December 24, 2020 – Christmas Eve
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A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
On this sacred night, in the stillness and solitude of our own homes, we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Through the mysteries of technology and the mystical power of prayer, God brings us together in this time of worship. Thank you to Steven Szeto and the Bells of Guildwood, Rachelle Risling and the Choirs, and Rob Quickert for the extra efforts to provide these resources tonight. Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one!
Rev. Helen Smith
PWS&D Candle-Lighting Liturgy
You can watch a video of the liturgy by clicking the movie reel graphic immediately below, speaking responsively with Rev. H. Smith when the sub-titled words appear on-screen; or celebrate yourself using the text printed just below the video link.
Candle-Lighting Liturgy Text
This is done as a call and response. The preacher says the words in regular text, and all say the words in bold.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy;
for to you is born in the city of David
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord!
Jesus has arrived in grace and mystery,
renewing faded hopes
and announcing peace to a weary world.
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favours!
Jesus comes among us in power and glory,
inspiring joy and calling us to lives that are full of God’s love.
Jesus, the light of the world, is born.
Let Christ’s light shine in the darkest corners of our lives.
Let Christ’s light shine in the darkest corners of our world.
God is with us.
(The candle is lit)
Let us pray:
God of grace and glory,
as we celebrate this Christmas,
transform our hearts and our lives
so that your Good News is not an old story
but a fresh truth lived out every day
through the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Book of Praise – 153 “Joy to the world”
- Video with on-screen words; some differences from the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
- Words (1719) by English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts (1674–1748); music (1848) by American composer Lowell Mason (1792–1872), arranged by him from an earlier tune “Antioch” by George Frideric Handel (1685–1759). Arrangement in the video by American composer Cynthia Dobrinski (1950–), copyright © 2000 Agape; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recorded in the GCPC sanctuary on Christmas Eve, 2015; performed by The Bells of Guildwood, director Steven Szeto; and the GCPC Senior Choir, GCPC music director Rick Humphrey.
- Video recording copyright © 2015 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Bright, holy God, we turn once more towards Bethlehem. You spoke and your Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood. You fill us with awe and wonder, with grace and truth. All praise and glory be to you, O God.
Through the darkness of doubt, we stumble to find the Way. Through the fogs created by our own selfishness and greed, we grope for the truth. Through the forests of superstition and commercialism that have grown up around Christmas, we struggle to find the way Home. O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We pray in the name of the child of Bethlehem, and continue to pray with the words he taught his disciples, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
A child is born, a child to save us. A child is born, a child to challenge us. A child is born, the Light of the world, the Prince of peace.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Book of Praise – 164 “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
- Video with on-screen words; some differences from the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
- Words (1868) by American Episcopal clergyman Phillips Brooks (1835–1893). The music is a traditional English tune “Forest Green”, adapted for the hymn by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) and published in The English Hymnal (1906). The other common music for the hymn is the tune “St. Louis” written in 1868 by Brooks’ collaborator, American musician Lewis Redner (1831–1908), used in the Book of Praise 165 version. The former music is used more in Great Britain; the latter more in North America.
Home for Christmas!
Few words in the English language are as familiar and full of meaning as the word “home”, from John Howard Payne’s sentimental lines on cross stitched samplers, “Home Sweet Home”, to Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” as she taps her ruby slippers together, to Simon & Garfunkel’s, “homeward bound, I wish I were”, the song of a performer tired of sitting in a railway station, sick of one-night stands and longing for home.
As we well know, our homes are not perfect. They reflect all the faults and failings of those who inhabit them. Our newspapers can give us the grisly details of homes in disharmony, domestic violence, the horror story of powerful love turned to powerful hate. Our own stories reflect our mishandling of the sometimes-difficult tasks of living together. But generally speaking, home is where we are loved and accepted. It is where we can usually find sympathy and understanding. It is where the prodigal, although not always greeted as enthusiastically as in our Lord’s parable, is received back into the fold. In Robert Frost’s poem, Death of a Hired Man, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” To most of us the word “home” suggests permanence, security, and satisfaction. It is where we find refuge, rest and refreshment.
At Christmas time our thoughts turn instinctively homeward in the same way that birds instinctively migrate southward in the fall. “I’ll be home for Christmas”, goes the song, “If only in my dreams”. With COVID restrictions, for many this year, students, people living and working away from home, that will be the only way they will get there this year. Those of us who have established homes of our own make the journey in our minds, recalling the joys of Christmases past.
During the early years of our marriage, Bob and I struggled with the use of the word home. If we were out, and getting tired, we would say, “Let’s go home”, meaning to the place where we lived. If we were planning a summer or Christmas holiday, we would say, “Let’s go home”, meaning let’s go back to Toronto, or Cambridge. Finally, we solved the ambiguity. Our house was home, but the places of our childhood, that was home home, as if to say that was really home. Eventually, as our parents moved into smaller places, we moved, somewhat painfully, away from the old traditions to strike up new ones. Our children struggled with the concept of home when Bob and I moved to Calgary. They were all in temporary student accommodation. Where was home for them?
All because the phrase “home for Christmas” is so rich in meaning.
It becomes particularly rich in meaning when we read once again, that beautiful prologue in John’s gospel, describing poetically, the birth of Christ. “He came to his own home…” (John 1: 11a).” He came home for Christmas. This is where he belongs. This earth is where God wants to be. God wants to be with us, knowing the satisfaction of being home, of being where God should be. When the Word came to this world, the Word did not come as an alien or a stranger. The Word came home, home to humanity.
Dorothy Sayers, well known writer of detective stories, but also a fine theologian, has rightly observed that the Incarnation means that God wrote God’s autobiography in the language of real flesh and blood. The One who was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, indeed who was God, took to himself a human body and entered fully into the human condition. In Jesus Christ, God grew weary and tired, experienced hunger and thirst, knew temptation. God felt the pain of ingratitude and disappointment, the agony of mind and body. There is no temptation or pain, no disappointment or frustration, no agony of mind or body which God does not understand. Of God’s own free choice God came home and experienced all these things for our sakes. In Christ, God showed concern particularly for the sick and the suffering, the sad and the lonely, for all who were in need.
God came home for Christmas. And, in that action, God gave all of us a home where we as children of God find a place of acceptance, of refuge, of security, of rest and refreshment.
When God came home in Christ, John tells us, many rejected Christ. Luke said the same thing when he talked of no room at the inn. But, Luke and Matthew tell us, some lowly shepherds and some high and mighty magi visited him. In John’s gospel we read, “but to those who received him, he gave to power to become the children of God.” (John 1: 12) In God’s hands, with the everlasting arms underneath us, no matter where we are, we are home.
The late Dr. David E. Roberts tells the story of a French soldier, who, as a result of a war injury, suffered with amnesia. Met at his hometown railroad station, he gazed blankly at those who came to greet him and said, “I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am.”
Because his face was badly disfigured, three families, all of whom had sons missing in the war, claimed him as their own. The soldier was taken from one village to another and was allowed to walk around by himself. At the third village there was a glint of recognition in his eyes. Without hesitating he walked along a side street, then through a gate and up the steps of his parents’ home. The familiar surroundings of home restored his mind. He now knew who he was and where he belonged.
During the Christmas season we hear again the old familiar story of Bethlehem. We too are like amnesia victims in a shell-shocked world, who have forgotten who we are and where we belong. When at Christmas we make the journey in mind and spirit to Bethlehem, and take the road that leads us to the stable, we know that we have found the way home. We have received the Christ child and by God’s grace are children of the living God.
In a profound way, because God came home for Christmas, we too can be home for Christmas. We have come to that place of renewal, where we can receive life, newly born once more, life in Christ, our true home, and Christmas summons us there.
Keith Miller writes in his book “A Taste of New Wine”, in a chapter where he struggles with what Christ is calling him to do with his life: “So it may be that Christ is calling those of us who have tasted His new wine to stay right where we are, and be wholly His people there. And perhaps for the first time in our lives we will find that we have truly come Home.”
- “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. Words and music attributed to many sources. Follow this link to the Wikipedia article on the hymn for more information.
- This arrangement by Joel Raney, copyright © 2008 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed on the organ and piano by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
- Audio recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Note from Rev. H. Smith: the last two paragraphs of this prayer come from “A Christmas Prayer”, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
God who comes into our lives, we give thanks for this season of wonder, of hope, peace, joy and love. We give thanks that you come among us in Jesus Christ. We thank you for calling us to be Christ’s disciples, for opportunities to serve, for giving our lives purpose and direction. We give thanks for your unconditional love and acceptance. We give thanks that you come among us in Jesus Christ.
We pray tonight for peace, peace in places where there is anger and war and fear. We pray for peacemakers and peacekeepers, for rulers, for politicians, for soldiers, for children, families at war with each other, for all who are caught up in conflict, in bitterness and in danger. We pray for peace.
We pray on this night for travelers, for those who are travelling because they have no place to go, no shelter they can call their own, for those whose home is on the road. Help us to provide homes for people who are homeless.
We pray for the children and for their families. We think of children who will be born this night, in hospitals or homes or refugee camps. We ask your blessing on their lives.
We pray for all who are sick and for those who care for them. We pray for those who are ill with the coronavirus, and for the health care workers looking after them. And we pray for those who are dying. May all know your presence of healing and wholeness.
We pray with thanksgiving for those who have died, those with whom we once shared all the joys of this season, those we miss at our table, those whose stories we carry in our lives.
We pray for ourselves.
Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds
and the worship of the wisemen …
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children
and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus sake.
Book of Praise – 154 “Silent Night”
- Video with on-screen words, exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1816) by Austrian priest Joseph Mohr (1792–1848). Music (1818) by Austrian teacher and composer Franz Xaver Gruber (1787–1863). Words and music in the public domain.
- Performed by members of the Junior and Senior Choirs to a concept and under the direction of Rachelle Risling, GCPC music director.
- Descant in the video copyright © 2020 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
The wisdom of the wonderful counsellor guide you,
the strength of the mighty God uphold you,
the joy of the Prince of peace carry you home,
now and forever, Amen.
- video with no on-screen lyrics
- “Jingle Bells”. Music and lyrics by American songwriter and organist James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893), first published in 1857. Arrangement in the video by American composer Cynthia Dobrinski (1950–), copyright © 1988 Agape; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recorded in the GCPC sanctuary on Christmas Eve, 2017; performed by The Bells of Guildwood, director Steven Szeto.
- Video recording copyright © 2017 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2020-12-23 at 17:00: first published version.