Christmas

Jesus Christmas box

Rev David McGregor’s Christmas sermon 2015luke-2-8-20-christmas-day-2015-sermon

nonwhitenativity

Non-white nativity, by Janet Mckenzie, janetmckenzie.com

“In an out of the way kind of place, in an out of the way kind of time, in an out of the way kind of town there was God’s truth: a baby born to bring light and love to all people in every time and in every place.” (from ‘all in nativity’ 2016, Rev Jennifer Hughes, Brougham Place UC)

INSTEAD – A CHRISTMAS PRAYER
Instead of searching for belief
in a virgin birth,
or in the God who comes as human,
I hope this year
only for the faith to live
as if the darkest parts of my life and world
are the manger into which
love has been born again.
(Source: Cheryl Lawrie, Hold this space)

“He didn’t rise to prominence along the normal alpha-male route of threats of eye-for-eye revenge, but by way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation”.
Brian McLaren – read more here.

Luke 2:1-8 Most of our images of the nativity is with Mary and Joseph in a shed in the middle of a field all alone. It would seem that historical research in modern times actually gives us a different understanding. The word we use for inn does not accurately reflect what they were trying to talk about. (Source: Karen Mitchell Lambert. Read more here)

God in amongst us:
Christ in the midst of our busyness,
As we rush headlong from place to place,
and from thing to thing,
In the hectic pace of our living,
May we remember to look to recognise those who care for and support us.
May we see the progress we have made and the growth that has occurred.
May we notice the good things that we have shared and shared in,
And may we identify the connections with you that have challenged and sustained us.

God in amongst us:
Christ in the midst of our stillness and solitude,
As we wait for the next thing,
Experience loneliness,
In our times of restriction and withdrawal,
May we see the progress we have made and the growth that has occurred.
May we notice the good things that we have shared and shared in,
And may we identify the connections with you that have challenged and sustained us.

God in amongst us:
Christ in the midst of all life,
Whatever our state of being,
Wherever the place we find ourselves,
Whenever time may hold us,
May we look to the Spirit’s prompting.
May we attend to the needs of others even as we attend to our own.
May we love our neighbour as ourselves,
And find your love for us lived around, amongst and within us.
Thus, may it be. Amen.
(Source: Jon Humphries)

Archbishop of Canterbury 2015 Christmas Sermon

British street artist Banksy’s 2012 Christmas card is, in many ways, a conventional Biblical landscape painting, which shows what are presumably the figures of Joseph and Mary — she astride a donkey — making their way toward Bethlehem, only to find their route blocked by the graffiti-covered Irsaeli West Bank barrier. To the left, a shepherd tends his sheep, while in the distant sky a cross-shaped star lights up the heavens over the imposing concrete wall.

banksyx-mas

Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark claims that the most outlandish and revolutionary phrase written in first-century Rome was “For God so loved the world…” The pagan gods, as they were understood, did not love the world—they used the world. They were not revered for their virtue or good character, but were worshipped (placated) by humans for reasons of personal gain, hope for revenge, conquest or safety. The legends of the gods’ too-human characteristics of selfishness, pride, lust, greed, rapaciousness and general skullduggery are legion. People of this time would not have had categories for the idea of a God whose basic orientation was love: other-centered, self-donating love. And yet, this is the very clear message of Christmas (Steve Bell).

Glory (the song of the shepherds)
by Alana Levandoski, sung by Steve Bell here on Soundcloud. 
We stood watch, just like any other night
Counting sheep, just trying to stay upright
Shuffling our feet, we heard the beat of an angel’s wing…
An angel’s wing
And above, we saw the strangest thing
The light all around began to sing: Glory! Glory! Glory!
We left the fields, moved by the angel’s song
Even the sheep seemed to sing along
We ran like drunken poets
Looking for their muse, to the beat
Of angel’s wings
And below, we saw the strangest sign
All at once, our hearts knew what to cry: Glory! Glory! Glory!

“GOD’S SURPRISE” (Tune: Scarlet Ribbons)
Who would think that what was needed
To transform and save the earth
Might not be a plan or army,
Proud in purpose, proved in worth?
Who would think, despite derision,
That a child should lead the way?
God surprises earth with heaven,
Coming here on Christmas Day.

Shepherds watch and wise men wonder,
Monarchs scorn and angels sing;
Such a place as none would reckon
Hosts a holy helpless thing;
Stable beasts and by-passed stranger
Watch a baby laid in hay:
God surprises earth with heaven
Coming here on Christmas Day.

Centuries of skill and science
Span the past from which we move,
Yet experience questions whether,
With such progress, we improve.
While the human lot we ponder,
Lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven
Coming here on Christmas Day. (c) The Iona Community

How Can We Sing a Joyful Song?
Tune: O WALY WALY 8.8.8.8 (“Though I May Speak”)

How can we sing a joyful song?
O God, our sorrows hem us in.
When pain and grief seem all too strong,
How can we sing a joyful hymn?

The world around finds songs to sing
Of laughter, mirth and happiness,
But these sound false and even sting
When what we feel is deep distress.

And yet, O God, we dare to sing
For in our grief, we’re not alone.
You love this world and entered in
By sending us your only Son.

You sent us hope — Emmanuel!
O God-with-us, you bore our pain.
And so we sing, for all is well!
In Christ, we will be whole again.

Biblical References: Psalms 137:1-6; John 3:16; Matthew 1:23
Tune: Traditional English melody (“Though I May Speak”) (MIDI)
Text: Copyright © 2009 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: bcgillette@comcast.net New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/

Album: Keening for the Dawn, by Steve Bell (Canadian folk singer) with songs about the Christmas story.

Carols as protest songs by Jarrod McKenna
I need a word of hope.
In verse 1 of chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel we are introduced to a word of hope, a person who in the ancient Roman empire was referred to as “Divine, Son of God, God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer Liberator, and Savior of the World” and his name is…
No. Not Jesus.
Caesar Augustus.
All these terms are first used of Caesar Augustus. We use them in reference to Jesus because the gospel is a counterclaim against every other power. Every Christmas carol is a protest song. That is, every Christmas carol is a protest song if we realize Christmas isn’t about God’s ticket to escape the world and its pain. Christmas instead is the powerful way God shows up “in person” to transform the world and our pain.
Both imperial Rome and the early church claimed that their good news came from Heaven. Both announce a gospel of peace, here on earth. The Roman Empire believed it of Caesar Augustus — the early church believed it only of Jesus the Messiah.
Both those who claimed Caesar was Lord and those who claimed Jesus was Lord proclaimed a divine conception and a predestined Savior. Christ and Caesar’s birth stories were competing and noncompatible claims that a new world had started & a new start for the human race was underway. Both had the same goal: Peace on earth for the entire world.
But if you miss the different ways of getting to the world God dreams of, you miss the gospel. In the last Christmas sermon of his life — three months before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. preached,

“It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace… And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek… it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

For some, today’s Bible reading with its talk of empires is too political. For others its talk of angels too spiritual. But today’s gospel reading wants us to open our eyes to the empires and open our ears to the angels and their protest songs.
“Joy to the world” is a protest song if you are singing about the nonviolent King Jesus.
“Hark the herald angels sing” — a protest song.
“O holy night” — a protest song!
“O come all ye faithful” — guess what? Protest song!
“Frosty the snowman” … not a protest song.
Hear the angels’ voices — God’s protest song to all oppression, evil, injustice, sin, violence, and death.
So maybe listen again to how the tune of Jesus’ life is composed. Listen again to the melody of the incarnation, born not in a palace but in an outhouse for animals. Hear the angels’ voices?
Born not to the ruling elite but among the poor and oppressed masses. Hear the angels’ voices?
Born not to a queen but to a yet-to-be-properly-wed teenage mum. Hear the angels’ voices?
A king who will bring peace not with a sword but with nonviolent love — hear the angels’ voices?
A king who brings good news to the poor, sight to the blind, healing to the lame, inclusion to the excluded, forgiveness to sinners and makes the last first. Hear the angels’ voices?
A saviour who will save not by killing his enemies but loving them, by suffering for them even to the point of death on a cross. A king who conquers and is coronated while being executed on cross as the world’s true Lord! Hear the angels’ voices? A protest song divine?But the song doesn’t stop there. Death could not hold him down. Love raised him from the grave as the world’s true king and he will reign in love for forever and ever! Hear the angels’ voices? A protest song divine?
Yes! With the coming of the baby hear the angels’ voices in the face of empire sing, “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth.”
The way of the manger, where the Almighty takes on all vulnerability, leads directly to the way of the cross, where God is victorious over violence and injustice through suffering love.
This gets to the heart of the exclusivity of the Christian claim: there is only one Lord and Savior — and it ain’t Caesar.
It’s the nonviolent Christ, whose name is Jesus, whose way of peace is vindicated in the Resurrection.
“His Law is Love and his Gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease!”
The early Christians insisted there is no way to peace, but Jesus’ peace is the way.

Sentimentalized and commercialized Christmas is something many of us seek to survive. But the Love that is the Incarnation is the only thing that can save our world. Only the true meaning of Christmas can speak at word profound enough to minister to the depths of human suffering. At the manger, through his ministry, on the cross, in the resurrection we hear Heaven declare, “Only love transforms.”
As Biblical Scholar N.T. Wright says, “The trouble with how we’ve treated Christmas is we’ve screened out the Emperors, and so we’ve missed the point of the angels.”
The angels sing a protest song to the way our world works. An army of angels in Luke 2:14 mount a counterattack to the violence of the world as they declare glory to God and peace on earth comes through this nonviolent king born in Bethlehem.
It’s a song our world desperately needs to hear.
This Christmas I’m talking about:
What happened to those 8 precious children in Cairns.
What happened to those 133 precious children at school in Peshawar.
What happened to those 2 innocent hostages at the hands of a very sick man in Sydney.
What happened last week outside a café in Queensland where despite it being 2014, a sign was hung that read “no Muslims.”
What happened 3 days before Christmas with the cutting of support for the homeless.
What’s happening with the demonising of those struggling in poverty by referring to them as “dole bludgers.”
What happen during advent when $11 billion was stolen from our promises to the world poorest of poor in the Australian aid budget and all that means:
1.4 million mothers will give birth without the safety of a birth attendant
2.2 million children may not get to enroll in school
3.7 million children may not be vaccinated
4.7 million people may not get access to safe drinking water, and
21.9 million people in emergency situations may go unassisted.
These are just some of the reasons I need a word of hope this Christmas.
And, if I can risk being vulnerable with you, I’m struggling to work through forgiveness. Two weeks ago 53 church leaders were arrested in 7 actions in 6 cities calling for the release of refugee children from detention. Despite being praised by police, magistrates, and senators for our nonviolent discipline, 8 of us church leaders in Perth experienced the abuse of police powers in what the Australian Human Rights Law Centre has called “a deeply concerning use of strip searches to humiliate and punish peaceful protestors.” Hearing my wife sob from a prison cell after risking this kind of love so that others can be free is one of the reasons why this Christmas I need not sentimentalism, nor commercialism, nor kitsch, but a word of hope.
Not Caesar’s word of hope. Not peace through the sword. But the hope of Christ. The hope that insists, “Love makes a way.” The hope that insists, “Love is the way” — because we see in Mary’s child, as he grows to be a man, God is love.
Violence can never transform — it can only momentarily subdue. Can you hear the angels’ protest song? They announce a king who doesn’t violently suppress but nonviolently suffers so the world can know forgiveness and be transformed.
Hear the angels’ voices?
This might not be the Christmas message you wanted to read. Then again, maybe you are as broken and problematic as me and don’t want to hear how God is transforming the world and wants sinners like us to be a part of it. Maybe you don’t want to hear a whitewashed, sanitized, fairy-tale bastardisation of the Gospel, and instead want to just hear the story of Jesus and its word of hope. Instead of escaping reality maybe you like me need a word of hope that another world is possible. Maybe like me you need that word of hope that in Jesus, a new world is on its way. Maybe like me you need to hear that not only can things be different, but we can be transformed.
Martin Luther King Jr. ended his last Christmas sermon by talking about God’s dream of a world that has started in Jesus. A world in which we are all welcomed to partake around this table. It’s the “Dream of God’s Kingdom:”

“I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that people will be elected who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that all will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and everyone will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to witness to that day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward all.”

I heard the hope of Christmas proclaimed this Advent from my wife Teresa when she came out of that jail cell and told the press, “Even if you strip-search us, even if you make us squat naked and cough, even if you threaten us, we will not stop fighting for their freedom.”
These are the words of a sister whose eyes are open to the reality of the empires, principalities, and powers, but who can still hear the angels’ protest songs. They are the words of someone who, because of Christmas, her soul has found its worth. These are the words of someone who proclaims God’s dream of the kingdom and God’s nonviolent king, Jesus.
Let us open our eyes to the empires and our ears to the angels’ protest songs. Let us fall on our knees in worship, then roll up our sleeves in discipleship.
Glory to the nonviolent King.
“O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.”
Jarrod McKenna is the National Director of Common Grace, a Teaching Pastor at Westcity Church, Co-founder of First Home Project, and prominent figure in the Love Makes A Way movement.

 

The Scandal of Christmas (John Shuck, 2011)
The scandal of Christmas is not that Jesus was son of God.
Images of the son of God were seen everywhere.
The Roman Imperial cult was filled with son of God propaganda.

Lest there be any doubt, Caesar was the son of God
and he had the standing armies to prove it.
That is what a son of God has—power.
Power to fund armies.
Power to move populations from one place to another.
Power to build.
Power to destroy.
Power to feed and power to let starve.

The scandal is not that Jesus is son of God as if that is something supernatural.
No, the scandal is that Jesus, the nobody,
the one without any army,
who wrote nothing,
who held no office,
who owned no property,
who was nobody in his own lifetime,
whose legacy is
welcoming and offering dignity to the marginalized,
pointing out and poking fun of the hypocrisy of the elite,
and resisting evil with non-violent transformative love,
that nobody who was tortured and executed by authority of Caesar, the son of God,
was the son of God.

Steve Bell (Canadian musician) writes:
Malcolm Guite wrote an illuminating poem, Descent, that beautifully expresses the heart of this paradox. Indeed, so much can be said about the mystery of Christ’s nativity. But this poem uniquely paints a picture of the nature of God by showing us a startling contrast to the pagan gods as they would have been understood in first-century Rome. This contrast has enormous implications for worship and for human behaviour and relations. For, according to the Scriptures, we have been made in the image of this God. If we want a picture of what a redeemed and restored humanity might look like, we must begin with the difference between gods made in our own image, and the Son of God who came down to us:

DESCENT (lyrics by Malcolm Guite, music by Steve Bell)
They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But You came down

You dropped down from the mountain sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other gods demanded fear
But You gave love

Where chiseled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought You to Your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn
Aloof from birth and death and pain
But You were born

Born to these burdens born by all
Born with us all astride the grave
Weak to be with us when we fall
But strong to save

I found these words on Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee’s Facebook page, written by her father:
The horses of Herod are riding tonight;
and starlight is glinting from swords burnished bright;
the horses of Herod are riding tonight;
riding, riding, riding, riding tonight – riding tonight.
The children of Ramah are sleeping tonight;
the mothers in Ramah have tucked them in tight;
the fathers in Ramah have blown out the lights;
sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping tonight – sleeping tonight.
The Archangel Gabriel bends from his height;
to Joseph he whispers to warn of his plight;
then once again lifts into orbital flight;
warning, warning, warning, warning tonight – warning tonight.
Now Joseph and Mary are fleeing in fright;
just clothes on their backs and the toddler held tight;
how narrowly missing the murderous fight;
running, running, running, running tonight – running tonight.
The children of Ramah are dying tonight;
the Spirit is writhing in pain at the sight;
bright angels are lifting the dying to light;
lifting, lifting, lifting, lifting to light – lifting to light.
But mothers and fathers in Ramah can’t see
that Jesus was spared from the night’s butchery to die for us later on Calvary’s tree –
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, dying for me – dying for me.
The powers of darkness are riding tonight;
all over the world they’re still riding tonight;
but candles of Christmas are now burning bright
– mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty and bright – mighty and bright.

Inclusive language for Christmas carolsthis link has some suggested reframing of carols by Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee. Here are a couple of examples:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, hear the heavenly anthems ring:
“Peace on Earth, and mercy mild; all the Earth is reconciled!”
Joyful, all Creation rise, join the anthems of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing: songs of Hope to us they bring!

Christ, by Earth and heav’n adored; Christ, the healing, Holy Word;
Throughout time, behold Love come, offspring of an Earthly womb.
Veiled in flesh, divinity; hail incarnate Deity,
Love is born in us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel!
Hark! The herald angels sing: songs of Peace to us they bring!

Hail the heav’nly reign of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all now bring, ris’n with healing in thy wings!
Now we find the kin-dom come, death and war and hate are done!
Love has come to all the Earth, Love has brought a second birth!
Hark! The herald angels sing: songs of Joy to us they bring!

Joy to the World
Joy to the world! For Love is come: let Earthly praises ring!
Let every heart prepare ye room,
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing!

Joy to the Earth! For justice reigns!
Let all our songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy!

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
Love comes to make the blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found!

God loves the world in truth and grace! And all Creation proves
The glories of this righteousness,
And wonders of this love, and wonders of this love,
And wonders, wonders of this love!

A New Father, Awe-Struck      MUELLER 11.11.11.11 (“Away in a Manger”)
A new father, awe-struck; a mother so mild;
A stable; a manger; a dear, newborn child —
God, as we imagine that family so blessed,
We sometimes forget they were poor and oppressed.

A woman — considered to have no real worth —
Said, yes! She would bear your own Son here on earth.
We hear her bold singing! Her faithful words soar:
“God humbles the rich and God lifts up the poor.”

As Joseph and Mary began a new home,
They suffered oppression from rulers in Rome.
Then, fleeing from Herod to save their son’s life,
They looked for a land free from violence and strife.

We hear in our own day the cries of the poor;
We see in Aleppo the terror of war*.
In women and children and men who must flee,
We glimpse, Lord, your life as a young refugee.

When some say that only the wealthy have worth,
O God, we recall where you lived here on earth.
May we in your church serve the poor and distressed;
For, working for justice, we give you our best.

Biblical References: Luke 1:46-55; Luke 2:1-20; Luke 22-24; Matthew 2:13-18; Matthew 25:31-46; Leviticus 12:6; Micah 6:8
Tune: James Ramsey Murray, 1887 (“Away in a Manger”)
Text: Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: bcgillette@comcast.net New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/

Hymn Note for “A New Father, Awe-Struck”
This hymn begins with a traditional image of a manger scene, and becomes a prayer that we may look deeper — at our loving God who chose to come into this world as someone who was poor, powerless, in danger, and a refugee. It is a prayer for the church to work for justice as our gift to Jesus.
*Praying for the day when the fighting in Aleppo will be history and not a tragic current event, here is a substitute second line for the fourth verse:
“We see in your world, God, the terror of war.”

2016 Christmas Pilgrim & CSACC – Carols Service: a collaboration of the Chinese (SA) Christian Church and Pilgrim Church

About admin

Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon) in placement at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in Adelaide CBD (12 Flinders St). This blog is mainly to resource worship planners for our services, but of course may be useful for others. We have some great writers of music, words for hymns and liturgy at Pilgrim, so this blog also includes their words.

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