Sunday Worship – 17th December 2023 – Advent 3

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) or Hymns & Psalms (H&P) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at St Andrews Methodist Church and led by Rev Phil Drake our Superintendent Minister. As next week’s written service will be a special one for Christmas and New Year, I have chosen to use the lectionary readings from the Sunday for the Fourth Sunday (rather than the Third Sunday) of Advent.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Call to Worship:

Lord, thank you for choosing to enter our world as a baby. You turned the ordinary into the extraordinary,a young girl into someone remembered throughout history. Open our eyes to the example Mary set and open our hearts to what you might be asking us to say ‘yes’ to. Amen.

Song – StF 330 or H&P 77 – Joy to the world

Song – StF 178 or H&P 83 – Long ago, prophets knew

Opening Prayer:

Father God, you are faithful and true, full of power and mercy.
You grace the world with salvation,
the gift of your Son who we eagerly await.
Your Holy Spirit moves among us, filling us with joyful expectation.
Your love knows no end.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we lift our hearts to you. Amen.

First reading:

Romans 16.25-27

25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Second reading:

Luke 1.26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’[b] 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.


‘Let it be with me according to your word’. In other words, Mary said “Yes” to God. We might think of the words of the old song, “Mary had a baby”, with it’s refrain, “Yes, Lord’ – can we make saying yes to God the refrain in our own lives?

Saying “Yes” is the yes of courage.

Saying yes to God is a brave thing to do.

Mary is often depicted as being quiet and submissive. Yet I think Mary was incredibly brave, as a teenager accepting the consequences of being a mother without being married, prepared to accept the consequences of stepping outside the social expectations of her day.

Teenagers today are often the victims of bad press and the scorn of others. Of all the people I meet in churches those I most admire are teenagers who confess a faith in Christ. I think they are very courageous, especially if outside of church they need to put up with the put downs of their peers. Saying yes to God as a teenager can be a big risk.

Facing up to her fears Mary overcame them enough to say yes to God. What fears and challenges do we need to overcome in our own lives if we too are to say yes to God?

Saying “Yes” is the yes of confidence.

Mary not only had fears but also doubts. She questioned how the angel’s message could possibly come true. Yet the outcome of the story is that Mary trusted that God had a plan and a purpose, and that God wanted her to be a part of it. No matter her questions, she realised that God had the answers to them and that all she had to do is agree to cooperate.

Whatever Mary feels her inadequacies to be, whatever she feels she lacks she knows that God will make up for with his grace – you are most highly favoured; you are gifted, blessed, the angel tells her; God has already given you what you require to make this decision. And that’s why, although Mary is given the choice to say yes or no at the end of her meeting with the angel, Gabriel already speaks to her as if it is cut and dried – it is not because Mary doesn’t have an option, but because the messenger of God has a confidence in Mary knowing what her response will be.

These reassurances tell Mary that she can have every confidence in God to see her through her task. We too can have confidence in God’s purposes for us. As it says in a favourite verse of scripture (and which we heard in a recent Circuit Service): I have plans prepared for you to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29). All we need to do is embrace that promise in confidence. A positive response comes in the manner of the prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, ‘For all that has been “Thanks!”; to all that shall be “Yes!” All of us should seek to make that our prayer.

Saying “Yes” is the yes of commitment

Saying yes to God isn’t the easy yes that trips off the tongue of the person we know as “a yes man”, who says yes because they know it is what someone else wants to hear, but not what they themselves believe in. Saying ‘yes’ to God isn’t the easy yes of someone who agrees to something and doesn’t follow it through. You know the story Jesus told about the two sons; one who said no to his Father’s request but later changed his mind; the other who said yes, but did nothing about it. When we say our yes it must be the yes of obedience, where our word is matched by our action. This is what Paul calls in his letter to the Romans the obedience of faith (Romans 16.26). This obedience of faith forms the conclusion to his letter – it’s as if the whole letter is building up to this point. Mary, in making her own response, provides such a model of obedience – showing complete trust and giving up her own interests.

It is making a commitment to do God’s will for us that is the important thing: as we say in the Lord’s Prayer: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In saying those words, we are committing ourselves to align our own will with that of God, committing ourselves not to go our own way. When the Christmas celebrations are over and the new year is upon us, many of us will share in the annual Covenant Service. The covenant promise that we say as part of that service stands as a renewal of our commitment to God. ‘I am no longer my own, but yours…your will, not my will be done in all things.’ In Mary’s response we should see someone who totally embraces the call that is placed before her. In the words of the Graham Kendrick song ‘Teach me to dance’:

Let all my movements express
a heart that likes to say yes
a will that leaps to obey you

In a sense, Mary’s call is the invitation God gives to every Christian: it is the call to bear Christ, and to share him with others. God never forces us to do anything. Rather we are given the choice of acceptance. That choice is ours – to decline the offer, or to wholeheartedly embrace with the yes of obedience. ‘Let it be with me according to your word.’ Amen.

Song – StF 187 or H&P 87 – The angel Gabriel from heaven came

To consider:

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever been given?
What’s the best gift you’ve given someone?
What gift have you taken the biggest risk with (and did the recipient like it)?
In what way might God be seeking to gift you this Christmas?

You may wish to watch ‘Out of the Ordinary’, the short video which accompanies the Methodist Church’s outreach campaign this Christmas. You can watch it here:

Prayers of intercession

We pray today for those who feel far from themselves and others. We pray that this Advent season might, in the midst of demand, provide soft nights and ease, so that people can return to themselves, knowing you, too, are always in the heart, and always wait for us with kindness. 
We ask this, in the name of all that is good. 

We remember today all who have not given their consent, but whose lives and bodies and integrity are taken for granted. For them, we pray for justice, reparation and truth. 
We ask this, in the name of all that is good. 

Today we remember that God surprised us by coming among us through the ‘Yes’ of Mary. Let us always be open to the surprise of finding God in unexpected places. 
We ask this, in the name of all that is good. 

The Lord’s Prayer:

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.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.

Song – StF 203 – Love shone down

A sending out prayer (based on Psalm 89:1-2)

‘Our Lord, we will sing of your love forever.
Everyone yet to be born will hear us praise your faithfulness.
We will tell them, “God’s love can always be trusted,
God’s faithfulness lasts as long as the heavens.”’

Lord, let us feel your steadfast love,
and sing your praises this Christmas time.
Let us proclaim to our friends and family how great you are.
Let us see the power of the baby in the cradle.
Let us say ‘Yes, let it be’ this Christmas time. Amen.

Acknowledgments: Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayers and photograph taken from Roots resources, copyright Roots For Churches Ltd.

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