Sunday, 26 December 2010

Crib service 2010


It is a delight to welcome you.
Turn to neighbour and say: 'It's lovely to see you. Thank you for coming. It would not have been the same without you'.

Light Christmas candle

Opening prayer:

O little town of Bethlehem

Narrator: I would like to introduce you to Sat and Urn. They come from Mercury. Sat only speaks Merc-ish, but Urn is clever. He speaks Merc-ish and Earth-ish. They have come to visit us, and they would like to ask us a question,

Urn: who is the most important person who has been born on the Earth?

Narrator: that's very easy. The most important person who has been born on Earth was Jesus. He was born as a baby 2000 years ago, and he came to be God’s ruler not only of Earth, but of the whole universe. And he was God’s ruler then; he is God’s ruler now; and he will be God’s ruler for all time. He defeated sin and he defeated death.

Sat: gobbledygook (long)
Urn: Wow!!
Sat: gobbledygook (short)
Urn: So where was he born? He must have had an amazing palace

Narrator: Um, actually he was born in a .. cowshed

Sat: gobbledygook
Urn: But what did he wear? If he is such an important ruler, he must have worn fantastic clothes.

Narrator: He had nothing. He was wrapped in a bit of linen.

Sat: gobbledygook
Urn: You humans are strange. In our world, really important people live in amazing palaces, and they wear fantastic clothes.

Narrator: This is complicated. We’ll tell you the story.

There was a King. He was called Herod (Herod goes to throne half way down aisle). Herod was a VIP. He was also a Vicious Individual Person. He was a "nasty man". What was he? "A nasty man?! In fact, he should have been called Horrid, not Herod.

Herod thought he was important. Very important. He did live in an amazing palace, and he wore fantastic clothes. In fact he thought he was the most important person in the world.

Herod: I am the most important person in the world.

But Herod was very scared that other people would want to become the most important person in the world. And so Herod had some henchmen and their job was to make sure that nobody else became more important than Herod. (Bring out henchmen who surround Herod).

(sign up saying: Nazareth)
But I would like to introduce you to another person. Her name was Mary. Can we have Mary. (Mary on stage) She was not important. In fact she was very ordinary.

But an angel, called Gabriel (Gabriel on stage) appeared to Mary, and told her "Mary you are going to become the mother of the most important person ever. He will be God's Son. You will call his name Jesus, because he will save people from their sins; he will defeat death and he will reign for ever."

Song: I have come with special news

Mary believed God even though what he said was impossible for her and, just as the angel said, Mary became pregnant.
Now because Mary was nobody special she had to do what other people told her to do. There was an order that everyone had to go to the town where they came from, to be counted. Now Mary was married to Joseph and Joseph came from Bethlehem - so Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And since, in those days, they did not have cars or buses or trains or aeroplanes or spaceships, they had to go by donkey.
Song: Little donkey (during which Mary and Joseph and donkey walk to back of church and back to stage)

(sign up saying: Bethlehem)

When Mary and Joseph reach Bethlehem, the town was so full of people that there was no room for them.

Eventually an innkeeper saw that Mary was very pregnant, took pity on them and said, "You can stay in my cowshed". And because baby Jesus was born that night, he was born in the cowshed; and because Joseph and Mary had nothing, they had to wrap baby Jesus in strips of cloth.
Song: Mary, had a little baby  or The virgin Mary had a baby boy (during carol ask angels, shepherds, sheep, wisemen, kings, stars etc to go to the back of the church)
Now there were shepherds in the fields watching over their sheep. The angels came to them, and told them (someone needs to hand an angel (possibly Gabriel) the radio mic), "The most important person who will ever live has been born. He has come to be God’s ruler on Earth. He will defeat sin and death, and he will rule for ever. You will find this baby in a stable and wrapped in strips of cloth"

And the shepherds believe the angels. So they say, (radio mic) "Let's go to Bethlehem to see this special baby". (Shepherds, sheep etc to front of church)

It was on a starry night (during singing of carol shepherds, sheep etc to front of church)
A long way away, some wise man saw a star. They knew the star meant that the most important person had been born. So they followed the star, and the star led them to Israel. Now they thought that the most important person in the world must be born in a palace and must wear rich clothes. So they go to the person who has the palace and who has the fine clothes: King Herod.
 (wise men and star go to Herod)
See him lying

Now Herod was a nasty man (boo!), and when he heard that the most important person had been born he got very upset. No, very upset. He said, "I am the most important person in the world. I don’t want anyone to be more important than me. If I kill this baby, I will still be the most important person in the world". So he said to the wise men, “You go and find where this baby is. Tell me, so that I can come and worship him".

But he didn’t want to worship him; he wanted to kill him (boo!)

So the wise men continue on their journey, they followed the star, and it led them to Bethlehem and to baby Jesus. And although other people thought that the wise men were important, they knew that this baby was far more important than them. And so they kneel down, and gave him precious gifts.

(wise men follow the star to stable. When all assembled, sing)

Song: Away in a manger

That is not quite the end of the story. God told the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they didn’t go back to Herod. So Herod didn’t know which baby was God’s baby. That made him even more angry. I am very very angry. He sent his henchmen to kill the baby, but Mary and Joseph were warned by God and they took baby Jesus and they managed to escape.

(sign up saying: Bury St Edmunds)

Sat: gobbledygook
Urn: But Herod is the one with the fine palace, the fine clothes and the henchmen. Isn’t he more important than Jesus?

Narrator: That’s the point. Herod has everything. The baby Jesus has nothing. But God has spoken and God has said that this baby who has nothing is, in fact, the one who is his Son and who will be ruler of the world. And Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men believe what God has said.

Sat: gobbledygook
Urn: Does everyone on Earth accept Jesus as the most important person who ever lived? Do you all accept him as your ruler?

Narrator: No, we don’t. Most of the time we are like Herod. We want to be like Herod with a fantastic house, fine clothes and we want to think, ‘I am the most important person in the world’. To accept Jesus as our ruler, we have to be prepared to be like Mary, the shepherds and wisemen. We need to realise that we are not the most important person in the world, we need to listen to God and believe what he says about Jesus. And then we need to be prepared to kneel before him and worship him.

So let’s pray:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas day 2010

(before start, have one person lying on floor, and two people standing on chairs)

I would like to introduce you to two people: who is the greatest?

He was a very powerful man. In fact he appeared to be the most powerful person alive on the planet at the time.

(place robe and crown on Caesar)

He was fabulously wealthy
He lived in the most amazing palaces
Behind him, he had the Roman army

Caesar Augustus had the ability to count and record every single person who lived in his empire. Did you notice in our reading: ‘a census should be taken of the entire Roman world’? That is some power.

When he spoke, people jumped: It was because he issued an edict in Rome, that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem

If you did what he said, then he could give you wealth, entertainment and security
If you did not do what he said ..

His parents were Jewish peasants, and there were rumours of scandal about his birth
He was born in a cowshed, wrapped in strips of linen, and laid in a manger
Before he was 2, he was a political refugee. His parents had had to flee to Egypt
He was brought up as a carpenter, and for three years worked as a religious teacher
At the age of 33 he was executed as a common criminal

He was not wealthy
He did not live in a palace
He had no Roman army behind him

You did what he said not because he could reward you here if you did, or because he could punish you if you didn’t. You listened to what he said and if you did it, you did it because you chose to do so.

It’s a no brainer.

The angels say to the shepherds: ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’. They are echoing what the angel has said earlier to Mary, ‘He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High .. and he will reign .. of his kingdom there will be no end’ (Luke 1:32f)

If you listen to what God says about this man; if you believe what God says about Jesus, then you realise that there is simply no comparison.

Jesus has more power in the clippings of his little fingernail than Caesar Augustus, or all the rulers of this world put together, ever had.

Jesus is the one who was from eternity. He existed before time began. Everything that existed and exists and will exist comes from him, belongs to him and will return to him.

Caesar can count every person in his empire. They are his subjects. But Jesus Christ knows every person, and would be to them their friend and brother.

At Jesus’ call are millions and millions of angels. One of their bands turn up on the night that he was born

The sort of wealth and joy and security that he gives are things that nobody, not even death, can take away.

He is not just the creator of life, like some amazing boffin in a laboratory playing around with DNA. He is life itself, and he can give us eternal life.

Jesus is the one to whom Caesar Augustus or Napoleon or Mao or any ruler will one day have to acknowledge is the true ruler. They will need to say, ‘I was there because of you – and I did not recognise you’.

(take robe and crown from Caesar and place on Jesus)

Jesus said that he will judge each person. In fact, he said that we will judge ourselves by how we react to him.

Because we have here – in Caesar or Jesus - two models of how we can live.

We can live – what today I will call – the palace model.

We follow Caesar. We strive for the things of this world: wealth, power, influence, entertainment, security for the here and now.

But if we choose to follow Caesar, we have shown that we are deaf to what God says about Jesus, and we are blind to the sign of God. We have judged ourselves and we have shown that we are dead.

Or we can believe what God says about this child – through the prophets, through the angels, through the people who were there at the time, through the people who have trusted him - and live the manger model.

Because what makes Jesus so astonishing is that:
even though he does have all power, he let it go.
even though all things belong to him, he let it go.
even though he is life itself, he let it go.

(Jesus gets down from chair and goes to the person lying on the floor)

He humbled himself to become a human baby laid in a manger – in order to identify himself with us in our brokenness. He stripped off his celestial robes in order to be wrapped in strips of linen

We exalted ourselves, we tried to become God and fell. And yet for our sake, out of love, He humbled himself in order to save the proud. He lowered himself and knelt down in order to lift us up.

(Jesus lifts up the person lying on the floor, takes off his robe and crown and places it on the person)

He came to be our Saviour: so that – for all who receive him - we might become what he is.

The passage dates the birth of Jesus by reference to Caesar Augustus and his census.
Today, we date Caesar Augustus by reference to the birth of Jesus Christ.

And today millions of people bow to Jesus, and call him Lord.
They do so because they listen to what God has said about him;
They do so, because they have seen the sign – not a sword, not a pound note, not a stage – but a manger.

And they have chosen to follow a God who, out of love, humbles himself and gives up everything in order to save us; and they have chosen – with God’s help – to live like God.

To him be the glory and the honour and the dominion and the power, for ever and ever, Amen.

Much of the above is inspired by a quote from St Augustine:
Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary.”  He, so great God, equal with the Father, born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. Born lowly, that thereby He might heal the proud. Man exalted himself and fell. God humbled Himself and raised him up. Christ’s lowliness, what is it? God hath stretched out a hand to man laid low. We fell. He descended: we lay low. He stooped. Let us lay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then His stooping to us is this. “Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary.” His very Nativity too as man, it is lowly, and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man He was born of men. Whence lofty? That He was born of a virgin." 

Friday, 17 December 2010

The world's greatest gift

Christmas carol service 2010

I wonder what your worst ever Christmas present was? One woman writes that the worst gift she ever received was from a disapproving mother-in-law: “it was a musical loo roll holder. The trick is letting someone know that their gift is most ungratefully received, without appearing to do so. I settled on – "A musical loo roll holder? I'm so glad you took me at my word and didn't go to too much trouble!"

There are three things that we want to know about any gift.

1.  How much did it cost the giver?

And I'm not necessarily talking about its financial value. Sometimes an expensive gift is a sign that it did not cost the giver much: for instance the proverbial boss who sends out the secretary to buy an iPad for her husband, because she can afford it, and is too busy to try and think of something else.

2. Is it personal?

The best gifts are the most personal. It could be a very simple necklace which is just right for the person. Because it tells them, "I think about you; I know you and you matter to me."

3. Is it any use? A musical loo roll holder ... I’m not sure. And if it's a new outfit, will it look good? If it’s a Kinect, will it work? If it's a screwdriver has it got the right head? If it's a perfume, will I smell nice!

The story is told of a three year old girl who gave her dad a gift. She wrapped it up in expensive paper, which she had taken from mum’s special drawer. He opened it and found a very small box. He opened the box, and inside – it was empty.

He was about to get angry with her; he was about to tell her that she should not use this sort of paper on empty gifts, but he stopped himself. And then she said to him, when she saw his face, "But Daddy, it is not empty. I blew kisses into it for you. It is full of kisses."

Some of you may love that story; others may find it a bit hard to stomach. But it would take a very hardhearted father not to be moved by that.

1. It did cost her. It cost her the things that matter: time and thought.

2. It was personal, incredibly personal.

3. It even had some use. When he went away, he used to take it as a reminder of his three-year-old daughter.

At Christmas, we recall the gift that God gave us 2000 years ago. It was not wrapped up in expensive paper; in fact it was wrapped in a linen cloth and was found lying in a barn in a cattle trough.

It was the gift of a baby

Now I know that every baby that is born is a unique and precious gift – but this baby was astonishingly special

He was the son of God, come to live on as one of us, among us.

1. How much did it cost God?

Everything! This was his unique Son, who had been with him from eternity. He gave him to us, even though he knew that we would reject him, and kill him.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son"

2. This gift is incredibly personal.

Even though Jesus came for everyone (those who have lived, those who are living and those who will live), it is still immensely personal.

Jesus is God’s invitation to you – to you personally - to come into an intimate relationship with God. In giving us Jesus, He offers us himself.

Without Jesus we are enemies of God
With Jesus we become friends of God

The gift of Jesus is God saying to us: "I haven't given up on you. Despite the fact that I have given you everything, and you have still rejected me; despite the fact that you have lived life and go on living life without me, that you have sought your own glory and not mine; despite the fact that you love the things I have given you more than me the one who, in love, gave them to you; despite the fact that you have cut yourself off from me, the source of life and love, and so you are effectively dead. Despite all this, I still love you.

And he invites you to receive this gift of Jesus; to become his friend, to begin to get to know him.

Story of Christmas eve: ‘Do you know Jesus?’

But do you know him? We know about him in our head, at least I hope we do. We may even know some of his promises and try to live putting our trust in them. But do you know him at a level that is other than the head? If you know him, then prayer will not be simply hopeful thinking, nor just a reminding God of his promises, nor just "saying our prayers", nor even just a cry of desperation. Prayer will be a real intimate conversation with our heavenly Father.

"To all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, God gave them the right to become children of God"

3. Is this gift any use?

This is the most life changing gift. It is far more life changing than winning the X factor, or being given a £1 million cheque.

Because God gave us Jesus, and because Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead, he changes our lives and goes on changing our lives in the most dramatic way.

He gives us the conviction that we are beloved.
He offers us forgiveness for the past, which means we can face up to the past, particularly those bits in the past when we have hurt others.
He gives us a new identity as a son or daughter of God.
He gives us a new power for living; the Bible tells us that God will put his Spirit in us –so that the Spirit that is in us, longs for him, desires him and calls out to him.
He gives us a new direction for living, a new purpose, seeking his glory and not mine; seeking his kingdom and not mine.
He gives us a new hope: a personal hope, that death is not the end, and that because of Jesus when we die we will meet with him, and be fully transformed, and become citizens of the new heaven and earth. And a cosmic hope, that one day this whole cosmos will be transformed into what it was meant to become.

No wonder Paul describes this as "God's inexpressible gift"

The father could have so easily rejected his daughters’ gift.
From one perspective it was worthless, foolish and empty.
But when he listened to her, he discovered something very different: he discovered a gift that was full of love.

And we can so easily reject the gift of our Father God to us at Christmas. After all, it's very easy to miss one more baby, especially one born in the middle of nowhere to one who was a nobody.

But if, in the middle of the frantic rush of Christmas, we're prepared to stop and listen then we might see something very different.

- if we are prepared to listen to the men and women of old, who foretold that God would send into this world one who was to be for us a Saviour and Ruler.
- if we are prepared to listen to the ones who were there and saw him, who lived with him, went where he went, heard him teach, saw the miracles, and watched him as he gave up his life; and who were there when he came back from the dead.
- if we prepared to listen to the people in the last 2000 years who have trusted him: who have given him their everything because he has given them everything.
- if we are prepared to listen to that voice within us, which tells you that Jesus is special; which draws you to him; which prompts you to cry out to him, to desire him and to ask him to be your Friend, your Saviour and your Lord.

And if we listen (and the fact you are here tonight suggests that you are prepared to take time out to listen), we discover that this gift – given 2000 years ago, which might seem so foolish and empty is, in fact, full of God's wisdom to save us; full of God's power to change us; and full of God's love as he offers himself to walk with us, to embrace us and to fill us.