Sunday, December 24, 2017: Christmas Eve

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Joy is a net of love by which you catch souls.”

(by Mother Teresa)

PRELUDE:Still, Still, Still” (arr. Chip Davis)WELCOMING WORDS: from Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-RobertsonGood Evening, and a warm and Merry Christmas to you!

I am Rev. Anita,

Welcome to Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church.

Whoever you are, wherever you came from, whatever your faith is, whatever is going on in your life – you are welcome in this lively religious community. We’re proud to be a Welcoming Congregation, which means we welcome those of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We’re also pleased to have earned the Green Sanctuary designation, which means we seek to live in harmony with our environment, and we extend that practice into our individual lives.

We’re glad you’re here to worship with us this evening, and we invite you to join us for coffee and conversation in the Parish Hall after the service. We do ask that you turn off your cell phones, and remember to wear your name tag.

If you are a visitor, please take a colorful mug at coffee hour so that we may more easily identify you and welcome you.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Come all ye faithful

In this darkest of the nights.

Come all ye faithful

In the chilly season of the year,

Come

if your hearts are filled with love and cheer.

Come

if you ache with pain or fear.

Come into this circle of hope and joy.

Let the service heal and lift you.

Let the promise of love rise within you.

And the blessings of peace surround you now and in the days to come.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

CONGREGATIONAL INTROIT:O Come, All Ye Faithful” (see insert)

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Kate S. & Calla G.

In the darkness of the night,

We kindle our light

In the coldness of winter,

We kindle our warmth

Despite sorrows we bear,

We kindle our hope

With this chalice of wonder and joy

We rejoice that life and love are born again.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

INTRODUCTION TO NATIVITYCHRISTMAS NATIVITY STORYCAROL:Once in Royal David’s City” (see insert)

READING: Luke 2:1 – 7

CAROL:It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (see insert)

READING: Luke 2: 8 & 9

CAROL:Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (see insert)

READING: Luke 2: 10 – 14

CAROL:Angels We have Heard on High” (see insert)

READING: Luke 2: 15 – 16

CAROL:Away in a Manger” (see insert)

READING: Luke 2:17 – 20

CHORAL ANTHEM:Walk in the Light” (arr. André Thomas)

READING: selections from Matthew 2:1 – 9

CAROL:Go Tell It on the Mountain” (see insert)

READING: Matthew 2: 11

CAROL:The First Nowell” (see insert)

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

Christmas Nativity plays are a tradition. We love them! Every year we look forward to them, young and old alike. When we are children many of us are impatient, eagerly waiting until we are bigger and can have more major parts. When we are grownups we delighted to watch the children each year as they shine, playing the different parts in the story. It’s not that different in other churches, other towns and cities.

For years now whenever Christmas Nativity plays are talked about in one certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was 9 that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when the uncoordinated Wally would ask to play ball with them.

Most often they’d find a way to keep him off the field, but Wally would hang around anyway – not sulking, just hoping. He was a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas nativity play that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the crooks and crèches, of beards, crowns, halos, and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.

What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

We seek lodging.

Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.

Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.

There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely, you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

No! Be gone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.

No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Be gone!

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purlings’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.

Some people in town thought the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others – many, many others – who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.[1]

What do you think? Now – looking back?

Was the pageant ruined? Or was it saved – saved from routine and pushed into being startlingly meaningful?

And what would you have thought if you were sitting there, that night, that Christmas Eve in the Midwest? Might you have thought differently then, when you were surprised, and the thing you expected and to which you had looked forward, didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen?

What if it had happened here? Tonight? When our children who have been practicing had the show changed by one unusual kid’s behavior? And then some of them got flustered. And people laughed when they weren’t supposed to laugh?

Would we have been able to see that the change, the “mistake” was actually the embodiment of the real Christmas message? Would we have known it right then, or would we have had to think about it when we went home, after being frustrated or annoyed, or sorry for Wally’s parents who might have been embarrassed?

This is exactly the very problem with most Christmas celebrations, and the beautiful Christmas Eve Service in which we are engaged right now.

The real story that we are remembering and retelling wasn’t comfortable or pretty. It wasn’t predictable. It wasn’t safe, as we are safe in a warm and attractive sanctuary, about to light candles and sing beautiful songs. It was a story of travel into the unknown, of fear and danger, and best guessing what to do next.

It was a story of vulnerability and of exposure, and of the ways in which an assortment of people for no other reason than compassion, reached out and touched the vulnerable, the little family, to ensure they were safe in the barn, then safe as they left, people who helped them when they went into hiding in the land of Egypt, until the death of Herod when it was finally safe for them to return. It is a story of common people, refugees, protected by those whose names we know not, but who loved and protected them, without fanfare or reward, just because they cared; people like Wally, moved to compassionate acts by the needs before them, and blessed with the willingness to engage.

It is a good Christmas story. Calling us to compassion and care and welcome.

May we be so blessed, that the real Christmas story might live in our house too.

Amen.

OFFERTORY:O Holy Night” (Adolphe Charles Adam) Soloist: Dan G.

READING:For So the Children Come” (No. 1061) Speaker: Don B.

SERVICE OF SPREADING OF THE LIGHT:Night of Silence” ( Daniel Cantor) sung by MUUC Choir

CANDLELIGHT CAROL:Silent Night” (traditional)

TIME OF STILLNESS

CLOSING WORDS: (by Howard Thurman)

“When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart.”
CLOSING CAROL:Joy to the World” (# 245)

BENEDICTION

POSTLUDE:O Little Town of Bethlehem / We Three Kings/ In Dulci Jubilo” (arr. Farber)

[1] Dina Donahue “Trouble at the Inn”, originally printed in “Guideposts” magazine in 1966. Reprinted with permission in Christmas in My Heart in 1996.