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First Christian Church, Grand Junction – Praising God, Changing Lives!

At-Home Worship Plan for January 3, 2021

Christmastide 2
At-Home Worship Plan
First Christian Church, Grand Junction
January 3, 2021
The Music of Christmas 2

PREPARATION

  • Communion Elements
  • A computer/tablet/phone for looking up the worshipful songs.  You could also use a hymnal and an instrument.
  • YOUTUBE Worship Service and Hymns Playlist – A video of Pastor Brad reading the background of the songs and the scripture readings for this service will be on the First Christian Church Youtube site.  Visit the First Christian Church Grand Junction Colorado YouTube Channel to find the playlists for the sermon and the hymns for the day.  The playlists of the videos for each are also accessible from our website.

ORDER OF WORSHIP

Invocation

God of Christmas,

We thank you for the most amazing gift that has ever been given, the most amazing gift we could ever hope to receive, the gift of Jesus of Nazareth born in a manger, the gift of a baby who would grow up to be our Savior and the head of our church.  God, grant today and always that we will truly be followers of Jesus, that our lives, our whole identities, will be as followers of Jesus.

We pray these thing in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray:

Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
Lead us, not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
And the power, and the glory,
Forever.  Amen.

Introduction

Today, we will continue what we began last week; we will have an entire worship service built upon the music of Christmas. Here’s what we’ll do: I’ll select and introduce Christmas Carols – not based on which are my favorites but based on the available background for the carols.  For each Christmas carol I’ll provide a brief backstory of the carol and then allow you to listen to and sing along with a version of the carol.  For as many of them as possible, the songs will be edited right into the YouTube video for this service.  Also, for all of the carols, I’ll provide a link to a version of the carol on my hymns playlist for today.  Happy singing!

But before we get to the songs for today, let’s start with some scripture readings to set the tone.  Here are the lectionary readings for this second Sunday in Christmastide.

Scripture Readings

Jeremiah 31:1-7

31 At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

2 Thus says the Lord:

The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,

3     the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
    and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

5 Again you shall plant vineyards
    on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
    and shall enjoy the fruit.

6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
    in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.”

7 For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
    and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
    “Save, O Lord, your people,
    the remnant of Israel.”

John 1:10-18

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Here ends the reading of God’s word in scripture for this first Sunday of Christmastide.

The Music of Christmas, Part 2

“It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”

Background

Sometimes, it’s just not that easy to get into the Christmas spirit.  That appears to have been the case for Pastor Edmund Sears, who wrote “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”; he wrote the poem sometime after suffering a breakdown and switching from full-time to part-time ministry.

Sears wrote the poem that provides the lyrics for this song in 1849, at a time when revolution in Europe and the United States’ recent war with Mexico were fresh on his mind.  He wrote in the third stanza of his poem of the difficulty of the Christmas message penetrating the harshness of the world to be received and truly heard by people:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

I’m guessing most of us can relate in 2020; we either have difficulty ourselves hearing the angels sing or we imagine so many other people having difficulty hearing the message of the angels.

There’s something else about the history of this song that has always intrigued me.  At the time Sears wrote the lyrics, New England had been for centuries a place where Christmas was NOT celebrated.  Back in the 1600s, the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas – it was illegal and those found guilty were subject to a fine.  Even as late as 1870 in Boston, children who missed school on Christmas Day could be punished and possibly expelled, as could workmen be punished for missing work on Christmas.  And so it was, amidst this climate, that Edmund Sears wrote about “life’s crushing load” and the pain and toil of people that makes hearing the angels so difficult…all the while the angels keep on singing.  It was, amidst this anti-Christmas climate that Sears wrote a song that is considered to be one of the first Christmas carols written by an American poet.

Song “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” #153

“The First Noel”

Background

Sometimes, figuring out the true backstory of a song can be difficult.  Take, for example, “The First Noel”.

Our hymnal calls it “a traditional English carol” from the 17th century which suggests:

    • Its authorship is unknown;
    • It comes from England;
    • It comes from the 1600s;

It sounds like we don’t know much.  Making things even more difficult, two of these three things are hymnal suggests about the song are disputed:

    • Some people suggest French origins, since the song uses the French spelling of “noel” instead of the Middle English spelling of “Nowell”;
    • Some people suggest it’s from as far back as the 13th century, not the 17th century;

And then, there’s this word “Noel”.  What does it even mean, anyway?  Apparently, even the answer to this question is disputed.

    • Sometimes, you’ll see the word spelled “Nowell”, a middle English word defined by Webster’s dictionary in 1823 as meaning “a shout of joy or Christmas song”. 
    • And this Middle English word’s most likely origin is a French word based on a latin word meaning “birth”.  
    • However, there is another possible root for “nowell”, a French word meaning “news”.  

Much like we’re uncertain about the origins of the lyrics of the song, we’re also unsure about what this strange word “Noel” means and where it comes from.

Fortunately, there are some things about this traditional Christmas Carol we DO know:

    • We do know that it first appeared in print in 1823 in an English collection of carols.
    • We also know that it was most likely sung for hundreds of years by Christians outside of church services before ever making its way into the church…because it was considered by the Church to be a peasant song that lacked the solemnity of true hymns.

This last bit is one of the most fascinating bits of history about the song…as it relates to the meaning of the song.  I find it fascinating that the song suggests the message was first brought to “certain poor shepherds” but eventually spread to everyone…which sounds to me is like what happened with the song, itself.

Song “The First Noel” #151

Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing”

Background

Before I get into the history of this favorite Christmas Carol, I want to share a story from my own history.  As you know, I was once a Youth Minister, and every Christmas I shared a “Christmas Quiz” with the youth in my youth groups.  I gathered questions from books and the internet, and one of the questions I always used was this:  “What was the name of the angel who sang to the shepherds on the first Christmas Eve”?  One of the answers in the multiple choice question was “Harold”…due to this song: “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing”.  That question cracked me up every year when I saw it!  Ok.  Onto the history.

I included this song in today’s service not because of the Christmas Quiz I used to share with my youth groups but because it took four different people to bring the hymn to us as we have it today:

  • In 1739, Charles Wesley composed the first version of the hymn, which had ten four line verses instead of the 8-line verses with refrain that we have now; you might recall that Charles Wesley wrote hymns as a teaching tool to teach theology to the masses, which might explain why this song is so incredibly packed with theological claims: it includes claims about redemption, virgin birth, incarnation, resurrection and healing power, eternal life, and second birth – that’s a LOT of theology for one song.)
  • In 1753, George Whitfield, who had been a student with Charles Wesley, changed the words the angels said from “Glory to the King of Kings” to “Glory to the newborn king”; (you may not recognize the significance of the change, but it’s a movement from the angels praising God – as in Luke’s account – to the angels praising Jesus);
  • Whitfield also changed the first line from “Hark! How all the welkin rings” to “Hark! The herald angels sing;”  Can you imagine if we were STILL singing “Hark! How all the welkin rings”?  Actually, I’m pretty sure we would just not know about this song.  Plus, Whitfield cut some verses;
  • Musically, the song was originally written to be sung to the tune for “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”;  however, about a hundred years after the original song was written, Felix Mendelssohn composed a secular cantata to commemorate Gutenurg’s invention of the printing press.  The secular song became well-known, and about 16 years later English musician William Cummings adapted the popular tune to the lyrics of Wesley’s lyrics as adapted by Whitfield.
  • The result of all these people and their talents is the song we know and love today.  Which provides a great reminder of how God works through the accumulated work springing forth from the giftedness of each person to achieve great things in the world. 

 Song  “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” #150

“What Child is This?”

Background

The story behind the writing of “What Child is This?” provides a great reminder that God can work through anyone – in pretty much any circumstance – to make a great difference for God in the world.

William Dix had been working as the manager of an insurance company around the time he wrote this song.  He wasn’t a preacher or a theologian; he managed an insurance company.  When Dix experienced an unexpected and severe illness that left him bedridden for a time, he became depressed.  But it was actually the near-death experience of his illness and even the depression that led to much Bible-reading and a spiritual renewal for Dix.  And out of this spiritual renewal he wrote several well-known hymns, including “What Child is This?”

I am also intrigued by Dix’ desire to pair his words with the tune to Greensleeves, which is a traditional English folk song from no later than the 16th century, and which was primarily associated with pub songs and romantic lyrics in the past.  Not being a minister or theologian, Dix was ok with setting his very Christian song to a pub tune…which led to us having this amazing Christmas carol!

Song – “What Child is This?” #162

“Good Christian Friends Rejoice”

Background.

We will end our carols history with one of the strangest – and my most favorite – histories I’ve found.

“Good Christian Friends Rejoice” is a 19th century English paraphrase of a much older hymn that is unusual in that it was written in two languages: Latin and German.

The story I’d like to tell is the story of the earlier hymn.  In 1328, a German mystic and Dominican monk named Heinrich Suso had a vision in which he was visited by angels.  He joined the angels in dancing as the angels sang to him this song.  One of the angels told Suso that God had sent them to deliver him heavenly joys amidst his sufferings…and while he danced with them he was supposed to cast off all his sorrows.

When Suso awoke, he remembered this song the angels had sung to him, and he wrote it down.  Isn’t that amazing!  I think I resonate with this story so much because it’s a great reminder that mystical experience – dreams, visions, and other kinds of experiences – is real, AND if we try to remember and celebrate our mystical experiences, the results can be wonderful for ourselves and all the world.  Had Suso thought of his dream visitation as something other than what it was, we likely wouldn’t have this song with us today.  Which gets me thinking, Jesus’ birth was a pretty mystical kind of thing – lots of miraculous stuff and angel visitations involved.  If we believe in virgin birth and angels visiting shepherds and wise men following a star to the place where the child was, shouldn’t we be more open to mystical experience?

Song – “Good Christian Friends Rejoice” #164

Transition

Allright, our time focused on the music of Christmas for this Christmastide comes to an end.  We’ll continue now with the rest of our worship service.  Tune in next week as we change liturgical seasons again…to Epiphany.  (If you’re watching this on YouTube, it’s time to switch to a copy of the At-Home worship service because the video ends here.)

MorningPrayer

(Share joys and concerns, then have someone pray the following prayer or one of your own.)

God of Christmas,

We thank you for the gift of your Son, your amazing Light to this world.

As we continue our celebration of Jesus’ birth this Christmastide, fill our hearts with the joy of a very special birth which has led to a new beginning for us all.  Fill our hearts with the warm knowledge of your unfailing love.  Grant that we will come to know your love by each experience of Christmas joy we have this season, experiences like those mentioned in this service of worship.  And grant that by each experience we will respond to you with hearts and voices and lives that will make Messiah known to all the world.

Even as we give thanks for the joys you make possible, we know there are people who struggle to find joys you make possible – even the joys of Christmas, and so we ask also for your strength to entrust the needs of this world and its inhabitants to you.  We entrust to your care this day:

  • All who are on our congregation’s prayer list, and all who have been mentioned by name in our worship;
  • All who suffer from abuse or oppression;
  • All who struggle with anxiety or distress;
  • All who suffer from lack of food, water, shelter, or loving relationships;
  • All who suffer from injury or illness;
  • All who mourn or grieve;
  • All who struggle with quarantines and lockdowns, as well as those whose bodies are being ravaged by COVID-19;
  • All who struggle in their efforts to follow Jesus;
  • All who refuse to seek you;
  • All who struggle to experience the joy of this season;
  • For all who have need but who go unnamed;

For all who have need of your intervention, O God, grant them what you know they need; respond to these prayers in the way you see as being best, the way that will turn shouts of pain and suffering into shouts of joy, the way that will bring glory to your name.

God of Christmas joy, strengthen us now, in this moment, strengthen us always, to sing Christmas into our lives and into the world…that you might make your gift of Jesus known through us.

We pray, as we live, through Jesus whose birth we celebrate, and by the power of your Holy Spirit…Amen.

Offering

Invitation. 

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said:

Again I will build you, and you shall be built…

Taken out of context (the context being more than God’s words through the prophet – indeed,  the whole of God’s relationship with God’s people), it would be easy to imagine God’s words to mean that God’s people didn’t have to do anything, themselves, that God would build/rebuild Israel…no matter how much the Israelites participated or if the Israelites participated at all.

I think sometimes Christians act as if this is the same message they receive through the event of the Messiah’s birth: Jesus was born, God forgives us, and God will lead you to an abundant life now and an eternal life no matter what you do.

When we think deeply about it, however, we know this message is flawed; we know this message is not the message God sent through Jesus.  Through Jesus, God made it possible for us to have abundance now and an eternity with God forever, BUT, a response from us is STILL required.  And that response includes living for more than just ourselves.  That response includes sharing what God has entrusted us to manage with others…with everyone.  Let’s be in the spirit of Christian sharing.

Response.  If you feel called to respond by making a monetary gift to continue God’s work through FCCGJ, you can do so right now in one of three ways:

    1. Write a check to First Christian Church and mail it to FCCGJ, 1326 N. 1st Street, Grand Junction, CO 81501.
    2. On your cellphone, text GIVE2FCCGJ (plus the dollar amount you want to give) to 73256.  For example, if you want to offer $50, text GIVE2FCCGJ $50 to 73256.
    3. Via the internet on your computer, go to our congregation’s website at gjdisciples.org, click “online giving” on the top menu bar, and then click on the link under the second bullet point to make an online contribution.

Offering Prayer.  Say a prayer asking for God’s blessing upon whatever gift/commitment you made to God, as well as all the other commitments Jesus’ followers are making this morning.

Communion

Invitation to Communion:  

In today’s gospel reading, John reminds us of the world into which Jesus was born:

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

As we approach this table, we are reminded that the world STILL did not accept Jesus…even after 33 years of life and ministry. 

And yet, the world could not deter Jesus’ ministry of “grace upon grace”.  Yes, God even used Jesus’ death to share grace.  Let’s remember the message of grace as we participate in this meal.  Let’s consider how God calls us to make God’s grace known through our lives…and maybe even our deaths (when that time comes.)  Let’s prepare to celebrate this holy meal.

Communion Hymn – “I Wonder As I Wander” #162

Prayer:  

God who gave your Son that we might have life…bless this bread and cup, and help us by our partaking of these elements to remember and know your love for us.  Help us to know and remember in a way that will change us so that we will not live like everyone else around us but so that we might live as people who know, who really know, your unending love and grace for us and for all the world.  I pray these things in the name of Jesus and by the power of your Holy Spirit, Amen.

Words of Institution:  We remember that on the night Jesus was to be betrayed, he sat around a table with his disciples and shared a meal.  While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and, after giving thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, “Take, eat.  This is my body, broken for you.”  In the same way, Jesus took a cup, and after blessing it, said, “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Partake of the bread and cup in your own time.

Closing Song

“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” #150

Benediction

Go now with Christmas joy,
Knowing the God who made you
Loves you enough to send you a Savior,
Loves you enough to make you right before God.
Go in the name of Jesus
And by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!