If you've ever been to Disneyland, which is supposed to be the "Happiest Place on Earth," you know this isn't true for everyone! Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy, but if we pay close attention to the story, there is darkness mixed in with the light. The story of the incarnation speaks to our experiences of darkness, offering the promise that the light of God is present in its midst. With planning for Christmas Eve fully underway, David Ackerman, in his Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary, offers us a set of texts that speak to the need for hope when hope seems lost. I'll be preaching this Christmas Eve from Habakkuk 3, expecting to hear a new word for the season. As you'll notice the Gospel reading remains Luke 2 -- there really isn't another appropriate reading for Christmas Eve, but perhaps we can hear it a new in the context of the texts David has chosen for the night. So I invite you to consider these readings.
“God Shares in Our Distress”
Call to Worship: Isaiah 54:1-10 NRSV
One: Sing, O barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
Many: Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.
One: For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns.
Many: Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth; and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
One: For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
Many: For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off, says your God.
One: For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
Many: In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.
One: This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.
Many: For the mountains may depart and the hills may be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Gathering Prayer: We come tonight to celebrate your coming to us and becoming one of us. You have entered our world of flesh and bone, and by coming to us you lead us to you. Thank you, Jesus, for the miracle of your birth this night.
Confession: Your birth, O Christ, should change everything, yet our minds and hearts are still far away from you. We have been distracted by the trappings of this season, and it has been a time of busywork for us instead of a season of holiness. Forgive us, God, and help us to join with shepherds and angels to announce to our world that you have been born to us this night.
Assurance: God has forgiven us and made us new. Let us thank and praise the Christ who has arrived not as a terrifying despot but as a humble child, born in poverty, to save us from the world’s oppression.
Scriptures: Habakkuk 3:17-19 – “Yet I Will Rejoice”
Philippians 4:10-14 – “I Can Do All Things”
*Luke 2:1-20 – “The Birth of Christ”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
· What do you think tonight’s selection from Habakkuk 3 has to say to us when we are feeling hopeless?
· Both Habakkuk 3 and Isaiah 54 speak about barrenness, and Isaiah is explicit in offering hope for women who are barren or widows. How might Christmas Eve be a difficult time for women who are childless? How about for those who have lost loved ones? What hope do these verses give to everyone who may be having a “blue Christmas”?
· How do Paul’s words in Philippians 3 offer hope to those who are facing bleak circumstances? What does it mean to you to think about Paul writing “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v 13) from his cell in a first century prison? What does Jesus’ coming have to do with sharing in our distress?
· *Luke 2:1-20 is the only Revised Common Lectionary scripture to also be used in Beyond the Lectionary (intentionally, see Corrections). As familiar as this reading may be, how does it sound different to you when connected to tonight’s other scriptures? Do they draw out any insights for you about Jesus’ birth?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: God, we glorify and thank you for teaching us that you show your authority not through strength of force but through humble love.
Benediction: In the poorest of circumstances, God has come into the world to give us hope in our barrenness and misery. Let us go forth this night as a people transformed by the love of God, who has indeed come to change everything and give us new life. Amen.