Monthly Archives: December 2012

Naming Jesus

Luke 2:15-21  After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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Image: Unknown , Ottonian, Regensburg, c. 1030 – 1040

It used to be that when I’d find out that a couple was expecting or preparing to adopt an infant, I’d inquire right away about whether they’d decided on a name. But experience has taught me that it’s a very bad question to ask, especially if you also feel it’s your duty to offer a few suggestions! Parents are generally pretty particular and protective about choosing names. It is often a cause of friction between them, and if the relatives are butting in too, everybody is on edge. It’s not for nothing that many of our given names have little family stories attached to them.

When I was leading small discussion groups, I’d sometimes break the ice with a question about the participants’ names. Why were you named Elizabeth or Paul or Malcolm or Linda? Were you named for a hero or saint, a grandparent, a movie star? Was ‘Tiffany’ or ‘Grant’ a hot name the year you were born? Is your name brand new, invented out of wonderful sounds, like Keeshawn or Tawanda or Juwan? Or is it traditional, biblical, like Ruth or Rachael or Adam?

I, for example, was supposed to be named Janice, after my mother’s mother, Janetta. But the labor was long and my head and shoulders were big, and the pain was great, and my mother — who up till that moment had not been particularly devoted to the Mother of Jesus — was heard to scream, loud enough for everyone in heaven to hear: “Get me out of this and I’ll name her Mary!”

Names matter to us. We try to remember names and get them right. We’re embarrassed when we forget somebody’s name. It bothers us when somebody gets ours wrong, adds an ‘e’ on Ann if there isn’t one, or forgets to add one if there is. We don’t treat our names lightly.

Names have a way of saying: Attention! Human being here. To deny people their personhood, we take their names away. When people are sent to prison, they gets a number; when Jews were sent to camps, they became numbers; when Africans were enslaved, their African names were erased and they were given different ones, left nameless, or called ‘Tom’ or ‘boy.’ To sing, then, as they did, “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name…” was a defiant assertion of human dignity. Jesus knew their names.

If our names don’t feel right, we change them. You know, one minute he was ‘Prince,’ and the next he was ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,’ and then he was a graphic logo. We snicker, but we also understand. In some irreplaceable way, our names do more than identify us: they create us. And the simple utterance of a given name often generates the most intimate intimacies. Recall the scene in the Gospel of John when one of the women who went to anoint the entombed Jesus met a man she thought was the caretaker. She demanded to know where Jesus’ body was. He said, ‘Mary.” And she knew him.

Names elicit real presences. If you doubt the power of a name to evoke a person, go to the Viet Nam Memorial. Watch people trace with their fingers the names cut into the wall as if they were making out the features of a well-loved face in a dark room.

Names, the scriptures tell us, are also important to God. Practically any place you open the Bible, you’ll find God preoccupied with names, naming people, changing their names, explaining their names. This God won’t assign you a number. In fact, God is said to know us before we are even conceived, and that means by name. God, we are told, has inscribed all our names on the palm of the divine hand. In scripture, being called by name is a rich gift—it carries with it implications of belonging and safety and redemption and covenant love and mission and accountability.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that God had a name picked out for Mary and Joseph’s child. When he announced the birth, Gabriel also announced the name, and thus the couple was spared all the intra-family hazards of having to choose one. They never fought over which grandfather to honor, or whether to name him Joseph, Jr., or whether to saddle him with a hip name or an old fashioned one. And when eight days had passed, and the time came for him to be circumcised, they gave him, Luke’s gospel says, the name commanded by the angel before he was conceived in the womb– Jesus, that is, ‘God saves.

Naming their child was an act of obedience, one of a series of obedient responses that marked the odd experience of these parents. This obedience is the only reason Luke mentions the naming ceremony in his gospel (it only merits half a line, after all): he wants to show that neither this child nor the child’s parents are independent agents. They operate faithfully in response to the divine plan for reconciliation. Mary and Joseph name the child Jesus because even though it’s plain that neither of them understands fully what is happening, they believe God has spoken, and that’s enough for them. From the beginning, then, the child whose name means ‘God saves’ is a son of obedience as well as a son of God.

And that never changes. This association of salvation and obedience permeates Jesus’ life. It is a major concern of the evangelists too. You can invoke Jesus’ name again and again, one says, but unless you are also obediently carrying out God’s will, it will do you no good. You can be his mother, the first to call him by name, says another, but unless you are hearing and obeying God’s word of mercy, blood connections and old family stories won’t do you any good either. Even the demons know Jesus’ name, we read, and they easily invoke it; but they are still demons.

Each of us has a different name. But we have a name in common too. We who follow Jesus bear his name together. It is the name God likes to call us, even if it is also the one we find hardest to call ourselves, since we are usually better at knowing ourselves deficient and a cause of God’s disappointment than we are at knowing ourselves holy and a source of God’s delight. And yet by grace the name of Jesus is indeed our best and truest name, the name that delivers us into God’s intimacy. If we hush, hush, we will always hear the Spirit calling it, reminding us of the dignity we possess even when we ignore or squander it. Bearing this name of Jesus self-consciously, purposefully, responsively, will make us children of obedience like he was, so that we will not be children of God in name only.

The name of Jesus belongs first to the baptized, but it is not an exclusive name; it also fits every person who obediently seeks the mystery of God and the community of justice and wholeness that is the will of God. Anyone who has ever participated in depth in inter-faith dialogue or in cross-cultural movements for liberation knows well how much the name of Jesus is revered and ‘adopted’ by people whose religious lives unfold in other traditions, sometimes more so than within the Christian family itself.

The name of Jesus is a precious name. Many a soul has gone trustingly to an awful martyrdom or to a kinder, everyday death with this name on its lips. Many a struggling heart has found that name sweet in times of illness and strong in times of fear. Many courageous, persevering men and women have invoked its righteous beauty in the face of injustice and oppression. We pray privately and communally in that name, assured by scripture that God responds as faithfully to it as Jesus did to God. We sing stirring hymns in church about the glorious name of Jesus, and about how every knee must bend to it.

But we are generally timid about naming Jesus explicitly outside the small circle of our faith communities, and sometimes even inside them. Some of us hesitate to name him to others (and to each other) because we think we don’t believe enough, or believe correctly, or believe at all. Some think it is hypocritical to speak of him if one’s actions do not match in every particular one’s rhetoric. Some of us fear ‘imposing’ his name on others, as if merely speaking of Jesus were coercive or imperialistic. Or we worry that if we invite people to glimpse this cornerstone of our hope, to grasp the reason for our commitment to the world, they will hear in our naming of Jesus only the narrow-mindedness of the ultra-conservative right or the fanaticism of the fundamentalist.

Of course, we can’t help but be acutely aware that in the name of Jesus every imaginable human horror has been and is still being devised and perpetrated. We know all too well what happens when naming Jesus is divorced from obedience to the God whose ways are not our ways. But the solution is not to keep still about him and about the way we know and experience him. If we are silent about Jesus, withholding from the world the reasons for the way we think and live, we concede the field to the demons who happily speak his name in the world, but only in order to lie about him.

In the silence deepened by our reluctance, God only knows what those demons might say—that Jesus prefers white, well-to-do people? That he stands against the violence of the Palestinians, but not that of the Israelis, or vice-versa? That he is satisfied when the state punishes killing with more killing? That he shows his wrath at Western homosexuality by striking millions of heterosexual Africans with AIDS? That he thinks the answer to gun violence is more guns? If we fail to name him as we have come to know him, at the sound of his name named by such demonic voices, knees will bend all right, but it will surely be in loathing, or in ridicule, or in dread.

But what if we were in the world naming him differently? What if we were less timid and more aware of the difference naming him as we know him could make?  What if we encouraged each other to name him, telling stories of how we got this name, telling the world why we think it is a lovely one, why he is ‘God saves,’ and not ‘God condemns,’ why he is worthy of our allegiance. Maybe the more we name him, the more his obedience will live in us, the more his life will be reproduced in us, and the more his compassion will go out from us to the world God loved.

I Christmas: Turn Around and You’re Grown (Luke 2:41-52)

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–The Child Jesus with A Walking Frame, Hieronymous Bosch, 15 c.

I.

n the 1960’s, Kodak ran a commercial during “The Wonderful World of Disney” that became one of the most beloved in the history of advertising. It was a simple photo sequence that captured the progress of a baby from infancy through girlhood, adolescence, young adulthood and marriage, ending with the young woman coming home from the hospital with a baby of her own in her arms.

The pictures were accompanied by a song called, “Turn Around.” Parents everywhere blubbered openly when it played.

Where are you going my little one, little one?

Where are you going, my baby, my own?

Turn around and you’re two,

Turn around and you’re four,

Turn around and you’re a young girl

Going out of the door.

Where are you going my little one, little one?

Little pigtails and petticoats,

Where have you gone?

Turn around and you’re tiny,

Turn around and you’re grown,

Turn around and you’re a young wife

With babes of your own.*

The ad and its soundtrack were impossibly sentimental, but something about them struck a deep chord. Little ones grow up, we all know, and they do it, it seems, when you are distracted for a split second.

Only a week ago it was Christmas. The Babe in the manger hadn’t even opened his eyes. Last week, he wasn’t old enough for strained peas. This week he’s an adolescent. How did we get here so fast? Turn around and he’s born, turn around and he’s grown…

Grown, and something of a prodigy. He’s wowing the teachers in the Temple with precocious questions. He’s a willful kid too, and he’s giving his parents fits. I’m told that Luke uses the same word to describe Mary’s anguished confusion in this episode as he uses to describe the consternation of Dives, the rich man who ends up in hell in the story of the beggar, Lazarus. Luke knew something about the underbelly of parenting, I guess.

In the church I grew up in, we called this Sunday ‘Holy Family Sunday.’ It was a celebration of the ideal family, the one we were supposed to imitate in our own. I could never figure out what was so ideal about them, though. It didn’t seem very ideal to me to misplace your kid in a big crowded public place. And when his careless parents find him,hb_32.100.123 Mary doesn’t seem to remember or much care that Jesus is Somebody Special. She’s as frazzled as any ordinary mother would be and yells at him as if he were a run-of-the-mill pre-teen. Jesus’ reply is curt, even dismissive. This sounded more like my own family, certainly not a holy one.

But the preachers of my youth didn’t seem to notice. They especially played up the last line of the story—He went down with them and was subject to them. ‘Go and do likewise’ was the moral of the story, as far as they were concerned; and every parent in the sanctuary nodded in agreement while we kids slumped in our seats. The Holy Family is a family in which parents are good and caring, and their kids submissively obey them.

–Christ among The Doctors, Cataln, 14th c.

II.

Of course this is Kodak sentimentality passing for Christian instruction. Not only is this not a story about a Holy Family, it’s also not a story about being submissive. It’s a story about the time that comes when one must disobey. It pinpoints the moment when an authentic calling renders human absolutes relative. It’s a story in which we learn that sooner or later choices have to be made that override the obligations even of blood kinship.

Luke shows us this moment in Jesus’ life by playing on the word ‘father’ in the exchange between the boy and his mother. Mary asks, ‘Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching…’ Jesus responds, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ In this moment, Jesus shifts his allegiance from Joseph (‘your father’) to God (‘my Father’). This child is becoming an adult, and we know he’s on his way because he is sorting out competing loyalties; he is negotiating the tensions between ordinary expectations on the small stage of a nuclear family and great aspirations on the larger stage of a ministry to the world; he is making choices and accepting the obligation and pain that comes with a life-claiming, life-shaping call: ‘I must be about God’s work.’

Eventually Jesus will return home with his parents, for the time being, the story says, and ‘obediently.’ And then the gospels are silent about him for the next eighteen years. But the die is cast at twelve. According to Luke, Jesus was born for one purpose only, the common human purpose—to grow up; that is, to achieve an adulthood shaped around chosen priorities. Here Jesus is already clarifying what his will be—only those things pertaining to God’s house and God’s business. The priorities Jesus chooses will lead him to demand a wrenching reordering of everything. We know how that goes: The mighty cast down, the rich sent away empty; the meek inheriting the earth, the last moving into first place, mercy trumping everything else.

Jesus’ commitment to God’s work will also demand a new kind of kinship that persistently condemns the ordinary idolatry of clan and family. His first and final allegiance to God’s house over all other allegiances to every other house – personal, religious, political, national – will eventually mark him for a state execution; and in the meanwhile his own family will be embarrassed, confused, and disheartened by the things he says and the company he keeps.

But all this is in the future. It will come soon enough. In a split second of Marian distraction, he will be fully-grown. In another blink of an eye, he will be dying on a cross. But for this split second now, he is a boy, learning the Law and beginning to walk in the pathway that will be his life.

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

–Christ in the House of His Parents, John Everett Millais, 1849-50

III.

In the Christmas season, I hear many smart, faithful Christians say they don’t believe any longer in the New Testament’s infancy narratives—especially Christ’s miraculous birth from a mother who was also a virgin. As I grow older, I find these ancient stories easier and easier to believe, at least to believe in that way theologians call ‘a second naïvete.’ My problem is not with the divine child in the manger, but with the precocious, willful boy in the Temple who is figuring out that God’s business merits the unswerving dedication of a whole life. As Will Willimon once noted, it is harder to believe in a life ‘unreservedly shaped around the priority of God’ than it is to imagine that a virgin could bear a son. It’s not that hard to embrace the possibility that God came as a human baby if God stays a baby and does not grow up to be a man who is God’s alone, and does not demand that we choose to be God’s too.

Former UCC General Minister and President, John Thomas, tells this story:

“Bethlehem, Pa., was named by its Moravian founders after their first communion service was held on Christmas Eve. Today ‘the Christmas City’ offers a delightful array of Moravian Christmas traditions [to the public] every year… [Annually], a Nativity scene is erected on the plaza between the library and city hall, dominated by a huge lighted star on the mountain overlooking the Lehigh River to the south.”

One year, John continues, while he was serving a church in nearby Easton, “the newspaper reported that the figure of Jesus had been stolen. Jesus was eventually located… where the vandals had left him and, to avoid a recurrence, the city mothers and fathers bolted him to the manger after they returned him to the plaza.”

Most of us, as John comments, are “happy to keep Jesus bolted to his manger.” Who wants him grown up and walking around, “meddling in the greed that denies children health care, or a decent home, or a safe school? Who wants him challenging our easy resort to violence as the only way to personal and global security? Who wants him asking us awkward questions about why we treat the creation as little more than a convenience store filled with raw materials to satisfy our endless desire? Who wants him holding up a mirror to the deceits and betrayals of our personal lives? Better to keep him bolted [to] that manger.” (2)

Yes, indeed. We hate to see the Infant Jesus grow up so fast. He’s such a pretty little baby. We want to savor the Kodak moment forever. But it’s not just because he’s so sweet and cuddly that we hate to see him outgrow his crib. It’s also because deep sown we know that when the infant becomes a boy, and the boy becomes a man, we will be asked to grow up too.

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*“Turn Around,” by Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene, and Malvina Reynolds

And Love Is Everything: A Newtown Carol

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1.

Sweet on the breeze of angels,

songs in the night ring clear:

Heaven to earth is singing

anthems of peace and cheer.

Unbrightened, in reply

poor earth sends up its groaning:

Peace is an orphan here.

2.

Swift on a path of longing,

roused by the angel song,

shepherds run to the stable;

hope makes their going strong.

The manger cold and still

meets eagerness with anguish:

Here hope is killed by wrong.

3.

Brighter than sun and planets,

sign of the ancient vow,

Star of the East is shining,

even the wise men bow;

but shadowed hearts in mourning

see only rays of darkness:

No light shines on us now.

4.

Close by the cradle, Mary

bravely the secret sings:

Love is a sea of sorrow,

love is a broken wing;

love has no guns, no forces,

love cannot win a battle:

And love is everything.

It’s O and O and O: A Carol for O Antiphon Week

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O, O, said God, when at one word

the day burst forth from night:

O light, O lovely, God declared,

astounded by the sight.

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O, O, cried Mary in alarm

when God begged her assent:

O mystery, O yes, she said,

unknowing what it meant.

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O, O, a swimming Peter said

when Christ called through the mist:

O You, O Lord, his heart confessed,

unable to resist.

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O, O, the longing church has sighed

through all things ill and well:

O Day, O Mystery, O Lord,

O come, Emmanuel!

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And when our healing comes at last

we’ll hear a word we know;

for heaven makes but one sweet sound:

it’s O and O and O!

*****

Note: May be sung to Brother James’ Air by repeating last two lines in each stanza.

O Antiphon: Clavis David

20 Dec O Clavis David

O Key of David,

and scepter of the house of Israel,

you open and no one can close,

you close and no one can open:

Come and rescue prisoners

who are seated in darkness,

and the shadow of death.

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If you’ve ever spent any time in a prison in the United States, you will not read this antiphon as a universal desire for Christ to come and break down barriers and walls and liberate us all from the things that keep us bound.

If you’ve been in prison, on one side of the bars or the other, you will not gentle-down or spiritualize this plea. In a country where locking the cell door and throwing away the key is a national pastime, to reduce this antiphon’s desperation to the longings of our inner selves or for generic freedom is an evasion worthy of divine reproach.

The church that utters this cry from the most desolate regions of its soul knows about real prisoners in real prisons. It has languished in them itself, after all. One powerful strand of its history is nothing less than the history of outlaws and jailbirds.

This church knows that prisoners don’t need kindness or pity or understanding or even better conditions, although all that would be good. What they need is rescuing.

Rescuing from their own brokenness and despair and anger and violent impulses and whatever else it was that got them locked up in the first place.

Rescuing from the zealotry and self-righteousness and racism and unreasoning fear and inequality of our justice and penal systems.

Rescuing from the bloodlust of too many citizens who think prison is too good for prisoners, that they should be tormented, strung up, flayed alive, disappeared forever in some horrible way, not allowed to live, and even to live it up (they believe), in country clubs, while the law-abiding pick up the tab.

Rescuing from the willful aversion of the eye that never sees the fact that many prisoners are getting exactly what the bloodthirsty among us want them to get: torment, a living and indescribable hell.

Rescuing from the ordinary relief of citizens like you and me who, thanks to all those who are willing to throw away the keys, can go about our business, most of the time, without giving any of this nasty, vexing, implacable problem a single serious thought.

None of this is to deny that many prisoners are dangerous, implacably bent on harm, perhaps even irredeemable insofar as social rehabilitation is concerned. It is not to say that we should breezily unlock every cell, let everyone go, and inflict their harm on the law-abiding. It is not to forget victims of crime and their families, whose own sentences are indescribably unjust, life without parole.

No, this is not to romanticize prisoners. It is to dare to name them kin and children of God, as Jesus commanded, and to acknowledge that the darkness and the shadows of death in which they sit is not only of their own making but also of ours, and that we deepen the darkness and thicken the shadows by our forgetting them. By our being glad we can forget them. By our rarely, if ever, praying with tears for them. By our throwing away the key and going about our lives loving other neighbors and even other enemies, but not these. Anyone but these.

We refuse to know, or care very much, because we are implicated; implicated not because we played a role in their incarceration, although honest analysis might show that we all do; but because whether we like it or not, we share a human life and the human lot. If what prisoners need is to be rescued, then so do we. As they are rotting away in jail, so are we.

Which is the point: In the end, the antiphon is about our spiritual condition. We who live outside prisons are not free unless, paradoxically, we are making decisive moves to get ourselves locked up in prisons alongside real prisoners— locked up spiritually or physically, it doesn’t matter, as long as it is a real incarceration of mind, body, soul; as long as it ends up that we cannot even breathe while things are still as they are in this nation, and this world; as long as we learn how desperately urgent it is that someone with incontestable authority (for that is what the antiphon means by opening and shutting) should come, and come soon, to rescue us all from this madness.

Rescue won’t happen from a distance. The unlocking we beg for in the antiphon is not remote control unlocking, much less a spiritualized unlocking of good thoughts and wishful thinking. It is an unlocking by proximity, by a human hand.

And not just any human hand. The key in the lock is turned by a wounded hand, the hand of an arrested, judged, flayed, gashed, and humiliated man, a death row prisoner, a dead man walking. If anyone has the authority to wield that key, he does. And by extension, we who claim to have died with him do too.

We have the authority. We have the key. But it can’t be done from afar. At least some of us have to go. If the gospel is to have any credibility at all, key in hand, at least some of us have to go.

Housekeys: The Flight Into Egypt

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Eastman Johnson,  A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves (c. 1862)

Matthew 2:13-22

Unlike Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth, Matthew’s has no journey home to be counted, no overbooked inns, no shepherds, no manger, no swaddling clothes. Instead, Matthew has Joseph and Mary already living in a house in Bethlehem, their own house, presumably; and it is there that the Magi visit the child Jesus and give him gifts.

After the Magi leave, an angel warns Joseph in a dream that Herod is coming after the Child. The tyrant is prepared to slaughter many children to be sure he’s rid of one. Joseph should take his family and run for it, the angel says; cross into Egypt. Stay there until the tyrant dies.

Here’s what I wonder…

After he woke up, and while he was still shaking from the dream, and after they had packed a few things and saddled up the donkey, did Joseph take the key to the front door of his house in Bethlehem, string it on a rawhide cord, and tie the cord around his neck?

Or did he give the key to Mary after he boosted her onto the beast, handing up the child first, and then the key? Did she tuck it in the travel bag underneath the diapers and the talcum powder and the brand new copy of Goodnight Moon?

At the end of their street, did Joseph stop and turn around? Did he look back at the house they had just abandoned, one ear cocked for the hot breath of the horses, the other for the boots of bloody soldiers, conscripts most of them, kids, just following orders?

Did he find it surreal that he, a terrified man fleeing with his family, was also, in that very moment, wishing he’d gotten around to fixing the creaking tread on the stairs, the one Mary said would come right up some day and trip her, sending her headlong down the narrow flight? Did he say to her with his eyes, “Hold onto that key. Don’t lose it. I’ll fix the stairs, really I will. As soon as we get back…”

And when they made it over the border and found a place that rented to people without papers, did he wrap the key in a cotton cloth and place it in an olive wood box with leather hinges and a brass latch, and place it in a niche in the wall, and cover the niche with an old calendar from a company selling insurance?

And on days when no one would give him work, or during the night when Mary was out cleaning offices, or that first time he realized that his toddler couldn’t remember anything about home and was acquiring an Egyptian accent, did he take the key from its niche behind the calendar and lay it on his palm and rock over it, singing songs of Zion in a foreign land? Did he dream at night of return? Or did the good St Joseph drink himself into a stupor over what was lost? Did he buy too many lottery tickets? Did he take out his rage on the furniture?

And when the news finally came that Herod was dead and they could go back home, did he take the key from the box, knot it back on the cord, and tie the cord around his neck? Or give it to Mary to put in her bag, this time tucking it into one of the little boy’s sneakers so that it would be easy to find if they got to their door very late on a moonless night?

And when they crossed the border again and discovered that the danger had not passed—because for the refugee, the exile, the poor, the person with the wrong race, the wrong religion, the wrong opinion, the wrong sexuality, the danger never passes—and Joseph decided not to go to Bethlehem where they had a house with a door that the housekey fit, but to settle up in the Galilee, what, I wonder, became of that key?

What did he do with a key that was useless in a new lock in a new house, a key that opened no doors in Nazareth? What became of the key that worked only in the lock of the front door of the little house in the little town of Bethlehem?

Here’s what else I wonder:

Whose necks do such keys hang from now? In whose bags packed for a midnight dash to the border are they tucked away underneath the baby’s shirts and the sippy cup that quacks like a duck when you squeeze it? In whose small boxes are those keys resting? Who is rocking on tired knees singing songs of home over them, like lullabies to a baby, or anthems to a flag, or offerings to a god?

And what traumas are being inflicted, what grievances are being nursed, what resentments are building, what terrors contemplated, what weapons amassed in the name of keys and locks and doors and houses and memories and dreams and towns and lands and borders and nations?

How will it end, this Christmas story? For this cold hard story is as much the story of Christmas as the one about lowing cattle and awestruck rustic men. How will it unfold, and how will it end, this story of Jesus, barely begun?

And is there an angel lingering over earth fierce enough to rouse us from our deep and heedless sleep? Is there any message frightening enough to alert us to the danger we’re in? Is there any light from heaven bright enough to show us this old story as our neighbor’s story, and as our own?

A Communion Service for Christmas Day

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Prelude

Greeting

*Carol On This Day Earth Shall Ring         

*Lighting the Christmas Candle

Lift up your heads; the day of peace is here!

God has visited us with healing!

All the ends of the earth can see it,

And the distant coastlands rejoice!     

The Christmas candle is lit.

The light of Christ!

Thanks be to God!

*Praise

[A traditional Gloria may also be sung, chanted, recited here.]

Come, let us praise our God!

Glory to God in the highest,

and peace to God’s people on earth!

We worship you, we give you thanks,

we praise you for your glory! 

Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Child,

you take away the world’s sin!

Have mercy on us! 

Lamb of God, you sit at God’s right hand!

Receive our prayer!

For you are the Healer and the Holy One,

the world’s hope and the heart’s desire.

You preside in love forever, with the Holy Spirit,

in the glory of God, the Sovereign. Amen.

 

Reading      Isaiah 52:7-10

*Carol   Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light          

Reading     Luke 2:1-20

*Carol   O Come, All Ye Faithful

Shared Reflection [or Homily]

Response

[Short sung refrain, carol, or a recited statement of faith.]

Silence

[A few moments of reflection, could be undergirded by instrumental music.]

Prayers for the Church and World

[Congregational response:  Lord, hear our prayer!]

In peace, let us pray to the Lord for the church and the world:

That the heart of the world might rejoice today

at the birth of a merciful savior, let us pray to the Lord…

That the works of justice may capture every human heart

and lead to peace, let us pray to the Lord…

For an end to war and all violence,

that all people may live in hope and safety,

so that free of fear we may build a new tomorrow, let us pray to the Lord…

For the health of the earth, and the integrity of all creation, let us pray to the Lord…

For the sick, the troubled, the sorrowing and the dying,

that they may know the comfort of God’s mercy, let us pray to the Lord…

For our enemies and for all who have done us harm,

and for all whom we have harmed, let us pray to the Lord…

For the church throughout the world, that we may love God,

God’s world, and one another; welcome and serve all people,

and show forth the mercy of our Savior, let us pray to the Lord…

And now, in the words our Savior gave us, we are bold to say:

Our Father…

*Carol Angels We Have Heard On High 

Holy Communion

*All who are able may rise.

The newborn Child be with you!

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts!

We lift them joyfully to God.

Let us give thanks to God, our God!

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

We are right to praise you, Maker of heaven and earth,

for you have always loved us.

Even when we strayed like sheep, you loved us.

You planted hope within us and sent messengers

to keep that hope alive,even in the worst of times.

At last, in the fullness of time,

in the stillest night, you sent us our healer.

Born on life’s margin, he was one of us,

full of our joy and subject to our frailty,

our brother and your delight.

He welcomed everyone who was unwelcome elsewhere.

He kept faith with you, even when it cost him his life.

You vindicated him, and he lives, our healer still.

From his fullness we all receive mercy after mercy, grace after grace.

Therefore, most wonderful God, with the Christmas angels

and the faithful of every time and place, we praise you, saying [singing]:

*Sanctus

[A traditional Sanctus may be sung, or a Gloria in excelsis Deo refrain from a popular carol may substitute.]

Holy, Holy, Holy God, Lord of heaven and earth!

The cosmos shows us your glory!

Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is the Child who comes in your name.

Hosanna in the highest!

Remembering

You may be seated.

[These remembrances may be interspersed with an alleluia refrain or the refrain of a familiar carol.]

Now we remember the Garden, Adam and Eve and God’s footsteps.

We remember that long ago we sinned and were left without a home.

We remember Abraham, and Sarah, Moses, the sea, the desert.

We remember the manna, and water from the rock.

We remember the prophets, the longing, the promise.

[Refrain]

We remember an angel interrupting a young woman’s day.

And we remember Joseph’s dream.

We remember a hard journey, inns with no room.

We remember poor things –a manger, a child, some straw. 

We remember the cold, the shepherds, the night.

[Refrain]

We remember midnight glory, God in human face outshining.

We remember Jesus.

He came to us then.

He is with us still – we are not alone.

[Refrain]

And when he was all grown up,

in the middle of another night when the end was near

and betrayal was in the air, he shone all the brighter with love for his friends.

He ate with them, taking bread, the staff of life.

He gave thanks to God for it, called it his body, and shared it all around.

He drank with them, too, taking a cup and blessing it,

pouring it out like life-blood for the forgiveness of sins.

He said to them: Whenever you do this, remember me.

Calling on the Holy Spirit

Send your Spirit upon these gifts, O God –

fruit of the earth and work of human hands!

May they be for us life-giving food and drink.

As we share in their goodness, give us love for each other

and make us willing servants of your justice in the world.

Sharing Bread and Cup

Meditation in Music

[During or after communion. Could be choir, piano, organ, or whatever you have!]     

*Thanksgiving

All may rise.

Let us give thanks for all we have received.

We thank you, O God,

for making yourself known to us in the human life of Jesus.

Keep us always in the joy of this Christmas Day,

like Mary and Joseph, like angels and shepherds –

servants of your love and bearers of your grace.

Glory be to you in the church and in all creation,

now and forever. Amen.

*Carol                                              Joy to the World!

*Benediction

Beloved, do not be afraid! Today a Child is born to us.

God is alive among us, closer to us than our own hearts.

God will never leave us or lose us.

Unfailing love will always save us,

and the blessing of God is forever upon us,

Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

*A Sign of Christmas Joy, and Sending

Now offer each other a sign of Christmas joy, and go in peace!