John 1 in Wycliffe’s English translation, 14th century manuscript. Public Domain.
”In the bigynyng was the word + the word was at god/+ god was the word/
This was in the bigynynge at God/ Alle thigis weren maad by hi: + with”
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
TThe LORD returns to Jerusalem. The exile is over. "All the ends of the earth shall see our God's salvation."
Psalm response: Psalm 98 (UMH 818).
A song of praise for God's intervention to save God's people. "For the Lord comes to judge the nations with righteousness, and the peoples with equity." This psalm is also the basis of the hymn, "Joy to the World." If you plan to sing the psalm, sing Response 2 with Tone 1 in D major or use D-C#-B-A; A-B-C#-D" in D major.
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12).
In Jesus, God has given us no mere angel or messenger, but "the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being. . . [who] sustains all things by his powerful word."
The mystery of the Word made flesh, dwelling ("pitching tent") among us, and empowering us to become children of God.
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Today is Christmas Day. Historically in the West, there have been three celebrations of Holy Communion (three “Christ-masses”) this day. The first is celebrated on Christmas Eve after sundown (“midnight mass”). The second is a morning mass on Christmas Day. You can find the Revised Common Lectionary Readings for that service, not included in The United Methodist Book of Worship, at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The third, whose readings we have in our Book of Worship, is historically celebrated in the late afternoon or early evening just before sundown. That is partly why the readings selected include references to the light of Christ shining in the darkness.
Christmas season provides many opportunities for gathering, for worship, and for individual or small-group devotions or missional activities. It doesn’t all end last night or today. Be sure to take advantage of all the opportunities this season provides both to celebrate God with us in Jesus Christ and to invite people to join you in following his way.
Tomorrow, December 26, is The Feast of St. Stephen, commemorating his martyrdom.
December 27 is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist.
December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a day we remember not only those infant males slaughtered by Herod’s order, but all who have been victims of the violence of the world rising against the coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.
December 31 is New Year’s Eve/Watchnight/Feast of the Holy Name.
January 6 is Epiphany.
This season is also marked in some African-American communities by Kwanzaa, and in some Spanish language communities by Las Posadas (Book of Worship, 266-268 and 281-284).
Coming up in January on the UM Program Calendar
Human Trafficking Awareness Day (UMW Resources)
Ecumenical Sunday in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Human Relations Day
Martin Luther King Birthday
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In the readings assigned for this service, you will find no shepherds, no stables, no Bethlehem, no wise men, and even no birth story. There are angels (in Hebrews), but they’re not talking to people. They’re worshiping and obeying Jesus. And there’s nothing particularly wintry at all. So where's Christmas?
These readings for the third mass of Christmas Day have a history that stretches back to at least to the seventh century in the West, and the fourth or fifth century in the East (Armenian Calendar). The church has celebrated the third of the three Masses of the Feast of the Incarnation (Christ-mass) as a way to offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving for the cosmic, spiritual, and historical implications of the incarnation.
Isaiah situates us in a particular historical situation of a destroyed Jerusalem and calls the ruins to rejoice in another historical event about to take place: The return of exiles from Babylon. Christians read this text, remembering the history, but also seeing it describing our own situation, standing in the ruins and ruined places of our own world, here and now, and looking with joyful hope and rejoicing to the promised return of Jesus when, indeed, “all the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” This is why the Psalm in response (Psalm 98) is a Psalm of joy and victory.
Hebrews speaks of the implications of the incarnation for those beings the Bible calls angels. Jesus is Son of God, high exalted above all the angels (1:4) who ever now worship him and do his bidding in every realm where they appear (1:6, 7). Hebrews goes even further, identifying Jesus as “heir of all things” and agent of “the creation of all things” (1:2), “reflection of God’s glory,” “God’s exact imprint,” “high priest making purification for us,” (1:3), The Anointed One (1:9), and, indeed, as the founder of the earth and maker of the heavens (1:10), and the one who will, in the end, change them all (1:12).
This is doxology on top of doxology. There is so much here, packed so tightly, you could literally spend hours or days unpacking it all. Don’t even try to do that. Read, or proclaim it, really precisely as doxology, as praise heaped upon praise. Invite the congregation to proclaim it with the reader responsively— all standing, with “outdoor voices” (no mumbling or stumbling!) as a way to help all of you together enter into the doxology and praise this reading offers. This IS Christmas!
From John we read the prologue, identifying Jesus as the Word and the Word as God, by whom all things were made, and who came to dwell among us in the flesh. In him is life, and he is light inexhaustible by any darkness. Consider starting the reading in relative darkness, a single candle (Christ candle from your Advent wreath) blazing. Keep adding light, or light more candles, as the reading progresses. End it with the brightest illumination of lights and hearts you can muster.
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In Your Planning Team
It's Christmas Day. Will anyone come? Is this service even worth offering?
Maybe not, if this is only a “one-off” (pearl) not connected to the whole series of services in this season by common threads. As you plan for today, by all means let today’s pearl shine! But also find ways to highlight the common threads that connect back to Christmas Eve and forward to the services and activities to come during this season.
When to celebrate this service? Select a time when folks in your congregation or community are more likely to come. Some communities may have a strong tradition of a Christmas morning service. If so, then go with that, even though these readings are better suited for the time just before sunset. However, in many places, the best time for this service may not be morning. If families have not opened presents on Christmas Eve, there may be great pressure to do that nearly first thing Christmas morning and have the rest of the day to play with their new toys. There may well be a large Christmas dinner in the mid-afternoon, and sports or naptime after that. Consider well whether worship can compete with these things where you are. Strongly consider offering your Christmas Day service at evening, not just because the texts invite it, but because it might work better for more of your worshiping community, too!
Especially if this becomes an evening service, consider starting by candlelight. You might have a single cantor leading a small processional in singing "Of the Father's Love Begotten" unaccompanied, except perhaps by a single bell, as you enter the sanctuary or wherever (a home, a park, or a public square) you gather for worship this evening.
(Ring) Of the Father's love begotten,
(ring) ere the worlds began to be,
(ring) he is Alpha and Omega,
(ring) he the source, the ending he
(ring) of the things that are, that have been
(ring) and that future years shall see,
(ring) evermore and evermore.
All present, accompanied by handbells, organ, or other joyous instruments, of by flute if outdoors, with light increasing in the sanctuary (if indoors) or voices rising in volume (if outdoors) as the song is sung:
O ye heights of heaven, adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing;
powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring,
evermore and evermore.
(UMH 184, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius)
Other hymns very appropriate for this service include "Joy to the World" (which is based on the Psalm for this service, UMH 246), "Love Came Down at Christmas (UMH 242), "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" (UMH 247), "On This Day, Earth Shall Ring" (UMH 248, vs. 1, 4), "Jesus! The Name High Over All" (UMH 193), "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne" (TFWS 2100), “Jesus, the Light of the World” (Worship & Song 3056), and “Womb of Life” (TFWS 2046).
Whenever you offer this service, you can generally expect the size of the congregation to be small and the feeling intimate. Intimate does not mean, and with these texts should not mean, "casual" or "impromptu." There is nothing casual about these texts! They cry out to be proclaimed at full voice, not merely spoken or shared among friends. Instead, take advantage of the intimacy a smaller gathering may provide to move more deeply into Scripture and sacrament than a larger gathering might normally allow. Think about preaching for this service as building on and prompting praise in preparation for confession of faith, prayers of the people, and celebrating at the Lord’s Table. Those who have come to this service have come because they are looking to be part of the richest treasures, the deepest depths the church has to offer. The readings provide that. Find ways to facilitate rather than distract or get in the way of that.
Holy Communion at this service should be considered essential. The day itself, after all, is called "Christmas" -- "Christ's Mass" -- the service of Holy Communion to celebrate the coming of Christ! If you know that you or someone else in your congregation authorized to preside at Holy Communion may not be available for this service, start now to find someone in your area who may be available and willing to preside. Elders in The United Methodist Church, AME, AME Zion, CME, and rostered pastors in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may preside in any congregation at the invitation of pastor and notification to the district superintendent (which may be done after the fact). There may be retired elders, or elders serving in an extension ministry, or elders in other congregations near you who may be delighted to assist you and your congregation on this day or evening.
A personal offer I make every year—if you are near Indianapolis, IN, and want to do this service, and if you are lacking an authorized presider— get clearance from your pastor and DS, and then shoot me an email at worship@UMCdiscipleship.org. Seriously!
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- Call to Worship: UMBOW 212, "Christ Is Born" (John)
- Greeting: UMBOW 272 (John)
- Greeting: UMBOW 305 (John)
- Opening Prayer: UMBOW 277 (John)
- Prayer of Confession: UMBOW 231 Christmas
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Ghana, Nigeria
- Great Thanksgiving: UMBOW 56-57
- Dismissal With Blessing: UMBOW 287-288 (John)
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