Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. There are many things a preacher and worship leader can do on this Sunday. It is generally a fact that your choir and musicians have done all of their preparation for Christmas Eve, and most of them will be gone on Christmas Day. The last time this happened to me, it was suggested that we cancel services that Sunday morning since “no one was going to be there any way.” I decided not to heed the advice of the mob, and had a Christmas Day service anyway. What I discovered was that a whole different crew of folks showed up on Christmas morning. There were folks who never leave the house at night. There were folks who were curious about what the Christian faith means who would never set foot in a church because you couldn’t find parking or a seat on Christmas Eve. There were families with children who had already been through the consumer Christmas ordeals since the crack of dawn and were glad to get away from loud the loud toys and shrieks of play for some quiet reflection on what Christmas means. We celebrated the Good News on Christmas Sunday, maybe not with the fanfare of the night before, but with the deep understanding of what the incarnation means when the shepherds head back to the fields, the angel chorus retires to its heavenly home, and we are left with “God with us.”
The preacher has choices for Christmas Day. The Revised Common Lectionary offers 3 different collections of readings for the High Holy Day, though Luke 2 is found in 2 of the 3. I have been in churches that chose to use John 1: 1-14 on Christmas Eve–but given the choice of those two Gospels, I would use Luke for the first service and John at the second service of Christmas.
- The readings from Isaiah 52 and 62 are great readings for Christmas Day…straight out of 2nd Isaiah–comforting words for the exiles who are returning to Zion. That is the Good News of the Incarnation–God has come to dwell among us, and we are all being led to the place we were at the beginning of the world. Powerful words for the people of God.
- You might notice that the Psalms for this Holy Day includes the sequential Psalms 96-98. Sing to the Lord a new song is the beginning for both 96 and 98. Rejoice the Lord is King is the theme for 97. It might be noted that these Psalms have been used for centuries in the Church for Christmas. In ancient monasteries, monks and nuns chanted the powerful words of these Psalms to welcome the birth of the Savior. Don’t shy away from them on Christmas Day, find a way to use them.
- Titus 3 is one of those short readings that speaks the depth and breadth of the season in a few words. Even if you don’t read it in worship, you should find a way to incorporate its message in the sermon or meditation for the day. How can you go wrong? (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.)
- The Epistle reading from Hebrews is outstanding. It is poetic and theologically rich. It covers the meaning of Christ’s birth from the perspective of a 1st century Christian community in a way that compliments the powerful prose from the Gospel of John. My thoughts–the reading from Hebrews needs a time of silence to reflect.
- The Gospel of John’s account of the birth is the most abstract in the Gospels. John, being the last of the Gospels written has the advantage of more time to construct a poetic rendition of the Incarnation. There are plenty of notes in the commentaries on John 1, I can’t offer you anything new, but I can suggest that you ask these questions when you read it: Where is the darkness in the world today? (the darkness in your own community?) What would it mean for the world and your community to see the Light? What does it mean for the Church to bear witness to that Light in the world?
- TextWeek’s links for the whole Festival of Christmas
- TextWeek’s links to John 1:1-18