The World Needed a Savior . . .
Call to Worship
With two readers.
People of God, today we worship a God of revolution;
a God who is in the business of turning our lives—
turning the world―right-side up.
The prophet Isaiah says:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
A branch, bearing fruit?
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”
Revolutionary, I tell you!
“He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.”
God is a God of revolution, turning our lives—turning the world—right-side up.
“They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious” (Isa. 11:1–10).
This revolutionary God is in our midst and he greets us with these words:
“Grace and peace to you from him who is,
and who was, and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness,
the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:4–5).
Advent Waiting and Lament
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in a land of deep darkness
a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2).
“Comfort, Comfort Now My People” (Isa. 40:1–5) LUYH 59, PsH 194, TH 197, WR 155, GtG 87
“An Advent Lament” LUYH 62
Lord, remember us,
Have regard for your covenant.
We need your redemption.
Where hands have
brought about destruction, desolation, and desecration,
where words have
condemned , betrayed, and deceived,
where silence has
concealed, isolated, and ignored—
O come, Emmanuel.
Shine light in the dark places,
speak peace in the lands haunted by violence,
and ransom your people.
As we remember
your steadfast love and faithfulness,
we wait expectantly;
we rejoice in your coming.
Melissa Haupt, 2012, © Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” LUYH 63, SNC 95
So God Came To . . .
A Sin-Filled Earth
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Humanity sins. We turn our backs on God—not just once, but again and again and again. And yet God in his mercy sends his Son, his own child, to Earth—this germ-infested, sin-ridden, God-rejecting place—to save us.
Song of Promise: “Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” LUYH 60, PsH 335
An Unwed Mother
Many of us are so familiar with the Christmas story that we fail to see just how revolutionary it really is. God coming to Earth? The God of the universe coming as a baby, helpless and vulnerable? Born not just of any mother, but an inexperienced and, some would even say, an unfit mother, young and unwed? But God chose her. And Mary said “yes” knowing not only that her life was about to be turned upside down and inside out, but that with Christ’s birth the whole world was about to turn.
“My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout” LUYH 69, PFAS 462
The world was about to turn because our God is a God of the unexpected. You would expect a king to be born in the largest city, in the best hospital, with the best doctors in attendance. But King Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, just as the prophet Micah had foretold:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” LUYH 88, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180, GtG 121
You and Me
Maybe the most startling of all things about Christ’s birth is that he came for you and me. You and me. If we’re honest, even on our best days we don’t look that good next to Christ. Too often we hunger and thirst after all the wrong things, and we suffer. We suffer because of our own sins and because of the sinful world around us. And yet, despite all our failings, all our needs, Christ still chose to come to us, to suffer, to walk where we walk, and to call us to his side, just like a father to his child.
“Imagine” LUYH 72
“Lord, You Left Your Throne” Emily Elliott
Lord, you left your throne
and your kingly crown
when you came to this earth for me,
but in Bethlehem’s home
there was found no room
for your holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
Emmanuel, come to me.
Heaven’s arches rang
when the angels sang
proclaiming your royal decree,
but to lowly birth
you came here on Earth,
and in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
Redeemer, be born in me.
You were sent, O Lord,
with the living word
that should set your people free;
but with mocking scorn
and with crown of thorn,
they bore you to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
your cross is my only plea.
When the heavens shall ring
and the choirs shall sing
at your coming to victory,
let your voice call me home
saying, “Yes, there is room!”
There is room at your side for me.
Then my heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
when you come and you call for me.
Words: Emily Elliott (1836–1897); words and music adapted by Michael Perry (1942–1996). © Word and Music/Jubilate Hymns. Used by permission.
And the Good News Went First to . . .
Christ was born in an out-of-the-way place, to an unlikely mother, to save the likes of you and me. You would think that such a front-page-worthy story would receive some legitimate attention from the major movers and shakers of the day. Instead, on a night that seemed like any other night, the greatest, most world-changing event was announced to a group of uneducated and unsophisticated third-shift workers. Once again society had it all wrong; what seems ordinary is actually extraordinary—including the Christ-child. The world was a-turning, that’s for sure.
“On A Night Like Any Other” James Hart Brumm
For the purpose of this service you may wish to sing the stanzas in the following order: 3, 2, 1, and 4. This text can be sung to the tune IRBY, most commonly used with “Once In Royal David’s City.”
On a night like any other,
tending sheep out in the field,
tired shepherds, fighting boredom,
hear salvation plans revealed.
Just an ordinary night,
turned around by God’s own Light.
In a town like any other,
crowded streets and shops and inns
cradle common, earthbound wishes
while a godly dream begins.
Mingled with our daily cares
grows the Glory God prepares.
From a girl like any other,
young and pregnant, far from home,
nagged by worries and misgivings,
did our God Incarnate come.
Through a normal, healthy birth,
Christ our Lord invaded earth.
As a child unlike all others
(great I AM in swaddling bands!),
all-creating power rested
in created, human hands:
source of life and light and joy,
just an ordinary boy.
Words: James Hart Brumm © 2001 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc. Used by permission.
“How Great Our Joy” LUYH 90
“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” LUYH 93, PH 29, PsH 356, TH 224, WR 218, GtG 136
“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” PH 58, PsH 215, TH 222/223, WR 228, GtG 117/118
“The First Noel” PH 56, WR 229, GtG 147
We shouldn’t be surprised. God made it very clear to Abraham and to the Israelites: They might be his chosen ones, but only so they could be a blessing to others. It was never God’s intent to be exclusive. So why are we always surprised when others get the message before we do? Not only do they receive the message before us like the shepherds did; they understand the message before we do like the Magi did. That star didn’t appear just to them. That star was up there for all the world to see. But it wasn’t the clergy who got it; it wasn’t the smartest in the land who worked for the government. No, it was the outsiders, the Gentiles, the unclean star-gazers who understood. The Magi saw and were courageous enough to follow and then worship the Christ-child, God incarnate.
“De tierra lejana venimos/From a Distant Home” LUYH 106
Suggestion: To help tell the story, use a small ensemble to sing stanza 1 and a different soloist for stanzas 2–4, with the congregation singing the refrain.
“We Three Kings of Orient Are” PH 66, WR 233, GtG 151
And God Became . . .
A child. Why a child? God could have appeared on Earth as a full-grown man, yet he chose to come as a vulnerable, helpless child.
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isa. 11:6).
Indeed, the world is about to turn!
Optional Reading: “Surprise” (see sidebar)
God always keeps his
though in ways sometimes unexpected.
They thought through the
Would he glow
Would he cry
Would gravity hold
Were Mary and Joseph
Or perhaps a little
disappointed . . .
when out of her
came a child so
Sam Gutierrez, God Birth Poems, © 2013. Used by permission. Reprints permitted in non-commercial use in worship. tinyurl.com/y8ychhhn
“What Child is This” LUYH 95, PH 53, TH 213, WR 184, GtG 145
If it were up to us and we could live anywhere and be born into any socioeconomic class, we would probably choose a beautiful home and a family that, if they weren’t crazy rich, at least were well-off with a sizeable savings account and a cottage on the lake. Of course we didn’t have any choice as to the family we were born into, but God did. God could have chosen to be born to the head of a synagogue or a well-respected high priest, but instead he was born to a hard-working carpenter and his young wife. They managed, paycheck to paycheck, but they weren’t the family with the cottage on the lake, that’s for sure. Some would even say they were poor. If you compare Christ’s existence on earth to the splendor of heaven, it was a definite downgrade.
“Child of Joy and Peace”
Consider using the choral arrangement by David Haas/Lori True, available through GIA, or reading this poetic text.
Child of joy and peace,
born to every race—
by your star, the wise will know you,
East and West their homage show you,
look into your face,
child of joy and peace.
Born among the poor
on a stable floor,
cold and raw, you know our hunger,
weep our tears and cry our anger—
yet you tell us more,
born among the poor:
Every child needs bread
till the world is fed;
you give bread, your hands enable
all to gather round one table—
Christmas must be shared,
every child needs bread.
Son of poverty,
shame us till we see
self-concerned, how we deny you,
by our greed we crucify you
on a Christmas tree,
Son of poverty.
Words: Shirley Erena Murray © 1992 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL, 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Reprints permitted with an active license from CCLI, OneLicense or by contacting Hope Publishing Company (www.hopepublishing.com).
“Lord, You Were Rich Beyond All Splendor” LUYH 75
Our almighty God, sovereign Lord of the universe and all-powerful, laid aside that power and chose to flee the wrath and injustice of Herod. In fleeing to Egypt, Christ experienced his own exodus, his own experience of not fitting in, of being the outsider, the foreigner, and how the balance of power was never in his favor.
“Christ from Heaven’s Glory Come”
Sing to REDHEAD/GETHSEMANE/PETRA/AJALON
Christ from heaven’s glory come,
in a stable make your home.
Helpless new-born babe-in-arms,
dream of terror’s night-alarms.
Lullaby, my little love,
Herod’s troops are on the move.
Cradled on a mother’s knee,
immigrant and refugee,
talking, walking hand in hand,
homeless in a foreign land,
child of Mary, full of grace,
exile of an alien race.
Christ whose hand the hungry fed,
stones were yours in place of bread;
Christ whose love our ransom paid,
by a kiss at last betrayed;
friendless now, and nothing worth,
join the outcasts of the earth.
Soon the soldiers’ jest is done,
‘They will reverence my Son.’
On the gallows hang him high,
‘By our law he ought to die.’
Perished, all the flower of youth:
wash your hands, for what is truth?
Christ who once at Christmas came,
move our hearts who name your Name.
By your body, bring to birth
truth and justice, peace on earth,
sinners pardoned, love restored:
reign among us, risen Lord!
Words: Timothy Dudley-Smith © 1984 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Reprints permitted with an active license from CCLI, OneLicense or by contacting Hope Publishing Company (www.hopepublishing.com).
Prayers of the People
A reading from Luke 2:25–38: The Christ-child is the Savior of the world.
“All is Joy and All is Singing”
Sing to STUTTGART or another 184.108.40.206 tune.
All is joy and all is singing,
Christ the Lord is born today.
He good news to us is bringing:
he will take our sins away.
Now the earth in sin and error
Has a Savior from above!
In a place of war and terror,
Now is coming peace and love.
Every race and every nation
In his body can take part:
As true heirs of his salvation,
When Christ reigns within their hearts.
Words: Portuguese, João Carlos Hailer, English tr., João Wilson Faustini © 2006, Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc., for all countries of the world except Brazil and Portugal. Used by permission.
And As We Await His Return . . .
We Join in God’s Mission
Joining the mission of God,
the church is sent
with the gospel of the kingdom
to call everyone to know and follow Christ
and to proclaim to all
the assurance that in the name of Jesus
there is forgiveness of sin
and new life for all who repent and believe.
The Spirit calls all members
to embrace God’s mission
in their neighborhoods
and in the world:
to feed the hungry,
bring water to the thirsty,
welcome the stranger,
clothe the naked,
care for the sick,
and free the prisoner.
We repent of leaving this work to a few,
for this mission is central to our being.
Our World Belongs to God, 21 © 2008, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids MI. www.crcna.org. Reprinted with permission.
“O Baby Born in Bethlehem”
Sing to BETHLEHEM or another familiar 220.127.116.11 D tune
O baby born in Bethlehem, we sing about your birth:
You came to bring abundant life and justice to the earth;
To bring the gospel to the poor, to help the blind to see;
You came to heal the broken heart and set the captive free.
O baby born in Bethlehem, injustice still is strong;
And we who strive to do your will must learn to fight the wrong.
The greedy still oppress the poor, the hungry cry for bread;
And countless weary seek, in vain, a place to lay a head.
O baby born in Bethlehem, you grew to change the earth;
So may we grow in heart and mind, respecting human worth;
All earth’s resources let us share, rejecting waste and greed,
That we may find, as love demands, enough for every need.
O baby born in Bethlehem, we bring this gift to you:
We pledge to stand for right and good as you would grow to do;
To speak for those who have no voice, to shield the poor and weak,
To bring good news about your birth to all who justice seek.
Words: Beth Rice Luttrell © 1997 Selah Publishing Co. (selahpub.com). Used by permission. Reprints permitted with a license from CCLI or OneLicense.net.
Sending and Blessing
As you leave here today remember that
God is a God of revolution, turning our lives—turning the world—right-side up.
As Christ’s followers we are asked to join the mission that he has begun,
“ . . . to proclaim good news to the poor . . .
freedom for the prisoners . . .
recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).
Now go forth with God’s blessing:
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”
(2 Thess. 3:18).