A Service of Lessons and Carols
First Lesson: Do We Need a Savior? Genesis 4:2a-9
Do we need a Savior? The median net worth for non-immigrant African-American households in the Greater Boston region is $8, according to “The Color of Wealth in Boston,” a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School. The household median net worth was $247,500 for whites; $8 for US blacks (the lowest of all five cities); $12,000 for Caribbean blacks; $3,020 for Puerto Ricans; and $0 for Dominicans (that’s not a typo either.)
Do we need a Savior?
Hurricane Harvey, in late August to early September, was the costliest tropical cyclone on record, inflicting nearly $200 billion (2017 USD) in damage, primarily in the Houston metropolitan area. Two weeks later came Hurricane Maria. At least 500 people have died because of the storm and it might be as many as 1000. We don’t know because the damage to infrastructure was so complete. Most of the island will get its power back by the end of next February, but some will not get it back until May.
Do we need a Savior?
As of early November, somewhere over 200 people had been murdered in mass shootings this year, 58 in October in Las Vegas, last month 26 in Texas.. and it is the 5th anniversary of the shooting of 20 little school children right over in Newtown CT. And what have we done about it?
Our world is struggling, and this struggle is nothing new. Hear this story from the book of Genesis:
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.
And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Second Lesson: How shall we live? Micah 6:6-8
Micah writes:“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Yes, there is a lot that is wrong in our world. But there is good news as well. Last January, when Victoria Islamic Center, a mosque in Texas, burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances, churches and synagogues offered space, money, and helping hands—raising more than a million dollars for the mosque’s rebuilding. They broke ground in May and by September they were distributing emergency supplies to victims of Hurricane Harvey.
In 2017, Church World Service, our agent of emergency assistance in the world, distributed 150,000 hygiene kids, about 25,000 school kids and almost 2400 cleanup buckets throughout the world. In Puerto Rico: working through the American Baptists, CWS shipped over 22,500 hygiene kits, almost 9,000 bungee cords, 2,550 school kits, 330 tarps, 200 cast iron stoves, and 50 propane tanks. Through the UCC, they are sending 5000 more hygiene kits, 1000 water filters and another 500 tarps.
There’s no way to count of good deeds, done in the name of Christ, all around our world. Love comes quietly, without much fanfare.
We will never know how many people turned what they heard in church into deeds at home. We will never know how many men didn’t harass a woman, how many people held the door open for a person coming after them, how many people made the day easier for a mom with a toddler, how many people stood up for the poor or dispossessed.
But we know that love was shared, Christ followed. For what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Third Lesson: What are we looking for? Isaiah 61:1-4
When Jesus began his ministry, as people listened to and became excited by his words and deeds, they began to look back into Scripture to find there the foundation of what he was proclaiming.
It was because he so modeled the words of the prophets such as Isaiah, that people began to proclaim him as the Messiah, as the one who would change their world. And even today, when we hear these words of the prophet Isaiah, we hear the message of Jesus to us all.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Fourth Lesson: Who will show us the way? Luke 1:26-38
One picture is worth a thousand words; meeting one good person can change a life. We’re not very good with abstract concepts; we all need pictures to help us imagine what life can be, to help us believe that life is more than Wordsworth’s “getting and spending”. And every really good picture has a backstory, something that will give it even more power, tell even more truth. Here’s part of Jesus’ backstory:
If you were God, if you were going to send your Son to change the world, how would you do it? Send him to a prosperous family? One with a passion for education? Money for good food? Enough prestige to give his ministry a head start? But who did God choose? And what does it say about how God saw Jesus’ mission, Jesus’ work, that the Savior of the world was born to an unmarried couple, refugees from political oppression? Listen to the beginning of the story of Jesus and think about why he was to come in this time, this place, this way.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
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 bear 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 to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Fifth Lesson: Jesus comes to live as one of us Luke 2:1-20
Born poor, homeless, soon a refugee fleeing to Egypt..
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. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galileeto 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.
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.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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!”
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. 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. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Sixth Lesson: They Went Home By Another Way Matthew 2:1-12
The first glimpse we have of Jesus’ power to turn the world upside down lies in this story of “wise men” (scholars, maybe, or Zoroastrian priests), who tactlessly told the current king, Herod, that his replacement had been born. The government was relentlessly corrupt, and, in the end, the wise men, refused to cooperate. They went home by another way.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling 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 so it has been written by the prophet: “And 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 is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another [way].
Seventh Lesson: What Does “Right” Look Like? Luke 10:25-28
In this story, Nicodemus asks the golden question, the one each one of us must ask of ourselves and of God. How will we live, which path will we choose, who will we follow, who will be our role model? What does “right” look like?
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Eighth Lesson: Light shines in the darkness John 1:1-14
And so, our Savior is born, bringing us a message of hope and light, a message with the power to change our world.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
May you have a blessed Christmas!