Christmas Eve Worship — Dec. 24, 2020


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O come, O come, Emmanuel
1 O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Refrain
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!
3 O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times didst give the Law In cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain
4 O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain
5 O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Refrain
6 O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
7 O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

Psalm 96
1 O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth! 2 Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; declare His salvation from day to day. 3 Proclaim His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. 4 For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are worthless, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. 7 Give unto the Lord, O families of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. 8 Give unto the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Indeed, the world is established; it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field be joyful, and all that is in it; then all the trees of the forests shall rejoice 13 before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His faithfulness.

Away in a manger
1 Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where He lay, The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. 2 The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh. 3 Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
Little Children’s Book, Philadelphia, 1885, sts. 1–2; Vineyard Songs, Louisville, 1892, st. 3, alt. Public domain

Christmas Gospel
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited earth should be taxed. 2 This taxation was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to his own city to be taxed. 4 So Joseph also departed from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be taxed with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7

Far more than a quaint story, these verses from Luke, chapter two, describe a historical event that occurred in real-time and in a real place. It was a fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies which promised the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and the one who would redeem His people from their sins (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 130:7-8).

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

It happened in the days of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Quirinius was the governor of Syria.

Though Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, the Prophet Micah (approximately 700 years before Christ) foretold the birthplace of Messiah to be in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, although you are small among the tribes of Judah, from you will come forth for Me one who will be ruler over Israel. His origins are from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

And God, in His divine providence, moved Caesar Augustus to take a census at just the right time, making it necessary for Joseph and his espoused wife who lived in Nazareth (some 90 miles to the north) to be in Bethlehem when the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth her firstborn son “because he was of the house and lineage of David.” The genealogies of Joseph in Matthew 1 and of Mary in Luke 3 show that both were of the “house and lineage of David.”

While we often have pictures in our head of Jesus being born on that first night after Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, that’s not what the Scriptures say. Verse six, of Luke 2 says: “So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.” They could have been there a few days, a few weeks or even a month or more — the Bible doesn’t say. But, “while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn Son…” While there in the crowded city of Bethlehem — there were many descendants of David who also had to register in Bethlehem (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, according to 1 Kings 11:1ff.) — Jesus was born.

Mary “gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The eternal Son of God, the creator of heaven and earth and all things (cf. John 1:1-5,14), humbled Himself and was born a man of lowly birth. Instead of being born in a king’s palace and clothed in royal garments, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (a feeding trough).

But God sent His Son into this world not to be exalted here but to live humbly as a man — not to make full use of His divine power and glory but to live humbly like us — that He might take our place under the Law of God and fulfill it for us and that He might bear upon the cross the just punishment for the sins of the entire world.

“Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

“So then, as the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise took part in these, so that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were throughout their lives subject to bondage. For surely He does not help the angels, but He helps the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things it was necessary for Him to be made like His brothers, so that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17).

And much like the night of Jesus’ birth, Jesus is still relegated to the stalls and the mangers of this world. The inn is full and there is no room for the Messiah and Savior of the World. Jesus is crowded out — even crowded out of the celebration of His birth!

“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).

Therefore, if we wish to find Jesus, we are not likely to find Him in the biggest and best churches and cathedrals of this world. The place to look for and find Him is where God’s humble Means of Grace are in use, where the Word of God is preached in its simple truth and purity and people are confronted with their sins and the judgment of God upon them but also comforted with the Gospel of forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, where people are joined to Christ and become His covenant people through the waters of Baptism and where believers are comforted in Holy Communion through partaking of the body and blood of the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Indeed, the day could come when we may need to worship in barns and stables to hear of and learn of the true Christ who came into this world to redeem us because there is no room for God’s people or God’s Christ in the inn. It’s happened before. In the days of the Prussian Union (during the early 1800s), those who held to the Lutheran faith gathered in barns to worship and be served with the Means of Grace.

What’s the point in this message for you and for me?

Though the world was not awaiting the coming of Christ Jesus with open arms, and though God’s own people (the visible church in this world) were too busy to welcome Him, God kept His ancient promises to send the Savior. God’s only-begotten Son took on human flesh and blood and was born a true man of the Virgin Mary that he might pay the price for our sins and redeem us. He came humbly, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, that He might fulfill God’s plan and go to the cross as our sacrifice for sin.

And where do we find Him?

Where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution. There we will find and learn of the Christ who died for our sins and redeemed us. There we will be comforted with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life He won for us. Amen.

[Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

Prayer of the Church for Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020

Lord God Almighty, we come before You on this most holy night in awe and thanksgiving at the incarnation of Your Son to be our Savior. Let the proclamation of His birth sound forth throughout the world. Give to Your Church faithful pastors to proclaim the good tidings of His birth, and give to Your people willing ears to hear and believe.

In the birth of Your Son, You have visited and redeemed Your people. Grant to us and people everywhere penitent hearts and faith in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of the Son that, through faith in His name, we might obtain forgiveness for all our sins and a place in His everlasting kingdom.

Continue to visit those who are lonely, sick, recovering or near death. Let Your redemption in Christ Jesus give them hope and His presence be a comfort to them, and give to them perseverance in the true faith until that time You grant healing, relief, deliverance and peace.

In the birth of Your Son, and by His death and resurrection, You have provided salvation for all mankind. Give us opportunity and move us to tell others the good news of His coming so that others, too, may join in the praise of Your holy name. Bless the pastors of our diocese, and give wisdom and strength to our bishop, that we may with one voice proclaim the truth of Your Word and the glorious salvation You have provided in the Son, Christ Jesus.

In the birth of Your Son, You have signaled the beginning of a new creation; while we still live in a world wracked by the ravages of sin, we know that the final victory is Yours. Watch over and keep safe emergency workers and all whose vocations keep them from their homes and families this night for the well-being of our families.

In the birth of Your Son, You have called people of all times and places into the Body of Christ Jesus through faith in His name. We give You thanks for all the believers who have gone before us, especially those who have been with us during Christmases past and are now with You. Give us a sure confidence in Your promise of resurrection and eternal life, and bring us at last together with them into Your presence at the full coming of Your kingdom.

Into Your hands, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Amen.

Silent night
1 Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
2 Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, Heav’nly hosts sing, Alleluia! Christ, the Savior, is born! Christ, the Savior, is born!
3 Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

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