12-24-20 @ 5:30pm
Prayer of Preparation
God is telling a story in our lives.
It’s quite a story-
full of the promises God makes
and our struggles to trust;
full of mystery and angels
with surprising news;
full of hard endings
and unexpected new beginnings.
Come, hear the story
pay attention to the angels’ message
in your heart
in this place and time.
Then join all creation
in worshipping the God
who tells it
full of grace and truth;
who comes in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
and makes our story holy.
Prelude “A Carol of the Nativity” Ireland
Lighting of the Christ Candle
The Advent candles burned brightly, drawing our hearts and minds to hope, peace, joy, and love. Now, at last, on Christmas Eve, we light our Christ Candle. This candle is the center of our celebration, just as Christ has a place at the very center of our lives. Jesus Christ is the anchor of our hope, the bringer of true peace, the source of all joy, and the witness of love between family members, neighbors, friends, and those who were formerly enemies. On this day, and all days, we celebrate the gift of God coming into the world, as one of us, to learn and grow and suffer as one of us. In the same way, even as he lived as a full human being, Jesus was the Christ, God’s anointed, who had the fullness of God within himself- the power to bring life out of death. We celebrate Christ’s birth. We give thanks for Christ’s life and resurrection. We rejoice in Christ’s presence in the world today. We anticipate the promise of Christ’s future, when all will be made new.
Light the Candle
Three purple, One pink & One white
Let us pray: God of all glory, this day and all days belong to you. You alone are worthy of our full praise, devotion, and thanksgiving. We, who have so much, dare to ask for one more thing. We humbly ask that you fill our hearts with Christmas grace- the power to restore, to welcome, to celebrate, and to see Christ’s power brought forth in this world. Pour this Christmas grace into our heart and give it substance in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. In Christ’s own name, we pray. Amen.
Call to Reconciliation
This is the night we are reminded that God loves to be with us. Yet all too often – by our choices, our words, our silence – we choose not to be with Go. Join me as we pray on this holy night to the One who was born to gift us with mercy and hope.
Prayer of Confession
This was going to be the year, God of silent nights, when we were going to give away more than we spent, but we didn’t. This was going to be the season when we spent more time with others, but we filled our calendars with meetings. This was going to be the Christmas when we wrote personal letters to friends and family, but spent too much energy filling out our to-do lists. This was going to be a truly holy season, but it just got to harried and hurried. Forgive us, Love Gifter, and draw us closer to the Baby born not into wealth and power, but into poverty and weakness; to the One who loves unconditionally and welcomes all; to the Child who gathers other children to him, to bless them and serve them; to the One who drew near to us, so we might be drawn to your heart – Jesus Christ, our Brother, our Lord.
Silence is kept.
Assurance of Pardon
Into the valleys of our death, Jesus comes with life;
into the shadows of our world, Jesus brings light;
into the brokenness of our lives, Jesus brings forgiveness and peace.
Thanks be to God for the gift of the Baby of Bethlehem, who brings joy and peace to us in these moments of forgiveness and in all the days to come. Amen.
Choral Response “Away in the Manger”
Children’s Message “The Light of Christmas” Richard Paul Evans
Prayer of Illumination
God of light, you have revealed your very self to us in your son Jesus Christ, your one Word made flesh, who lived among us, full of grace and truth. Open us to your revelation once again, that in the words of your holy scripture we might know your presence and follow in your light always. Amen.
2 [b] The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You 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.
4 For 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.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For 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.
7 His 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.
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And 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.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
15 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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Anthem “O Magnum Mysterium” Victoria
O Great Mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger. Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Sermon “Glad Tidings” Rev. Dr. Philip W. Oehler, Sr.
Christmas Eve 1943 found Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a German prison. There the Lutheran pastor and theologian was awaiting trial for his role in a failed attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler.
Prisons have long been places where God’s servants have found a particular clarity about faith and the life of discipleship. That’s as true for Bonhoeffer as it was for the apostle Paul and Martin Luther King. In a letter smuggled out by a sympathetic prison guard, Bonhoeffer wrote these words:
From the Christian point of view there is no special problem about Christmas in a prison cell. For many people in this building it will probably be a more sincere and genuine occasion than in places where nothing but the name (of Christmas) is kept. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in the judgment of humans that God will approach where men and women turn away that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. These are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for a prisoner, they really are glad tidings.
Gathered tonight–virtually, surrounded by the warmth of family and the comforts of the season, we are a long way away from a prison cell in Nazi Germany in 1943. But Bonhoeffer speaks a Christmas truth that cuts across all the differences that separate his life from ours. We come tonight to celebrate the birth that transformed the world.
But, as Bonhoeffer wrote to a prisoner, that promise of redemption and its fulfillment in Christ do indeed provide absolute and thoughtful glad tidings, good news that in and of itself should make our hearts soar. And we shouldn’t be too quick to separate ourselves or otherwise dismiss that perspective. The Bible tells us that God’s people have been familiar with the inside of a prison cell since the time of the patriarchs. Joseph, Moses, Sampson, Daniel, John the Baptist, Jesus, the apostles Paul and Silas. God found ways to use these prisoners. In our day, a prison is too often an easier thing for us to build and run well and fill than a school or so it would seem.
A recent Pew Report reminds us that: For the first time in our nation’s history one in 100 men and women in the U.S. are in prison or jail. One in 31 men and women are in prison, on parole or probation. One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars. For black males in that age group, one in nine is incarcerated. And the female prison population is expanding at brisk pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark. The vast majority of these folks are non-violent and poor.
And what about the rest of us? In what ways have we become captive?
How might we be prisoners, you and I? Perhaps we are prisoners of others expectations or others judgment. Perhaps we are captive of our own shame and self-image. Perhaps we are prisoners to fear and anxiety or addiction. Or we feel shackled by circumstances whether it is a dead-end job or relationship. Maybe we feel we are prisoners to a life that could have been so different had we had more education or the right opportunity. Maybe it’s not all the time but some times and, in those times, it’s real. Or maybe, if we don’t feel imprisoned ourselves, we know of others family, loved ones, friends who’ve become prisoners in life even if they are nowhere near iron bars and concrete walls.
Every time the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury gathers for worship, we pray the Lord’s Prayer, -Thy Kingdom Come. What does it mean—when that becomes our daily prayer, a prayer of hopeful anticipation and preparation? What kind of kingdom do we mean? What kind of king? Tonight, that prayer is answered anew.
A tiny, vulnerable child is born and laid in a manger and God’s kingdom on earth is born all over again, a little more complete, a little closer, a little more real to us all, if we know what to look for. One sign of that kingdom is liberation from whatever unjustly imprisons God s people.
In our own time, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, we sing a familiar hymn that includes these words: “O come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.” That was the promise to Israel, that God’s people would be ransomed liberated set free by a just and loving God. It is the same promise to us, whatever holds us captive. Wonderful counselor mighty God Everlasting Father Prince of Peace who came in a manger and was worshipped by both shepherds and kings, the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to his friend Titus is tiny, a three-chapter letter than takes up less than two pages. But in it, Paul describes the hope of what it means to be liberated by the Christ. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation of that letter describes that liberation in such accessible language and with such a Christmas Eve spirit.
It reads: God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation is available for everyone! Then, listen to the liberation and rehabilitation that Paul speaks of as he describes life in and for Christ: We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior Jesus Christ Appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew that kind of God-honoring life. In 1943, he may have been behind physical bars but through his remarkable faith, he was liberated from the ways of the world freed from the godless, indulgent and dark rebellious life that Paul describes. He had done what his faith compelled to do and was at peace.
So, words of the birth of Christ were for him the greatest kind of glad tidings. For us, tonight ends our advent journey. Across time and space, we gather with the shepherds and the magi to celebrate the birth of the Christ. Some have been preparing for this night for four weeks, practicing the discipline of joyous expectation. Others here may not have been that intentional. But the tidings are every bit as glad for them tonight. However, we have prepared for this evening, we are called tonight to make the turn from preparation to participation in God’s will, expressed most purely in the life of Christ Jesus. So, friends, hear the good news of the Christ, God with us, as liberation from whatever holds you captive from the joy of your salvation.
Tonight, we hear the glad tidings of Jesus birth as the truest and best good news of all. With that news, each of us is ransomed from captivity. We are offered freedom and called to participate not in the world’s purposes for God but in God’s purposes for the world. They really are glad tidings!! Amen.
Commentary provided by David Lose, Tom Beam, Cleophus J. LaRue, Alex Evans, Douglas M. Donley, Williams C. Pender, Taylor Mertins, Marci Glass, Timothy Ahrens, Matthew D. Hockenos, Richard Paul Evans, and John M. Cleghorn.
Affirmation of Faith “The Apostles’ Creed”
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Anthem “Christmas Lullaby” Rutter
Fragile God, born in the night –
We listen in the clarity of the cold night air. We hear the hoofs clopping in the dust,
a man’s soft voice reassuring a tired woman. We hear his voice inquiring,
“Is there room?”
“Is there room for us?”
Fragile God, born in the night –
We know the story.
We know that you are coming.
“Is there room?”
“Is there room for you?”
Fragile God, born in the night –
We see the shadowy figures finding the stable. “There is no room.”
We see the man preparing a place in the hay. He makes room.
We see the woman moving heavily,
The hours of labor, the sweat, the tears, the cries, the moans, the crushing grip of the hands.
We hear the insistent cry of the child wail out, born at last! “Make room!”
“Make room for me!” Fragile God, born in the night –
We hear your cry.
We hear from the hills and the pastures,
your cry as a newborn child ringing out in the still air, your cry echoed
in the thunderous announcement from the skies. We see you in the manger.
We travel across the miles to see,
your glory as a newborn child lying in a manger, your glory reflected in the star we follow.
Fragile God, born in the night –
We have room for you.
We are poor scruffy shepherds and elegant educated kings.
We are servers in restaurants and CEO’s of giant corporations.
We are villagers hauling water for our families from distant wells. We are neurosurgeons holding life in our well-trained hands.
We are survivors of immense disasters struggling to rebuild lost lives.
We are young children entranced with the glitter and mystery in the candle light of this night.
We are old grown-ups filled with the emotion of accumulated Christmas nights.
We are members of big families joyfully reunited tonight,
harried with preparations and seating arrangements for dinner, but glad to be catching up.
We are individuals alone,
especially aware of the absence of family members,
family living far away,
family taken by death,
family from whom we are estranged, family we never had,
— children we never had.
We are all these and more,
all of us aware tonight of the fullness of time,
of year following year,
another Christmas full of all the Christmases of the years, of hearts filled with hearts,
Christmases full of all the people we love and who love us.
This time is very, very full for each of us – yet we have room for you.
We come to your manger, each of us, in the stillness of this night, Here we know our profound powerlessness,
and here you are –
a fragile powerless newborn,
yet the newborn child in whom we recognize the ruler of the universe.
We hear your newborn cry, the cry we have been waiting for – “Make room! Make room for me!”
Fragile God, born in the night – Meet us here at your manger.
Meet us as a newborn child meets new parents, come to change our lives forever.
Meet us as the newborn
who insists that we make room for you,
who requires that we reorder our lives to pay attention to you, who demands that we be re-centered on the very center of life.
Fragile God, born in the night –
You come as a tiny light in a vast darkness yet that fragile and flickering light changes the darkness completely.
meet us here in the lighting of our small lights,
that we may know your awesome power making room among us as the light that shines in the darkness,
the fragile light that the darkness cannot overpower.
Fragile God, there is room in our inn. Be born in our night. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Presentation of Our Tithes & Offerings
Now, on this night of giftedness, remind us of those who struggle to put food on the table, to buy a single gift for their child, to wrap a warm blanket around a grandparent, so we might realize how blessed we are and share from our abundance. Let us offer our gifts to show God’s love to our neighbors.
Offertory Anthem “Somerset Carol”
Doxology & Prayer of Dedication
God of goodness and kindness, whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting, all that we have are gifts of your grace. As the heavenly host sang of your glory, accept what we bring as offerings of praise. With the shepherds we have witnessed the birth of our Savior; our response is gratitude for the hope of new life we receive in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sharing the Light
“In your hurry to keep Christmas, you have forgotten Christmas. The truest gift of Christmas is the gift of self. The flame of Christmas must first burn from within.”
~The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans
But the Light that began in Bethlehem was life. And this life, Jesus Christ, was the Light of all humanity. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. And it all began on a silent, holy night . . . long ago . . .
Let us go to be the gift another needs,
sharing God’s blessings of love and grace,
running to tell the Story we heard from the shepherds.
Let us go to be the comfort which can swaddle others,
sharing Jesus’ compassion with the poor and needy,
welcoming the holiness offered by the most vulnerable we meet.
Let us go to enkindle the lives around us,
sharing the Spirit’s peace with all the broken,
learning the language of hope from the children in our midst.
Postlude “In Quiet Joy” Dupre