God Made Man Songs of Praise


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God Made Man

Sally Magnusson explores the significance of Jesus' birth, with seasonal hymns from the congregation at All Saints Church, Cheltenham. Plus music from Libera.


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2,000 years ago, a star led wise men on a journey

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to bring gifts to a baby, born in a stable.

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This was no ordinary birth.

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And this was no ordinary child.

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God had become one of us.

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Tonight, Julian Rhind-Tutt reads how the word became flesh

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from John's Gospel.

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And to sing us towards Christmas,

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we have seasonal hymns from our congregation in Cheltenham

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plus performances by Mary-Jess,

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Libera,

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and Only Men Aloud.

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At this time of year, the shops of Cheltenham's elegant Regency parades

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glitter enticingly, in preparation for the festival of present-giving.

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But let's take time to celebrate another gift of Christmas -

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the most extraordinary gift of all -

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God's coming to Earth to share our humanity.

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We remember this as we set out Nativity scenes,

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open Advent calendars

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and, at this darkest time of the year, light candles,

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to symbolise Jesus, the light of the world, coming among us.

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Here in Cheltenham, our congregation has gathered in All Saints' Church

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to sing praises, in preparation for the advent of the Christ child.

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God taking on mortal form

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is what theologians call "the Incarnation".

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Maybe we need theologians to help make sense of an idea so amazing.

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I do find the Incarnation as the idea that God, who made everything,

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who's the first mover of the universe, brought Creation into existence.

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God enters space, time and history in the form of a human being,

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and that person was Jesus Christ.

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The Incarnation takes the word "God",

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which means a thousand things to a thousand people

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and stops the word "God" being a concept and puts a face on it.

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So that, when people look on Jesus, they see the nature,

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the person, the passions of God.

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And they don't have to speculate any longer.

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# Still, still, still

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# Let all the Earth be still

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# For Mary in her arms enfolding

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# Hope of all the world is holding

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# Still, still, still

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# Let all the Earth be still

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# Light, light, light

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# Let all the Earth be light

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# The holy star, its news ablazing

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# Sign of hope for nations raising

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# Light, light, light

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# Let all the Earth be light

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# Sleep, holy Jesus, sleep

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# Sleep

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# Sleep. #

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CHILDREN SING: # We will rock him, rock him, rock him

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# We will rock him, rock him, rock him... #

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We tend to see Christmas through the eyes of children,

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and people say it's a time for the children.

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And we do Nativity plays,

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and imagine that the shepherds were ten and that Joseph was seven.

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Actually, if you look at the story, it's old people.

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It includes wise men from Iraq-Iran region

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who are wise because they're old.

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Wisdom in the ancient world

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was something that came with years

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rather than with a PhD.

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and the shepherds would be older men.

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In this story, which is the centre of the Christian Gospel,

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God entrusts those who are on the periphery or who others might think

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are past it, with a responsibility to let a new thing happen.

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It's great news for old people.

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One older person who was open to new possibilities was Norman Kember.

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In 2005, aged 74 and enjoying a comfortable retirement,

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he volunteered to go

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to one of the most dangerous places on Earth - Baghdad.

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Feeling frustrated by the failure of protests to stop the war,

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he went there with a Christian Peacemaker Team.

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One of the reasons was to prove that, at 74, I wasn't quite past it.

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I had some other reasons. I wanted to meet Iraqi people.

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I wanted to see how Christian Peacemaker teams worked.

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I'm a great fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

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who talked about the cost of discipleship

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and, if following Jesus doesn't involve some costs,

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there's something wrong with it.

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Pat, was this not a time where you were hoping that

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he might actually have slowed down, and spent a bit more time at home?

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I wouldn't like to expect him to do nothing,

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because it wouldn't be him.

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I accept that he had ideas, he wanted to do things,

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and he wanted to go to Iraq.

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I understood why he wanted to go.

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I couldn't have stopped him, if I'd wanted to.

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While Norman was in Iraq,

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he was kidnapped and held hostage for three-and-a-half months.

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I remember being deeply upset when I realised

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I wasn't going to be home for Christmas,

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but, once one accepted that, that was it.

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We sang carols to our captors, the three of us,

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and they brought as a Christmas cake, of all things.

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So that we celebrated Christmas in a very strange fashion.

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To what extent have your faith, your beliefs,

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your principles altered, as you've got older?

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I think, as a young man, I would be a much more narrow-minded,

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zealous Christian than I am now, because you haven't met other people.

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You have had no experience of other faiths.

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I would like to quote a missionary friend of ours, who said

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that the older he got, the less he believed,

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but that which he did believe, he believed more deeply.

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The Christmas-card images we conjure up of Jesus' birth

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taking place in a snowy landscape, often come from the carols we sing,

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even though snow in Bethlehem is pretty rare.

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Christina Rossetti's Christmas poem,

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so vividly evoking a wintry scene, was set to music in 1906,

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and became one of our best-loved carols.

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The tune's called "Cranham"

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and its composer, Gustav Holst,

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was born here in Cheltenham, in this very house.

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This is his piano, the one he composed The Planets on.

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The whole house is a museum now, devoted to his music and his life.

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It's not far from All Saints' Church

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where his father, Adolph von Holst, was organist.

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So the young Gustav began his musical career in the choir there.

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Holst's famous contribution to Christmas music, of course,

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is his tune to "In The Bleak Midwinter".

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# In the bleak midwinter

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# Frosty wind made moan

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# Earth stood hard as iron

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# Water like a stone

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# Snow had fallen, snow, snow,

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# Snow on snow

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# In the bleak midwinter

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# Long ago

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# Our God, heaven cannot hold him

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# Nor earth sustain

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# Heav'n and earth shall flee away

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# When he comes to reign

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# In the bleak midwinter

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# A stable place sufficed

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# The Lord God Almighty

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# Jesus Christ

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# What can I give him

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# Poor as I am?

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# If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb

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# If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part

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# Yet what I can, I give him

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# Give my heart. #

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God's decision to share in our very fragile humanity

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is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.

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It's beautifully expressed in the prologue to John's Gospel,

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read now by Julian Rhind-Tutt.

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In the beginning was the Word.

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And the Word was with God.

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And the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

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All things came into being through him.

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And without him, not one thing came into being.

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What has come into being in him was life.

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And the life was the light of all people.

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The light shines in the darkness,

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and the darkness did not overcome it.

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God's coming to illuminate the darkness

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is celebrated in our next hymn, by Charles Wesley.

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In it, he explores how, in Jesus,

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God's personality is embodied in a human life.

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I don't think that Mary would have felt

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all through her pregnancy

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that it would be a perfect outcome.

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Partly because she'd be aware that one in four women died

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giving birth to a child,

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and that one in three children died at the point of birth.

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There's no guarantee,

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and God enters a risky world in order that that might be indicative

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of how much God loves the world. But it's not a special entrance

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with a special person who's guaranteed to have a painless birth.

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But Mary has to deal with all the anxieties

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that any pregnant woman would have.

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Suzie Ford faced more anxiety than most of us could imagine.

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She was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was 23 weeks pregnant,

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and was faced with the possibility of losing not only her baby,

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but her life.

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When I was in hospital,

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I had to have two lots of chemotherapy

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before my little boy was due to be born.

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And that was very, very hard.

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Every moment that the chemotherapy would drip through the tube,

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I was just willing it not to hurt my child.

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And I got to the point where I almost couldn't cope with that pressure.

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And I was at a loss of what I could do to save him.

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And a chaplain came into the room one day, and he held my hand

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and said to me, "You aren't to deal with this problem.

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"What you've got to do is trust in God, give your child to him,

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"and let him cope with this.

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"He is there to love and look after you both.

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"And you have got to cope with what you're going through,

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"and now give your child to God."

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And that helped.

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That made me able to deal with what was happening to me,

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and it took the worry from me.

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And I feel in some way that Mary gave her trust to God,

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and she was able to say, "I trust in you, I'm going to go ahead

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"and I'm going to take on everything that you've given me."

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I hope that Joe understands that Christmastime means

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that there's something very special happening.

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He's only very little,

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and the excitement of presents is overwhelming.

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But he does know that it's a very special time,

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not only for our family, but also that it's the birth of Jesus.

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There's another astonishing thing.

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As the Gospel of John explains, as far as our relationship with God

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or the Word is concerned, it's not a one-way street.

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To all who received him,

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who believed in his name,

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he gave power to become children of God,

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who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh

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or of the will of man, but of God.

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And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

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and we have seen his glory,

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the glory as of a father's only son,

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full of grace and truth.

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What does it mean that the Word became flesh?

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That word "Word"

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is translated from the Greek word "logos",

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and that word "logos" has a very powerful meaning.

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The meaning is... It's referring to the spiritual metaphysical reality

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that brought the universe into existence, the creator...

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Whether we call that God or ultimate reality,

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logos refers to that unmoved first mover, the creator of the universe.

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When we hear that the Word became flesh...

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..I don't think that we can ever understand the immensity of that.

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I don't know any way of speaking about the Incarnation

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except that it is to do with the incredible risk that God takes

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because God loves the cosmos, the world and its people.

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Christians believe the love and mercy shown by God

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to the whole universe shone out the night Christ was born.

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That's the story of the song O Holy Night.

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# O holy night!

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# The stars are brightly shining

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# It is the night of our dear saviour's birth

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# Long lay the world in sin and error pining

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# Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth

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# A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

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# For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

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# Christ is the Lord

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# For ever we shall praise him

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# His power and glory

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# His glory

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# Ever more proclaim

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# His power and glory

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# Ever more proclaim

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# O holy night

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# O holy night

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# O holy night

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# Holy

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# Night! #

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Come, Lord Jesus,

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into the lives of the poor bringing hope,

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into the lives of the powerful bringing judgment

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into the lives of the weary bringing rest,

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into the lives of the wise bringing restlessness.

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And into our lives and longings, wherever our estate,

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come, Lord Jesus.

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The weeks leading up to Christmas can be a lonely time,

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a dark time for many.

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Worth remembering then

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that the message of Christmas is that we are all God's children,

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and we're loved.

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Next week, Aled steps back in time,

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into the world of Charles Dickens. For the 200th anniversary of his birth,

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his great-great-grandson explains the writer's passion for practical Christianity.

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And there will be lots of Dickensian Christmas carols.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Sally Magnusson explores the significance of Jesus' birth, with seasonal hymns from the congregation at All Saints Church, Cheltenham. Plus music from Libera, Mary-Jess and Only Men Aloud.