Adventurous Lectionary – Christmas Eve/Day – December 24/25

Adventurous Lectionary – Christmas Eve/Day – December 24/25 December 18, 2023

The Adventurous Lectionary – Christmas Eve and Day , December 24/25, 2023

Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-20
John 1:1-14

Even with the diminishing importance of Christian holy days, Christmas Eve is usually the best-attended worship service in the Christian year. Family members and visitors who don’t normally attend church (The C&E Christians, now more accurately these days, the C Christians) show up not only as a matter of obligation to their parents, but also hoping to experience wonder amid the bells, carols, and candle lighting. Self-described spiritual but not religious persons may show up in church in quest of something more meaningful than their own non-institutional, individualistic spirituality. On Christmas Eve, some may even give the church one more chance to show itself as authentic, beautiful, and welcoming in light of their previous experiences of exclusion and intolerance. This is a time for experiential faith – for recalling the glow of childhood and the marvel of a newborn – not didactic preaching.  It is a time for hospitality and welcome, not welcome or scolding. The metaphysics of Christmas must be in the background, making room for its mysticism, music, and memories. This is both a challenge, and good news for the preacher. We need to avoid the temptation “to hit one out of the park” and wow the visitors.” Our best hope to make a difference is to be the preacher we are, and not some super preacher or prince or princess of the pulpit, but to live out our faith personally and accessibly.

We don’t need a Hallmark moment, but we need to prepare the way for transformation and miracle. For new and softened heart, and the possibility of new birth.

As the preacher explores the Christmas texts, they need to be liberated from outworn dogma and catechesis, most of which will mean nothing to the congregation, and to awaken to incarnations in the least likely places of our lives and ministries. The adventurous preacher needs to speak to the seeker in each of us, whether we are churchgoers or refugees from institutional religion. God is with us, God is here, God is born in the messiness of our world and lives.

Christmas Eve presents a different kind of challenge this year. It falls on a Sunday and pastors will have to choose when to worship and whether to make their morning service a Christmas Eve or Advent 4 service.

Christmas takes us beyond doctrine to experience the light of the world shining in a manger and in ourselves. I typically add the Prologue from John to my Christmas reflections. Joining the story of Jesus’ birth with the John’s Prologue brings together the macrocosm and microcosm, the universality of the incarnation and the personal moments of spiritual birthing, to transform our lives and the world. In the Christmas stories, we experience the Cosmos in the Cradle and find holiness emerging in a humble stable, in an oppressed community. (See Bruce Epperly, “From Cosmos to Cradle: Meditations on the Incarnation.”)

John’s Gospel speaks to us from the academy in its quest to join the Creation of the universe with embodiment, enlightenment, and ethics. John paints on the broadest canvas possible: galaxies, stars, suns, and emerging planets burst forth in John. Divine Word and Wisdom, Logos and Sophia, move through all things. Without beginning in its artistry, the Wisdom and Word of God artfully creates the cosmos. All things shine through the divine artistry. Every human is enlightened by God. Salvation is focused on God’s Wisdom and Word in Jesus, uniting male and female, and human and non-human, and then spirals forth to give light to every human. No one is left out of God’s plan of salvation. God is born in you and me. God is with us in our awkward family reunions and in the weary travelers who make it home for Christmas. Even though some choose darkness, God’s light will prevail.

The artful preacher speaks of light and darkness, the power of light to illumine and the fecundity of the womb’s darkness within which a baby grows to term. These days we must affirm the beauty of both dark and light, and their roles in divine creativity. The adventurous preacher invites everyone to dream of enlightenment, wholeness, healing, and reconciliation. There are no limits to the artistry and creativity of John’s Christological vision. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. We all find our way, illumined by that glorious star of wonder, star of light, guided by its beauty bright.

Theophanies, appearances of God, can appear in the most unlikely places. Marginalized shepherds are visited by angels, overwhelmed by their “Hallelujahs” and raised to full humanity as God’s beloved children. Despite their fear and awe, and their obvious poverty, they rush to Bethlehem to give homage to the newborn and his parents. In some ways, the stable was familiar to the shepherds; but its familiarity is the source of their wonder. Perhaps, they ask themselves, “How can God come to so simple and ordinary place? How can God come to people like us?”

The incarnation occurs in a smelly stable: nothing is too ordinary or unimportant for God.
Incarnations are everywhere and thin places abound: in a working class family living in an occupied land; in a tired mother unable to find a place to give birth; in lower class shepherds; and in us in our joy and sorrow.  (See Bruce Epperly, “Messy Incarnation: Meditations on Christ in Process”)

The universal emerges in the personal. God is coming to us within the moments of our lives, not as an external supernatural force, but as the deepest truth within. At Christmas, we invite God to be born in us; Christ is the image of hope for the seeker within us and the seeker beyond the church. Christ is nothing like what we expected: he is with us, in us, and beyond us, guiding us by his love and light.


Bruce Epperly is a “retired” pastor, professor, and seminary administrator, and the author of over eighty books including “Jesus: Mystic, Healer, and Prophet,” “The Elephant is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism,” and “Process Theology and the Revival We Need.”  He is also author of five “12 days of Christmas books,” focusing on Thurman, L’Engle, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Celtic Spirituality, and Hymns and Carols.


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