December 25, 2021

Christmas Day

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O Holy Night
by The Spirituals

Let us delight, for morning has dawned, and a new day is born.
We celebrate the splendor of creation and the diversity of the human family.
We remember those who have come before us – those whose hard work and love shaped our faith and this church community.
We give thanks for those who struggle for God’s justice despite opposition.
We gather to worship God, to share prayers and gifts, to pledge ourselves to the ongoing work of God’s call to serve others.
May God’s blessings be known through us. Let us worship together!

Gracious and Holy God, we know you because you have revealed yourself through your Son. Grant us, in this time of worship, a new sense of your Spirit breathing through us. Enliven our minds with the words of scripture, the song of hymns, and the power of your Holy presence. Enable us to dedicate our strength, our substance, and our service to your work in the world. Hear our prayer of thanksgiving for all who have sought to build your kingdom – past, present, and future. We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Merciful God, we often turn away from you. We ignore what you say to us. We do not see your wondrous acts in this world. We listen to the grumbling voices around us rather than to the voice of kindness and affirmation. We forget how much you love us. We fail to heed your call to love one another. Forgive us, God. Turn our lives toward your path that we might honor you and glorify your name. Amen.

Hear now these words of assurance:
Sisters and brothers, rest in the assurance that God hears our prayers, holds us close and delivers us from our sins and our fears. In Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. 1 Kings 17:8-16
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”

As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… Mark 12:38-44
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

SERMON ……………………… Holding On To Christmas …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
At Christmas, God delights in accomplishing the impossible and exceeding the hopes of humanity. Through this amazing birth, God uses the small and frail to humble the mighty and the powerful. The God who made all things becomes completely helpless and dependent by way of a virgin birth and an infant child.

Christmas is also a story about the possible. God becomes fully human and enters into a broken, not so pretty history. Through this act, God’s love reshapes our human conceptions of what is possible. The birth of Christ shows us that God’s love is nearer to us than we had imagined. And, in fact, God is always holding onto us and binding us to one another.

In 1985, the late, great Chicago Tribune writer, Mike Royko, wrote a beautiful story about an experience he witnessed in a Chicago bar one night.

There was a conversation at the bar about Christmas trees. Somebody had mentioned how much they cost and what a pain in the neck it is to go out in the bitter cold and shop around for a good one.

A person sitting close by chimed in, ”There`s nothing to it, not if you know what you`re doing.”

“Oh, really, what makes you an expert?” was the reply.

And then this fellow, a man named Slats, told this story,

I used to work in a tree lot when I was a young guy. My uncle used to sell them in the vacant lot next to his tavern. And that`s when I learned the secret.

The secret of having the most beautiful tree you ever saw. And, having lots of money has nothing to do with it. I was in the lot, and it was the night before Christmas Eve, about a half-hour before I was going to close up. I hadn`t seen a customer in two hours.

I had maybe a couple of dozen trees left, and most of `em weren`t much to look at. By the time you get that close to Christmas, they`ve been picked over pretty good. So I`m standing by the kerosene heater when this young couple comes in and starts looking at the trees.

‘I don`t know `em by name, but I know they live down the street in the basement of one of the dumpiest three-flats in the neighborhood.

He`s a skinny young guy with a small chin. She`s kind of pretty, but they both wear clothes that look like they came out of the bottom bin at the Salvation Army store. And it was a cold night, but neither of them have got on gloves or heavy shoes. So it`s easy to see that they`re having hard times making ends-meet.

Well, they start lifting the trees up and looking at `em and walking around `em, the way people do. They finally find one that was pretty decent. Not a great tree. But it wasn`t bad. And they ask me the price.

(Now remember, this was more than 30 years ago) I said it was about $8 or $9. They don`t say anything. They just put it down. They keep looking. They must have looked at every tree in the lot. Like I said, there weren`t many that were any good. But every time I gave the price on a decent one, they just shook their heads.

Finally, they thank me and walk away. But when they get out on the sidewalk, she says something, and they stand there talking for a while. Then he shrugs, and they come back.

I figure they`re going to take one of the good trees after all. But they go over to this one tree that had to be the most pathetic tree we had. It was a Scotch pine that was OK on one side, but the other side was missing about half the branches.

They asked me how much that one was. I told them that they`d have a hard time making it look good, no matter how much tinsel they put on it. But they could have it for two bucks.

Then they picked up another one that was damned near as pathetic. Same thing–full on one side, but scraggly on the other. They asked how much for that one. I told them that it was the same, two bucks. So then she whispers something to him, and he asks me if I`ll take $3 for the two trees.

Well, what am I going to do? Nobody`s going to buy those trees anyway, so I told them they had a deal. But I tell them, what do you want with two trees? Spend a few dollars more and get yourself a nice tree. She just smiled and said they wanted to try something. So they gave me the $3, and he carried one of them, and she took the other.

The next night, I happen to be walking past their building. I look down at the window and I can see a tree. I couldn`t see it all, but what there was – looked good! The lights are on, so I figure what the heck. I knock on the door. They open it and I tell them I noticed the tree and I was just curious.

They let me in. And I almost fell over. There in this tiny parlor was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. It was so thick it was almost like a bush. You couldn`t see the trunk.

They told me how they did it. They took the two trees and worked the trunks close together, so they touched where the branches were thin. Then they tied the trunks together with wire. But when the branches overlapped and came together, it formed a tree so thick you couldn`t see the wire. It was like a tiny forest of its own.

The two of them looked so happy with it that it made me feel good for the rest of the week. And thinking of those two orphan trees, which would have been tossed out if they hadn`t come along, made me feel good, too.

So that`s the secret. You take two trees that aren`t perfect – that have flaws – that might even be homely – that maybe nobody else would want. But if you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.

The secret isn’t to go out with a pocket full of money and spend what it takes to buy the best tree, the best presents, the best foods.

The miracle of this incarnation (God with us) is that God did not require us to demonstrate our worthiness or earn God’s grace. God came to us, and finds new ways to put us together and reshape us. You see, our God, does not bless from a distance. God enters our lives and joins us in the trenches of life; joins us in our struggles and sufferings to strengthen and redeem us. God turns bleakness into celebration! Mourning into joy!

When we live out this Christmas spirit, we too do the work of love and reconciliation. When we put the pieces together and restore brokenness, we honor the true Christmas spirit. Amen & Merry Christmas.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Hope Was Born This Night
by Sidewalk Prophets

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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