But Christ can see

File:Bonfeld - Evangelische Kirche - Kanzelwand und Weihnachtsbaum 2015 - 1.jpg

Christmas Eve

I tried to stand well away from the altar, tonight, as I said the Eucharistic Prayer – the prayer that surrounds the words of institution (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) for communion. Yesterday I was knocked down by a terrible cold and I didn’t want to touch the bread or get near to anyone lest I pass on my germs. So the assisting minister held the bread aloft at the proper moment, then the wine, then broke them for the distribution and served the bread for me.

I missed this opportunity to serve the community the gifts – or to share the peace before we come to the table – or to shake their hand and greet them after the service. I have been here 15 years, now, and there are people who come faithfully at Christmas. There are young people who have grown up and moved away but are back for the holiday. There are grandchildren and visiting aunts and uncles and siblings I have met through the years. It is hard to stand apart and wave at them from a distance after the service.

There is something wonderful about the power of this night to gather people together. Something warm and enduring about the ties that stretch over time. Something mystical about the power of this story of the child of Bethlehem and the beauty of a darkened room with the Christmas trees shining and every hand holding high a lighted candle as we sing of a silent and holy night. It speaks of peace, a peace that we remember, a peace we can imagine, a peace for which we hope.

It is our answer to the torchlight march last August in Charlottesville. It is our prayer for a world where too much is vile and violent. It is our yearning for what the world could be.

And it is our confession of what the world shall be. The babe of Bethlehem, the man from Nazareth, the healer and teacher, the embodiment of mercy and life, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the world, the crucified one is risen and comes to breathe his spirit upon us. He comes to touch us with grace and life. He comes to heal and renew the world. He comes to gather us to one table. He comes to reconcile heaven and earth.

Not everyone who comes to sing “Silent Night” can see all the way to Good Friday and Easter, to Pentecost and the New Jerusalem. But Christ can see. And the Spirit leads. And the song is begun.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABonfeld_-_Evangelische_Kirche_-_Kanzelwand_und_Weihnachtsbaum_2015_-_1.jpg By Roman Eisele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It will all be good

File:Martin Schongauer 002.jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. It was because of such an accident of the calendar that many years ago my parish first created its Christmas Day service. The service was so nice we decided to continue the practice. I know it goes against the cultural tide, but we found it to be wonderful.

It’s not a big service. We gather early in the entryway with hot cider and cookies. We begin at the sanctuary doors with the Christmas proclamation and enter together following the cross and Bible. I don’t preach a sermon, but look for a children’s book to use as the message of the day. The service feels more like a family devotion than the big production of Christmas Eve. It meets a need for those whose big family celebrations are on Christmas Eve (and wouldn’t include worship). And since we are the only church around with a Christmas Day service, we get an interesting assortment of visitors.

And for my own family, for the girls and me this service never seemed like an intrusion into our Christmas. Because of the reading of a children’s story I wasn’t stressed about a sermon, and so our Christmas morning was juice and coffee bread as we opened stockings and started on presents. When it was time, we went to church for the cider and cookies and the worship service. Then it was home again for the remaining presents and the preparations for Christmas dinner. It seemed right and natural to put worship in the middle of Christmas morning. We sang the carols and listened to the scriptures and shared the bread and lingered again over the cider. It anchored all that we did in “the true meaning of Christmas.”

So we will have the big, high-energy service on Christmas Eve with choirs and special musicians and the excitement that a full house and lots of children brings – ending with the traditional passing of the light and singing Silent Night by candlelight. But then there will be that simple, pleasant, morning service filled with kindness, quiet and wonder.

And it will all be good.

The Prayer for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2016

Holy God, eternal light,
source and goal of all creation:
in the wonder of this night,
you came to us in the child of Bethlehem,
seeking your lost and wounded world,
granting light for our darkness,
hope amidst doubt,
joy amidst sorrow.
Let your grace shine upon us
that we may receive you with open hearts
and know the fullness of your presence;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – the prophet promises the end of war and the birth of a royal son in whom will come peace.

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”
–We were slaves to our passions but have been freed in Christ by his mercy.

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” – Into the world of Roman dominion and power, a new Lord is born.

The Prayer for Christmas Day, December 25, 2016

Almighty and ever-living God,
in the mystery of the incarnation
you have entered into the fabric of our world
to find what is lost,
to gather what is scattered,
to unite what is broken,
to illumine what is darkened,
to heal what is wounded,
to bring to life what is bound in death.
Grant us wisdom, courage and faith
to receive your Son as he comes to us as your Word made flesh:
child of Bethlehem;
prophet and teacher of Nazareth;
crucified and risen Lord;
Immanuel, God with us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for Christmas Day, December 25, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-12
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” – Like grain sown into the soil, God’s promise will bear fruit: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
– The opening of the book of Hebrews proclaiming the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: John 1:1-14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John’s Gospel begins with a rich and wondrous hymn that identifies Christ Jesus with God’s word in whom all things are created.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMartin_Schongauer_002.jpg Martin Schongauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Truly magical

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Watching for the light of the new morn

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are wonderful and magical moments – even though there are no children or family around my tree. As a cultural celebration, I am one of those who finds this season difficult. But as a worship service, I find this night and this morning exquisitely wonderful. They speak to me more profoundly even than the wonderful drama of Holy Week. For this is about the mystery of the God who comes to us. Its focus is not God’s suffering love or life-giving power. It’s not the world’s rejection of Jesus and God’s stunning vindication of all that he said and did. This is about God becoming one of us, of God crossing the great divide between heaven and earth and showing up on our doorstep, in all our human vulnerability and frailty. He is helpless in Mary’s arms. There is no magic that can wave his arms and make their home warm and bright. There is no magic that carries away the stench of the sheep or shepherds. There is no magic that keeps him from soiling whatever was the ancient equivalent of diapers and crying for relief. There is no magic that keeps him from hunger. He is as we are.

God is not a palace god; he is a god of the peasant home. God is not a god of Greenwich, Connecticut or Bethesda, Maryland, he is a god of Baltimore and Ferguson. God is not a god of success and prosperity, but a god who comes to dwell in my living room, with my clutter and torn couch and worn carpet.

God is a god of the peasant home, the god of the exiles far from home, the god of the slaves in Egypt without a home. God is a god of the leper calling out “unclean”. God is a god of the despised Zacchaeus in the tree. God is a god of blind Bartimaeus crying out for mercy. God is the god of the Syrophoenician woman asking only for crumbs. God is a god of the woman at the well shunned by her town. God is a god of the man at the pool of Bethesda with no one to help him get healed.

God is a god of Kobani, and the homeless camps. He sits with the parents of Alan Kurdi. He works as a nurse in the underground bunkers dug in Syria for hospitals. He picks up refuse among the untouchables in India. He huddles with those beneath the overpass on a bed of cardboard.

God makes his home among us, in the places we live, in the places we hurt, in the places of which we are ashamed. He can dwell there because he comes as one of us. Because he throws no stones.

God makes himself flesh and, by doing so, he makes all flesh holy. He makes all createdness sacred. We are capable of bearing the infinite. We are worthy of the divine. To use the metaphor of the Biblical story, as God walked with Adam and Eve in the dawn of creation, he walks with us again. This is not just about the birth of a child; the whole world is reborn.

This is a great and wondrous mystery. I have trouble holding on to it in the press and sorrows of daily life. But every year this day comes and we light the candles in the dark and sing Silent Night and tell the story of the manger and the angel choir singing to shepherds. In the morning we read how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And it is truly magical.

The Prayer for December 24, 2015

Holy God, eternal light,
source and goal of all creation:
in the wonder of this night,
you came to us in the child of Bethlehem,
seeking your lost and wounded world,
granting light for our darkness,
hope amidst doubt,
joy amidst sorrow.
Let your grace shine upon us
that we may receive you with open hearts
and know the fullness of your presence;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 24, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – the prophet promises the end of war and the birth of a royal son in whom will come peace.

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”
–We were slaves to our passions but have been freed in Christ by his mercy.

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” – Into the world of Roman dominion and power, a new Lord is born.

The Prayer for December 25, 2015

Almighty and ever-living God,
in the mystery of the incarnation
you have entered into the fabric of our world
to find what is lost,
to gather what is scattered,
to unite what is broken,
to illumine what is darkened,
to heal what is wounded,
to bring to life what is bound in death.
Grant us wisdom, courage and faith
to receive your Son as he comes to us as your Word made flesh:
child of Bethlehem;
prophet and teacher of Nazareth;
crucified and risen Lord;
Immanuel, God with us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 25, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-12
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” – Like grain sown into the soil, God’s promise will bear fruit: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
– The opening of the book of Hebrews proclaiming the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: John 1:1-14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John’s Gospel begins with a rich and wondrous hymn that identifies Christ Jesus with God’s word in whom all things are created.