Worship Service for Christmas Day 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Call to worship
We celebrate the message of Christmas:
God is with us!
Hymn: Together in Song 303 Hark! The herald angels sing.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of Christmas
we thank you for the gift
and the mystery of Christmas.
That you would offer the hopes of all creation
in the form of a helpless baby.
As we come to worship,
this Christmas day,
we can barely comprehend
all that this means
that your love for us would be so great
that you would want to share our lives.
We can't begin to understand
the price this gift cost you.
We confess we sometimes fail to value
the gift of Jesus for us.
We confess all the Christmas celebrations
to which Jesus is not invited.
We confess the worry over what we will or won't have,
the frantic struggle to get everything done,
and that, as of that first Christmas,
there is often no room for Jesus.
Help us to change we pray -
help us to make room,
not only in our Christmas celebrations,
but also in the whole of our lives.
Help us to welcome Jesus -
to start over
and to live in friendship with him.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Hymn: Together in Song 311 Silent Night
Kids' Time – Gold Coins...
To adults: Every year there's complaints about the secularisation of Christmas, it's too commercial, we get distracted by other things. What can we do? One of the things we are able to do is to reclaim our traditions – to retell the stories that have been hijacked by commercial interests – as they were before they were hijacked.
Kids want to come out? Will you look what's on the communion table today?
What's that? (Gold coins.)
For all the last few weeks we've been looking at the story of Jesus' birthday – and we've been using candy canes to tell the story, haven't we?
Who can remember all of those things we saw when we looked at candy canes? Shepherd's crook – J for Jesus – red stripes for blood – sweet and special like God's love.
And look at the amazing presents you guys put under the tree!
Today – I want to look at another story we think about at Christmas time.... This was a couple of hundred years after Jesus was born.
In Asia Minor (that area that's now called Turkey), there was a bishop – a bishop's like a minister. His name was Nicholas.
In his church there was a family which had three daughters. They didn't have enough money for dowries for the girls. A dowry was money paid to a husband when he got married – in those days women couldn't get married without it. And the choice of jobs for women who were not married was very, very, bad. This family didn't know what to do. Without money, their daughters would not have homes and food and the things they needed when they grew up.
Nicholas didn't want to tell the family that everyone knew how poor they were, so he thought up a way to help them, secretly. During the night, he quietly crept up to their window (show me how you creep quietly), and he threw some gold coins into their house. Some of the coins landed in stockings that were drying beside the fire (or so the story goes).
Since then, people around the world, have left out stockings, or pillow slips or other things, hoping that Saint Nicholas would visit them and leave them a special gift. In some parts of the world they do this on Saint Nicholas' Day – which is the sixth of December, and in places like Australia, we do it on the night before Christmas.
Does anyone know another name we use for Saint Nicholas? (Santa Claus.) Did he visit any of you last night?
We remember him, because he cared for people, and showed them that God loved them.
Stick around up here, because I've got a job for you to do after the candles are lit. (Can anyone guess what it is?) Before the candles – let's have one of my favourite Christmas songs:
Hymn: Together in Song 318 Away in a manger
Advent Candles: Christmas – 1 kid, 1 young adult, 1 adult, 1 older adult.
Kid: It's Christmas! We hoped and hoped and now it's here.
Young Adult: Today, we put our trust in God to bring peace to a troubled world, and troubled people.
Adult: Today, we celebrate with joy the good news that in Jesus, God is right here in this world with us.
Older Adult: Today, we celebrate the love God has shown for us.
All: Thank God, it's Christmas!
Light all five candles.
Together in song 307 The virgin Mary had a baby boy.
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Hymn Together in Song 299 While shepherds watched their flocks
It was a strange group of people who shared that first Christmas.
There was a carpenter- as a tradesman, he would have normally had some status in society – but with the crowds in Bethlehem even he was temporarily homeless.
There was his young wife – and I do mean young. Marriageable age was 12.
And, of course, the newborn baby – born homeless and put down to rest in an animal's feed trough.
Then there were the invited guests – shepherds. These guys did live out in the fields with their sheep! (And they looked and they smelled as if they did!) In a society that put a high value on ritual purity, shepherds, by the nature of their work, were never ritually clean. Therefore, they could never enter the temple to worship God.
Christmas cards dress the scene up, with glitter, and all the participants having clean, brightly-coloured clothes.
In reality, Mary and Joseph had been walking all day. (Whatever the Christmas cards show, it's highly unlikely that Mary would have ridden a donkey or anything else.) Mary had gone through the trauma of childbirth, probably with the help of female relatives or local midwives.
There would have been relatives around, because no-one in those days travelled alone. For safety, everyone travelled with large groups. Yet, Mary may not have had as much support as could have been hoped for – older women would have been able count weeks and days and realise that Mary had been pregnant before the marriage was finalized. So this baby was already born with some stigma attached.
Jesus was born in probably the worst of possible circumstances: homeless (at least temporarily); under a cloud in terms of social doubt over the morality of his conception; to a teenaged or pre-teenaged mother; in a country under foreign rule, and about to be made a refugee before he turned two. And who greeted his arrival, but the people everyone avoided because of their impurity – people who weren't even allowed into the temple, the place to meet God, because it was too holy for their presence.
What on earth was God doing? Or, rather, what was God doing on earth?
God did what the shepherds could not do – God went out to meet them and made the place where they could access holy.
This is the real Christmas gift. None of us is perfect. Everyone fails to be completely good and pure at least some of the time. Because we fall short of perfection, we're never good enough, really to come to God. That's OK.
What the story of Christmas tells us, is that God has done what we can't do. God has come to us, right where we are, in the mess and chaos in which we live. No matter what is wrong with our lives – God still comes to us.
And because God has come to us, right where we are, then right where we are – no matter how mixed up, messy or regret-filled it might be, has been made holy.
That's the real meaning of Christmas – God and Humankind meeting – at our place; and we didn't even have to clean up first.
Hymn Together in Song 292 Infant holy, infant lowly
Together in Song 309 Angels, from the realms of glory.
Prayers of the People
You may have wondered what we were celebrating
with the decorations in the shops
the advertising encouraging us to buy and buy and buy
and just buy a bit more at the last minute
with songs about snow, as the temperature soars
and pine trees in our homes.
It's all a party for your Son's birthday,
we hope you got your invitation.
In case you didn't
we're inviting you now.
We invite you to come into our lives,
into our homes,
into our city,
and into our world this Christmas.
Help this whole world to know
the hope, peace, joy and love
contained in the promise of Christmas.
Help this world to live in a way
which shows that God truly is with us.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Together in Song 319: Child in the manger