Christmas Day, December 25, 2020
Service of Lessons and Carols
Who are these angels who come to earth,
bearing the news of the Christ child’s birth?
Who are these shepherds who run to see,
and worship the babe on bended knee?
Who is this child, so small, so slight,
of whom the angels sang that night?
Who is this king, a manger his throne,
who humbles himself to make us his own?
Who is this God who sends a Son
into our midst, the promised one?
Who are these Angels who come to earth?
Reading: Luke 2:8-14
A favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner writes of angels: Sleight-of-hand magic is based on the demonstrable fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to see. Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well. Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.”
Certainly, rebellious Adam and Eve expected to see that angel with the flaming sword chasing them from the perfection of God’s presence as they ran in their shame and their brokenness.
And so, for ages the children of those two fugitives, those two homeless refugees, those two asylum seekers, you and I, have wandered the earth with our vision shrouded by that shame and brokenness, never expecting to see angels or perhaps anything sent from the divine creator.
But the news was just too good that night. Just as the news for Zachariah in the temple, or for Mary of Nazareth, was too good, resulting in their own unexpected angelic visions.
Perhaps because the news itself was so unexpectedly good, great even; that it caused the unexpected vision of angels to actually appear over the fields outside of Bethlehem. The good news was so glorious, so rich that it filled the normally unseen angels to the point that they could not stay hidden, they could not be cloaked in secrecy, the grace and love at the core of their message pulled back the veil of shame and brokenness so that humans could see and hear just how unexpected God can be.
And with such vision altering, world-transforming news proclaimed, just as an angel had chased those first two from the presence of God, now it was an angel who was chasing us into the presence of God.
To you is born. To you and you and you is born this day. Such good news. So undeserved. So unexpected, as unexpected as the angel who delivered the news. As unexpected as the life that baby lived. As unexpected as the death he died. As unexpected as the empty tomb. So, fear not; and in faith, see beyond the expected. For God’s unexpected lights up the night, brings angels into vision, brings Godself to earth, brings us home into the merciful presence of the one who created us and loves us.
Pastor Mark Erson
Hymn: Go Tell It on the Mountain ELW 290
Who are these shepherds who run to see?
Reading: Luke 2:15-20
The angels came and announced Jesus not to the elite, not to the ruling class or the religious authorities, as we might expect, but to the essential workers. The night shift. The shepherds. Those who were tending the flocks, protecting the livestock and livelihood of their communities.
The angels came to these ordinary, essential workers, who believed what they witnessed, believed that angels came to them. They went with haste, hoping against hope that God’s glory would be revealed, through them and a newborn infant. I wonder, as they were traveling with haste, if the shepherds worried they would be seen as foolish, following the words of angelic figures that appeared in the middle of the night. If they were doubting their own experience, doubting that angels would come to them, the night shift.
But the shepherds came and saw Jesus, lying with the livestock that had been brought in for the night. They rejoiced. God, with us. The presence of God, confirmed. They passed on the message of the angels, and the people who heard were also amazed.
The message of the Messiah, the Anointed One, was passed on through ordinary people, essential workers, who allowed their lives to be interrupted by God – embodying their faith. God’s glory was revealed through their witness and testimony, just as it is revealed through ours, when we, like the shepherds, trust our bodies and lived experiences when we encounter God. When we trust that God is real, and present, and can break into our world. When we trust in God even with the risk of seeming foolish. And when we respond to the reality of God by sharing it with others, and praising a God who breaks into our ordinary lives, who comes to us through those we might least expect.
Vicar Reed Fowler
Hymn: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly ELW 276
Who is this Child, so small, so slight?
Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4
Jesus, like all human babies, came into the world, covered in bodily fluids, screaming as their first breath, relying on others for their survival needs. For food. For water. For shelter. For love. Humans are in the company of domestic cats, other primates, and giant pandas, whose babies need to be nurtured for much longer. We are interdependent and vulnerable from our first breath.
And survival isn’t a given. Infant mortality was a serious reality in Mary’s time, maternal mortality was a reality, and it is a reality for marginalized communities currently in the United States and across the world. People are vulnerable, and mortal, and not everyone has access to care and community support.
Mary and Joseph know the world their child is born into. They know oppression, and exile. Do they know the heartbreak Jesus will experience, weeping for his friends, feeding thousands and knowing there is still more hunger, healing and knowing there is still more pain? Does their breath catch at witnessing God’s divine love embodied, physical, in their child, cooing and crying and giggling? What dreams do they have for this child, born at an unexpected time, to an unexpected family, but with the promise of being the Messiah? Do their own hearts break, knowing that they won’t be able to protect their child from all pain and suffering, no matter how much they might want to?
It is into this messy, embodied, physical reality – our reality of heartbreak and hope, of screams and spit-up – that God is born into. Not fully grown, not an angel, not born to kings. A newborn baby, full of potential, full of risk, in need of care and love, born to an impoverished family, is the reflection of God’s glory. Is the exact imprint of God’s very being. It takes my breath away.
Vicar Reed Fowler
Hymn: What Child is This? ELW 296
Who is this King a manger for his throne?
Reading: Rev. 1:4b – 8
In the musical The Lion King, Simba sings “I just can’t wait to be king.” The cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz sings “If I were king of the forest.” In Camelot, King Arthur imagines that his subjects occupy their thoughts with “wondering what the king is doing tonight.” And who among us, have not wondered what it would be like to be royalty? Life in a palace holding power, surrounded by opulence and opportunity, guaranteed riches and respect. No wonder why one of the first game shows on that new phenomenon the television promised an everyday person the chance to be “Queen for a Day.” I am told that my grandfather who I never met was known for saying: “If if were so, I’d be king.”
And yet, we gather this morning in a stinky barn, and stand before a manger, a feed box, constructed of coarse wood, filled with hay for animals to munch on. And we are being told, and we are telling ourselves, that this baby that is lying there is our king, our ruler, our sovereign, the one we serve.
Luther writes: “Oh, what a dark night it was in Bethlehem that this light (of Christ) should not have been seen. Thus, God shows that God has no appreciation for what the world is and has and does. And the world shows that it does not know or consider what God is and has and does.”
But the life of this babe, this King, will never look like what we imagine or what we dream of as wanna-be royalty. Instead, his life will continue to point back to his barnyard beginnings; reaching out to the despised, rejected, and forgotten, taking on the role of the servant, calling us to serve him by serving others. This king gives without reservation, showering us with the riches of his glory and grace. As the one who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, this baby king who seems to have nothing, has all to give, and does indeed give; gives to us new life with God that knows no end.
Pastor Mark Erson
Hymn: Once in Royal David’s City ELW 269
Who is this God who sends a Son?
The Loving Creator with undying devotion to a dying creation.
The All-Knowing stubbornly sharing wisdom with the foolish.
The Omnipotent One boldly exploring a new display of saving power.
The Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep.
The Jilted Lover sending flowers to the one who has blatantly cheated, again.
The Heart-broken Parent standing on the porch, watching and waiting for the runaway child.
The Comforting Word speaking to every despair and fear it encounters.
The Healing Balm that brings relief from all that plagues and pains us.
The Beaming Light that pierces our darkest night.
The Blazing Fire that melts frozen hearts and warms shivering souls.
The Guiding Lighthouse that reaches out to the lost and the storm tossed.
The Transcendent One sanctifying all that was, is, and will be, even us.
The Timeless One accepting the limitations of the moment and the finite for our sake.
The Merciful Judge declaring pardon, forgiveness, reconciliation to the most grievous offender.
Who is this God who sends a Son? There’s a short list. Take your pick. Or take them all. Or add your own. The one who sends this baby, embodies this baby. And just as the gift is becoming, so the one who sends it is the Becoming One.
Pastor Mark Erson
Hymn: Let Our Gladness Know No End ELW 291