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

 

1. Isaiah 62, 11-12

  • The reading reminds me of the Resurrection.  Your savior comes!  The Resurrection is foreshadowed in the Jewish people who kept alive their family visions and never gave up hope.  It is not just a glorious return of Israel and the God of Jacob to Zion, but the coming of a savior, your savior. 
  • In ancient and often in our own time gods have been vindicated by the prosperity of the people who called on them.  That is the reason people become part of the celebration: Here is his reward, his recompense. 
  • Why does the Lord proclaim to the ends of the earth?  Christians have our own reasons.  We do not intend that other nations admire us and such local protector god as we have adopted.  God is not made in our image.  No; the one God has adopted us, and the exaltation of this redeemed, holy people is God’s work, God’s intention for everyone.
  • In these days of parades, I imagine Israel as a float moving slowly down the avenue, covered with ribbons and grand prizes.  The celebrity commentators are lavish in their admiration, which comes not from their cue card prompts but from a spontaneous outburst.  I want to aim for a similar effect in our assembly.
  • Climax: Your savior comes. 
  • Message for our assembly: It is a birth we are celebrating this morning, in a certain sense our own birth in him.
  • I will challenge myself: to declare the short passage in terms of the end time.  The coming is not far off; it is revealed in our day, and it is certainly happening in our proclamation of the word today.

  

2. Titus 3, 4-7

  • Sometimes people ask us to summarize our faith in a single sentence.  Impossible?  The letter to Titus gives us two formulas, one of which we read at midnight and the other now.  Here is our 40-second catechism.
  • In the two creeds that have the most acceptance among Christians, we focus our attention on God first and foremost.  We speak of ourselves in a derivative way, as the created ones, the saved ones, the forgiven ones, and the ones who are to be raised on the last day.  In this shorter and simpler creed, we share the stage with God.  I mean to say that the God revealed to Moses – the God who will be with us – is the God we celebrate in this passage.  We are the reason for God’s acting with kindness and generous love.  The apostle states the first person plural five times.  I want my listeners to hear all of them.
  • We celebrate God’s presence among us, and we renounce any notion that God our savior could possibly be absent from the world.  We have no doubt of this on Christmas morning, of course, but an occasional reminder doesn’t hurt.  Listen to all these reassuring words of action: save, renew, pour out, justify. 
  • God’s generous love is not vacuous, or merely full of good feeling like ours so often is.  It shows itself in all these ways. 
  • Climax: He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal.  The pace of the reading picks up with those words, as we hear of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
  • The message for our assembly: Our faith is a gift from God, not because of any righteous deeds we had done.  Christmas is a time of gift giving, and the best gifts are those made in God’s image and inspired by God’s kindness.
  • I will challenge myself: To read this short catechism with meaning and with attention to the Christmas connection: through Jesus Christ our savior.

  

Gospel. Luke 2, 15-20

  • The spiritual has it right.  This is a day to “Go, tell it.”  The shepherds are the main characters, saying to one another: Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing.  First is the going out.
  • In between comes the seeing.  In John’s Gospel, seeing may lead to believing.  But for Luke, seeing is the same as believing.  They were not disappointed, as we might be, about finding the infant lying in the manger.  Shepherds know what mangers are for, and human babies do not get placed in mangers.  But here is a baby in a manger next to his loving parents!  These shepherds understood the significance more rapidly than others do.  And it dawned on them why everything had to be just as it had been told to them.
  • Then the telling: They made known the message that had been told them.  They did not invent the story; the evangelist affirms this three times.  But they are in charge of the story, because they received it and because the sight of the child in the manger – perhaps their own manger – confirmed it for them.  I do not read it with hesitation but with assurance and a child’s credulity. 
  • The senses come into play, with many seeing and hearing words.  I will bring them out for my seeing and hearing congregation.
  • According to Luke’s account, the birth of Jesus seemed to Mary to be as ordinary as any other.  She receives the shepherds’ report with all the rest, reflecting on them in her heart. 
  • Climax: Once again it is the spreading of the good news: They made known the message.
  • Message for our assembly: All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them.  Are we also amazed today?  Have we come closer to that simple faith that Jesus seeks from us?
  • I will challenge myself: To draw the assembly’s attention to the simple scene in Bethlehem and the vision that allows us to see this thing.

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