We pray that God’s blessings be with you as you celebrate joyfully Christ’s coming everywhere. We thank you for joining us for worship.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
He shall feed his flock
Call to Worship Isaiah 29:18-21
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant shall be no more,
and the scoffer shall cease to be;
all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—
those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,
who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate
, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.
What a joyful day this is. It is the time for the fullness of time. We bring ourselves before you in thanksgiving for the good news of salvation you have given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. On this day, we praise and celebrate your Word becoming flesh in Jesus’ birth. Glory, honour and power be yours always. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Hark, the herald angels sing
I wonder as I wander
Away in a manger
Scripture 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.
For unto us a child is born
Sermon: Hearing the same ol' story anew
In today’s world, one of the most difficult things for us to do is to let the story tell itself. Letting the story be and let it be heard in its original form has become almost impossible since we tell who we are and what our world is like by retelling ancient stories. We reshape them by adding our interpretations, views, understandings, and truths. Through movies, novels, inspirational writings, scholarly explorations and theological books we reform the ancient world according to truths we found in Scripture passages. This is why we end up picking and choosing parts while emphasizing what we have been inspired by leaving out the parts we do not like or find helpful.
Most of us who celebrate Christmas have heard this story read every year. We have our own understanding of what this story is about. The familiarity makes us think that we know what the story is about. This is why it is very difficult to hear the story with its power. Having understood the story we think there is nothing more to be found in this story. This is why the story does not change us. How, then, do we tell the story as if people are hearing it for the first time? How can we listen in ways the power of this birth story captures us once again? Can we enjoy the wonder and mystery of this birth story each time we hear it?
Here is my attempt at helping you hear the story in a fresh and new way.
We usually do our best to be morally and ethically right. We are taught this way. We feel bad if we do things morally wrong or ethically a bit shady. In a way we have cornered our market on guilt and shame. Yes, for Presbyterian and Reformed Christians, guilt easily leads to shame. We not only feel bad (guilt), but also feel ashamed or polluted when we realize we have done something wrong. Well, this is not just our traits, but also pretty much the way most Christians are. Confessions come quickly to our lips.
In our way of thinking being guilty means we are tainted, polluted, and dirty–we are no longer pure. In the Old Testament, those who were impure, had blemishes, or tainted with sin were treated very harshly. Indeed, in most cases they were expelled to keep the people of Israel pure. Yes, in order to keep the people clean before God, the dirty ones were segregated and thrown out or stoned to death. Clean was associated with being righteous. Dirty was attributed to those who sinned.
This is pretty much the same way we deal with ourselves. We isolate and keep apart those who are not pure. We make sure we do not associate with those who are tainted. If we think this way, we realize how our world so very close to the world of Mary and Joseph. Indeed, it was just a few decades ago, our society looked upon those pregnant unwed mothers as sinners and ones who needed to be separated from the nice boys and girls. In many ways these unwed mothers were scandals in our world.
Matthew’s version is very simple compared to Luke’s. Its main focus is on Jesus not being Joseph’s son, but of the Holy Spirit. We do not know what this would have meant to Joseph. Joseph does what the angel in a dream tells him to do. He does no more and no less, even though he initially thought about quietly getting rid of Mary because he knew the child Mary was bearing was not his. In his world, it was acceptable to dissociate with sinful ones even if it meant to cut his relationship with his own wife to be. The most important thing was to be right with God, clean before God. The pregnant Mary who was carrying a baby of unknown father would made Joseph unclean.
In other words, he did not want to be involved with Mary. The world of that time would have fully embraced Joseph’s action, just like our world five decades ago. After all, getting as far away from this wife to be who was carrying someone else’s child would have been applauded as doing the right thing. Joseph’s righteousness, however, would have meant something entirely different for Mary. Without him, the world would have known that Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. His righteousness would not have saved Mary. She would have probably been questioned as to how she got pregnant. Then, she would have been found guilty of sexual misconduct. In that case, she would have either been stoned to death or condemned to live as an adulterous single mother raising Jesus outside of any Jewish family including her own. Five decades ago, in our case, an unwed pregnant woman would have been sent away. After birth the child would have been adopted against the mother’s wish. Who would have believed that God would let Mary get pregnant? “Unbelievable! Impossible!” they would have said.
Think for a moment. Without the intervention by an angel, things would have gone very differently for Mary and the baby Jesus. Even with the help of the angel, Joseph’s action was very out of ordinary. If the people in Joseph’s and Mary’s communities found out that Mary was carrying the baby not by Joseph, Joseph would have been tarred–considered unclean for associating with Mary. He, too, would risk being thrown out as an unrighteous person in the eyes of the world. This is a complicated story. By keeping Mary’s pregnancy quiet, Joseph was made to participate in this very strange way God was entering into this world.
The intervention by the angel sounds nice, but how many people of Joseph’s and Mary’s time would have accepted their explanation? People of their time were not as naive and accepting as we might think. They were pretty much like us in terms of being street smart and how biology works. There would have been many who would have thought that something was not quite right about the story and would not have readily accepted Mary’s or Joseph’s version. Knowing that many clergy today do not believe the virgin birth story, it is hard to imagine if the people of that time would also not have questioned the story of how the Holy Spirit brought about Mary’s pregnancy.
With this background, it is more astounding that the birth story of Jesus lasted all these years. It is true that many people call this story a myth just like Greek and Roman mythic stories of heroes. Philosophers, scientists, literary critics and theologians can argue the factual or non-factual reality of this birth story until the end of time. Our Christian task is to receive this passage as a gift from our foreparents of faith in opening our eyes to God's love for the world that was made part of history in Jesus’ birth. Of course, we have to be very careful and do our best not to make the story to sybolize something that is abstract and overly spiritual. Thus, without making it fit our narrative, we need to let the story tell itself and touch the hearts of those who search for God’s saving love.
It is a simple story of God’s love for the world and how God’s entry into the world is fraught with all kinds of dangers. Its aim is to unleash our faith imagination to receive the good news of God’s salvation of the world in trouble. This is the story that is intended for you to receive. With this unlikely way of entering into the world, the new life for those who believe in Jesus began and continues today, shining the Light in the darkness.
Take a moment. Read the story out loud or quietly. See if the power of this story of God’s love for the world touches your heart and invites you to receive baby Jesus as God who comes to save you and be with you always.
Dear gracious God,
From you came this wonderful love that became the basis of all life. Out of that very love for the world, you sent your Son in order that all may find their ways back to you and be with you always. When we lift up our voices in prayer, hear and tend to them, for we pray in your Son’s name.
It is hard, O Lord, to see your Light in this darkness. In an attempt to overcome the darkness around us, we have invented ways to manufacture lights to rely on ourselves. In doing so our eyes no longer behold your glory. We are dazzled by the lights of our own making. We disregard your Light. We constantly replace your Light with our own. Forgive us. Shine through our lights that hide your Light. Open our eyes to see so that we may be under your Light.
Under the lights that we have invented, we are no longer able to see the truth of evil and sin. In our own brilliance we impose what we know on others who have been living according to your love. Under our lights we have been embraced by greed, gluttony, jealousy, vengeance, and hate. In this world of artificial lights we made generosity, trust, mercy and grace weaknesses that are outdated and wasteful. Through your Son our Lord, make us to be generous, trusting, merciful and gracious in ways that you are to us through your Son.
We pray that all those who are seeking love are given your good news of salvation in your Son, those who are seeking homes are given your welcome hospitality in the body of Christ who are gathered in churches around the world, those who are seeking health and wellbeing from their sicknesses discover your presence and guidance, and those who are lost in this troubled world receive your presence with them always.
Open our eyes to the poor, the sick, the weak, the lost, the broken, the outcast, the oppressed, the fearful and the imprisoned. Fill us with your Spirit to open our hearts, minds, and might to them. Give us strength to share your good news with all on this Christmas Eve. Make us your servants who bring your good news of liberty, jubilee and joy to them all.
All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
On Christmas Day, our service of worship is at 10:30 am. We are still planning to hold the service.
Joy to the world!vZhgpb97y7Q