You can hear the entire service by clicking this link: https://soundcloud.com/emsworthup/december-24-2014-7-02-45-pm
Christmas Eve 2014
Readings and Scripture
The Coming of God (Ann Weems)
Our God is the One who comes to us
in a burning bush
in an angel’s song,
in a newborn child.
Our God is the One who cannot be found
locked in the Church,
not even in the sanctuary.
Our God will be where God will be
with no constraints,
Our God lives where our God lives,
and destruction has no power
and even death cannot stop
Our God will be born where God will be born,
but there is no place to look
for the One who comes to us.
When God is ready
God will come
even to a godforsaken place
like a stable in Bethlehem.
for you know not when
Watch, that you might be found
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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Love Alone (Gian Carlo Menotti)
The Child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone
he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter,
his haloed head will wear no crown;
his might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightening
he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city
belong to the poor.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
(Adapted from Barbara Brown Taylor’s, “God’s Daring Plan”)
Once upon a time, before there were clocks or calendars or Christmas trees, God was all there was. And one day, God decided to make a world. Maybe God was bored, or maybe God was lonely, or maybe God just liked to make things and thought it was time to try something new. Something big. Something really big.
For whatever reason, God made a world. And when the world was finished, God stood back and took a look. God was happy with the world, but it occurred to God that something was missing. God wasn’t sure what was missing at first, but soon God knew what was needed.
Everything God had made was interesting and beautiful, but there was nothing in the world that looked like God. So, God decided to make a man and woman and both of them would be reflections of God, and both could keep God and one another company.
God made them out of flesh and blood, a wonderful medium and warm to the touch. Since God was not made out of anything at all, but was pure mind and spirit, God was fascinated by the two creatures. God knew how fragile they were, but their very breakability made them more touching to God, somehow.
Soon, God found himself falling in love with the humans. In fact, God liked being with human beings better than any of the other creatures, and God especially liked walking with them in the garden in the cool of the evening.
Then the human beings broke God’s heart. The humans did the one thing God told them not to do. And after doing that one thing, the man and the woman made things worse by hiding from God. God searched for them until way past dark, calling their names over and over again.
After that, things between God and the humans were very different. God still love the human creatures best of all, but the attraction was not mutual.
In fact, it wasn’t long before most human beings forgot all about God. All of them were very busy learning how to make things, grow things, buy things, sell things, and the more that human beings learned to do for themselves, the less they depended on God.
People began to call themselves “self-made” men and women as if that were a good thing. They forgot about God’s love and care for them. They forgot to thank God for all the good things that happened to them. But when something went wrong, they often blamed God. Mostly, they just ignored God.
Night after night, God threw pebbles at their windows, inviting them to go for a walk and maybe have a talk, but the men and women said they were too busy. Sorry.
God could have put a stop to it. When God saw things like wars and famines and the terrible things happening to the people God created, God thought maybe God should put a stop to it. But there was a problem with that. God had made the human beings free. God had given them their freedom just like their hearts and brains, and even God could not take back human freedom without killing the humans themselves. It almost killed God to watch what they were doing to one another, how much they hurt each other, how cruelly they treated one another.
God would yell to them, “Please stop what you’re doing before you destroy yourselves!” but all the people could hear was thunder. God would shout, “I love you as much now as the day I made you,” but all the people could hear was a loon calling across the water. God invaded people’s dreams, and if that did not work God woke them up in the middle of the night with whispering. No matter what God tried, God came up against the barriers of flesh and blood and human freedom.
Babies were the exception to this sad state of affairs. While their parents seemed to have a hard time hearing God’s messages, babies had no trouble at all. Babies spent a lot of time laughing at God’s jokes or crying with God when God cried. The babies’ parents had no idea what was going on. “Colic,” the grownups would say, or “Isn’t she cute? She’s laughing at the dust mites in the sunlight.” But, the baby was really laughing because God has just told her it was cleaning day in heaven and what the baby saw were fallen stars the angels were shaking from their feather dusters.
Here’s another thing about babies. Babies did not go to war. Babies never made hate speeches or littered or refused to play with each other because they belonged to different political parties or different religions. While no one asked babies their opinions about anything, almost everyone seemed to love babies, and that gave God an idea.
Why couldn’t God become one of these delightful creatures? Why couldn’t God become a baby?
God tried the idea out on his angels. The angels told God how much they would worry about God if God decided to become a baby. There was no telling what people would do to God, the angels said. Couldn’t God at least become a magical baby with special powers so God would be safe? Like the power to become invisible or hurl bolts of lightening?
God thanked the angels for their concern but said, no, God thought a regular baby would do. How else could God gain the trust of God’s creatures? How else could God persuade them that God knew their lives inside and out unless God lived like one of them? That was part of what God wanted humans to know: that God was willing to risk everything to get close to them, in hopes that they might love God again.
It was a daring plan, but once the angels saw that God was dead set on it, they broke into applause – the steady kind of clapping that goes on and on when you have witnessed something you know you will never see again.
While the angels were still clapping, God turned around and left them, shedding God’s robes as he went. The angels watched as God’s midnight blue cape fell to the floor, so that all the stars collapsed on it in a heap. Then a strange thing happened. Where God’s robes had fallen, the floor melted and opened up to reveal a scrubby brown pasture speckled with sheep. In the middle of the pasture, there was a bunch of shepherds sitting around a campfire drinking wine out of a skin.
It was hard to say who was more surprised, the shepherds or the angels. One of the angels finally stepped up to the edge of the hole. Looking down at the shepherds who were all scared out of their wits, the angel said in as gentle a voice as she could muster, “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.”
And away up the hill, from the direction of town, came the sound of a newborn baby’s cry.
Hush (Lucinda Hynett)
Can you hear it?
An expectant silence,
a hushed anticipation,
as if the very galaxy
is holding its breath.
There are some truths
even the stars know,
and how the night
can be a living thing.
And how once, long ago,
the night waited in wonder
along with the darkness
and the loneliness,
for the sound of a baby’s cry,
for the miraculous
to come down
to the earth mundane.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,full of grace and truth.
Christmas Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen/Cloverton)
I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing hallelujah
A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for you were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh hallelujah
The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, hallelujah
I know you came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in you
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath you drew was hallelujah
*Those that are able may stand.
With Thanks To Our:
Readers: Keith Mihelcic, Rachel Rothenberg, Sue Schneider, Mark Shannon
Choir: Jean Ackerman, Marti Smart, Tom Smart, Georgia Stringert, Mary Tadler, Max Fisher
Special Music: Madison Hintemeyer, Keith Mihelcic, Erin Williams, Rachel Rothenberg,
Organist and Choir Director: Cindy Ward
Custodian: Paul Zende