This is a Service of Lesson and Carols for the fourth Sunday of Advent. It isn’t your traditional Lessons and Carols since we did not rehearse the history of God’s creation from Adam to Jesus. Each member was given a small booklet entitled “My Christmas To-Do List” and the Service consisted of Scripture and Carols along with suggestions as how to use the booklet to “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” You can download the booklet to use during the week by clicking HERE. Keep it to refer to as you come back every day.
DECEMBER 18, 2011
Beloved in Christ, this Christmas season it is our duty and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, to go in heart and mind to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, to see Mary, God’s chosen, her faithful husband Joseph, and the Baby Jesus lying in a manger with only the hay to cushion his head and cloths to keep him warm.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that, as the Scriptures are read, our Christmas carols are sung, and your Word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us and that you will bless these words with your divine grace that they may bless us with their power and their truth. As we gaze on this familiar and holy scene, let us not forget that it is this tiny baby boy who is the “reason for the season.” Remind us every day that what we celebrate is this incredible gift of God for all people – the gift of his Son, who will live in love, die for love, and be raised by love for the salvation of the world. Let us not get lost in the shopping and baking, in the wrapping and decorating, in the fun and pleasure that we find in our earthly celebrations of the Christmas season. Every morning bring our hearts back to that one moment in time when your love for us became so huge that it burst forth in the person of Jesus. As we go about our daily routines and our Christmas preparations, fill our hearts with thankfulness and praise for your gift so that they may overflow with love and pour it out on the people around us. As we end each day, bless us with your peace so that our bodies and our spirits will awaken anew to the joy of the season. Amen.
Let us begin our worship this morning with the haunting words and music of the Prophet Isaiah, “O come, O come Emmanuel.” (UMH #211 “O come, O come Emmanuel”)
It’s hard to hear this hymn every Advent and not think of what is coming in just a few short weeks. Today, we are only one week away from the day we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. As we enter this week before Christmas, I am offering to you an opportunity to really enjoy Christmas by focusing on the “reason for the season.”
Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans: (13:11-14).
“Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”
Although the apostle Paul wrote this passage long ago, it perfectly describes our modern challenge for the days leading up to Christmas. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas gets closer and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating, and all the necessary chores that are necessary to have a perfect Christmas. But, as Paul said, the best is yet to come; deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break! God is interceding in human affairs to provide something life-giving, real, and lasting. Far from the temporary satisfaction we get from acquiring things, God’s incredible love is actually dwelling among us. We are receiving a gift beyond anything conceived by humanity and way more valuable than anything marketed on store shelves.
If we truly want a life-giving Christmas, drawing closer to God will have to take priority over any material desire on this year’s wish list. So, during this last week in Advent, our focus will have to be on living into the eternal hope we have as believers in Jesus, carrying that hope for others, knowing that no matter what we go through, we are never alone. With this hope as our focus, as we approach Christmas Day, God will break through our circumstances and shed his light on them. The focus of all the activities of the week can put one’s Christmas list in perspective as we concentrate on seeking God first.
Let us remain seated as we sing a familiar hymn to help us remember the one who is expected – the one who came to set God’s people free – the one on whom we will focus our thoughts and activities this week. (UMH #196 “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”)
“My Christmas To-Do List”- Sunday
As we leave church today, we will all have this booklet to help us think about the long-expected Messiah – the one who came to earth as one of us – and what that means in our lives. When you get home today I hope you will take some time to begin this journey with me. It’s simple. It’s called “My Christmas To-Do List.” There are no rules to this exercise – I encourage you to use this as it will be most helpful to you. There is only one thing – it’s what I call a “must-doable.” That is whatever you write in your booklet, it must be doable. It’s great to wish for peace on earth but make sure that you include something that is doable for you. It’s nice to want to feed all the hungry in Washington County but, unless you plan on throwing a huge dinner at the hall, keep it doable.
So the first thing to do is to – what else do we do at Christmas? Make a list. But this is not a list of things you want Santa to bring or things you want your family to buy for you. This first list, which you will make today, is entitled, “Things I will talk with God about today.” This will become your prayer list for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Think about your family members – is anyone hurting this year? Has there been a loss in your family? List those who are living through their first Christmas without their loved one, those who lost a job, anyone who has suffered a devastating loss. Keep them in your heart for the rest of the day and pray for them before you sleep.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 19th
Now, listen to more words from the Prophet Isaiah (9:2, 6-7.)
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 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.”
As you consider looking past your many Christmas chores to the people around you, let the words of this hymn move you to open your heart to the one who made Christmas the biggest birthday part in the universe. (UMH #213 “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates”)
“My Christmas To-Do List” – Monday
Your list for Monday again has nothing to do with the “things” of Christmas. It has to do with the people around you – maybe some of those on Sunday’s list. The people you put on this list are the people around you who are alone, maybe in a nursing home. Add anyone you know who is having a tough time or anyone you want to re-connect with this week. Maybe you know someone who could use an encouraging word or a sweet Christmas card. Even if you have decided to not send out hundreds of dollars worth of cards this year, think of those who really need such an expression of love and care. Work your way through this list and every time you check off a name, say a little prayer for that person and give thanks that God has given you the love and compassion to reach out to those you love.
As you can tell, this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill preparation for the Christmas season. Our focus is definitely not on the traditional activities of this time of the year. Sunday and Monday are all about hope – how the birth of Jesus brings hope to the world and how we can find hope and help others find hope by sharing the story of Christ’s birth with things as simple as a Christmas card, a phone call, or a visit accompanied by some Christmas cookies you made with your kids who were wanting to spend some time with you.
We’ve all heard the words of the next reading many times – some of it we may even know by heart. It’s tempting to zone out during such familiar words but I ask you this morning to focus on the words of the Gospel of Luke as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus.
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’s sing these words now – again a familiar hymn that we need to really sing, really listen to, and take into our hearts this year. (UMH #230 “O little town of Bethlehem”)
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20th
“My Christmas To-Do List” – Tuesday
Your list for Tuesday should be simple but essential in your quest to focus on the reason for the season. To do that, create a double list. On the left side, name three things that you do every year – things that maybe have not focused on the “reason for the season” in the past. On the right side, write what you will do differently this week, substituting things that bring renewed hope and faith, rather than depleting energy and bank accounts. For example, instead of spending all day Saturday shopping for the perfect gifts, you might spend Saturday morning having coffee with someone you’ve missed seeing lately. Or, you might get together your kids and their friends who talk about nothing but what they want for Christmas and take them to the Health Center or the Danforth and sing Christmas carols to the residents.
You can also list things you can do differently that will make the Christ Child the center of your Christmas celebrations. Maybe you need a creche set, or to clean up the ancient and well-used one in the attic, and how about using it for a centerpiece instead of installing it high on the mantelpiece where only Santa will be able to see it. You could make an arrangement of all the Christmas cards you receive which show the baby Jesus, the holy family, or any of the words, hope, peace, love, and joy. Look around your home and your life and find those places where you can place the baby Jesus front and center for all to see. Focus on the peace that Jesus can bring to your life and to your world and make that the center of your decorations.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21st
Peace is something we all crave and it’s something Jesus spoke of often. In the Advent season, the first we hear about this peace is from John the Baptist announced that the Christ child was coming of age. (Luke 3:15-18)
“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
This is the peace that exists within the kingdom life, but the good news of Christmas is that we don’t have to wait for that life as if it were a distant dream. We can put into practice the way of peace in our lives and even in the world. When we do that by focusing on the Prince of Peace, we will find peace with God, peace with others, and peace in our actions – from home to community, and far beyond. This peace is not necessarily a lack of conflict or trouble or even those bad things that always seem to be happening to good people, but it is a deep, abiding sense that we know our purpose and that by God’s grace we will live into God’s dreams for us.
“My Christmas To-Do List” – Wednesday
On Wednesday, your list will be all about the possibilities for God’s peace to inhabit and infuse the world. It’s easy to seek material things to try and find some peace in our lives, and we tend to do that for the majority of the year. The truth is when we seek Christ, we actually find it without those things. So one would think that we would at least look for peace at this time of the year in the right places. Instead, we become unsettled over all the things we have to do, the things we cannot afford to do, and even the things that we love to do. Somehow, it seems that all of this becomes the “have tos” of the season, making us feel that our lives are out of control. The recession may be affecting your ability to “do” everything you want to do, to buy all the right gifts. There may be a sense of restlessness in your heart. Peace may feel far away. John’s words beckon us to put things in perspective. He reminds us that the kingdom life exists when we keep the main thing the main thing. It seems natural around Christmas that Jesus would be the main thing, yet so often we lose that focus as we prepare for the holidays.
So, your list for Wednesday is: How can I keep Jesus the main “thing” in Christmas? Before you start your list, try this technique. Imagine you are a stagehand for Jesus. Your only role is to set things up for Jesus to be seen, heard, and experienced. What will you do? How will you focus the spotlight? How will you elevate Jesus? What kind of mood will you create so Jesus is best received? If we were to live as Jesus’ stagehands, how would we build a “set” for peace? How would we live our lives as part of that “set”?
This is basically what we do in worship. We set the stage for Christ to be honored. But, we don’t have to leave that here in the church. We can extend this mentality into our daily lives because the more we focus on Jesus, the more peace we will find. Include in your list ways of reordering your life with a focus on preparing for your celebration of Christmas that will bring peace to you and those around you.
One of my favorite Christmas carols totally exudes peace whenever we sing or hear it. It’s maybe the most familiar hymn in the Christian church. Let’s sing these immortal words together and let their peace seep into your heart. (UMH #239 “Silent Night”)
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22nd
“My Christmas To-Do List” – Thursday
As the week wears on, most people find an even greater need and craving for peace – just a walk through the mall will send you running for a peaceful refuge. So on Thursday, think about areas in your life and in your community that need peace. This is another double list – on the left, identify your needs for peace. On the right, list things you can do to promote peace. List the places in the world needing peace, even those too far away for you to make a difference because there is no place too far away for God to bring peace. This will be your prayer list for the day – places where destruction and violence exist, the dark places where pain and suffering seem to overwhelm and destroy – places where no one knows the good news of God’s gift of the Christ Child. Pray for these and the people who live there; ask God to fill them with his peace.
The story of the birth of Jesus continues now: (Luke 2:15-20)
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
As we reach the end of this story, it’s obvious that the focus is not on things; it is on the child – the baby Jesus – the Son of God. Let’s sing about this child. (UMH #219 “What child is this?”)
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23rd
Now it’s Friday and here is what you will add to your list: How have you been keeping Christ the main character in your life this week? How has focusing on Jesus brought you some peace in this hectic season? Here are some possibilities for you to practice peace in your own world: Where you hear gossip, offer a good word. Where people experience brokenness, do what you can to heal. Where sickness and death prevail, offer a moment of life’s joy. If you have tumultuous relationships in your own life, do what you can to bring about peace. Pray for your enemies that they may be blessed and find peace by trusting that God knows their deepest needs as well as yours.
Above all, to find and pass this peace along, it is necessary to listen to others. To find peace, people need to feel heard and to know they are not alone in their suffering. Those who are so deep in their pain that peace eludes them need peace more than ever. You can bring that peace by infusing into your conversations the reality of God’s grace in your life. Remind them that the reason for the season is that the hope and peace of Christ assures the world that no matter the situation, peace can prevail. In his birth, his life, and his death Jesus taught us that we need to work hard to try to treat others as we would want to be treated – we know that as the golden rule. And if we all practice that, peace is attainable.
This brings us to the part of our worship that we know and love – passing the peace. Many times it becomes a meet-and-greet experience. As we greet each other this morning, remember that peace is a physical representation of God’s grace that goes way beyond our human understanding. Even as we speak the words “Peace be with you” we may be thinking about what we need to buy at the grocery store on the way home or we may be wanting to wish a friend a good day or find out how someone is feeling. The reality about this moment in our worship is this: God’s peace comes through the love God has placed in our hearts so while the words “Peace be with you” are an intentional wish for God to fill that person with peace, even a simple “Good morning,” can bring peace to one who may not have had a good morning today or any other days for a long time. It’s not the exact words that count – it’s the love in our hearts that fill our words with peace.
Pastor: And now the peace of the Lord be always with you.
People: And also with you.
Pastor: Let us greet one another in the name of the Lord.
We are pausing to take time, as we do every Sunday morning, to offer our own gifts to God from the blessings God pours out on us every day of our lives. We sing praises to God as we offer up to God these gifts to be used to spread God’s peace all around us, not just in the week before Christmas, but every day of every week of every year of every life. Let’s sing another favorite Christmas carol that speaks of God’s love and peace given to the world in Jesus. (UMH #238 – “Angels we have heard on high”)
Christmas Doxology (MAJN #6)
CHRISTMAS EVE, December 24, 2011
Again, listen to the Prophet Isaiah: (35:1-10).
“Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color. Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift. Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic. Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly. There will be a highway called the Holy Road. No one rude or rebellious is permitted on this road. It’s for God’s people exclusively— impossible to get lost on this road. Not even fools can get lost on it. No lions on this road, no dangerous wild animals. Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening. Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.”
Many times, we find ourselves looking for joy in all the wrong places. Forced expectations of joy at this time of year often highlight what is wrong or missing in people’s lives. If people see a stark contrast between their lives and what is presented as a cultural norm, they can feel isolated and depressed. Joy that comes from God can restore a sense of wholeness and community to anyone feeling alone. But get ready — for joy is not a surface-level happy – it is deeply seated in one’s character. Joy may not always manifest itself in smiles and laughter, but rather in a quiet grace and assurance. Joy might be described as knowing something better exists, and holding onto the hope that that which is better is also possible.
Isaiah was focusing on contrast – that in opposition to brokenness, wrongs, sorrows and sighs, God will prevail, and one day all shall be well. We all face many issues in today’s world. We have looked at many of these issues and we have laid out how we can touch those issues in the coming week – through prayer, making contact and connections, and by sharing God’s love in random acts of Christmas love.
“My Christmas To-Do List” – Christmas Eve
Saturday is Christmas Eve and it is a day to focus on the things that bring joy to our lives. In your list today, include the places where God’s presence is evident – in the soup kitchens, food pantries, Christmas donations, and parties for the needy. Include places where you find peace and joy. One obvious example is our worship. What are the things that bring you joy as we sing and pray together; what are the words that speak to you of joy; where do you find joy in God’s house? This is also a double list – on the other side, make a list of those people who crave this joy you have found, people who need to hear and sing about this joy, those who may not come here looking for that joy unless you invite them.
As you look at your list, pray for those you want to invite and if you find yourself hesitating, think again about how you define joy and how much joy you experience in our worship. Think again about those people in your life who need this joy and don’t forget – joy is doubled when you share it with others. Repeat this often; even post it on your refrigerator for the week and then leave it up all year: “Receiving is fun; the real joy comes from giving.”
Remember the words of the herald angels in the sky over Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Let’s sing about these angels and their message of joy. (#240 “Hark, the herald angels sing”)
The last piece of this celebration is your own Christmas Sermon telling the Good News of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.
Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry. Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future. Subscribe now to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ladyfather.