Early Christmas Eve Service Reflection, December 24, 2016
Based on the script composed for the early service Christmas Pageant and ‘The Story of the First Christmas’
Once there was someone who did and said such amazing things that people began to follow him wherever he went.
Everything about this someone was so amazing that people dropped everything they were doing just to be with him.
They dropped their fishing nets and their families so they could walk with and learn from him and be with him and others in the building of a different kind of world.
Among other things, they learned firsthand what can happen when people show care and compassion for all people in all circumstances. They learned that hungry people everywhere could be fed and that people living in poverty and homelessness could flourish when safe shelters were provided; and that people living with living with broken hearts and broken bodies might find healing and hope and freedom.
These are just a few of the amazing things that began to happen as people began as more and more people began to travel with him.
And these are some of the things we talk about whenever two or more are gathered which has been happening for lo more than 2000 years now!
As followers in the Way this person taught, we continue to talk about some of the amazing and wonderful and confusing things he said whenever two or more were or are gathered together, like tonight.
We continue to talk about and wonder what he meant when he said things like:
I am the bread of life
I am the vine and you are the branches
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
This person also said many more strange and wonderful things that people have thought about, prayed about, sung about and even acted on for years and years and years.
But, before I get ahead of myself, we remember that tonight we gather not to talk about and celebrate his adult life but his life at its very beginning-the night of this person’s birth.
Tonight we gather to sing and pray and if we pay really close attention to maybe even feel God’s spirit dancing in our hearts as we remember and celebrate the very beginning of this amazing person’s life.
This is the night that some people would say ‘changed everything’.
It’s the night when we celebrate the story that God came to us in the form of a newborn baby who would grow into a boy and then become the amazing and wonderful man so many people around the world and across the centuries have turned to for guidance, compassion, and hope.
Its really an amazing story to think that our God, who is larger and wider and broader and deeper than we can ever ask or imagine would come to us in the form of a tiny baby, isn’t it?!!
As many of us know, babies need a lot of attention, care, patience, and love if they are going to grow into becoming self sufficient.
And, this baby’s parents, like all new parents, would have a lot of work to do in taking care of this new baby.
We know from the story that the baby’s parents were already exhausted after travelling for days and days and days.
We know from the story that they were already stretched to the limits as parents living in a dangerous and uncertain world as they came to be counted among the citizens of their community at Bethlehem.
Was it fair? Well, no.
But then, nothing was fair in that time or that place.
Indeed, life is often not fair anywhere.
Even here in our own times.
But the good news is that the baby was going to be born in a place that was relatively warm and that the young family was not alone in his birthing.
The story tells us there were angels, and shepherds, and kings and probably members of the local community there too.
And there was light shining from the night sky in the midst of all this chaos and confusion on this night which we have come to know as a most holy night.
Once there was a person who did and said amazing things in such a way that people dropped everything they were doing to be with him.
This person, some people call “the Light of the World” and others call ‘Emmanuel’ or ‘God- is- with-us’ or others of us call ‘Jesus, the Christ’.
Some other names we find in the bible for this person are Wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace, and Jesus, the Christ. This is the one whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas.
God’s gobsmackingly amazing gift to the world in the frame of a tiny baby born to a very young woman called Mary and a very committed but worried man called Joseph is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Thank goodness that we have this story from our faith tradition to guide us in the short days and long nights of December and the frenzy of shopping and parties that dominate the festive season!
Thank goodness for this story and all our stories from the bible that helps us to know that there is something more to Christmas than presents and gifts we can get from the store.
Even though its getting late, and we, like Joseph and Mary and the baby in the manger might be feeling a little sleepy, let’s keep thinking and wondering together about all these amazing and wonderful things that happened that first night at Bethlehem.
Let’s keep thinking about how all of this fits together like pieces of a larger puzzle as we celebrate and make merry with our friends and families during the festive season.
Let’s keep our ears, our eyes, our hearts, and our hands open and our feet ready to notice the signs of God’s promise to be with us in the rustle of angel wings; in the voices of the angels’ singing Glory to God; and in the excitement of the shepherds, the kings, and all the people gathered together in hope and love, and in readiness to celebrate the story of the birth of the baby Jesus this Christmas Eve!
May it be so! Amen.
Reflection for Christmas Eve Candlelight and Communion Service, 2016
Based on: Isaiah 9: 2-7; Luke 2: 1-20; and a Christmas Creed for the Season, adapted from a resource composed by barb janes, Crescent Fort Rouge U.C. Winnipeg, Man. Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, 20102011 Gathering Magazine, RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP PLANNERS, The United Church of Canada
Opening Prayer: May the words on my lips and the thoughts and the feelings we carry in our hearts, minds, and bodies as we reflect together on your Holy Word, may all of it be acceptable in your sight. Amen.
“I believe in the promise of Christmas and the importance of celebrating it in the church.”
One of the things we do exceedingly well in the Church is celebrate the holy days and seasons. One of my favourite is the season of Advent, the one where we incorporate candle-lighting rituals, themes, and readings that encourage us to find ways of keeping the brakes on the frenzy of the festive season.
The festive season, that time in the secular calendar year that so effectively blinds and distracts us from our work as Christians; that work being the intentional waiting on the appearance of the Holy One in our midst at Christmas.
Our worship service tonight is a culmination of all that waiting and longing for hope, peace, joy, and love to be born in our midst once more as we re-visit the ancient story of God’s gift to the world of God’s own self in the form of a tiny baby born in a lowly stable surrounded only by what was needed-warmth, safety, parents, and a community of gobsmacked onlookers wondering what on earth was happening this night!
“I believe in God at the centre of Christmas, whose hope for the world was imagined by prophets.”
This reminds me of biblical prophets such as Isaiah who had long predicted that “the people who walked in darkness had seen a great light” (Isaiah 9: verse 2b).
It also reminds me of other messengers from God such as those first unexpected ones whose story we heard tonight-those very first witnesses to the light of God’s love, those dirty, smelly, rowdy shepherds; the ones whose experience of the Holy was so profound that they dropped everything running straight to stable at Bethlehem, the city of David and lifted their voices in confidence and hope that they too could proclaim the good news that salvation had come this night!
“I believe in Mary, who sang of turning the world upside down and who allowed her life to be disrupted by God. And, I believe in Joseph, whose broken heart broke the rules to do the right thing.”
Like the shepherds, Joseph and Mary seemed the most unlikely candidates to become parents of the One in whose name we live and serve and have our being.
And yet, that is exactly how God works-taking the last and the least of us and turning us into faithful followers and witnesses to the power of God’s holy Word.
I don’t know about you, but I want to re-visit some of those words and stories again, those passages from scripture when the angel first visited Mary who, after hearing the most improbable news that she would be mother to God’s own gift to the world, found her own prophetic voice.
And, I want to re-visit the story of Joseph’s change of heart and change of mind on being visited by a stranger in the dark reaches of sleep, one of those thin places in time, where conversations in dreams enacted in every day living turn out to be absolutely life altering.
“I believe in the smell of the stable-I believe there is no place that God will not go.”
This I know from my own life’s experience of journeying in the metaphorical wilderness times of my own life’s journey of overlapping paths of endings and of new beginnings and of being tested and transformed again and again and again by the light of God’s love preparing me in earnest for the work of living faithfully and living well.
“There is no place God will not go!”
This I know from my own and some of your shared experiences of serving and supporting one another in hospital settings; in trauma units and funeral homes, and at transition houses and soup kitchens.
Any place really where the last and the least find themselves gathered together.
“I believe in Jesus, born in poverty, soon a refugee, raised in faith, who lived seeking justice, and who died speaking forgiveness, and then who surprised us still further by rising again with an unstoppable love.”
Tonight we celebrate the very naissance, the beginning of Jesus’ life but as we traverse the seasons of the church year, we will travel together and learn more about how his own faith was tested and strengthened, and challenged, and was seemingly cut short at Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover.
There, and in the days afterwards, we will learn together about that the light of God’s love is in fact, indestructible.
Tonight, however, we are gathered for the serious work of savouring, wondering, pondering, and treasuring the good news of love’s arrival here in our midst in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby named Jesus.
“This Christmas season I commit myself to seek out the Holy both in God among us and in God beyond us.”
Sometimes this is best achieved not at church but out there is the larger world where the promise shines in the most unlikely, the most ordinary, and the most surprising of circumstances.
First, however, lest us continue to savour this set apart time of candlelight and music to find rest and respite in this, our church home.
This place of deep and authentic relationships that are not always neat and tidy but instead can be real and messy and demanding and in need of attentive keeping.
Kind of like the baby Jesus, really.
So, let us continue to join with the chorus of the heavenly host singing “Glory to God” this night in honour of God’s intentional decision to become one of us through Jesus, the Christ.
Let us join our hands and our hearts and our prayers knowing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who have gone this way before.
Let us together in our prayers and in our praise, prepare ourselves for the murk and the mess of everyday living amongst the shepherds and the sheep, and the young mothers like Mary and the unwaveringly committed fathers, like Joseph, eager to be about the building of partnerships wherever God’s light calls them and us out there-out beyond the bounds of the walls of our building and beyond our comfort zones.
“This Christmas season, I commit myself to seek out the Holy both in God among us and in God beyond us, opening ourselves to the Christmas season of great joy that has and will change our lives.”
I’m ready, how about you?
Let us pray: A Christmas Prayer (VU 39) adapted
Generous God, we give you thanks and praise that you gave your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and to be born of your chosen one, Mary. Grant that we, your child-like ones might be renewed by your grace for our calling to serve in your name. May know your abiding grace moment by moment and hour by hour this Christmas Eve and all through the days of the Christmas season this year.
And, here in this very moment, help us to know the joy of your presence as we continue to proclaim this good news as worship and witness continues!
May it be so, amen.