(This past Sunday the service was The Service of the Nativity. For those from a Liturgical background you would probably find it done on Christmas Eve evening. It contained the lighting of all the Advent Candles except the Christ Candle. I had my sons hand out the various nativity characters to the congregation and then would prompt them to come up when asked ‘Will someone bring _______ to the manger?’ A humorous moment occurred when Joseph was ‘lost.’ We did find him after the service in a shepherds place but that was okay. One of the men could not resist a joke while we looked for Joseph, ‘He changed his mind and took off!’ The material I used for the service (which was more of a running commentary than a sermon) can be found at the website: http://www.crivoice.org/nativity.html. I have place the material I used from them in quotes to give credit to whom credit is due. It turned out to be a very meaningful service as one member put it, “It help us to slow and down and really reflect.”)
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Angels From the Realm Of Glory
Angels We Have Heard on High
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving
Meet and Greet
Joy To the World, The Lord is Come
Service of the Nativity
Greetings and Introduction
Welcome to our Service of the Nativity. For some of us, this is a service that we are familiar with when it is traditionally held on Christmas Eve evening. It similar to our Candles and Carols service with the scripture readings and lighting of the Advent candles but with some additional elements such as communion and much more singing. I wanted to do this service a year ago but we substituted it with our annual Christmas program that had been cancelled a week earlier due to the weather.
As we begin this service and as we prepare for communion, I would have us focus on this question, ‘Where does Jesus belong?’ A question that is very appropriate for this season and important for everyday of our lives.
One of the reasons I have incorporated this service into our Advent calendar is to focus for a time on the manger scene. We hang the greens each year; we are told again each season that the candy cane has a very important meaning beyond being a mere sweet treat; we decorate the tree; we hear the Christmas story in a new way from our children; but I think that we need to come to the manger this morning because this is where we truly start the Christmas story.
As I prepared for this service, I realized that the word ‘journey’ is a part of the Nativity experience because with the possible exception of the shepherds, those who are a part of that holy night have left their homes and journeyed to Bethlehem.
Think with me for a moment about this. Though Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem, he traveled with Mary from Nazareth only because he was required to. We do not know where Mary was from, perhaps Nazareth but there is no indication that she was from Bethlehem.
Maybe the shepherds were from the area but their profession is one of wandering to wherever the food is for their flocks. The wise men, who came later, journeyed from a long distance to find the new King. Then there was Jesus who came from heaven to earth.
All were on a journey as we are. Let us begin that journey again this morning to the manger with readings from the Bible and the lighting of our advent candles.
Tausha and Kara _____ are our scripture readers for this morning and will our candle lighters please be ready to come forward when the scripture passage for your candle is completed.
Reading of Psalm 46
Lighting of the First Advent Candle
Reading of Isaiah 35
Lighting of the Second Advent Candle
Reading of Philippians 5:5-11
Lighting of the Third Advent Candle
Reading of Luke 1:67-79
Lighting of the Fourth Advent Candle
Let us sing together ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!’
Congregational Song: Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
As we continue our journey let us first hear Mary’s story.
“It had all began some time ago when Mary and Joseph were making wedding plans. They dreamed of their future together. The love that united them seemed indestructible. Then, unexpectedly, Mary was encountered by a heavenly visitor” as we read in Luke 1.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and pondered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His Kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be the Son of God. . . . For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Will someone bring Mary to the manger?
Now we cannot forget Joseph, who was about to receive the shock of his life when he learns that his finance, who has been faithful to him and he to her, is pregnant! Joseph’s journey is about to take a turn in a new and challenging direction as we read in Matthew 1.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” . . . Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Will someone bring Joseph to the manger?
Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem
In Luke 2 we read, ‘And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to their own towns to be registered. And Joseph also went, out of the city of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was expecting a child.’
“It was a crowded city that night, Bethlehem, the city of David. People from all over had returned to the city of their fathers. Here they would register and a census would be taken. Joseph and Mary sought for a place to stay. An inn. A room somewhere, anywhere. A safe place from the chilly night air. But there was no place, no room in the inn. At the city’s edge was a stable, a place where animals could be protected and fed. There, in a stable, Mary and Joseph found warmth and protection. They would stay here until a new day brought light.”
The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-5
In Luke’s gospel we read, ‘So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in bands of cloth, and laid Him in a manager, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The birth of a child is an exciting, scary, and joyful time. Many different emotions and thoughts come into our minds when a new birth, either directly experienced or observed or heard about, occurs.
Our journey takes on a new dimension and a new direction. Life, new life, has occurred and life itself is forever changes.
The journey, an unexpected and perhaps unwelcomed one, by Joseph and Mary is forever changed when Jesus is born.
As we continue to linger at the manger, we are going to sing some familiar carols. We begin with the first verse of Away in A Manger.
As we sing, will some one bring Jesus to the manger?’
Congregational Song: Away In A Manager, Verse 1
God’s creation was a part of that Holy Night. The place of birth was not a comfortable and warm birthing room. It was in the midst of where animals were housed. There was nothing sterile about it! But, it was a marvelous place, full of life and activity.
Can’t you hear the conversation later in Jesus’ life when He was asked, ‘Where you born in Bethlehem?’ Yes. Was it at Bethlehem General? No, in a stall with the animals watching!
As we sing verse 2 will someone bring the animals to the manger?
Congregational Song: Away In A Manager, Verse 2
The Shepherds’ Story
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you; You will find a Child wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the heavenly host praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among all people!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the Child, who was lying in a manger.
Has anyone here ever had shepherds and angels at their birthday party? (I thought so.) That would be different wouldn’t? We come as we are to a birthday party, right? So did the shepherds and the angels! They came as they were that Holy Night! That is how the Lord wants us to come to Him, as we are.
As we sing our next song will someone bring the shepherds and the angels to the manger?
Congregational Song: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. (3 verses)
Earlier I asked us, ‘Where does Jesus belong?’ Our initial thought in the context of this morning would be, what? ‘In the manger?’ But is that the final answer? Is that the only answer? No, it is not.
Solo ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’
The Magi’s Story
I recently had a friend ask me, ‘How many wise men came to the manger?’ I blurted out ‘three’ then caught myself. ‘Wait, we really don’t know how many.’ In Matthew’s account (the only account of their visit) the number who visited is not mentioned. We may get three because of the carol that we will sing in a moment or from the fact that three gifts given to Jesus are mentioned by name – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These are mysterious people who are on a journey to find a new born king, the King of the Jews. There were on a search for truth. We too, are on a search for truth. But is truth found in power? Is truth found in wealth? Or is truth found somewhere else or in someone else?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; For from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and determined from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and pay him homage also.”
When they had heard the king, they departed; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it came and stood over where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had entered the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and fell down and paid him homage. Then opening their treasure chests, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
As we sing will someone bring the wise men to the manger?
Congregational Song: We Three Kings
We Gather at the Manger
I like what Monte Neighbors and Dennis Bratcher say as we look at the manger, ‘Heaven looked down on that Holy Night as a manger became an altar and a stable became a cathedral.’
This morning as we have communion, we are going to come forward and dip the bread in the cup. As you do so, take a moment to pause and look the manger and give thanks to God for the Christ Child who came to die for our sins and give us new life.
Congregational Song: O Holy Night