16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Christmas Eve 2010: The Miracle of the Midnight Fields
Presenter:Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date:Fri, 12/24/2010
Prelude Pachebel’s Canon Ensemble
Ringing of Bell
Welcome, all of you – and a very Merry Christmas to each of you.
Tonight will be an evening of music and stories and celebration of hope and possibilities and love.
You’ll find the words to the carols we’re singing in your Order of Service’s insert. I’d like to invite you now to join in singing our first carol, the First Noel. Please rise as you are able.
Introit The First Noel
The First Noel
They looked up and saw a star
This star drew nigh to the northwest,
But the carol The First Noel talks about the other part of the story, how when the time came for the birth there were some shepherds, hanging out in a field overnight, watching their sheep.
Not usually a very exciting time, I imagine, camping overnight in a meadow with your livestock.
But Christmas Eve, the first Christmas Eve, I mean, was different. Those shepherds had their own miraculous experience on Christmas Eve, far from the stable and the manger and all, and we’ll mostly be hearing about them tonight in song and story.
And, as we’ll learn, Christmas Eve midnight field miracles happen at other times throughout history. And they happen even today, maybe even here, if you are wise enough to pay attention, to listen. We’ll hear about all these things tonight. But first, please join me in singing another Carol….
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
It came upon a midnight clear,
Still through the cloven skies they come,
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
For lo! the days are hastening on,
Reading Luke 2:8-14 Megan
Angels we have heard on high JP and Jessica
Angels we have heard on high
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Come to Bethlehem and see
See Him in a manger laid,
When I was little, I couldn’t understand why the shepherds were afraid of the pretty angels. With all the advantage of knowing exactly how the story
Tonight I invite you to spend a moment really putting yourself in the place of the shepherds. The field in which the shepherds lived – lived! we’re told in the scripture verse – was familiar to them, and I imagine that living there could be a little dull once you got used to it. Sheep aren’t the rowdiest of animals. Tending sheep isn’t the most stimulating of jobs. All is calm, indeed.
That first of Christmas Eves started out like any other night – dark and quiet. Until a big angel suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was standing in front of the shepherds and a great holy light shone all around them, brightening that night sky. That was definitely out of the ordinary! No wonder they were afraid!
The part of this story I love the best is that the angel knew what sort of impression he was making. He knew he was freaking those shepherds out. I imagine if his news was less important, he might have chosen a different method of communication. But his news was great and was important and he tells the shepherds not to be afraid, because what he has to say is so joyful and will make the shepherds very happy, happy enough to make up for the early fright.
The angel Gabriel tells them of the birth of Jesus and then shows them how very happy the news really is – he is joined by all sorts of other angels (that’s what a multitude of heavenly host means, a whole bunch of other angels) and they not only say “this is good news” but they are so filled with joy themselves that they fly and they dance and they sing and they bless God …Gloria in excelsis deo, glory to god in the highest.
And then the heavenly host, all those angels, blessed us here on earth. They blessed us with peace and goodwill, the greatest blessing that God can bestow, the greatest lesson that Jesus ever taught. Peace and goodwill among us squabbling human beings.
I mentioned that Christmas Eve miracles have happened in other midnight fields. I’d like you to listen now to another story – it’s a true one, from almost 100 years ago during World War One. Listen closely and see if you can hear the blessing of the angels in this field, too.
The wartime field we heard about just now is the same as the Christmas Eve field in some ways, and very different in others. It was dark in this Christmas Eve story, too, and the soldiers were living outdoors, like the shepherds did so much longer ago.
And the people in this field were afraid, too, but not because their quiet evening was broken up by some surprising angels. No, they were afraid because they had been fighting a war with each other, and they were cold and wet, and they had guns, and they were getting hurt and were hurting each other.
Many of them had joined the war thinking they were headed for adventure. Again, that sounds different to me from the life of a shepherd. But no matter what the soldiers thought they were getting into, they didn’t find adventure in the First World War so much as they did misery and horror. In fact, a field like the one in this last story – a killing field – is really the exact opposite sort of place from the one the angels sang about on the first Christmas Eve. Wartime is the opposite of peace and goodwill towards men.
The heavenly host, though, isn’t just for folks having quiet evenings in their fields, and I think we saw that in this story.
This story doesn’t have physical angels coming down and telling the soldiers to put down their weapons and to spend the evening with their enemies.
And if you ask me, when those soldiers sang carols, and rose from their trenches and joined in the middle of the field, and celebrated and played and thought about the baby Jesus in the far-off manger, there was even there the multitude of angels flying and dancing and singing and blessing God. I believe that because I can see their work, the same work as on the first Christmas Eve, when those angels blessed the world with peace and goodwill. Goodwill even towards those we are told are our enemies.
Jesus grew up to be a man who said that there is no task more important than loving all the people you encounter in the same way you would love your best friend, your family, yourself. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace
because of this message. When you ask yourself how the world can be so hard, and what you, one little person, could possibly do to change it, the answer is right here with you on Christmas Eve.
You remember that your enemies are human beings like yourself. You regard them with goodwill. You act as if you have multitudes of angels blessing the world with peace, even when they can’t be seen.
Be not afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people, to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who saves us from our own hatred and violence with a message of peace and of love.
Let us join together in singing …
Said the night wind to the little lamb
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Said the king to the people everywhere
The child, the child
This place, this community, is our midnight field tonight. Let us fill it with blessing and with peace and with our light.
[candle lighters light tapers from chalice and light the front row. After a bit of time, Jessica begins.] **acapella?
Silent Night (German by Jessica, English by congregation)
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Let us remember on this night and every night that we have the light, the power, to alter darkness with our love.
Happy birthday, baby Jesus!
If you’d like to extinguish your candles now, feel free to do so – but remain seated so we can hear our postlude by Sam Hull.
Go forth in peace, and Merry Christmas!
Piano carols Silent Night, Carol of the Bells Sam Hull