Christmas Eve (YrA) Dec 24, 2016


Old Testament: 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. 




The Response: Psalm 96


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 0peoples; *

     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.




The Epistle: Titus (2:11-14)


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 Gospel: 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


Last month, I attended an address by this year’s recipient of the Templeton Prize.  This prestigious award was established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton to honor “outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality.”  Among its recipients have been Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. 


This year’s Templeton Prize Laureate is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth.  He is a prominent promoter of better understanding and mutual acceptance among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  In his remarks, Rabbi Sacks cited three fundamental questions which, he insists, are asked, at one time or another, by every reflective person: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How then shall I live?”  These are religious questions.  More fundamentally, they are human questions; they call for a response from every human being.


On this very special evening, we have come together to celebrate the birth of a fellow human being: Jesus of Nazareth.  He was, as the scriptures (Heb. 4:15) assert, like us in everything but sin.  He passed through the changes and challenges and growing-pains of childhood and adolescence.  He had to learn, sometimes through getting things wrong, and to realize that there were some things that he simply did not and could not know.  He endured hunger and sickness and self-doubt.  He experienced both joys and sorrows.  And, as a fellow human being, he would have had to ask himself those same, three, universal questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How then shall I live?”


Since he apparently left no diary or any sort of self-assessment, we do not have his answers to the first two questions.  But we can reliably come to know his answers to them by looking at the response that he gave to the third one, “How then shall I live?” because the way that he lived his life both gives that answer and provides us with an insight into the other two: to his sense of his identity and to his perceived purpose in life.


The Jesus whom we encounter in the gospels was a first-century, Palestinian Jew.  His time and his culture were integral to who he was and to his way of thinking and living, just as they are for all of us.  By looking at what he said and especially at what he did within that context, we can see how he chose to live.  It is apparent, for example, that he was thoroughly immersed in the scriptures and in his Jewish heritage.  His actions show that he had become convinced that the kingdom of God, a new and transformed way of living, was breaking into the world.  He himself endeavored to live in that kingdom in his own life.  In keeping with that vision of God’s intent for all creation, he lived his life for the sake of others, not for himself alone.


Even a brief overview of the gospels makes it clear that Jesus did not intend these aspects of his life – endeavoring to live in the light of God’s kingdom and for the sake of others – that he did not intend these aspects of his life to apply to himself alone.  From the very beginning of his public ministry, he called others to embrace these same principles and to embody them in their own lives.  And he now calls us, and all those who gather on this evening to celebrate his birth, to do the same.


By living in this way, Jesus appears to have tried to model his life on the life of God; for God, as we encounter God in the scriptures, is always at work re-creating all things, making all things new, and God is the One whose entire existence is focused on others and on sharing the fullness of the divine life with others.  That is exactly what Jesus did in his lifetime, and that is what Jesus calls us to do as well.


We share many things in common with Jesus.


“Who am I?”  As fellow human beings, we, too, are part of the earth, part of this world; but, like him, we bear within ourselves a spark of the divine.  That is who we are.


“Why am I here?”  Like Jesus, we, are alive in order to be living signs to the world and to be an embodiment in the world of the life-giving presence of God and of God’s kingdom: of the world transformed to be what God intends it to be.  That is why we are here.


Essentially, we share with Jesus the answers to the first two of Rabbi Sacks’ questions.  

But our answer, our response, to the third question “How then shall I live?” varies from person to person.  While, at a fundamental level, there may be only one “correct” answer to the first two questions, I suggest that there are currently in the world more than 7 billion “correct” answers to the third question.  All those answers share much in common, for they are based on who we all are and why we all are here.  But they also differ, sometimes significantly, from one individual to another.  They express our unity in diversity.


Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections, page 150), has expressed that unity in diversity this way: “Each of us is called to be a different kind of response to God, to mirror God in unique ways, to show God what [God] is like, so to speak, from innumerable new and different standpoints.  So one clue to our identity is this, the idea of mirroring God.  We have to find what is our particular way of playing back to God [God’s] self-sharing, self-losing care and compassion, the love of which [God] speaks and calls in the first place.”


That is what Jesus did; and that is what Jesus calls us to do.  It is only when we truly accept ourselves and all our fellow human beings as sharing with one another Jesus’ answers to “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” that we truly come to embrace our God-given identity and purpose in life.  But, at the same time, it is only when we respond to that third question, “How then shall I live?” both with a sense of common purpose and common responsibility and with a recognition and acceptance of our God-given uniqueness – it is only then that we find genuine and lasting peace.  For, as Rabbi Sacks has written (Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, page 129), “Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else.”  For God has enabled each of us to reflect to the world the face of God in our own unique way.


On this very special night, as we join with the heavenly chorus in proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth,” we pray that all people might truly and faithfully share the sense of identity and sense of purpose that we find in the one whose birth we celebrate.  But at the same time, we pray that God would enable us to discover also the unique gifts that God has given to each and every one of us and the unique way that God invites us to mirror God’s infinite goodness and compassion and love to all the world.