Service for Christmas Day
The Rev’d Susan Henderson
Opening Music: In Dulce Jubilo, by Mike Oldfield
Good morning and a very happy Christmas to you all today. My name is Susan Henderson, and I am the minister of the Inverclyde Churches of Greenock East, Greenock West, and Port Glasgow United Reformed Church, in the west of Scotland.
As we take a moment from all the excitement of opening presents and cooking our special Christmas meal, let us remember the shepherds who first heard the good news of the birth of our Lord as we think about how we too can share this good news.
Call to Worship
Hark, hark, the wise eternal word, like a weak infant cries! In form of servant is the Lord, and God in cradle lies, come let us adore Him!
Hymn O Come All Ye Faithful
Latin, 18th century, possibly by John Francis Wade (c.1711-1786) and others
O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye,
O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him,
born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.
2 God of God, Light of light,
Lo! he abhors not
the Virgin’s womb;
begotten, not created;
3: Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens
of heaven above,
‘Glory to God in the highest’:
4 Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing:
Lord, our God, on this happy morning we acknowledge once again
that you gave yourself completely to the world.
In the bleakness of that stable, impoverished and bare as it was
love was born that day; pure love—rich in blessing and abundant in hope.
Yours, was a love poured out for all; surprising to some, unsurprising to others for your ancient story had revealed already how much you loved the world if only we had been prepared to see it.
This gift of love deserves a response:
a response in the form of the life that we lead,
a response not just for today,
not just in the words of celebration and greeting that we exchange,
but each and every day through our actions,
as we show you and our neighbour how much we care.
Merciful God, forgive us that we are often ungratefulness
for all you have done;
forgive our slowness and fickleness
to see the love that you poured out for us all;
forgive us when we do not remember that you
came to be with us through all our happiness and our sadness.
Draw us to your Word today,
and the promise of the love that is found within it.
Jump-start our hearts and give us a new song to sing
that will spread throughout this world:
a song of peace and goodwill to all humanity;
a song of acceptance and justice for all.
Today is a gift for sharing; may it, and its promise of love, be shared far and wide. Hear us now as we say the prayer that Your Son taught us:
Nobody ever pays any attention to us shepherds! They ignore our hardships, don’t care about the dangers we face, have no sympathy about our long hours or sleepless nights.
The only time they notice us is to blame us when one of their little lambs die, or get killed or lost!
Then we are noticed and treated with contempt. They dock our wages and rage at us, treat us like dirt, make comments about our personal hygiene or just make a fool of us and say we are ‘simple’ folk, with no skills or compassion or loyalty.
We are invisible people, although society cannot do without us, the farmers cannot do without us, the priests cannot do with us. The people cannot do without us, because we raise their sheep for market, for sacrifice, for food.
We are people with families, people who worry about our animals and always seek the best for them: searching for pasture and fresh water
and building pens to keep them safe from the danger of other animals.
We are human beings, made in God’s image like you and recognised by God in countless stories. Like the rest of society there are good and bad shepherds, just like there are good and bad soldiers, and priests, and judges, and potters.
Yet out of all those people and out of all the kings and queens and lords and ladies and holy people in our land God once more made us a part of his story.
An angel appeared to us last night; not in a dream nor a holy reading, but standing amongst us in the field, around our campfire, and said; “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people:
to you is born this day in the city of David, a saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
I had no fear. I was filled with joy, hope and life. It was the most awesome the most amazing, the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. God’s holy messenger speaking to me,
an ordinary shepherd! Then the Angel said: “This will be a sign to you;
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Then the whole sky lit up, dazzling, stunning, amazing, brightness, a heavenly choir of angels, praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among those whom he favours!”
So we did what we had to do. We made the sheep safe and secure and set off to Bethlehem to see for ourselves, and it was just like the angel said: the child was wrapped in a cloth, lying in a cattle trough, with his parents Mary and Joseph at his side.
God had come down our street, to our community and we told everybody about it! Yet, I wonder how many of them believed it?
Hymn Come and Join the Celebration
Valerie Collison (b.1933) © Hye-Fye Music Ltd
Come and join the celebration, it’s a very special day;
come and share our jubilation, there’s a new King born today!
1 See the shepherds
hurry down to Bethlehem;
gaze in wonder
at the Son of God
who lay before them.
2 Wise men journey,
led to worship by a star,
kneel in homage,
bringing precious gifts
from lands afar.
3: ‘God is with us’, round the world the message sing;
he is with us, ‘Welcome!’ all the bells on earth are pealing.
Father of our Christ-child,
You give to us through this word Your Son.
May the hearing of Your word bring us closer to You,
closer to knowing what You require of each of us
in this world today. Amen.
Reading: Luke 2: 1-20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock, and our redeemer. Amen
For me, there is nothing nicer than hearing the good news of a baby’s arrival. The months of waiting, of being excited, of worry that all will be well are over and a new set of excitement and worry begins, especially if it is a family member.
We live in a social media world where announcements are made, often minutes after the birth. And even before that we sometimes know what the happy couple are having through ‘gender reveal’ videos. There is even more panic that with all this technology the parent, or parents will not be the first to tell the world of this good news. Posts are uploaded onto social media beforehand asking that no-one tells when the mother has gone into labour or when the baby has been born before the parents have the chance to do this. Also, who gets to hear the good news first, and who gets to visit first can often cause friction in a family.
But Mary knew that she was having a boy, an angel of the Lord had told her that she would give birth to a son, and that she would call him Jesus. That he would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High.
And so, as Mary wrapped her new-born baby in bands of cloth and laid him in his makeshift bed, the good news, in Luke’s account, was first made to the shepherds, who were watching their sheep in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. The ‘social media’ announcement of its day was made by an Angel of the Lord.
For Luke, this announcement to the shepherds was very important. The good news of the birth of our Saviour, our Messiah was not given to the High Priests, the Pharisees, or the Scribes but to those who were ‘close to the bottom of the social scale in their society’, and they were afraid of this announcement.
Afraid for so many different reasons, firstly, I would assume sheer terror at the sight of the Angel who brought such news. And for us we too can sometimes fear the news bringer. The news that we may be sick, or that we may have been made redundant, or the news that we have not done so well in our academic studies. Like the shepherds, we sometimes need someone to reassure us that all is well, that it is good news to hear.
Another fear is acceptance. The shepherds may have feared that they would not be permitted to see the new born King, their saviour. They were as mentioned earlier at the bottom of the social order, unable because of their job to keep themselves ceremonially clean. To visit someone of great importance might leave them feeling overwhelmed, afraid of being called out. Is this how some people feel about coming to Church, do they feel that they are not accepted because of who they are, what their background may have been? How do we welcome everyone with genuine hospitality? How do we show in our communities acceptance for all? How do we make the good news of the birth of a tiny baby relevant for today?
God sent us his son Jesus, not to be a king in a palace, but to be a vulnerable baby, so that he could live his life like we do. So that God, through Jesus could fully understand us and our human failings, so that we could learn through Jesus’ words and actions how to love God again after we had strayed. In the letter of James we hear this, ‘Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’
Jesus is the good news for us all, the shepherds, as vulnerable as their position in society was, heard of this news first. They were the first to proclaim this good news to everyone who would listen.
The news that people had been waiting for, good news of hope, of peace, of love and of joy. The shepherds announced that the baby, born of Mary was Emmanuel, God with us. And even now, some 2000 years later God is still with us and we need to sing and shout this as loud as we can this Christmas time. God is with us. The angels sang out, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those who he favours!’, what will be your song that announces the birth of good news?
God comes to bring us hope, peace, love and joy, all the things that we have been waiting for during this Advent period. These are the gifts that comes from the birth of this special baby this Christmas time.
But how do we use these gifts?
Do we keep them all to ourselves, or do we spread them around so that all can share in the gift that this special baby brings? Do we keep them in our church buildings, too special to be shared, or bring them out into our communities for all to benefit.
Our words and our actions should shower our communities with these gifts of hope, peace, love and joy. And as we do this each one of us will bring our unique abilities and skills. We give to God, and therefore our communities what we can.
I am reminded of Christina Rossetti’s hymn, In the bleak mid-winter, the final verse reminds me of those shepherds, coming to see the Christ child for the first time, anxious and excited, not knowing what to expect, but they came bringing what they could.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I could bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man, I would do my part, –
yet what I can I give him, give my heart.
God expects nothing more from us other than our heart, because when we give that then we give of ourselves fully.
So as we settle down to eat our Christmas Day lunch, to watch a movie, or continue to play with our new gifts, let us remember the good news that was born this day, that came to us as a vulnerable baby, to remind us the God is with us.
The Saviour is born. He is born in a manger.
Hymn See Amid the Winter’s Snow
Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
See! Amid the winter’s snow,
born for us on earth below,
see! the tender Lamb appears
promised from eternal years.
Hail, thou ever-blessed morn!
Hail, redemption’s happy dawn!
Sing through all Jerusalem,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’
2 Say, ye holy shepherds, say,
what your joyful news today;
wherefore have ye left your sheep
on the lonely mountain steep?
3: Sacred Infant, all Divine,
what a tender love was thine,
thus to come from highest bliss
down to such a world as this!
Prayers for others and ourselves
God with us, we bring before you this day our prayers not just for ourselves but for those that we love, for the unloved and for those seeking Your love.
You so loved the world, Lord, that you came in the ordinary: to a town filled with travellers; to parents bringing new life into this world; to a group of worn-out workers.
You so loved the world that you came in what we know: a climate of doubt and uncertainty; a world of conflict and fear; a time when change was ripe.
You so loved the world that you gave us your Son, Lord, heralded by prophets and angels yet born to simple folk and worshipped by society’s shunned. Pour your love into our world again, Lord, on this day of all days.
On this Christmas day when you make the ordinary become extraordinary; when you turn the usual into something remarkable;
when a routine event becomes for us the birth of a new way of living every day.
Pour your love into our world that it might touch every troubled heart,
soothe every restless soul, reach into the lost places and among the lonely people.
In a moment’s silence we bring before you those that are in our hearts and minds today, those who find this time of year difficult, may you reach out to heal, protect and restore them.
Pour your love into our world so your people might come to know that nothing can ever be ordinary or usual or routine, ever again, for Christmas is come and the Light of the World is with us.
We pray these and all our prayers in Your Son’s name. Amen.
Hymn Joy to the World
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) sung by the group Pentatonix
Joy to the world,
the Lord is come!
let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven
and nature sing.
2 Joy to the world,
the Saviour reigns!
let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods,
rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
3 He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love.
Sending and Blessing
We have heard good news of great joy! For today Christ is born, and the world rejoices. As our worship closes we now take that joy out into our world for all to see and hear! And may the blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer be with us this Christmas Day and for evermore. Amen.
Closing Music God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sung by Pentatonix
Sources and Thanks
Call to worship adapted by Andy Braunston from a poem by Thomas Pestal. Reflection taken from Spill the Beans Issue 29 © 2018 Spill the Beans Resource Team All other liturgical material written by the Rev’d Susan Henderson.
O Come All Ye Faithful – Latin, 18th century, possibly by John Francis Wade (c.1711-1786) and others, sung by Kings College Choir, Cambridge
Come and Join the Celebration – Valerie Collison (b.1933) © Hye-Fye Music Ltd
See Amid the Winter’s Snow – Edward Caswall (1814-1878) sung by Annie Lennox on the album A Christmas Cornucopia
Joy to the World – Isaac Watts (1674-1748) sung by the group Pentatonix
Thanks to John Cornell, Diana C-H, David Shimmin, Kathleen Haynes, Christopher Whitehead, Marion Thomas, Andy Braunston and Anne Hewling for reading various spoken parts of the service.