Christmas Eve: Invitations to Bethlehem

On Christmas Eve, instead of a full-fledged sermon, we journeyed our way to Bethlehem together with Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, and, finally, each other. We did this with Scripture, with poetry, and with Christmas hymns. In this post are links to the Scripture readings (New Revised Standard Version … for nostalgic purposes), the original poetry (please credit if you use it … thank you), and links to the hymns we used. 

Come … travel to Bethlehem with us.

Friends, the time has come to travel to Bethlehem. A mother and father await. An extravagance of angels awaits. A band of shepherds awaits. And a world in need – in need of love, in need of compassion, in need of a Savior – awaits. But even on that first Christmas night thousands of years ago when all the grace of heaven collided with all the vulnerability of humanity in the form of one precious, little baby boy – even on that night of nights, it was necessary for those involved to take a chance,  to make a choice, to take steps of their own. Mary and Joseph traveled. The angels traveled. The shepherds traveled. And tonight, we travel toward Bethlehem, too.

Tonight, we travel with Mary & Joseph:

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

Dark night, cold night,
night of discomfort and night of fear,
bumping along on the back of a donkey
from Nazareth to Bethlehem:
70 miles never felt so far …
so far …
so far to go …
Cold … uncomfortable … afraid –
impressions that chased each other
‘round and ‘round
through Mary’s mind
and body
and senses.
Cold … uncomfortable … afraid,
with every halting step the donkey took.
Cold … uncomfortable … afraid,
with every lovingly fretful glance from Joseph.
Cold … uncomfortable … afraid,
with every labor pain that clenched her swollen belly.
Cold … uncomfortable … afraid,
with every innkeeper’s shaking head:
“No room.”
“No room.”
“No room.”
And Mary’s heart sang a different tune –
a tune of hope,
a tune of grace,
a tune of overwhelming LOVE.
Faith … peace … light,
when the last innkeeper finally pointed them
to the stable.
Faith … peace … light,
when her time had finally come.
Faith … peace … light,
when the cries of her newborn son
mingled with the cries of the animals
who welcomed him.
Faith … peace … light,
when she cradled God-With-Us
in her arms
and felt Joseph
cradling them both, too –
her as well as this tiny baby …
this tiny baby who had come to save the world.
Mary knew
she brought a precious gift for this Christ-child:
an instant home
in her arms,
in her heart.
Mary knew
she brought protection for this Christ-child:
God’s son,
but her son, too.
So as we journey that dusty road
toward Bethlehem
with Mary
and Joseph
and a donkey laden with the Hope of humanity,
we walk a path of
faith … peace … light,
and, above all,

Hymn: Away in a Manger

Tonight, we travel with the Angels:

Scripture: Luke 2:8-14

The rustle,
rustle of wings –
wings against robes,
wings against wings,
wings against the sheer joy and anticipation
that was palpable all throughout heaven that day –
the rustle of wings
nearly drowned out the
Final Instructions:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace and good will to all.”
This was their task.
This was their purpose.
This was their calling this night of nights:
A message to deliver,
a birth to proclaim,
a chorus to sing.
And sing they would.
Glorias and alleluias,
Descants and hymns,
Blessings and praises
to the God Most High
(who, truth be told, was about to become
a God Most Lowly).
The time had come!
And so the angels went,
led the way to a hillside
just outside of Bethlehem,
led the way to some shepherds
who were keeping watch over their flocks by night,
led the way to a great and awesome delivery:
and excitement
and glory!
and adoration
and praise!
After a journey to end all journeys,
from heaven to earth,
from the laudable to the lowly,
from the extraordinary to the ordinary,
the angels –
robed in splendor,
bathed in splendor,
declaring splendor –
the angels came.
So as we journey through starlit skies
toward Bethlehem
with cherubim
and seraphim
and a heavenly host laden with the greatest of “Hallelujahs,”
we walk a path of
worship … praise … adoration,
and, above all,

Hymn: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Tonight, we travel with the Shepherds:

Scripture: Luke 2:15-20

sheep on all sides:
the sounds of sheep,
the smell of sheep,
the feeling of wool
rough against the shepherds’ own
rough skin.
A normal night …
or so they thought.
A night like any other …
or not.
There on that hillside
that was dark
and quiet
and mostly deserted,
the shepherds ate,
the shepherds slept,
the shepherds went about life
usual …
until the angels appeared –
hundreds of angels,
thousands of angels,
an extravagance of angels
all vivid and vibrant and suffused with light.
The shepherds recoiled.
The angels reassured.
The angels heralded.
The shepherds heard.
A baby …
a manger …
a long-awaited Savior …
and all they had to do was go.
down the hill,
across the valleys,
into the sleeping town
and the stable
and the presence of God.
The shepherds went with haste,
knowing exactly what they brought with them:
field-weary eyes and feet and souls,
the smell of the open hills
and the grass
and the sheep –
all those things for which they were usually ridiculed.
But tonight,
on this most unexpected
and glorious
and holy of nights,
the shepherds knew they brought something else:
a sense of humility,
and a sense of awe.
When their road-weary feet
finally brought them to the stable,
they were the first
to witness
and to worship
the newborn Christ-child.
So as we journey across the hills
toward Bethlehem
with quiet shepherds
and tired shepherds
and shepherds laden with the significance of the One they sought,
we walk a path of
spontaneity … authenticity … humility,
and, above all,

Hymn: Go, Tell It On the Mountain

Tonight, we travel with each other:

Scripture: Titus 2:11-14

Here within these walls,
a hundred different roads come together.
Here within these walls,
a hundred different voices
share in the same story,
the same song,
the same proclamation:
“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”
The beauty and the sacred among us
can be found
in our differences –
the different gifts we bring,
the different stories we tell,
the different backgrounds we come from,
even the different baggage we carry.
And the beauty and the sacred among us
can be found
in our selfsameness –
we share God’s gift of grace,
we share God’s gift of forgiveness,
we share God’s gift of peace.
on this special night,
on this holy night,
we journey together –
a wayfaring family of faith,
stranger and friends sharing sacred space
and sacred time,
It lights the way
when we’re cold … uncomfortable … afraid,
unsure of what lies ahead
but stepping out in faith in the face of it all.
It lights the way
when we’re bringing the Good News
sharing our hope
our anchor
our faith
in a Savior-God who came for all.
It lights the way
in the midst of our everyday lives
when we’re caught off-guard
by a glimpse of the holy amidst the lowly.
So as we journey through this night together
toward Bethlehem
with friends
and neighbors
and hearts laden with the blessings of the Christ-child
we walk a path of
humanity … uniqueness … togetherness,
and, above all,

Hymn: On Christmas Night All Christians Sing