SEASON OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, Year A
Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Hebrews Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are people of light and promise who willingly and joyously take the light of Christ into our hurting and broken world. We bear the best gift of all, the one that keeps on giving.
Key Scripture: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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 2:9-11
I generally enter into Advent at a leisurely pace, determined to keep the season through prayer, reflection, and a peace that surpasseth all shades of consumerism, secularism, and any other old “ism” that happens to be hanging around. Things progress quite nicely until somewhere close to the fourth Sunday when a familiar panic suddenly seizes at my gut. It’s a feeling that reminds me of riding an old wooden roller coaster; there’s that long, slow, delicious climb counterpointed by the clickety-clack of the cars on the track, followed by a moment’s suspension at the topmost point, and then, then without warning…you are plunged downhill at a blistering pace. Hurtling through the week, I remember all the unbaked cookies, the presents I maybe should have bought or made, the letters and e-mails not yet written, the turkey still frozen, and the Christmas Eve sermon that won’t transfer from brain and heart to keyboard … and … and … before I realize it, that rickety old coaster car is pulling into the station, the ride is over, and it’s time to celebrate the birth of God incarnate. How can I possibly be up to the task?
Yes, Christmas comes—ready or not. For a lot of us it sneaks up like that coaster ride. Despite my best intentions, carefully laid plans, and diligent effort, the hour arrives and finds me like one of the silly virgins in the parable without enough oil for my lamp when the bridegroom finally comes. Christmas Eve is here, and it’s time to worship, to tell again that most holy, most wonderful of stories. The night is dark, the air is chill, and perhaps there is even a dusting of snow. Inside the church building the atmosphere is warm, almost glowing. Pews are filled, decorations lovely, and expectation crackles in the air. For an hour or so, God’s people gather for a word of hope before that rickety roller coaster of life takes off again.
The task at hand is a daunting one. As worship leaders and preachers, we are called to take that familiar story and remove it from its comfortable holiday wrappings and trappings so that its power is unbound and its potential unleashed on a people sorely in need of hope. Of course one hopes for eloquent, meaningful words, but above all these words tonight must be real. God’s inbreaking into our human condition needs to be heard but also seen, felt, tasted, and born afresh in each beating heart. Empowered by the Holy Spirit as God’s agents in this conspiracy of divine love, we are collaborators, storytellers, and curators of the good news.
Where people feel there is no room for them in this world, help them hear that Jesus was born into a place where there was no room for him. Where people are afraid—for their families, for their future, for the state of the world, for the future of the planet—lift up the angel’s words “Do not be afraid.” Where many feel like outsiders, the story of the shepherds’ joyous invitation to come and see must also be their invitation. For those who feel the absence of love, the loss of hope, the sting of regret, then the angels’ announcement that God favors them should ring clear. Somehow, in this small sliver of precious time amidst candles, chrismons, and carols we will commune intimately with God incarnate and with each other. This is indeed a holy night, we gather on holy ground, and we are God’s holy people. It is that simple and that profound; it is amazing. This is Christmas, and the gift just keeps on giving; in fact, the Gift himself has pitched his tent to live among and in us. Let us enter the celebration with wonder, joy, and amazement.
A blessed and holy Christmas to you and yours.
If you are including the traditional congregational lighting of candles, often to the accompaniment of the beloved carol “Silent Night,” consider somehow setting the stage using the first lesson from Isaiah (9:2-7). Particularly verse two: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” This year has been one where we have watched multiple terror attacks, heartrending refugee crises, war, natural disasters, violence, deep political divisions, and a rise of hate crimes. It has been, for many people, a dark year indeed.
Remind worshipers that no matter how dark our world seems (or is!), the light of Christ cannot be extinguished. We celebrate our Lord’s coming into the world to bring that light, coming as a vulnerable, homeless, and soon-to-be refugee infant, God-with-us, to conquer sin and death. We have great hope, hope that shines forth like the Christmas candles we light against the darkness.
Encourage worshipers to take this light out in their hearts and spread the light through the work of their hands and feet, the words on their lips, and the deepest prayers of their hearts. This is Christmas, this is real hope and everlasting promise.
Chances are you won’t have time to work with your youth on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but if you do, focus on Mary’s pondering heart and how she treasured the story, the events, the words of Jesus’ birth. How incredible it all must have been: from no room in the inn, to a baby lying in a feed trough, to shepherds and angels, and news that her small baby is indeed the infant king who will save the entire world.
Invite youth to consider how they might ponder this Christmas story and find ways to share the good news with others. Yes, Mary bore Christ into the world, but we bear the light of Christ to the world. Challenge youth to find fresh ways to bear this hope, promise, grace, and love to everyone they meet.
The news of Jesus’ birth came to the most unlikely people first. Instead of being announced in the palace or where the rich and powerful gathered, the angels came to shepherds out watching their sheep—people who, like children, had very little power, weren’t often listened to, and were not valued as important contributors to society. This is why Christmas is especially for children—not because of Santa or stockings or presents under the tree, but because Jesus comes to the least and lost and those without power or resources. The gift of Jesus is especially for children. Give each child a sheep-shaped ornament (personalized if possible) to remind them that the gift of Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving and that can never be taken away from them, grow old, or wear out. Jesus is the best gift ever! Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
The psalmist tells us “O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” At Christmas we recount the beloved and familiar story of Jesus’ birth, of God coming to dwell among us. Yet how often do we leave that beloved story in the recycling basket with our worship folder and Christmas candle? How easy it is for us to go forward into our time of celebration with family and friends and forget the most amazing gift of all? This is the gift that you cannot buy but is given to you freely forever. As stewards of the gospel, go this week and sing a new song of Jesus’ birth. Find ways to live out the joy in service, through sharing time and resources, and in proclaiming this good news to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.
Stewardship at Home
Don’t let faithful stewardship get lost amid the tinsel, cast off wrapping paper, and leftovers from your feast. Take care to recycle, reuse, or repurpose what you can. Try to have as little food waste as possible. Give at least one gift of “experience” to someone you love rather than more “stuff” to fill house and home. Dedicate time with your family and/or friends. Most importantly, spend time with Jesus in prayer, in word, and in Sabbath rest. Christmas is not just a day. It is a gift that keeps on giving, one that requires careful and creative stewardship from faithful folk.
Photos: Waiting for the Word, William Blake, and Oakley Originals, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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