St. Paul United Methodist Church Piney Flats, Tennessee

This blog post comes from the liturgical writing gifts of The Reverend Rex Hill of Enterprise and St. Paul United Methodist Churches, Piney Flats, Tennessee.  Rex brought his original liturgy to share at our  “Lectionarypalooza” event at Emmanuel Christian Seminary on August 8.

 

Traditions! In all honesty, the Church is filled with traditions. Most are very helpful. They give us a view of where we have been and they can help mark our path for where we wish to go. They are not unbending and they are not always factual and they are not everlasting.

But traditions are valuable to each one who knows them

and shares them

and challenges them

and changes them

and carries them on.

Traditions are valuable to each one of us in some way today.

Advent and Christmas represent a time of Great Drama! Many of us have been in some of those high and holy dramas that have portrayed the story or the meaning or some particular benefit of Christmas. We still remember the First Great Christmas Pageant. And even wish for it to return to us in all its glory.

All that is okay. This is a dramatic season.

There is a lot of coordinated movement that goes back to the timeless beginning:

“When God began creating . . .”

And into the eternity that awaits:

“There will be no more sadness or sorrow or death . . .”

There are many changing backdrops;

there is action that moves in various speeds;

scenes can change rapidly;

emotions are drawn from every extreme;

and the story unfolds using the most unlikely cast of characters.

Real Life is Dramatic! The preparation and story of Christmas is Dramatic! It affects every relationship on earth and in heaven and beyond every age and season.

We start the season by setting the back drop for this living pageant.

We start the season with the Hanging of the Greens.

This is the decorating of the Church.

It is common to have some form of seasonal reminder present to help us grasp the text or the message of the time but the all-out decorating seems difficult to understand for many. It is not practical. Is there any good reason to do all this decorating? There is so much to drag out of the garage or the attic or the basement. The job makes us wonder about the possibility of becoming Amish—Simple Life Celebrations.

I suppose we could put all this out for our own selfish wishes. At the end we do feel good. We like the warm, cozy atmosphere. We like the feeling that we are safe as if curled up and the world is at peace.

We love the memories that connect us to the past while preserving something for the future. The ornaments that have been given and shared push our memories of places or people or time. We remember how we felt and how we wish we felt again.

We remember something about near-mythic peoples or a folk tale about a candy cane.

There is something beyond what we can know in this season—there is something that has to be felt in the heart and then known in the mind.

We can’t help but set up some sort of Nativity Scene—Crèche. And the Bible is out prominently turned to Luke Chapter 2 for the message of the Birth of Christ. And there are a lot of candles!

There is always a naysayer who reminds the world that there is a secular history in Christmas. The birth was probably in the spring and the light is just a way of keeping the darkness of winter away.

Darkness is quickly gaining on us;

We feel as if we are losing the light.

The harvest has passed;

Spring is many months away—

It is an eternity before we see new growth.

Suddenly candles everywhere;

Lights, colors, twinkling, sparkling everywhere;

There is hope that the sun is returning.

But our annual celebrations recall that:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light.
To those who live in a land of deep shadows—light!

Sunbursts of light!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:

the government shall be upon his shoulder.

his name shall be called:

Wonderful . . . Counselor . . . Mighty . . . God . . . Everlasting . . . Father;

He shall be called The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,

He will reign on David’s throne—

over the kingdom of David,
He will establish and upholding his kingdom
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord God Almighty will accomplish this.

Before time itself was ever measured, the Word was then speaking.

The Voice was and is God.

This celestial Voice remains always present with the Creator.

The Word shaped the entire cosmos.

Alive and breathing in the practice of creating—

all things that exist were brought forth—even birthed in him.

            His breath filled all things with a living breathing light.

Light that even thrives in the depths of darkness,

blazing through murky bottoms.

This Light cannot, and will not, be quenched.

           

            A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this unquenchable Light. This wanderer, John who ritually cleansed—that is he immersed to show repentance—put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light that all might believe through him. Because John spoke with power, many believed in the Light. Others wondered whether John might be the Light. John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. By his actions and words he invited the entire creation to hear the Voice of the Word.

The True Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos—                             even as flesh into the cosmos.

He does not call out from a distant place but quietly comes near.

He enters our world, a world he made,  and speaks clearly,

yet his creation did not recognize him.

Though the Word utters only truth, his own people,

(who have heard the Voice before),

rebuff this inner calling and refuse to listen.

But all those who hear and believe the calling of the Divine Voice and embrace him—      they shall be reborn as children of God. He bestows this birthright not by human power             or initiative but by the will and grace of God. Because we are born of this world, we can     only be reborn to God by accepting his call.

The Word that had been an enigma in the heavens,

even unknowable on the earth,

chose to become human and live surrounded by his creations.

We have seen this and we have seen him.

Undeniable splendor filled him and surrounded him—the One True Son of God—                                                evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth.

That is why we try again to get the backdrop right to tell of this event. The drama is important. The interpretive features, the texture of the times, and the context of the stories area all important to bringing the Pageant to life again. The features and forms and fashions of this new gathering of listeners and seekers is important to passing the Pageant forward again and again and again.

What follows is a collection of tools that may help in bringing the relevance of what happened back then and there to the generations looking and listening here and now. They too have eyes to see; and ears to hear; and hearts to hold the Word. And as they choose to come to Celebrate we choose to invite, inform, encourage, and share this hunger for worship—especially during this season of preparing for the coming of Jesus, once past; once future; and once for all.

Gathering . . .

We gather as one Fellowship;

Created, wonderfully and fearfully;

On purpose and with purpose;

As part of the Greater Fellowship;

The Living Body of Christ—the Church.

We pray that the words of our mouths;

And the meditations of our hearts—

The words that we share from our lips;

That we have been filled with in our lives;

Be acceptable to The One True God;

The One who is Rock and Redeemer.

We wait with all who wait upon the Lord;

Even so: Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen

Light of Christ . . .

Call to Worship . . .

One:    Join together now!

Let us walk in the light of the One True God!

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

All:      We now enter into the House of the Lord,

            We pause in a place and we shut out the rushing moments;

            We Celebrate to hear an invitation;

            To enter the House of the Lord!

Echo:   In the beginning was The Word!

            The Word has always been with God—

            The Word has always been God!

            All things came into being through him!

            His breath fills all things—The living breathing Light . . .      

One:    Every year we celebrate Christmas—

We celebrate the birth of Jesus—

We celebrate first by waiting;

How do we prepare this house for the birth of Jesus?

All:      With many branches of cedar!

            This is a tree of strength and beauty;

            These needles pierce the skin—

            This tree pierces straight into the heavens!

One:    How do we prepare again;

Even as if for the first time;

For the Eternal Christ?

All:      With holly and ivy woven in a thorny wreath!

            Humbly we see the passion—

            The suffering, the death, the resurrection!

One:    How do we prepare our hearts for a revelation from God?

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

All:      With the prophets and promises shared by God!

            Long ago, God spoke many times;

            And in many ways to our ancestors.

            God still gives promises to us through the prophets!

One:    History and eternity cross in Salvation!

Salvation is made complete in Jesus alone!

How do we prepare the world for this Wholeness?

All:      With candle lighting!

            Lighting one more candle—simple and dramatic;

            A symbol of our living witness;

            The everlasting power of Light over Darkness!

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

One:    The Light shines in the darkness . . .

Darkness does not overcome the Light.

The Light that cannot, and will not, be quenched.

All:      Let us join together and praise the One True God!

            Thank God for this unending love—

            The wonderful works of mercy toward all humanity.

            Now and Forever. Amen

Opening Hymn . . .

The Down-Low . . .                                       A Child’s View

Celebrate the Offering!       Every Gift From and To God

Doxology:         Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow              

Offertory Hymn . . .

Prayers!                      Praises! Shouts! Whispers! Silence!

Ministry in Music . . .                      

Scripture . . .

Promise . . .                           

Response . . .            

Sending Forth . . .

Benediction . . .

Postlude . . .

Additional Hymn and Praise Selections:        Try going beyond the tried and true suggestions that often appear in planners. They are good choices, but there may be others that tell this story in an even more powerful way. Many people have so learned the routine that it has become rote—and that can be hollow or shallow repetition. For example try simply singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “O, For a Thousand Tongues ‘. Wow! What a change.

Imagine it is the other end of this story and we are preparing for Lent. Place the events in the life of Jonah into the conversation that Jesus has with those first followers. Here is one result:

This wicked and evil generation asks for a sign;

The only sign will be the sign of the prophet Jonah;

Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh;

So the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation.

Then Jesus left them and went away.

Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29-30

A Sign of Jonah

2:2-9

One:    I called out to the Lord from my distress—God answered me.

Out of the belly of Sheol, from the depths of Hell,

I cried out, and the One True God heard my voice.

Many: You cast me into the deep,

            Under the heart of the seas,

            The flood surrounded me,

            All your waves and billows passed over me.

One:    I am driven away from your sight—Out from your presence.

Surely, I shall look again upon your Holy Temple.

The deep closed in over me and all round about me.

I was under the mountains.

Many: Under the land where the bars close upon me—

            Forever! Forever! Forever!

            Yet, you did bring up my life from the Pit,

            O, Lord my God.

One:    Even as my life was ebbing away—I remembered the One True God.

My prayer came up to you, into your Holy Temple.

(Those who pay honor to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.)

All:      With the voice of thanksgiving,

            I will sacrifice to you,

            What I have vowed, I will give,

            What I have promised, I will provide.

            Salvation belongs only to the One True God!

            Now and forever, Amen.

God is the God of change; of transformation; of creation; of re-creation. And God is the one who breathes calm over chaos. Be aware of change that is chaotic and that which is calming.

Additional Hymn and Praise Selections:

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name;    Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise; Step by Step

Great is Thy Faithfulness;  In Christ Alone.

Christmas Benediction:

The Good Words for Sending Forth:

Christmas Time Always!

Many are saddened by the gossip;

Christmas-time is over!

The sparkle and tinsel of lights and ornaments—

Repacked and placed up high, or low;

Placed back in the dark again.

Trees broken down and dragged out;

Setting by the curb or taped in a box.

All the cheer and mood of the party is gone;

The triumph of the bah-hum-bug is back!

We wake to see our journey is beginning,

The time is for January now;

The calendars have all been flipped!

Christmas just arrived—

Christmas can’t really be over!

We have barely greeted the Child;

The carols and wishes are whispers;

Shepherds have just left the stage . . .

Wise Magi are just on the right . . .

The birthday celebration has passed—

Another season of peace is past?

We step forward as our journey continues;

Can Christmas really be over?

This is just the beginning of the pageant—

The ending is never-ending;

Now and Forever—

Star . . . Light . . . Life . . .

We saw! We heard! We believe!

Christmas is not over; not ever!

In our breath—in our heart we still hear—

Emmanuel for another day;

God with us!

Always!

Amen

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