Christmas Eve – December 24

The Word

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Sacrament of Baptism

Reflect

By David Roden

I was part of two productions of Godspell when I was in college. In one, I played the part of Jesus and needed to memorize major sections of the Gospel of Matthew. It was an uplifting and rewarding experience that has stayed with me my whole life. But do you and I find passages like this uplifting? This one is harsh and demanding. Do we, like the Pharisees, believe our salvation is assured and nothing more is required of us? Are we producing good fruit or enough fruit? Are we just chaff?

Passages like this remind me of a perspective of God and faith that resonates for me in “Christian Doctrine” by Shirley Guthrie. I particularly like his characterization of God as Just Loving and Loving Justice. This juxtaposition describes well what I believe about God. God is Love and Justice at the same time in perfect balance. God is like a good parent who loves the child to death, but at the same time knows that hard lessons are necessary for the child’s own growth and development. The child needs and wants boundaries and may ultimately only recognize the full depth of love when the parent is truly angry with the child’s behavior.

At the same time, justice needs compassion to be truly helpful. Strict legalistic justice is not loving justice. It is blind, uncaring justice that focuses on the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law. Loving justice sees the bigger picture—the ultimate goal of redemption and reconciliation—and does everything in its power to heal rather than simply punish.

So I start with the belief/assumption that the nature of God is Just Loving and Loving Justice. For me, this is fully confirmed by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. When I use this lens to read and interpret the Bible, the angry God of the Old Testament and John the Baptist is more palatable, and the role of Jesus Christ is clear. Israel as the chosen people and you and I are chosen by Christ to be made new, to be a light in the darkness, to prepare the way of the Lord. We are not chosen for privilege. We are chosen to serve and show forth the love and justice of God to the world. We are clay in the potter’s hands. We are perfected through God’s work, God’s love, and God’s refining fire.

Listen

By Dr. Ben Hutchens

“What Child Is This?” is a famous and traditional Christmas carol crafted in 1865. The lyrics were composed by William Chatterton Dix, the son of a surgeon residing in Bristol, England. William spent most of his life as a businessman in Glasgow, Scotland, working at the managerial level of the Maritime Insurance Company. He was greatly enticed by traditional English folk songs. And when he started writing the lyrics for “What Child Is This?,” he decided to utilize the melody of “Greensleeves” to create the carol. 

The lyrics were inspired by one of William’s verses titled “The Manger Throne.” It urges humanity to accept Christ. The eloquent melody is haunting, and its beautiful essence reiterates the “Adoration of the Shepherds” who paid a visit to Jesus during the nativity. The lyrics pose questions that reflect what the shepherds might be pondering about during the encounter and subsequently offers a response to such questions. 

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

The first stanza is heavily influenced by his contemporary romantic poets and flirts ceremoniously along the edges of emotionalism. The carol starts with a rhetorical question, condensing the concept of childbirth within a single paragraph. The poet has successfully painted a classic picture of the nativity – the child Christ sleeping on mother Mary’s lap, as the angels and shepherds provide the background score with “Anthems Sweet” and “Watch and Keep” respectively.       

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

The second stanza offers a momentary reference to “mean estate,” or less than an ideal condition. The poet registers similarity with the first stanza with another rhetorical question. He wonders why the child Christ should be displayed in such a humble environment. The poet tries to decipher the answer analytically,  and reasons that the “mean estate” that refers to the birth of Christ has its roots entangled with his future sufferings. The second stanza alludes to the anguish and distress of Christ’s future.     

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

The poet utilizes the final stanza to expand the emphasis on the people attending the humble scene. He draws inspiration from the Epiphany season and focuses on the metaphorical gifts that are being bought for the infant. His setting flouts the conventional structure of time quite comprehensively, like everyone, starting from the “king” or the “peasant” is offered an equal chance.