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This coming Sunday is Christmas Day. Personally, I cannot think of many better ways of spending Christmas Day than with the family of God, rejoicing in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The holidays are often set aside for gathering together as families, and gathering with families is a good thing to do. But if we forget the spiritual dimension of these special days or if we neglect the reason for all the festivities, we are horribly and tragically missing the point of these great days set aside by Christians. That said, the call to worship, taken from the words of Zechariah the priest in Luke 1:68-69, sets the joyful tone of our Christmas worship this Lord’s Day: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David! What a joy it is to set aside all the business of this time of year, and to gather with likeminded believers, and to rejoice in the God who became flesh for our salvation! He is blessed, for he has visited us through the seed of David! This Savior is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our Lord! So, as the hymn says, “O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!” I’ll see you on Sunday!
In the prayer service, we will gather together for a special time of Scripture readings, prayer, and carols. I hope you’ll join us.
The sermon this Sunday considers the message of the angels to the shepherds. The annunciation to the shepherds is filled profound truths that stagger the believer as he listens closely. It was a message that transformed the shepherds from being “filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9) to being miniature “angels” in their own right (Luke 2:17). The angel’s message is the message of Christmas, and so it will do us good to hear it again afresh this Lord’s Day.
Call to Worship: Luke 1:68-69
Hymn 99 [Blue] Angels, from the Realms of Glory
Ministry of Music: On this Day Earth Shall Ring
Congregational Reading: 1 Timothy 3:16
Doxology: Diademata, Red 293
Hymn 243 [Red] O Come, All Ye Faithful
Hymn 248 [Red] The First Noel
Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 34 & Luke 2:1-21
Ministry of Music: What is that Goodly Fragrance? This traditional French carol (which will be sung by the adult choir) is somewhat unusual. In the first verse, the words of the carol adds something to the Christmas story that we don’t really find in the birth narratives. Whence is the goodly fragrance flowing, stealing our senses all away? Never the like did come a-blowing, shepherds, in flow’ry fields of May. The words describe an ancient idea that captured the imagination of older Christians, that when the angel appeared to the shepherds in the middle of winter, their sight and hearing were not the only senses overwhelmed—even their sense of smell was overrun with the presence of the heavenly messengers. You can see this idea in another old carol, “What Sweeter Music,” by Robert Herrick (1591-1674): “Why does the chilling winter’s morn / smile, like a field beset with corn? / or smell like a meadow newly-shorn, / thus, on the sudden? Come and see / the cause, why things thus fragrant be: / ‘tis He is born, whose quickening birth / gives life and luster, public mirth, / to heaven, and the under-earth.” These ideas were also derived from the Song of Solomon (which was often—though incorrectly—interpreted spiritually by older generations of Christians a love poem about Christ and the church) and its repeated allusions to the sense of scent. In sum, the idea of this carol is a poetic symbol that may or may not have happened. Its historicity in this sense is not as important as what it represents, that in Christ’s birth the Son of God brought life to a world in the cold of winter.*
Hymn 234 [Red] God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Sermon: With the Angels Let Us Sing from Luke 2:10-14
Hymn 236 [Red] Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
No Sunday School. Merry Christmas!
* Special thanks to Chuck Bumgardner and Chris Ames for shaping and expanding my thinking on the carol What is that Lovely Fragrance?