O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
as Mary waited for the birth of your Son,
so we wait for his coming in glory;
bring us through the birth pangs of this present age
to see, with her, our great salvation
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Psalm 33.1-4, 11-12, 20-22
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
for it is good for the just to sing praises.
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
on the ten-stringed harp sing his praise.
Sing for him a new song;
play skilfully, with shouts of praise.
For the word of the Lord is true
and all his works are sure.
The counsel of the Lord shall endure for ever
and the designs of his heart from generation to generation.
Happy the nation whose God is the Lord
and the people he has chosen for his own.
Our soul waits longingly for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him;
in his holy name have we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us,
as we have set our hope on you.
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.
Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Mary set out and went with haste.
What must have been going through Mary’s mind? Immediately preceding the opening of today’s reading we hear Mary uttering these words of total dedication to God: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Then, having heard, received and accepted God’s call to be the bearer of the boy who will be called the Son of God, the angel left her. Mary’s mind must have suddenly filled with so many questions …
When couples discover that they are to become parents their worlds are turned upside down by the conflicting emotions of joy and apprehension. They begin making plans, they talk and they dream. But, this was not to be the case for Mary. She was not married and her pregnancy could lead to the violent death of stoning. Furthermore, Mary’s pregnancy was not only unexpected and inexplicable, it was also miraculous. How could she be pregnant? As she declared to the angel: How can this be, since I am a virgin? As the angel departed from her, that very real and convincing angel, Mary must have had questions and, as her very human mind will have realized, no one she could talk to.
But, of course, Mary was not alone. The angel had spoken of another miraculous birth. Gabriel had told her of the pregnancy of her elderly childless relative, Elizabeth. There was someone else who might understand, who might believe her. Is it any wonder that Mary set out and went with haste?
It must have been a great relief to find that Elizabeth really was pregnant, just as it must have been thrilling to hear her elderly relative exclaim (before there had been any opportunity for explanation): Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Unlike Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, Mary had not expressed doubt, only acceptance, but she still must have felt great relief at hearing Elizabeth’s words of greeting.
So, what about us? Every moment of every day God is wanting us to set aside human ambition and hopes, and listen to what he has planned for us. Every day we dismiss that call because of doubt, uncertainty, suspicion and incredulity. Why don’t we just give ourselves a treat this Christmas? Why don’t we join Mary in saying: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Then let us marvel at God’s coming into the world … through us.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to the Lord, rejoicing that he is here among us.
Make the Church, confident in the sacrifice of Christ, always ready to proclaim his coming. Keep your people faithful to the revelation that they have received, that they may be blessed in believing and ready to receive your promises.
Establish your justice in the world. In this winter time, give to the nations the light of Christ, that they may rejoice in his birth. Let your will be known and followed by all people.
Bless us in our families with mutual love and service, to meet each other’s needs. Make us holy in our lives together as we wait for the holy birth.
Fill the hungry and raise up the oppressed. Affirm those that are despised because they are small and weak in the eyes of the world, and grant them their rightful place.
We remember those who through bodily death have known the coming of the Lord. May they be held in eternal life through his offering of himself.
May we be filled with the Holy Spirit, to make known the wonderful coming of Christ.
Prayer for the week
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets
to preach repentance
and prepare the way of our salvation:
give us grace to heed their warnings
and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy
the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen.
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.
Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.
My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.
Richard Baxter (1615–1691)