For our Children’s Christmas Eve service, I scripted a series of reflections that some of the children and I delivered together, taking the verses of the carol “The Friendly Beasts” as a guide. I don’t think it sucks.
1. Jesus Our Brother, Kind and Good
Pat singing: “Jesus our brother, kind and good, was humbly born in a stable rude…”
Hold up, “brother?” My last name isn’t Christ. Unless my mom has neglected to mention a very big piece of information, I don’t have any brothers. And if the baby Jesus is my brother, then why didn’t I get any golden fleece diapers too? How come I got stuck with the Costco brand?
No, it’s not like that— Jesus is everybody’s brother; you, me, the guy in the back with the ugly Christmas sweater, the uncle your mom hopes doesn’t come for Christmas dinner this year, the lunch lady with her hair net.
All of us, Jesus is our brother.
It’s what the Bible means by calling Mary’s baby the “Second Adam.”
He’s the start of something new.. It’s why Matthew starts his nativity story not with the angel Gabriel, but with the very same word that starts the whole Bible.
“In the beginning…”
So Jesus is our brother because Jesus is the Second Adam.
Christmas is like God’s “do-over.”
Do-over? What was the matter with the Old Adam?
What was the matter with the Old Adam? Really? It’s like Indiana Jones says in Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Any of you guys ever go to Sunday School?” The problem with the Old Adam was, you know, the s-word.
The s-word? You mean the word my dad says during Redskins games?
What? No. Sin. The s-word.
Oh right, sin— that’s the stuff we do to get on God’s naughty list, right?
No, God’s way better than Santa. God doesn’t have a naughty list. No, sin— pay attention now— is not taking God at his word. Sin is not trusting God’s words.
I don’t get it.
Remember, God tells Adam not to eat a particular kind of fruit from a particular sort of tree, because it would make him die— must’ve not been organic or something.
Anyways, before you can say, “Do these fig leaves make me look fat,” a snake comes slithering along and Adam must’ve understood parseltongue, because the snake says to the Old Adam, “Did God really say that fruit would make you die? It’s as good as any fruit at Whole Foods. It won’t make you die.”
Just like that, faster than God hung the stars in the sky or Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels, Adam no longer trusted God’s words.
Adam ate the fruit and died..
And God had told him the truth.
Later, Adam’s children, the People of Israel, they didn’t take God at his word either. Before you know it, the s-word, not trusting God’s promises, led to violence and greed and injustice.
So what’s the New Adam do?
The New Adam does what the Old Adam didn’t do. Jesus lives his whole life trusting every word God gives him.
Thus, tonight, for all of us, to be the brothers and sisters of the baby Jesus, it’s about taking God at his word.
It’s about trusting God’s word when God, through his angel, tells you tonight, “I am bringing you good news of great joy. This day, in the City of David, a savior is born for you.”
2. The Donkey, Shaggy and Brown
“I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried his mother up hill and down;
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town.”
Did you know there’s a talking donkey in the Bible, in the Old Testament?
So what? My mom says there’s one in the pulpit here most Sundays.
I guess Christmas isn’t the only day miracles happen.
If the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem could talk, I bet it would’ve had some four-letter words for Caesar Augustus.
Just think, the trail from Nazareth to Bethlehem is seventy miles long. And that’s without any WAWAs, EZ Pass lanes, or podcasts.
The journey likely took Mary and Joseph a week, and all because some stooge sitting behind his desk in the capital of the free world decided to take a census. Caesar wanted to count the Jews in order to figure out how much he should charge them for the privilege of Caesar’s army occupying them like prisoners.
Mary and Joseph have to pack their bags and head to Bethelehem because of politics.
Gosh, I’m glad we don’t live in a time when the census gets used as a political weapon. I guess when you have a salad named after you, you think you can get away with anything.
No, actually, Caesar isn’t his name. Caesar is his title. Caesar is just the Latin word for the Greek word “Christ” and the Hebrew word “Messiah.”
They all mean “King.”
The Christmas story, the Gospels want you to see, is a collision of kingdoms.
Wasn’t it a donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem to a cross just like it was a donkey that carried him in Mary to Bethlehem?
Yes, and I bet that donkey had some awful things to say— the kinds of things you can only say on Twitter. After all, that donkey was a witness to the terrible ways they treated Mary’s boy before finally nailing him to a tree.
Do you know the difference between animals like donkeys and all the rest of us?
Um, we can distinguish between a water bowl and a toilet?
No. Well, maybe, yeah, but— we’re the only animals who can choose to doubt or to trust words. Animals like dogs and donkeys can recognize words— but they can’t trust words.
We’re the only creatures who can take the incarnate God at his word when he says from his cross, “I forgive you, you don’t know what you’re doing. But, you will be with me, in paradise.”
3. The Cow, White and Red
I, ” said the cow, all white and red
“I gave him my manger for his bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I, ” said the cow, all white and red.
When it comes to Christmas, most of us think the important word for the season is “for.”
Christmas is a time we feel drawn to doing things for others. We buy presents for our loved ones. We worry over cooking up the perfect meal for our family. We think this is the season when we should do something kind for those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Cows aren’t the smartest beasts in God’s creation, but…
What do you mean cows aren’t smart? They might misspell chicken, but that’s still pretty good for not having opposable thumbs.
I don’t get it.
Duh, it was a Chik Fil A joke.
Not your best material.
They can’t all be pearls, but when half the room is here against their will we gotta try to make them smile, right?
If you’re just trying to shamelessly appeal to the audience, you should make a reference to Baby Yoda.
I’d never stoop so low.
[Show Slide of Baby Yoda]
I still say cows are dumb; on the udder hand, the cow at the manger knows what we forget. “For” may be the word with which we celebrate Christmas, but “for” isn’t the way God celebrates Christmas.
Remember, the angel says to Joseph, “‘Behold, the virgin shall bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.’”
Before Christmas is the start to God doing something for us, it’s God coming to be with us.
So with is a tiny little word but it gets to the heart of Christmas?
And “with” is the word that gets at the heart of that other word “Gospel,” because the Gospel is the promise that God is not far off from you somewhere in heaven.
You don’t have to change.
You don’t have to straighten up or stop your sinning.
The Gospel is the promise that God comes down to you— not just in a dirty manger but in the muck and mire of your everyday life.
The Gospel is the promise that the Holy God is with you in the difficult places of your life.
The baby in the manger is not the way we come to God.
The baby in the manger is the way God comes to us.
People often ask themselves “Where is God?” in the midst of their problems.
If you’ve ever wondered where God is for you when your life has turned upside down, then remember that the promise of Christmas, the promise of the Gospel is that Heaven has been turned upside down, too, and that God comes down to you.
Whomever you are, the only work you need to do tonight is to take Jesus at his word.
When the God born tonight comes back from the dead, he promises his friends— friends who DO NOT deserve such a promise— “Always, until the end of the aeon, I am with you.”
In fact, he’s as close to you tonight as this table.
Mary and Joseph rested the incarnate God in the hay the cow was to eat. Likewise,
Christ is here in creatures of bread and wine.
4. The Sheep with Curly Horn
I, ” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave him my wool for his blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I, ” said the sheep with curly horn.
I thought the next verse was about a pig.
No, I’m sure of it. I learned the song in preschool. It’s “I, said, the pig with curly tail.” It’s a pig.
No, there were definitely no pigs at the nativity.
Are you sure?
As sure as I am that the wise men didn’t bring the King of the Jews Persia’s finest oysters and bacon. If we can identify with anyone in the manger scene, it’s probably not the wise men or the shepherds.
It’s the sheep.
Jesus says that he’s the Good Shepherd. Think about it, he’s the one to whom his mother grew up praying “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
To profess that the Lord is your Shepherd is to confess that you are a sheep.
But, sheep are lame.
That’s the point. Sheep are stubborn. Sheep wander. Sheep get lost. Sheep fall into problems entirely of their own making. Sheep are dependent totally on their shepherd.
Being a sheep is worse than finding out you’re a Sagitarius.
Exactly. It’s offensive even. Sheep aren’t like other animals. Sheep aren’t like donkeys. The only real work— if you can call it work— a sheep performs is listening to the Shepherd’s voice.
I have a hard time just listening to my teachers.
Don’t we all, but Jesus is better than your teacher.
I’m not sure you’re allowed to say that.
Sure I am. Look, the baby Jesus— when he grows up— tells a story about a single lost sheep who wanders off from the flock of ninety-nine.
The story is Jesus’ way of responding to a question about who is most awesome in God’s eyes, the do-gooding every Sunday types or your garden variety skeptics, cynics, and sinners.
Jesus doesn’t answer their question by telling them the greatest in the Kingdom are those who give to the poor or never leaves a nasty comment on Facebook.
No, Jesus answers with an image of a sheep who is nothing but the recipient of the Shepherd’s finding.
We think the story’s supposed to be about the sheep, lost from its flock, but it’s about the Shepherd’s determined work of finding.
Speaking of getting lost, what’s this got to do with Christmas?
Christmas is a time when it’s easy to wonder whether you’re really a part of the flock.
It’s easy to doubt God.
It’s even easier to doubt you’re worth him finding you.
St. Paul calls the incarnation an invasion; that is, Christmas is the beginning of a rescue mission. And the promise of the Gospel is that you don’t need to do anything to make yourself findable.
5. The Dove from the Rafters High
I, ” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed him to sleep so that he would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and i.”
“I, ” said the dove from the rafters high.
Jesus is called a Prince, right?
Yep, the Prince of Peace, Isaiah says. Why?
Well, I was just wondering. If Jesus is a prince, then does that mean Jesus knows what it sounds like when doves cry? Because I’ve been listening to the song on Spotify, and I have no idea.
Just don’t start asking questions about Little Red Corvette, too.
I can tell you, though, what sound this dove at the manger is meant to make you recall— what words actually.
Just after the Christmas story— turn the page— Jesus is all grown up and he shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized.
And as Jesus comes up out of the water, the Bible says the sky opens up and the same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary’s womb comes down like a dove and God the Father’s voice declares, “This is my Beloved in whom I am well-pleased.”
Jesus’ baptism is not the first time in scripture that God says to someone, “You are my Beloved.”
But, it is the first time in scripture that someone actually believes it and lives his life believing it and never forgets it even when he’s forsaken by his friends.
Yeah, sure, but Jesus is different than the rest of us.”
No. Jesus was like us in every way.
Except one way.
Jesus never forgot who God said he was. He never doubted God’s words about him and taking God at his word set Jesus free to live as though the whole world was a new and different creation.
Well, it’s easy to believe you’re beloved and pleasing to God when you’re good ALL THE TIME.
I think sometimes the problem we have with believing we’re beloved and pleasing to God is that we have bad ideas of what God considers good.
Like, right after God says to Jesus, “You’re my beloved in whom I’m well-pleased,” guess what Jesus does?
He starts going to dinner parties with people who drink too much and tell dirty jokes.
He heals people that doctors won’t touch.
He makes friends with cheats and losers, and he makes bad guys the heroes of his stories.
For God, what it means to be “good” is to be a friend of sinners.
That’s a strange definition of good. I think my parents would have a hard time believing it if I told them.
Of course, they’d have a hard time believing it. We do.
That’s why we’re here tonight, and why someone like me is here every week to give you the goods and remind you what God says about you.
In a way, Christmas Eve is how all of Christianity works.
It’s how we become holy and faithful.
It’s not like we hear the promise of the Gospel once and then move on from it to figure out how to make changes in our life.
It’s hearing the promise, receiving Christ over and over again, that changes us. Being a Christian, it’s like…
Listening to a bird singing the same song, over and over.
6. The Gift They Gave Emmanuel
Thus every beast by some good spell
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.
Okay, so we know the sheep gave Jesus his coat and the cow gave him his manger, but what about the gift God gives us in Jesus Christ? What is it exactly?
We’ve all memorized the gifts the wise men give to Jesus (frankincense, gold, and myrrh), but can we name the gift God gives to us in Jesus?
We like to say that Jesus is the reason for the season, but do we really know the reason for Jesus?
Maybe the problem is that we spend too much time talking about what God takes from us in Jesus Christ (our sin) we can’t name what God gives to us in Jesus Christ. And God taking it, taking our sin, is only half of the Gospel.
What God takes from us in Christ isn’t the whole Gospel.
The Gospel is incomplete if it doesn’t also include what God gives to us: Christ’s own righteousness.
Hold up. Up until now, I was going to give you a solid C+ for tonight, but now you’re threatening to wreck everything at the end with some stained glass language. Righteousness?
It’s the Bible’s word for…well, think of it this way.
“Righteousness” is your permanent perfect record.
Christ became what we are, says the Bible, so that his permanent perfect record might become ours.
His righteousness is reckoned to us, says the Bible, as our own righteousness.
As a gift.
It’s like a Christmas gift exchange.
Exactly, and it’s yours for free, forever.
But the only way to receive it— the way Christ gives you this gift— is in his promise.
That’s why we’re here tonight, and that’s why it’s important that we take him at his word, because he gives himself and everything that belongs to him, including his righteousness, in his promise.
Tonight, what you receive here is something you can receive nowhere else. What you get at church tonight is a gift you can get no place else.
Jesus Christ, himself.
The Gospel works like a wedding vow.
The Gospel is a promise by which the Bridegroom gives himself and everything that belongs to Him to his beloved.
Like the song says, we live in a dark world.
It isn’t easy.
Most of us do the best we can to believe, to do good, to follow Jesus.
All may not always be calm and bright.
But, take God at his word and rest in the good news that you’ve been given Christ’s own permament perfect record.
For tonight, it’s not just that when we look at Christ in the manger we see Emmanuel, God is with us.
It’s that because of Christ, whenever God looks upon us, he sees Jesus.
[End with Slide of Manger Scene including Baby Yoda]