We usually keep our decorations up for Christmas through January 6th. We’re so busy in Advent that we need the 12 days of Christmas to exhale and enjoy what we worked so hard to prepare. We’ll do that with many of our decorations this year, but not our tree. It expired on January 1st – too dry.
This Christmas Eve, as we do most every year, we will hear Luke 2:1-20. It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds arriving after the angel’s announcement. It’s what expect to hear on Christmas Eve.
Near the end of the service, we will do something that’s become expectation: we will light and raise our candles. That’s in keeping with the Christmas Day scripture: John 1:1-14. We stand firm on the promise of John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
As a church this weekend we hosted the Parking Lot Mission and fed warm breakfasts to financially-poor neighbors, helped 48 children in Florence County receive beds and bedding of their own, were led in worship by children of God from ages 4-84, and invited the community to hear the story of God’s love while joining us in supporting The CARE House of the Pee Dee. It was a good weekend of sharing what God has provided us (Luke 3:10-11) and honoring the God who gives us far more than we can ever give in return.
One of the mysteries of our faith is that God transcends space and time and connects us across barriers that otherwise divide. We are united in Jesus with Christians who gather in other places of worship – not just those down the street, but those across the world. We are united in Jesus with Christians who came before and those who will come after us. The carols we sing together Sunday have been sung by people on other continents in other centuries and by people who held us close on Christmas Eves long ago. As we sing those familiar carols, those we love, but who now sing their praises “upon another shore” may well come to heart and mind. Sing with them once more.
While we are comfortably gathered in Central’s sanctuary Sunday afternoon for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, there will be people in our community and far beyond in very uncomfortable, sad, and vulnerable situations. There will be people outside our doors and throughout the world who are physically and spiritually hungry and don’t know where to turn. Even as we know plenty and joy Sunday afternoon, the Bidding Prayer demands we have on our hearts those who do not.
I don’t think enough about what would “rejoice Jesus’ heart.” I have the ratio out of balance – I think too much about what would bring me joy and not enough about what would bring Jesus joy. The Bidding Prayer tells us that our concern for God’s world, God’s people, for peace and goodwill on earth, and for love and unity in the church brings Jesus joy.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Bidding Prayer continues:
Therefore let us hear again from Holy Scripture
the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our sin
until the glorious redemption brought us by this holy Child;
and let us make this house of prayer glad with our carols of praise.
You may have noticed in yesterday’s reading of the gospel (Luke 3:1-6) that Luke tried to take us to a particular place and time. He was careful in his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1) to date John the Baptizer’s proclamation by naming those who were in power. He listed a king, a governor, three rulers, and two high priests to give his hearers a sense of the time period. It was a more vivid description (and a more typical way of doing history in those times) than saying “in the year 28” or “about 50 years ago.” Think of the descriptive difference between, “I was born in 1974” and “I was born during the first months of Gerald Ford’s presidency, in the final months of Governor West’s term, a few months before the end of the Vietnam War, and in a time when ‘The Way We Were’ topped the charts.”
I concluded my sermon yesterday saying that now is the time to hope. Hope, Biblically speaking, is more than wishing. Hope is a bold expression of faith. Hebrews 11:1 teaches us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hope is clinging to the belief that something better will come because God is good and loving and righteous and wants something better for his creation.