Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Bulletin (12/24/13)

First Presbyterian Church
A Progressive Christian Community
Christmas Eve 2013

For Reflection:

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee

And one day as they went walking, all in the garden green
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild
"Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child"

The Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
"Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee”

Then up spoke baby Jesus, from out Mary's womb
"Bow down ye tallest tree that my mother might have some”

So bent down the tallest tree to touch Mary's hand
Said she, "Oh look now Joseph, I have cherries at command"

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee
--Cherry Tree Carol, 15th century



*CALL TO WORSHIP   The Book About the Origin of the
Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior (Chapter 13) [i]

…the angel ordered the beast to stand, for the time when she should bring forth was at hand; and he commanded the blessed Mary to come down off the animal, and go into a recess under a cavern, in which there never was light, but always darkness, because the light of day could not reach it. And when the blessed Mary had gone into it, it began to shine with as much brightness as if it were the sixth hour of the day. The light from God so shone in the cave, that neither by day nor night was light wanting as long as the blessed Mary was there. And there she brought forth a son, and the angels surrounded Him when He was being born. And as soon as He was born, He stood upon His feet, and the angels adored Him, saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people of good pleasure.”

*CAROL        It Came Upon A Midnight Clear        #123

Perhaps for a moment the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall
over the city.

For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised in the crystalline darkness, and then gracefully tilts.

Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.

Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we
are and why we are here.

There are inexplicable mysteries.

We are not alone.

In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth's axis
toward love.

In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.

The cosmos enfolds us.

We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.

Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in
the moment of winter solstice.


SCRIPTURE                                      The Gospel of Jesus[iii]
Jesus was a descendant of Abraham.  Jesus’ parents were named Joseph and Mary.  Jesus was born when Herod was king.  Eight days later, when the time came to circumcise him, they gave him the name Jesus.  Many in Jesus’ hometown asked, “This is the carpenter, isn’t it?  Isn’t he Mary’s son?  And who are his brothers, if not James and Judas and Simon?  And who are his sisters, if not our neighbors?   Phillip tells Nathanael, “We have found Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.  “From Nazareth?” Nathanael said to him.  “Can anything good come from that place?”                                    

HOMILY                      "Baby Jesus"                                  Rev. John Shuck

SPECIAL MUSIC                                                      Heidi Faust

POETRY        This Is Christmas       Howard Thurman[iv]
The evergreen singing aloud its poem of constant renewal,
The festive mood spreading lilting magic everywhere,
The gifts of recollection calling to heart the graces of life,
The star in the sky calling to mind the wisdom of hope,
The warmth of candlelight glowing against the darkness,
The birth of a child linking past to future,
The symbol of love absorbing all violence,
This is Christmas.

SCRIPTURE  The Infancy Gospel of James 17:1-18:2[v]
Now an order came down from Augustus the Emperor that everybody in Bethlehem of Judea be counted in a census.

And Joseph wondered, “I’ll register my sons, but what am I going to do with this child?  How will I register her?  As my wife?  I’m ashamed to do that.  As my daughter?  The people of Israel will know she’s not my daughter.  This is the day of the Lord; he will do whatever he decides.”

So he saddled his donkey and had her get on it.  His son led it and Samuel brought up the rear.  As they neared the three-mile marker, Joseph turned around and saw that she was gloomy.  He said to himself, “Perhaps the baby she is carrying is causing her discomfort.”  Joseph turned around again and saw her laughing and said to her, “Mary, what’s going on with you?  One minute I see you laughing and the next minute you’re gloomy.” 

She replied, “Joseph, it’s because I imagine two people in front of me, one weeping and mourning and the other rejoicing and celebrating.”

Halfway through the trip Mary said to him, “Joseph, help me down from the donkey—the child inside me is ready to be born.”

And he helped her down and said to her, “Where will I take you to give you some privacy, since this place is out in the open?”

He found a cave nearby and took her inside.  He stationed his sons to guard her and went to look for a Hebrew midwife in the countryside around Bethlehem.

SPECIAL MUSIC                              Ali and Nora Williams

POETRY  Christmas Is Waiting To Be Born  Howard Thurman
Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,
While bones and sinew, blood and cell,
go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all mankind.

SCRIPTURE  The Infancy Gospel of James  18:3-11
Now I, Joseph, was walking along and not going anywhere.  I looked up at the dome of the sky and saw it standing still, and then at the clouds and saw them stopped in amazement, and at the birds of the sky suspended in midair.  As I looked down on the ground, I saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining around it with their hands in the bowl; some were chewing and yet did not chew; some were picking up something to eat and yet did not pick it up; and some were putting food in their mouths and yet did not do so.  Instead, they were all looking upward.

I saw sheep being herded along and yet the sheep stood still; the shepherd was lifting his hand to strike them, and yet his hand remained raised.  And I observed the current of the river and saw goats with their mouths in the water and yet they were not drinking.  Then all of a sudden everything and everybody went on with what they had been doing.

CAROL          O Little Town of Bethlehem              #121

POETRY        Life Seems Unaware               Howard Thurman
Once again the smell of death rides on the winds
And fear lurks within the shadows of the mind.
One by one the moments tick away.
Days and nights are interludes
Between despairing hope and groping faith.
Of this bleak desolation, Life seems unaware:
Seeds still die and live again in answer to their kind;
Fledgling birds awake to life from prison house of shell;
Flowers bloom and blossoms fall as harbingers of fruit to
The newborn child comes even on the wings of death;
The thoughts of men are blanketed by dreams
Of tranquil days and peaceful years,
When love unfettered will keep the heart and mind
In ways of life that crown our days with light.

SCRIPTURE  The Infancy Gospel of James 19:1-16
Then I saw a woman coming down from the hill country.  She asked, ‘Where are you going, sir?’
I replied, ‘I’m looking for a Hebrew midwife.’
She inquired, ‘Are you an Israelite?’
I told her that I was.
‘And who’s the one having the baby in the cave?’ she asked.
‘My betrothed,’ I replied.
She asked me, ‘You mean she isn’t your wife?’
I told her, ‘She is Mary, who was raised in the temple of the Lord; I obtained her by lot as my wife. But she’s not really my wife; she’s pregnant by the holy spirit.’
‘Really?’ the midwife said.
‘Come and see,’ Joseph responded.

So the midwife went with him.  As they stood in front of the cave, a dark cloud overshadowed it.  The midwife said, “I’ve really been privileged, because today my eyes have seen a mystery:  salvation has come to Israel.”

Suddenly the cloud withdrew from the cave and a light appeared inside it that was so intense their eyes could not bear to look.  And a little later that light receded until an infant became visible.  He came and took the breast of his mother Mary.

CAROL          Gentle Mary Laid Her Child              #146   

POETRY        Christmas Returns      Howard Thurman
Christmas returns, as it always does,
with its assurance that life is good.
It is the time of lift to the spirit,
When the mind feels its way into the commonplace,
And senses the wonder of simple things: an evergreen tree,
Familiar carols, merry laughter.
It is the time of illumination,
When candles burn, and old dreams
Find their youth again.
It is the time of pause,
When forgotten joys come back to mind, and past
dedications renew their claim.
It is the time of harvest for the heart,
When faith reaches out to mantle all high endeavor,
And love whispers its magic word to everything that breathes.
Christmas returns, as it always does,
with its assurance that life is good.

SCRIPTURE  The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary
and the Childhood of the Savior (Chapter 14)

And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib.”  The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him.

SPECIAL MUSIC      Mary’s Boy Child      Rev. Don Steele

POETRY     Christmas Is the Season of the Heart
Howard Thurman

The Time of forgiveness for injuries past,
The Sacrament of sharing without balancing the deed,
The Moment of remembrance of graces forgotten,
The Poem of joy making light the spirit,
The Sense of renewal restoring the soul,
The Day of thanksgiving for the goodness of God.
Christmas is the season of the heart.

SCRIPTURE   The Book About the Origin of the
Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior  (Chapter 18-19)

And having come to a certain cave, and wishing to rest in it, the blessed Mary dismounted from her beast, and sat down with the child Jesus in her bosom. And there were with Joseph three boys, and with Mary a girl, going on the journey along with them.

And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired.

Then was fulfilled that which was said by David the prophet, saying: “Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons; ye dragons, and all ye deeps.” 

And the young child Jesus, walking before them, commanded them to hurt no man. But Mary and Joseph were very much afraid lest the child should be hurt by the dragons. And Jesus said to them: “Do not be afraid, and do not consider me to be a little child; for I am and always have been perfect; and all the beasts of the forest must needs be tame before me.”

Lions and panthers adored Him likewise, and accompanied them in the desert. Wherever Joseph and the blessed Mary went, they went before them showing them the way, and bowing their heads; and showing their submission by wagging their tails, they adored Him with great reverence.

Now at first, when Mary saw the lions and the panthers, and various kinds of wild beasts, coming about them, she was very much afraid. But the infant Jesus looked into her face with a joyful countenance, and said: “Be not afraid, mother; for they come not to do thee harm, but they make haste to serve both thee and me.”  With these words He drove all fear from her heart.

And the lions kept walking with them, and with the oxen, and the asses, and the beasts of burden which carried their baggage, and did not hurt a single one of them, though they kept beside them; but they were tame among the sheep and the rams which they had brought with them from Judaea, and which they had with them.

They walked among wolves, and feared nothing; and no one of them was hurt by another. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet: “Wolves shall feed with lambs; the lion and the ox shall eat straw together.”

There were together two oxen drawing a wagon with provision for the journey, and the lions directed them in their path.

CAROL                      What Child Is This                 #145

POETRY  The Growing Edge                        Howard Thurman
All around us worlds are dying
and new worlds are being born;
All around us life is dying and life is being born.
The fruit ripens on the tree;
The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth
Against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms,
green fruit.
Such is the growing edge!
 It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung,
The one more thing to try when all else has failed,
The upward reach of life when weariness
closes in upon all endeavor.
This is the basis of hope in moments of despair,
The incentive to carry on
When times are out of joint and men and women
have lost their reason, the source of confidence
When worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.
Such is the growing edge incarnate.
Look well to the growing edge."

SCRIPTURE  The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary
and the Childhood of the Savior (Chapter 20)

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: “Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree.”

Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: “I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm.”

And Joseph said to her: “I wonder that you say this, when you see how high the palm tree is; and that you think of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle.”

Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: “O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit.” And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed.

And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who had commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: “Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee.”

And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.

CAROL          He Came Down                                  #137

OFFERTORY            Cherry Tree Carol                  Roberta Flack 

(The minister lights his candle from the Christ Candle in the Advent wreath.  The ushers light their candles from the minister’s candle, then light the candle of each worshiper nearest the aisle.  The lighted candle is never tilted but is always upright when giving light to another).

SCRIPTURE  I Will Light Candles This Christmas 
Howard Thurman

I will light candles this Christmas.
Candles of joy, despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

CAROL                      “Silent Night”

Silent night, holy night!  All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night!  Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Silent night, holy night!  Wondrous star, lend thy light
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our king;
Christ the savior is born, Christ the savior is born.

BENEDICTION   The Work of Christmas  Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

[i] Known today as “The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew,” this story of Jesus’ birth and childhood was composed around 600 CE.  It was included in the medieval text, “The Golden Legend” and inspired the “Cherry Tree Carol.”
[ii] Rebecca Parker, Winter Solstice
[iii] Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus According to the Jesus Seminar (Santa Rosa:  Polebridge, 1999), p. 9.
[iv] All Howard Thurman poems are from The Mood of Christmas (Richmond,IN: Friends United Press, 2001).
[v] The Infancy Gospel of James is a mid-Second Century Gospel.

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