These are the lessons that are also called Christmas I–for the first service of the “season.” Most folks in our congregations think of Christmas as just a day, but in fact we begin a 12 day season on the Holy Night of Christmas Eve. It is a brief and powerful season that may be one of the easiest times to preach in the year. As an old Methodist preacher used to tell me, “If you can’t preach something powerful and inspiring on Christmas Eve, it probably just isn’t in you.” I am convinced that all we have to do is tell the story over again, tell it in words that are understandable to the congregation, and attempt to live the incarnation in all that we do as persons and as the church, and we have done what is required on Christmas Eve.
God’s choosing to live among us in the person of Jesus is powerful–embrace the Good News and proclaim it.
- Isaiah 9 is the perfect OT Lesson to introduce this service of light–the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Then there is the entire portion that is the text of Handel’s Birth Story in The Messiah—For unto us a child is born…Look at the commentaries on the early part of Isaiah–this is a prophecy of deliverance. Isaiah may be very specific about the 6th century BC, but his message is timeless. The world in which Jesus was born is one that needed deliverance. The world in which we are placed is in need of deliverance. This is not something that we are going to bring about by our efforts, but it is the zeal of the Lord of hosts who will do this.
- The Psalm is especially singable on Christmas Eve-Sing to the Lord a new song…There are numerous settings of this Psalm as anthems, hymns, etc. Don’t be afraid to sing your hearts out on Christmas Eve, it is a High Holy Day, and deserves joyous celebration.
- The reading from Titus is not a central preaching piece, at least not in my thinking. But it works as a compliment to the Gospel. While we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…note there is the eschatological nature of the incarnation. The One who comes is also the One who is coming again.
- The Gospel Lesson, for me, is the key to this evening’s service. Find a way to ceremoniously read this. Highlight the ancient words of Luke so that everyone who gathers knows that they have encountered an ancient and yet very timely word from God. Ask yourself these questions as you prepare: What does this story mean to the Church? How has it shaped life as we know it? What does this story mean to me? How has it changed my life? (I am certain that will be enough to keep you busy for awhile)
- A couple of highlights from the Gospel for me–you can’t get around the fact that this baby born is of the poor and common class…there was no room in the inn (and it wasn’t because they didn’t make a reservation). The fact that shepherds are included in the story is telling. This is generally a class of the unclean and usually excluded in the Jewish worshiping world of the time. Only Luke includes the shepherds in the birth narrative.
- The song that is sung by the angels becomes a refrain of the Church for centuries to come. “Glory to God in the highest” is sung many Sundays of the year in Anglican and Roman Catholic churches near the beginning of worship, (Gloria in excelsis deo in Latin) though many leave it out through Advent and Lent. Be sure to find a way to use this refrain in worship on this night.
- Here are all the notes on Luke 2:1-20 at TextWeek.com (it is one of the busiest collections of the year)
- Good notes at Working Preacher
- Christmas and Luke’s Theology of Hope (in The Christian Century, 1968)