Christmas Eve 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-7

2The people who walked in darkness
  have seen a great light;
 those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
  on them light has shined.
3You 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.
4For 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.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
  and all the garments rolled in blood
  shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
  a son given to us;
 authority rests upon his shoulders;
  and he is named
 Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His 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 onward and forevermore.
 The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Psalm 96 

1Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2Sing to the LORD, bless the name of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. 

3Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. 

5As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O LORD, have made the heavens. 6Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary. 

7Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD honor and power. 8Ascribe to the LORD the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the LORD. 

9Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the LORD, all the earth. 10Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is king! The one who made the world so firm that it cannot be moved will judge the peoples with equity.” 

11Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein. 12Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy at your coming, O LORD, for you come to judge the earth. 

13You will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with your truth.

Titus 2:11-14

11The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Luke 2:1-14

1In 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!”

Shepherds – John August Swanson

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The angel’s message to the shepherds is for us as well, gathered so many years later, “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.”  It’s that one word “joy” that has stood out so prominently to me this year. 

But first, how, and why did we get here? Why is the Messiah born in this way and what difference does it make that some shepherds are the first to receive the news? Jesus’ mother sang about a reordering in her song, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly (or the poor).” What God has done before, God seems to be doing again.

Our storyteller had taken great pains to set the world stage. Mary and Joseph go up to Bethlehem because the emperor has ordered it to be so. Instead of being born in a palace, Jesus is born in an overcrowded inn and first placed in a feeding trough. The new king is wrapped in swaddling cloths. This is a strange beginning.

We now know who the world powers are and yet the angel, the messenger from God, does not bring the good news to those men. The scene shifts to outlying fields where shepherds are watching their flocks. Away from kings and governors, even away from Mary, comes brilliant and overpowering light. One angel brings a clear message, and it is soon followed by a chorus of messengers from God. There is light come to lighten the shepherds’ darkness.

One writer summed up our scene poetically, “Heaven and earth meet in obscure places, not in the halls of power. Shepherds and angels. A birth in the city of King David, but far from a royal residence. And that birth, that joy is for all people, just as the census was said to have been…The light came in those dark fields and that dim room in Bethlehem because God longs has always longed, for us to know and love God.”

“Do not be afraid, for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” In her new book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown explores 87 different emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. I love how she defines joy, “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.” I imagine that joy is not only what the angel promised, but it is what the shepherds experienced. It is what we might, in the midst of this broken world, experience tonight as we hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again. 

Another scholar explains that people find experiences of joy difficult to articulate. The very nature of joy pushes the boundaries of our ability to communicate about lived experiences with spoken language. So sometimes when we experience joy we do a happy dance in our living room, we turn to music that can express far more than mere words, we take a blessed moment to simply savor the joy filled experience. Occasionally we might weep tears of joy.

Brene Brown tells the following story about her daughter Ellen, then in first grade. “We played hooky one afternoon and spent the day at Hermann Park. At one point we were on a paddleboat in the middle of a pond when I realized she had stopped pedaling and was sitting perfectly still in her seat. Her head was tilted back, and her eyes were closed. The sun was shining on her uplifted face, and she had a quiet smile on her face. I was so struck by her beauty and her vulnerability and the joy on her face that I could barely catch my breath. I watched for a full minute, but when she didn’t move, I got a little nervous. ‘Ellie? Is everything okay, sweetie?’ Her smile widened and she opened her eyes. She looked at me and said, ‘I’m fine, Mama. I was just making a picture memory.’ I had never heard of a picture memory, but I liked the sound of it. ‘What’s that mean?’ ‘Oh, a picture memory is as picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories.’” Brown concludes, “She used the word ‘happy,’ as we often do, but there’s no question that I was witnessing joy, the swirl of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.”

Someone proposed that we do not lose ourselves while experiencing joy, we become more truly ourselves. Colors seem brighter, physical movements feel freer, smiling happens involuntarily. We become more truly ourselves. On this joy-filled night, what would it mean for whole world to become more truly ourselves? 

God has come to earth in human form, the incarnation, Immanuel, God with us. That in itself is good news. But there is more. Divine power looks like a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a trough. It is entirely in God’s character, God’s preferential treatment of the poor, God’s solidarity with those on the margins. It should maybe not surprise us, except that it is so otherworldly. It is certainly good news of great joy for all the people. 

On this holy night, we might do well to create a picture memory together–the infant Jesus in the trough wrapped in bands of cloth, the angel, all the heavenly hosts, the lowly shepherds kneeling, and most of all the light breaking into the darkness. God wants joy for us and found an incredible way to deliver it. God sign is surprising, but it is God’s sure way of showing us that God’s favor is for all people, in whatever darkness we seem to exist.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Joining our voices with the heavenly host and Christians throughout time and space, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Love proclaims that a Savior has been born to us! Inspire your church throughout the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth to all who seek salvation, hope, and new life. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love whispers to a weary world that the time for rest and restoration has come. Maintain healthy cycles of wake and sleep for all creatures. Where light pollution disrupts natural rhythms, encourage new practices. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love cries to a warring world that the time for peace is at hand. Direct those in power who make decisions on behalf of others, that they nurture and sustain all that is healthy, good, and holy. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love sings through the wails of a newborn baby. Respond to all who cry out in pain, despair, or need this night (especially). Bring comfort to those for whom separation, grief, or loss makes the Christmas season especially difficult. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love murmurs words of comfort to a newborn child and exhausted parents. Bless new and expectant parents or caregivers, especially those who are alone or afraid this night. Pour out your love upon families of every kind. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God’s ever-present love is proclaimed through the faithful who came before us. We give you thanks for Mary, John the baptizer, Elizabeth his mother, Joseph the dreamer, and all who point toward your love (especially). Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Rejoicing in your Word made flesh among us, we commend these prayers to you, confident of your grace and love made known to us in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

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