Christmas Eve Service 2020
Let us pray,
Jesus Christ, holy child, glory of God revealed, by starlight we first saw your praise. Though the night is long, you are our hope. Though the path is dark, you lead the way. By your Spirit, help us to shine the brightness of your truth and share the warmth of your great love, so that all may believe, rejoice, and give thanks, for you are the light of the world. Amen.
Hymn- Away in a Manger
Away in a manger
No crib for His bed.
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Look down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying he makes
I love thee Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle
‘Til morning is nigh
Be near me Lord Jesus,
I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all thy dear children
In thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with thee there.
Lighting of the Advent Candles
On this day we bear witness to the light of Christ. With all the faithful of every time and place:
With Isaiah and Jeremiah, prophets of Israel, and await the promised salvation of the Lord, and look for the coming of the one who will bring justice and righteousness to the earth.
Light one purple candle.
With John the Baptist, calling from the wilderness, we cry: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Light one purple candle.
With Mary, the mother of Jesus, we magnify the Lord, rejoicing in God our Savior, for the Mighty One has done great things for us, and holy is God’s name.
Light one pink candle.
With the writers of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we tell the good news of Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem, who came to save us, and is coming again to rule in glory.
Light one purple candle.
With choirs of angels, and with all the heavenly host, we sing: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all.”
Light one white candle.
All: Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
Old Testament Lesson
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
The bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
Will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
And over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
With justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
New Testament Lesson
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’
Let us pray,
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer.
Remember back when we could travel? As we long for the days when we can travel again. Let us not forget that travelling is super stressful. It doesn’t matter if you are travelling home for Christmas, between church offices, or internationally on business. You will always forget something essential that you have to buy at your destination. I have forgotten everything from socks to my cell phone charger to my sermon manuscripts.
I’ve been told that planes leave on time no matter where you are in the world. Except when they don’t. Or when your flight is canceled for no apparent reason. And its 3am and you are trying to sleep in an airport chair because the next flight out doesn’t leave until 8am. And don’t even get me started on the indigestible plane coffee and the clumpy coffee creamer.
If modern day travelling is awful, it is nothing in comparison to traveling in the Ancient Near East. Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem. In order to be counted in Caesar Augustus’ census. Because Bethlehem is where Joseph’s family is from.
Now this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been quite difficult by modern standards. Imagine going horseback riding, in the dark, on a country road, while nine months pregnant. And you’ll have a sense of how difficult this journey must have been for this young couple. But this was a pretty typical means of traveling in the Ancient Near East. An ordinary trip home.
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Mary goes into labor. Mary cannot deliver her baby in Joseph’s family’s inn. According to Jewish customs, women were unclean for a month after they gave birth. If Mary stayed at the inn with Joseph’s family, no one in Joseph’s family would be able to go to temple for a month. Which means they would be cut off from their community and be outcasts. Out of respect for Joseph’s family, Mary gives birth to Jesus in an ordinary manger. Surrounded by animals and straw.
But then something extraordinary happens. An angel of the Lord appeared to ordinary shepherds. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The angel tells the shepherds:
Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.
Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Extraordinarily, the shepherds encounter God in the midst of their everyday lives. God entered human history as a baby born to Mary in Bethlehem. The ordinary circumstances of Jesus’ birth shout out to us that God is relating to God’s people in a new and intimate way. The birth of the baby Jesus marks the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “And I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”
On this Christmas Eve, like the shepherds, we too prepare ourselves for the good news of Jesus Christ. We sing hymns. Read Scripture. And gather to bear witness to the incarnation. The holy mystery of God becoming man and dwelling amongst us. All of this preparation on this holy night compels us to reflect on how we see God’s work unfolding in the midst of our everyday lives.
When I think of how I’ve seen God’s work unfolding in my life, I can’t help but think how both of my churches have adapted to being church in the midst of a pandemic. You all have learned how to have Session and Deacon meetings on Zoom. You all have learned how to worship safely in our sanctuaries. From wearing masks. To sitting in a new pew for worship. To using hand sanitizer even though it burns your hands. To finding creative ways to stay connected with folks at home. You’ve supported me as I learned how to record worship services online.
I have been most impressed with the willingness of both congregations to take on additional responsibilities during this season of coronavirus. From calling our members at home to communicate changes to our day to day operations. To learning how to print bulletins and make PowerPoint slides. I don’t know if you all are aware of it, but stepping up in these little ways, says a lot to the people outside of the church about the God we worship.
Because the good news of the incarnation- well good news and bad news depending on how you look at it- is that no one would know the good news were it not for the shepherds tending their flocks. Shepherds who, on an ordinary night, witnessed something extraordinary. Then had the courage to go and to tell other people what they saw. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about the shepherds. Other than their willingness to push through their fear so that they could tell others about Jesus.
Friends, the shepherds remind us that the good news of the incarnation is not just for us, but for all peoples. Our lives must bear witness to our belief that the real king of peace, Jesus Christ, is indeed amongst us. Christmas is the active remembering of what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ, and the promise of the coming completion of God’s reign.
Let us now go out into the world, on this Christmas Eve, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with whomever we may meet along our journeys.
Thanks be to God.
In Jesus’ name,
Hymn- Silent Night
- You are invited, from wherever you are, to light a candle as we sing silent night together.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly host sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the savior is born.
Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face.
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has a plan and God has a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do. Through you. Wherever you are. Believe this and go. In his grace and love and power. Amen.