ACW

ACW

Friday, 23 December 2016

Come and worship - by Helen Murray

I've always loved carol services. I love lots of things about Christmas, but carol services are one of the very best bits. In recent years, however, I've found myself so exhausted with December and all the Christmas preparations that by the time the carol services come round I've been tempted to skip it or trudged there with only a sense of duty. I remember with fondness the days when it was something to look forward to, not just another thing to cram into the pre-Christmas madness.

The other night I walked down the road in the rain to church and on the way I asked God if he'd please come with me. I was so weary that if I hadn't been reading one of the lessons I'd probably have run a bath and climbed into my PJs instead. It went something like this:

'Lord, I've been to countless carol services, and while they're nice and everything, I am so tired that this feels a bit like a chore. Same songs, same readings, same mince pies. I know what there is to know about the nativity - is there something new you want to say to me?'


And there was. 

You know those repetitive, hackneyed songs? This year the Christmas carols weren't just carols. They weren't the same over-familiar tunes and words that we know by heart because we dust them off every Christmas. For me, in row six, sitting next to a man who didn't sing a single word (not a single word! I felt so sad for him) it seemed fresh and new.

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the new born King

Listen! We sang with the angels down through the ages. The glorious company of heaven was watching the miraculous events in a small middle eastern town way back when and they were proclaiming the wonder of it for the very first time.

Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies

The angels of heaven were saying, 'He's there! He's come to you! Can you believe it?' There was quite the celestial party that night. God made man. The majesty of heaven in a tiny baby. 

As we sang the weariness of another fraught and stressful day melted away and I realised that I could actually locate a little bit of that joy deep inside. It's not a fluffy, light as a feather happy sort of feeling; no, it's a deep, weighty, full-bodied overwhelming thing. My eyes might have watered a little bit.

I got a glimpse of the angels awe: God with us

Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings

Light. Life. Healing. Don't we all need those things? Oh Lord, how we need them. The world is in such a desperate state; I don't think I've known things as bleak as they are at the moment. We are in a huge mess and you came to bring healing. To bring life in all its fullness and a light that cannot be put out.
How I need those things; I am broken in so many places. And you are the balm to my hurts, the light in my darkness. 

As the candle flame in my hand flickered and people's faces were lit up and made beautiful with the soft light, the music soared and my soul reached for you. I really think it did.

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Born that we might live and not die. Born to lift us to heaven to be with you rather than strike us down and leave us where we deserve to be. This dark and broken place, it's not all there is, and that's good news.

Oh, Father. What mystery is it that you came to earth and poured deity into a tiny wriggling body? How amazing that a young girl heard your voice and said 'Yes, let it be as you say', instead of 'You want me to do WHAT?' 
How wonderful that a good man full of faith stood by his young wife and raised a baby that wasn't his.  
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
and His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall

And the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals and shepherds. 


There isn't a palace in the world that man could make beautiful enough for you. There isn't a cathedral or a landscape or a crown of jewels that befits your majesty - but you chose a little known town in the back of beyond; the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals, laid in straw by an unmarried teenager.

You had a Plan. 
God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray

Yes, let's stay merry, people! Let's not let anything dilute or diminish the amazing thing that happened that leaves all else in the shade. You came to rescue us. You loved us too much to leave us in the mess we'd created, were creating, and would go on to create (and it's quite a mess). You came to bring us home to be with you, because you loved us.

O, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O, tidings of comfort and joy

If that's not good news, I don't know what is. Lord, let the reality of this miracle comfort us in the middle of the despair and pain around us. There is a light that the darkness cannot overcome. That light will never be extinguished. Keep our eyes on the light, Father. 

It seems amazing to me. Emmanuel - God with us. 

Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above
Glory to God
In the highest
O come, let us adore Him

Christ, the Lord. A tiny baby. 

Why exultation? Exulting? Lively, triumphant joy. Celebration of success, not just happiness. This is a triumph, and the angels knew how profound it was. Everything would be different, now. It was a game-changer. The earth was transformed that night and most people down here were completely oblivious, but the angels weren't. 

It was a big deal.
Ding dong! merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riven with angels singing
Gloria 
Hosanna in excelsis!

Riven! The sky was split across with the sound of the angels. Torn apart with the pealing of bells and heavenly host worshipping and celebrating. That must have been some sound.

Ye who sang creation's story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship
Christ the new-born King


We came and we worshipped. The choir sang in lovely harmonies. The band played music that lead us into your presence and the old songs meant something brand new.

E'en so here below, below...

Even so, here below. In my church, at Christmas 2016. 

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place

And I closed my eyes (making sure that my candle was still vertical and not dripping wax or setting fire to anyone's hair) and I saw you on your throne with scenes of glory and majesty and power and gentleness and unending love playing out in your heart and I lifted my small, stained, substandard, one too you in return. 

I think maybe even if we manage to see beyond the tinsel and gifts and Christmas telly sometimes we get too wrapped up in the tiny baby in a manger and no-crying-he-makes and all that. (Who are we kidding? He was thoroughly human and of course he cried. And did all the other stuff that babies do as well. But that's not the point.) Even with the benefit of more than two thousand years we can easily miss the big picture - this baby was God. The Creator of the universe, the sustainer of life, in a bed made of straw, born to a normal girl who believed, and her bemused husband. 

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord

The Word made flesh. God with us. 


Oh, God, thank you for my glimpse past the familiar and into the realms of worship. Thank you that I heard an echo of the angels' song and you let me add my poorly tuned but enthusiastic voice to the heavenly host. I know that you heard me.

Glorious now, behold him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Heaven sings, Alleluia!
Alleluia the earth replies

We do.

God with us. 

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Amen and Alleluia.




Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up. Check back when the kids have left home.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


4 comments:

  1. Isn't it amazing that as we worship, we are singing alongside angelic hosts? Thanks, Helen. xx

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    1. Really amazing. Those are special moments indeed. Imagine one day, it'll be all the time....

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  2. Helen, you succeeded in drawing something fresh, inspiring and beautiful from what can often feel a bit overly familiar and stale. I felt like I was right there with you, holding my wavering candle, with a sharp, nostalgic pang and a lift of unexpected joy in my heart, because it's been far too long since I sat in a church service or sang fervent praises to God. Thank you! xo

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    1. I'm so glad, Joy. Praying that you'll experience it again sometime soon. x

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