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Christmas Day, 2016

Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-18

This year we have the joy of Christmas falling on a Sunday.

Jill Duffield’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

My husband grew up Episcopalian and remembers with little (no) fondness having to leave the loot Santa brought in order to go to worship on Christmas Day. Going to church on Christmas was not the novelty for him that it was, and is, for me. In fact, the only Christmas Days I remember being in church are the ones when I was required to be up front. If we went to Christmas Day worship when I was a child, I have no memory of it. Christmas Eve services? Yes. I remember vividly the new dress for the occasion (sorry, Jesus), the candles and “Silent Night.” Christmas Day? That was all Santa, stockings and the inevitable comparisons of gifts with my siblings.

However, my adult memories of Christmas Day services I recall with great fondness. Each one had a laid back quality to it. People were encouraged to come in casual clothing. Children were told to bring a favorite gift with them. Often the traditional sermon was jettisoned for the reading of a Christmas story that appealed to all ages. One year we did a version of lessons and carols with those in attendance calling out which hymns we should sing. Christmas worship was celebratory, not stuffy and casual, not choreographed. Looking out into the congregation I would see sweaters with wreaths and Santa and trees, a few red and green ties, children driving small trucks up and down the backs of pews or cradling a doll or stuffed bear. Some families had additional people on the row with them: kids home from college, grandparents visiting, neighbors and friends who were brought into the fold on special occasions. When I think of those Christmas Day worship services, “delight” is the word that comes readily to my mind.

Delight, breaking forth in singing, is, after all, the appropriate response to seeing salvation. Making space for delight should be high on the list of priorities for this Sunday’s service. Those gathered will likely be the stalwart regulars, bringing with them those they can convince to come along. These are the folks who were in the sanctuary mere hours before and will be back again next week. They know the story well. They have traveled through Advent, with or without Christmas carols, hanging in through John the Baptist’s warnings and endless choir, pageant and lesson-reading rehearsals. Rejoice with them that their waiting has ended and God’s come through on the promises spoken to the prophets. Break out in singing. Proclaim beauty, joy and good news. Jesus is here!

No, the newspaper headlines aren’t any different this week than they were in last Sunday’s paper and, yes, the dividing lines between peoples, countries and clans are still drawn and bloodily defended, but the light of Jesus Christ is shining and all that darkness can’t overcome it. We have God’s Word.

I recently heard a portion of Winston Churchill’s 1941 Christmas Eve address read, and it resonates on this Christmas Day in 2016. Delivered from Washington, D.C., shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill said:

This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

Delight. Even in the midst of war, delight should have its due. Fun, laughter and peace of the spirit all are gifts of God that come on the beautiful feet of the messenger who announces the salvation of our God. Sacrifice and daring should be our response in the days ahead, in the face of whatever threatens justice, light and life for any child. But today, on Christmas, we should remember that God has given us God’s Word and that Word is one of grace and truth. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

Could we proclaim that glorious Word of grace upon grace so that it might resound not just in our sanctuaries but in our hearts, homes and communities not just today, but in the weeks and months ahead? On Christmas Day, could we be the children of God we are and delight in the gift of Jesus Christ? Could we sing for joy? Testify to the light? Trust God’s word of truth? Even if we know that we are called tomorrow to speak it to a world that won’t often believe it. Even when it is inevitable that the light of Christ will seem to flicker and dim in the darkness as the nights get longer. Today, let’s call out “Joy to the World” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Away in a Manger” and “What Child It This?” and sing unabashedly “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” “Glory to the newborn king!” “Come and worship! Come and worship!”

Come and worship in your red and green tackiest Christmas sweaters. Or your jeans and hoodie. Heck, come in your pajamas if you like! Bring a toy or some cookies and don’t forget to invite the neighbor or friend at loose ends. Hear the good news of God’s salvation through story and song, candles and the cross. Be the children of God you are, the ones who inherit the Kingdom, the ones who enter the Kingdom, the ones who are like the Kingdom, the ones who delight in the presence and present of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Come and receive the Word of God: light, life, glory, grace and truth. And then dare to share it boldly when you leave.

This week:

  1. Consider what it means to “testify to the light” in our daily living.
  2. Take a look at the Hebrews text appointed for this Sunday: Hebrews 1:1-12. Notice the phrase, “he sustains all things through his powerful word.” What is the role of God’s word throughout the biblical narrative? Consider this in the context of the creation story and the John text for this week.
  3. What does “glory” mean? Think about the catechism question and answer about “man’s chief end” being to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” What does it mean to glorify God? Enjoy God?
  4. What are your memories of Christmas Day worship?
  5. This is a Sunday when it is particularly appropriate to shape worship so it is intergenerational and inclusive of all ages. Check out the Storypath site for books that you might share this Sunday. (I like “The Legend of the Poinsettia” by Tomie dePaola.)
  6. Read through some Christmas hymns that are not greatest hits. Even if you don’t sing them in worship, use them as guides for prayer this week or in prayers for Sunday’s liturgy.

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