Up high in the trees, dark and remote above the ancient village with candle light, organ and choir. A special place as we pause on the Eve of Christmas
Hark, hark, the wise eternal word, like a weak infant cries! In form of servant is the Lord, and God in cradle lies.
Invitation to Confession
Hear the words of the angel to Joseph: ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ Therefore let us seek the forgiveness of God through Jesus the Saviour of the world. Amen
May the God of all healing and forgiveness draw you to himself and cleanse you from all your sins, that you may behold the glory of his Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Eternal God, who made this most holy night
to shine with the brightness of your one true light: bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth,
to see the radiance of your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen
Ist Reading Isaiah 52
7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
2nd Reading Titus 3
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Alleluia, alleluia. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory. All Alleluia.
Gospel Luke 2
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Just as our world revolves around the North and South poles, so the church’s year turns on the two poles of Christmas and Easter.
Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In the worship book Times and Seasons, the season is introduced in these words:
The wonderful mystery of God’s dwelling among us in the fullness of humanity, as Emmanuel, foretold by the prophets and born of Mary, provides the material of the feast. The introduction goes on to quote from the 16th century poem “A Psalm for Christmas Day” by Thomas Pestel:
Hark, hark, the wise eternal word,
like a weak infant cries!
In form of servant is the Lord,
and God in cradle lies.
Tonight we read from Luke’s gospel, about the shepherds and the angels, but tomorrow it is significant that the great Christmas Day readings do not come from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke but from the opening of John’s gospel and Hebrews. This is because the task of the Christmas liturgy is to recall us, amid all the joyful customs and celebrations of Christmas, to this central truth of the Word made flesh for our salvation.
Even so, there is no time in the church’s year when we feel the weight of tradition quite as strongly as during the Christmas season. Christ’s nativity has provided the occasion for the feast of the incarnation since at least the 13th century.
The Christmas crib and the nativity play can both be traced back to the tableau of Christ’s birth that Francis of Assisi arranged in 1223. Christmas carols are a medieval tradition, which were developed from the end of the nineteenth century. The Festival of Lessons and Carols is itself an English creation of the late nineteenth century, made popular by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, in the first half of the twentieth. New Year’s Day is not a church festival, but forms the backdrop to the Covenant Service in the Methodist tradition. In our own time, the commercial pressures of Christmas are spreading backward into Advent, with Black Friday and other excuses for promotional activity.
So, here we are, celebrating Christmas as a Christian festival marooned like castaways on an island within the commercial and secular pressures of a traditional British overindulgent feast. These few moments of Christmas in church are valuable ones, recalling as they inevitably do, the Word made flesh, which came among us in the form of Jesus, and through faith in Him has led to our salvation. Pause, if you will, between the courses of turkey and the trimmings to remind yourself of the real foundation of the two poles of Christmas and Easter in the story of our salvation and the coming of the Kingdom. Amen