Sunday 20th December 2020

An act of worship at home

4th Sunday of Advent

Reading          Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 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 will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 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.


In today’s reading from Luke God’s messenger Gabriel had the easy job, all he had to do was to go to Nazareth to a young woman called Mary. It’s Mary who is being given the difficult job: she hears the angel’s words but did she understand? And when we hear God’s word to us do we understand? It’s not always easy.

Gabriel comes to Mary and says, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ In response to which, we’re told that she didn’t understand the welcome, let alone what would follow. In the picture Luke creates

you can almost sense Mary’s mixture of fear and awe and confusion.

In J. B. Phillips translation Gabriel goes on ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly’. Then follows the announcement that she will give birth to Jesus, who will fulfil the hopes of her people – ‘his kingdom will never end’.

At last Mary finds her voice. In the words of the Revised Standard Version ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ The messenger explains more of how God’s plan will happen: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and God’s power will rest upon you’. Strange, how he could say so much but reveal so little. There is so much left unsaid.

Finally Gabriel speaks about Elizabeth, Mary’s older relative, and how she who had been unable to have a child

is now six months pregnant with Zechariah’s son. His closing words are of high triumph: for ‘For there is nothing God cannot do’. But the last word is not given to the angel but to Mary and her response is the most crucial part of all. The declaration by the messenger, it seems, is not after all afait aecompli: it still requires a young woman to say ‘Yes’.

Frederick Buechner wrote this about the angel Gabriel’s encounter with Mary: “She struck him as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he had been entrusted with a message to give her,

and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of Creation hung on the answer of a girl.”

Imagine the vulnerability of God at this moment: would this young woman accept his plan for her?

She did, but not without great cost to herself

‘I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said’. Mary humbles us by her complete acceptance.

Only Mary’s obedience made it possible. Growing inside Mary was the Son of God, the One who was to be the hope of the world. But at this stage much of the detail was unknown to the young woman and to her people who were looking for a warrior king.

This Messiah who would ride a donkey, not a stallion. Would be born in poverty, not a palace. Would wear a crown of thorns, not of gold. After years of silence since the last prophets spoke, there were signs of God at work that made hope a reality.

Jesus would bring into this age the powers of the future kingdom of God. We are to be people of hope now, and people of action. He has promised to come to us again, to make all things new and to allow the world to begin again. When we hear God’s word to us this Christmas may we respond as Mary did, with all we are.


Loving God, we thank you for the hope you have given us in Christ, the meaning and purpose, joy and fulfilment you bring us through him.

Hear now our prayer for those who find it hard to hope, those for whom life is hard.

Reach out to them in their need, and may the light of Christ break into their darkness.

We think of those who are hungry and undernourished, the homeless and refugees, the sick and suffering.

Reach out to them in their need, and may the light of Christ break into their darkness.

We think of those who are overwhelmed by fear and hatred, each day lived under the threat of violence.

Reach out to them in their need, and may the light of Christ break into their darkness.

We pray for those who feel overwhelmed by life dreading what the next day might bring.

Reach out to them in their need, and may the light of Christ break into their darkness.

Loving God, may the message of hope which Advent brings burst afresh into our world,

bringing help, hope and healing. And may we, as those who profess the name of Christ, play our part in showing his love, displaying his care, and fulfilling his purpose, so that he might come again this Christmas to all who have lost hope.

Reach out to them in their need, and may the light of Christ break into their darkness.

For his name’s sake. Amen.


The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,

his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;

‘All Hail’, said he, ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,

most highly favoured lady.’


‘For known a blessed Mother thou shalt be,

all generations laud and honour thee,

thy Son shall be Immanuel, by seers foretold;

most highly favoured lady.’


Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,

‘To me be as it pleaseth God’, she said,

‘my soul shall laud and magnify his holy name’:

most highly favoured lady.


Of her, Immanuel the Christ was born

in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,

and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say

‘Most highly favoured lady’.



Lord, this Advent, in our preparations and in our waiting, may we sense your continued work in our lives

and in the world around us.

And may we know the blessing of God almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit, this day and for ever more.


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