Welcome to the Christmas Eve service from St. Andrew’s Presybterian Church, Cobourg. We hope that you find this service uplifting as we celebrate the birth of Christ and all the anticipation that comes with it.
Scripture: Luke 2: 1-20
Christmas Eve Advent Living Room
Christmas Eve Worship Service
Here we are, again, waiting for the birth of the Christ child. For God to arrive, not robed in majesty, but with the cry of a baby. For God to come and dwell with us, sharing in our joy and sorrow, our laughter and pain. What kind of God does this?
The story is old and well told. It’s movements from manger, to field of shepherds and back again is familiar. We delight in the angels, we celebrate the wonder experienced by the shepherds. Each year within this story we find our own place. A story about peace, love, grace, hope and joy, about the infinite possibilities that are ours and children of God.
The birth of Jesus is meant to amaze us, it should amaze us. God comes to dwell with us!
Richard Rohr writes, “Christianity’s true and unique story line has always been incarnation. That means that the spirit nature of reality (the spiritual, the immaterial, the formless) and the material nature of reality (the physical, that which we can see and touch) are one. They have always been one, ever since the Big Bang took place 13.7 billion years ago. The incarnation did not just happen when Jesus was born, although that is when we became aware of the human incarnation of God in Jesus.” (Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation).
There is mystery here, the story has become so familiar that we may not see it, but there is mystery here and it is coupled with divine wonder.
We know the story well. We know what it tells us and in light of that and the extraordinary time that we find ourselves in, perhaps the question we can now ask is what does the story not tell us? What information is missing from the story that we might ask?
- Why did Caesar Augusts order a census?
- Why no room at the inn? Was it really an inn or a family home?
- Why were the shepherds terrified of the angels?
- In a big, bustling city, overflowing with people how did the shepherds find the family?
The question I have is: Who is Jesus saving? All people as the shepherds are told or those who God favours? It seems like an us versus them argument, an inclusive versus exclusive way of looking at the world. Until that is, you remember that God created all people in God’s image. Certainly, that must tell us that God favours all people. That the message isn’t one of inclusivity, but of universal acceptance and love.
I think that is an important message to hear at this time. As I write this the provincial government has just announced that the province will go into lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. This will be a difficult thing to do during this time of year when the days are shorter and when many are accustomed to travelling and visiting with family. It is difficult to close ourselves off from others at a time of year when we wish to celebrate and share the good news of God’s overwhelming love. In light of Covid-19, the restrictions it has placed on us and the anxiety it produces it can be difficult to trust in the promises of God.
Just what does it mean to trust in the promises of God? Does God have a plan for every moment of your life, for every single thing that happens? If we believe that, then we believe that God is the cause of cancers, early deaths and other tragedies, that God caused Covid-19 to happen. However, when I look at scripture I don’t believe that is what we see embodied in Jesus. In short, believing that God causes all this misfortune and tragedy is formed out of a poor theology or understanding of God.
Instead, I believe God has a plan for creation. That plan involves wholeness, goodness, mutual love and respect for each other and the world. Through this plan God invites us into a partnership that is demonstrated through the life of Jesus.
God doesn’t want us to suffer, which is why God through Christ takes that suffering on the cross.
God doesn’t seek disputes among us, which is why Christ encouraged us to share what we have.
God doesn’t want disparity between people, which is why Christ indicates that the last will be first in order to demonstrate how the poor, the ill and the isolated should be treated.
Through Jesus, God invites us into a way of life. The earliest followers of Jesus were known as ‘Followers of the Way.’ It is less about a highly dogmatized belief system and more about an understanding of our purpose in bringing about an equitable society for all people, something we call the Kingdom of God.
This is what God is inviting us to participate in through the birth of Jesus. Jesus is not a Plan B for creation, Jesus has always been present. As Richard Rohr mentioned, it is through the nativity that we become aware of Jesus. But Jesus was always present, right back to when the universe was formed. Jesus is part of the cosmic Word that brought creation forth. Our task is to follow in that way of loving and being that Jesus demonstrated.
The birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus breaks the status quo on the way life was perceived.
Mary, a young woman says yes to God and this shatters the status quo. God didn’t go to the high priests to bring about the message of how the kingdom should be lived. God brought this message to a young woman and asked her to give birth to and raise the one who would. Mary knew her purpose before Jesus was born. That through her love, leadership and faith Jesus would find his roots.
Throughout his ministry it is in ordinary moments that Jesus teaches and heals. On the mountainside with friends, gathered in a home for a meal, this is when Jesus comes to us with clarity and demonstrates how we are supposed to live with one another. That it isn’t about rules and laws, but a way of being and living with one another that is based on dignity, consent and love.
The miracle of Christmas isn’t that God came to dwell with us. The miracle is that enough of us listened, enough of us heard the voices of the angels, were amazed by what we saw, empowered like Mary by what was asked of us that we followed in the Way of Jesus. That what started out as a small counter-cultural movement spread across the world.
The miracle of Christmas is that we still gather to hear this story and reflect on how it impacts our lives. The miracle of Christmas is that we hear the call of the gospel, that we answer with open and willing hearts. The miracle of Christmas is that we still choose to follow in the way of Jesus. The miracle of Christmas is that we believe in hope, peace, joy and love as ideals worth sharing and celebrating with all people.
We hope for a better world modeled on the values of the kingdom of God.
For peace between all people and all nations.
That joy would ring out in our voices as we proclaim the good news.
That love would be the central tenet in all that we do.
The miracle of Christmas is that these things have always had value, they have always mattered to God and that we too say that the matter and are values worth sharing. God doesn’t send Jesus so that God can be with us, God has always been with us. God sends Jesus so that we can be with God. Jesus is God’s way of saying I get it, I know how hard this life can be, but I get it and it can be better. Work with me, make it better.
That we say yes to this invitation, that is the miracle of Christmas.
What kind of God sends the son to dwell and live among us? A God who loves us and our embracing that love is the miracle of Christmas. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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