Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Nativity of the Lord, Year B
December 24, 2020
Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people make room in their hearts and homes for Jesus, both at Christmas and every day of the year.
Key Scripture: For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
On this night we light the Christ Candle in the center of the Advent wreath. Our waiting is over. Tonight is the night we celebrate Jesus’ incarnation, his arrival in the world as a vulnerable infant, and the announcement of his birth to shepherds on the margins of polite society. Perhaps this year we have more in common with our first century forebears than at any time in recent history. People around the world are dealing with one of the most deadly pandemics of our age—a staggering number of deaths, economic insecurity, and resulting hunger, homelessness, and loss of income. Here in the U.S. we have experienced a national census and a highly contentious election. We are also being encouraged to forego large family gatherings, travel, and yes—our Christmas worship services. As my Bishop said, “Just because we can doesn’t mean we ought.” We are all being asked to think beyond ourselves and our hopes and wishes and desires to the common good of all our siblings. This is a hard thing; I’m not making light of it. Most of us had a very different Easter, cancelled or altered vacation and trip plans, had a subdued Thanksgiving, and now we’re asked to make our Christmas celebrations and worship small and quiet ones, as well.
What does this mean? It means worship leaders, musicians, preachers, teachers, congregational leaders, and worshipers are being asked once again to be creative, to think outside the box, to put aside our fears, insecurities, and concerns in order to give this ancient good news a fresh take in a strange time. Perhaps remembering Gabriel’s words to Mary “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). With the help of the Holy Spirit you can do this hard thing. You, me, all of us, get to be God-bearers in our time and context—sharing the amazing story of the incarnation and being Christ’s hands, feet, heart, and eyes in the world. Perhaps this year more than any other one in recent memory gives us more margin and room for Jesus in our lives, homes, and celebrations. Blessings on your faithful and creative ministry!
Isaiah 9:2-7: If you choose to incorporate this lesson into your sermon or teaching, be careful how you handle the images of light and dark. All too often our siblings of color have been hurt and denigrated by how we talk about light and dark. Remember that God made both light and dark and proclaimed them good. Remember that we need the dark for rest and rejuvenation. There is a deep beauty to the night and to the dark. Both are good. Both are needed and necessary. Without darkness there can be no light, and light cannot express its full meaning without the dark. This is promise. This is prophecy. This is hope that is so desperately needed in our world today, just as it was for the beleaguered people of Israel.
Psalm 96: Oh wait! We can’t sing a new song right now, at least not together, unmasked, in close quarters. But we can rejoice and ascribe to God glory and strength. We can worship God, even it means sitting at home in front of a laptop, tablet, or smart TV. We can still bring our very best to this Christmas worship because we never know who might need the good news or who might be nourished by our varied digital worship. Remember also that all creation praises God—earth, sea, field, trees, and all that is in them.
Titus 2:11-14: Titus rarely gets top billing on this day. After all, we want and need to hear the beloved story of Jesus’ birth. What Titus offers is a way around any sentimentality or easy celebrations of the incarnation. Titus gives us the “why” of this birth story. Yes, the grace of God appears as a vulnerable infant who grows into an unlikely savior, one whose job is to train “us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (2:12). Titus helps us remember that Jesus comes among us as fully human, yet fully God. The precious infant narrative will soon be replaced by radical and fresh teachings, suffering and death, and resurrection as the Christ who is holding all things together. Perhaps folks need to hear the “why” of Jesus more often than a cute, nostalgic infant narrative. In a world where everything feels upside down and inside out right now, Titus might offer just what we need.
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20): Most folks will be looking for a retelling or commentary on the birth story: Angels we have heard on high, a silent night (What baby is silent all night?), a midnight clear, and candles. Yes, we MUST light the candles. How might you avoid a saccharine sweet retelling that is heaped with layers of cultural traditions and misappropriations? 2020 provides some good clues. What’s happening in our current world is not that different from the world Mary delivered Jesus into so long ago. We’ve had our own census, there’s still oppression aplenty, and yes, we have a global pandemic that’s thrown us all for a loop. There’s fear and uncertainty aplenty. We even have a rare appearance of what some folks believe to be the Christmas star this week. So yes, the Christmas story will resonate with people if you tell it “slant,” or with an eye and heart to the news and your cultural/social context. This is, after all, radical good news.
Whether you’re in the parking lot, socially distanced in your worship space, or totally online this year, make sure that you tell the story of the incarnation with an eye to our present world and local situations. Ask “What do the people with whom I minister need to hear?”
If you have someone who is proficient with sign language in your congregation, consider having them perform “Silent Night” with your musicians. If you don’t have that capability, here’s a lovely video of Nadia Nadarajah interpreting the song using BSL (British Sign Language) in an interpretive performance of the song. Invite worshipers to be ready with candles at home, phone flashlights, or whatever they have to light the night during this beloved hymn.
You might also invite congregants to send in a photo or short video of holding a candle. String the photos together with whatever editing software you have available (PowerPoint will work, too). Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Add it to your Christmas Eve digital worship.
You probably won’t be meeting with your youth on Christmas Eve, but do reach out to them with a greeting, an e-card, and a wish for a blessed Christmas and hope-full new year.
This week’s focus verse are Luke 2:19: – But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
I don’t know about you, but I love the story of how Jesus came into our world. I always look forward to our Christmas worship services to hear the story again and again. I never get tired of it. Mary had to be one of the strongest and wisest young women ever known. What’s your favorite part of the story? (Entertain all answers) My favorite verse is Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” I imagine Mary did a lot of pondering about being the one whom God chose to bear Jesus into this life and about how that precious baby’s life would unfold—the joys, the pains, the sorrow, and the love. I hope this next year we can all spend a little more time thinking about Jesus and pondering how life is changed by knowing Jesus. I wish for you and all those you love a very blessed and bright Christmas.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for sending Jesus into our world (Thank you for sending Jesus into our world). Help us, like Mary, to ponder (Help us, like Mary, to ponder), how Jesus is changing our lives (how Jesus is changing our lives).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Christmas is a time for generosity and love. As faithful stewards we manage our resources faithfully and share generously. Thank you for your good stewardship and generosity in what has been a very difficult year for so many people.
Stewardship at Home
This year, thanks to the pandemic, many of our traditions have required rethinking and tweaking, and our gatherings have been small or completely curtailed. Why not use the extra time to pray and ponder as Mary did and consider how the Christ has worked in your life despite this years difficulties, sorrows, and uncertainties.
If your family includes children, invite them to reflect on what has been good and what has been sad about this year. Where did they see Jesus even in the midst of the pandemic? What do they wish 2021 will be like? Consider writing or drawing a card or letter every day this week to send to someone you love or who you think needs a little boost and some love.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/12/do-not-be-afraid-bridging-advent-and-christmas/
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