The Unexpected Gift

Readings, Scripture, and Songs for Christmas Eve
These readings were prepared for a Christmas Eve service at Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but the service was canceled due to the weather. But, God continues to show up and work through the unexpected, and the author offered them to Reformed Worship to publish. May these readings help you hear the Christmas story anew and encounter a God who continues to surprise each of us.

Reading 1

A decree. A census. Quirinius. If you’ve heard the Christmas story from Luke 2 enough times, you might think to yourself, “Enough with the names and the geopolitics—let’s get to the good part!” Or maybe it’s the first time you’ve heard it, and you are wondering why a Christmas celebration sounds more like a history lesson. But these opening verses are so important because it is history. It happened in history! There are many feel-good holiday stories out there—probably a hundred or more on TV and streaming services just tonight. But they aren’t real. This one is. And Caesar? Well, he was real too, and really important. It took an important person to set the wheels in motion for this census that opens the Christmas story—a moment that would bring a man and his young wife to Bethlehem. But here’s the twist: Caesar’s also not that important at all. There’s only one wheel-turner. The rest of us—even the Caesars—are just people. We’re all human. Was Caesar so wrapped up in the world around him, the world he claimed for himself, that he lost sight of that? What about us? We’re not emperors sitting on thrones, but each of us has a throne right here [point to heart] that we all, at times, claim is ours and ours alone. Are we so wrapped up in the world around us and our own dreams and desires that we can’t see what’s happening? The one eternal, holy, creator God is sending the greatest gift: Immanuel—God with us. The divine is reaching down to us and meeting us here in this moment of history. It’s not just a story from the past. This moment, this baby, changed history and is still changing the lives of those who make him room.

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:1–20

Suggestions for a Sung Response
“Still, Still, Still” Evans, GtG 124
“Creator of the Stars of Night” Neale, LUYH 71, GtG 84
“Imagine” Getty, LUYH 72
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” Wade, LUYH 76, GtG 133, SSS 96

Reading 2

Rome was caput mundi—the capital of the world, the ancient “Big Apple,” if you will. People of prestige, position, and power were in Rome. But a prophecy of old pointed elsewhere. The first dwelling place of the holy infant, the promised king, was . . . Bethlehem. That’s a big clue that this isn’t the kind of king we tend to picture: one with a crown and flowing robe, sitting on a throne, introduced with a trumpet fanfare. And, of course, it’s not the kind of mighty king we imagine wields power, a conquering hero bending others to the royal will. Jesus didn’t come to be that king. He bends himself, humbles himself, so that we might be lifted up and filled with joy and peace, now and forever. His kingdom is eternal.

Scripture Reading: Micah 5

Suggestions for a Sung Response:
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” Brooks, LUYH 88, GtG 121, SSS 80
“Once in Royal David’s City” Alexander, LUYH 87, GtG 140
“Away in a Manger” North Amer, LUYH 86, GtG 114, SSS 79

Reading 3

Sometimes we miss seeing things because
      they are small and seemingly insignificant.
Sometimes we miss them because
      they are unexpected or unlike our expectations.
Sometimes we miss them because we think
      we’ve seen or heard it all before.
Let us listen with open ears and open hearts
      to hear what God was about to do.
God’s plan is full of surprises.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1

Suggestions for a Sung Response
“O Holy Night” Cappeau, Dwight, WR 187
“What Child Is This” Chatterton, LUYH 95, GtG 145, SSS 105

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8–16

Suggestions for a Sung Response
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” Sears, GtG 123, SSS 89
“On Christmas Night” Wadding, LUYH 89, GtG 112
“Angels We Have Heard on High” Barnes, LUYH 82, GtG 113, SSS 93

Reading 4

Have you ever heard a piece of music that made you smile and weep and tremble all at once? Such an experience is likely rare for us. But that’s how I imagine an angel chorus sounds. I imagine those glorias filled the hearts of the shepherds with such delight that they couldn’t contain their joy. I imagine the angels spoke and sang with such awesome power that the shepherds felt as if their hearts might stop right then and there. I imagine a beauty so piercing it brought tears to the shepherds’ eyes because they knew—as sure as anything—that this moment changed everything. “A Savior has been born for you; he is the Messiah, the Lord!” Many kings have been greeted with trumpets and drums and cymbals. But angels? No earthly king has ever received this sort of welcome. Angels on a hillside would be hard to miss. Let’s not miss it either. Because Christmas is never really over. We welcome our Savior tonight, but we welcome him each and every day by making him room, receiving that great gift of love and life: Jesus, the Savior who is coming again.

Please stand in body or in spirit and let us sing together of the good news of great joy for all people.

Suggestions for a Sung Response:
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wesley, LUYH 80, GtG 119, SSS 94
“How Great Our Joy” Trad. German, LUYH 90
“Joy to the World” Watts, LUYH 92, GtG 134, SSS 94

Rebecca Tellinghuisen works at Trinitas Classical School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she serves as a Latin teacher, communications assistant, and resident readers theater scriptwriter, having developed a love for turning classic works of children’s literature into twenty-minute plays. She also writes prayers and meditations for her church, Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

Reformed Worship 149 © September 2023 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.