The stories of the first Christmas are about the present as well as the past, and that is why we offer the congregation so many worship services this week, so that in various ways and with different tones our church family can celebrate the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and the coming of Jesus in our hearts today.
One biblical scholar remembers a story from his childhood that helped him realize the past and present tenses of Christmas. At about seven years old, at home with his mother around Christmas, he began singing the familiar carol, “Joy to the World,” and sang the second line, “The Lord has come.” His mother gently corrected him saying, “No–the words aren’t, ‘The Lord has come.’ The words are, ‘The Lord is come.’” He remembers being puzzled at the time, but realized the truth of it later, writing: “Christmas is about the coming in the present of the Lord who came long ago in the past. Jesus comes again each Christmas.”
This Sunday, December 21, the morning services will stop by Luke’s gospel home and reflect on the amazing proclamation to Mary by the angel Gabriel and the birth of Jesus. This service begins with singing of Advent’s expectation: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” and ends in response to Luke’s proclamation with, “Joy to the World!”
The Longest Night Service at 7:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary on Sunday evening will observe an ancient tradition of naming the darkness on the longest night of the year, while giving thanks that, by the mercy and grace of God, no darkness can extinguish the light Christ brings. This is a contemplative service, with prayers for those for whom the holiday may be difficult because of pain or grief or loss or concern for the world. My homily will focus on comforting words of hope for all who anticipate Christmas with mixed emotions, and worshippers will be invited to come forward, if they choose, to light candles representing personal prayers of hope for the light to shine in whatever darkness they bear. I encourage you to invite friends, neighbors or family for whom you think this might be a meaningful worship experience. And, if you are unable to be with us on Christmas Eve, this service allows for another evening worship in our beautiful sanctuary filled with the singing of familiar carols.
Finally, BMPC’s traditional Christmas Eve services are similar in awe and wonder, with slight variations. At 4:30 p.m. our children dramatize the Nativity Tableau while we hear the familiar story in readings and carols. The 8:30 and 11:00 p.m. services are preceded by a 25 minute Prelude of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and include a homily entitled The Perfect Gift. At 8:30 p.m. service we also celebrate the Lord’s Supper and provide childcare.
Sunday morning, Sunday night and Christmas Eve—all—will herald this truth: the Lord is come in the past and in the present.