Christmas Eve Service
CALL TO WORSHIP: Draw near, the time is coming when God is born one of us - our prince, our guide, our love, our Lord a baby in a manger. God is with us. Let us worship him.
CAROL: 153 On Christmas night all Christians sing
PRAYERS: We confess that amid all the joys and festivities of this season we have sometimes forgotten what Christmas really means, and left the Lord Jesus out of our thinking and living: Help us to remember that you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son, who was born to be our Saviour: We confess that we have allowed the most important event in history to become dulled by familiarity: Help us in this act of worship to recapture a sense of wonder and to discover again the awesome fact that the Creator of universe has come to us as a newborn baby: We confess to a selfish enjoyment of Christmas while we do little to help the homeless families of your world: Father, forgive us. Fill our hearts with the love that cares, that understands and gives; show us how we can best serve those in need; for the sake of him who was born in a stable, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
READING 1: John 1:1-10
STORY 1: Take Hold of Love by Henry Carter I was working feverishly on my Christmas sermon - the hardest time in any minister's year to find something fresh to say - when the floor mother appeared at the study door. Another crisis upstairs. Christmas Eve is a difficult day for the emotionally disturbed children in our church home. Three-quarters of them go home at least overnight, and the ones who remain react to the empty beds and the changed routine. I followed her up the stairs, chafing inwardly at the repeated interruptions. This time it was Tommy. He had crawled under a bed and refused to come out. The woman pointed to one of six cots in the small dormitory. Not a hair or a toe showed beneath, so I addressed myself to the cowboys and bucking broncos on the quilt cover. I talked about the brightly lighted tree in the church vestibule next door and the packages underneath it and all the other good things waiting for him out beyond that bed. No answer. Still fretting at the time this was costing, I dropped to my hands and knees and lifted the spread. Two enormous blue eyes met mine. Tommy was eight, but looked like a five-year- old. It would have been no effort at all simply to pull him out. But it wasn't pulling Tommy needed - it was trust and a sense of deciding things on his own initiative. So, crouched there on all fours, I launched into the menu of the special Christmas Eve supper to be offered after the service. I told him about the stocking with his name on it provided by the women's society. Silence. There was no indication that he either heard me or cared about Christmas. And at last, because I could think of no other way to make contact, I got down on my stomach and wriggled in beside him, bedsprings snagging my suit jacket. For what seemed a long time, I lay there with my cheek pressed against the floor. At first I talked about the big wreath above the altar and the candies in the windows. I reminded him of the carol he and the other children were going to sing. Then I ran out of things to say and simply waited there beside him. And as I waited, a small, chilled hand crept into mine. "You know, Tommy," I said after a bit, "it's kind of close quarters under here. Let's you and me go out where we can stand up." And so we did, but slowly, in no hurry. All the pressures had gone from my day, because, you see, I had my Christmas sermon. Flattened there on the floor I realized I had been given a new glimpse of the mystery of this season. Hadn't God called us, too, as I'd called Tommy, from far above us? With His stars and mountains, His whole majestic creation, hadn't He pleaded with us to love Him, to enjoy the universe He gave us? And when we would not listen, He had drawn closer. Through prophets and lawgivers and holy men, He spoke with us face to face. But it was not until that first Christmas, until God stooped to earth itself, until He took our very place and came to dwell with us in our loneliness and alienation, that we, like Tommy, dared to stretch out our hands to take hold of l ove. (From Christmas Stories For the Heart, pp. 28-30, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, OR)
CAROL: 144 It came upon a midnight clear
READING 2: Luke 2:1-7
In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:
It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.
Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.
Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.
The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously.
For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately--until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, "And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did.
But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him for always." As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.
The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him-FOR ALWAYS. I've learned that it's not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts.
CAROL: 147 Silent night
READING 3: John13:34-35
STORY 3: Bonnie Shepherd, writing for "Focus on the Family" magazine told of the time she had to go to the hospital just a couple weeks before Christmas for gall bladder surgery.
When she woke up from the anesthesia, she was surrounded by flowers, from roses to poinsettias; and there was a small Christmas tree with lights and ornaments; and a beautiful Christmas centerpiece; and a stack of get-well and Christmas cards.
Her family and friends had really come through with a lavish show of love and support.
After a while, she heard a voice say, "Yep, I like your flowers, lady." She turned to see that the person in the next bed had pulled the curtain back to get a better view. "Yep, I like your flowers."
Her neighbor in the next bed was Ginger, a 40ish woman with Down Syndrome. After introductions, they struck up a lengthy conversation. Bonnie discovered that Ginger lived in a group home, was in the hospital for some minor surgery on her foot, and was hoping to get back home for their Christmas party. No mention was made of a family.
The next day when Ginger was out for her surgery, the nurse took Bonnie for a short walk down the hall. When she came back and entered the room, she couldn't help but notice the stark contrast between the two sides of the room, one side bare and empty, no cards or flowers on display, the other side overflowing with beautiful flowers and colorful cards.
Then Bonnie got an idea: Why not share some of her gifts and flowers with Ginger!
She considered the beautiful Christmas centerpiece, but then thought how pretty it would look on her dining room table over the holidays.
She had several poinsettias, but what would she say if the friends who gave them stopped by the hospital to visit? Besides, all those plants would look spectacular all displayed together in her front entranceway at home.
She kept coming up with one reason or another why she couldn't part with any of her gifts. So she finally decided to call the gift shop when they opened later and order a flower arrangement for Ginger.
The nurse brought Ginger back from her minor surgery, and shortly later a n orderly brought in a pretty angel one of the volunteers had made and hung it above Ginger's bed. Ginger was absolutely thrilled and delighted with the angel. Whenever anyone came into the room, she had to show them her angel.
Well, within the hour an aid came in with a wheelchair to take Ginger to the waiting transport that would take her back to her group home. She would make it in time for the Christmas party after all. They loaded up her few belongings and placed the angel in her lap.
As she was being wheeled out, Ginger suddenly said, "Wait, take me over to that lady."
As Bonnie Shepherd tells the story in her own words:
The aid wheeled Ginger over to my bedside. She reached out and gave me a big hug. "Merry Christmas," she said. "You're a nice lady." And then she laid the angel on my lap. "Here, this is for you."
"Thank you." was all I could say as they headed out the door. I looked at the angel in my hands. "Ginger's only gift," I thought, "And she gave it to me."
I looked toward her bed. Once again her side of the room was bare and empty. But as I heard the lift doors down the hall close behind Ginger, I knew that she possessed much, much more than I.
CAROL: 188 Born in the night
COMMUNION INCLUDING PRAYERS:
This is the place where we remember those who are in need of prayer tonight. Lord we bring to the table....
As Jesus grew, Mary treasured all these things in her heart: the visits of the angel, shepherds and the wise men, the star, the blessings of Simeon and Anna, yet, Simeon had told her that sorrow, like a sharp sword, would break her heart.
Through your love for the world the Word became flesh and lived among us. As the angels sang glory to you in the highest heavens and peace to all people on earth, so we join with them and with all people to praise your name : Holy Lord, God of endless love, heaven and earth are surely full of your glory. The angels sang of it, the shepherds encountered it, we have been lavished with it. Blessed is he who is born this night.
Glory to God and on earth peace to all people.
As you, O God, shared your love and yourself with us in the person of Jesus so he shared himself with us in loving us and giving himself for us. On that never-to-be-forgotten night, as he sat at the table and broke bread with his friends, he said: Take and eat; this is my body which is broken for you. Remember me each time you do this.í After they had eaten, he took the cup, and said: Remember me as you drink from this, for it is my life, poured out for you - the beginning of a new relationship with God.
Send the power of your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may experience the presence of the Word-made-flesh - Jesus Christ. Breathe your Spirit in us that we may be one body with him - faithfully following and serving him, and awaiting with expectation the coming of his kingdom. Amen
THE LORD'S PRAYER
BREAKING THE BREAD We break this bread and take this cup so that we can all share in the life of Christ. Godís gifts for Godís people.
PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION Most gracious God, source of all blessing, we give you thanks for inviting us to share this meal as your family; strengthen us to be a blessing to one another and a blessing to all the world, glorifying you all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
CAROL: 159 Hark the herald angels sing
BLESSING: A CHRISTMAS PRAYER -- by Robert Lewis Stevenson
O God, our loving Father, Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus. May we share in the songs of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Your children, And the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, Forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. AMEN.