December 24, 2019 Christmas Eve
Advent Candles - Hope, Peace, Joy, Love
L: We relight the candle of hope
(Light candle one as the people speak.)
P: for we long to realize the birth of hope in our day.
L: We relight the candle of peace.
(Light candle two as the people speak.)
P: for God has favored us with his presence and power.
L: We relight the candle of joy.
(Light candle three as the people speak.)
P: for we are alert, delightfully expecting his coming light.
L: We relight the candle of love.
(Light candle four as the people speak.)
P: for his compassion gives birth to his love within us and for each other.
L: Therefore, we celebrate that God has come to be with us in Christ.
Hymn Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Responsive Bible Reading Luke 2:1-8
L: At that time, Augustus Caesar sent an order to all people in the countries that were under Roman rule. The order said that they must list their names in a register. This was the first registration taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
P: And everyone went to their own towns to be registered.
L: So Joseph left Nazareth, a town in Galilee. He went to the town of Bethlehem in Judea. This town was known as the town of David.
P: Joseph went there because he was from the family of David.
L: Joseph registered with Mary because she was engaged to marry him. (Mary was now pregnant.) While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have the baby.
P: She gave birth to her first son.
L: There were no rooms left in the inn. So she wrapped the baby with cloths and laid him in a [manger] where animals are fed. (ICB)
Sometimes we need something practical, but it isn’t necessarily what we want for Christmas. Sometimes we want a newest and splashiest new techie gizmo, but we may not need another device. But sometimes, what we need and what we want come together in one great gift. One person talked about college days when he needed a new printer. His father graciously said he would get one and ship it to him. But he had already picked out the one he wanted, so he figured that when it came, he would go to the store and trade it in for the one he really wanted. But when the package came and he removed the wrapping from the box, he discovered his dad had already sent the very printer he wanted.
We are here tonight because we’ve waded through many other things – some of them very good things – because we crave to hear and know again the central message of Christmas. But even though we recognize Christ’s birth (and death and resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit) as the most important moments in history, many of us have heard the stories year after year from about every angle we can possibly hear it. So while it is one thing to recognize its importance, it is quite another to wade through the sentimental and beautifully romanticized, polished, “febrezed” smells and images of barn and animals and shepherds and candles and stars -- and to be startled, surprised, or even stirred by this major event.
We find in tonight’s story a parallel to the spiritual journey. This first journey in the above reading is a little bit about Joseph and Mary heading to Bethlehem, but it is more about God’s journey from heaven to earth in Jesus to live with us and to give us not only what we need, but what we want. Have you ever gotten one of those gifts that you didn’t know you needed or wanted until after you received it? Once you have it you wonder how you ever lived without it. Those are the best gifts of all, and are usually given by the people who know you better than you know yourself.
God knows us better than we know ourselves, knows what gift we need and want (even if we don’t). He sent Jesus, and hopes that as we open ourselves up to him, we will recognize in Jesus a gift that is even beyond all what we need, want, or could even imagine. This is why we are called to rejoice in who God has given. Let’s stand and sing.
Hymn # 224 Good Christian Friend, Rejoice
Responsive Bible Reading Luke 2:9-14
L: That night, some shepherds were in the fields nearby watching their sheep.
P: An angel of the Lord stood before them.
L: The glory of the Lord was shining around them, and suddenly they became very frightened. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, because I am bringing you some good news.
P: It will be a joy to all the people.
L: Today your Savior was born in David’s town.
P: He is Christ, the Lord.
L: This is how you will know him: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a [manger].” Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel. All the angels were praising God, saying:
P: “Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace to the people who please God.”
L: Then the angels left the shepherds and went back to heaven. (ICB)
The journey in this text is the angel and heavenly host to the shepherds to announce the news of the birth of this special baby, Jesus; God’s gift to humanity. Shepherding was not only a common profession; it was a common image of spiritual leaders through the ages, for their role was very similar – caring for the people and leading them toward God’s nourishing spirit, guiding them away from temptations that may lead to a barren life, rescuing them when they do happen wander into the troubles of errant paths.
The prophets often moaned of these shepherding religious leaders’ corruption and called them back to pure practices -- and even then, the author of Hebrews reminds us that even good shepherds could not completely deal with the stone-cold darkness of our hearts. Therefore, the prophets predicted a Good Shepherd, God’s anointed one, who would cleanse their corrupt practices and deal with our heart problem once and for all. He wrote:
Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath [God’s promise], which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28 (NIV))
Jesus did what no other spiritual leader could do once or perfectly. What is interesting is that this grand announcement of possible peace with God and the world was not to the Emperor Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor known as bringing the peace of Rome. The peace that passes understanding would instead come from a baby born in a stable, and it was announced to the shepherds. The angel says – he is born TO YOU, the first announcement is to the common working man – and then the hymnwriter anticipates the next steps of the journey… Let’s sing the first verse of The First Noel and then Angels We Have Heard on High.
Hymn # 245 (v 1) The First Noel
Hymn # 238 Angels We Have Heard
Responsive Bible Reading Luke 2:15-20
L: The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened. We will see this thing the Lord told us about.” So the shepherds went quickly and found Mary and Joseph.
P: And the shepherds saw the baby lying in a [manger].
L: Then they told what the angels had said about this child.
P: Everyone was amazed when they heard what the shepherds said to them.
L: Mary hid these things in her heart; she continued to think about them. Then the shepherds went back to their sheep, praising God and thanking him for everything that they had seen and heard.
P: It was just as the angel had told them. (ICB)
They heard the news – but it was not enough to hear the news – they needed to see it for themselves. Our final journey tonight is the shepherds to the manger. Likewise, it is not enough for us to know the news, or hear it again, each of us needs to experience Christ for ourselves, and to seek him daily.
Sue Monk tells a story about how her 6-year-old tucked two gifts under the tree for her daddy and for her. They were both puzzled by what they could be. On Christmas morning they opened the gifts, his -- a navy tie with tan ducks, and hers -- some slightly familiar earrings. “Where did you get these?” she asked. Her daughter answered, “The old chest in the attic”. Then she recognized the items that had been put in storage some ten years before. Especially for us who have been around the Christmas story for a long time, experiencing the gift of Jesus is not meant to be a did and done kind of gift – (“Already got that, don’t need to get it again”). Each Christmas is about waking up again to what God’s grace has already given us and to receive him all over again.
Mary pondered the meaning of the news. One of my favorite stories for why Jesus came is about the farmer on a blistering cold winter night with the wind howling. He looked out and saw birds. The winds were too strong for flight. They were walking around in the field. If they did not find shelter they would not survive the night. The compassionate farmer bundled up and went to his barn and opened wide the door.
He called to them from the open doors. But they could not understand. He tried running around and waving his arms – shooing them toward the barn doors – but that only scared them and scattered them and forced them to run to be even more exhausted in the severe weather. Nothing worked. The farmer sadly thought, if only I could become one of them, then I could make them understand their danger and where they could find life…
What the farmer could not do, God did in Jesus. Since this event was brand new, God sent his angels to announce it to the shepherds. But once the shepherds got the message, it was up to the shepherds to broadcast the news – and they did – and today it still remains the task of God’s people to share the news… Let’s sing.
Hymn # 251 Go Tell It on the Mtn
Advent Candles - Christ
L: From that mountain the word echoes how we should live, because God’s grace has come.
P: That grace can save every person.
L: That grace teaches us not to live against God and not to do the evil things the world wants to do. That grace teaches us to live in the present age in a wise and right way--
P: a way that shows that we serve God.
L: We should live like that while we are waiting for the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
(Light Christ candle as the people speak.)
P: He is our great hope, and he will come with glory.
L: He came and was born to live and give himself for us; to free us from all evil. He died to make us pure people who belong only to him
P: — people who are always wanting to do good things.
L: It is because of Jesus that angels came to sing on the clear midnight -- causing us to ask a rhetorical question -- What child is this? The question is not seeking information. Like the hymn, And Can it Be? it is expressing the awe of what God has done and is doing in this baby. Let’s sing these songs and consider the glory of this night.
Hymn # 220 (vv 1,2) Angels from the Realms of Glory
Hymn # 218 (v 1) It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Special Music (Solo) What Child is This?
Lighting of Individual Candles
His light continues to burn in our world -- it spreads only as each of us receives his light and walks in it. It is only as we receive the Christmas message into the passion, (the fire) of our own hearts -- it is only as we take that flame and walk with it from these holy halls in which we have gathered and move out into the streets and byways and highways and pass the flame of his light in us on to others... it is only then that the world will begin to see a real hope in Christ, It is only then that our world will begin to see the inklings of peace. It is only then that joy will begin to flood hearts; and it is only then that our world will love as it was created to love. All revealed to us by a holy Light in that holy night so long ago; a night of stillness -- yet also a night a night of joy. Let’s sing as we receive the light...
Hymn # 239 Silent Night
Hymn # 246 (vv 1,3,4) Joy to the World
Now as you go, may you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the magi, and the peace of the Christ child. May the Almighty Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless you now and forever. Amen.