My family loves to go to Christmas Eve services. One year, I want to see how many services I can make, but for now, since our girls are young, one service will have to do. Christmas Eve services at my congregation are a fairly new event — just two years now. That means most folks have another service that they’re used to going to. Last night, good friend and elder, Edward Fudge celebrated his 25th visit to St. John the Divine here in Houston.
I find Christmas Eve a tremendous time of reflection, worship, and joy. At our service last night, my wife, Rochelle lead the congregation in a prayer of confession and I lead the Eucharist. Here they both are.
Prayer of Confession:
In the book of James, we are instructed to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we might be healed. Contemporary author, Richard Foster, says this about our responsibility surrounding confession and prayer:
“Our task is a small one: to hold on to the agony of others just long enough for them to let go of it for themselves. Then, together, we can give all things over to God.”
During the next few moments, we will engage in a time of silence for personal confession. Please join hands with your neighbors.
As your hands are connected, imagine that for a moment, you are holding your burden and the burden of your neighbor. Following the silence, we will, together, give these things over to God.
“Oh, Gracious, Holy, Loving and Eternal One,
We hold in our hands the selfishness, pride, envy, greed, jealousy, gluttony and unbelief that have been confessed. Together, we release these things to you, seeking your forgiveness.
We ask for the touch of your Spirit, that you would take our self-centeredness; that we would have a higher view of others.
Take our selfishness and greed, that we would look first to the needs of others.
Take our envy and jealousies; that we may find joy in your daily blessing and in the gifts you have chosen for us.
Take our pride, that we may forgive and accept forgiveness.
Take our dishonesty and deception, that we may proclaim the truth of Jesus.
On this night, as we bow before the manger throne, let us leave with humility. Grant us a renewed sense of wonder and hope at the gift of the Christ-child. Grant us belief, O Lord, that through Christ, you will love and heal without prejudice or preference…and may we do likewise.
There she is strangely placed not two breaths into Matthew’s telling of the birth of Jesus – Tamar – the woman who connived and conned her way into Judah’s bed. She wanted to ensure that her father-in-law kept his promises to her, so she made it happen, one way or another. Next thing you know, there’s Rahab – the prostitute of the Promised Land. No one knows all the factors that lead her into a life of back-alleys and street-corners, but we do know she manages to make at least one good decision, – she hides the Hebrew spies – and for it we meet her right here, a branch on the family tree of Jesus. Matthew doesn’t stop there; he doesn’t even pause, the apostle is anxious to tell us about Ruth and Boaz, and that interesting tale about the happenings on the threshing room floor. Boaz wants Ruth there all night, but she needs to leave before morning!
And if that weren’t enough, we all remember Uriah’s wife, her name is Bathsheba, but she will always be Uriah’s wife, no matter what lengths King David might go to cover his tracks. She too finds herself listed in this dynasty of the Divine. She like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth before her, along with the men who aided and abetted and sometimes insisted on their indiscretions are related to Jesus. They, believe it or not, are made of the same stock as the savior.
And that’s a good thing! As Matthew writes his Gospel, it is imperative for him to articulate and important for us to integrate that Jesus comes into this world both from sinners and for sinners.
On this day, as we recall the birth of Jesus, we are mindful that the child Mary delivers, is in fact the deliverer. He is not isolated or separated from the sins of people. He knows them, and he comes to forgive them. And in this act of coming, we join Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba entering the family and Kingdom of God. In communion, we acknowledge that we, too, are sinners, the very sinners Jesus has come for, and we embrace the forgiveness that lies waiting in the manger.
This evening, we will partake of the Eucharist by simple intinction. In a moment, if you will make your way up the center aisle to a pair of our servers, you simply take a portion of bread and dip it into the wine.
By doing so, the bread and wine become one, a symbol and sign of the oneness we share with the Holy Babe of Bethlehem.
Here these words from I Corinthians:
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”