The Festival of the  Nativity of our Lord

December 25, 2021


A Pre-Service Prayer for Christmas Morning     Thank you, Heavenly Father, for Your great love in sending Your one and only Son to become fully human in order to save me and all people from our sins, and to win eternal life for us in heaven.     With Mary, I ponder the wonders of Christ’s birth and its amazing blessings for me.   Lead me, like the shepherds on that first Christmas, to go and tell others this greatest of news: “To you is born this day a Savior.   He is Christ, the Lord.”     Lead more people to believe in Jesus and to have the joy and peace, the comfort and everlasting hope that only He can bring to any person’s life.       Fill me with a greater measure of that joy, too, as I open my heart and ears, bring my humble offerings, and bow my head in humble adoration and praise at the edge of Christ’s cradle today.   I ask this in the name of my newborn Savior, Jesus Christ.   Amen.



Period for Silent Prayer                                                                                                              Pre-service music


“Te Deum Laudamus”

(We Praise You, O Lord)


Pre-Service Hymn Singing


Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.

The stars in the sky, looked down where He lay,

The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.

And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.


+ + + + + + + + + + + +


O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see Thee lie,

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep   the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth   the everlasting light

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.


O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in,   Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels    The great glad tidings tell:

Oh, come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Immanuel!


+ + + + + + + + + + + +


  Oh come, O Root of Jesse, free   Your own from Satan’s tyranny.

From depths of hell Your people save,

   And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Rejoice!   Rejoice!   Emmanuel   Shall come to You, O Israel.


Oh come, O Key of David, come,    And open wide our heav’nly home.

Make safe the way that leads on high,   And close the path to misery.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel.   Shall come to You, O Israel.


+ + + + + + + + + + + +


Hark the herald angels sing,   “Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild,   God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful all you nations rise,    Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark!   the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”


Hail, the heav’nly Prince of Peace!   Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,   Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,   Born that we no more may die,

Born to raise us from the earth,   Born to give us second birth.

Hark!   The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

We Praise Our God                                                       


The Greeting and Invitation to Worship


The Opening Hymn                                                                                                “O Come All Ye Faithful”


Oh, come, all ye faithful,     triumphantly sing;

Come, see in the manger     Our Savior and King!

To Bethlehem hasten with joyful accord;

Oh, come, let us adore Him,   Oh come, let us adore Him,

Oh, come, let us adore Him,   Christ the Lord!


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,  Born this happy morning;

Jesus to Thee be all glo – ry given,

Glory to God,  all Glory in the highest,

Oh, come, let us adore Him,   Oh come, let us adore Him,

Oh, come, let us adore Him,   Christ the Lord!     Amen.



At the Pastor’s invitation, the Congregation will rise for


The Invocation


We make our beginning this morning

in the name of the one true, and only God. 

We begin this service, then,

in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



The Opening Greeting


Pastor:      Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;

Congregation:      He is Christ, the Lord



The Psalm for Christmas Day                                                                                                            Psalm 98


P:  Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things;

C: His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.

P:  The LORD has made His salvation known.  He has revealed His righteousness to the eyes of the nations.

C: He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;   all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.


P:  Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Break out in joyful song! Make music!

C: Make music to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of music.


P:  With trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn —

C: shout for joy before the King, the LORD.


P:  Let the sea roar, and everything that fills it, the world, and all who live in it.

C: Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing for joy together before the LORD.


P:  For He comes to judge the earth.

C: He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with fairness.


We Make Confession Of Our Sins To Our Lord


Pastor –          Let us now join in confessing our sins to God.


All –         Almighty God we have come together to stand in Your presence, to hear Your Word and to worship You.


Pastor –          But who may appear in Your presence, Heavenly Father, and who may call on You for help?


All –         He who has clean hands and a pure heart;  He shall receive blessings from the Lord.


Pastor –          O Holy and righteous God, You alone can make us clean.  We have rebelled against You and become worthless.  But Your mercies never end; they are new every day.  At Your command and promise, therefore, we come to You and confess our sins.

All –         O Holy and most merciful Father, I am altogether sinful from birth.  In countless ways I have sinned against You and do not deserve to be called Your child.   But at Your gracious Word I come to You, and for the sake of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I plead:    God have mercy on me a sinner!”



The Words of Absolution and Assurance


Pastor –          Having heard your confession, I as a called minister of the Living Word assure you that our gracious Father in heaven has heard your prayer, and now, according to the command of the Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Peace be with you.  Amen.


Congregation:                                                                                                    To the melody of “Ode to Joy”

                                                                                                                                                          (cwh, 1999)


Joyful, joyful we adore You,   God of glory, God of love!

Heav’n and earth bow down before You,

 Praising You, our Lord above.

You our Father,   Christ our Savior,    With the Spirit faith provides,

Life eternal we’ve been granted, gracious gift that e’er abides.


You are giving and forgiving,      Ever glorious, Ever blest.

Source of every kind of blessing,    Giver of eternal rest.

You have claimed us as Your children

 Heaven’s heirs through faith alone –

In the Rock of our salvation,   Jesus Christ, our Lord, Your Son.


Lord, receive our prayers and praises, weak and humble though they be.

Yours the power, Yours the glory,   Both today and endlessly.

None beside You, None before You, God of mercy, full and free.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ever blessed Trinity.    Amen.


After which the Congregation will be seated as



We Give our Attention to God’s Word

Today’s Old Testament Lesson                                                                                                      Isaiah 9:2-7


2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

For those living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned.

3 You have multiplied the nation. You have increased its joy.

They rejoice before you like the joy at harvest time,

like the celebration when people divide the plunder.

4 For you have shattered the yoke that burdened them.

You have broken the bar on their shoulders and

    the rod of their oppressor,

as you did in the day of Midian.

5 Every boot that marched in battle

and the garments rolled in blood will be burned.

They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For to us a child is born.

To us a son is given.

The authority to rule will rest on his shoulders.

He will be named:

    Wonderful Counselor,

    Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father,

    Prince of Peace.

7 There will be no limit to his authority

and no end to the peace he brings.

He will rule on David’s throne and over his kingdom,

    to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness

    from now on, into eternity.

The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.



This Morning’s Children’s Lesson

and The Epistle Lesson                                                                                                                    Titus 3:4-7


4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, 5 he saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified[b] by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life.


The Love of God Wrapped in a Baby



After which, the Congregation will stand for the Gospel reading


The Christmas Gospel                                                                                                                    Luke 2:1-20


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.   (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)   And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.   And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem;  (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)   to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.    And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.   And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger;  because there was no room from them in the inn.


And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field,   keeping watch over their flock by night.   And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,  and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:   and they were sore afraid.    And the angel said unto them, “Fear not.   For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.   For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.   And this shall be a sign unto you;   Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”


And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,  “Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”    And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.    And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.    And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.   But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.   And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.                                                                                                                                                          (KJV)



The Sermon Hymn                                                                                     “O Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son”

To “O Tannenbaum”   cwh 2001


O Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,    You came to earth from heaven,

Fulfilled the Prophets – every one –    For us and our salvation.

The “Woman’s Seed,” and Abram’s Son,   

Yet truly you’re th’ Eternal One,

The righteous Son of David, THE    Messiah, long-awaited.


Lord Jesus, Sole Begotten Son,    Be-lov-ed by the Father,

The miracles that You have done   Affirmed You are none other

Than the True God in human form   Spirit-conceived and Virgin born.

The perfect Keeper of the Law –   To free us from its burden.


You stood before accusers, mute     Rejected by Your nation

You bled and died, my Substitute    You earned for me salvation.

O Lamb of God you took away   

The whole world’s sin….Now hear me pray:

May peace and joy fill all this day –   Who trust in You, dear Savior.


Oh Savior of the nations, Come,   In majesty and glory

Attended by Your angel hosts   Complete our earthly story.

As Judge of living and the dead,   Forever You’re the Church’s Head.

By grace, through faith in You, ahead    For us is Heav’nly glory.    



The Christmas Day Meditation


John 1:1-18   ……   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him everything was made, and without him not one thing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

     6 There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as an eyewitness to testify about the light so that everyone would believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.

     9 The real light that shines on everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, yet his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They were born, not of blood, or of the desire of the flesh, or of a husband’s will, but born of God.

     14 The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory he has as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

     15 John testified about him. He cried out, “This was the one I spoke about when I said, ‘The one coming after me outranks me because he existed before me.’” 16 For out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is close to the Father’s side, has made him known. 

The Word Became Flesh


The Post-Sermon Blessing


May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, Who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, now encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.  Amen.



The Confession of our Faith                                                                                            Excerpted from

                                                                                                                                         the Athanasian Creed


Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the universal Christian faith.    +   Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,  +    without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.


And the universal, Christian faith is this,   +   that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.   +    Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.   +  For there is one Person of the Father,  +   another of the Son,   +   and another of the Holy Ghost.


Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation   +   that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.   +   For the right faith is that we believe and confess   +   that our Lord Jesus Christ. the Son of God,   +   is God and Man;  +   God of the     Substance of the Father,   +   begotten before the worlds;    +  and Man of the substance    of His mother,    +   born in the world;   +   Perfect God and perfect Man,    +   of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.


Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead   +    and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood;   +   Who, although He be God and Man,    +    yet He is not two, but one Christ:  +    One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh,    +   but by taking the manhood into God;   +   One altogether;  not by confusion of Substance,    +    but by unity of Person.


For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man,   +    so God and Man is one Christ;  +   Who suffered for our salvation;    +   descended into hell;    +    rose again the third day from the dead;   +   He ascended into heaven;     +   He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty;    +  from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  +  


At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies   +    and shall give an account of their own works.   +   And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting;    +   and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.


This is the universal, Christian faith;    +   which except a man believe faithfully and firmly,    +    he cannot be saved.


We Offer our Gifts to Our Savior and King


The Offering


Offerings will be received this morning through offering plates passed among those who have gathered here for worship.

   However, for those watching this worship service, we offer you the following suggestions for providing God with Your thank-offerings through our ministry:     

1) You can mail a check (no cash) to the church address (415 N. 6th Place, Lowell, AR 72745)

2) You can go to our website ( and use the giving option.


At the Pastor’s invitation, the Congregation will rise for


FOR CHRISTMAS DAY                    


Since early in the 6th century A.D. Christians have adored Christ through a special song of praise and confession entitled Te Deum Laudamus (Latin for “We Praise You, O God”).   Not only is it one of the oldest hymns of the Christian Church, it is surely one of the greatest confessions of our faith, set in song.  Although the author is not known with certainty, one medieval legend credits its joint authorship to two of the great “fathers” of the early church:   Ambrose and Augustine.   Supposedly it was written upon the occasion of the latter’s baptism by the former.   Modern scholars, however, generally accept the suggestion that Niceta, an early 4th century missionary and bishop in Dacia (in today’s Bulgaria) authored, or at least first compiled, this ancient hymn.


The Te Deum Laudamus in structure resembles another very early church hymn Gloria in Excelsis (Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest”), which in fact might have influenced its form.  There are three clear divisions in the hymn.   The first part sounds forth the praises of God the Father, and then in chorus the entire Holy Trinity.   The second segment commemorates Christ’s redemptive work.   The third portion (probably an appendix added later….and not included in the reading/singing that follows) consists of a general, though not cohesive, combination of Psalm passages in a style which typically concluded a number of early church hymns.   


After the pastor speaks each of the phrases of this majestic song, the congregation will sing selected Christmas hymns that reflect this traditional song’s teachings and exultation.


  • We praise You, O God, we acclaim You as Lord; all creation worships You, Father everlasting.


Oh ye heights of heaven adore Him,

Angel hosts His praises sing,

Powers, dominions bow before Hm

And extol our God and King.

Let no tongue on earth be silent,

Every voice in concert ring       Evermore and evermore.


Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,

And O Holy Ghost, to Thee

Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving

And unending praises be,

Honor, glory, and dominion

And eternal victory     Evermore and evermore.



  • To You all angels, all the pow’rs of heav’n, cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of heav’nly hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory.


The Word becomes incarnate  And yet remains on high,

And cherubim sing anthems     To shepherds from the sky.

Repeat the hymn again:

“To God on high be glory   And peace on earth to men.”


While thus they sing your monarch,    Those bright angelic bands,

Rejoice, ye vales and mountains,        Ye oceans, clap your hands.

Repeat the hymn again:

“To God on high be glory   And peace on earth to men.”



P:        The glorious company of apostles praise You. The noble


fellowship of prophets praise You. The white robed army of martyrs praise You. Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims You: Father of majesty unbounded, Your glorious, true, and only Son, and the Holy Spirit, Advocate and Guide.


Now through His Son doth shine

The Father’s grace divine.

Death o’er us had reign-ed

Through sin and vanity;

He for us obtain-ed

Eternal joy on high.

May we praise him there!         May we praise Him there!


Oh, where shall joy be found?

Where but on heavenly ground?

Where the angels singing

With all His saints unite,

Sweetest praises bringing

In heavenly joy and light.

Oh, that we were there!            Oh, that we were there!



  • You, Christ, are the King of glory, the eternal Son of the Father.


Christ, by highest heaven adored,

Christ, the everlasting Lord,

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the God-head see,

Hail th’ incarnate Deity!

Pleased as Man with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Immanuel!

Hark! The herald angels sing,      “Glory to the new-born King!”



P:  When You became man to set us free, You humbled yourself to be born of a virgin. You overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.


What child is this Who, laid to rest,

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet

With anthems sweet

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, This is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!


Why lies He in such mean estate

Where oxen now are feeding?

Good Christians, fear;

For sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through;

The cross He bore for me, for you.

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!





  • You sit at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father. We believe that You will come to be our Judge. Come then, Lord, and help Your people, bought with the price of Your own blood, and bring us with Your saints to glory everlasting.


But our eyes at last shall see Him    Through His own redeeming love,

For that Child, so dear and gentle,    Is our Lord in heaven above,

And He leads His children on   To the place where He is gone.


Not in that poor, lowly stable    With the oxen standing by

Shall we see Him, but in heaven,    Set at God’s right hand on high.

Then like stars his children crowned,

 All in white, His praise will sound.


After which the Congregation will rise as


We Bring Our Prayers Before the Lord


P   In love, O God, You gave Your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. We give You thanks for this indescribable gift—a Savior, Who by His life, death, and resurrection has removed from us the guilt and curse of our sins.


C: You did this because You do not desire the death of sinners +    but that all would repent and live eternally, through faith in You.


P  Eternal God, by the mystery of Your holy incarnation and by Your holy nativity, You took upon Yourself our human flesh.   


C: Keep us ever mindful of the truth that in the person of Jesus   +    we will always see Your glory and Your grace to us.


P   For the sake of Your Son, hear our prayers this morning.   Use us as messengers of Your infinite love to those outside Your family of believers.  


C: So that by Your Word and through Your Spirit,   +    those who live in the darkness of unbelief might hear from us the Christmas Gospel,   +   and come to saving faith in Jesus,   +    Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.


P   In love, O Lord, You created and preserve all things.    We plead with you to preserve our land from discord and strife, and to give our country Your protection in every time of need. Direct and defend all of our leaders so that they may serve Your people in honesty, humility and righteousness.   


C: Give strength and safety to those serving in our nation’s military   +   and to their families who miss their loved one’s presence,   +    especially during this Christmas season.   +    In the midst of wars and rumors of wars,   +    help us to keep our focus on the true peace that comes from Jesus Christ, our Lord.


P   In love, dear Savior, You chose to dwell with an earthly family.    Grant Your blessing to all families.   Keep all harm and danger far from them.


C: By Your power,   +     may they dwell together with a spirit of forgiveness, love, and peace   +    under Your gracious protection and guidance.


P   O Lord, You who were rich, yet became poor to redeem us from sin’s curse…… Comfort those who face economic challenges with the assurance that in spite of their difficulties, they can always look to You, with confidence, to for provide all their needs of body and soul.   Also grant Your blessing to those who dwell in loneliness and who have any type of need.   


C: Fill them with the knowledge that You are their Immanuel,   +    and so You are always with them.   +     Banish all sadness from their and our hearts by the light of Your forgiving love.   +    And enable Your congregation to serve as a place of Your love and care,   +     as well as to be a beacon of Your Good News of salvation.


P   In your mercy, precious Savior, You took up our frail flesh and bones.    Abide with all who are weary due to the challenges of increasing age.   As their steps become slower and sometimes more painful, remove any doubt or unbelief from Your people.   


C: Continually remind them, and all who suffer from various afflictions,   +    that You are their Immanuel    +   and that You are constantly with them in the midst of all their daily struggles.


P   Out of your limitless love for us, O God, You came to rescue us from the damning peril of our sins.    Grant us all a blessed Christmas season as we rejoice in Your gracious gift of redemption and reconciliation.  


C: During our earthly commemoration of the birth of Your only-begotten Son,   +    please keep us focused on the goal of our faith:    +    everlasting life in Your heavenly home,   +     where all Your saints dwell and where true joy shall always be found.


P   Through the gracious intercession of our Prince of Peace, Your only begotten Son—the Word made flesh—very God of very God, Jesus Christ, our Lord,  graciously receive this and all our prayers, delivering and preserving us from all harm and danger, and keeping us secure spiritually, for to You alone we owe all glory, honor, and worship….You Who are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God, now and forever.   Finally, hear us as we join in the prayer Your Son taught us to pray:


C:       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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;  And lead us not into temptation;  But deliver us from evil;  For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.



We Leave With The Lord’s Blessing


The Benediction


                 The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

                 And the love of God the Father

                 And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.


Following which the Congregation will be seated for


The Closing Hymn                                                               Hymn 38   ‘Joy to the World, the Lord is Come”


Period for Silent Prayer, Announcements, Postlude







           What is the most important church festival?  No doubt many church-goers would answer, “Christmas, of course!”  But it wasn’t always that way.  As a matter of fact, for the first 350 years after Christ’s birth Christian churches didn’t celebrate a December 25th Christmas.   (There is evidence that the origins of a primitive and isolated Christmas celebration can be traced back to 98 AD, but it was not embraced church-wide and was rather short-lived.)   For early Christians the major Church festival of the year was Easter, with each new Sunday (the Lord’s Day) serving as a reminder of Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week.  In fact, church members who did consider formally commemorating Christ’s birth were afraid that by doing so, outsiders might come to think of Jesus as just another one of the many earthly rulers whose birthdays customarily were celebrated in those days.

           Instead of being concerned with a December 25th Christmas, the ancient church was much more interested in January 6, the Festival of Epiphany, which directed people’s attention to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry:  his baptism and first miracle.  Today, of course, Epiphany lies in the shadow of Christmas and has even taken on a Christmas theme.  We now use Epiphany to relate the final chapter of the Christmas story, the coming of the Wise Men.

           It was during the fourth century that the spotlight began to shift from Epiphany to Christmas.  One reason was a growing emphasis on the miraculous, yet human, birth of the Savior.  The early Christians had to contend with a cult known as the Gnostics (“Knowers”).  These heretics down-played Jesus’ humanity.  To them it was unthinkable that the eternal Son of God should come into the world as a little baby.  The Gnostics taught that Jesus actually became divine at the time of his baptism.  They posed a serious threat to the early church, much like cults today that pull thousands away from Christian churches.  It was only natural that discussions about Christ’s humanity would center on his birth.  The problem was, nobody knew when the Savior was born.  The Bible gives no specific date.  And if first generation Christians knew it, either they didn’t write it down or it wasn’t preserved.

           Putting together what scant information they had, theologians sought to arrive at the date.  Some attempted to establish the day when Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) served in the temple;  they then combined it with the annunciation to Mary which took place “in the sixth month” following (Luke 1:26).  Others tried to determine at what time of the year the shepherds might or might not have been in the fields of Bethlehem.  Such calculations have led to a variety of possibilities:  January 2 or 6, March 28 or 29, April 18, 19 or 20, September 29, December 25.  The church father Hippolytus (about 170-235) is given credit for being the first person to set the date as December 25.  He had concluded that the time of Christ’s life from his conception to his crucifixion was exactly 33 years.  Having somehow determined (we now know his conclusions were erroneous) that both these events took place on March 25, it was simply a matter of adding nine months to get the day of Jesus’ birth, December 25.   

           About the same time that Christians were deciding that Jesus’ birthday was important, another momentous event took place.  The Roman Emperor Constantine (280-337) was converted to Christianity.  Suddenly Christianity went from being a persecuted religion to having the “status” of the official state religion.  Because of this, many people found it politically advantageous to become Christian.  Needless to say, more than a few of those “conversions” were less than genuine.   It just so happened that one of the favorite Roman holidays was the Saturnalia (December 17-24), which centered on the celebration of the shortest day of the year and the birth of the “new sun” on December 21.  These days were marked by processions, lighting candles and giving presents.  This was also a time of merrymaking and overindulgence.  Since the Romans were not inclined to give up their holiday, it seemed logical to replace the birth of the sun with the birth of “the Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), but it wasn’t an easy or a total victory. In fact, to this day, since that first celebration of Christmas in 336, Christian pastors – often against formidable secular and materialistic competition – have had to  fight to keep Christ at the center of the Christmas celebration.

           Some additional thoughts…..the “season” of Christmas lasts only a few weeks on the “traditional” Church Calendar.  Its exact length is determined by the number of Sundays between December 25 and January 6th.   It is never longer than two Sundays, and is typically one Sunday in length.  Also, in generations past  December 25th was usually referred to as “First Christmas” (rather than Christmas Day), while December 26th came to be known as “Second Christmas.”  On both days Christians considered it a privilege to publicly worship their Savior-King.  Sadly that “good” custom of reinforcing in our hearts the good news of the Savior’s birth through “Second Christmas” fell into disuse years ago, and so has been all but lost to today’s average churchgoer.

           In closing…..(and perhaps as a surprise to some) a few of the customs we associate with Christmas owe at least part of their origin to pagan sources.  For example, the Roman Saturnalia, which marked the sun’s “return” included the practice of giving and receiving presents.  Also, it is very possible that our customs of using evergreens, holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary were first suggested by non-Christian practices, although these quickly took on Christian significance.   And finally, as for the custom of Christmas trees, which are of German origin, this practice can be traced back to the Christian-oriented mystery plays of the Middle Ages.  Traditionally, Martin Luther was among the first – if not the first – to bring the evergreen tree indoors as a symbol of the everlasting life which Christ our Savior came to bring us.





The Advent Wreath and Candles

     Central to our celebration of the Savior’s birth not only this morning , but throughout the pre-Christmas season of Advent has been the “Advent Wreath and Candles” which are found in the front of the sanctuary today.    For the first time this year, the large white candle in the center, the “Christ Candle,” is lit, since this morning we are here to celebrate His birth.  It symbolizes the fulfillment of Christmas prophesy — the nativity of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Light of the world.  In addition, the four smaller candles (formerly 3 purple and one pink) have been replaced by four white candles.   The color of white is used to symbolize the personal purity of Christ our Savior, as well as to typify the status (of fully forgiven, heaven-bound saints) that Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice has secured for us.  The significance of each of those four smaller candles is explained in what follows:


The First Candle (violet/white) is the Candle of Prophesy, symbolizing the Old Testament prophecies of the Advent, or coming, of the Savior.    The Second Advent Candle (violet/white) is the Bethlehem Candle.  It symbolizes the coming to earth of Jesus, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.    The Third Advent Candle (pink/white) is the Shepherd Candle.   Through this candle’s symbolism we recall the coming of the Savior into our hearts and lives through the Means of Grace (the Gospel in Word and Sacrament).   The Fourth Candle (violet/white) is the Angel Candle.   It represents the final coming of the Savior in glory with all His angels for the final judgement.


Our Advent/Christmas wreath, now with all white candles, will continue to be used until the twelve day-long Christmas Season officially ends with the arrival of Epiphany on January 6th.  The white altar cloths will also continue to be used through the first Sunday of Epiphany.   The colors then change to green which – as is also symbolized through the evergreens of our wreath – reminds us.





The Chrismon Trees

….in the front of our church combine to offer a Christmas symbol both  American and Lutheran in its origin, and which was first presented in 1957.    The Evergreen tree, which symbolizes the eternal life which our Savior has won for us, is a background for tiny white lights  and white and gold Chrismons.  The Lights speak of Him Who is the  Light of the world, and the various Chrismons (CHRISt + MONogram) ornaments proclaim the Name, the Life, and the saving acts of Jesus the Christ.