O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God in Trinity,
eternal unity of perfect love:
gather the nations to be one family,
and draw us into your holy life
through the birth of Emmanuel,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvellous things.
His own right hand and his holy arm
have won for him the victory.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
his deliverance has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness
towards the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ‘,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Yesterday we heard of the shepherds testifying to all they had heard and seen. Today we hear the testimony of John. The shepherds encountered wondrous signs and words from God as they tended their flocks on the deserted hills below Bethlehem. Then they rushed to see all they had been told brought to life in a stable. Their excitement knew no bounds as they testified to all they had heard and seen. In contrast to the immediacy of the testifying of the shepherds, John’s testimony came after a lifetime of preparation.
There is a subtle difference in the meaning of the two words: testify and testimony. Testify, meaning to bear witness, to make a solemn declaration or to give evidence, has a greater sense of urgency to it. It carries the undertone of the person testifying wanting (or needing) to get their story told as soon as possible, just in case the memory fades or changes, or just in case he or she persuades themselves that it was all a dream! In contrast to this, testimony is about evidence or proof or, as listed in the dictionary, divine law. Giving testimony has a greater feel of being something that is gathered, collated, indexed and prepared. The validity of testimony, in this sense, is no less accurate or important than the account offered by the one who dashes out to testify but, rather, it carries an additional sense of gravitas because it has been long in coalescing into a coherent message.
The shepherds responded with immediacy and haste. They rushed to the stable to testify, to make known what had been told them about this child. John spent thirty years preparing himself for the moment when God led him to give his testimony of repentance, confession and baptism. The question for us, as we step into a new year, is which approach will we take? Has our celebration of Christmas fired us up with an urgent enthusiasm to testify alongside the shepherds? Or, has Christmas 2020 left us with the certainty that God now requires us to share the story that we have known so long, but have only just become ready to share with others?
The important thing is this … whether we are with the shepherds or with John, share the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed!
Let us make 2021 the year of true evangelism.
Prayers of Intercession
For light to know and to follow the truth, let us pray to the Lord.
Make the Church a powerful witness to the light that has come into the world. Through the preaching of the word, and through the water of baptism, may God’s people be gathered into one body.
Grant that the messengers of God may be heard throughout the world. Where material wealth and comfort abound in a spiritual wilderness, bring the light which reveals the true joy of living.
Make us messengers of the Gospel in our daily lives, and give strength to all in our community who labour to make known the mighty works of God.
Have mercy on all who suffer in body, mind or spirit. Let the light of hope shine through their darkness and give them comfort in their affliction.
We give thanks for the departed who were cleansed by the water of baptism and have passed over the great water to eternal life May they rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon them.
We offer our prayers in the name of Christ, the one Messiah.
Prayer for the New Year
God, bless the coming year,
and give us in your mercy
time for the task,
peace for the pathway,
wisdom for the work,
and love to the last;
for Jesus’ sake.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has 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,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
I cannot tell why he, whom angels worship,
should set his love upon the sons of men,
or why, as Shepherd, he should seek the wanderers,
to bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that he was born of Mary
when Bethl’em’s manger was his only home,
and that he lived at Nazareth and laboured,
and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
when at his bidding every storm is stilled,
or who can say how great the jubilation
when every heart with love and joy is filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
and myriad myriad human voices sing,
and earth to heav’n, and heav’n to earth, will answer,
‘at last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King!’
William Young Fullerton (1857–1932)