Planning - First Sunday after Christmas Day
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Espaol, Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener ms recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegtico: Homilticos.
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26.
The story of the childhood of Samuel, raised by a priest, who would become the last judge and the first prophet to the kings of Israel.
Psalm 148 (UMH 861).
All creation is called to join in the praise of God who has established leadership to deliver and protect the people. If singing the psalm, use Tone 3 in E-flat major or E-G#-A-B; A-G#-F#-E with the response. Or use a paraphrase such as that in The Upper Room Worshipbook, 69, 364, or 365.
Paul exhorts the readers to clothe themselves with practices that embody the peace of Christ ruling in their hearts and the teaching of Christ dwelling among them richly.
During the family's annual Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus, now "of age," stays behind to engage in rabbinic debate with the teachers in the temple. The final verse is a direct reference to today's reading from I Samuel.
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We are in the midst of the twelve day celebration of Christmastide (night of December 24 through January 6, Epiphany).
Kwanzaa began December 26 and concludes in two more days (January 1).
Also, tomorrow night or Tuesday, your congregation may choose to observe Watch Night (New Year's Eve or Day), and perhaps with that, services of baptismal reaffirmation or covenant renewal, in addition to what you may do on Baptism of the Lord Sunday (January 13, 2013). The church has historically set aside these days to celebrate and ponder the mystery of the Incarnation, of God becoming flesh in Jesus and dwelling among us.
As United Methodists grow into our new relationship of Full Communion with AME, AME Zion, and CME Churches, along with our existing Full Communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church and our Interim Eucharistic Sharing Agreement with The Episcopal Church, we may benefit from remembering that this first week of Christmastide has a particularly rich history in the worship of these churches and the Western tradition generally. Consider particularly how you may join our newest Full Communion partners for Kwanzaa, Watch Night or Owlah celebrations. For Lutherans and Episcopalians, December 26 is the Feast of Stephen (hence the carol, "Good King Wenceslas"), the first recorded martyr (color: Red). December 27 is the Feast of John, Apostle and Evangelist, whose long life bore lasting witness to the Word made Flesh. And December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents (color: Red), the commemoration of the deaths of the infants in Judea in response to news of the birth of a new King because of Herod's jealous rage (The carol "Unto Us a Child Is Born" records this story). Lectionary scriptures and prayers for each of these days may also be found on the ELCA website.
In short, there are many things that can happen in these days. The question for you and your worship planning team is which of these to give particular attention to this Christmastide so that your congregation has the best opportunity to worship and reflect deeply on what it means that God has "pitched tent" among us in Jesus (John 1:14).
Looking ahead to January, January 6 is the celebration of Epiphany.
January 13, the First Sunday after Epiphany, is Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
January 20 is a bit of a "programmatic three-ring circus." Human Relations Day and Ecumenical Sunday fall on the same day this year. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on January 21. Additionally, Ecumenical Sunday is part of the worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25. Plan wisely so that appropriate attention is given to each in your setting. Let the Scriptures for the day and the series you had started (Old Testament/Gospel or Epistle stream) lay the foundation, and add these other elements in ways that complement, rather than distract from, the focus of your series.
Atmospherics: "Incarnating Holy Habits"
In each of the three years of the lectionary cycle, the First Sunday after Christmas Day focuses on a gospel reading that recounts events later than the birth of Jesus. In Year A, it is the story of the escape to Egypt and the slaughter of the infants and young children in the territory around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-23). In Year B, it is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the prophecies said over him by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-40). In Year C, it is the story of the pilgrimage of the family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in the year Jesus turned twelve and his decision to stay behind and continue to debate with the rabbis. This is the only story in the New Testament recording actions of Jesus before his baptism.
A common theme uniting the texts for this year is "holy habits." In both I Samuel and Colossians, "habit" has a double meaning -- both as practices and as special clothing. In I Samuel, the clothing and the practices are both literal. The reading names two pieces of clothing Samuel wears -- a linen ephod and the new robe his mother made and brought him year by year. These clothes publicly marked him as an apprentice for the priesthood, and there is every indication here that he was not just wearing the clothes, but learning the practices of the craft from Eli year by year.
In Colossians, the clothing is figurative, and the practices are literal. Paul several times tells the Christians to "clothe themselves" with behaviors and practices indicative of their status as "God's chosen ones," not unlike Samuel wearing the ephod and the robe. These practices include compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love, "the belt of perfection" (3:12-14). All of these things take time and considerable practice to "put on." They must be learned and practiced intentionally in communities as dedicated to these things as a priestly community is dedicated to its craft. One might call these the "habit of community."
The rest of today's reading describes the habits or practices of worshipers who live in such a community. The peace of Christ calls the shots. There is regular thanksgiving. The word or teaching of Christ indwells them richly, making them wise. Out of that, they are able to teach, encourage and -- where needed -- correct one another. And that word comes to dwell in them as they sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together in their worship of God. These worship practices flow into all of life, so that in all things they act in Christ's name and give thanks to God through him.
In Luke, the holy habits are developed by Jesus, beginning in childhood. Many of the "child Jesus" stories circulating in Luke's day involved small miracles of one sort or another that seem to suggest Jesus may be "above the rules." The story Luke gives us is about showing how thoroughly Jesus had learned, knew, and kept the rules.
First, Jesus and his family kept Jewish ritual tradition. Luke had noted this before at his naming and the presentation in the Temple (Luke 2). Here, the family makes the expected pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover for the occasion of Jesus' "coming of age" (Bar Mitzvah, "Son of the Commandments," as it is known in contemporary Judaism).
Second, while there, Jesus did not simply read his "Torah portion," but entered fully into the debate of the teachers of the law, fulfilling and exceeding the expectations for a "Son of the Commandments." He asked his own questions and could hold his own in the conversations for three days. That he could do this was a reflection both on his own insight and on the level of training he must have received and practiced at home. This is why he fairly marvels that his parents were unable to find him more quickly. After all, hadn't he shown a strong interest in such things for years? (Luke 2:49).
Finally, Jesus remained obedient to his parents (keeping the commandment) and "grew in wisdom and size and in favor with God and people" (vs. 51-52), an allusion to this morning's reading from Samuel (I Samuel 2:26).
In all of these readings, especially the gospel, the focus on faithful practice and preparation over time is clear.
In your worship planning team, discuss these questions:
- What holy habits do you help people live into well where you are?
- Which might you be invited to add? How can songs, images, or the design of worship space help you consider these today?
- How might what worship leaders (and worshipers!) wear in worship today reflect the holy habits (clothing and practices) described in this week's texts?
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Today's celebration isn't about moralism -- what you should and shouldn't do. While all of today's readings call us to deeper intentionality about learning and practicing our faith in great depth, they do so out of the recognition that Jesus, God with us, practiced and learned these things, too.
This is important. Incarnation did not mean "automatic guru status" for him. He didn't get "cheat codes" that would give him unfair advantage over his peers or his elders. He was fully human. What he did receive was a unique connection with the one he called Father that drove him deep into the tradition as a child and deep into the wilderness with good news for the lost, the oppressed and the abandoned as an adult.
Help your congregation listen well, drink deep, and treasure these things in their hearts.
- Call to Worship: UMBOW 212, "Christ Is Born" (Christmas)
- Greeting: UMBOW 274 (Psalm)
- Greeting: UMBOW 275 (Christmas)
- Opening Prayer: UMBOW 278 (Luke)
- Canticle: UMH 646, "Canticle of Love" (Col.)
- Prayer: UMBOW 313 (Luke)
- Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession: UMBOW 279 (Luke)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria
- Great Thanksgiving: (Communion) UMBOW 56-57 (Christmas), UMBOW 58-59 (New Year, Covenant Reaffirmation)
- Dismissal With Blessing: UMBOW 287-288
For additional Christmas suggestions, see UMBOW 269-288.