Home Service for 1st January 2023

Alleluia! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights.

Praise him, all you angels of his;
praise him, all his host. (Psalm 148:1-2)

Prayers of Approach

Faithful God, we thank you for your presence with us. In trouble and in joy, you are always there. Help us to see where you were with us last year, and open our eyes to new opportunities in this new year. Faithful God, we thank you. Amen.

God outside of time, who is part of our past, part of our present and part of our future. As we begin this new year, may we recognise and remember all that has gone before and look forward to all that will be. Jesus, our great Redeemer and Saviour, who journeys into this new year with us, we come to worship you. Amen.

O Lord our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth, you have set your glory above the heavens; Lord of all eternity, mighty Saviour, you have given us a time for everything. We thank you for every season and time under heaven. You created everything. You have breathed life into all things. We worship and adore you. Amen.

Hymn Hark, the herald angels sing (R&S 159)

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Matthew 2:13-23


The very well known ‘A time to be born, and a time to die’ is the first of 14 pairs of contrasting actions in Ecclesiastes 3.1-13, all of which have their season or proper place in human life. But, the writer says, none of them, nor anything else humans do, will help you know the entirety of ‘what God has done from the beginning to end’, so the best thing to do is to take pleasure in what you do and be happy and enjoy yourself for as long as you live. The reading focuses on a variety of times and seasons in our lives, prompting questions about how we empathise with one another.

In the Gospel reading angels appearing in dreams guide Joseph away from Bethlehem in Judea to escape from Herod, who wants to destroy any possible rivals, first to Egypt, where Jesus is safe from Herod’s fury, and then to Nazareth in Galilee, where Jesus is brought up. This, says Matthew, will fulfil the words of the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’.

It gives us the opportunity to identify Jesus as a new hope, to recognise that Jesus is found in unexpected places and see the vulnerability of Jesus’ humanity and to consider how we carry Christmas into the reality of ‘back to normal’.

Hymn Unto us a boy is born (R&S 169)


New Year – what is it time for? For many of us it is a time to reflect on the year that has passed and to look forward to the year that is to come. We probably began that however over the short Christmas period that the secular world allows us, especially if we listened to the King’s speech and the Archbishop’s Christmas message on Christmas Day. Even if we didn’t the news programmes would have given us pause for thought as we tried to find some good news amongst the bad.

At Christmas we tend to concentrate on the joy of the season, to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, the gift of his son entering our world as a tiny vulnerable child, just as we did, bringing all the associated joys of a new baby. And we try to shut out, at least for a short while, the troubles and anxieties, the unpleasantness, fears and uncertainties of the world outside. But that is just as it should be, we need to celebrate those moments of joy that lift us out of our ordinary, humdrum lives. At that first Christmas shepherds and wisemen came in awe and wonder and were inspired to worship, and went away rejoicing. The writer of Ecclesiastes too reminds us that there is ‘a time for every thing under heaven’ (Eccl 3:1).

Those different ‘times’ however do not separate themselves out as neatly as Ecclesiastes would have us suppose. In the real world weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing etc. often come inextricably bound together. At Christmas this is especially true. Amidst all our joyful celebrations we may suddenly be reminded of those loved ones who are no longer with us, particularly if this is our first Christmas without them, but even then sadness can be touched with joy as we remember the happy times we shared. It is also all too easy for the outside world to intrude. Charity adverts reminding us of the hungry and homeless pop up interrupting our favourite television programmes, and the news is all too ready to open our eyes to the ugliness and violence of the world.

It may seem callous and unfeeling to celebrate and enjoy ourselves while so many others cannot but if we are to be able to reach out and help others we need to be able to experience hope and joy ourselves. In the ‘Call the Midwife’ Christmas special Sister Frances was being called on to do so much extra – filling in for Sister Hilda who was not going to be returning, and doing almost twice as many shifts as everyone else. When Trixie (Nurse Franklin) found her in the middle of the night putting the marzipan on the Christmas cake because it needed time to dry before the icing was added or it would make the icing turn yellow, she said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. Sister Frances replied ‘I find the beauty in it’ explaining that there was always something beautiful in every task no matter what it was and finding the beauty gave her strength.

Finding and embracing the joy in whatever situations we are in or are facing can give us the strength we need and enable us to share that hope and joy with others. The witnesses to that first Christmas embraced and celebrated the joy despite the dangers and darkness they were to face. To truly appreciate the joys of Christmas we cannot afford to ignore the darker side – the actions of Herod in ordering the slaughter of the young children in Bethlehem and Simeon’s prophecy of the opposition Jesus would face and his words to Mary that ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’.

Among all the mixed emotions of Christmas some of the songs and carols that help me to appreciate it the most are those that acknowledge that mixture of feelings, sadness as well as joy, regret as well as satisfaction and fulfilment. Songs like Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop the Cavalry’, ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas’ with the line ‘next year all our troubles will be far away’, and the carols which I have included in this service. (You will probably all have your own examples). But then I will put them all aside and sing ‘Come and join the celebration’ (R&S 166) because after all ‘there is a time for everything’.

(You can find a video of ‘Turn, turn, turn,’ by ‘The Seekers’ at https://youtu.be/VRg9NkIdjVs )

Hymn Born in the night, Mary’s child (R&S 188)

Prayers of Intercession

For the times when we are sick: may we have healing. For the times when we are isolated: may we have company. For the times when we are oppressed: may we have justice. For the times when we are exposed: may we have dignity. For the times when we are mistreated: may we have humanity. For the times when we are ignored: may we be heard. For the times when we ignore, or isolate, or oppress, or expose or mistreat: may we change. Amen.

Hymn It came upon the midnight clear (R&S 144)


Jesus Christ, Babe of Bethlehem, Prince of Peace, fill us with such joy that we must share it; with such love that we must live it; with such peace that we must give it. Fill us with your gracious Spirit, so that through our lives your blessings fill the world. Amen.

Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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