Weekly Devotion

Aberdeen, St Mark’s Church of Scotland Rosemount Viaduct

‘St Mark’s, sharing God’s love in the City Centre’

Dear friends and members of St Mark’s,

As a way of maintaining a sense of fellowship and community, please accept this offering of worship from the St Mark’s Church of Scotland. Please also be assured of our continued support and prayers at this time, and if for any reason it would be helpful to speak with myself, the Interim Minister working with you at present, please do not hesitate to phone me on 07977 473231.

13th December
Third Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1:23

A virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel, a name which means “God with us”.

Hymn 286 Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and for evermore!

Opening prayer
Lord our God,
you have revealed yourself as One
who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
In a world that looks away from injustice,
You cast your eyes on the destitute, the poor, and the wronged;
You have called us to follow you,
to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release for the captives
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed
and to proclaim the time of your blessing.
 
Be present with your church, Lord,
as we respond to your call.
Open our eyes to the downtrodden.
Fill us with compassion for the plight of the alien,
the refugee, and the immigrant.
Lead us into ministries that help orphans and widows.
Give us courage to block the paths of the ungodly
who exploit the poor.
 
Set us free from pious exercises
that prevent us from the true worship you choose:
Sharing bread with the hungry,
Sharing homes with the homeless,
Sharing clothes with the naked,
Sharing hearts with our own kin.
 
So may your justice roll down like waters,
your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Lead our footsteps to stand with the poor,
that we might stand with you.
 
Have mercy, O God:
Scatter the proud,
Put down the mighty,
Lift up the lowly,
Fill up the hungry,
And send the rich away empty-handed.
Reading - Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Sermon

Last year, I received an Advent Card – slightly different from a Christmas card, and it depicts an image of the Virgin Mary on the front, surrounded by words taken from the Magnificat. Her great song of praise.  It’s the image depicted on these devotions.

Unlike some of my friends who worship in the Roman Catholic Church, and maybe some in the Scottish Episcopal Church, we tend not to have the same affiliation with the Virgin Mary in the Church of Scotland. She comes around once a year, just before Christmas, and we, as we’re doing this morning, give some thought to her great song of praise – The Magnificat. 

That said, we’re probably familiar enough with her image to recognise that this image, depicted here, is unfamiliar and challenging.

She’s standing in a very strong pose, trampling on a snake and a skull. Her head is covered in some kind of head-dress with a halo of stars which gives the game away – we know who she is, but then she’s waving a clenched fist in the air.

She looks for all the world as though she’s at a Black Lives Matter protest. Or a demonstration protesting against policies which diminish the lives of Asylum Seekers. Or chanting about Climate Change. Or – well, so many things.

There is so much that is wrong in the world and so much that needs to be put right.

She looks like someone who is strong and knows exactly what they want and how they’re going to achieve it.  I can imagine, she might be someone who takes no prisoners and has the potential to upset the establishment.

And around her in the image are words of protest. Her words.

“Fill the hungry. Lift the lowly. Cast down the mighty. Send the rich away”.

It looks as if these are the words she’s chanting, whilst she punches her fist in the air, marching from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, or down the Royal Mile to Holyrood. 

The artist is called Benjamin Wildflower, and his image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is instantly familiar, and yet, quite unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She’s startling, surprising, maybe even slightly unsettling.   But maybe that’s a better description of her than many – startling, surprising, slightly unsettling.

I can’t think of another woman who has been more depicted than Mary. Yet, for centuries most artists have depicted her as a passive figure, feminine and dressed in blue. A woman of astonishing beauty who said yes to God, as though it was all God’s actions and she was just a recipient.

I think she’s far from passive. That’s clear from the words she sings out in the Magnificat – words of demonstration, words of justice. Even as she bore the child Jesus in her womb. Even as she encouraged him to perform that first scandalous miracle turning water into wine. Even as she, along with his brothers, sought him when word came to them about what he was doing. Turning up when he was teaching. Turning up when he was dying. And being right at the centre of the circle of the disciples when they were set on fire at Pentecost to spread the news that we continue to spread today – that Jesus Christ, her son was raised from the dead, and that death is not the end – and though there is much to weep over in this world, sadness is not our ultimate destination.

Sometimes I think the Church has let her down. All that “fake news” about a Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, and his mother Mary who has been packaged up in the same way as a passive young woman without much of a voice for herself.

It’s just not true.

The scriptural Mary, the theological Mary, is not simply a woman who once sat in a room whilst the Holy Spirit did all the work of the incarnation.

She’s a collaborator with God’s work in the world. She’s in cahoots with all that is holy and true.

We have our opportunities in life to be passive, maybe sometimes inactive. Maybe one of the greatest failings of some of our churches is that we’ve been too passive and inactive for too long. Compared to organisations such as the street pastors who are out there on our streets on a Saturday evening – and not just a Saturday evening. 

Or St Martin’s in the Field’s in London, who have initiated a new movement called HeartEdge. It’s a movement which interest me, because what they’ve done across London may be a model for us to follow in the city centre of Aberdeen with St Mark’s and the Kirk of St Nicholas building, supported by the Westend congregations.

It focuses on four important areas.

Firstly Congregation – an inclusive approach to worship and day-to-day community life. The things that go on in our buildings, not just on a Sunday, but also during the week.

Secondly, Compassion – models of outreach serving local need and addressing issues of social justice. What are the issues which exist in the city centre – homelessness, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and so on.

Thirdly, Culture – In the heart of Aberdeen, art and music and ideas to re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment. Concerts, exhibitions, performances. Different ways of communicating the Christian message, because maybe what we traditionally do on a Sunday morning doesn’t work for everyone.

And finally, Commerce – Commercial activities that generate finance, how do we use our buildings to generate income which allows us to extend and develop our mission and ministry?

There are times in our lives when we can choose to do nothing, but I don’t think this is it.

There are also times when we get the chance to shout out that the Mighty must be brought low.

Opportunities to stride out in power to do what needs to be done to put the world to rights.

Openings to stand up for what we believe and make a difference in society.

We have our part to play – not in a passive, sit back and let it all happen sort of way. But in an active, effective, creative way, being involved and playing our part.

Mary said yes, took her chances and demanded that God remembers his promise of mercy. That the humble may be lifted up, the proud scattered in their conceit and the hungry filled with good things. And I hope we’ll have the courage to join her.

Amen

Prayers of Intercession.

God of eternity,
when the voice of the prophet was silent
and the faith of your people low;
when darkness had obscured
light and indifference displaced zeal:
you saw that the time was right,
and prepared to send your Son.
Set us free from fear and faithlessness
that we may be ready to welcome him
who comes as Saviour and Lord

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
the humble remain humiliated,
the hungry are not filled,
and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us. 

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.

Loving God, we pray for people of all sorts and conditions.
Through us, make your purpose known in the earth, and your saving power among the nations.
We pray for your church in all its different forms and traditions.  Guide and guard us by your Holy Spirit, and lead us in your ways, strengthening us to stand up and speak out that which is wrong and broken in our world.
We commend to you all who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind and body, and in circumstances beyond their control.
Be with them, and work through us, that we may be your body here on earth, doing your will, continuing your ministry, and furthering your kingdom.
All this we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Hymn 285 – The Angel Gabriel from heaven came.. 
Basque carol – adapted Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) 
Arranged by Edgar Pettman (1866-1943)
 
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
With wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.
"All hail," said he, "O lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!
 
"How blest among all women you shall be,
Whom ev'ry age will praise continally.
Your Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
"Most highly favored lady." Gloria!
 
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
"To me be as it pleases God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God's holy name."
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!
 
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn.
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favored lady." Gloria!
Benediction
Look forward in hope
to the coming of your Saviour,
prepare the way for Christ your Lord;
welcome him with love and faith
when he comes in glory.
And the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Amen.