COMMUNITY CHURCH OF THE MONTEREY PENINSULA
P. O. BOX 222811
CARMEL CA 93922
Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor
Independent and United Church of Christ
December 24, 2020
Sadly, we won’t be able to have our wonderful, in-person, candlelit Christmas Eve service this evening. Feeling-wise, it’s the biggest loss of not being able to gather for church.
Elizabeth and I are currently watching the British television series Foyle’s War. It’s about a detective serving in England during the entire course of World War II. The series goes into the many ups and downs (more downs than ups for the first few years) of the actual war.
Oddly enough seeing Foyle’s War is helping me to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. First, it’s opened my eyes to the fact that we really are in a war fighting this virus. Looking at sheltering in place, social distancing, and wearing masks as part of the war effort – much like the much greater sacrifices the English had to make during the Second World War – makes it easier for me to take these in stride. After all, they’re part of our war effort, and we want to win this war! Second, Foyle’s War has taught me that things often get worse before they get better, and that the key is to stick to it in spite of all the downs.
Hopefully, the sacrifices that we’re having to make right now will help all of us to really appreciate it when things get better, and to make gratitude more a part of the daily fabric of our lives.
This worship service is designed to serve as a traditional Christmas Eve service of carols and readings. I spent a lot of time choosing the music, which includes everything from the pomp and circumstance of Westminster Abbey and King’s College, Cambridge, to children’s voices, traditional music done with excellence, an African-American spiritual, and a virtual choir.
If you would like a Zoom link for our virtual service this evening just let me know. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately we won’t be able to have music with this service. But we are able to see and hear each other, which is super-important right now.
My prayer is that in spite of all the challenges this year, your Christmas turns out to be one of your most memorable ever.
Stay Safe, Take Care, and Always Remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel –
God WITH Us, Pastor Paul
WORSHIP SERVICE FOR DECEMBER 24, 2020
MUSICAL PRELUDE: O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Traditional Choir
Megan Smith You Tube
Go Tell It On the Mountain
The Joyful Voices – Topic You Tube
INTRODUCTORY READING: A Christmas Poem by our own Dodie Scardina
O, Come Let Us Adore Him!
Angels from the Realms of Glory,
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,
In the Little Town of Bethlehem
Away in a Manger
We Three Kings of Orient Are.
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the New Born King
O, Come All Ye Faithful,
O, Come Let us Adore Him.
Joy to the World!
O Holy Night,
O Holy Night,
O Holy Night!
LIGHTING OF THE ADVENT CANDLES AND THE CHRIST CANDLE
On this Christmas Eve we are gathered
as God’s people to celebrate again
what Christ’s coming means to the world.
We join with Christians all over the world
who are celebrating tonight.
Tonight we relight the four Advent candles
and recall what the good news means:
HOPE, PEACE, LOVE, JOY.
Jesus Christ is the greatest gift
who makes all these other gifts possible.
We light the Christ candle now,
as we think about what Christ’s coming means
to each one of us.
Let us pray:
We thank you, God,
for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world.
We thank you that Christ’s coming
makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible
for every person in every nation.
Encourage us to do our part
to bring goodwill and peace to our families,
our churches, our neighborhoods, and our world.
Now let your Spirit put us in touch with you,
the living God, through the words (and music)
we hear tonight.
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
CAROL: O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles) at Westminster Abbey
ClassicallyInclined You Tube
FIRST READING: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
CAROL: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing SE Samonte You Tube
SECOND READING: Isaiah 11:1-9 (abridged)
A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Lord. With justice he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He will be girded with justice and faithfulness. Then the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the lion will graze together; and a little child shall lead them. . . The cow will feed with the bear; their young will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like the ox. They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
CAROL: Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming Acapella Choir Lyrics from Es Ist Ein Ros
Entsprungen Christmas Carol Vuetunes You Tube
THIRD READING: Isaiah 9:2-6
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
CAROL: Mary Did You Know by Clay Aiken MRLASTSONOFKRYPTON You Tube
FOURTH READING: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
CAROL: Angels We Have Heard on High (Virtual Choir #9) David Wesley You Tube
FIFTH READING: Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
CAROL: Away in a Manger – Kid’s Version w/Lyrics Pastor Madeline You Tube
SIXTH READING: Luke 2:8-14
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – 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 a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill toward all.”
CAROL: King’s College Cambridge 2010 #15 The First Nowell
Spiritdei You Tube
SEVENTH READING: Luke 2:15-20
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.
SERMON: NEWS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD Rev. Paul Wrightman
(The underlining indicates what I would emphasize if delivered orally)
Have you heard the good news, the GOOD NEWS?
Mark begins his Gospel with the announcement of the coming of the Good News. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ, whom Mark affirms to be “the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
This, of course, is what Advent is all about – our preparation for the coming of Jesus. This is the mood and feeling that is captured by the African-American spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain:” “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”
The Good News is that Jesus was born in an obscure village in an out-of-the-way place that was barren and unknown.
Today, Christ comes to the shadowy and barren place of our lives.
This is what Advent is all about. This is the Good News!
Jesus was born amid the poverty and obscurity of those Judean hills. It all began in such lowliness and unpretentiousness. But the fact remains that he transformed human life in the first century.
Today Christ comes to those shadowy and barren places of our lives and brings the light of God’s love and grace.
It was Good News for the first century, and it is Good News for our century.
In Bethlehem heaven touched earth as never before.
Today, the Good News of the Gospel touches our hearts and lives with the announcement that God is with us.
Jesus walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but the Good News is that today he walks our streets.
Look at the humble beginning where this message of Good News first appeared. It did not seem to have a ghost of a chance of surviving.
The birth of Jesus took place in a tiny country. Israel is only about 150 miles from north to south. It is about the size of the state of New Hampshire. How could the Good News that came to that small community ever become Good News for the world today?
Jesus was born into a Jewish family. The Jewish people of that time deliberately isolated themselves from other cultures and other communities. How could Good News that came to a country which had a deliberate policy of isolation be Good News for the world?
The Good News first appeared to the Jewish people, but at the time their country was under Roman occupation. How could this Good News that came to those who were so isolated and occupied by a foreign power ever be Good News for the world?
The answer is simple. The message of the Good News of Jesus Christ is a message about relationships, relationships between person-and-person, person-and-neighbor, person-and-enemy, person-and-country, person-and-planet, person-and-God.
The nature of relationships does not change over the years, so the message of Jesus is relevant for all time.
Jesus came to meet the basic human needs of the first century, our own century, of all centuries.
Jesus entered into life “then and there;” Jesus enters into life “here and now.” Jesus met the needs of the first century world, and the Good News for us is that he meets the needs of those in today’s world.
As Walter Wink reminds us in his challenging book Engaging the Powers, “Jesus identifies today with every victim of torture, incest or rape; with every peasant caught in the crossfire of an enemy patrol; with every single one of the [twenty-five] thousand children who die each day of hunger. . .with the Alzheimer’s patient who is slowly losing the capacity of recognition and the aids patient who is barely holding on to life.”
The Good News is that in Jesus God became a person and knows life exactly as we know it, every pain, every tear , every sorrow, every joy. Emmanuel, God-with-us.
One of the things we usually don’t think about is the reality that as a fully human being, Jesus experienced the same setbacks in life that we do. Author Brian Doyle drives this point home rather outrageously in his book How the Light Gets In. In this book is a whimsical prose poem entitled “Poem in Which Jesus Christ Rolls His Ankle on the Road to Betharaba,” and which I quote now in a slightly abridged form:
He rolls it good, too; he wasn’t paying sharp attention to the rough trail,
And he slips on a slippery rock, and down he goes, instantly aware that
This is a savage sprain. It’s not like he’s never blown a wheel before: he
Spent a lot of time between ages twelve and thirty sprinting and chasing
After sheep, and climbing trees, and racing his pals, and playing endless
Games that entailed spinning and dashing and whirling, so he’s seen this
Instant ballooning of the joint, and the subsequent blue-and-green mottle,
And he knows there’s no hope of ice, so he is basically up a creek. Many
Men right here would burst out cursing with remarkable pith and fluency,
But he knows this is not the time to call on the Great Musician, as it says
In the Psalms; you want to save your desperate plea card for the one time
You need it most, as he will, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in three years…
And all this is why he starts laughing, right there in the dust, as he notices
The ankle achieve a little of the lurid yellow color that follows blue-green.
He could just touch it and all would be well; he could command the crows
To lift him breezily to Betharaba, where he will call his first five disciples. . .
But that would be poor form, as he says aloud, grinning.
That would blow the whole script, the whole genius of the thing, the entire
Book of Revolution as written; and I will not muddle that which my father
Has made clear to me among all the children of his love. So up he staggers,
Awfully tempted to curse. . .for there’s no pain quite like a really badly
Sprained ankle; you are quite sure you will never walk normally again. But
He cuts a stick from a bush, apologizing gently to the plant for the damage,
And thanking it for the loan of a member, and off he limps to his incredible
Fate; but to give him his immense due, he lumbers along laughing. He who
Will salve the [brokenness] of the world, and open the door eternally
For forgiveness, and bring all willing beings home to the unimaginable
But ubiquitous Love: that guy sprains his ankle so badly it look like he’s
Wearing a pumpkin on His foot? That guy shambles along, laughing?
Astonishingly, yes – that guy.
The message of the Good News of Jesus was earthshaking for the first century world. For the first century Greek mind, the idea of God was one of absolute distance, a distance which nothing in heaven or earth could bridge. In the Greek world of the first century, the idea of God was one of detachment and indifference to human need.
The prevailing idea of God in the Israel of Jesus’ day was also one of distance. In the case of the God of Israel, the distance was brought about by God’s absolute holiness, a holiness which human beings could never attain.
The Good News of Jesus revealed a God who cares passionately, a God who wants to be involved in all aspects of human life, including sprained ankles.
Barbara Brown Taylor captures something of the mystery of the incarnation – the traditional Christian affirmation that God became a person in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – when she writes:
“When you look at Jesus, you see God. When you listen to him, you hear God. Not
because he has taken God’s place, but because he is the clear window God has glazed into flesh and blood – the porthole between this world and the next, the passageway between heaven and earth.”
That was Good News for the first century world and that is Good News for our world.
Never before had God been defined in such loving, kind, gracious, and caring terms.
This was unthinkable for the first century world to whom Mark was writing his Gospel. And it remains unthinkable for many people in today’s world. Too good to be true, many would say. Too good not to be true, many would say in response.
The primary expression of Jesus’ Good News is grace. God through grace has taken the initiative.
In the birth of Jesus, God reminds us that there is an unbreakable relationship between God and us.
What surprises us about God’s grace in regard to Christmas is the notion that God should take on flesh and dwell among us.
The fact is, however, that we are always surprised by God’s grace, not just at Christmas. Because it is God’s grace, it comes to us on God’s terms. Grace is the unmerited, unearned, undeserved goodness of God that is showered upon our lives.
Why is it that God has not given up on us? We have spurned God’s love, polluted God’s creation, and mocked God’s purpose with cruel acts of inhumanity. Why doesn’t God just go ahead and allow us to self-destruct?
Why? Because there is nothing in heaven or on earth so dogged, determined, stubborn, and persistent as the grace of God that wills to heal, reconcile, and restore.
Have you noticed where God has placed God’s treasure on earth? The treasure is not gold, but Gospel. Not silver, but Good News. Not hard, cold cash, but grace and love and peace.
God could have left it to the politicians, those responsible for passing laws, building roads, and collecting taxes, but God did not.
God could have left this treasure with the theologians of the day, the scribes and Pharisees, who claimed that they knew God better than anyone else, but God did not.
God left God’s treasure in the least likely of places: in the love, care, and nurture of a first century peasant teenager chosen as the “handmaiden of the Lord.” God’s treasure was left with the most powerless figure in the ancient world.
Doesn’t that tell us something about God’s grace in today’s world?
God comes to us in the most unlikely place – Bethlehem.
God comes to us through the most unlikely of people – Mary.
God comes to us under the most unlikely circumstances – the poverty of the Galilean hills.
Knowing that we cannot go where God is, God comes to us where we are.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
What was your reaction to Brian Doyle’s piece about Jesus spraining his ankle?
What is the most surprising thing to you about Christmas?
God appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds when they were just being themselves. (a) What does this imply about what it means to be “spiritual?” (b) How has God spoken to you in the ordinary flow of your life?
CAROL: Silent Night, Holy Night SE Samonte You Tube
AN AFFIRMATION OF FAITH FOR ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
Susan Bock, Contemporary
We believe in God,
who bends and kneels toward our world,
drenching it with love,
making it new with every breath.
We believe in Jesus,
God become human,
taking upon himself all our sorrows
and lifting them to God for healing.
We believe in the Spirit,
hovering God, present among us,
patiently waiting and encouraging.
We believe we are called to do justice,
love kindness, and walk humbly
with God and each other,
ready for God’s reign, awake and alert,
as we work to bring it near.
We believe we are called,
as Christmas arrives,
to lift up our heart in hope and in love,
seeking God’s presence
in each moment and person,
each challenge and heartache,
each blessing and joy.
We believe! Amen.
CAROL: Joy to the World/Merry Christmas from George Fox University
George Fox University You Tube
Patiently and persistently, God loves.
Relentlessly and Unconditionally, God loves.
Now and forever, God loves.