A Reading from the the Book of Isaiah (9:2-7)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts
will do this.
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the Lord when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to Titus (2:11-14)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (2:1-20)
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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The book of Genesis speaks of “El Shaddai: (“God of the Mountain”), “El Olam” (“God Eternal”) and “El Elyon” (“Mighty God”). Books of the New Testament praise “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “the King of the ages,” and “the One who is seated on the throne.” Christian theologians over the past 2000 years have employed descriptions such as “the unmoved Mover,” “the Ground of all being” and “the encompassing Spirit in which all that is is.” And believers in hundreds of other religions have applied countless other names to the Ultimate Mystery, to the one whom we call “God.”
People of every age and every culture have sensed a Reality that is far greater than all of creation; and they have tried to name and describe and get in touch with that Reality. Many have, to use Nietzsche’s expression, created God in their own image and likeness. But others have tried with sincerity to stretch beyond human categories: to enter into the life of the One who is the ultimate and true Life of all. To draw on the marvelous description of William Wordsworth, they have affirmed:
“I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”
A sense of the divine, of that nameless Presence, is one of the most powerful and life-giving experiences that we human beings can have. And yet, at the same time, it can leave us with a keen awareness of the distance that separates us from that Ultimate Mystery. It is a boundless chasm that we can never bridge.
But God can. And on this beautiful feast of Christmas, for which we have gathered here this evening, we celebrate God’s loving work that has bridged that great chasm and has brought together the Creator and the creation.
Christmas has been characterized and celebrated in many ways throughout the ages. It holds within its wonders many different dimensions. And among its varied aspects is the fact that it strikes us with an amazing, maybe even shocking, specificity. On this night, we celebrate our belief that that Ultimate Reality did not remain at the cosmic level — actually infinitely beyond the cosmic level. Instead, that Reality, whom we call “God,” entered into our human existence in a new and very specific way: at a particular time, in a particular place, through a particular person. In Jesus of Nazareth, we affirm, God became part and parcel of the world in which we live and of the human nature in which we were created, sharing all that we humans experience, and knowing who we are by living as one of us.
That affirmation is not just an historical memory. It carries with it far broader implications than simply a belief that God was present in the life of the world for a relatively brief 33 years some two millennia ago. It affirms as well that, in Jesus, God has entered into and remains present in every part of our everyday lives. It affirms that, in Jesus, God has made every part of our everyday lives holy. As our Eucharistic Prayer affirms, it is in Jesus that God has delivered us from evil and made us worthy to stand in the very presence of God. It has transformed the reality of who we are.
In Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating, God is present at every time and in every place and in every aspect of our lives. When we struggle to get out of bed on a cold, dark winter’s morning, God is present with us. When we travel to work or to school or to our volunteer activities, God makes that journey with us and shares in those works with us throughout the day. When we return home again, God returns with us to refresh and renew us. And when we celebrate the joys of life or endure its sorrows, God shares in them with us. God knows what we are experiencing at every moment of our lives because, as the saying goes, God has been there and done that.
In Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we celebrate this night, God has closed the seemingly unbridgeable chasm that appeared to separate us from God. In Jesus, God is now an integral part of every day and every aspect of our lives.
But, on second thought, maybe that is just the beginning. Maybe that is not the most important part of the story. Maybe that even has it all backward. Maybe the reality that we celebrate at Christmas is not the affirmation that, in Jesus, God is now part of our lives. Maybe the reality and the far-greater wonder of Christmas is that, in Jesus, we are now part of God’s life. In the light of this newborn child, God invites us to recognize our presence, our life, our place within the eternal story of God’s life.
That story spans all of human history and extends far beyond it. It is the story of the God who brought all things into being out of love. It is the story of the God who sustains and sanctifies all that God has made. It is the story that includes the awe-inspiring narratives of the Old Testament and the New. It is the story of what God has done for us in the life and death of Jesus. And it is the story that began anew with Jesus’ resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. It is the story of the God who reaches out to all people, indeed to all creation, in order to make all things new in the One by whom all things were made.
In Jesus, we are now part of that story. Our lives form, if you will, at least brief chapters in that all-encompassing narrative. But our role in that story is not a passive one; it is a very active one. For in Jesus, God has invited us to share in the writing of that narrative, trusting us to further its storyline by the way that we choose to live our lives, and working together with God to bring that story to its conclusion and to fulfill its ultimate promise.
God is and will always remain infinitely beyond our comprehension. And yet, in the birth of Jesus that we celebrate here tonight, that same God has welcomed us and the story of our lives into the eternal story of God. As we gather here this Christmas, we do so with a spirit of gratitude for all that God has done for us and for all that God has made of us in the child of Bethlehem. And we proudly take our place within that loving story of our loving God, asking that, in us and in our lives, that eternal Light who is God might shine even more brightly in the hearts of all the people of the world.