Welcome Isaiah 40:1,2
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
Advent Candle: Hope is a star
Call to Worship Isaiah 40: 6-11
A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Oh come, all ye faithful
Hark! The herald angels sing
With great thanksgiving, we come. Today is the day that we celebrate your love shown through the sending of your Son with songs and praises. Receive our presence. Fill us with your Spirit to praise, proclaim and witness your steadfast love in the world. May this worship glorify your name! May our praises delight you this day! In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
First reading:Isaiah 7:13,14, Isaiah 40:3-5
Isaiah* said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
While shepherds watched
Angels we have heard on high
O little town of Bethlehem
2nd reading: Luke 2:8-20
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘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 Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
It came upon the midnight clear
Sermon: part 1
A young boy was waiting for Christmas. He did not quite understand what Christmas was. It was not that he did not know about the birth story of Jesus. He was part of the Christmas pageant. He grew up in a church and always was excited to be part of the Christmas pageant. At the age of five, he knew on Christmas Day he would get lots of presents. He also knew that his family would gather. What made his fifth Christmas so different was that he heard Jesus was coming. It was true that until that time, everyone was celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day. Unlike other times, however, this time, he heard a preacher talking about Jesus’ coming.
He checked with his mother and found out that indeed Jesus was coming on Christmas Day. When he asked, “Mommy, is baby Jesus coming on Christmas?” She answered, “Of course, dear. That’s why we celebrate Christmas.” He became excited. Finally, he would get to see Jesus. But he got confused. How was baby Jesus going to come? Thankfully, he soon forgot the question. He simply thought about what baby Jesus would look like and if he could play with him.
On Christmas Day, there were lots of gifts to unwrap. Everyone forgot about baby Jesus. The boy too. He had to get ready to go and visit grandpa and grandma. When he got there, all cousins, uncles and aunts were there. He received more gifts. He was busy opening his gifts and looking at what his cousins received. It was a busy day. Without any nap, he fell asleep on the way home.
Why do we make such a fuss about Christmas? Why do we sing all these wonderful hymns about Jesus’ birth? What do these rituals of Christmas have to do with Jesus? Do we not hear enough about many Christians saying, “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas”?
We no longer think about why we have rituals like Christmas and Easter. We think they are too commercialized and have lost their meaning. Yet, rituals are deep memories in our history that roots us into this salvation history. Like it or not, singing of Christmas carols, or even hearing Christmas carols sung by those unbelieving heathen celebrities make us shake off for a brief moment the burdens of this world. Rituals of Christmas remind us there is more than just me and my family. They call us to remember that we are from God who loves the world. They nudge us to think of life as from Christ and what our life should be in Christ.
Christmas carols, Christmas Scripture passages, Christmas dinners, all these rituals point us to life as God intended in secular appropriated ways. The world has it wrong, of course. Making Santa more important than what God has done for us sounds terrible indeed. However, what is more urgently required is our ways of disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ than arguing against secular practices of gift-giving. As we appropriated Solstice Festival for Christian purposes in our distant past, we can certainly embark on a task of living out the Gospel, especially on Christmas celebrations, in ways that we bring the Light to shine in the darkness.
149 Away in a manger yjke_DVaa_c 154 Silent night, Holy night
3rd Reading Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Infant holy, Infant lowly
Sermon: part 2
The wonder of the Gospel or the Good News of God is centred on “God is with us.” As we get busy with family gatherings and last minute planning for Christmas celebrations, we may ponder about how the Gospel of Christ is being shared with everyone around us. It is not so much what we say, what we give, why we rejoice, and how we enjoy Christmas that matters. It has everything to do with the very life we embody and witness this God’s good news.
Since the Reformation, Presbyterian and Reformed Christians were focusing much on recovering the Biblical faith in order to renew our faith. Initially we did not participate in Christmas celebrations. At the beginning of our reformed journey after breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, we, as seekers and followers of Christ rediscovered from the study of the Bible who Jesus was. We felt that Christmas was unnecessary because it was unbiblical. After all, we found no Biblical directive to celebrate Christmas.
In the early 20th century in North America, our fore-parents began adopting many liturgical rituals that early and Medieval Christians celebrated, including Christmas. Originally these liturgical rituals were used to teach us to live in the rhythm of Christian faith life. Today, however, much of our attempt to teach underlying understandings of rituals are ignored. “God is with us” is lost to “let’s party hard.”
As Reformed and Presbyterian, we are no longer purists in the sense of dogmatic and ideological puritans of the bygone years. We do not stand apart from our secular neighbours and do not segregate ourselves from other Christians who celebrate Christmas. Instead, we live in the world. Yet, through our worship and celebration, in Christmas time, we witness the Gospel that is contained in the birth of Jesus by the way we participate in the daily activities of our world.
We may lament these seasonal religious and spiritual upticks and wonder out loud about the superficiality of people who attend or watch Christmas Eve services as we struggle with our membership numbers. What we fail to appreciate is the way that people are moved to open their spirits to God’s Spirit. One certain way this is done is by the rituals we have embedded in our daily lives. The very Christian ritual of attending or partaking in Christmas Eve worship service is the reminder to all who are in Christ to return, even for a brief moment, to participate in receiving God’s good news for the world.
“God with us” is especially good news to those who are outside of the Church than to those who are inside. Insiders like us know and appreciate the deep meaning of “God with us.” Outsiders or those who stay away from churches most of the year desire for this promised life of “God with us.” Our yearly ritual nudges these people who are away from the Church to think about “God with us” in their lives. In this way, through this Christmas ritual, we have the opportunity to witness “God with us” in ways that no other time allows us to do during the year.
“God with us” as the good news is witnessed in many different ways. The most obvious is the reading of various Scripture passages. The next is Christmas hymns that we sing. Some of these hymns are ubiquitous. Everyone, even those who are not Christians are familiar with them. It may surprise you, but the people of other religions also know some of our most popular Christmas hymns and some do indeed sing them. Apart from what we do in our liturgy of Christmas, we witness “God with us” through the very ways we share in God’s hospitality with all those who attend. There is a reason why these festival days were initially called “Feasts” by Medieval Christians. Worship service in any form is the feast of Christ to which everyone is invited. It is Christ who prepares for us all. Those of us who are regulars in worship are called to witness Christ by inviting others to sit with us at the Lord’s Table and enjoy the feast that Christ has prepared for us.
So we remember and witness through this ritual of Christmas Carol Service “God with us.”
As the creator of heaven and earth, as the giver of life, as the redeemer of those whom you love, you call us into being. In your mercy and grace you forgive us and sanctify us so that we may be present before you. As your people we come forward to be in your presence. But we know that we are guilty before you as people who follow our own hearts rather than follow your Son in fullness of love. Knowingly and unknowingly, we continue to sin even after we confess our sins and are given forgiveness over and over. Be kind and show us your mercy. Give us clean lips to praise your name in songs. Give us pure hearts to experience your love. Give us simple minds to understand your mysteries of unending love.
As we proclaim your love for us and the world in songs, we humbly pray that you will receive these words that express our love for you and be glorified. Unite our disparate voices into one voice that exalts your name in the world. May our exultation rise up to your ears.
Even as we ponder your infinite love for us, we are mindful of our own brothers and sisters who are struggling in life. We pray especially for those who are in hospitals. They would rather be home, but are in need of medical care. Be with them. Give them patience and continual recovery so that they may improve enough to be home. We pray for their family. Everyone is worrying about them and are concerned. As they visit and continue to love those who are in hospital, give them strength.
Today remember before you all your people around the world who sing in one voice with us your praise. Whether they are in poverty, on streets without homes, in refugee camps, in warring areas, or in safe places, they raise their voices along with us. Minister to them by receiving their praises. Know their pain. Hear their prayers in their songs, O Lord.
We pray for all those who are lost and are hoping for a life of meaning and purpose. Many of them want to love and be loved. Many have found life damaging for their bodies and souls. Violence they experience have left deep scars of distrust and despair. Be with them in ways that they will come to know that they are not abandoned but your loving presence is with them always. Help us to reach out to them as your very love in this world. Make us humble servants who tend to their needs rather than be their judge and executioner.
Always fill us with your love. Make us your servants who bring the good news of all that your Son was, is and shall be to this world.
All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Please remember that our Christmas Eve service will follow lunch on Saturday, December 24 at 12 noon. Come and join us for lunch. The Eve service will follow immediately after lunch.
On Christmas Day, our service of worship is at 10:30 am.
Help us with the Love Your Church fundraising. We are looking to raise $20,000. We are about halfway there. We also need your attention for the Presbyterians Sharing. Our pledge was $10,000 for this year. Again we need to raise around 5,000.
The first nowell
Joy to the world!