Hell

The flames of perdition are not in hell.
God does not punish.
Punishing serves no purpose.
Punishment is about the past,
but God is in the present.
However, God does not protect us
from the consequences of our choices.
God asks us to see, confess, and repent.
Maybe these heat waves
aren’t “waves” that come and go,
but the state of our collective denial
of our part in climate change.
Maybe the real forest fires are inside us.
For once—for real—
we can stop complaining about the weather
and actually do something about it.
God forgives and waits for us to repent;
until then we swelter.

________________
Weather Report

Hellish
as the friction between our ego and reality
generates heat.
The vortex between our selfishness
and the rest of the world
will create storm conditions;
expect widespread destruction.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

No score

What if we are playing with God
and there is no score,
no winning or losing,
only playing with God?
Oh, the play is serious:
justice and healing and the mending of the world.
But what if God doesn’t want us to perform well,
but only to play?
What if it’s not about being good enough
but being with God?
Forget the score and play.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Erased

           God forgave us all our trespasses,
           erasing the record that stood against us
           with its legal demands.
           God set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
                           —Colossians 2.13-14

The good news is that everything is forgiven—
everything.
All you thought was demanded of you
is actually an illusion.
There is no account,
no thought of how “good” you are.
Only love.

Does the sun judge the tree,
or punish it for growing poorly?
No, it only shines.

How hard it is to trust
that God is pure light, pure delight.
How we want to hang onto judgment—
but it is crucifixion.
From Cain onward that has been our sin:
to judge and to expect judgment.

Salvation is not “qualifying” for something.
It’s trusting you don’t have to.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Rooted

           As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Beloved,
           continue to live your lives in them,
           rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith,
           just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
                           —Colossians 2.6-7


You are not a potted plant,
dependent on your little cup of dirt for faith.
You are planted in Christ, the roots of your soul
tangled with the roots of a thousand saints,
like the million hands of a whole tribe’s memory
grasping deep earth, roots like a lover’s arms
reaching down into that love,
drinking water from underground springs
gushing up, roots wound like lovers’ legs
in fungal webs of trade and alchemy, each
providing what the other lacks, holding hands
beneath all that can be seen,
deep in the the earth of Christ.
You pray and praise with branches of the Spirit s hands,
passing news from bird to bird,
and life from sun to little mouths that sing.

Rooted in Christ you are not a tree.
You are a forest,
abounding.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Advent 1-November 27, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Isaiah 2.1-5, in a time of violence and despair, the prophet envisions a radical transformation of the nation and the world into a community of peace, and invites us to walk in God’s light.

Psalm 122 imagines people streaming to Jerusalem. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem—holy city of three major religions, and site of much conflict—is to pray for all people, trusting in God’s peace.

Romans 13.11-14
urges us to awaken from sleep, for our salvation is like the morning that is about to dawn. Like Isaiah, Paul invites us to live in God’s light.

In Matthew 24.36-44 Jesus tells us to be awake and alert all the time, for we do not know when God will appear in our lives.

Preaching Thoughts

       The lectionary text for the first Sunday of advent always feels wrong. Our people are getting ready for Christmas. We want the cute little baby, not the end of the world. Nevertheless we realize the world is pretty screwed up, and in need of a major overhaul. It turns out the radical transformation scripture is talking about is just what we need, and just what Christmas will be all about. But first comes the hard work of acknowledging the mess we’ve made, turning our hearts toward God’s promise of a different world, and then… waiting.

Isaiah
       The image of “swords into plowshares” may be God’s promise—but we’re the ones who have to do the actual blacksmithing. What are the swords you need to convert? Probably not actual weapons, though those are included, too. It may include ways of being in conflict, or a desire to conquer or hurt others to get your own way. Maybe your anger is the sword you need to hammer into a new shape. Even anger can be a helpful resource, but not when used as a weapon.

Romans
       Wake up. It’s the most consistent spiritual message in every tradition. The dual action of our ego’s anxieties and society’s is a powerful medicine that lulls our hearts to sleep, closes down our spiritual senses, dulls our awareness. The “works of darkness” aren’t just evil things we plot in secret. They’re all the ways we keep ourselves unaware, the blinders we wear, the ways to dull our sensitivity to the world’s pain and beauty. To wake up is to be fully present to this life, awake to what God is doing, aware of the world around us, with our passions and our creativity heightened. To be awake is to notice keenly, to feel deeply, to interact authentically. The spirit of Advent requires us to be awake to the promises of God, to see them at work in this world even when it doesn’t look like it. With “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” as Ephesians says.

Matthew
       What a blow, as we’re counting the days till Christmas, for Jesus to say “No one knows the day or hour!” We prefer events that are in our control, subject to our planning. But God’s New Reality will break in on us when we don’t expect it, like a thief in the night. (In fact it probably won’t come on Christmas Eve.) So we have to be ready. We have to be awake. Advent is a time to sharpen our spiritual senses. It’s a different kind of awareness than our ego’s obsession with opportunities to provide for ourselves (“On sale Now!”) and protect ourselves (“They’re taking our jobs!”). The kind of spiritual wakefulness Jesus has in mind is paying attention for signs of God’s coming, being attuned to how grace moves in this world, listening for that “still, small voice” that whispers the Word of belovedness beneath the rush and roar of the world. It’s a quiet, patient way of perceiving, like a doctor listening to a heartbeat, like letting our eyes get used to the dark.

Call to Worship

[See also Lighting the Advent Candle]

Leader: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Eager for the coming of Christ,
let us enter into the mystery of God’s dawning presence among us.
Loving God, we open our hearts to you,
and await your gracious coming.
In the winter darkness we long for your light.
We confess our need for your grace,
for the sin of our lives and the brokenness of this world.
Come, O Lord! May your peace dawn on our world.
Come, O Savior! May your grace be born in our hearts.
Bless the darkness, that we may wait with hope.
Bless the silence, that we may listen for your coming.
Grant us stillness, that with patience and courage
we may prepare room in our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ.
Come, O Savior, Come!


Lighting the Advent Candle

[In addition, here is a series of four Advent wreath prayers suitable for Year A.]

1. (Isaiah 5.2-5)
Leader: In days to come peoples shall come and say:
All: Come, let us go up to the mountain of God;
that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.

For God shall judge between many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

2.
Reader: Read Romans 13.11-12
Leader: Light of God, holy dawn, rising in our midst, awaken us to your promise.
All: By your gentle light may we see your hope for the world.
Light of Christ, rising in our hearts, awaken us to your coming.
By your growing light, may we see your presence hidden in all things.
Spirit’s light, rising in our world, awaken us to the gift of hope
By your transforming light, may we se all things with hearts full of hope,
longing for your coming. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.


3.
Reader: Read Romans 13. 11-14
Leader: This candle represents our longing.
All: We long for deeper faith. We long forGod to come close.
We long to live more fully in harmony with God’s delight.
Awaken your hearts. Let your longing be God’s song in you.
Let your longing be a sign of God’s longing in you.
God of life, what new birth arises by your grace within us?
What new life unfolds by your mercy among us?
We come to listen, and to see.
We open our hearts to the coming of Christ in us and among us in new ways.
Awaken us, God, that by your Spirit we may be ready
for the coming of Christ.


4.
Leader: Lord of light, we kindle this flame as a sign of hope.
All: Even in the darkness, the dawn is upon us,
and our deepest longings lead to you.

Dear Child, prophet of the most high, grant us healing and forgiveness.
By your tender mercy, may your dawn from on high break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of light, in the darkness of this world your dawn is rising. Your love is at work. Waken our spirits. Keep us ready to see you. Open the ears of our hearts, ready to hear you. Speak, for in the dark, we are watching. We are listening. Amen.

2.
Gentle God, the darkness draws in around us. In our hearts, in our communities, in the nation and the world there is mistrust and fear and despair; there is hurt and injustice. Yet you promise your light. You promise you are coming. Ready our hearts, God, for your coming. Help us to see signs of hope. Help us to see the coming of Christ. Amen.

3.
God, we long for more than what is visible in this life. We yearn for the presence of Christ. Come, then, in Word and Sacrament, in prayer and song, in silence and in companionship: come, and be Christ among us. Awaken us to your promise. Alert us to your presence. Revive us with your Word. In the name of Christ, and the grace of your Spirit, we are listening. Amen.

4.
God of Creation, we long for your Word. We yearn for your presence. Come to us in this darkness, speak to us, and bring us your light. Light of Christ, shine on our path; chase away all darkness, and lead us to the heart of God. Amen.

5.
Gracious God, you came to us in Jesus, your Son. As we await his coming again, make ready our hearts to receive your Word made flesh as it appears among us. Bless us, that we may prepare ourselves for your coming in peace. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God of life,
we confess we are asleep;
oblivious to our sin,
ignorant of your grace.
Awaken us; open our eyes,
to see our sin and brokenness,
to see your forgiveness and healing,
through the gift of Christ Jesus,
to shine with your grace

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Leader: Awaken our hearts, God, to your promise.
Help us to walk in your light.
All: Loving God, you birth new life within us.
With open hearts, we await your coming.

Poetry

Manger

In rough-edged wind,
edge of town,
end of day,
light all used up,
a shed waits, still,
dust settling,
shadows
bedding down for the night,
doors resting on their hinges.
You want to say it’s empty,
but it’s full—
full of silence, of longing,
of waiting,
full of God’s hopes,
full of space for a birthing.

The passion that makes worlds
is still dreaming.
This stable is made of that,
the manger carved, through eons,
of your deepest ache,
this empty space,
this womb,
created by your soul, unerring,
leaning with God toward that realm.

Enlarge its longing in you.
Breathe in.
Let the cupped hands of the manger
hold your heart open
with God’s deepest desires.
The angel song that sounds like sorrow
but feels like joy,
the harmony of longing and confidence,
swells in the waiting silence,
wondering.

Warm wind
blows in through the window.

Reading

O Hands of God
[May be read responsively.]

O Holy Presence, whose love brings all things into being,
        —come, and draw open by your light the ancient blossoms.

O Beloved, radiant with glory in all Creation,
        —come, and awaken us; teach us to see.

O Hands of God, who has opened doors that none could shut,
who has healed and blessed, and none could defy,
        —come, and hold us in your grace.

O King of Gentleness, who knows our sorrow
and yet embraces us with joy,
        —come, and guide our hands in the way of healing.

O Open Eye, who sees us in all truth, and loves us,
        —come, and reveal in us your beauty.

O Light of Justice, whose heart breaks for those who sit in darkness,
        —come, and show us the way of courage and compassion.

O Companion, who makes us all one in your love,
        —come, and kindle in our hearts the spirit of the Beloved.

Eucharistic Prayer

———Sung prayers———
Here are four Eucharistic prayers set to familiar Christmas tunes: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Rocking, Rocking,” and “What Child Is This.”

“Longing Night,” an original song (see below), includes music for sung Eucharistic responses.

———Spoken prayers———

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

—— #1 ———


God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of Light, we thank you,
for in the beginning you brought light out of darkness.
In Egypt you condemned the forces of oppression
and brought us out of slavery to freedom.
In the wilderness you fashioned your People.
In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus
you shined light in our lives, light that renews the world.

We rejoice on the light of hope; and therefore with your people
and with all Creation we sing your praise:

Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who loved the neglected and healed the broken,
who gathered the outcast and gave hope to the despairing.
Christ is the flesh of your presence and the light of your coming.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

Memorial Acclamation—Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
filled with the light of your presence,
living in hope of your coming.
—Amen—

————— #2 —————

God is with you.
And also with you.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of God.
Let us be wakeful, for the Chosen One
is coming at an unexpected moment.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Holy Mystery, Radiant Darkness,
in the depth of the night, and the failing of our light,
we behold your glory, and we thank you.
In the cold of this season, we sense your warmth
as you wrap yourself around us, and we praise you.
In this darkness you are coming, as you always have,
as in the beginning you drew light out of darkness,
as you brought Israel out of slavery,
and deliver your beloved from all oppression:
still you come to us and deliver us.
Still you provide for us: light in the darkness,
food in the wasteland, love amidst injustice and violence.
Even now you are coming in new ways,
as you renew all of Creation.
We behold your mystery unfold among us,
and we come to your table in awe and gratitude,
and with all Creation we sing your praise.

Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Beloved, whose birth we await,
and whose love we remember.
In love he healed us and fed us and set us free.
He came to heal us of our injustice,
yet by that very injustice he was taken into death.
But in your grace you have raised him from the dead.
And so we await the one who is always present, always coming,
who renews with us in this meal
your covenant always to be with us in love.

—The Blessing and Covenant

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation—

In this meal the night is far gone; day is near.
Therefore our out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
In our love may we be living signs of your coming,
one in your Spirit, and awake in hope,
trusting that even now you are coming anew,
transforming the world according to your delight.
—Amen—


————— #3 ——————


God is with you.
And also with you.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of God.
Let us be wakeful, for the Chosen One
is coming at an unexpected moment.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Blessed are you, O God, creator of the dark and of the light.
This world is yours, and all that is in it.
You who create us in your image, who call us as your Beloved,
who rescue us from evil and turn us from injustice:
you are present even in the darkness;
even now, you are coming.

Awaken our souls to your coming, Beloved!
Waiting for your appearance,
with all Creation we sing your praise.

     (Sanctus)

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who has come among us bearing your love.
He taught us your ways and walked in your paths.
He opened our eyes and awakened our hearts.

In his love, and in his death and resurrection
you have revealed your covenant to be with us in love.
The night is far gone and the day is near;
in this meal we both hope and remember.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     (Memorial Acclamation)

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

laying aide the works of the shadows
and wearing the armor of light,
beating our swords into plowshares,
walking in the light of your love.

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
and ready for your coming,
and we watch for you, now and in the days to come.
All praise be yours. Alleluia!
     
(Amen.)

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Beholding your presence, we trust your promise. Send us into the world, awake to your grace, shining with your light in the darkness, as signs of your coming, alive with hope, in the name of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Blessed with a taste of the glory of your coming, may we prepare in peace, and wait with the confidence of the angels. Send us now for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and Spirit of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(All songs with “Advent” tags, of course, but especially these. Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Child of Promise (Original song)

Child of promise, oh, child of hope, prophets spoke of you:
visions treasured but unfulfilled. Shall our dreams come true?
Help us wait for you.

Child of woman, oh, child of God, birthing us anew,
make a room, oh, make a womb, in our hearts for you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of patience, oh, child of pain, suffering ills we do,
heal, forgive and help us be gentle child, like you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of wonder, oh, child of joy, you make all things new.
Re-create us, come again like the morning dew.
Help us wait for you.


Come, O Savior (Original Song)
[May be sung in one piece… or one verse at a time in various points of the service…or used throughout the season of Advent, using one verse each week. As usual, the lyrics of each verse correspond to themes of the week’s lectionary readings.]

Spirit of peace, be born in us.
Help us to walk in your light.
Help us be ready, help us be wakeful.
Give us deep gentleness, and a spirit of peace.
Refrain: Come O Savior, Come, we pray.
Come, O Savior, Come.
Come, O Savior, Come. Amen.

Spirit of wisdom, be born in us.
Grant us the fruit of repentance,
that we no longer will judge with our eyes.
Give us deep vision, God, and a spirit of hope.
Refrain

Spirit of joy, be born in us,
grateful for gifts of your healing:
bodies made whole and a whole new Creation.
Give us deep patience, God, and a spirit of joy.
Refrain

Spirit of holiness, come to us.
Grant us the courage to serve you,
trusting your mystery growing within us.
Give us deep willingness, and a spirit of love.
Refrain


WEEKLY ADVENT THEME RESPONSES

[These songs are designed to be used throughout Advent, using one verse per week. Each is a dialogue between a soloist (or ensemble) and congregation. Each week’s (solo) verse reflects the week’s Lectionary readings, especially in Year A. The congregation’s response remains the same throughout the season. Below are the current week’s lyrics.]

Come, Holy Dawn (Original Song)

Congregation:
Come, morning star, light our way in our darkest night.
Come, light of God, grant us peace, gently shining bright.
Come, holy dawn, sun of love, fill us with your light.

Solo:
Waken now, my people! Morning soon will rise.
Love is working quietly. Open up your eyes.


Come, O Jesus (Original song)

Soloist, introduction:
Rise, O people, awake!
The light of Christ is dawning!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Come, O Jesus, come!

Congregation, chorus:
Dawn on us from above. Raise us up in your love.
Awaken our hope with the day, and lead us in your way.
Come, O Jesus, come! Come, O Jesus, come!

Soloist, verse:

Salvation is near, the day is at hand. Rise and put off the night.
Walk in the light of our God with hope. Awake, and greet the light! (Chorus)


Longing Night (Original song)

Introduction- Cantor:
      Alleluia. Alleluia. Make ready your hearts for the Coming One. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Response- Congregation
     In our deepest longing night, dawn upon us, God of light.
VersesCantor:
     Now is the time to wake from your sleep. The night is far gone; the day is near. Response
    Watch for the unexpected hour. Come, let us walk in the light of God.
Response

The Prayer of Jesus (The Lord’s Prayer) — A Paraphrase

Oh, Holy Mommy, Mommy,
Unimaginable but Here,
may our hearts revere you,
our lives name you who are Unnameable.
Your delight—unfold!
This world—be as you intend!
You are our life in this breath… and this one, and this one.
You who cancel our debts, real and imagined,
help us let go of everyone’s:
no one owes anyone anything. It’s all a gift.
Steer us past our desires and attachments;
save us from our selfishness.
Beloved, you are the only power;
you are the whole world;
you are the beauty of everything.
Wow.
Amen.



[Here is a collection of ten paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer.]

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Picking Strawberries

You will not find the best from above.
Kneel in the bread-colored dirt.
Bow down among the weeds.
Draw your face near to the earth.
Lift their green hands, from beneath,
where they hold their offerings.

Let the smell enter you.
Let the wind lay its hand on your face.
Let the sun wrap its arms around your back.

Earth has no need to give you
what is not yet ripe, or already past.
Look for the pure red heart;
feel the gentle firmness.
You know you touch the light
of the first day of creation
slowly deepening in each little red sun.
Hear the soft “yes” as the stem snaps.
Like a child the fruit rolls into your hand.

This moment is really no different from all others.

They come to you one by one.
Imagine who might give such a gift.
In the silence of your own ripeness,
venerate the gifts on the altar of the afternoon,
genuflect with wine-red hands,
and receive your morsel.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Sunday After Christmas – January 1, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Note: Epiphany does not appear in this year’s Sunday readings. Because it’s the starting point of the season, you might consider using Epiphany readings this Sunday.

Isaiah 63.7-9 proclaims the stunning news that God did not just send a messenger for our salvation, but came in person, saying, “Surely they are my people.” One way to translate verse 9 is, “In all their distresses God was distressed. The angel of God’s presence saved them.”

Psalm 148: All people and all Creation praise God who has “raised up a horn”—that is, who has acted decisively for us.

Hebrews 2. 10-18: Jesus is “the pioneer of our faith,” the one who goes first, whom we follow. Through “sufferings,” that is, through human experience, he has been “perfected:” not that he never makes mistakes, but that he is in harmony with God, even though he must suffer for it. Jesus is glad to claim us as his siblings. Because he shares our life and sufferings, he can authentically free us from our enslavement to our attachments and our fear of death.

In Matthew 2. 13-23 Herod reacts to the birth of a potential king by slaughtering all of Bethlehem’s baby boys, but Jesus and his parents escape to Egypt.

Preaching Thoughts

The story of the flight to Egypt parallels that of Moses, of course, who comes from Egypt, who escapes an angry king’s attempt to kill all the male babies, and who grows up to set the people free. Jesus’ life parallels the whole nation of Israel’s. (The image of Rachel weeping for her children is from Jeremiah 31:15, in a lament about the people taken into exile.) Preachers often want to skip this story, especially the reason for the flight—the slaughter of the innocents— for fear of “scaring the children” (it’s actually the adults who’ll be troubled). But the story of the flight to Egypt without the persecution makes it sound like a holiday, not story of people fleeing for their lives. It’s the story of refugees the world over.

But the truth is that this is the Christmas story (and the world we live in): God dwells with us amid violence, evil and injustice. The struggle between good and evil isn’t some cosmic battle out among the stars: it’s right here in ordinary human hate, discrimination, greed and violence. It’s the rich and powerful oppressing the poor and vulnerable. And God is always among the victims, not the violent; the refugees, not the settled ones; the vulnerable, not the powerful. And yet God, the poor, despised, homeless alien, is the Source of All Power.

Seeing God in this “powerless” way opens our eyes to God’s grace for us even in difficult situations. (Where is my “Egypt?” How does God accompany me?) It re-aligns our sense of “good.” (“Good” doesn’t mean successful; “different” doesn’t mean evil.) It opens our eyes to issues of justice. (Where is the Holy Family now? Who are the refugees?) It calls us to examine our own complicity with injustice. (How have I participated in endangering the Christ child? Have we welcomed or refused the holy refugees?) It calls us to act on behalf of the vulnerable. (How could we contribute to the well-being of people society endangers, rejects or ignores?)

In light of this, what does it mean to follow Jesus. As Hebrews says, Jesus is the “pioneer of our faith.” He isn’t a hero we’re supposed to idolize; he’s a leader we’re supposed to follow. And that means following him in bearing love into the suffering of the world.

Herod’s violence affected the holy family from the outside; but God’s grace sustained, empowered and guided them from within. Even amid the awfulness of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, something new emerged in the life of the child Jesus. New Year’s Day is a good day to acknowledge the violence of our world, and the allegiance it asks of us; to confess our complicity in it; to renounce the forces of domination, oppression and injustice; and to resolve, by God’s spirit, to live by values contrary to the world’s values: lives of love, mercy and justice.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Praise the Holy One, sun, moon and shining stars!
All: Praise God, earth and sea and all its monsters, fire and snow, hail and frost!
Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and birds, praise!
Rulers and peoples, men and women, young and old, praise!

For God has raised up a ruler for all people,
a gift for God’s faithful, for those who are dear to God. Praise the Holy One!


2.
Reader: [Isaiah 63.7-9]
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Holy One,
        the praiseworthy acts of God,
because of all that God has done for us,
        and the great favor to the house of Israel that God has shown them
        according to God’s mercy,
        according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
For God said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely”;
        and God became their savior in all their distress.
It was no mere messenger or angel
        but God’s presence that saved them.
In love and in pity God redeemed them;
        God lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Leader: Let me tell you the wonderful things God has done!
All: Yes! The mercy God has shown us! The overflowing, steadfast love!
God said, “These are my people, and they will be true to me.”
And God became our savior in all our distress.
God, it was not merely a messenger or an angel,
but your presence that saved us.
In your tender love you redeemed us.
You have lifted us up and carried us since the beginning. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: I bring you good news of great joy,
for unto you is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.
All: Alleluia! Christ, holy child, bearer of the light of heaven among us,
we greet you with glad and humble hearts.
Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, who saves us and makes us holy,
is not ashamed to call us siblings.
Alleluia! Jesus, our brother and our teacher,
we praise you and we open our hearts to you.
Christ shares our flesh and blood, and shares our suffering,
so that we might be set free from our fear of death.
Alleluia! Christ our savior, free us from our fears and attachments,
and save us from sin and death.
Living among us, transform us by your Spirit
and fill us with your glory. Alleluia!


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
God, you spoke to us through the prophets, and led us in your way.
You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and guided him through danger.
You led the magi by a star, and guided them to Christ.
Alleluia! Speak to us, God, and guide us.
Be present with us, Christ, and save us.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
People: Holy One, and we worship you.
For the birth of your son, we thank you.
No one has seen you,
but Christ has made you known.
Alleluia! You have dwelt among us,
and from you we have received grace upon grace.
Bless us that we may shine with your light.
Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, you have come among us in the flesh, sharing the dangers and fragility of the flesh. Among those who fear and hate you have come as a child, defenseless and tender. Speak to us now, and give us courage, that in a world of hardness we may be children of peace. Amen.

2.
God of tender love, you came into this harsh world as a helpless child. Your Word was made flesh by a poor peasant. We thank you for the gift of your Son, the gift of your presence among us. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts to behold your presence and to hear your Word in faith and joy. Amen.

3.
God of glory, your Christ is born among us! We come to the manger to kneel in awe, to give our gifts, to keep watch in silent praise. We belong to your mystery. We belong to this little child. We belong to your grace. Speak to us, and fill us with your Spirit. Amen.

4.
God, we are not saved by a messenger, but by your very presence in Christ, your Word made flesh. Bless us now that we may be mindful of your presence and open our hearts to your Word, so that we, too, may make your Word flesh in our lives. We pray in the Spirit of Christ, who is with us. Amen.

5.
Gracious and Eternal God, angels appeared to Joseph in dreams, and guided him in protecting the Christ child. Come to us now in our worship and speak to us, and guide us. Fill us with your Spirit that we may hear and obey, and so serve and glorify you. Open our hearts now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God, of grace,
we who are attached to our lives as they are
confess that we need to be made new.
Forgive our sin, heal our hearts, and re-create us.
As the new year dawns,
let the old self we fearfully cling to pass away;
raise us in your love,
and grant that we may continually be made new
by your grace.
(Silent prayer…)


Response / Creed / Affirmation:

1.
I recommend the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan tradition: “I am no longer my own but thine…”

2.
Leader: Today God gives us a new year,
a new day in this world of beauty and wonder.
Yet Herod still reigns with evil and violence,
with the domination, oppression, injustice and enmity
by which Empire works.
All: We acknowledge that we live in a world
of cruelty and injustice, a world that needs to be healed.
Herod did not slaughter those children on his own;
he enlisted an army, the army of the Empire.
We confess that acts of injustice are carried out in our name,
that we are complicit in injustice and oppression.
God of love, we ask your forgiveness, and trust your grace.
By the grace of God, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
We renounce the powers of evil and injustice
and the violent ways of this world.
In this new year we can be made new people,
set free from the world’s ways of domination and cruelty.
Baptized into Christ, renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we are freed from old ways that we have followed.
We resolve to live new lives, lives of mercy, love and justice,
in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
God, by your grace, may all the world be made new!


Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

The day is new;
the year is new;
let your grace unfold in us,
that we, too, may be made new.

Eucharistic Prayer

[Following the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you, God, that you make all things, and make all things new.
You create us in your image; you claim us as your children,
and you guide us by your grace.
You judge for forces of oppression and set free all your beloved children;
and you call us to bee free.
From every yoke of slavery you liberate us;
you lead us out of narrow confines into broad and spacious places.
Even in the terror of oppression under Herod
you brought forth something new in Jesus.
And you guide us, as you did Joseph and Mary, toward peace.
By your Spirit in us you heal us, transform us
and enable us to become new people, born anew of your Spirit.
And so, with all your saints, we sing your praise.

     —Sanctus

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who transformed our old faith and made it new.
He fed the hungry and healed the broken,
who took old, wounded lives and made them new.
Amid the strife of violence and injustice
he gathered with his beloved and celebrated in a new way/
your Covenant to be with us in love forever.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
set free and made new by your grace,
re-dedicated to your love in this world,
looking forward to a whole new Creation,
by your grace, in the name of Christ.

Amen

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for / your grace / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You dwell among us in the poor and the vulnerable, and you call us as well to this holy self-giving. Send us into the world as your light, to care for all your holy children, in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Your Word is made flesh in our midst in Jesus, in the bread and wine, and in our lives. Send us into the world to embody your love and to live in peace and compassion with our brother Jesus, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, Joseph served you in faith, and through his obedience great gifts came into this world. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. IN this new year, make us new, and send us into the world to listen for your Word and to follow in faith, to serve you by serving others, in the name of Christ. Amen.


Suggested Songs

As on Christmas Day, I recommend singing all those less commonly sung Christmas songs you haven’t sung yet.

[Click on the title to view on the music page.]


Peace, Peace, Peace (Tune: Still, Still, Still)
[Music includes optional parts for two flutes.]

Peace, peace, peace. God grant you peace, my friends.
The Christ child comes, so sweet and tender.
Greet him with your trust and wonder.
Peace, peace, peace, God be with you, my friends.

Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.
Here at the manger humbly kneeling;
gladly going, serving, healing.
Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.

Christmas Day

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 52.7-10 celebrates the sharing of the good news that God has come to us: the “return of the Holy One to Zion.”

Psalm 98 celebrates what a mighty thing God has done in remembering God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Hebrews 1.1-4 says God speaks to us in love, both through the prophets, and now through a Son, who is a perfect reflection and exact imprint of God’s glorious nature.

John 1.1-14 proclaims the great news of the Incarnation: the Word is made flesh and camps out among us.

Preaching Thoughts

The Word (“logos” in Greek), is the organizing energy, the “logic” of all Creation. The Word is God’s love, which is a creative, life-giving force, and the ultimate source and meaning of all creation. God speaks that Word to God’s beloved people, particularly in the person of Christ—both the eternal person of the Holy Trinity, and the earthly incarnation of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. But the Logos isn’t just in Jesus: it’s in everything. “Nothing ever created came to be, except through the Logos.” Part of the paradox of the Incarnation is that we see in Jesus a unique embodiment of God’s love; and at the same time Jesus convinces us that he’s not unique: God’s love, and God’s Spirit, is in each of us—in fact in all Creation. Everything that exists is an emanation of God’s love.

On Christmas morning it’s natural to want to focus on the sweet little baby Jesus in the manger. But John’s gospel makes it clear that this isn’t about “once upon a time there was a cute baby and all the angels sang.” It’s about something cosmic, earth-shattering and life-changing. The Incarnation opens our eyes to the Divine Presence surrounding us, and it calls us to live in harmony with that vision. It’s a summons to deeper awareness, reverence and commitment to justice.

It’s also a reassurance. Inevitably, bad stuff happens around Christmas time; and disaster, upheaval and injustice can feel like it “spoils” the season. But evil, suffering, loneliness and uncertainty isn’t an interruption: it’s the reason for the season. Jesus comes to be with us precisely because this life is hard, and we need God by our side. In the Incarnation God says, “Don’t worry. I’m here with you. No matter what.” That’s what gives us courage to grieve losses, love neighbors, confront injustice and live with hope amid uncertainty. Welcome, God. Golly, do we ever need you.

Worship note: When Christmas falls on a Sunday it becomes clear to what degree in our culture it’s really a secular holiday, not a religious one. “What?” people say. “Come to church on Christmas Day? Are you kidding? That’s presents and turkey and football and family time!” So make your service a little short, a little different, and especially inviting for children.

In fact you might swap the sermon and kids’ time. Give the adults their obligatory 5 minutes, but spend some real time with the kids talking about Christmas. (The adults will eat it up.) Talk about how it’s nice to have mommy or daddy there especially when you’re scared. Jesus is God’s way of being with us. Jesus came to show us how God is always with us, because love is always here. Sometimes it feels especially scary to be a kid in this big world that’s arranged for adults. But God is a little kid, too. Even when you’re a little kid, God will help you. Imagine how hard it was for Mary and Joseph: traveling a long way, finding no place to stay, delivering a baby in a strange, rough place. People treated Mary and Joseph and Jesus as if they weren’t important: “There’s no room for you here.” But they were very important to God. And you, too, are just that important to God. No matter what happens to you, you are God’s very special child.

Music note: Christmas Day is a great opportunity to sing all those “B side” less familiar carols we don’t get to sing much because we’ve been busy going through all the top ten hits. Besides, your people may already be sick of the standard Christmas carols because they’ve been hearing them in the popular culture for a month. And they just sang them all last night. Introduce them to the other ones. (They’re in most hymnals.) Preach short and sing extra.

Call to Worship

1. from John 1.14-18
Leader: In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was present to God, and the Word was God.
All: In the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen the glory of the Word,
the delight and attention given an only child,
full of grace, full of truth.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

2.
Leader: Love is infinite, enveloping all that is.
All: Love is as invisible as gravity, and just as strong.Love is the seed of the universe, the the womb of life.
Love is God, eternal and perfect.
And yet love is also made flesh, right here and now.
Love has been born among us, and within us.
Christ is born! Alleluia!


Collect / Prayer of the Day

Loving God, in the birth of Jesus you have given yourself to us. May your love be born in our hearts and your light shine in our eyes. By your image in us and your grace in us and your presence in us, may others experience your presence and trust your love.2.
Womb of Love, you have given birth to Jesus, who is not only our Chief and our Leader, our Teacher and Savior, but also our brother. In awe we celebrate. In gratitude we thank you. In wonder we worship. Alleluia! Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

Leader: “In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was present to God, and the Word was God.”
All: The Word is love, and it is love we honor and love we live.
In the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Love has blessed us; love has birthed us and brought us to this day.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen the glory of the Word,
the delight and attention given an only child,
full of grace, full of truth.”
In Jesus we have seen God’s love.
It is that love we give ourselves to, to receive from,
to learn from, and to practice.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. “
As shepherds returned to their fields telling of the good news,
we go into the fields of our daily lives, proclaiming in words and deeds,
in devotion and in justice, the new birth of God’s love among us. Alleluia!



Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

In the dark night, stars shone.
In the winter wind, angels sang.
In the child’s ears, the mother whispered love.
In the mystery of this moment,
you murmur your love to us,
and we listen.

Poetry

            Christmas Blessing

May the coming of Christ
deepen your wonder
and widen your gratitude.

May the helpless child
bring forth your tenderness
and strengthen your love.

May the gentle mother
give you courage to embrace the holy
and find the divine in yourself.

May the child who shares our death
bring light into your darkness,
and hope to your weariness.

May the holy family in the stable
open your heart to the poor,
the homeless, the refugee.

May the child sought by soldiers
embolden you to cry out
and empower you to resist injustice.

May the angels who sing above you
awaken your heart
and surround you with beauty.

May the One Who Comes
remind you of your belovedness
and fill you with kindness and mercy,
and give you joy.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Creator God, from the beginning
you have made all things through your Word,
in which is life, and the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Sanctus

The true light that enlightens everyone
was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him,
yet the world did not know him.
[… The Blessing and Covenant…]

But to all who received him
he gave power to become children of God,
born not of the flesh nor of human will,
but born of God.
Memorial Acclamation

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory.
And from this glory we all receive, grace upon grace.
No one has ever seen God; Christ makes God known.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
God of all Creation,
may your Word be made flesh
by all your holy Church,
in the love of Christ
and the power of the Holy Spirit.
(
——Amen——

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, you are with us in the flesh. In gratitude for your presence and your grace, we give of ourselves, to make your love real in the world. And so we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Prayer after Communion / Sending

God, we thank you for the great mystery that you give yourself to us in love. May we continually receive the gift. May we live as gifts of love for others, by your Spirit, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


Peace, Peace, Peace (Tune: Still, Still, Still)
[Music includes optional parts for two flutes.]

Peace, peace, peace. God grant you peace, my friends.
The Christ child comes, so sweet and tender.
Greet him with your trust and wonder.
Peace, peace, peace, God be with you, my friends.

Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.
Here at the manger humbly kneeling;
gladly going, serving, healing.
Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.

Christmas Eve

Lectionary Texts

Isiah 9.2-7: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… for a child has been born for us,… the Prince of Peace.”

Psalm 96: “Sing to God a new song!” God has done great things, and will judge the world with righteousness.

Hebrews 1.1-4: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, the reflection of God’s glory.”

Luke 2.1-20. The nativity story we all (think) we know: Bethlehem, the baby, the manger, the shepherds, the angels… and Mary pondering all these things in her heart.

Preaching Thoughts

I recommend avoiding the cute message that “one magic night this magic thing happened,” and reflect on the eternal nature of the Incarnation. This was not “one special night.” This is all the time. God is with us always, even in the most ordinary situations (shepherds, just doing their jobs…) and even situations of difficulty, pain and uncertainty (a newborn infant is just about the most vulnerable creature to be in this world). God is among us. God’s presence is most easily seen not in the rich and powerful, but in the poor and simple. (Shepherds were lower class folks.)

Call to Worship

Leader: In the darkness, stars shine.
All: In the cold of winter, a warmth rises.
In the silence, angels approach.
In the mystery of this night, your people gather, O God.
Your Word is made flesh, and we come in humble awe.
Your grace unfolds among us, and we come to witness,
to worship, and to wonder. Alleluia!


Prayer

        Blessed God, we praise you on this holy night for the mystery of your Incarnation. We bless you for the birth of Jesus, and for the gift of your salvation. We thank you that you dwell with us in love.
       In the name of the infant Jesus we pray for all children, and their families. We pray for peace. We pray for those for whom Christ came: those who suffer, those who are lost or lonely, the sick, the powerless and the rejected, those who struggle in life; and those who do not know you. Blessed are the poor, and those who mourn. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted: for among them is Emmanuel.
        Holy Spirit, make of our hearts an open manger, that Christ may be born in us anew and live in us always. By your grace help us to receive the gifts of this holy season, to share them with all the world, and to live always in the light of Jesus’ presence. Amen.


Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

O God, turn out the lights in our busy lives,
that in the darkness your stars may shine.
Silence the chatter of our minds,
that we may hear the angels sing.
Bring us to our knees,
that we may see the holy child.
Make hearts open mangers
for your Christ to be born in us.
You who are always with us, come to us again;
make your Word flesh in us.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

God of light and healing, we thank you for the blessed mystery that you give yourself to us. You have come to dwell with us, and within us. Blessed, transformed, and sustained by your presence, we go into the world in your name to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free, and to proclaim your grace. Send us in the power of your Spirit, with the blessing and the company of your Son, our Chief, Jesus Christ, who is present among us, now and to eternal life. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Drawn by Your Light (Tune: Away in a Manger)

In darkness we gather, God, drawn by your light,
your glorious presence that blesses the night,
the light and the deep peace that Jesus imparts,
the Spirit’s bright radiance that burns in our hearts.

The light of Creation that made the first dawn,
the pillar of fire that led Israel on,
the star that led magi to where Jesus was
now draws us to worship with alleluias.

Your light shines so even the darkness is blessed
this night as we wait for the coming of Christ.
God, shine your light warmly in us by your grace,
that we may bear healing and justice and peace.