For our Christmas Eve service, we are going to do something a little different. Instead of having the service go live at our regular service time (in this case for Christmas Eve, that would be 7pm), this service will be live all day on the 24th, allowing you to view it whenever is most convenient for you.
The worship bulletin can be found here: http://graceburnaby.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Worship-Bulletin-for-Christmas-Eve.pdf
This will have the full order of service, all the words of the liturgy and the hymns, and the sermon in full (which is also found below the video).
There won’t be any Thanksgiving for Baptism or communion in this service, so you needn’t have a bowl of water or food with you (unless you want to), but you may have candles in your space to add to the ambiance. You may also have a taper candle of some sort ready to light during the singing of Silent Night near the end of the service. I’ll give instructions during the service itself.
Also, for Silent Night, you might remember that I was putting together a virtual choir for this. After a bit of work I’m glad to say that we got a good number of voices and it all fit together. So I’d like to thank those from our congregation that participated, as well as members from Gloria Dei (North Vancouver), Good Shepherd (Coquitlam), and Spirit of Life (Vancouver) Lutheran Churches for adding their voices to that particular hymn.
Now onto the service!
O Lord, as we make room for you in our hearts and minds this day, may we be enlightened by your wisdom, your grace, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Well here we are, Christmas, and we’re still in pandemic. Back in March when this whole thing started, I remember thinking that we’ll stay worshipping online until September-ish, and things would go back to how they used to be. And then someone told me that they didn’t think that we’d be in the clear for Christmas, and to be honest I kind of shuddered at the thought. Christmas online? How is that going to work? And here we are, Christmas.
So this isn’t a huge surprise, per se, but it sure is unusual. It’s different. It’s not something that we’d choose probably, but it is what we get. I remember way back in April when we were planning for Easter, a lot of people were scared that this pandemic would ruin the whole season, and some of my colleagues even said that we should postpone Easter and all its festivities until after the pandemic is over, which I’m sure they’re glad we didn’t follow through with because that was like 8 months ago. But in those fears of the pandemic taking Easter away from us, a lot of people alluded to the classic Christmas story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And while it was the wrong holiday in the spotlight, this story was used ad nauseam in illustrations, articles, and sermons showing how this coronavirus can try to steal Easter from us like how the Grinch tried to steal Christmas from the citizens of Whoville. COVID-19 tried to steal Easter from us by stopping us from gathering in our churches, singing together with our congregations, and participating in all the festivities that we’re normally used to, just as the Grinch tried to steal Christmas by taking away all the decorations, gifts, and other things that screamed Christmas to him. And as we all know, just like the Grinch, this coronavirus wasn’t successful. We still had Easter. It was different, but it was still Easter because Easter is more than the celebrations we make it out to be, more than the potlucks, the lilies, and the alleluias we sing. Easter is more than the traditions, the gatherings, and egg hunts. Easter is more than the whoosits and whatsits galore, and the coronavirus couldn’t take away what was in our hearts.
Touching, I know. And now that it actually is Christmas, I’m sure many preachers out there are going to pull the same trick, talk about how the Grinch equals the coronavirus which equals the darkness that we read about in these Christmas Eve texts, and how Jesus is the light that continued to shine in the hearts to Whos of Whoville in spite of losing everything, the light that will defeat this coronavirus in this actual season of Christmas, the light that this darkness can’t overcome.
And I’ll be honest, if I knew way back in April that we’d still be in the thick of this pandemic come Christmas, I probably would have planned to do the same, because it isn’t a bad sermon idea. Not original whatsoever, but it isn’t bad and it makes a lot of relatable sense because everyone pretty much knows the story of the Grinch. So it’s totally a sermon that I’d preach.
But I’m not going to. I mean, I already told you the goods so technically if I were to preach that sermon, I’d be done by now (which I’m sure all of you were hoping for). No, not this time, you’re not getting off that easily. I’m not going to preach that sermon because as time progressed in this pandemic, I’ve come to realise that while this coronavirus is a darkness that has plagued the world, there is another darkness that is perhaps even more dangerous. I’m not saying that COVID-19 isn’t a bad thing and we don’t need to take it seriously, but I’m saying that there is perhaps this other darkness that we might not have recognised or at least acknowledged really.
This darkness that I’m talking about is the unhealthy attitude that I read about in and around churches thinking that we are somehow above this virus. I’m talking about the churches that continued meeting in person even after the restrictions explicitly said that we were not to. I’m talking about the chasm that was formed between the sides of this pandemic fence that seems to have caused us to forget who we are and really what this season is about.
It just seemed like this whole pandemic really brought out the worst in some people.
It was like logic and consideration was thrown out the window and what took its place was this selfish closed-mindedness that defied sense. It seemed like there was just this darkness that descended on relationships, communities, and turned people against each other. And again, if I were being honest, this is what I saw in both sides of that metaphorical fence.
Clearly, it’s obvious on which side I’m on as you’re watching this service online. But I’m not innocent either. I’ve had those hard feelings against those with whom I disagree. I’m not free from that darkness that all of us would like to deny that we have in us.
This darkness isn’t new. It’s been around since the first humans became aware of the concept of good and evil. As soon as people learned how to harm others, the darkness began its manifestation in our lives. Just as we learned to act out of our anger and own self-righteousness, we have allowed this darkness to grow, to grab a hold of us, and reign in our hearts. This is the darkness that came with the pandemic. This is the darkness that I see in the finger pointing and animosity toward the different reactions to the lockdown procedures. This is the darkness that some feel has taken over the church, pushed God out of our lives and country, and now threatens to snuff out Christmas and our traditions and celebration of it.
But that is the thing. The darkness can’t overcome the light. The darkness cannot win because the victory was had since the beginning when God created the light in the darkness and then ratified in the life and ministry of Christ. The darkness cannot snuff out Christmas because Christmas isn’t dependant on all the things we’ve lost, but remains in the hearts of relationship, the care of community, and the love that God has for us all, reflected unto each other in and through our lives full of grace and mercy.
And yeah, it’s different to worship online. I know because it’s different to lead worship online. It is different to have Christmas like this. It is different not being able to spend Christmas with our friends and families and communities. But just because it’s different, it doesn’t make it any less Christmas. The difference doesn’t negate the fact that the Word was made flesh and God appeared to be with us through the Emmanuel. The difference cannot defeat this light.
See, just as Easter isn’t dependant on all those things, neither is Christmas. Just as how the Grinch couldn’t ruin the holidays for the Whos, neither can this coronavirus ruin it for us. Just as the darkness of evil cannot overcome the light of Christ, nor can the darkness of difference and disagreement take away our ability to worship in our homes and be gathered and united with those in our communities and congregations even while being apart, knowing that God has loved us from before this, God loves us through this, and God will continue to love us after this pandemic ends.
It is Christmas because Christ is born. It is Christmas because we continue to proclaim this good news to all the world, pandemic or not, through our actions of care and compassion for the most vulnerable in our communities, as well as the strongest and most healthy. It is Christmas because God is present where two or more are gathered in God’s name. Whether it be in person or online, we are all connected by the love of God, stretched out beyond time and space, revealing to us our position in God’s kingdom and role in the body of Christ. It is Christmas because it is fuelled by the light of Christ, the light that no darkness, no infighting or disagreements, no pandemic could overcome.
So in this season of Christmas, may we continue to revel in the joy of the Christ child born, may we continue to welcome this love into our homes and our hearts, and may we embrace this light and be informed to live with faith and community, seeing each other as equally beloved children of God striving for peace and hope for all people. Thanks be to God. Amen.