God of the Ages, Alpha and Omega, Eternal One: for all this year that is passed I thank You. Through my staying socially distant You have taught me about compassion. Through online meetings and worship You have taught me dedication. Through medical testing and precautions You have taught me patience. Through disagreements with others You have taught me non-violent communication. Through disasters in the news You have taught me gratitude. Through travel limitations You have taught me love of the local places. Through cancelled events You have taught me simplicity. Through the threats of COVID-19 You have taught me not to take for granted my life and all the blessings I have here.
John 7:17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.
Jesus, Holy Master, so many of Your words are recorded in John’s Gospel. As this year comes to a close, I wonder about this cultural tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Thank You that this weekend can feel like a fresh start. Help me have hope in the midst of the troubles that seem to fill the world.
Now, Saviour, whether I actually resolve to do anything differently, or simply talk with those who do make resolutions, inspire me to be gentle and encouraging. It’s great to have fun and joke about resolutions; alongside this, help me take seriously the real possibility of resolving to take a new path. In the small steps and the big things of life, May Your Spirit help me do the will of God. Amen.
James 5:15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a calm Wednesday. An ordinary day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The fifth day of Christmas. I remember that for many people it is another day of illness or injury, another day of seeking healing.
So I pray, as I so often do, for the folk who are taking medicine today, going for therapy, receiving treatments, recovering from surgery, undergoing medical tests, or simply trying to get through another day. Let Your Spirit shower them with care and courage and healing: Mike and Joe and Dwight and Jonathan and Doug and Peter and Heather and Jack and Maggie and Eric and so on… In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Luke 9:61-62 Yet another said, “I will follow you, sir: but let me first say goodbye to my people at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets his hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
(Todays scripture and prayer form J. R. C. Perkin’s ‘Devotional Diary,’ 1998.)
I thank you, father, for those who have served you With singleness of purpose and trust in your strength, And have achieved great things in your name. I thank you for those who have given up The security of family and friends To serve you in distant places – Doctors, nurses, teachers, preachers, Agriculturalists and social reformers. Some have suffered for their commitment And some have lost their lives in obedience To your call. Grant that today I may be equally dedicated To my call to be your servant, Easing the burden of suffering in the world And bringing honour to your name. Amen.
Acts 4:32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
God of gifts, I turn to You with prayerful thanks for all the big and little presents that came to me this Christmas. Tokens of love and affection from others, time spent in conversation and activity, delicious foods – all these have been rich blessings and luxuries.
Now, Master, as I reflect upon what I was given, and what I gave to others, teach me. Teach my sharing. Teach my wanting. Teach me by my inner desires – for things, for love and affection, for attention, for my needs to be met. Teach me all the more to share, to give freely, without waiting and watching to be ‘paid back.’ Grow in my conscience a love of free sharing, good generosity, of ubuntu, as the late Desmond Tutu taught. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
WELCOME to this post for our last service of the year, and the Second Day of Christmas. The music in our service was played from previous videos from December of this year and last. The bulletin here on our website gives the full service plan.
Prayer – by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of traditions, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offence to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of men, and yet as the saviour and redeemer of the human race. AMEN.
SERMON: How the COVID Stole Christmas?
Everyone down in Digby likes Christmas a lot… But the COVID, who lived east of Digby, did not! It didn’t hate Christmas, it just has no reason To ask what it was; viruses heed no season. It could be it’s new (born in twenty-nineteen), it could be ‘cause it’s invisible, unseen. But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been variants Omicron and Delta. Whatever the reason, its genetic make-up Has stood in our way, it’s a big Christmas break-up!
Staring down this pandemic sours us, makes us frown, And the warmth of our festive gatherings in town For now have been stopped in Digby, and all over. (We’re in the same boat with every Christmas lover.) We had hung all our stockings and decked all the halls, Been singing every carol we could recall. And just when our Christmas was practically here The Omicron growled (as the X ring was cheered). So folks got concerned, fingers nervously drumming, & most things just stopped. Is this Christmas not coming? For yesterday, truly, all the girls and boys They woke bright and early; they rushed for their toys! But the Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Cousins And Uncles did not meet as normally happens. And even the Churches did not make much noise: Does COVID hate carols? The noise, noise, noise, noise? And then all the great plans to feast became least, For gathering less could slow this viral beast.
But it’s all about who; young and old get together, No matter the distance, no matter the weather. We always are singing of coming back home, Christmas a reunion of loved ones who roam. Welcome, Welcome, Christmas Day is in our grasp! Welcome, yes! So long as we have hands to clasp! Yet clasping of hands and hugging of our friends Is banned, is forbidden, is over, The End. The more that we fight it the more it keeps winning, Has Christmastime failed, COVID stopped the whole darn thing? Why, for twenty-one months we’ve put up with it now! We must stop the virus from spreading! But HOW?
Does God have an idea? An awesome idea? The Saviour has got a wonderful idea! He knows what to do just to keep us together. He’s seen this before. (He’s been ‘round forever.) For many a person in history’s days Has been isolated, or forced to obey, Or suffered with sickness, or battled great war: Our Master has reached them from near and from far. Yes, Jesus has been there, and walked with them all; He’s suffered again and again, and stood tall.
Our God knows we want Christmastime to be nice, With family and carols and sugar and spice. We like the great story, with shepherds and angel, We want to share presents and hear every carol. But then, when it’s messy, or sad, or gets wrecked By troubles we did or we did not expect We can pause to remember the rest of the story, Even Jesus’ birth is tense, troubled and gory!
As the scene gets all dark and a star’s in the air, And the Magi are travelling far with great care, At the same time ole Herod, jealous and power-hungry, Hears ‘bout this new King: he gets sneaky and angry. Forget not that Joseph and Mary, with Jesus Soon had to flee home ‘cause of Herod’s decreeses. Forget not that many a boy child got killed Because of the evil King Herod had willed. And maybe you’ve never been a refugee, But you just may know one, so look here and see That time when dear Joseph took his babe and wife Und’ cover of darkness, to run for their life! They went far away, like like wee Moses, of old, Who just escaped death, thanks to his mother bold. So Mary and Joseph and their little lad Lived as foreigners when, at home, times were bad.
Now, I get perspective on my present state, With stresses from COVID that just won’t abate. My Christmas with step-daughters and grandchildren Got cancelled by COVID exposure for them. And though we’re alert to see if they get sick And pray that they’ll be protected from all of it, And though my dear parents stayed safely away Instead of here visiting for Christmas Day, At least I’m at home, safe and sound and well fed, And had a great day with the woman I wed. On computer screens we could see everyone And laugh, and rejoice and have Oh lots of fun.
So COVID has found out that Christmas has come, Just ‘cause we don’t meet don’t mean it is all done. The lights in our windows are still brightly beaming, Gifts lovingly given are kindness revealing, The stories of Jesus are told in our homes And through all the internet, where’re folk roam. Generous goodness and praying for peace Have never been stopped, have not at all ceased. COVID hadn’t stopped Christ from coming! HE CAME! By power of the SPIRIT, He came just the same!
So COVID, with viral receptors askew, Is puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be true? Christ came without gath’ring! They still all believe! He came without choirs singing on Christmas Eve! He came even when people isolated, He came without Gran tucking Johnny in bed! COVID puzzled three hours, till it’s puzzler was sore. Then the Virus thought of something not thot before. ‘Maybe Xmas,’ it thot, ‘doesn’t come from being home. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… transcends being alone!’ And what happened then? Well… in Digby they say, That the Christians’ wee hearts grew three sizes that day! The minute our hearts don’t feel left out by Christ, But touched by the promise of faith, hope and light, We’ll know it’s the Spirit of our living God Who tells our own souls, “I have gone where you’ve trod, And leading Your way I will go on ahead; So rely upon Me, lay down your weary head. I’ll bring back the joys! And food for your soul’s feast!” Yes, Jesus, Himself, will reach greatest and least.
Our worship of Jesus (That’s what Christ-mas is) Breaks up isolation. (He knows what this is.) Refreshen your soul with the ways that you know: With praying, compassion, and generous flow.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim; Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness Bring, and adore Him; the Lord is His Name! (J S B Monsell, 1863)
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
God of visions, of messages, of commands, of love, of life: praise today for JESUS! It is a day of many strong traditions – cultural and religious – but take me again to the Bethlehem scene. This year some of the usual happenings are just not happening. Some of this has been sad, some frustrating, disappointing, and even fearful. But God, give me and those near my heart moments of peace and awe, looking to the birth scene. Maybe I have more spare time on my hands this December 25th: help me pray, or read, or meditate. Help me be in touch with the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
And I pray today again for folks who find this moment very hard, for whatever reasons. Divine Spirit, send positive energy into their lives now: for body, or spirit, or heart, or mind, or relationships. Peel away the unreasonable expectations about Christmas, and give Yourself to those who need you most. Amen.
WELCOME to this Post for the Christmas Eve Service for Digby Baptist Church. three video elements are now here, which include readings, prayers, carols, and a short sermon. We are meeting in person, with extra precautions, and plan to again on Sunday, ‘Boxing Day.’ Stay tuned here for that service also.
(Video Part 3 after the sermon text and prayer, below.)
The Solemn Hour Tonight we have heard some of the start of the Jesus story, from each of the four Gospel writers of the Bible. Each one starts at a different place, and gives new details. John goes back to the very beginning, to creation: and Christ was there! Matthew tells us about Joseph’s dream, and then the Magi who finds the child once He’s born. Luke tells us all about Mary, and so many details about that night in crowded Bethlehem with angels and shepherds. Mark, with his usual brief simplicity, starts when Jesus is thirty years old, with his cousin John getting the neighbourhood ready for the Messiah to get to work.
Whatever your situation, tonight, may there be some element of the Jesus story that blesses you. The final bit we heard, from Mark chapter 1, has John the Baptizer preaching with the fervor and seriousness we expect from this wild cousin of Jesus. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance – of making a turn-around – and of forgiveness of sins.
Which is my segue into the carol Margo just sang. I like to read the stories of the songs I love, and ‘O Holy Night’ has an interesting story. Like other old carols, its evolution was convoluted and surprising. Commissioned in 1847 in France for a Christmas pageant, poet Placide Cappeau wrote the words.
I shall always remember, fifteen years ago, healing a prison ministry volunteer from the Moncton area sing, in French, ‘Minuit, Chretiens,’ in the Chapel of the Dorchester Prison, for the annual Christmas program. She looked like a big opera singer, and sang like one too.
Most of us know only the English words, by John Sullivan Dwight, 1855. The original French seems more stern and direct and serious than what we usually sing in English. So much so that Cappeau actually rewrote his carol, but that version never replaced his original verses.
I won’t try to sing, or read, the French. Here is an English translation: Christians, it is midnight: the solemn hour when the God-Man came down to us to wipe away original sin and end His Father’s anger. The whole world trembles with hope on this night that gives us a Saviour. People, to your knees! Await your deliverance! Noel, noel! Behold, the Redeemer!
The powerful message of this Jesus, God come to earth, is deep in all the scripture stories. And some of our carols. Ours is a world of trouble, and some people have their own world of troubles to face right now. Again, people wait for a Deliverer. The person whose house burned down this week. The person who made it through aneurysm surgery. The family who lost a child in a shooting. The people who are overcome with sorrow and depression at Christmas. Behold, the Redeemer!
I like the power in the original second verse, translated: The King of Kings is born in a humble stable; you, the mighty of your day, so proud of your grandeur, it is to your pride that God preaches. Bow down before the Redeemer!
Strong words, especially sung with an operatic voice.
This is not midnight, but it is our solemn hour together. We are actually together! Many are not. In this pandemic of isolation, we grow to understand more about the deep separation between us and all things that can hurt so much, and that our Faith claims to heal. Jesus is the healing Word.
Speaking about John chapter 1, Richard Rohr, wrote:
And so this Word, this Eternal Word of God that we read about in the prologue to John’s Gospel, leapt down, …and took its abiding place on Earth, in order to heal every bit of separation and splitness that we experience. That splitness and separation is the sadness of the human race. When we feel separate, when we feel disconnected, when we feel split from our self, from our family, from reality, from the Earth, from God, we will be angry and depressed people. Because we know we weren’t created for that separateness; we were created for union.
So God sent into the world one who would personify that union—who would put human and divine together; who would put spirit and matter together. That’s what we spend our whole life trying to believe: that this ordinary earthly sojourn means something. (“Really Only One Message,” Dec. 25, ‘16.
When God gives us a solemn hour, we gaze upon Jesus, and we find meaning for our everyday lives. Sometimes that is what it takes. Quietness before the holy, whenever and wherever we can meet up with The Holy One.
Whether this hour here has been holy for you, or not, may you find the holiness you desire, and let there be the same for those who are in your prayers.
Truly He taught us to love one another;His law is Love and His Gospel is Peace.
Prayers of the People: God who gave a human Saviour, who comes to us now in Spirit: we rejoice again as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. For every blessing we give thanks. With every blessing we count, we also pray.
We are here, together, Jesus our Brother. We pray for those who are isolated, in one way or another, now. Those isolated by sickness, or by broken relationships, by fear or by oppression: have mercy on them this Christmas.
We are rich and filled with good things, Creator. We pray for those who do not have even what they need. Those who lack food or water, who lack home or shelter, who lack safety or purpose, who lack family or friends: have mercy on them this Christmas.
We are hopeful and faithful, Holy One. We pray for those who have given up on hope, and those who have rejected Jesus and His Church. Those who have been harmed by life’s circumstances, traumatized by others, or hurt by the Church: have mercy on them this Christmas.
We are here where things are calm and bright, O Light of the World. We pray for all who are threatened by violence, of the powers of nature or by the power of cruel people. Those who suffer, who grieve, who are terrorized: have mercy on them this Christmas.
God of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, we receive the light of Christmas, the Light of Christ Himself. Send us forth as lights in the world now. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
As Simeon awaited the Messiah of his people, so I wait for many things, dear God. This Advent time for the Church is all about watching and waiting, preparing and practicing. Timeless God, what have I learned about waiting this year? How is Your Spirit training me? And why should I be spiritually alert?
I pray today for people who are waiting. Waiting for an answer about their heath. Waiting for a new opportunity they’ve hoped for. Waiting for something to help them in life, but they don’t even know what that thing might be. In these days, when people wait for COVID tests, and other such answers, bless and protect them. Calm anxious minds. Ease fearful hearts. Bring peace into agitated conversations. And when people feel helpless, Master, perhaps we can find it to be true that ‘they also serve who only stand and wait.’ Amen.
Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
Reigning God, today I pray, bowing in spirit before You. I name Christ as my leader, above all other leaders. What does it really mean for Jesus to take first place in my heart of hearts? That He be first, and I am second?
Two thousand years after Emperor Augustus I live in an era with our own leaders of many names. I ask the best for my counsellors, MLA, Premier, PM, Prime Minister and Governor General. When I am unhappy with any of them, and their leadership, guide my responses. Help me be a good citizen of earth, even while I rely upon the promise of Christ of being a citizen of heaven also. In Jesus’ name. Amen.