Presented to the First Congregational Church in Salem December 24, 2020
Each year, many Christians share a worship service much like ours on Christmas Eve, the service of lessons and carols. During this blessed time, we share the story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture and the joyous sharing of song. For me, this service is like a beautifully wrapped gift that we can only open together. Perhaps that is why I found it so important to share this present with you; even though we had the opportunity to do something innovative with worship this year because we could not sing or gather due to the pandemic. Yet for some reason, this traditional service of our lessons and carols seemed right – seemed like it needed to be shared – seemed like the perfect present for our community this year.
From the story itself which is worth repeating year after year to the many musical gifts of our fellowship shared this day. From the sharing of scripture, prayer, and liturgy by so many voices to the decorations of our beautiful sanctuary provided by so many hands. Yes, this service – this blessed gift of Christmas – is a present because it reveals all of the beautiful ways, we are in fellowship together and so much more.
Now mind you this service is not like the traditional Christmas gift of a yummy fruit cake from Grammy which also has the added benefit of holding down paper in hurricane force winds or the wonderful present from Aunt Lou that helped you secure first place in the ugly sweater contest this year. No, this sharing of our Christmas story is a gift of our community which I pray you each enjoyed for it tells of another present – one which you already possess, even though the wrapping paper is still upon it. This story tells of a present which is already ours, even though Christmas morning is not yet here. This story of the child’s birth and the way we are sharing the story is the blessed gift of our salvation even though our Christ has not returned – yet.
As we start to unwrap our present though, would you pray with me?
Gracious God – recreate our lives this night and set our hearts alight with the blessed teachings of our Christ, Your Son. Reveal in us, O God, the present of Your salvation through the eyes of the child who sees all people as one. May the words from my lips and our joyous hearts ever resound in praise and be a blessing to You.
Now beloved, this gift of salvation has so many facets that if I were to share them all right now it would be Easter before we could finally explain the whole present – So instead, let us just talk about one part of salvation – the salvation of a child – the present that Jesus brought us when he showed us the Way to salvation through the eyes of a child.
And even though I am sure you have all prepared your hearts for the coming light of Christ over the advent season and are all squarely on the nice list – not the naughty list of God’s faithful servant, St. Nick. I wonder – I wonder: are there times when you forget – when you slide onto the naughty list by hurting someone’s feelings? Was there a time when you received a gift and reflected on it as a paperweight instead of being grateful that Grammy made it for you – is there ever a time when you do not walk in Jesus’ footsteps as a child – innocent and loving of ALL people. No – well then, this message is not for you.
For the rest of us there are times we all slip up and do not walk as Jesus did – are ungrateful or hurt one another. Generally, by accident and sometimes because it seems impossible for us to do otherwise while remaining faithful disciples. Because God did make us as disciples who are called to live a just and kind life – yet, sometimes these areas do not always seem to match – sometimes when we are just to one person, we are not always kind to another. Sometimes kindness to yourself may not seem to be just for a neighbor. We do our best and that is all that God truly asks of us – do your best to be kind, just, and walk like Jesus. See the world as Jesus does. Live as a child in the light of hope – love – joy – and peace of God. Let the scripture guide you in your discernment of how to always be a disciple of Christ. Still, we slip up and fail at times and I wonder if that is because we forget the story of the baby who came into the world with salvation for ALL people.
For, beloved, that is one of the miracles of Christmas – the message from The Letter of Paul to Titus. The message shared with us when the author explains the gift of salvation – the present of Christ Jesus’ life for all of Creation is that “salvation is for all (people).” This Good News, beloved, is the core of our Christmas story which invites us to be like that babe in a manger – innocent – welcoming and loving of all people. Grateful for the gift of the manger and unaware of its ugliness. See the world as our Christ does in the manger that night so long ago – simply loving all people without judgement. Sadly, when we forget this beautiful lesson of salvation through the eyes of a child, we start to slip up – are ungrateful – fail to walk as Jesus walked.
Still, the Good News beloved also reminds us how to correct ourselves and continue to follow Christ. It is why we recall Jesus’ teachings each year on Christmas Eve. It is so we do not forget. The author of this letter explains the Good News of scripture is there for us so, we will be trained to be disciples who are “zealous for good deeds.” So, we will remember that Jesus came for all people – all people are important, and all voices are a gift to be heard.
Perhaps this good news is why our worship of lessons and carols is so important – why the service itself shares the Good News of salvation for all people – why this present is so important this year when we are so far away from one another. Because this service does reveal the Good News of salvation, beloved, when we share it together with all people. When we seek out different authors of scripture who share the story of Jesus’ birth and bring them to life once again through the people of this community who shared their voices with us tonight. When we seek out the multitude of composers who add their words and music to tell this story of Jesus while we bring to life the gift of salvation through the voices of our community in song – flute – organ – piano and guitar. When we seek out liturgists to share their prayers or the words which call us into worship together. What a blessing – what a blessing this Good News is beloved that we cannot only hear that Christ came to save us all; but through this blessed worship service we can witness the Good News that salvation is for all people and all people are important to experience the salvation which Christ brings.
Now beloved, this Good News of Christmas is your present – a light of Christ which will help guide each of us through the darkness until Christ returns. The Good News is of Jesus’ teachings to remind us; voices to reveal salvation through our fellowship and the blessed voices of all people throughout Creation. This gift of the Good News, beloved, is yours – has been yours – and will always be yours whenever you witness the world as a child who came to save all people no matter who they are, where they are on life’s journey, or where they are in the world. May your eyes always witness one another as our Christ child did when he came loving all people on Christmas Day. In God’s eternal Love for us all, we pray. Amen