A Christmas Eve Sermon – The Child

A Christmas Eve Sermon

As the date and place on the sermon below indicates these words were first offered on Christmas Eve of 2009 at the United Church of Christ, First Congregational in Norwich, NY. While I did not realize it at the time this sermon became the initial step in the development of an Advent/Christmas Cantata— The Child— written with the composer Tom Rasely. I decided to re-post the sermon this year.

The text of the Cantata (along with suggested readings) follows the text of the sermon.

There was a video done at the service of worship which first contained this Cantata. The URL is just the Cantata and not the full service. This is the URL where the video of the Cantata can be found:


12/24/2009 ~ The Eve of the Nativity of the Messiah, the Christ, the Feast of the Incarnation ~ Proper 1 ~ Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14 ; Luke 2:1-14, (15-20).

The Child

“And she gave birth to her firstborn, whom she wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no place for them in the inn.” — Luke 2:7.

The child lay against her breast. Blessed sleep had finally arrived. The child was quiet. She could feel the steady tempo of slumber in the warmth of the breathing against her skin.

It had been a long night and the dawn was not far off. Colic in an infant is never fun. This night the malady had been complicated by the surroundings.

This was not the best place for her and the infant and she knew it. But for now there was some shelter, when before there had been none.

In the last several nights, while circumstances she detested dictated they stay in these inadequate surroundings, it got very cold. But the hay which was all around made for good insulation.

Her husband had taken it, piled it up high, spread it out enough to accommodate them both and together, with the newborn child huddled in her arms, they burrowed into it. Just that extra bit of protection provided the necessary warmth to make it through the night. (Slight pause.)

Her husband was a good man. He was not wealthy. He was not handsome. He was not well spoken. In fact, he spoke very little. But she knew his soul.

When she looked into his eyes, she could see a man who knew God. She could see a man who cared about relationship and understood that relationship with God came before all. She could see a man who understood that all relationships into which one could enter were based on one’s relationship with God.

She knew he cared about her. She knew he cared about the child. (Slight pause.)

He never questioned about the child. She wondered about that. But she knew he was a good man, so there must have been a reason for the silence. And even though he was so often silent, he seemed to be able to communicate with her on a plane which precluded verbiage.

He had always been good to her. She hoped the child would learn from the example of this goodness. After all, example was the chief way any person learned about life, was it not? (Slight pause.)

She hoped for much for this child. Despite their poverty, or perhaps because of it, none of what she hoped for had to do with worldly possessions. Primarily, she hoped the child would be a kind person. She hoped the child would understand, if only for reasons of self protection, that the world was not always a place in which it was safe to live.

She had known people to be cruel and it seemed to her often they were cruel just for the perverse enjoyment of it. She hoped that the child would see, in this life, in this time, something of God’s light, something of God’s love, something of God’s dominion, in this world which seemed, so often, to be devoid of these. (Slight pause.)

Sometimes— in her dank, desperate moments— she thought the light of God’s love was too great a thing to ask for or to pray about. And perhaps she got discouraged because she had seen more than she wanted to see of the occupying army. They seemed… to not care— not care about people, not care about the sacred, not care about… life.

It appeared to her that they treated everyone as an annoyance, something to be used and then tossed aside. She had also seen more than she wanted to see of local government lackeys making sure they were first in line for any largess which might be available from the Romans. It was unnerving to know people could be so mercenary.

Whenever her attitude got too caught up in this way of thinking, a ray of hope somehow seemed to appear— a friend giving advice, a shopkeeper who was helpful— and then she realized not everyone insisted on looking out only for themselves. There were people who seemed to make a positive difference in this world. (Slight pause.)

The child stirred, made a noise, stretched out a hand… and rested again. This child, of course, made the positive difference for her. She could see in the child all the brightness of God’s creation, full blown in the little hands and feet, in the dark rings of hair on the tiny head, in the bright eyes which searched deeply into hers… for what? For hope? For support? For love? For relationship?

For some inexplicable reason, she could see in this child all the warmth and promise of the relationship to which God had committed in the covenants written in the Torah. For some inexplicable reason, she could see in this child all the warmth and promise of the relationship she knew God always sought in this world— this world which could seem so broken.

For some inexplicable reason, what she could see in this child was the warmth and promise of a God who was at work in the world and present in people. Was it thus with every child? Could this be seen in each baby born? Or was this child… special?

She dismissed that last thought. “All mothers think their child is special,” she assured herself. She reasoned, in a self-effacing way that, within all creation, God would not single out her or single out her husband or single out this child for anything special. (Slight pause.)

She heard a cock crow. With the noise of the animal, the child stirred again, but then rested. The first streaks of light were washing into the sky and onto the earth. God’s life giving light was dawning on a new day.

“No,” she thought. “I have seen much. I will see more. But, no. I am not that special that God might choose me for…” She did not finish the thought.

Perhaps she was overwhelmed by the possibility of the dawn of a new era in God’s work. Perhaps she understood that God’s work is always the continuing work of relationship. And she had no doubt that the continuing work of relationship was nothing special.

It was nothing special because it is a normal, daily, everyday occurrence. It was what God sought. Was it not?

And the place she knew God was calling her was, after all, to relationship. Was it not? So this… this place, this time, this child was nothing special. Was it? Amen.

United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
12/24/2009

************************

CANTATA — The Child
Music by Tom Rasely
Text by Joseph Connolly

A READING FROM THE GOSPELS — John 1:1-4 [ILV]
Narrator: Stories about the birth of Jesus appear only in Matthew and Luke. On the other hand, sometimes this reading is referred to as the Christmas story as it is found in the Gospel according to the School of John.

[1] In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, in the presence of God, and the Word was God. [2] Indeed, the Word was present to God. [3] All things came into being through the Word, and apart from the Word not one thing came into being. The Word was life and [4] and that life was the light of all humanity.

This is the Gospel Who is the Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.

1- From the Beginning
From the beginning the Word was with God.
The Word became flesh,
and the Word became flesh
and dwelt for a while
among us.

God is with us.
God is with us.

2- Promises

The promises that God had made
to all people long ago
had all come true in this child they found
in Bethlehem we know.
The light of God is with us now,
and God will not forget
the covenant that binds us all.
Amen and amen.

3- A Sign for You

NARRATOR:
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 Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

When the shepherds looked up at the sky,
they remembered all God had promised:
the rainbow in the sky,
the return from captive lands,
the parting of the waters,
and a home.

NARRATOR:
As a prophet of old once said: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of deep shadows, on them light is shining. For a child is born to us, an heir given to us; authority, dominion, rests on the shoulders of this one. The zeal of Yahweh, God, will do this.

As the shepherds sat quietly
gazing at the stars
on a clear and moonless night,
from somewhere close by
a sound filled the air;
the sky was turning bright.
Was it the blare of trumpets
or the buzzing of thousands of bees?
Or a sudden wind with a burst of light;
and they heard a voice in the night,
sounding like a multitude in the sky.

“To you is born upon this day,
in the city of David,
a Savior, Messiah, Christ the Lord.”

Then suddenly all was silent.

NARRATOR:
The shepherds were amazed; some were afraid. But they moved toward Bethlehem, to a small enclosure where the animals were kept, and found a mother and a father and their newborn. They sat in awe and wonder, and watched till the child awoke.

As the shepherds returned
to their sheep on the hills,
they gazed up at the stars.
Watching, wondering,
who is this child?
Who would the child grow to be?

4- Realities

The occupying army,
so far away from home,
had been in the land
for lo these many years.
And they’d conquered the world,
or so they always claimed,
and built an empire
of blood and hate and tears.

The occupying army
had come all the way from Rome,
and they treated all the people
as something to be used,
as something to be tossed aside.

The one that they called Caesar,
the one that they called Lord;
they also called him Bringer of Peace
But the peace that he brought
was the peace of the sword,
and now no one dared to even dream.

It’s the reality of Rome,
the reality of State,
the reality of force,
the reality of hate.

Was this the best reality
that Israel could hope for,
or was the reality of God
something much more real?

And into this reality
a baby now was born.

A READING FROM THE GOSPELS — Luke 2:4-6
NARRATOR:
In Luke, the stories surrounding the birth of the Messiah extend throughout the first two chapters. This is a small portion of that story. Hear now this word as it is found in the Gospel we commonly call as Luke.

[4] …Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, being a descendant of the house, the family, the lineage of David. [5] Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was espoused and who was expecting a child. [6] While they were there, the time came for her to deliver.

This is the Gospel of, Jesus, Who is the Christ.

5- Nativity

    Instrumental

6- The Child

The child lay against her breast;
she could feel the steady tempo
of his slumber,
and the warmth of his breath
against her skin
this night.

The night was cold,
there was no room at the inn,
but there was shelter for the night,
and the hay provided
much needed warmth.

Her husband was a good man,
she knew he was a good man;
not handsome,
not wealthy,
and not well spoken,
but she could see he was a man
who knew God.

She could see in this child
all the warmth of God’s promise
see in this child a new revelation,
a new relationship with God!

Mary pondered all these things
in her heart,
as she felt the steady tempo
of his slumber,
as the child lay against her breast
this night.

7- Trust Me, Joseph

In the depth of the night,
Joseph stared down the road
that had brought him to Bethlehem
with his wife on the donkey,
and their unborn child,
and he pondered
the distance in between.

Joseph sighed as he thought
of Israel and of forty years
of wandering. They had come
through chaos; they had come
through war, till they
came to this land where
the Roman now was king.

And tonight a child
had come into his life;
what would that mean
in light of history?
Yet in the eyes of his wife
he saw love, he saw life.
And he pondered God’s mystery.

Could Joseph trust
the promises of God?
Could he trust the angel in his dream?
Could he trust his wife,
whom he loved so much?
But all he heard was silence.

“Trust me, Joseph, trust me.”
Said the Lord.

“Trust me, Joseph, trust me.”
Said the Lord.

“Trust me, Joseph, trust me.”
Said the Lord.

In the depth of the night,
Joseph stood alone,
and he pondered God’s mystery.

8- Innkeeper’s Reflection

How could I have known?
I could have done
the best thing on that night.
But how could I have known?

A cold wind was blowing
from the west;
there was no moon to be seen,
no stars in the sky
on this silent night.

How could I have known?
A man and his wife,
and she was with child,
There was no room to spare,
but I gave them shelter
on the stable floor.
And how was I to know?

A cold wind was blowing
from the west;
there was no moon to be seen,
no stars in the sky
on this silent night.

Then while I was sleeping,
or was I wide awake?
Shepherds came from all the nearby hills;
and I thought I heard an angel
start to sing.

Glory to God in the Highest!
All glory to God in the Highest!

How could I have known?
Perhaps I did the best thing
on that night.

A cold wind was blowing
from the west;
there was one star in the sky
and God’s glory shown
on this silent night.

A READING FROM THE TANAKH IN THE SECTION KNOWN AS THE TORAH —
Genesis 1:1-3
NARRATOR: Hear now these words which are found in the Torah, in the work known as Genesis.

[1] At the beginning of God’s creating of the heaven and the earth— [2] when the earth was unformed and void, wild and waste, filled with chaos and emptiness, as night reigned over the surface of the deep, a wind from God, the rushing Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.  [3] And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

9- At the Beginning

At the beginning
of God’s creating
of the heavens and the earth,
At the beginning of God’s creating,
God said: Let there be light.
And there was light.

And a child was born to us
who reveals God,
who is the light.

Alleluia and amen.

A STORY FROM THE TALMUD

NARRATOR: The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud is, essentially, the Jewish commentary on the Torah and is filled with all kinds of writings from prose to poetry to stories. This is a reading from the Talmud:

After all creation was formed, God called the angels together and asked them what they thought of it. One of them said, “Something is lacking: the sound of praise to the Creator.” So God created music. And music was heard in the whisper of the wind, in the chirp of the birds, in the tympani of the thunder. But that was not enough, so God gave humanity the gift of song. And down through the ages this gift has blessed, comforted and inspired many souls. This gift is a part of the covenant; we have the blessings and wonder which the gift from God bestows in us; and God is pleased when a joyful noise is heard.

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