Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourth Sunday of Advent & Nativity of Our Lord, Year B
December 24, 2017
Lessons: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Christmas Eve Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people prepare their hearts to welcome Jesus every day, celebrating that the world is indeed about to turn.
Key Scriptures: The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor 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.” Luke 1:30-32
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
This Sunday we have that rare opportunity to expand the Christmas story from the Annunciation to the shepherds’ visit to see the newborn Messiah. Sure, it can be a tiring and taxing day depending on how many worship services happen in your parish, but take a cue from Gabriel and the other angels: “Do not be afraid.” My friends, the world is indeed about to turn, and this is amazing good news.
Let’s face it. The Christmas season can be a difficult time for many who will be attending worship this Sunday — and for countless others who have not been invited or cannot physically make it to worship. We’re just coming off the longest night of the year (Friday, December 20), and while we’re headed toward longer, brighter days, we are not there yet. Not everyone will be feeling all peaceful and full of warm and fuzzies when the call to worship sounds. Some folks will be just plain exhausted from grueling work schedules and holiday preparations. Others will be marinating in the pain of fractured family relationships. Still others may be battling depression, addictions, loss, fear, and anxiety. There are doubtless those whose health is failing, others who have recently received difficult diagnoses, and some who will never experience full healing in this life.
The strains of the beloved carol “Joy to the World” do not negate the very real suffering and pain of our creation and the created ones. So with this downer of an opening where’s the good news? Can’t we just have the cute little baby and the precious children’s pageant, light our candles, and then go home?
Perhaps you might try that, but my friends, this expected approach will leave many wanting and craving something else, some real hope, and the promise of radical change. We do well to remember that we can’t have Christmas without the cross, without the reality of the entire story of God’s incarnation, without the sure and certain knowledge of Jesus’ slipping into messy human skin to bring us home and heal this broken, beautiful world. Christmas is about the world turning, about Mary—and all of us — being all-in with God in the process of renewing, restoring, and returning everything to its intended state and direction.
The powers of Empire, oppression, and crushing economics were as much a force when Gabriel appeared to Mary as they are today. God came to one of the powerless and marginalized — a young, unmarried Palestinian woman, of decidedly modest means. Jesus was born to parents on the road responding to the demands of census and taxation, born in a cave stable because there was no room elsewhere, welcomed by the even more marginalized of society, shepherds. This decidedly un-leaderlike, anti-establishment arrival on the scene is but a foretaste of how Emanuel, God incarnate, will do ministry, be arrested and executed, and alter the world by defeating death. Now through the ordinary hands of his body on earth, the church, Jesus is setting this world aright, one disciple at a time. Today, we retell that story. We break bread, drink wine, offer our praise, our gifts, and our thanks.
And, after the Christmas Eve worship services are over and done, this good news accompanies us out of the door, carried within our hearts, within our very flesh, to change our lives, to reorder this world, and to be a foretaste of God’s will for time beyond time. This is no tame silent night; this is candlelight that becomes a conflagration of radical hope in the face of all that would deny it. My friends, do not be afraid; for with God, all things are indeed possible. Go and tell. Go and live. Go and be Christ’s body, beloved. Go.
Consider including the hymn “The Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Cooney (1990, GIA Publications Inc.) in your worship this week. The tune is the traditional Irish “Star of the County Down,” and the words are a fresh take on the Magnificat. For ELCA Lutherans, it’s ELW #723. Click here for a version created by Michelle Sherliza OP featuring the music of Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney and Theresa Donohoo.
Mary is called “Theotokos” or “God-bearer.” Invite congregants to consider what it means as Christians to bear Christ to the world. How are we God-bearers, and what does that look like as we are sent into the world.
Since this Sunday is both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, consider sending people from worship in the morning with a “To Be Continued…” flair and linking your morning and evening worship as you continue the story of Mary’s amazing “yes” and God’s willingness to slip into human skin in a way that was simultaneously humble, unexpected, and powerful.
Because today is also Christmas Eve, you likely won’t have much time with your youth. If, however, you do have a class or other gathering, consider a discussion about the “Hipster Nativity Set.” What does it have to say about how we look at the birth of Jesus? Are traditional nativity sets more accurate? What about the ones that represent different cultures? Remind youth that Jesus transcends our attempts to domesticate him or to make him over in our image. While Christmas Eve brings us Luke’s gospel with angels, shepherds, and manger, Mark’s gospel skips the infant narrative completely, giving us a Savior who walks right into mission intent on turning the world aright.
Here’s a link to a story about one congregation that added the Hipwster Nativity Set to their collection.
“For nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel Gabriel says to Mary. Our gospel lesson this Sunday is one of great hope and deep love. It’s the story of a young woman who says “yes” to God and whose “yes” changed the world when she gave birth to Jesus. For your children’s time make Swedish Hearts as a sign of God’s love and to illustrate how with God nothing is impossible.
These simple paper hearts do look impossible at first, but they are really quite easy to put together. In Scandinavian countries the hearts are filled with Christmas treats and hung on the Christmas tree.
You may want to have the shapes cut out, especially if there are very young children. Feel free to use card stock, heavy paper, or felt to make the hearts.
Let the children fill them with goodies (Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses or mini candy canes are good options) and/or have small cards with scripture or inspiring quotes and good wishes available. Encourage the children to give them as a gift or to hang them on their tree as a reminder of God’s great love for us. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Have you ever considered the fact that you are a partner with Mary in bearing Christ to the world? Yes, as a Christian you a steward of this great mystery and amazing good news! Heed the angels’ voices: Do not be afraid. Go and tell. Be all in, believer!
Stewardship at Home
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37
Do you really believe this? In our rational world, sometimes it is difficult to remember that God’s ways are different from our human ways. It is so easy to give up hope when we read the news of hungry children or see homeless neighbors on the street asking for help.
Mary, that brave, wise Middle Eastern teen who became the “theotokos” or “God-bearer” said “Yes, I’m all-in!” Through her willing response to God’s will for humankind, nothing will ever be the same again.
As Christians, we too, are called to bear Christ into a hurting world. We may not be able to solve the entirety of the world’s problems, but through God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bear Christ’s light and love one small action at a time. This week, think of the small and simple ways you can make a difference. Commit to one act every day through Epiphany (January 6). Be amazed at what God can do through you!
Photos: Guillaume Speurt, Waiting for the Word, and Ted, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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