Sermon Seeds: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve Year B color_white_1.jpg

Lectionary citations:
Isaiah 62:6-12
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20

Worship resources for Christmas Eve Year B are at Worship Ways

Sermon Seeds

Reflection questions:
by Kathryn Matthews

At so many points in human history, people have felt that they were walking in darkness, carrying heavy burdens, and feeling the rod of an oppressor. What are the burdens borne by those in your congregation in this season, in this hour? How do folks feel pressed down, lost, in the dark? What are the “empires” that rule over us–materialism, militarism, consumerism, racism, nationalism?

The reading from Isaiah presents a portrait of a people lost, afraid, depressed and demoralized, a people on whom a light then shines, and whose spirits are lifted up. The promise of peace is dramatically depicted in the burning of the boots of warriors and the bloody garments of those who have suffered violence. What is the deepest longing of the people of your church?

What is the deepest hunger in the people of your community, in your setting of the church? Where, in that longing and hunger, is there a call for your community of faith? How is God still speaking to your congregation and to the United Church of Christ in this hour and this place? In what ways can we be people of peace in this world, embodying the promise of peace that we hear on this night, year after year?

christmas_eve.jpgPsalm 96 reminds us that “the gods of the peoples are idols” and again, we might ask, what are the gods we have shaped in our own culture? Do we ever think of ourselves as guilty of the sin of idolatry? To what do we truly give our hearts? In this Christmas season, what is the word of true hope, what is the truest promise that we have received? What is the true gift of this season, and how do we experience that gift as enduring beyond a holiday season or few weeks of celebration?

Fear and glory: God is still speaking to us today, in the midst of our fears and uncertainty, and saying, as the angel did: “Do not be afraid.” What are your greatest fears? How do you experience the comfort of God when you are afraid? What is the glory of God shining around you, even in the midst of your everyday work, like the shepherds? How do you hear the voice of God reassuring you and bringing you good news? Does your community of faith hear this good news afresh in this Christmas season, and give glory to God themselves? How does our anticipation of Christmas relate to our anticipation of the love and promise embodied by the child, Jesus?

The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired last year after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

For further reflection:

Hamilton Wright Mabie, 19th century
“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

Philip Yancey, 20th century
“Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.”

G.K. Chesterton, 20th century
“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”  

Charles Dickens, 19th century
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Vannetta Chapman, A Simple Amish Christmas, 21st century
“The knowing is easy. It’s the doing that gives us trouble.”

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, 20th century
“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning–not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”

Lectionary texts

Isaiah 62:6-12

Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
   I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night
   they shall never be silent.
You who remind the Lord,
   take no rest,
and give him no rest
   until he establishes Jerusalem
   and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
   and by his mighty arm:
I will not again give your grain
   to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink the wine
   for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
   and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
   in my holy courts.

Go through, go through the gates,
   prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
   clear it of stones,
   lift up an ensign over the peoples.
The Lord has proclaimed
   to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
   “See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him.”
They shall be called, “The Holy People,
   The Redeemed of the Lord”;
and you shall be called, “Sought Out,
   A City Not Forsaken.”

Psalm 97

God is ruler!
  Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!

Clouds and thick darkness
  are all around God;
righteousness and justice
  are the foundation of God’s throne.

Fire goes before God,
  and consumes God’s adversaries
  on every side.
God’s lightnings light up the world;
  the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before God,
  before the God of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness;
  and all the peoples behold God’s glory.

All worshippers of images
  are put to shame,
those who make their boast
  in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before God.

Zion hears and is glad,
  and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O God.

For you, O God, are most high
  over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

God loves those who hate evil;
  God guards the lives of God’s faithful;
God rescues them from the hand of the wicked.

Light dawns for the righteous,
  and joy for the upright in heart.

Rejoice in God, O you righteous,
  and give thanks to God’s holy name!

Titus 3:4-7

But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20

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.

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 among those whom he favors!”

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 heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.  
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday”–not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”

So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the “received” tradition!

Additional note on Advent and Christmas:

The Violet color for Advent is traditionally connected with royalty and penitence. Blue is symbolic of expectation and hope, not only for the birth of Christ, but also for Christ’s return at the end of history. Rose on the third Sunday of Advent, which was Gaudete (Joy), provided a little relief from the somberness of Advent in earlier times. Some Advent wreath sets include a rose candle. White first appears on Christmas Eve and may be continued through the Sunday after Christmas, Epiphany, and the Sunday after Epiphany (celebrated by many as the Baptism of Christ) to show that all of these events are related in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. White is also used for Easter and Sundays following. (Some traditions use Gold or both for Christmas and Easter.)