I was busy updating my favorite poems for Christmas Eve when a colleague posted about permission for a beloved Christmas poem she hoped to use Christmas Eve. It was just another one of those reminders that pastors, like you dear one, are juggling so much right now. You’re not just crafting worship but tending to all of the legalities that might exist around every bit of artistic inspiration you might use.
I use a lot of poetry on the highest of holy days to give new meaning and insight to our hearing of those more familiar stories from scripture — but this season is busy enough. You don’t need to chase down permissions for the rest of Advent. You need to print the bulletin, assemble the slides and move onto the next thing. So I’m giving another option for Christmas Eve that doesn’t require chasing down permissions. Everything is either public domain or permission has been granted for this purpose by the artist. Credit should be given to the artists those attributions are at the very end of the liturgy. It will require you to click through to find these things in other places because I did very little actual writing for this liturgy — and my colleagues in the United Church of Christ are just so dang talented.
The liturgy follows the Proper II for Christmas Eve because I never, ever choose it and I wondered what it might look like to use these lessons. It’s a lot of scripture because I think that scripture tells it best — and I wanted there to be a push toward Howard Thurman’s The Work of Christmas, which is my very favorite Christmas poem and how I like to conclude every Christmas Eve service but it’s not public domain.
I did find that Bosco Peters wrote a hymn with the poem text so that might be an option if you’re interested in introducing a new song on Christmas — though after a long season of not singing together and that thing where we don’t sing carols in Advent, people are likely to want to only sing carols. Maren Tirabassi also has this improv poem inspired by Thurman’s beloved words. Or you might swap out Michelle’s candle lighting for this simple Advent candle lighting also by Maren. Especially if you are using the Prayers of the People I offer, it might be worth doing the whole thing where the Advent candles are slowly lit in this service. It might need to be shortened a bit for that to work but it’s a really lovely option.
Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Invitation to Worship Inspired by Psalm 97 We lift our voices with all of creation in praise and wonder for all that will be born this night. We are listening to all that can change and all that will change with this birth. Light will dawn and there will be rejoicing on the coastlands and way up high in the mountains. The landscape of our imagination will shift and it will be glorious. It is this change that we have been waiting for. We have been waiting so long.
Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful
Prayer of Invocation (Responsive)
Prayer of our Savior
First Reading: Isaiah 62:10-12 from the Common English Bible
Prayer for the Lighting the Christ Candle
Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7 from the VOICE translation
Prayer for the Light Inspired by Psalm 97 It could happen like this where a tiny spark changes everything. Tonight, O God, by this feeding trough and listening for the sounds of little ones too delighted to keep quiet, assure us that it could happen just like this. The world we have prayed for could begin with one light that is shared again and again and again. May it be so tonight.
Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-7 from the Message
What it Was: A Christmas Poem by Michelle Torigian
This is the big moment — and it deserves more than four voices in a choral reading. Consider adding sung responses to each bit of good news that is shared from beloved carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or The First Noel. Or move pieces of a nativity set into place as the readers share the story. (This would work on Zoom too if you focus the camera on a central spot and move the figures slowly toward that spot. This reading could also be easily shared by four readers in different households on Zoom.) It may even work to have the readers in costume as they read. For copyright reasons, I didn’t alter the text but I really want to make it inclusive.
Heralds of Good News in Four Voices From the Voice Translation First Voice Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light— the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified! Messenger Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough. First Voice At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers— a vast heavenly choir. They praised God. Heavenly Choir To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God! And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God! First Voice As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation. Shepherds Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about! First Voice So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart. The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Carol: Joy to the World
For this next moment in worship, I imagine each person is given a globe stress ball or eraser or whatever palm-sized globe you can find in bulk with the current supply chain issues. If that’s not possible, maybe just a small coloring page of the globe would work with some crayons. You will want to edit the italicized directions based on what you find and also edit the OR in the Christmas Prayers.
Imagining the Joy the World Needs Joy to the world! And this world needs joy. In another pandemic year, there is so much isolation and loneliness. We have seen how far we are willing to go to take care of each other. We have felt the earth weep from climate devastation and have witnessed the acceptance of words like "Black lives matter" and even "Love wins" even when violence toward black, brown and queer bodies continues. This world needs more joy -- the joy that we have seen and heard with the shepherds. Tonight you hold the world in your hands and it is your joy to imagine how you will begin the work of Christmas to repeat the sounding joy of this good news. What kind of joy can you imagine for this world this year? What can your hands do to bring hope to hurting people?
Ponder these questions, like Mary, as music plays softly in the background. Sharpies might be provided to write a word representing your intention on the globe. Or you might ponder the joy the world needs in color with the crayons provided.
Christmas Prayers Emmanuel God, it has happened again. We have heard your good news and just begun to imagine your liberation and hope. We have heard the familiar chorus of the angels singing of peace. We have considered your world and all the joy it needs. Like shepherds, we are cautious about this news and approach your possibility slowly, illuminating the shadows of this world with one candle, and then another, and another, and another... until we light your candle, O Emmanuel. In your candle, O Christ, we see your face shining upon us, We see the miracle of our own light shining through the hopes and fears of all the years. That candle reminds us that there is work to do toward your liberation and peace. It is a hope that you ask us to share with our hearts and hands even when we are still pondering these great mysteries in our hearts. Help us to shine and to announce peace, to encourage joy, and to share the love that begins – but does not end – in this small child in a feeding trough. May this love be felt especially by the sick and hospitalized... May this love reach around the grieving and broken-hearted... May this love inspire us all to bring justice and peace to... May love carry each of us and encourage us to hope through all that we do not understand and all that we dare to dream and may we find ourselves, like the shepherds, so excited about this good news that we can't stop thinking about it's meaning and how this good news might change how we live. We carry the world with us in our pockets OR folded up in our wallets to reminds us that this good news repeats with our sounding joy. Bless us, O Christ, with possibility and understanding. Wrap us up in your love and encourage us to grow with you in the work of liberation and peace. Amen.
Carol: Silent Night
Christmas Blessing Carry your light into the world to bring joy where it needed. Bring the love of this newborn child into the whole wide world so that all might see their own image in God's glory. This child was born for you. It was born for the hope of this whole world. God is with us. Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Prayer of Invocation is by Eliza Tweedy. The Lighting of the Christ Candle and What it Was: A Christmas Poem are both written by Michelle Torigian. Used by permission with deep gratitude.
I know that this platform has made it very difficult to copy and paste for some. In the new year, I’m contemplating moving these prayers entirely to my newsletter on Substack. Or it may become a separate newsletter. I haven’t quite decided this but I’m troubleshooting as best I can. I offer this complete service for free download here.
I offer no instructions for Silent Night because I think you know what to do there. It’s everyone’s favorite moment and it simply requires some candles safely distributed within the gathered body. The blessing could be done in the dark or the lights could come up a little. Again, you know this part well.
I want there to be other rituals on Christmas Eve than gathering around the table. That’s me. I know I’m weird on this one so I didn’t include a communion service but you might opt for this one by Thom Shuman. His words at Lectionary Liturgies are ones that I’ve turned to often in my imagination of what worship could be again and again.
As Christmas comes again, I’m praying for you, dear pastor.