Sunday, December 25
Sing with Joy
God, you spoke and your Word became flesh, breathing a new song of joy and praise into the world. Grant that we may bear the good news of your salvation, proclaiming your promise of peace to the ends of the earth. Amen.
O sing to God a new song,
for God has done marvelous things.
God's right hand and holy arm
have given God the victory.
God has made known the victory;
and has revealed God's vindication
in the sight of the nations.
God has remembered having steadfast love
and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth
have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to God,
all the earth;
break forth into joyous song
and sing praises.
Sing praises to God with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the Ruler, the Sovereign.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of God,
for God is coming to judge the earth.
God will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
All Readings For This Sunday
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
- What is behind our Christmas giving, what hope for a joy that is hard to describe or explain?
- What is your favorite Christmas carol, and what particular joy does it express?
- What are you doing, as you wait for God's messenger?
- Do you feel tired and relieved on Christmas morning, or energized and renewed?
- What difference would it make if your church understood itself as "anointed with the oil of gladness"?
by Kathryn Matthews Huey
At Christmas, we look at the manger scene, we sing songs about what happened long ago, we re-tell--again and again--the ancient story of the birth of Jesus. We celebrate at Christmas, filled with joy at what God has done. Our psalm reading for this day, Psalm 98, calls us to sing "a new song" because of what God did in the past but also because of what God is still doing today and will continue to do in the future. At the core of their religious observance, the people of Israel remembered God's faithfulness in their history, but also recognized the presence of God in their midst at that moment, judging the people, judging the world God had created: in a sense, then, continuing to create and re-shape, to re-create it all along. We might be taken off guard by this notion of judgment entering our Christmas celebration, but in her New Proclamation 2012 commentary, Beth Tanner reminds us that the warmth of the Christmas season "gives way to the long, cold winter," a good time to "change how we live so that others can live." Simply put, she says, "The psalm calls on us to party for the equality of all." That certainly brings our celebration this morning into coherence with our longing for God's justice and healing and peace, not just for some but for all the world that God loves so well. That surprising note of judgment reminds us, too, of Mary's beautiful song, The Magnificat, when the high will be brought low, and the hungry filled. No wonder Mary's son would talk the same way, one day.
On this Christmas Day, then, we look back, but we strive to open our eyes, too, to the presence and the workings of God's promises, the unfolding of God's will just as much for all of us and the world today as for one young woman, full of grace, long ago. The psalm calls us and all the world, not just our congregation, not just the wider church, not just folks who believe as we do, but all the world, all creation, to sing this new song. As nature breaks forth in praise and a melody of its own, the singing of birds and brooks, the music of the spheres, the hum that lies beneath all life, our voices raised in Christmas carols are joined with the rest of Godís good and beautiful creation, opening our hearts to the One who is Gift to us all, the One John speaks of in the opening to his Gospel as "the Word," "the life," and "the light."
Christmas seems to be a time when we linger on tender memories of joy that had no material reason but was deeply spiritual and profoundly connected to all that surrounded us at the time. There have been times in our lives, hopefully, when it was impossible to contain our joy, when, as the old song goes, we couldn't keep from singing, not unlike the psalmist or the evangelist, John, as he begins the story of Jesus. The first verses of John's Gospel, after all, are often heard as a kind of hymn rather than simple story-telling. Music, like other arts, expresses our feelings better than spoken or written words. It seems that the world almost verges on "getting" this, each Christmas, that some common ground is almost found, or is found, fleetingly: our common hunger for joy, and generous sharing, and peace. We may even dare to hope for reconciliation in our personal relationships and families, just as we dare to dream of peace among the nations. We suspect that this is the deepest longing of the human heart, and in the midst of Christmas celebrations, underneath and through them, that's the longing we're trying to express with each twinkling light (a star in the sky?), each colorful ornament, every carol sung. Do you agree with this claim, or do you think we have wandered too far from "the true meaning of Christmas"?
A haunting beauty and lyrical joy
We celebrate Christmas in many ways, among them gathering with family and friends, exchanging gifts, holding pageants, and sending cards. Perhaps the most moving and memorable way we celebrate Christmas, however, is singing Christmas carols. Our musical memory lasts through the years, from our childhood into our old age, the melodies familiar and comforting, the words hauntingly beautiful and instructive at the same time. The readings for this morning are like songs, too, and their lyrical celebration of God at work in the world, saving, vindicating, calling, and comforting, links us to our ancestors in faith who shared our common hope and longing. We sing along with them today.
What is the good news we are waiting to hear, or waiting to see fulfilled, on this Christmas Day 2011? Perhaps we are waiting for a messenger who will tell us that the tide has turned, that the day of vindication and hope has arrived, that God is still with us. Or, perhaps we have secretly, privately, given up hope, in spite of our best efforts at decorating, cooking, visiting, and even gift-giving. Worse, we may reached the point of assuming that it is all up to us to bring the peace our hearts long for, all up to "little old us" and our best efforts, with God not bothering to intervene at all. Can we even begin to make everything right? And yet, isn't Christmas about God intervening in human history? Isn't Christmas about God telling us not to give up hope after all, telling us not to believe that we are all on our own?
Celebration among the ruins
In some ways, we might experience ourselves, or at least our culture, our nation, the world, as "a city in ruins," like Jerusalem so long ago. How does this image strike you? And yet, God is still speaking good news to us, today, in the "ruins of Jerusalem," in every broken dream, every hearbreaking loss, every contentious public issue, every insurmountable obstacle....God is speaking still, God is bringing good news. What are the broken things, the malfunctioning systems, the things that need to be made aright? How does Christmas morning do more than remind us of what God has done but instead proclaims that God is active in the world today, in this setting of history? What is the new thing that God is doing in the life of your congregation, in your own life, in the life of the United Church of Christ? In this day, how is God revealing God's own self in the life of the community?
The reading from John is more familiar than many, but its profound meaning often goes over our heads. On this Christmas morning, what is the Word that we long to hear, that we long to feel anew in our lives? The baby is small and vulnerable and sweet, yet the God revealed in this human flesh is clearly--from our readings--a mighty God, above our imaginings or description. We can hardly begin to relate to such a Presence and such a Reality. And yet we can relate to a baby, a mother, and, strangely enough, the shepherds who came to give homage.
Expressing the inexpressible
Perhaps this paradox explains why singing the carols begins to express the inexpressible: we cannot put into words the incredible mystery of God-made-flesh, and yet we have known it in our bones. We have felt God with us even when we could never explain how that could be. Christmas is our communal recognition, our shared celebration, that God is with us still, God is still speaking, God is still acting in our lives and in the life of the world that God loves so well. God is still with us, and we celebrate, and we sing our songs this Christmas morning. But how will we continue to sing these songs, in the days ahead? How is this morning not only unlike all other mornings, but indeed like every other morning of our lives?
For Further Reflection
Alexander Smith, 19th century
Christmas is the day that holds all time together.
Dale Evans Rogers, 20th century
Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.
W. J. Cameron, 20th century
Christmas is the gentlest, loveliest festival of the revolving year--and yet, for all that, when it speaks, its voice has strong authority.
John Greenleaf Whittier, 19th century
Somehow, not only for Christmas but all the long year through, The joy that you give to others Is the joy that comes back to you. And the more you spend in blessing The poor and lonely and sad, The more of your heart's possessing Returns to you glad.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 19th century
I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to [all]!
Christina G. Rossetti, 19th century
Love came down at Christmas; love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas, stars and angels gave the sign.
Andy Rooney, 21st century
One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly.
About Weekly Seeds
Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the "Lectionary," a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.
You're welcome to use this resource in your congregation's Bible study groups.
Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Revised Common Lectionary is © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.