Christmas, Year B

Musical Reflection
O Little Town of Bethlehem by Sarah McLachlan

 

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Invocation

God of David’s fragile house
of hope and expectation:
in the time of empires,
your word is born to those
who have no place
and sung to those
who watch in the wild;
may Christ’s birth unsettle our world
with hidden glory
and untold peace;
God of rough hands
and hardened feet,
giving light to the children of earth:
in agony of birth
and gentleness of newborn skin,
may we discover your ordinary beauty
in the heart of our longing world;
God of grace and truth,
whose word brings light to birth
in the heart of a darkening world
which fears a love it cannot name:
may flesh be blessed and born anew
by a truth that leaves the heavens
and walks the waiting earth;
through Jesus Christ,
the Child of promise,
the Icon of the Unseen God,
the Word incarnate.
Amen.
First Reading
Supernatural Love
by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
My father at the dictionary-stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand
His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word “Carnation.” Then he bends
So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard
A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
“The obligation due to every thing
That’s smaller than the universe.” I bring
My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle’s eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly
Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb
To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor
Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text
I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I
Can give no explanation but “Because.”
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does
Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.”
As if the bud’s essential oils brush
Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh
Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,
He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud:
“The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.”
Then twice, as if he hasn’t understood,
He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.”
He gazes, motionless. “Meaning a nail.”
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,
I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,
The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,
I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”—
My father’s hand touches the injury
As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.
Second Reading
The story of a story

by Vasko Popa
translated by Anne Pennington
Once upon a time there was a story
Its end came
Before its beginning
And its beginning came
After its end
Its heroes entered it
After their death
And left it
Before their birth
Its heroes talked
About some earth about some heaven
They said all sorts of things
Only they didn’t say
What they themselves didn’t know
That they are only heroes in a story
In a story whose end comes
Before its beginning
And whose beginning comes
After its end
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Gospel Reading 1
Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your saviour is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Gospel Reading 2
John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word
    and the Word was with God
    and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
    and without the Word
    nothing came into being.
What came into being
    through the Word was life,
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.

The true light that shines on all people
    was coming into the world.
The light was in the world,
    and the world came into being through the light,
        but the world didn’t recognize the light.
The light came to its own people,
    and its own people didn’t accept it.
But those who did accept the light,
        those who believed in that name,
    were empowered to become God’s children,
        born not from blood
        nor from human desire or passion,
        but born from God.
The Word became flesh
    and stayed for a little while among us.
We saw the Word’s glory –
    glory like that of a parent’s only child,
        full of grace and truth.

Musical Reflection
The Coventry Carol by Alison Moyet

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Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted

Loving God, help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and the worship of the magi.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love
all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.

May the Christmas morning make us happy,
and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven. Amen!


The Lord’s Prayer

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother, Parent of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Musical Reflection
Born by Over the Rhine

Blessing

May the God who brings heaven close to earth
give truth to our judgement
and flame to our longing
that our hearts might be ready
to be born again in love;

and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Holy Parent, the Holy Child, and the Holy Spirit,
be with us and remain with us always. Amen.

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Sources:

Artwork by Carmel Seymour

Invocation and Blessing from Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare

Musical Reflection O Little Town of Bethlehem by Sarah McLachlan

Poem Supernatural Love by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Poem The story of a story by Vasko Popa

Musical Reflection The Coventry Carol by Alison Moyet

Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson

Lord’s Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book

Musical Reflection Born by Over the Rhine

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