Invitation to Worship
(To be read aloud by one person, or read to yourself.)
Throughout all of history Christians have gathered on this bright and beautiful morning to celebrate Christmas. We sit around our trees and exchange gifts in honor of the baby born to us, Immanuel, God with us, Christ the Lord! We sing our jubilant hymns and share slices of our spice cakes. We tell the old, old story and light the candles around the wreath.
But even before there was a baby, even before the coming Messiah was known to us in the flesh and bone of a human being, the faithful throughout time and space remembered: “hope.” Unexpected, quiet, and often whispered in the prayers of women forgotten by time and memory, these voices made straight the path in the wilderness and prepared the way for the coming Lord.
So on this Christmas Day, let us gather, in this space, and join our voices along with those ancient proclamations and together whisper: “Hope.”
Lighting of the Christ Candle
(If you have an Advent Wreath at home, you can light the purple and pink candles, and the white candle after reading this aloud. If you DO NOT have an Advent Wreath at home, you can still read through the liturgy out loud, and light your one candle at the end.
With the birth of the Christ Child, gathered around the crèche with Mary, Joseph, and shepherds, we leave our Advent journey behind.
The journey, and those who have led us toward Bethlehem, we leave behind, but not so its promise: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love have been woven into the crude coverlet in which the child is swaddled. The light of their candles abides now in the Christ Candle, the unique Light that breathes life into all things, the shining Light that illumines all things; the divine Light that will never be quenched.
Scripture: John 1.1-5
The Voice was and is God. This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator; His speech shaped the entire cosmos. Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him. His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light— A light that thrives in the depths of darkness, blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched.
Prayer (with the Lord’s Prayer)
Living God, grant us the vision to gaze on your Light; grant us the courage to walk in your Light; and grant us the compassion to share your Light with all. We pray these and all things in the name of God-with-us….
Our Father, who art in heaven….
Hearing God's Story
Before there was a whisper that a girl named Mary engaged to a carpenter named Joseph would have a baby and name him Jesus there was another family: Elizabeth and Zechariah. The hope of their child would pave a road in the wilderness for his coming cousin and friend, the messiah, Christ the Lord. And Zechariah sang his beautiful, clear song of hope.
“Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”
And the time finally came, as it had for Elizabeth and Zechariah, that Mary and Joseph welcomed their little one into the world. The women ran back and forth, ferrying hot water and clean cloths to the barn where Mary labored, not exactly the place anyone expected the embodiment of hope to come into the world:
(Some can tell the story a line at a time with motions, inviting the children to repeat after the leader, if there are children present.)
Caesar Augustus, the ruler of Rome (make crown on head)
decided to take a census. (counting fingers)
A census is when you count all the people. (point to all people)
Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem (walking in place)
for the census. (counting fingers)
Mary was very pregnant. (indicate pregnant belly)
While they were in Bethlehem, (make pointed roof over head with hands)
the time came (point to wrist/watch)
for Mary to give birth. (indicate pregnant belly)
She gave birth to a baby boy. (rock baby)
She wrapped him in strips of cloth (wrap strips of cloth)
and laid him in a manger (indicate laying down)
because there was no room at the inn. (shake finger “no”)
In a field nearby, there were shepherds (hold shepherds staff)
watching their flocks at night. (indicate watching)
Suddenly, an angel appeared. (flap arms like wings)
The shepherds were afraid. (Hands to mouth, like nail biting)
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. (wag finger “no”)
“I bring you good news of great joy! (arms out wide/forward)
“A Savior is born today!” (arms up like a Y)
Suddenly, there was an army of angels (flap arms like wings)
praising God and saying, “Glory to God!” (hands cupping mouth as if shouting)
The shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem (Swing arm “let’s go”)
and see the new baby.” (rock baby)
The shepherds ran to Bethlehem (run in place)
And found Mary and Joseph and the baby. (rock baby)
The shepherds told them (hold shepherds staff)
what the angel had said. (flap arms like wings)
And all who heard it were amazed! (arms out)
The shepherds went back to their fields (walking)
Glorifying and praising God! (arms up, like a Y)
An elderly woman came up to the new parents, as of course the older members of religious communities have done since time began: drawn by the beauty and hope of a new life in the midst of the faithful. And Anna sang her great hope:
“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
(You can wonder about these questions together, aloud, on your own, or in a journal. Let your mind fill with wonder as you let your eyes wander around the scene of Jesus birth, and these proclamations of hope)
- I wonder what stories of Christmas past have been important to you?
- I wonder how others are celebrating Christmas Day around the world?
- I wonder if you have ever experienced darkness?
- I wonder if you have ever experienced a flash of light in that darkness?
- I wonder what hope looks like? Sounds like? Feels like?
- I wonder what proclamation of hope you will make?
- I wonder what response is brought forth as you have listened to these scriptures?
- I wonder if you are feeling compelled to sing? draw? pray? call a friend? write a letter to a leader?
- Each Sunday we read and practice liturgy. The word liturgy means “the work of the people.”
- I wonder what work would God have you do after hearing these scriptures?
for light is now in the world
for God has become one of us
for Love is born in each of us
for the manger is full
Go and believe
it is as the prophets said
and the blessing of Christmas
and of God
be with you today