I have the joy of putting together the Christmas Eve service this year at church. I didn’t want to simply read the same scriptures that we do every year, but i did want to keep the basic narrative intact. So I took great liberties in phrasing and order and arranged the birth stories from Luke and Matthew into a cohesive narrative. It isn’t radical, but I wouldn’t mind critique. I kept references to “angels”, although I would rather have inserted “heralds” instead. Also, I have knowingly sanitized some of the narrative because of the young kids. I plan on giving the meditation on John 1, trying to tie together God speaking in the beginning when things were dark and chaotic, to when God spoke through Jesus at a time when things seemed dark and chaotic. Thanks for your input, if any. Merry Week before Christmas!
Reading #1 – An Angel appears to Mary
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young girl engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, God thinks highly of you, and God is with you.”
But she was very confused by his words and didn’t know what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will become pregnant and you will have a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
Reading #2 – An angel appears to Joseph
While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, and before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Joseph, who she was engaged to, was a righteous man and was not willing to disgrace her publicly, and so he planned to break off the engagement quietly.
But just when he had made up his mind about it, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child she is pregnant with is from the Holy Spirit. She will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All of this echoed what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
Reading #3 – The child is born
In those days, the Emperor Caesar Augustus wanted all the people he ruled over to be counted and registered. Each family went to their own hometown to register. Although Joseph and Mary lived in the town of Nazareth in Galilee, Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem, in Judea, the city of David, because he was from King David’s family. So they went there to be registered with Mary, who was pregnant at the time. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth, and laid him in a manger, which was used to feed animals, because the inn was full.
Reading #4 – the shepherds
In the countryside, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were scared. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid; because I am bringing you good news of great joy for everyone. Today in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord has been born to your people. This is how you will recognize him: you will find a child wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And all of a sudden, a great number of heralds appeared in the sky, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to his favored people”
When the angels had left them and left to the heavens, the shepherds said to one another, “Lets go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has revealed to us.”
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they revealed what the angel told them about this child; and they were amazed at what the shepherds told them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.
Reading #5 – the magi
Some time later, while King Herod ruled Israel for the Caesar, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? Because we saw his star when it rose, and we want to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was scared, and all of Jerusalem was scared too; So Herod called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was supposed to be born.
They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; just as the prophet wrote about it long ago:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are not at all least among the leaders of Judah;
because a leader is going to come from you,
who is going to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search hard for this child; and when you find him, please tell me so I can honor him as well.”
When they heard the king, they left; and there, ahead of them, was the star that they had seen when it rose, and it rested above the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary; and they knelt down and honored him. Then they opened their gifts, and they gave him gold, incense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by a different way.
Reading #6 – Distress and a Home
After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and run away to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; because the king is going to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother that night, and went to Egypt. They remained there until the threat of Herod had passed. This echoed the words of the ancient prophet who wrote, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that the magi had tricked him, he was furious, and he caused great distress to those in and around Bethlehem, trying to find and destroy the child.
When Herod was gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream while they were in Egypt, saying,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to destroy the child are gone.”
So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to the land of Israel. Joseph was afraid to go back to the place where the rulers of Israel were, so he went with his family to the region of Galilee. That is where his family settled down, in a town called Nazareth, and that is where the child grew up.