"I Believe" Message from Christmas Eve - December 24, 2020
Worship Video - 5pm
Worship Video - 10:30pm
The east coast from Virginia to Maine got a whole lot of snow last week, in some places more snow than they got all last year. The scenes that people were posting on Facebook and Instagram and that we saw in the news could make us northern Californians pretty jealous. We’re spoiled by the fact that in normal times when we want snow in the wintertime, we can just drive a few hours and get to it. Not this year.
My brother-in-law who lives in Washington Heights in New York City, that’s on the far upper west side, like to post what he calls “ambient videos.” These videos are scenes from around New York, mostly his neighborhood, just the sounds of this very unique time in a city that usually hustles and bustles but now is much more quiet. Last week his video was out the window of their 6th story apartment, looking west across Broadway. The snow already looked about a foot deep and you could see the big snowflakes in the video. And hear the wind. An unusual New York City soundscape—no horns or sirens or traffic. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, someone commented on his post.
What did he mean, exactly? There weren’t any Christmas trees and the only flashing lights were the ones on the crosswalk countdown. No sound of singing, no Santas, just a quiet streetscape, blanketed in white….
This year we don’t have many of the things that make us feel like it’s Christmas. We haven’t been in the sanctuary, we haven’t sung carols together there, we’re not at Epworth tonight. And this year we so need Christmas, maybe more than ever.
So what did that commenter mean when he said it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas? He meant that he felt the magic. The video showed a world transformed, made new, at peace. And maybe our traditions have gotten us a little spoiled about Christmas, too. Trusting that we can rely on being in the sanctuary, and watching the kids enact the Christmas story to bring the magic, to make it feel like Christmas.
This year, it’s up to us, without our trappings or even some of our usual activities to make it look and feel like Christmas. It’s up to us to point to where the familiar characters are showing up, and to be those characters, too. Who are you in the story?
We long for the song of the angels. Their joy and delight, their beauty and sweetness. Guess what!? The angels have left the building. They are flying around and walking the streets and finding ways in and out. They are showing up, if we look for them.
I have a friend, she never ceases to amaze me. The timing of her calls and texts is uncanny, just when I need a lift, she’s there, sometimes before I’m conscious of it. She gives me beautiful gifts that surprise and bless me. When I reach out to her, she says she’s humbled to hear from me. She’s prayed for me in times of deep sadness or stress, and given me the gift of being able to pray for her by letting me know what is really going on. There are angels among us, let’s listen for them and also let’s be them, announcing that love is coming down from the heavens and is out of the building this Christmas.
The shepherds have left the building, too. Their compassion and care finds us when we go astray, and pulls us into the blessing and warmth of community, where ever we are by offering us acceptance and understanding. Who are the shepherds among us, looking for the least, the last and the lost? Who is reaching out when someone hasn’t been heard from, or asking what is underneath what is being said, listening for what is really going on? Maybe you are a shepherd. Or maybe you are one of the lambs, just grateful to be found, and to be included, for your cry to be heard.
Maybe you’re Mary, conscious of the gift for the world that you are bearing, and knowing that it will take your courage and perseverance and faith to bring it to fruition.
When we open ourselves to the gifts of these characters in the story, the magic of Christmas becomes real and present in new ways. The gift of Christmas comes through us, fresh and new. The gift of Christmas is love. To be faithful and courageous like Mary, it takes love. To be accepting and caring like the shepherds, it takes love. To share the joy of the angels, it takes love. And each Christmas we are reminded that that love is present, that love which we longed for and awaited is already here. And that love is coming again, renewed, fresh, magical.
On this holy night, we remember, and we realize that inside or outside the sanctuary, in the midst of a global pandemic, and maybe in spite of ourselves, God has broken into our lives in miracle and magic once again. God has become incarnate among us, as us. This is the gift. A miracle of love and it engenders in us, more love. And we feel a thrill of hope as our weary souls rejoice, wherever we are.
All we have to do is open ourselves to Christmas, and let this gift of love mingle with who we are and the miracle happens again, and again. As we reach out, act with generosity, with courage, with compassion, it’s not just beginning to look a lot like Christmas, it is Christmas. I believe in Christmas, even when it’s not snowing. I believe in Christmas even when we’re not in the building. I believe in Christmas because Christmas lives in me and in you, and through you and through me, and in all the miracles of redemption and transformation and love we witness and experience. I believe in Christmas because I have known the inbreaking of God into our lives, around every corner, in surprising, miraculous, mundane and magical ways. Merry Christmas. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - December 24, 2020
Christmas Eve - We Believe, Even Now!
SPECIAL PRELUDE MUSIC (10:30-11 PM)
Prelude: “Ave Maria” - Charles Lynch, soloist
Poem: “Christmas 04” by Charley Lerrigo, read by Pat Bruce Lerrigo (11 pm only)
Welcome & Lighting the Advent Wreath - Rev. Kristin Stoneking, pastor & Melani Gantes, soloist
Anthem: “I Believe” - Epworth Choir
Opening Prayer - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Advent Carol of Peace: “O Come All Ye Faithful” - Carol Baumbauer, alto saxophone
The Witness of Music - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Anthem: “O Holy Night” - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Charles Lynch
Lessons & Carols
Luke 2:1-5 - Alexander Naar
O Little Town of Bethlehem (UM Hymnal #230) - Michele & Jonah Arreola-Burl
Luke 2:6-7 - Diane Downs
Away in a Manger (UMH 217) - Michele & Jonah Arreola-Burl
Luke 2: 8-14 - Orion Lacey
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (UMH 240) - Anjuli Arreola-Burl
Luke 2:15-18 - Viki Alvarado
What Child Is This (UMH 219) - Erin Adachi-Kriege & Judy Kriege
Luke 2:19-20 - Barbara Vaughan
Message: “I Believe” - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Advent Carol of Response: “Joy to the World - UMH 246” - Anjuli & Jonah Arreola-Burl
Announcements and Offerings - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Doxology: “Believe with a Grateful Heart” - Judy Kriege
Celebration of Communion - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Handbell Meditation “I Believe” - Merrie Bunt
WE GO FORTH
Carol of Resistance: “Silent Night” - Erin Adachi-Kriege & Judy Kriege
Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Postlude: “Toccata from Symphony No. 5” comp. Charles-Marie Widor - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks to:
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Erin Adachi-Kriege, Viki Alvarado, Anjuli Arreola-Burl, Jonah Arreola-Burl, Michele Arreola-Burl, Carol Baumbauer, Pat Bruce-Lerrigo, Diane Downs, Melani Gantes, Judy Kriege, Orion Lacey, Charles Lynch, Alexander Naar, Barbara Vaughan.
Virtual Choir Participants: Judith Allen, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Carletta Aston, Chris Baetge, Cathryn Bruno, Annette Cayot, Judy Cayot, Melani Gantes, Margot Hanson, Katie Johnson, Carole Klokkevold, Charles Lynch, Eda Naranjo, Sally & Paul Nasman, Ron & Ruth Parker, Gregg Richardson, Cathy Travlos. Edited by Merrie Bunt.
Carols compiled and edited by Anjuli Arreola-Burl.
Video producer: Tai Jokela
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt