Holy Communion for Advent Sunday, 29 November 2020
Preacher: Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
Celebrant: Revd Ernesto Lozada-Uzuriaga
Introit: O Day of God, Draw Nigh
O day of God, draw nigh
in beauty and in power;
come with thy timeless judgment
now to match our present hour.
Bring to our troubled minds
uncertain and afraid,
the quiet of a steadfast faith,
calm of a call obeyed.
Bring justice to our land,
that all may dwell secure,
and finely build for days to come
foundations that endure.
Bring to our world of strife
thy sovereign word of peace,
that war may haunt the earth no more,
and desolation cease.
O day of God, draw nigh
as at creation’s birth;
let there be light again,
and set thy judgments on the earth.
R.B.Y. Scott (1899–1987)
Welcome in the name of Christ.
God’s mercy, grace and peace be with you.
Good morning, Living Stones, and welcome to our Holy Communion Service on Advent Sunday.
We begin with the Prayer of the Week.
Let us pray.
Prayer of the Week – Advent 1
This hectic world is quieter for now,
holding its breath as the calendar moves on.
We hope for fellowship, but prepare for loneliness.
Lord, focus our minds on a different preparation;
keep us busy in conversation with you.
Hymn: Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes
Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes,
the Saviour promised long:
let every heart prepare a throne,
and every voice a song.
He comes, the prisoners to release
in Satan’s bondage held;
the gates of brass before him burst,
the iron fetters yield.
He comes, the broken heart to bind,
the bleeding soul to cure,
and with the treasures of his grace
to enrich the humble poor.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
thy welcome shall proclaim;
and heaven’s eternal arches ring
with thy belovèd name.
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)
Jesus said: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
Welcome to the house of God.
We have come from all the corners of the earth.
Welcome to the hospitality of God.
We come as we are; we bring our life, our stories, our journey.
Welcome, brothers and sisters.
We are the rainbow people of God.
Welcome, chosen people.
May God our companion bind us in his love.
Forgive us for the things we have done and have not done.
Forgive us for the things we have said and have not said.
Forgive us for the life we have lived and not lived.
Beloved God, help us to reflect the image
of the one we profess to follow
in thought, word and deed,
and in discovering our true self
draw others into that light.
Lighting the Candle
Hope is a candle, once lit by the prophets,
never consumed, though it burns through the years;
dim in the daylight of power and privilege
when they are gone, hope will shine on.
Richard Leach (1994)
© Selah Publishing Co.
The Word of the Lord
Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4
Read by Peter Steeds
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
6 And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault ‘sky’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day.
9 And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground ‘land’, and the gathered waters he called ‘seas’. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.
14 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. 16 God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.
20 And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ 23 And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day.
24 And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
29 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
John 1: 1–18
Read by Nerys Steeds
The Word became flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” ’) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No-one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to Christ our light.
By Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
It’s good to be in Cornerstone.
This is Advent Sunday, the beginning of a new Christian year, and this year of all years, it’s time for a reboot, not a bailout. Time to reset. In the world’s best-loved movie, Julie Andrews said, we start at the beginning, because it’s a very good place to start. But where is the beginning?
Seven-year-old children always want to know, ‘Why?’ It’s raining: why? Because water is falling out of the sky. But why? Because of the clouds; but why? Because the sea evaporates – why? Because the sun warms it up. Why? Because the sun is very hot. Why? Because it’s made of blazing gases. Why?
There are all sorts of questions why: Why do people do what they do? Why did Europe go to war in 1914 because an archduke was assassinated? But why? Because people wanted independence for Serbia. Why? Or because the Ottoman Empire was the sick man of Europe? But why? Because the West had an industrial revolution. Why? There was an arms race to build battleships. Why? Because imperial expansion became imperial competition.
The buffers at the end of every railway line, the final answer to the question, ‘Why?’ is in the first verse of the Bible: ‘In the beginning, God created.’ For everything you can imagine, that’s why. That’s why things work the way they do. That’s where every story begins; it begins when God made us, because he loved us and wanted the best for us. It wasn’t just a huge accident, that big bang; that singularity was how God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth – the lot.
I’ll tell you, says John. John was an old man. He had been Jesus’ best friend out on the roads, way back. John says the whole bang-shoot was formulated in the mind of God, the logos, the logic, the wisdom, the Word gave everything form and content. In the beginning was the Word who shaped it all. All that was for without that logos: nothing was made that was made. Life was breathed into it from the mind of God himself. God created, not a machine, not a product, but a process with its own free energy. God made it make itself. It is created, not was manufactured. And after the seventh day, God didn’t opt out and pop off back to heaven, St Paul dares to say, and it is daring to say this about a Galilean peasant who had died thirty years before that. Jesus Christ – John’s Word made flesh – somehow holds everything together, energy and matter by his word of power. John says this Word is the world’s home. He threw in his lot, pitched his tent among us, and that’s the most basic fact you need to know. Which makes everything else more than meaningless. And this created logos wasn’t, by the way, an idea, a concept, any other form of it, the Word was he not in engendered way, but a personal way bigger than male or female or any other category that can be used to label people. God is. But this power is not less personal than you or me, like a big bolt of lightning or an electric shock.
This God is somehow more personal than you or me, because God is the fountain of personhood; the human personality we possess and reflect and recognise by its rights and dignity is only a pale shadow, a pale expression of a personality that is beyond personality, that has shaped and lives in everything that is. Every Christmas, the Church proclaims again, the most important words in the world: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.’ After all the whys and wherefores, this is journey’s end. A human reality check point. Jesus has come among us full of grace, as nothing less than the human face of God. So the logos the mind that lit up and maintains the burning heart of everything is the logic of the incarnation. God comes, not as a visitor or a mascot or a superhero or a hybrid, but as flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone.
And when our imaginations begin to embrace that reality, we can see ourselves and our possibilities and hopes differently. I got a Christmas card a few years ago from a great friend who’s a bishop that gave me the challenge of the incarnation rather well. Happy Christmas, it said, and this Christmas, why not do what God did? Become fully human.
How do we do that?
Well, at one level, we need to get real about who we are and what it means to be human. Honestly, we need to accept ourselves as we are, and that who we are matters. The challenge is to be honest, to acknowledge and honour our humanity, as is and as an ideal. Accepting our human reality transforms for good the way we belong to each other in church and the way we behave.
After many years working pastorally alongside survivors of abuse in church. I want to say there is a radical difference between church leaders who say, ‘I am accountable to God, not you’, and ‘I am accountable to God through you.’ These are different things. And the logic of the incarnation says, ‘I am accountable to God through you.’ If we are to be fully human, we need to do what Jesus did and embrace the full spectrum of what it means to be human.
In the church I go to most often are local here in Great Missenden, there is a memorial window to a village doctor here who died back in the 1920s. It includes the coat of arms of his Cambridge college and the two hospitals that trained him in the arts of medicine that he practised so wonderfully in this village for over fifty years: Great Ormond Street and St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. The words I notice, though, in his memorial window are the motto of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. It was given to the hospital by the right of Henry I, who founded it way, way back in 1123; Humani nihil a me alienum puto. It’s a quotation from Terence, a freed slave, a playwright in North Africa two hundred years before Christ: ‘I am human, so I think nothing human is alien to me.’ This is the root of the NHS we have come to value so much during this plague year – nothing human is alien to me – and this is the logic of the Incarnation. So, diversity around our humanity, any characteristic that our equalities law protects, is not an imposition from the government, it is not political correctness: it is the logic of the Incarnation.
Are our churches and are we fully embracing the diverse variety of all humanity as God has made it? When we say, ‘Jesus is Lord over all the Earth,’ do we mean in an imperialistic way that Jesus is a warrior who will win all his battles and obliterate his enemies or by Jesus is Lord? Do we mean that we cannot understand, let alone exhaust, the scope of his incarnation by limiting the places we expect to find Jesus to our tribe; people like ourselves for whatever reason: age, race, sex, gender identity, ability, education, background, sexuality? Jesus is Lord of all, and his tribe transcends all tribes and far transcends all tribalism. Because Jesus is Lord, a church that is monochrome or tribal, is a diminished expression of the word. And Max Warren, a great missionary leader of the last century, put it like this: ‘It takes a whole world to know Christ’ and, we might add, takes a whole world to make him known.
So this Christmas, let’s do what God did: become fully human. Celebrate in our flesh or behind our screens that we can recover the full dimension of what it means to say Christ, who is Lord, has been born among us. The body of such a Christ does not measure itself by big numbers or success as entertainment and attraction or theology, its true measure has to be the quality of its human engagement within it.
In particular, the acid test of a church that is living the logic of the incarnation, is how power is used within it: to heal or not to hurt equally and accountably, not abusively. The extent to which we fulfil our human potential is revealed, says the logic of the Incarnation, in our everyday attitudes and interactions, and how we use power. This is good news for all the world. From the coming of Christ, there is a new way to live. You show wisdom by trusting people. You handle leadership by serving. You handle offenders by forgiving. You handle money by sharing. You handle enemies by loving. And you handle violence by suffering.
This year, whether you’re at home behind a screen or wherever, why don’t we do what God did at Christmas and become fully human?
Over to you.
Choral Reflection: And he shall purify the sons of Levi
And he shall purify
And he shall purify the sons of Levi
that they may offer unto the Lord
an offering in righteousness.
An Affirmation of Faith
We believe in the Creator:
the maker of all things.
We believe in the Son:
the redeemer of our broken world.
We believe in the Spirit:
The sacred wind that binds all things together in the family of God.
Creator Father, beloved Son and living Spirit.
By Katherine Wheldon
(Read by Janet Trimnell)
Father God, thank you so much for seeing us through another week.
We have enjoyed sunshine and showers and not too chilly breezes.
The gardens, trees and parks still have some green leaves or beautiful autumn colours,
and flowers still open to delight us.
We are constantly reminded of your goodness to us.
We are well blessed.
We have lived through weeks and months of uncertainty as we try to avoid the misery of Covid-19
and now we have arrived at the first Sunday in Advent, when we can concentrate on hope.
We can look forward to the day of celebration for the birth of your Son Jesus Christ.
It may be different from what we have experienced before
but we are grateful for modern communications which make it possible
to see and speak with loved ones with whom we cannot yet meet.
Help all your children to find time in their day to be quiet and still
to feel your nearness and comfort.
There is hope that we will learn lessons from this year and live a life closer to your ideal.
Loving ourselves, our neighbours and you most of all.
We are grateful for the hope brought by those working hard to produce vaccines;
those who care for the sick in body and mind as they struggle with present circumstances;
those in power trying to find the best way to keep our economy going and protect people’s livelihoods.
Give them the strength that they need and quiet moments to feel your presence.
We pray for those who live in poverty and fear throughout the world.
Give them hope that things will change for the better.
Help all leaders to stop and think before they act.
There are too many places to name, but we can hope
that in coming months circumstances will improve.
When we feel helpless because there is so much unhappiness which is often so far away,
remind us that you listen to our prayers.
We pray for our Ministers and all those involved at Cornerstone,
that you will give them strength and wisdom.
In a moment of quiet we remember those we know who are ill, stressed or grieving.
Give us ears to hear, O God, and eyes to watch,
that we may know your presence in our midst
during this holy season of joy as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ.
Hymn: The Lord will come and not be slow
The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.
Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom then;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on mortal men.
Rise, God, and judge the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for you are he who shall by right
the nations all possess.
For great you are, and wonders great
by your strong hand are done:
you in your everlasting seat
remain the Lord alone.
John Milton (1608–1674) [altered] CCL31580
‘Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.’
The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
The Eucharistic Prayer
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become for us the bread of life.
Blessed be God for ever.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.
Blessed be God for ever.
Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness … .
Blessed be God for ever.
The Lord be with you
and also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.
Father, you made the world and love your creation.
You gave your Son Jesus Christ to be our Saviour.
His dying and rising have set us free from sin and death.
By your Holy Spirit you make us your friends.
And so we gladly thank you,
with saints and angels praising you and saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
We praise and bless you, loving Father,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord;
and as we obey his command …
…all honour and glory are yours, O loving Father,
for ever and ever.
The Lord’s Prayer
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Breaking of the Bread
We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.
Though we are many, we are one body,
because we all share in one bread.
Take this bread:
Share this wine.
In these Christ comes to us with love from God.
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Prayer after Communion
We thank you, Lord,
that you have fed us in this sacrament,
united us with Christ,
and given us a taste of the heavenly banquet
prepared for all peoples.
Hymn: Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver;
born a child and yet a king;
born to reign in us for ever;
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thy own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thy all-sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
The Advent Blessing
Thank you for joining us this morning.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
and the Holy Spirit
be among you
and remain with you
today and always.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ.