The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

December 26, 2021
First Sunday of Christmas
9:30 am



God of our Christmas joy, break forth, O beauteous heavenly light and illumine our way to the paths you would have us tread, in the name of the Christ-child, Emmanuel, we pray. Amen.

PRELUDE                   “In Dulci Jubilo”                    George Lachenawer       


Praise the Christ-child, the newborn Prince of Peace!
We have been redeemed. We are no longer afraid.
Praise to the God who has come to us in the flesh!
We are being created. We are no longer afraid.
Praise to the Spirit who calls us together to serve!
We will be sustained. We are no longer afraid.
Come, let us worship God!

HYMN No. 136  “Go, Tell It on the Mountain”

Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere;
go, tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born!

1 While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
behold, throughout the heavens
there shone a holy light. (Refrain)

2 The shepherds feared and trembled
when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus
that hailed our Savior’s birth. (Refrain)

3 Down in a lowly manger
the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn. (Refrain)


As we reach the end of one year and prepare to greet a new one, let us confess the ways we have fallen short of God’s commandments.


Giver of Every Mercy, you call us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. However, we often clothe ourselves with different attire: apathy, hatred, arrogance, and brashness. Help us to bear one another and forgive each other even as we ask forgiveness from you. Help us to don the clothing of love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. This we pray in the name of your Child, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Silence is observed


Siblings in Christ, hear now the good news of the Gospel: through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

RESPONSE No. 143 “Angels, from the Realms of Glory”  v. 1

Angels, from the realms of glory, 
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
you, who sang creation’s story,
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king!


Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”

HYMN No. 115 “Away in a Manger

1 Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

2 The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
and stay by my side until morning is nigh.

3 Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with thee there. 


(all children will remain in the sanctuary)


Holy Spirit, as did the people in the Temple that day long ago, may we gather to listen to the wisdom of the Christ-child through the reading of your holy word. Amen.

SCRIPTURE               Luke 2:41-52

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.


There we were, Disney World, with the grandparents plus a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old.  The family was enjoying all the sights, sounds, tastes and rides that Uncle Walt had created in Florida.  It was all a wonderful adventure until we got to Epcot and entered a store to look for the obligatory mouse ears for the boys.  I saw my in-laws, I was Stacey and I saw Walter…wait a minute…where is the toe-headed two-year old?  Where is Ben?  Do you have Ben?  Is Ben with Nana and Grand?  Oh! Noooo!  We’ve lost Ben.  He’s too young to explain who his parents are or give them a phone number.  The Disney staff quickly locked down the store and called in a lost child code…and then I rounded a corner and there was Ben standing in the candy aisle!  Safe and Happy!  Oblivious to the trauma of being lost.  He was fine, but it was the longest 4 minutes in my life.

I thought of that incident when I read today’s story about Mary and Joseph losing Jesus.  Ben in Disney World was totally caught up in the moment and the adventure and the wonder of whatever he had been experiencing. He had no idea the anxiety and distress we were feeling as parents.

That’s exactly Jesus’ reaction when Mary and Joseph finally find him. The whole family had made the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great annual Passover celebration. When it was all over, Mary and Joseph and their fellow travelers had started back to their homes, gotten fifteen miles away by foot, and only then realized Jesus wasn’t with them. Can you imagine the exchanges between them? “I thought you had him.” “No, I thought you had him.” When they finally locate Jesus in the temple, Jesus says to his panicked parents, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d have to be here, in my Father’s house, about my Father’s business?” Jesus obviously hadn’t been ready to pack up and leave the festival.

Here we sit, all of us gathered together two days after Christmas, most likely still feeling the effects of overeating, thinking about how we can put away the mess under the Christmas tree, wondering when we can take the tree down—if we haven’t already. Or maybe we’re thinking about how glad we are it’s all over, because for those who are alone, Christmas can be a painful time, hearing the constant refrain of family, family, family when no family exists. Or when family dysfunction outweighs any comfort derived from being together. We’re ready to start thinking about the new year, to start jotting down those goals or resolutions. Our great annual festival is over, and most of us are ready to move on. We’re accustomed to today’s pace, which seems to be getting on to the next thing as fast as possible.

There’s always a point leading up to Christmas when I start wondering about the story and doubts creep in, especially this year, when the world seems more topsy-turvy than ever. At some point in my journey toward Christmas, I always find myself wondering about the promise and what it means, wondering about the story and its truth, mulling over the inconsistencies I witness in churches and church people and in my own actions. The questions and doubts come, dance in and out of my mind during all of it. Those questions and doubts are another reason I think about packing up and moving on.

I wonder if that’s what Mary and Joseph felt as they packed up their things and started on their way back home from Jerusalem. Maybe they had had their own questions that had surfaced about life and whether this pilgrimage to Jerusalem made any difference. Maybe it was their haste to be done with it and get home again that made them take less notice of where their son was.

What I forgot and what the adolescent Jesus has reminded me to do this week is to slow down, to not pack up so quickly, to stay with the story, to stay with Jesus, and even to stay with my doubts—and to develop a discipline of reverence, because it seems that that’s what had caught hold of the boy Jesus. He had no desire to move on from that festival. He was swallowed up in reverence for the teachings, reverence for the questions, reverence for his Creator. Jesus was so caught up in the experience, he didn’t even realize his parents and their friends were leaving.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and prolific author, writes a chapter titled “Paying Attention” in her book An Altar in the World. She quotes philosopher Paul Woodruff, who states that reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods. Taylor writes of a multitude of ways we can practice reverence—in nature, as we engage with others, and certainly as we ask questions about God and who God is. Developing reverence is the habit of paying attention.

The adolescent Jesus is bidding us to stay awhile with this high holiday we call Christmas. To pay attention. To pay attention to our questions. And to pay attention to our discomfort. To notice what brings us joy. To wrestle with the doubts that surface, to read the story again, to wonder what it all means. To think a little longer and more intentionally about the Christmas Eve story about Gloria the Angel and how we might actually follow the angels’ directives and decide not to be afraid this next year, no matter what transpires, no matter what evil exists. To figure out how our claim that God has come into the world, to bring peace, to show us what Love is, can help us truly not be afraid.

In 2015, The New York Times ran an editorial on Christmas Day titled “Moments of Grace in a Grim Year.” I’ve been thankful for that editorial, because it highlighted progress made that year toward good, despite so much disruption and violence all around us. The last paragraph said, “Evil is everywhere, and anger and hatred are loud. The shouting drowns out the quiet; tragedy and disaster block the view of the good. Yet there are always signs of progress toward a better future. Look, or you may miss them.”

Look, or you may miss them. That ability to look and see comes from the practice of reverence and paying attention.

The adolescent twelve-year-old Jesus was beginning to explore his own identity. In his staying behind in the temple and surrounding himself with the teachers and the scriptures, Jesus was discovering his unique relationship with God.

This is what we are invited to do. To stay with the story and the questions and continue to establish our own personal and individual relationship with God. To grow up into our own unique expression of faith, our own unique relationship with God. What does the story of God being born into this world, in this tiny baby, mean to you in times of great joy? And what does the story mean to you in times of great tragedy? What does it all mean to you? Can you say? Do you know

Barbara Brown Taylor says that “reverence requires a certain pace. It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips” (An Altar in the World, p. 24). This isn’t always a pleasant or easy process, because in the process we often find that Jesus calls us to ways of behavior that aren’t natural or that we never expected. Or that suddenly troubles enter in and those troubles play with what we have always believed. Detours mess with our own plans. And that’s OK. Not knowing all of the answers and letting some of it be unanswered mystery is okay.

Even Mary is perplexed by how Jesus responds to her when she and Joseph finally find Jesus in the temple. She doesn’t get everything he says and can’t make sense of it any more than she completely understood the angel’s announcement almost thirteen years before. Jesus tells her—when she asks why he stayed in the temple and caused Joseph and her such angst and distress—that this is what he had to do. Neither of his parents understand. Despite what she didn’t understand, the story says that Mary treasured these things in her heart. It’s a poor choice of translation for us really, because the word treasured implies that Mary liked Jesus’ answer. The statement is better understood to mean that Mary held these things in her heart. She held the mystery in her heart, and she held all of the inability to understand everything that would play out. She held all of the joy and all of the sorrow in her heart, all of the questions and the doubt, along with the things she knew for sure.

She has this in common with all of us. Because she, like the rest of us, must wait and see what will unfold, who Jesus will become for each one of us, where he will be led, where he will lead her and where he will lead us (“First Sunday after Christmas,” Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 74).

You might ask why. What’s in it for you or for me to stay awhile with this story and this celebration and to figure out what it means to us this year? Is it just a self-serving exercise, or is there something more to it? To keep at this practice of paying attention, the discipline of reverence, this growing up into our own unique relationship with God, leads to our transformation—little by little, inch by inch—into a person who knows that God loves us beyond all imagining and beyond all ability to explain why. The transformation leads slowly but surely to the ability to put on the clothes that Paul mentions in his letter to the Colossians: the clothing of compassion and kindness, humility and meekness and patience, too. And when we can put on those pieces of clothing, we affect the world around us, little by little, inch by inch. Could it be that our goals for the new year could include this desire to practice reverence for this story of all stories, even if we have to hold all of the unknowns in our hearts? Could it be that our goals for the new year could be more about who we will become—more compassionate, more kind, increasingly humble, more patient—rather than about how much we will accomplish and the things we will do?

The story of God coming into the world as a baby—and all that unfolds after that—is worthy of our reverence, is worthy of our paying attention, because, after all, it’s way more than just a story. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Commentary and liturgy provided by Stephen M. Fearing, Kyle Schiefelbein-Guerrero, David Lose, Scott Hoezee, Judith L. Watt, and David S. Bell.

*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH            1 Timothy 3:16

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: Christ Jesus was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed in throughout the world,  taken up in glory.

*HYMN No. 132 “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice”

1 Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ is born today;
ox and ass before him bow,
and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

2 Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
and we are blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

3 Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye need not fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
to gain the everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!


Let us pray to God, saying:
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony. Col. 3:14

As we gather in the waning hours of 2018,
hear us as we gather in your name
to pray for those concerns on our hearts this day.
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

We pray for those who are traveling to visit their families during this Christmas break.
Keep safe those who travel on the roads and in the air.
Give the students and school workers among us
the rest they need before they begin a new semester next week.
Be with those who are journeying through the holidays for the first time
without a loved one who was lost this past year.
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

As we turn to a new year,
we pray that our nation might learn from the violence and division
we’ve experienced far too often in the year past.
May 2019 be a year of kindness, compassion, and, above all, justice.
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

We pray for the politicians who have been elected and will start their terms in the new year.
May they conduct their work with humility, honor, decency, and righteousness.
We pray especially for [petitions may be made for local politicians beginning new terms].
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

We pray for this congregation,
[petitions may be made for the congregation as it looks toward a new year].
Help us as we begin a new year.
Lead us onward with intelligence, imagination, enthusiasm, love.
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

We pray for those on our hearts this day
whom we lift up to you in silence…
Gracious God, bind us together in perfect harmony.

Hear us now, Mighty Counselor,
as we pray the prayer you taught us to pray, saying: Our Father…

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, forever. Amen.



In the gifts of word and song, we hear the story of your gift of life, O God. Here, we offer what we can of ourselves, we who are part of that same story.



Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below.  Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully know; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. 


King of Kings, we join the angels in singing your unending praise. You alone created the universe in all of its glory. We present these gifts knowing that they will be transformed into ministries of Good News. Bless this offering so our giving honors your glory. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we pray. Amen. 

*HYMN No. 147 “The First Nowell”

1 The first Nowell the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
born is the King of Israel.

2 They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night. (Refrain)

3 And by the light of that same star
three wise men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went. (Refrain)

4 This star drew nigh to the northwest;
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest,
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay. (Refrain)

5 Then entered in those wise men three,
full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. (Refrain)

6 Then let us all with one accord
sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
that hath made heaven and earth of nought,
and with his blood our life hath bought. (Refrain) 


Let us go into the new year with Jesus, common in origin with us.
We go into the new year with Jesus, who treats us as family, as brothers and sisters.
Let us go, placing our trust in God, just as Jesus did.
We go as children of God, with Jesus by our side.
And all of God’s Christmas people say together: