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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Christmas Eve

Year B, Purple


Introduction

There is much to think about in this wonderful and compelling story. Perhaps the most poignant words which sum up so much of what was going on were the words ‘there was no room for them.’

Whatever is meant by the word ‘inn’, a guest house, a hotel, that is largely irrelevant. The point made is that the best place where the baby could have been born was not available for Mary, Joseph and the baby. They therefore had to find space wherever they could. There was no room in the hearts of extended family, friends, anyone they approached.
The good religious people were all so full of hatred, pride and prejudice that they had no room for Jesus. So this year we have to be the kinds of people who look for the people like Joseph and Mary, the rejected the poor. It is not our job as Christians to reprimand people, to cast judgement upon them, there are many around us who will do more than their fair share of that. It is our duty to make sure that we show such attitudes of love and acceptance that if Joseph had knocked on our door he would have been welcomed and Mary would not have been forced to give birth amongst the animals. Charles Royden

Opening Verse of Scripture—Luke 1:79

The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Collect for Christmas Eve

Almighty God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Almighty God, as we prepare with joy to celebrate the gift of the Christ-child, embrace the earth with your glory and be for us a living hope in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

Collect for Christmas Night

Eternal God, who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of your one true light: bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Common Worship

Eternal God, in the stillness of this night you sent your almighty Word to pierce the world's darkness with the light of salvation: give to the earth the peace that we long for and fill our hearts with the joy of heaven through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

First Bible Reading  2 Samual 7:1-5, 8-11, 16

Now when David was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.’

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?

Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you, that the LORD will make you a house.

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. NRSV

Second Reading Acts 13:16-26

So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: ‘You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”

‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.’ NRSV

Gospel Reading Luke 1:67-79

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant usthat we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ NRSV

Post Communion Prayer

Eternal God, for whom we wait, you have fed us with the bread of eternal life: keep us ever watchful, that we may be ready to stand before the Son of man, Jesus Christ our Lord. CW


Commentary


What is it which appeals to us about the Christmas nativity story? The vulnerability of the whole event is important. The message of Christmas is about God taking a huge risk and becoming part of the frailty of humanity. God becomes human in the form of a baby, this is an event which we struggle to get our minds around. It would have been so much easier for God just to appear in the desert a fully grown man, but instead we know that Jesus was born as a baby and grows up as a child and young man. God shares in growing up like we do and that was a huge risk.

We often think of Mary and Joseph setting off on their big adventure together with the little donkey. But it surely wasn’t a happy journey, it was dangerous hard work. We need to question why Mary would go off together with Jospeh in the first place, given that it was Joseph who had to register. Why did he not leave her in the safety of her parents at home?

Mary was a young girl, confused and worried and perhaps at risk in her home. Was she disbelieved by her parents, threatened with stoning by the locals? Did she have to escape with a reluctant Joseph who agrees to take her to Bethlehem for her own safety?

In thw story we see the Magi who place themselves at risk because they venture into the land of King Herod. Herod was a dangerous mad foul beast. When he came to power he murdered the entire Sanhedrin. Herod also murdered two of his own sons, which prompted Caesar Augustus himself to say, "It is safer to be a pig in a parent's household than to be a son in Herod's court."  It is interesting to consider what it means when we are told Herod "diligently inquired" (akribao) of the Magi where the child was to be born.

God chooses Mary, chooses the situation of weakness and vulnerability. When God makes that decision he puts the baby at risk. There is no royal birth, no armed guard. God abandons the concept of safety and allows Jesus to become subject to the same vagaries of life that we are subjected to. Soon the Holy Family will have to leave Bethlehem because Herod will give orders for children to be killed. They will flee to Egypt as refugees.

My vision of the nativity scene is always influenced by visiting the location now preserved as the birthplace in Bethlehem. The church of the nativity was built by Constantine’s mother in the 4th century and under the church is a cave where pilgrims visit the place believed to be where Jesus was born. Alongside is another cave where Jerome translated the Bible into Latin about 400AD

We will never know for sure what or where the place was, but there are important clues in the Bible to what was going on.

She laid him in a manger. You only do this if things have gone wrong. Choosing to lie a child in an animal feeding trough is not what any parent would want to do.

There was no room. We are told that wherever it was that Mary gave birth, it was only chosen because the first choice was not available to them. Why could they not find a room? Was it because nobody would have the adulteress under their roof? Why could Joseph not find any relatives in his own town who will give up their own room when his wife is giving birth? It is hard to imagine circumstances in which people will be so cruel. Sadly it has to be said that religion itself and cultural pride will often drive people to unbelievable depths of cruelty. Even today there are those who believe that women should be killed for sexual offences. Parents will kill their own daughters, courts will condemn women to be stoned to death - even today. So perhaps it is unsurprising that Mary and Joseph are not welcomed. We all know that it is impossible to keep a secret in Bedford a town of 160,000, keeping some juicy gossip about sexual indiscretion quiet in Bethlehem with a few thousand folks would be impossible. Mary would live with a constant stain on her character and know what it was to have people talk behind her back about her poor morality.

Shepherds and foreigners came Little wonder then that the visitors are not close family, but shepherds and foreigners. Shepherds were migrant workers who were looked down upon at the time. Magi were not God’s people they were foreigners. Isn’t there a remarkable irony that these two groups of people were unsuitable to be welcomed into religious worship, but they were the ones who God invited?

Conclusion
There is much to think about in this wonderful and compelling story. Perhaps the most poignant words which sum up so much of what was going on were the words ‘there was no room for them.’

Whatever is meant by the word ‘inn’, a guest house, a hotel, that is largely irrelevant. The point made is that the best place where the baby could have been born was not available for Mary, Joseph and the baby. They therefore had to find space wherever they could. There was no room in the hearts of extended family, friends, anyone they approached.
The good religious people were all so full of hatred, pride and prejudice that they had no room for Jesus. So this year we have to be the kinds of people who look for the people like Joseph and Mary, the rejected the poor. It is not our job as Christians to reprimand people, to cast judgement upon them, there are many around us who will do more than their fair share of that. It is our duty to make sure that we show such attitudes of love and acceptance that if Joseph had knocked on our door he would have been welcomed and Mary would not have been forced to give birth amongst the animals. Charles Royden

Meditation

 "In our own time, there are so many needs which demand a compassionate response from Christians. Our world is entering the new millennium burdened by the contradictions of an economic, cultural and technological progress which offers immense possibilities to a fortunate few, while leaving millions of others not only on the margins of progress but in living conditions far below the minimum demanded by human dignity. How can it be that even today there are still people dying of hunger? Condemned to illiteracy? Lacking the most basic medical care? Without a roof over their heads?" Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50


Are we random players in a blind universe where everything happens by chance ?

Hymns

  1. God rest you merry gentlemen

  2. On Christmas night all Christians sin

  3. Silent Night

  4. O come all ye faithful 

     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

God, in the name of the one who gave bread to the hungry, we remember all, who through our human ignorance, folly, and sin are condemned to live in want. Show us, who have so much, what we can do to help those who have so little; and bless the efforts of those who work to overcome poverty and hunger, that sufficient food may be found for all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Church of Scotland

All-powerful God, let the splendour of your glory rise in our hearts like the dawn, that the darkness of the night may be scattered and the coming of your only Son may reveal us as children of the light. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

Drive from me, O King of Peace, all vain and idle thoughts. Let my soul dwell on your love. Grant me peace of heart and quietness of the mind. Grant me the grace of your presence. Having begun a great work in me let it continue to the end and, in the end, that I may pass at last into the glory of your kingdom; for your own name’s sake. Amen Henry Lunn, 1859-1939

Additional Resources

 

Christmas Eve, 1818, in the picturesque village of Oberdorf, near Salzburg, in Austria. Father Joseph Mohr was the 26 year old priest. He discovered that the organs for the church’s was damaged - a mouse had eaten through one of the leather bellows of the organ. It would not play !

How would they celebrate Christmas Eve - Midnight Mass - it would not be the same without any music. What could be done? Joseph could play the guitar, but he realised that the Christmas hymns they all knew, would not sound their best on a guitar. He decided to write the words for a brand new Christmas carol.

As he sat down, he remembered a family he had visited recently. There, with the cold winter’s snow around them, he had blessed the mother and her newly-born child, and it had touched him to see how the mother protected her child from the winter’s cold. This was the picture in his mind as he began to think of the Birth of Jesus, and he started to write the carol that we now know as “Silent Night”.

With the words he had written, Father Joseph walked as quickly as he could through the snow to the nearby village of Arnsdorf to meet his friend, Franz Gruber, who was the village teacher and a musician. Joseph left the words with him and Franz Gruber started to create a tune for the words which so beautifully told the Gospel story. He composed a lullaby, and took it back to Father Joseph. They had little time left to practice it but, at the Midnight Christmas Mass in the Church of St Nicholas, Joseph Mohr played the guitar and sang tenor, and Franz Gruber sang bass.

Sadly Father Mohr died 30 years later in poverty during the winter of 1948, he had contracted pneumonia after a lengthy walk to visit a sick parishioner. Every year on Christmas eve a choir sings silent night at his graveside.

Go forward nearly a hundred years later to the First World War. France, Britain and Belgium opposed the invaders from the empires of Germany and Austro-Hungary. As the first Christmas of the War approached 100 years ago in 1914, each side had lost nearly a million men. The two sides lay in trenches that stretched about 500miles from Switzerland to the French
coastline on the North Sea. Soldiers in opposing trenches were only the width of a football pitch apart, with “No-Man’s Land” in-between.
On Christmas Eve, in the section where the British opposed the Germans, the British gathered holly, and the Germans set up small Christmas trees which they lit up. It was an unofficial “truce”. German soldiers started to sing the song of Father Joseph and Franz Gruber “Stille Nacht”, and the British joined in the carol in English: “Silent Night”.
And there you have this years Sainsburys advert. They have teamed up with the Royal British Legion to research what happened and they have diaries and records of the event. We don’t know for certain whether there was a foot ball match, there probably was. In the advert is shows the soldiers swapping chocolate and other gifts.
An English soldier later wrote:
“It was a beautiful, moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere, About 7 or 8 in the evening, there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches, and there were lights. And then they sang ‘Stille Nacht - Silent Night’. I shall never forget it as long as I live. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
On the antique road show they had an original copy of a communication from the Germans advising the English that on the 27th they would resume shooting

The term “All quiet on the Western Front” originates from the time of this unofficial truce.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the writer of ‘Sherlock Holmes’), in his history of 1914, wrote that the unofficial truce in the First World War was
“one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of war.”

As the Sainsbury’s advert finishes it takes the actions of the soldiers and uses them to propose the phrase ‘Christmas is for sharing’

That is not a bad summary of what Christmas is all about. Christmas is a very special time, it reminds us of the greatest ever act of sharing, when God shared himself with us. When he gave himself to be born in human form, shared our humanity, shared our frailty.

We are touched by God in his gift of Jesus. And we are offered an opportunity like those soldiers in the midst of a chaotic and dysfunctional world to stop and do things differently, not just for a pause and then a resumption of normal hostilities. We are offered peace with God and a change of life for the rest of our lives.
This Christmas let each one of us take time to understand God’s great love and allow God to share our lives. God shared all of himself with us. This Christmas may each one of us be blessed as we seek to share all of our lives with him. Amen