone, rise and sing even as we’ve sung these hard truths.  The Greensleeves lilting melody doesn’t soften the hard news and it lifts and settles the whole story.

I write this for the first day of a new year following a year which some say disappeared or should be forever forgotten. I beg us to see what Dix asked us to see, as Greensleeves carried us through his words.  The child who some welcomed brought fear in others. Jesus’ story is the whole cycle of birth and joy, death and pain, eternal life to be joyfully celebrated. The story in all our lives is as human as Jesus’ life – birth, pain, death, eternity. As we live, we are repeating cycles of new births, new pains, new resurrections.  Our lives are a flurry of renewal, each cycle allowing us to be closer to the child of Mary.

2020 was awash with renewal cycles, awash with the pain of each one.  In hindsight we see things which could have been different, we grieve for so much and for so many.  In hindsight we see our risks, our learning.  Like this hymn sees, I plead that we don’t unsee; that we look into the stories of 2020 and name their truths.  Rather than the lilt of Greensleeves to carry us, we have the lilt and love and power of our very present Holy Spirit, carrying us through such seeing to focus into the resurrections, the transformations, the affirmations of life from the deepest places and peoples.

Blessed New Year. 


Glorious God, give us courage to come out of personal fear and anger.  Hold us as we linger over what we’ve hidden until we can bear resting in you as we look. Let us know your lilting love as you settle us in peace over what we cannot change. Resurrect our hope. Give us grace and creativity to share our restoration so that your Hope becomes power for all people.

URC Daily Devotion Thursday 31st December 2020

Thursday 31st December – Joy to the World

Isaac Watts’ great paraphrase of Psalm 98 has been voted, evidently, the most popular Christmas hymn in North America.  It’s more of an Advent, rather than Christmas hymn and could be used at any time of the year (though it would be a brave minister or worship leader who suggested its use in the summer!)

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvellous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
    have gained him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
    he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Joy to the World
Isaac Watts

You can hear, a contemporary arrangement, of this hymn here

Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
while fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.


For me, this is a perfect marriage of words and music – and singing it draws me in to its truth.  It moves me.  Without a doubt my favourite carol.

St Augustine, fifth century North African bishop, said ‘those who sing pray twice’.  Singing brings our whole selves into the act of praise, uniting heart and mind, words and melody.  We may cringe with embarrassment when asked to join in an action song, or to dance whilst we praise, but children and young people often embrace the embodiedness of worship in these ways.  Learning British Sign Language or Makaton can further ensure our bodies are caught up in our worship, and connect us more deeply to the meaning of the words we sing.

The Wesley brothers understood that the theology that takes root in our lives is the theology we sing, rather than the theology we hear.  Most of us could probably quote more hymns and worship songs by heart than Bible verses, and certainly than sermons!

I write at a time when singing together is not possible (to help prevent the spread of Covid 19).  I pray the situation will have improved by the time you are reading this.  How much harder it is to praise and worship in isolation – how much do we long for the time when we can gather to worship and sing in a foretaste of the courts of heaven when the unnumbered throng of all people groups will sing praises together.

For me the very act of singing this hymn ushers in joy.  Joy in my heart.  Joy to the world. What better way to mark the ending of one year and the birth of the next than to respond to the Biblical command to sing to the Lord with these wonderful and powerful words. 


Help us to lift our voices in praise to you, our Lord and saviour,
Unhindered by self consciousness,
Knowing our heartfelt praise will always sound sweet to your ear
And in harmony with the eternal praise of heaven.
Joy to the world.

URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 30th December 2020

Wednesday 30th December – In the Bleak Mid Winter

Christina Rossetti was the daughter of an Italian refugee.  She was raised as a High Church Anglican and broke off her engagement when her fiance converted to Catholicism.  She wrote this hymn as a poem and it didn’t appear in a hymnbook until 1906 – after she’d died.  The English Hymnal editors paired the poem with the tune by Holst and it has remained remarkably popular ever since.

Philippians 2: 5 – 11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the Bleak Mid Winter
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

You can hear this carol here

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, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven 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.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
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 I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Here we have two beautiful pieces of poetry, both of which are eminently suitable for Christmastide.

Unlike many other passages in Philippians Paul is not focussing on joy here. Instead he focusses on the Son of God, one with God in all things (“hands that flung stars into space”), dwelling in the heavens, choosing to condescend and live the life of a first century Palestinian man. Paul focusses on the One who, although given every opportunity to avoid it, submitted to torture and death (“to cruel nails surrendered”).

Yet, as we read, Jesus’ ministry did not stop there. Because, as we know, the grave was no match for the Son of God. God raised Him up, giving Him the Name above all names (“’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord”).

But none of this would have happened had Jesus not condescended to live our life. None of this would have happened if God had not chosen to “enter our world, His glory veiled”.

Today’s Christmas carol, Victorian yuletide imagery aside (was it really snowing in Bethlehem?), focusses on Christ’s coming to earth as a babe. It focusses on His physical and practical needs (“a breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay”).

But I think the carol is about much more than wintery Palestine, or the various animals gathered around the manger. I think it shows how God did not choose to redeem the world through gifts; nor did He choose to redeem the world through money, or fine oratory, or complex law books. Instead He chose to redeem the world through flesh and blood, through the giving of a heart – the life of One for the lives of all. We too, in the confused world in which we live, can only hope to minister effectively and faithfully if we are ready to give our hearts in His service.


of the manger and stranger,
of the wintry scene and the stark Cross,
of the orphan and sick,
of light and love,
Hear us as we pray. 
Grant us Your grace, 
that we may offer our hearts and lives to You, 
as we seek to proclaim Your Son through our words and deeds.

URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 29th December 2020

Tuesday 29th December – It Came upon the Midnight Clear

This carol by Edward Sears is a firm favourite across the denominations despite the Unitarianism of the writer.  In the hymn Sears laments the world at war not hearing the message the angels brought.  In the UK it is usually sung to Arthur Sullivan’s tune Noel.  

St Luke 2: 13 – 14

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!’

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
(Edward Sears 1849)

You can hear this carol here

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 heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

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

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening 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 splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.


One among many of the embarrassing moments in my life was the occasion I chose to compliment the choir leader of a local Anglican church after Evensong.  “How brave of the choir to sing in Latin”, I remarked.  What was intended as a compliment was rapidly identified as an insult.  The anthem had been sung in English!   Sadly, as a hearer I had clearly not heard the words they were singing.  

In this classic carol Edward Sears observes that humanity fails to hear the song of the angels.   In our case, he suggests, the angels struggle to be heard due to the “noise” of “strife”.  The editors of Rejoice and Sing revised it effectively:  … and we, at bitter war, hear not the love-song which they bring:  O hush the noise and end the strife, to hear the angels sing.  This carol highlights both the message of Christmas and the challenge to hear and respond.   The angels are the preachers and heralds;  the “cloven skies” their pulpit.  Their message – their love-song – is that the Word-made-Flesh is among us.  At times that message may sound like an anthem in another language:  a Word proclaimed and translated into the everyday “strife” of human encounter.   One day, we are assured, peace will prevail.   Until then our challenge is to hush our noise and be quiet long enough for God to get a Word in edgeways – the Word that Elijah perceived at Horeb in “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12);  the Word that in a backyard in Bethlehem, drowned out by the noise from the inn, Mary “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19)

The angels’ “glorious song of old” may well not have been sung at midnight but it is when we seek and find “solemn stillness” that we stand a chance of hearing angels – and receiving the Presence that is Christmas.


God of cloven skies and angels’ love-song,
grant that within the noise of this season
we may find space for solemn stillness and know you in sheer silence.
Translate, for us, angelic anthems into common parlance,
that with Mary we may ponder the song
and treasure the Word made flesh in Jesus.

In his name and for his sake
may we pledge ourselves anew as heralds and makers of peace
and enable his Word to get in edgeways.