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Nativity (Midnight)
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Readings for the Nativity of the Lord (Liturgy at Midnight) 

 

1. Isaiah 9, 1-6

  • The first sentence would be too easy for me to mouth, in that cruel neo-liberal world of poverty and hunger we are passing on to our children.  How can mere words uplift a people who walked in darkness?  Even if the words in the mouth of Isaiah are attributed to God?  Do I mean, do I believe, the words I will be reading at midnight?  A people that have seen a great light, filled with abundant joy and great rejoicing.  Then I should declare them as if I fully believed them against all the evidence around me. 
  • The kingdom in the time of Isaiah was surrounded by hostile nations ready to pounce.  The people of Judah and their kings acted beaten and demoralized.  In response I herald Isaiah’s announcement of an end to oppression: the rod of the taskmaster you have smashed.  There must be finality in my voice as I speak of the boot tramped in battle and the cloak rolled in blood that will be burned. 
  • Finally I praise the birth of the new king, the child born to us, the prince of peace, and his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.  Can I doubt that the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this? 
  • Climax: A child is born to us, a son is given us.  Everything before and after this statement depends on it.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us care about every new beginning, every birth.  Let us convert our hopes into reality.
  • I will challenge myself: To achieve thunder and finality in my acclaiming voice.

 

2. Titus 2, 11-14

  • This passage sounds as if it belongs in Advent rather than Christmas!  But in fact we are always in Advent time, the final days as the apostles said, watchful and awaiting the return of Jesus.  And so the apostle reminds us: We await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. 
  • The hymn we proclaim tonight prompts us to follow a measured way of life, living temperately, justly and devoutly in this age.  I note the words reject godless ways and worldly desires, eager to do what is good. 
  • Climax: We await the blessed hope, the one who gives sense to our lives.
  • The message for our assembly: Let us direct our attention to Christ, the sign of the grace of God and the one who gave himself for us to deliver us.
  • I will challenge myself: To make sure that people hear and consider this modest alternative for celebrating Christmas and the end of another year, so alien to the age-old custom of raucous partying and self-indulgence that pervades our society. 

 

Gospel. Luke 2, 1-14

  • Everything the evangelists tell us is “good news,” and that includes Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus.  I hear of a decree from Caesar Augustus, ruler of the known world.  Suddenly we zoom in on a single young couple on a difficult journey, from Nazareth up to Judea to be enrolled.  And to complicate things further, The time came for her to have her child.  The mother gave birth to her firstborn son and they found an unusual place, a manger, to lay him.  To this point it reads just like a human interest story about the little people who ride out the great events of our time.  
  • I empathize with the heart-warming details of the triumphant human spirit, so familiar to our secular media.  Everyone in the whole assembly will also.  But Luke intended to evoke more than empathy from his church.  This story is meant to awaken in its hearers the same joy that the followers of Jesus felt at his resurrection.  The angels tell us – just as they tell Mary and Joseph and the shepherds – how to interpret these events: to rejoice greatly.
  • I am not reporting a remote incident in a small town two thousand years ago, despite all appearances.  I am repeating and re-creating an event that furthers the process of our salvation.  Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you.  We are already all on the move, like the subjects of Caesar Augustus.  The whole world should be enrolled.  All went to be enrolled, each to his own town.  But we believe this newborn child is our universal leader, Christ the Lord.
  • And who in our midst hear the good news and rejoice at it?  Shepherds keeping the night watch over their flock. 
  • Climax: In my voice it will be the angelic message.  I proclaim to you good news of great joy.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us watch for the signs around us of Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.  Clue: look for them in out-of-the-way places.
  • I will challenge myself: Like the basketball announcer who turns to the home team roster, I will pause for effect and then raise my pitch to a second celebratory level as I interpret the birth for all the people.

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