The Story – Jeremiah 23:5-6
5 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous descendantfrom David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. 6 During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
The Story – Matthew 1:18-25
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
The Story – Luke 2:8-20
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” 15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
Everything happened just as they had been told.
The Story – Revelation 21: 1-5
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Reflections for Christmas Eve Rev. Chris Fickling (and others)
(Italics by Mary Oliver) “Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—
What I want in my life is a relentless hope. A hope that imagines the possibilities of this world, rather than dwells in the imperfections. For as long as I’ve been a minister, and long before that, I’ve heard the same stories on Christmas eve, the stories of those who chose hope, again and again, believing that God brings about something from nothing. There were those whose hope burned long into the night, and were ready to jump at a moment’s notice to run to see new life. Others trusted and waited for signs that they should make long journeys under the shadow of death, just to marvel at what is possible. I choose hope, over and over again, because the light God brings, is everything.
(Prayer in italics by Rev. Stephen Milton)
Loving God, as the Word you existed before the universe began.
You chose to become one of us as Jesus.
Your walked as one of us, felt rain on your face, hunger in your belly.
Did you cough, too? Did you ever get sick, or get a fever?
Did you know the worry that comes when sickness is all around you?
Today we pray for you to be with us. Be in our hearts and in our bones.
For we are worried. For ourselves, for loved ones, for strangers.
In the papers we read numbers that don’t seem real.
How can this be happening again?
We pray for patience and for strength.
We ask for your spirit to guide us so we can make wise choices, and help everyone stay safe.
We pray that the fear and anxiety which swirls around us will not blind us to the beauty of this world.
Help us to feel the Christmas spirit, let us experience that childlike wonder when snow falls.
We pray for an expanded heart, which can think of others as much as ourselves.
We think of those in hospital today, those suffering, and those caring, and those at home who worry about them all.
We pray for refugees and people in shelters and those sleeping on the streets.
We extend our thoughts and love to people who cannot see a future.
Word of God, holy one who lived in our flesh, be with us now in spirit.
Guide us through this difficult time.
Let your love guide us like the star that led to Bethlehem.
May peace prevail as it did on that silent night.
Peace relies on everyone working together. And we all took vaccines, and wore masks, with the heartbreaking knowledge that not everyone did. And now we’re in a situation that we hoped to avoid. Anxiety creeps in when we cannot keep peace – either within us, or amongst us. And Jesus speaks these words: Matthew 10:34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. This. Is. The. Complete. Opposite. Of. Peace! Thanks Jesus.
But if we read further, it’s because Jesus forces us to choose. In our faith lives, in the expression of our experience of the divine, we have a choice. We are not coerced, even on Christmas eve, to believe these stories. Choice will always divided us. Over this last year, we’ve seen homes split apart, families no longer communicating, relationships strained. Awkward facebook posts have been scrolled past. People have made choices with the information they’ve been given. And here we are, anxious and brokenhearted at a world that so desperately needs peace. No matter what followed you into this room tonight, may peace grow within you, and amongst you, and may it follow you into the waiting world.
(Italics by David Rhys Williams)
On this blessed night let us worship at the altar of joy,
for to miss the joy of Christmas is to miss its holiest secret.
Let us enter into the spiritual delights which are the natural heritage of childlike hearts.
That we may take counsel of the wisdom of poetry and legend….
Blessed are they who have greatness enough to become at times as a little child;
Blessed are they who have zest enough to take delight in simple things;
Blessed are they who have wisdom enough to know that the realm of God is very close at hand,
and that all may enter who have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.
Joy is the biggest casualty of this last year and half. Newborn great and grandchildren have gone uncuddled. Trips postponed, lives put on pause. Dreams deferred as if miracles were just able to be just pushed aside. But there has been so much good in amongst it all. Like a tightly wrapped baby in a manger it’s easy to miss it under the very obvious animal dung distracting our senses. The blessing of Christmas – right here and now – is that there’s nothing to be done. Sure a present still might have to get wrapped (hopefully not bought at this point) but in this moment, the anticipation and the preparation all rests long enough that we can savour the joy that one only finds on Christmas Eve. It’s almost magic how “just” being is enough.
(Italics from a story by Diana Butler Bass) A few years ago, author and teacher Phyllis Tickle was speaking at a large southern cathedral to about five hundred people, mostly baby boomers and older. During the question-and-answer period, some asked what she thought about the Virgin Birth. As such questions invariably do, this one devolved into a discussion of whether the Virgin Birth as a matter of scientific and historical fact.
As the discussion got more heated, Phyllis noticed that a young man, about seventeen years old, who was helping set up refreshments in the back of the room, had stopped his work to listen. She could see him on the steps leading to the balcony, listening intently to the exchange.
When she closed her lecture, he came up to talk with her privately. “Ma’am,” he said politely, “there’s something I don’t understand.”
In her enormously generous way, Phyllis asked him, “What don’t you understand?” She was ready to expound upon the complexities of the Virgin Birth with the young man.
His response, however, forestalled her explanation. “I don’t understand why everyone is so upset about this,” he said. “I believe in the Virgin Birth. It is so beautiful that it has just got to be true—whether it happened or not.”
Later, Phyllis (reflected that she) felt as if the universe had shifted. “It is a whole new world,” “He had moved beyond mere facts to understanding based on apprehending beauty. I felt like I was standing on holy ground.”
Does it really matter to us? If I told you there were two shepherds or three kings, does it really matter? If Mary was thirteen, or fifteen, or twenty five? If Joseph was 6 foot 2, or 5 foot 4? That the star was a celestial event trackable even today? It matters if we’re trying to look for facts as if that’s what the Bible has ever been about. The real beauty of this story is that it has to be true, whether it happened or not. God is still choosing the ill-prepared, the unequipped, the vulnerable and the terrified. I look back a year and a half and think of how we weren’t ready for this – and how we’re still not. But we’re ready to love. It’s why we were made. And we are called on this night, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, to offer our love to an aching world. To a world that doesn’t pay attention to stories of out of the way places and out of the ordinary experiences, that would rather get their news from ‘Fox’-es instead of oxen, that balk at the notion and the power of love. Love is something we do – something we are – something that gives us purpose and promise. Love is the only way we’re going to get out of this – love that imagines a new heaven and a new earth when finally the old order will pass away. It is right now…and…it is not yet. May love empower us to wait and watch and work for its coming.
Jesus (Communion Liturgy) adapted from enfleshed.com
Creator of all that is, Mother of life itself, by your hand we were beautifully formed.
You created us to relate to one another, and to this earth.
You created us to thrive – not alone, but together.
You shaped the entire cosmos so that every form of life depends on another.
You never intended for us to power through these lives alone.
You made us strong and resilient people, but equally vulnerable and dependent on you, the earth, and all our neighbors.
You gifted us with the need to rely on one another, bone of each other’s bone, flesh of each other’s flesh. In your wisdom, you created us with both desire and need to be in community.
Therefore we join our voices with your people on earth and all the company of the heavens,
singing praise to you,
Holy, Holy, Holy One, God of justice and love
Heaven and earth are full of your wonder, Hosanna among us
Throughout the life of Jesus, we saw lives transformed by your willingness to make yourself vulnerable. And yet, the same vulnerability also came at a price. Though some fed you and raised you and befriended you, others persecuted you to the point of death. Seeking to eradicate their own feelings of vulnerability, those in power preyed on yours.
Still, today, we often crucify the ones who dare to risk it all on love.
On the night of his arrest, Jesus shared a meal with his companions. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
After the meal, he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it saying: “This cup that is poured out is the new covenant.”
In remembrance of all you have done to save us, we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ was birthed among us.
Christ was killed among us.
Christ rises again among us.
Pour out your Spirit on these gifts, O God. Give us a taste of resurrection hope that lasts through even the most challenging of betrayals.
Meet us in this bread and this cup and hear the prayers of your people in this aching world.
Come, O Come, Emmanuel.