Our worship service this morning is offered through the United Church of Canada’s Mission and Service. It is oriented around Christmas carols, many of which aren’t typically sung on Christmas Eve.
We gather to once again hear the angels announce the good news of Jesus’ birth
To ponder the wonder of Jesus as Mary did when she held her child
To glorify God as the shepherds did when they saw love lying in a manger
To remember that Jesus’ love was an out-of-the-box kind of love.
On that first Christmas, the prophets knew Jesus would grow to love without limits
caring for strangers and friends alike
instructing followers to love their neighbours.
When Jesus said “Love your neighbour,” he meant everyone.
His love was so profound, that even from the very first day, the angels couldn’t keep from singing.
We’ve been singing along with the chorus of angels ever since.
Glory! Hallelujah! Christ is born!
Hymn “Angels, from the Realms of Glory” VU 36
O God, Christmas may be over but the celebration of all that Jesus means for us has just begun. Over 2,000 years ago, hope, peace, joy, and love came to light in the birth of the Christ child; by the fire of Jesus’ spirit, hearts like ours have been warmed ever since. And still today, we pray that love burns strong within us such that friends and strangers find comfort and warmth by its glow. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
So tell me, what was the favourite gifts you received this Christmas?
What is the favourite Christmas gift you ever received?
What is the best gift they gave?
What made those gifts so memorable?
Did you know that Boxing Day was originally a day focused on sharing and giving? There are two prominent ideas as to where the name Boxing Day came from and we will talk about them a little later.
This morning as we think about the gifts we have received and the gifts we have given, let’s also remember the gifts we continue to offer year round.
Let us Pray: Holy God, the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive. Inspire us to give joyfully just like Jesus did. Amen.
Intro: The book of Proverbs includes wise sayings about what matters most in life. Think of it as the elder in your family whispering a culmination of the most important things they have learned in their life to you. In this short excerpt from the third chapter, verses 21‒28, the writer speaks of wisdom and prudence and doing good when we have the power to do it. Listen to the Spirit speak to you through these wise words:
My child, do not let these escape from your sight: keep sound wisdom and prudence, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely and your foot will not stumble. If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
Intro: Psalm 148 is all about praise. It’s not just about how humanity praises God―it’s about how God is praised throughout the cosmos. The first verses talk about how the angels, stars, and lights of the heavens praise God. Then, the psalm focuses on how the earth, including the mountains, trees, and animals, glorify God. Finally, it concludes with us, God’s people. From the highest heavens to earthly creatures, when God is present, creation sings “Glory be to God on high.”
Sound familiar? You are right, the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven” when Jesus was born, and just like the heavens proclaimed God in Psalm 148, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth a star leads seekers to the stable. The idea is that when God is present, every element of the cosmos offers praise.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
Intro: Listen to the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke as though I’m reading it to you for the first time. You may even want to close your eyes and visualize the scene. Note the variety of ways characters in the story respond to the good news. Put yourself in their shoes. What would your response be? May God bless us with insight as we listen to a reading from our sacred scripture:
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.
What do you typically do on Boxing Day? Fall into a turkey coma? Hit the sales? Tidy up the aftermath of company and presents?
After the shepherds visited the Holy Family and shared what the angels had told them about Jesus, namely that he would bring good news of great joy, scripture says Mary “treasured” their words and “pondered” them in her heart. In other words, she grew quiet and reflective. On the other hand, the shepherds went on their way glorifying and praising God. Treasure. Ponder. Glorify. Praise. All appropriate responses to receiving profound news.
In Matthew’s gospel, the magi arrive on the scene offering gifts. Their response to hearing the news of Jesus’ birth was to offer a gift that symbolizes who Jesus was and what he would become.
Boxing Day is a good day for “treasuring” the Christmas story and “pondering” the call it places on us. It is a good day for glorifying and praising. It’s a great day to contemplate generosity. As we will see after we sing, Boxing Day was originally a day to give.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.
Before Boxing Day came to be associated with turkey sandwiches, football, and discounts, it was known as a day to serve those who are poor. There are various theories about how Boxing Day came to be.
One theory suggests it came from the practice of giving Christmas boxes to servants along with a day off following Christmas. Another theory suggests that the tradition came from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era wherein alms boxes placed in churches were given to those who were living in poverty on the Feast of Saint Stephen, a Christian martyr known for charitable acts. Incidentally, the feast of Saint Stephen falls on the second day of Christmastide which is December 26th. In some churches, Saint Stephen is celebrated today.
Regardless of which historical thread you follow, Boxing Day was always meant to be a day for contemplation and generosity. This morning, I would invite you to align yourselves with the roots of this day, a day that calls us to compassion.
Infant holy; infant lowly; for his bed a cattle stall,
oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the babe is Lord of all.
Swift are wringing angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing;
Christ the babe is born for all. Christ the babe is born for all!
Christ―the greatest gift of all―was born for all. He made that clear in the life he would grow up to lead. In his life, he fulfilled the angels’ promise that he would bring “good news of great joy for all the people.” Notice the scripture doesn’t say “some of the people.” It says “all of the people.” Just because someone lives next to us doesn’t mean we should care more for them than we do someone who lives a block, a city, or a country away. God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. When Jesus was asked who our neighbour is, he essentially said everyone.
Our collective Mission & Service strives to accomplish three things: to help transform and save lives, inspire meaning and purpose, and build a better world. As Christ followers, we aren’t only interested in how our neighbours who are living doing down the street are doing―we are called to care for the whole human family, including those living across Canada and around the world. As a United Church, we share our resources so we can have a bigger impact than any one of our churches could have alone. After we sing our next carol, I want to share David’s story with you because it illustrates just how important it is that our generosity isn’t constrained by artificial borders of geography or even judgment.
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
If anyone needs to hear great, glad tidings, it’s people like David who experience Christmas as one of the loneliest times of year. This is David’s story.
“Ten years ago, my wife and I were living our dream, running a successful catering business in Vancouver. But that was before a drunk driver took my wife’s life,” says David.
And that was just the beginning. “The heartbreak was still fresh for me when, six weeks later, a work accident claimed the life of my 23-year-old son. In the blink of an eye, he was gone. A few months later, I got a call that my daughter’s car had veered from the road. By the time she was found, she’d frozen to death.”
In five months, David’s entire family was gone, and he turned to substances to numb the pain.
“My rock-bottom came when I was arrested for carrying drugs. In jail, I had a lot of time to think about the man I wanted to become. I knew I needed to make some huge changes if I wanted to be happy again and become the man my beloved wife and kids knew me to be,” he says.
The Bissell Centre—supported through your Mission & Service gifts—was the first place David went to when he was released. “The staff greeted me with kindness. Instead of judging me, they welcomed me and handed me a warm plate of food. The staff told me about their mental health and housing support programs, and I was blown away. For the first time, I realized that I didn’t have to rebuild my life alone,” he says.
Your generosity through Mission & Service helps people like David start over. In their most painful hour, it is one of the ways you and I tell them that they matter to us and they matter to God. Is there any better gift than to let someone know they are valued and loved just as they are?
All poor ones and humble and all those who stumble,
come hastening; and feel not afraid;
for Jesus, our treasure, with love past all measure,
in lowly poor manger was laid.
Though wise men who found him laid rich gifts around him,
yet oxen they gave him their hay,
and Jesus in beauty accepted their duty, contented in manger he lay.
Then haste we to show him the praises we owe him;
our service he ne’er can despise;
whose love still is able to show us that stable,
where softly in manger he lies.
At the beginning of this series of reflections, I asked what you typically do on Boxing Day. Do you fall into a turkey coma? Hit the sales? Tidy up the aftermath of company and presents?
If you give to others through Mission & Service, or through any other charitable organization, I want you to know that you are doing much more than any of these.
Right now, your generosity is restoring dignity; putting food on a table and a roof over a head; letting someone know they aren’t alone; and providing education, agricultural training, and life-saving advocacy. For some, your generosity means a second chance at life.
Through your gifts, you are bringing great joy.
Treasure that thought today. Treasure knowing that you are making a difference. On this day that has somehow morphed into a day of after Christmas shopping sales, you are giving the best gift of all―compassion.
May God bless us with wisdom to appreciate all that we have and all that we have to give. Like Mary, the shepherds, the magi, and Jesus himself, let’s go into the new year treasuring, pondering, glorifying, praising, and giving. Let’s take love out of any boxes we put her in. Amen.
Although we cannot offer our gifts in person today, please remember that your gifts are still essential for our church and for our wider world. And so, as we think about all that we have to offer others, let’s see our offertory hymn.
Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, Gloria, alleluia, alleluia.
Glory to God, glory to God, glory in the highest!
Glory to God, glory to God, hallelujah, hallelujah!
Glory to you, O God! Glory to you for all the ways this offering supports the work of our church. Glory to you for all the ways these gifts extend care in our neighbourhood. Glory to you for all the ways our support transforms and saves lives through Mission & Service. Glory to you, O God! Amen.
Intro: With the rush of Christmas just past and New Year’s on the horizon, many of us would benefit from slowing down and listening for fresh ways Jesus inspires us to live generously. I invite you this morning, to intentionally join with me in moments of silent prayer, setting aside the hustle and bustle of the season to be attentive to the Spirit. Let us pray;
Loving God, on this day that has become so much about buying and getting deals, we ask that you turn our attention to gratitude and generosity―gratitude for what we already have and generosity to give what we can. Quiet us now to open our hearts to you as we come before you in prayer. (pause)
In the silence of our hearts, we open ourselves to listen for one way you are calling us to give of our time this week. (silence)
In the silence of our hearts, we open ourselves to listen for one way you are calling us to share our talent or ability this week. (silence)
In the silence of our hearts, we open ourselves to listen for one way you are calling us to be generous with what we have this week. (silence)
God, inspire us to live generously, not boxing in what we have to offer but sharing it with our family, friends, and neighbours at home and around the world. When we are tempted to limit love, open our hearts and minds. Stir our hearts to care deeply, to live compassionately, to astonish the world with your love.
In the way of the One who taught us what it means to love our neighbour, we pray: Our Father/Creator… (The Lord’s Prayer).
Nothing boxed in Jesus’ love. Not rules, not borders, not petty disagreements. We too are called to let love break loose in and through our lives.
As we leave our worship this morning, may God bless us to live with a caring and daring love, one that not only knows it is better to give than to receive but also that it’s in giving that we do receive.
And may God who is our Creator and Jesus Christ who is our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer bless us to live generously today and in all the days to come. Amen.