Sweet Baby Jesus

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father… Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” — Matthew 24:36, 40-44

When I heard these words intoned in worship on Sunday, it was in the hope that something is coming, something good. It was not just a nod to the opening scene in West Side Story in which Tony sings this song. We actually heard him sing this hope in a video clip upon the screen. I do not doubt that something is coming. I am just not quite certain that it will be good. Like those that first heard this wisdom spoken by Jesus, I am suspicious of those that promise goodness or greatness for that matter.

And yet, in church this past Sunday, we were encouraged to consider the good that God has done. There were hints toward the past, some distant memory of which no one quite remembers the details. Some promise of what was but doesn’t feel quite relevant to the present moment. Apocalypse is more than a promise. It’s more than a memory or even a possibility but that despite the fact that everything seems to be going to hell, we can dare to believe that it won’t always be like this. Somehow, by God and by our own stubborn might, we will transform this mess. Change will come.

Tony can sing with all of his heart about something coming, but this year it feels no better than singing about the long expected birth of sweet baby Jesus. I know. I know. That is the tune of Advent. We sing about that birth. We hope for it. We need it.

Tbirth_final_cover_rehis year, I need a different tune. I need a different song and Elizabeth Hagan is the pastor that I need most. I have been honored to know Elizabeth through The Young Clergy Women Project. We’ve read each other’s blogs. We’ve cheered on each other’s ministries and now I want to offer her new book from Chalice Press to every pastor that ever dares to speak of hope in Advent.

How many times do I have to hear about the innocence of a sweet little baby as the answer to all that breaks our hearts? How many sermons must we hear before it hits us that this one metaphor cannot and will not speak to all that needs to be changed?

I need more than that sweet baby. Don’t get me wrong. I need me some Jesus, but it can’t be the only metaphor for this Advent. There has to be another way to illustrate that possibility than that itty bitty baby. There has to be something else.

I confess to you that I haven’t actually read Elizabeth’s book. If I had, I may have already found that metaphor. I have instead read an excerpt from her book and I’ve followed the ministry Elizabeth has continued to provide on her blog and on Patheos. What I have heard in these words is testimony. Elizabeth is telling the truth. She’s pointing toward the real hope of Advent. It is more than an attitude or an aspiration. It’s not enough to tell each other to try harder in prayer or sheer will, but true hope is more than the promise of something good. It isn’t always a song that we sing but might be more clearly understood by our protests.

Advent is not just a time to light candles and deck the halls. It’s a time to imagine what could be. It is a time to admit that things haven’t worked out as we might have hoped. Things are far worse and yet something is being revealed. Somehow, we are being changed. Transformation will come but it might not come with all of our tender ideas of a sweet little baby. It might not capture all of our ideals of parenthood. It may not even come with the pangs of birth but if we keep awake, as it says in the Gospel of Matthew, we might find what Elizabeth proclaims to be Advent’s hope:

Allow God to meet you wherever you are.

Open your heart to the coming of something unexpected.

And most of all, say yes to those urges that could only come from the Spirit.

It’s what the season is all about. Really.

Better things are coming. Just wait for it.

It’s a testimony I need to hear this year and so I’m adding Birthed to my Christmas List. Maybe you will too.

Litany for the Birth on Christmas

J A S M I N EIt was raining all today and I was generally uninspired but sat my butt down in the chair and wrote the liturgy for Christmas Eve. Though I’m currently serving a congregation as an interim pastor, I was hired after I’d made plans for a family vacation in Italy for Christmas — so I will not be with these good people on Christmas Eve even as worship planning is still my charge.

That is fine with me though because I love some good worship planning. Theirs is a traditional service — a word that mystifies and confuses me whenever it might be used within the context of worship. What is traditional for one body is not for another but that doesn’t stop us from using the term as if every single community across the globe was raised on the exact same traditions. I digress. With last year’s bulletin as a template, I sought to create something different and simple enough for guest pastors to lead. There are many that might be willing and able to offer their voices to read but I didn’t want to add to many moving pieces to the liturgy — even if I wanted something special for the reading of scripture. I opted for a litany with one leader and a congregational response that combines all four readings — at least in part — from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C. All Biblical reference are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Litany for the Birth on Christmas (Responsive)
Psalm 96, Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11, and Luke 2:1-14
Leader: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
People: Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of God’s salvation tonight and from day to day.
Leader: For tonight, a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders.
People: Tonight, we call this newborn babe our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
Leader: Honor and majesty we give to him;
strength and beauty are in this sanctuary.
People: We have seen a great light! We have sung a great song!
We cannot stop from singing for the grace of our God
first appeared on this night, bringing salvation to one and all.
Leader: 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.
People: All went to their own towns to be registered.
Leader: 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.
People: He went to be registered with Mary,
to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
Leader: 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.
People: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Leader: 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,
People: 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.
Leader: Tonight, unto us is born our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God,
our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
People: This will be a sign for you, the angel said,
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Leader: 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 God favors!”
People: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Leader: Declare God’s glory among every people everywhere,
People: Tell of our God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
Leader: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.
People: Alleluia! Amen.

If you use this litany in your congregation’s worship, I do hope that you’ll let me know and most definitely give me credit for my hard work toiling away with these beautiful words.

Advent and Christmas Candle Liturgies

J A S M I N EToday and yesterday, I’ve read some really beautiful liturgies from friends and colleagues preparing for Advent. Check out the beautiful liturgies written by my friends Teri and Martha.

Advent is only three Sundays away. Three Sundays. And it was 77 degrees outside yesterday. I don’t care. I’ll still crank up the Christmas carols and prepare for the coming of our Savior.

This year, we actually get to have two Sundays — a whole two Sundays — to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. It almost never happens. As Christmas overshadows Advent, we forget to celebrate the whole season of Christmas. So I want to be sure that that Light of the World for which we were waiting gets a chance to really shine. You’ll notice that this liturgy — written for one voice concluding with a unison prayer — goes all the way through the Second Sunday of Christmas. The song is from The New Century Hymnal.

First Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We wait all night and all day to see signs that God will break into our world again, but there are signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. There is light that shines in our deepest darkness. We light this first candle in that hope.

Light first candle.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light shines through all our hurts and losses in our darkness. One little light reminds us that there is more than this darkness. There are signs all around. God will come again. We pray most earnestly that we may see God face to face and restore whatever is lacking in our faith.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We pray constantly to overcome all of the hurts and losses in our past so that we can help prepare the way of the Lord. And so, we pray that we can take off the garment of sorrow and affliction so that we can be messengers of the Lord. We light these candles in the hope of that peace.

Light first and second candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

May we stand strong and tall in light of the world. May that light illuminate the knowledge and the full insight in each of us so that we do not doubt that we have good news to share of God’s coming.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We trust, and try so very hard not be afraid, for the Lord our God is our strength and our might. It is in this knowledge that we rejoice. For the Lord is near. Alleluia! The Lord is near! We light these candles in the joy of the coming of the Lord.

Light first, second and third candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

As many judgments as we place upon ourselves, as heavy are the burdens of our hurts and losses from the past, we lift our voices in song. We sing God’s praises. We are still learning the words. We’re still looking for signs but we trust that we will be messengers of God’s joy.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We have so many prayers. With Mary, we pray that our souls might magnify the Lord. With David, we pray for restoration and salvation. Through all of the prayers on our hearts, we pray that God’s love shines through. We light these candles to reveal that love in our darkness.

Light first, second, third and fourth candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light reminds us of the love that is always there. Even as we wait for Christ to be born again, we share in the mystery that God is never faraway. It is the love that magnifies our souls. It is the love that restores us and saves us. It is the love that is always shining through.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sing. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. God was there in the beginning. It all started with God. And so, we believe that God will be in every one of our beginnings. This we pray as we light these candles.

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

First and Second Christmas

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sign. We sing to the Lord a new song for we have seen a great light. We who have walked in darkness, burdened by the hurts and losses from our past, have seen a great light. It is the light of the world and it is here. We light these candles in celebration of the Christ who is among us — now and always!

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

If you happen to use this liturgy, please do let me know. I would love to hear about how your celebration of the coming of the Christ emerges. If you are looking for something a little different, you might also check out this post from last year.