Christmas, Christmas Eve

Rumors of Joy – a Christmas Eve Story

It was a cold winter’s afternoon, one of those days when you can hardly believe it could be much darker and still be called daytime. Joe and Mary left Pittsburgh on the Greyhound bus that morning. They were hoping to get to Baltimore, where his family came from, but the bus was late, and they missed the connection at 5:45.

Back at home, people knew that Mary was going to have a baby. And they knew the baby wasn’t Joe’s. That was a hard one for Joe. There were rumors going around about the father of the baby. It didn’t help that Mary told him some story that no guy could believe, no matter how much he wanted to.

Mary said an angel came to talk to her, and the Spirit of God came over her.

Only a foolish person would believe a story like that.

Maybe Joe was a fool for love, then. He decided to take care of Mary, no matter what the real story might be.  He knew for sure they needed a place to stay that night. He figured they could find a room, and if they really needed it, he had heard there was a good hospital in town.

So they checked out the cheaper motels. But they were all full.

Joe’s cell phone was getting low on battery. They were standing near the bus station, wondering what to do next, when they heard the wheels of a shopping cart and the jouncing of bottles and cans.

An old lady pushed the cart toward them. She could see that Mary was very, very pregnant, and she offered to help them. She told them about the place where she pitched her tent and offered to let them sleep in it that night.

After all, she said, “It’s Christmas Eve.”

They followed her to a place down by the railroad tracks, where they were surprised to see a lot of people besides themselves seeking shelter on that dark night.

When they got there, everyone looked a little protective of their stuff. All except one. Her name was Angel. She had an overstuffed backpack, and as soon as she got a look at Mary, she started taking things out, looking for something important.

At the bottom of the bag, she found it. Someone had come down to the day shelter giving out diapers, and she took them, because you just never know what you might need.

At least that’s what she told Mary.

Angel looked around the tent city and started telling her friends about Joe and Mary. She remembered when she had a baby of her own, and she could tell just by looking that Mary didn’t have long to wait. Angel knew there were things Mary would need besides the diapers.

Sure enough, the baby was born that night. They never got to the hospital. A small group of people gathered and heard his first cry.

Soon, from the edge of the crowd, a man came forward. He was one of those guys whose looks made you want to steer clear, a silent giant with a pack of dogs and a grim expression. He rarely talked to anyone.

He came right over to Mary, and Joe looked worried.

But then the man said gruffly, “Here, take my blanket. I’ll huddle up with my dogs tonight.”

Then they had a visit from a man who thought they might need a little something else while taking care of the baby. He was one of those guys who always has a lot to say on every subject, full of opinions. Kind of a wise guy.

But on this night, he quietly offered them his lantern. “You may want some light,” he said.

Surrounded by new friends, the little family spent their first night together.

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

When he looked at the baby, Joe was glad he had stood by Mary.

Mary said nothing, but her smile told him how joyful her heart felt, even in the dark, cold place where the baby was born.

You may find it hard to believe, but it’s a true story that they all felt warm that night, even the ones who didn’t have blankets.

It’s a true story that the baby’s face shone even before the lantern cast its light.

You may have heard about it.

People may tell you it was only a rumor. But you should always listen to rumors of joy.

*******

This is an update of a story I wrote in 2006 as a Christmas Pageant presented by adults at Stevens Avenue Congregational Church UCC in Portland, Maine.

This version © 2014 The Reverend Martha K. Spong

 

Advent, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas pageants, Liturgical Drama

Rumors of Joy

(This is a 2-person reading I’ve used on Christmas Eve, originally written as a pageant performed by adults to mark the relationship between a local church I served and a ministry to the homeless. We coordinated the pageant with a blanket drive for the people served by the ministry.)

Carol                         “Once in Royal David’s City,” v. 1-2

Lector: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. (Luke 2:1-3)

Storyteller: It was a cold winter’s afternoon, one of those days when you can hardly believe it could be much darker and still be called daytime.

Lector: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

Storyteller: Joe and Mary arrived in Portland (or a city close to you) by bus. They were hoping to get to Boston (or the biggest nearby city), but this was as far as the money would take them. Back at home, people knew that Mary was going to have a baby. And they knew the baby wasn’t Joe’s. That was a hard one for Joe. Mary told him some story that no guy could believe, no matter how much he wanted to.

It was a crazy story.

Mary said an angel came to talk to her.

Only a crazy person could believe it!

Maybe Joe was a little crazy in love, then, because he stood by Mary.

Maybe. He knew for sure they needed a place to stay that night, and that’s why they didn’t travel to Boston. He figured they could find a room in Portland, and if they really needed it, he had heard there was a good hospital in town.

So they checked out the cheaper motels. But they were all full. Remember, it was Christmas Eve.

Lector: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

Carol                         “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” v.1-2

A homeless nativity at Alki United Church of Christ.
A homeless nativity at Alki United Church of Christ.

Storyteller: They were standing outside a motel near the bus station, wondering what to do next, when they heard the wheels of a shopping cart and the jouncing of bottles and cans.

An old lady pushed the cart toward them. She could see that Mary was very, very pregnant, and she offered to help them. She told them about the place where she pitched her tent and offered to let them sleep in it that night.

After all, she said, “It’s Christmas.”

They followed her to a place down by the railroad tracks, where they were surprised to see a lot of people besides themselves seeking shelter on that dark night.

Lector: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)

Storyteller: When they got there, everyone looked a little protective of their stuff. All except one. Her name was Angel.

She had an overstuffed backpack, and as soon as she got a look at Mary, she started taking things out, looking for something important.

At the bottom of the bag, she found it. Someone had come down to the day shelter giving out diapers, and she took them, because you just never know what you might need.

At least that’s what she told Mary.

Lector: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:9-14)

Carol                         “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

Storyteller: Angel looked around the tent city and started telling her friends about Joe and Mary. She remembered the time she had a baby of her own, and she could tell just by looking that Mary didn’t have long to wait.

Angel knew there were things Mary would need on that cold night besides the diapers.

Lector: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16)

Storyteller: Sure enough, the baby was born that night. The people heard his first cry.

From the edge of the crowd, a man came forward. He was one of those guys whose looks made you want to steer clear, a silent giant with a big dog and a grim expression. He rarely talked to anyone.

He came right over to Mary, and Joe looked worried.

But then the man said gruffly, “Here, take my blanket. I’ll huddle up with my dog tonight.”

Then they had a visit from a man who thought they might need a little something else while taking care of the baby. He was one of those guys who always has an opinion about everything, who always has a lot to say on every subject. Kind of a wise guy.

But on this night, he quietly offered them his lantern. “You may want some light,” he said.

Surrounded by new friends, the little family spent their first night together.

Lector: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:17-18)

Carol                                                 “The First Noel,” v. 1-3

Storyteller: When he looked at the baby, Joe was glad he had stood by Mary.

Lector: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Storyteller: Mary said nothing, but her smile told him how joyful her heart felt, even in the dark, cold place where the baby was born.

Lector: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)

Storyteller: You may find it hard to believe, but it’s a true story that they all felt warm that night, even the ones who didn’t have blankets.

It’s a true story that the baby’s face shone even before the lantern cast its light.

You may have heard about it.

People may tell you it was only a rumor. But you should always listen to rumors of joy.

Carol                         “Joy to the World”

***Copyright 2006, Rev. Martha K. Spong (this version 2011)

Christmas, Christmas Eve, Sermons

God’s Years Will Never End

(A meditation for Christmas Eve–December 24, 2012–Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14)

Nativity *with* the Doh-Doh this year
Nativity *with* the Doh-Doh this year

A motley nativity decorates our mantelpiece, the figures acquired over fifty years. Some I first saw at my grandmother’s house. The olive wood wise men set out from the left edge with their camels. The shepherds came from the right. Grandma Galli had background artwork, long since lost as she moved to assisted living, then bounced to my parents’ house and finally ended her life in a nursing home.

“We will all wear out like clothing.”

Widowed in her 50s, my grandmother set out to see the world. She was a Laubach Literacy volunteer in Japan, did mission work in India, and visited the Holy Land. She collected more than one nativity set on her travels. When my oldest was a toddler, my mother sent us a soft set, wire figures with fabric faces and actual clothes, the animals not as bendable as my second child’s fondness for them required. The “doh-doh” was his special friend, carried around the house and hidden and rediscovered until finally one leg fell limply from his soft, grey body.

The olive wood figures came to me after my parents died. We set them up each year, Grandma Galli-style: wise men on the left, shepherds on the right, an empty manger at the middle waiting for the baby. We added candles and gazed at the scene by the soft light.

A few years ago I felt wistful for the by now hard-used textile set, and I scrounged through the box looking for pieces I could add. Two shepherd boys; why, they were only a little out of scale! And I could add the lambs, because their dear little legs remained intact.

Somewhere among the Christmas things were other little wooden camels, smaller than the handsome set belonging to my grandmother. If I put them far to the left, maybe they would look like the camel train stretching into the distance. Yes?

And that Italian angel, the only piece of a set an elderly cousin meant to start for us, she could stand by the manger, surely, to worship the baby Jesus.

A dear, faraway friend has what she calls a grotto in her home. It’s full of other people’s leftovers, found in thrift stores and at yard sales. Once while visiting, I looked up and gasped with recognition. A flamboyantly posed and painted Wise Man gazed at me, just like the one in a set my mother had discarded long ago. He came home in my suitcase and joined the eclectic Nativity. It doesn’t matter that his edges are worn and his paint a little faded.

God in His mother's arms
God in His mother’s arms

We will all wear out like clothing, but God’s years will never end.

Fashions change and cultures evolve. Presents everyone wants one year are old-fashioned and eccentric the next, just like a cloak we roll up and put away, or donate to Salvation Army. Material things pass out of fashion.

But eternal things remain the same. God was and is and will be, forever and ever. God – Creator and Christ and Holy Spirit – existed in the beginning, before anything we can see or touch or imagine. God was and is and will be with us, in the midst of our lives just as Jesus was in the world. God was and is and will be found in the old story of angels and a guiding star. God was and is and will be found as a baby in the arms of his mother.

So if that wooden baby Jesus hits the hearth again and the break is beyond the power of Super Glue, I won’t feel I have to replace the whole set. Olive wood Mary can beam just as easily at the leftover textile baby. God was and is and will be, forever and ever. God’s years will never end.

Children's Word, Christmas, Christmas Eve

Go! Tell It!

(A Christmas Eve Story    December 24, 2012          Luke 2:1, 3-16; Matthew 2:1-12)

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

It started with the angels.

They didn’t know everything that would happen. They only knew their own part of the story, their own assignment. They were going out to tell the world about a special baby being born.

One of them had the most important part.

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

The angel learned the words well, and that takes practice.

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

(Hang angel on manger.)

The first people the angels told were shepherds. They were out on the hillside, taking care of the sheep. Brrr! It was cold out there. They huddled up together in the dark, keeping the sheep close for warmth. They could see the stars in the sky, just like every night, but suddenly there was a great light! An angel appeared in the sky. They were very frightened.

Don’t be afraid, said the angel.

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

Then even more angels appeared, singing a song, “Glory to God in the highest heaven! Sing a song and praise God! Sing about peace on earth for all people!”

The shepherds got excited. A savior? Born in little Bethlehem? That wasn’t too far away. They ran into town to see.

(Add shepherd and sheep to the scene.)

Now they believed what the angel said:

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

Because there he was, the baby lying in a manger, wrapped in a little blanket. His mother was watching over him.

(Place baby in manger.)

The shepherds stayed and watched as long as they could. Other people came, too. People were talking in Bethlehem. When the shepherds left, they helped spread the word.

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

From the East, a line of camels and people were traveling. The camels had packs on their backs, full of presents. All the way they followed the light of a special star. It led them to the same baby. The gifts they brought were gold and frankincense and myrrh. It didn’t matter that the baby was poor and they were rich. When they saw him, they knelt down. They believed he was the Savior.

(Place the wise men and camels.)

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

All around the world tonight, we are telling the story again, about the baby Jesus, born in a stable. We are telling the story about the angels who sang to the shepherds. We are telling the story about the shepherds who spread the word. We are telling the story about the wise men and their gifts.

Now it’s our turn to share Jesus with the world, because there are people who have never heard, and people who have forgotten. God sent Jesus to the whole world. He came to save us from being sad and lonely. He came to teach us how to love each other. He came to show us how much God loves everyone.

Go! Tell it!

Good news!

Great joy!

Tonight in Bethlehem the Savior is born.

Advent, Christmas Eve

Engaging Christmas

I love Advent, and the idea of preparation and waiting and all that, but when you’re a pastor, some of the preparing is of necessity the choosing of music and texts and themes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and the putting together of Christmas Pageant bulletins, and that’s how I’ve been engaged the past few days.

We have a late service on Christmas Eve that does not include the choir or the choir director, and just like last year, I’m calling on my two younger children to help fill in the gaps with some music. LP and I spent a car ride talking about it. Last year she started the service by singing “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” after a reading from John 1. I loved it. The words and music set the tone for a grown-up church service. I had a message planned that included a story about having vertigo while singing in a Christmas pageant, and it preached. There are no harsher critics than LP and her mother when it comes to the quality of a worship service, especially including the ones in which we participate, so when we can both say, unreservedly, that a service felt mystical and electric, we wonder how to follow that?

The copy at our house is more well-worn.

I have a more earthy message planned, with a touch of the real world and a different kind of manger scene, and will intersperse readings from Luke with carols and special music. We’re looking for ways to set the tone, poring through carol books and hymnals. I suspect we’ll end up with something that points to the manger, the humanity of a baby and his mother, but the search is just beginning. If you have a thought, please share it in the comments, especially if it’s something that would suit a 16-year-old mezzo-soprano who switch-hits to sing first alto.

Meanwhile, LP has Handel’s Messiah open and is playing through it and even singing it a little. And I think I might be ready to engage the feeling of Christmas a little earlier in Advent than I was last year.