I was there: Three 'witnesses' describe the birth of Jesus

Gathering for Worship:

We prepare for worship in the Gathering Space. Welcome!

Choir: "On Christmas Night" [Sussex Melody]

Processional: "Once in Royal David's City" [stanza 1, soloist; stanza 2, choir; stanzas 3 and 4, choir and congregation]
(PH 49, PsH 346, RL 201, TH 225)

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:2; 42:5-9

"Yes, I Was There": The Innkeeper's Wife

Hymn: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
(PH 1-2, PsH 329, RL 183, TH 196)

Solo: "Some Children See Him"

Scripture Reading: Luke 29:8; 15-20

"Yes, I Was There": A Shepherd Boy

Hymn: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"
(PH 37, PsH 353, RL 221, TH 216)

Choir: "The First Noel"

A Christmas Eve Litany:

If our lives are dry and parched, Lord, send the living waters of your Spirit:

To revive us,
to enliven us,
to bring forth new life.
Immanuel, come quickly.

If our times are empty and barren, Lord, grant us a rich harvest:

Send us home with sheaves of blessing,
fill us with your abundance,
and teach us to share the harvest with others.
Immanuel, come quickly.

If our bodies are weary and heavy laden, Lord, fill us with laughter:

Give us shouts of joy,
envelop us with your gladness.
Immanuel, come quickly.

If our lives are small and trivial, Lord, make us see great things:

Enlarge our vision,
widen our borders.
Immanuel, come quickly.

(based on Psalm 126)

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:9-14

Hymn: "Angels We Have Heard on High"
(PH 23, PsH 347, RL 206, TH 214)

"Yes, I Was There": An Angel

Choir: "Rejoice, Earth and Heaven"

Offertory: "A Little Shepherd"
(H. Rohlig)

Scripture Reading: John 1:1-14

"Yes, We Are There": A Word to the Congregation

Hymn: "Go, Tell It On the Mountain" [soloist sings verses; congregation on refrain]
(PH 29, PsH 356, RL 224, TH 224)

Recessional: "Silent Night" [choir sings stanza 1; congregation and choir sing stanzas 2,3, and 4 as we leave the sanctuary.]
(PH 60, PsH 344, RL 216, TH 210)

Service Notes

1. The service was first conducted in Trinity RCA, Holland, Michigan. The church has a large Gathering Space just outside the sanctuary; the congregation and choir gathered there before the service. The choir sang "On Christmas Night," and then the choir and congregation processed into the sanctuary, singing "Once in Royal David's City."

2. The parts of the innkeeper's ivife, the shepherd boy, and the angel are to be read by members of the congregation. The word to the congregation can be addressed by the pastor.

This service was prepared by Harry Boonstra, associate editor ofRWand theological librarian for Calvin College.

The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and Trinity Hymnal (TH).


Yes, I was there that night.

We'd had a busy day at the inn. People arrived from all over for the registration, and we were full by mid-afternoon. In fact, we had to turn away five families. But somehow I didn't have the heart to turn away the young man and pregnant young woman, so I fixed them a place to sleep in the barn. I could tell her time for delivery was close, so I stayed with her. A woman needs another woman at a time like that.

It was a night I'll long remember. The young mother told me some strange stories about her baby. At first I thought she was covering up her shady past, but later I started to realize that what she said might be true. After the baby was born, and we had swaddled him properly, there was a knock on the barn door. A bunch of shepherds came in with another bizarre story. They said that they had seen and heard angels who told them that this was a special child—a Savior not only of our people, but of all people!

We can sure use a savior. Times are tough. The soldiers are always roaming through town, and our children—especially our girls—are never safe. We feel like captives all the time. And although most of us can scratch out a living, some of the really poor may not make it through this winter.

There's also been a lot of fighting in the village lately, and our neighbor is carrying on with someone else's wife. So few people seem to walk in the way of the Lord anymore. These are dark and lonely times for our people.

But I do remember an old prophecy we hear at the synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives;
to comfort all who mourn,
to give the oil of gladness instead of mourning

Who knows? Maybe this baby will be involved in that wonderful freedom.

At any rate, it sure was a night I'll never forget.


Yes, I was there.

It was a night that began like most other nights I remember. My older brothers and I had taken care of the sheep many nights before. I was only eleven, but I had already learned a lot about sheep. I had once even chased away a lion. I was learning to become a good shepherd.

But this ordinary night soon became very unusual. I saw it first. Way up in the sky, I saw the light coming. Before long it was so bright, we could hardly stand it, and we were scared out of our wits. Then that voice—I'll never forget it. "Don't be afraid," the voice said, and it told us about a Savior. And then came those hundreds of other voices—the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard, a song about glory and peace. I don't cry much, but I sure got a lump in my throat when I heard that.

When they were gone, it was pitch dark and so quiet we could hear the sheep breathe. After a while I said, "Let's go." Some of the others weren't quite sure. "We can't leave the sheep; they may all be gone when we get back." But I told them I wanted to see that Savior. I was so excited, I was willing to take a chance—nothing like this had ever happened to me before. When I had convinced the others, we ran all the way into town and found the barn. And it was just as the angels had said! I'll never forget that night.

On our way back to the field, we told everybody we met about what we had seen and heard, and you can imagine their reaction. Some said we must have had a little too much moonshine, and others thought we were just making the whole story up. I told them I could never make up anything like that!

We were so happy on our way back to the field that we started singing psalms and some of the song that the angels sang. We're not the greatest singers, but it sounded OK.

It sure was a night I'll never forget.


Yes, I was there.

I was one of the angels in that choir. Of course, I'm not as important as Gabriel. He was sent on a few solo trips to Zechariah and Mary, and I'm not sure I'll ever get to carry those kinds of messages. But I did get in on the singing message.

At first I nearly started laughing when those shepherds saw us. I guess they had never seen an angel before. They were so scared they started running for the hills. But the angel of the Lord calmed them, and our song was so beautiful that they stayed and listened. We sang "Glory to God" over and over. I could have sung it all night.

Of course, our song told them only a little bit of the story. Gabriel told us the rest of it, but I'm not quite sure I understood it all. Our great God saw no other way to save the world, to bring wholeness back to the people— except by becoming one of the people. Somehow that baby we sang about is also God!

I must admit, it was a bit of a shock when we heard that God was going to be born in a barn as a helpless baby. We were even more shocked to hear that this baby/God may have to die. But we were overjoyed to learn that our God is going to come back to us as our great King.

I don't quite understand all of that, but when we were singing, I got the main point: God is going to straighten out the world. God's going to save his people from their crooked ways. God's going to bring peace. And, though it's hard to believe, this baby Jesus is going to be involved in it all. Even though I may not understand it, I'm going to keep singing about peace on earth, good will to all people, and glory to God.


You no doubt remember the old spiritual, "Were You There when They Crucified My Lord?" Tonight we're asking the same question about Jesus' birth. The innkeeper's wife was there. The shepherd boy was too. So was the angel. And their lives were all affected by the events of that wondrous night.

And, of course, we were not there. We are here, Christmas Eve, 199_. But we can still ask if and how our lives are affected by that wondrous night.

Like the innkeeper's wife, we're not always so sure that Jesus is for us. Is he for real? Does he make a difference? And we also know about the dark corners in our world. There are dark corners of fear and loneliness in the ghettos of our large cities. But there's also fear and loneliness in Zeeland and Pella, in Ripon and Lynden, in Sarnia and Surrey.

In all of these places, it's important that we say to ourselves and to each other, "This Christ child brings good tidings to the afflicted; he will bind up the brokenhearted. This Christ is for us too. We need and want to be near the Savior."

The shepherd boy was full of excitement after the angels sang their message. He could hardly wait to get to the stable, and he was willing to take some risks to get there. After his encounter with the Child, he went back to work whistling and singing, telling his story to all who would hear.

We, too, must show some of that holy impatience. We, too, must look for Christ's kingdom with eager anticipation. We want Christ to rule in our hearts and lives and in this world—NOW. But are we willing to take risks for the gospel? Are we willing to give of ourselves, our time, and our moneyófor the church, for those in need, for missions?

And after meeting Christ, do we tell our story of meeting him? On the way back to work, the shepherds said, "Guess what we heard! Guess what we have seen! Would you believe ...?" After we meet Christ in worship, in prayer, in Bible study, in meditation, do we go and tell? "Guess what I have seen! Do you believe there's an honest-to-goodness Savior?" That's part of our story, and we should make people wonder at what we tell them.

We also can identify with the angel. We are full of wonder, full of amazement. God loved so much! God cared so much that he gave his only Son—he gave himself. And that wonder and amazement makes us sing the angels' song two thousand years later.

Harry Boonstra (hboonstr@calvin.edu) is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 21 © September 1991 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.