Tag Archives: Christmas
The recording is our Children’s Christmas Pageant. There is a short homily by me at the start and then the kids you see in the photos take over and renew the story of the Son given to us. Their bother, Immanuel.
Christmas Eve – 7 PM – Lessons and Carols
Christmas Day – 9 AM – Divine Service
Come and Worship. Worship Christ the Newborn King.
This sermon looks at the appointed epistle readings of the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. Each ponders in their heart the meaning of Christmas from a slightly different perspective: mystic, personal and kingly. It really is a riff of of my favorite Christmas Hymn: A Great and Mighty Wonder.
That is the picture of the cast for our Christmas Pageant. We give the kids the full service on this day. So, the recording is not our typical sermon but our best recording of the play. The kids acted out and explain to us the Hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Just some pictures of getting ready. Thanks to Jenelle for all her work and to all the parents for getting their kids to practice.
Molly Hemingway (and several others) on the horror of not having Santa growing up. I’m with Ms. Hemingway, Santa was always such a minor trifle I can’t stir up the emotional energy to care. If my child asks, I answer “what do you think?” Ethan (4) just says of course. Anna (10) doesn’t want Santa believer Ellen’s presents to stop. And then I typically ask something like “what is the main purpose of Santa?” Which as the older they get the more it becomes about the naughty and nice list. I have to confess using on David the Santa Scanner, an iPod app that determines which list you are on (controlled nicely by where you press the button and how clean the room is). But my goal is then to ask, “is that what you hear in Sunday School about Christmas?” And the answer is no. I don’t necessarily want to teach them morality although the 10 commandment are a good start. What I want to teach them is God’s grace. We make up things like Santa, but they are only non-toxic when handled with grace. When I give the Santa Scanner to David to scan me and it puts Daddy on the naughty list.
The appointed gospel text for advent 3 was Matthew 11:1-19. Due to our Christmas schedule, we skipped it and went for Advent 4’s readings. When you are aiming for rejoice, the second John the Baptist lesson just doesn’t fit the bill. So we took it up in Bible Class Sunday and this morning. When I should be wrestling with the Christmas Eve message, I can’t let this one go. It seems so appropriate, yet so against everything the modern American church attempts to say.
It starts out with a question. John the Baptist sits in Herod’s prison and sends a couple of disciples to Jesus with a question. Are you the one, or should we expect another? Most of the commentators in Christian history have attempted to paint a fig leaf on this question. They have typically made comments to the effect the John was just moving his disciples along. He was asking the question and sending them for their benefit. We don’t know, but it doesn’t feel like that to me, especially when we encompass Jesus’ answer.
Jesus’ answer to me is twofold. A yes, look at the miracles. And when concludes the list with “the good news is preached to the poor” that is a textual referent to Isaiah 61:1. But then Jesus appends a “but”. “Blessed in the one who is not offended by me.” Why would someone be offended by Jesus? Especially why would someone sitting in prison who once gave a bold witness to Jesus be offended? Part of Isaiah 61:1 is “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Surely the greatest of the prophets, as Jesus would say the Baptist was/is, would be included there. Jesus, are you going to free me, or not?
The disciples are always asking are you going to establish the Kingdom now? The 5000 fed out in the desert tried to crown Jesus. He was eventually crucified because he claimed to be “the King of the Jews”. Did you come out in the desert to see a reed blown by the wind? No, we don’t need to come out to the desert to find someone who will tell us what we want to hear. Did you come out to find someone in fine clothes? No, if we wanted to see worldly power and authority we’d go to Congress (or K street). We’d get plenty of reeds in the bargain. No we came out to hear the Word. We came out to hear a prophet. And this prophet, this inbreaking of the reign of God is not by power and glory. It does not empty out the prisons, at least not the physical prisons. John, blessed are the ones who are not offended at this humble Kingdom. This Kingdom that only comes hidden. This Kingdom that only frees you of your sins.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent bear it away. The Kingdom comes not in pomp, but as a child in a manger. It comes not at the head of an army, but on a donkey. It comes not by bread and circuses, but by every Word of God. It comes not by authority, although it has that, but through appeal. It comes to the poor, those who know they need it. It comes by grace.
And as with everything that comes by grace, that makes appeals, that feels soft. The violent take it. They took him…to a cross. They took the apostles. They killed the prophets and stoned those sent to them. Do we really think it is different for us? From the time of John the Baptist until now…
The kingdom can come with kind words such as these. It can come with crass words captured here. Doesn’t matter to those who don’t have ears. “We played the flute and you did not dance/We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” From the time of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers, and the violent bear it away. There is just an order to these things. First they will come for the crass, and then for those who can use nice words unless they are quiet. I wonder what my 10 year old self would have thought soon after the miracle on ice if I had told him a Russian president, as Machiavellian as he might be, might understand the place of religion better than an American. (This is not an assertion that it is true, just that in 1984 I would have laughed at the thought – the Godless red commies, today after reading that from Cold-Warrior Pat Buchanan it can’t be laughed away.)
But this is Advent closing in on Christmas. Immanuel did come and did free us from our sins. “Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners.” And he will come in triumph and make all these minor trifles blow away. When the government shall be upon His shoulders (Isa 9:6), and with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked (Isa 11:3-4). And wisdom is justified by her deeds (Matt 11:19)
One of my favorite Christmas Hymns/Carols is one that I discovered only recently. Part of the inheritance from my brother was his massive collection of Christmas CD’s. After digitizing them all I guess I picked up that tradition. This year’s addition was the new Christmas album from the Lower Lights. The new one is much like the one from a couple of years ago and if you like folk-y/acoustic settings of what I call the non-staple carols it is pretty. And you can pat yourself on the back for avoiding one more rendition of “Santa Baby”. Their version of The Holy and The Ivy, a song I never appreciated, has been on repeat recently. But their first Album included a Christmas Hymn that I had never heard that just melts my heart.
The Carol is Stars of Glory . It appears to have found a place in hymnals in around the turn of the last century but then been dropped by newer hymnal committees. I can understand why. It centers around the angels’ anthem which is well represented already by Hark the Herold Angels Sing and Angels We Have Heard on High which are both bright and cheery. And you then go into the second tier or denomination specific such as It Came upon the Midnight Clear or Angels from the Realms of Glory. There really isn’t room for an angel song that is somewhat introspective. We like our angels loud and glorious. But the first verse of Stars of Glory invites us to consider what is of true worth and to whom it is given.
Stars of glory, shine more brightly,
Purer be the moon-light’s beam,
Glide ye hours and moments lightly,
Swiftly down times deepening stream,
Bring the hour that banished sadness,
Brought redemption down to earth,
When the shepherds heard with gladness
Tidings of a Saviour’s birth.
The stars, the angels, as the gospel according to Matthew is fond of using, say “look here”. The hours and moments swell in time’s deepening stream. A stream that can seem to overwhelm us. Yet here is the hour, “look”, here is the moment of true worth.
Technology and the web have been about the stream. Our facebook feeds, our twitter lists, our blog pages and tumblr’s – all of them are newest first scrolling off the page in the endless stream. And the type-A personality is stuck with the FOMO (fear of missing out). Hence all the pictures of 20-somethings staring at their phones. It is all stream and no “look” at this moment. Here is Alex Madrigal in the Atlantic thinking about “the end of the stream”. The technologists are figuring out how to say “look”. He quotes a theory dating from 2010 (ancient!) about the flow and the stock. Which translated into a different language is the income statement/cash flow statement and the balance sheet. The income statement and the cash flow statement are two ways finance takes a snapshot of the flow. The balance sheet is “time’s deepening stream”. It is the stock. Balance sheets are often full of things that someone once said “look” but now we don’t know why. It is just there as a stock and a mystery for those interested. “$200 bequeathed in the name of Someone we might not recognize”.
For some reason God chose to send the angels to shepherds. He said “look, here is a moment not to miss, a moment to ponder and rejoice” in a way that would seem destined not to go viral. I mean how many followers or friends could a few smelly shepherds have? Time rolls on. The stream deepens. But God marked that moment with Shepherds and Angels.
See the shepherds quickly rising,
Hastening to the humble stall,
And the new-born Infant prizing,
As the mighty Lord of all,
Lowly now they bend before Him
In His helpless infant state,
Firmly, faithful they adore Him
And His greatness celebrate,
The lowly, the humble receive the message, from the great. The helpless infant is the mighty Lord of all. The virgin brings Him forth in a stall where he is worshiped. The church is the collection, the stock, the saint of all times and all places, who have “looked”. The flow, started by this child, the alpha of creation, also finds its fulfillment, the omega, in this child. Firmly, faithful they adore Him. Sometimes the flow can overwhelm. But God has sent his angels in strange places saying “look”. And he promises to gather, to keep stock. When we are lost in the stream, God remembers and gathers. The Spirit does not forget time’s deepening stream but guides it along its appointed route.