A Christmas meditation

Stylized star of Bethlehem

Interim Pastor David Mueller shared a four-part meditation on Christmas Eve. We include the text here and a link (below) to the archived service on our YouTube channel. Our worship, led by John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, included a chime choir and guest violinist Maria Rusu.

Christmas Eve 2020

Interim Pastor David Mueller

PART I: JOSEPH

In Matthew’s report, I would like to focus on Joseph. The predicament he was in was hardly simple and easily dealt with. Especially back then, the appearance of an unmarried young woman carrying a child would have been more than a disaster. The shame and shunning would have been severe.

Mary came to Joseph and reported that she was pregnant and the Father was God. She claimed that the Holy Spirit impregnated her. We cannot be sure that Joseph would have understood that because the Holy Spirit’s advent would not come until Pentecost over three decades later. Perhaps this was a special appearance. Joseph’s first impression had to be “Yeah, right!”

We are told, however, that he was a “righteous man.” We learn here he was also a sensitive and compassionate man, for he had no designs on embarrassing or disgracing her or himself. His design was to resolve his dilemma privately. We can call Joseph not only righteous but honorable.

Enter a messenger from God, which is what the word “angelos” means. The angel shared past prophesy and present purpose in a dream leading Joseph to do what was righteous and honorable in the extreme by sticking with Mary.

It is important to be righteous and honorable, which does not presume perfection and without sin. It is equally important to believe in angels, one of whom you could experience one day.

PART II: MARY

“In those days Mary set out ….” (Luke 1:39). “In those days, a decree went out ….” Joseph went with the pregnant Mary. Their political pilgrimage took them over 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We are not offered a time frame here, knowing only that they made it just in time, for upon arrival her baby was born. Please understand that there were no hotels, motels, or Air B&Bs in those days. Many houses had a niche in the back on the ground floor with a roof over it as a place for animals at night. Bethlehem is over 2,800 feet above sea level and got quite cool — even cold — at night.

A great deal, all of it positive, was to be said about Mary, this early teenager, now married to a man most likely in his late 20s or early 30s, which was typical back then. None of these accolades means she was perfect. What stands out to me, having made the same trip any number of times in a car, is how tough and resilient this young woman must have been. The pregnancy was difficult in a contextual way. The trip was grueling to say the least. At the end of the journey, she was not rushed to delivery and then given a comfortable bed in maternity with the nursery right next door.

When Mary began this saga, she was visited by an angel, this time named “Gabriel.” “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you … Do not be afraid.” Gabriel went on to share the holiest of Holy Spirit activity, being told that “The power of the Most High” would overshadow her and she would give birth to the “Son of God.”

It is a very good thing that God was with her to empower her because she would need every ounce of God-given strength, courage and, yes, resilience.

To be favored by God is often not easy. It is a very good thing that this favored one came quickly to believe in angels.

PART III: SHEPHERDS

Speaking of angels, A WHOLE HOST appeared to some number of shepherds — of all people — making all kinds of heavenly racket with heavenly light shining bright enough to make it seem like day. These guys in this humble duty might typically get to see a wolf or two or some other beast of prey from which they needed to protect the sheep. It was usually a quiet and possibly boring a task. Not on this night! Boom! Heaven opened up to be witnessed not by the upper crust but to shepherds. We should not be surprised by this for, indeed, the One born would grow up to proclaim himself among other things as “The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.”

It was a good thing that prior to the throng of angels making themselves seen, heard and known, just one appeared first to soften the shock. The Angel spoke those incredibly inviting words, spoken previously also to Joseph and Mary: “Do not be afraid!” The angel then shared: “I have GOOD NEWS of great joy not only for you and all people; you are getting not just any savior but the Messiah!”

It is a very good thing that these shepherds came to believe in angels. It was an even better thing that immediately following their encounter with the majestic they said to one another “let us go … and see.” And after seeing they were given to “glorifying and praising God.”Going to praise and share the news is our privilege as well.

Take the angels out of the carols we usually sing — but cannot this year — and we get musical Swiss cheese, with holes one could drive a herd of sheep through. That said, heavenly racket is one thing and blasting out the carols is another, but especially now what we long for is a little light and a quiet night. Nothing else we traditionally do on Christ’s Mass is more precious than to dim the artificial, light the candles and quietly sing “Silent Night.” We will do our best with that in a few. If even in an unusual way, we failed to give this a try, something quite essential would be missing. At a time in history where heavenly racket seems strangely absent but the volume of hellish racket has been turned up, do enjoy, indeed, rejoice in the relative quiet and peace!

PART IV: THE WORLD

The Gospel of John is absent the characters of Matthew and Luke. There is this cosmic beam of light that invades darkness, along with love that invades hate, and life that invades death.

Those then and now who see and welcome the light are “given power to become children of God, born not of blood, the will of flesh, or the will of humanity, but of God.”

Jesus here is not “the babe” but the “Word” (logos in Greek, THE word), who “became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.”

On this Christ’s Mass Eve, I pray for each and all of you to be full of gratia and alaethea, grace and truth. Beware, however, for in Matthew 24:23/24 we read:

“Then if anyone says to you, ’Look! Here is the Messiah’ or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it for false messiahs and false prophets will appear …  to lead astray even the elect.”

In faith and with joy, we need to avoid the “pseudochristoi” (false Christs) and celebrate the aleatheachristoi (true Christ). May it be so with all of you!

May you know the peace and the power of God in the presence of His Son, God’s personal Word.

Amen.

Link to the service:

 

UPDATE: Christmas at St. Mark’s

Peace on Earth

Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas Day coming — even in the year 2020! We don’t want you to miss any of the opportunities St. Mark’s has as we commemorate the birth of our Lord in that humble stable setting in Bethlehem.

Of course, 2020’s indelible mark comes with these holidays. Most of us will not be gathering in person, because of the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to ravage our world. But we can still gather in both real and virtual ways, thanks to the faithful, multifaceted efforts of our St. Mark’s family, led by Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, our director of music and worship arts.

Here’s what’s coming:

  • Christmas Eve. We will have ONE in-person service at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24, with a chime choir and violinist Maria Rusu. Attendance is limited to 45 people in order to maintain social distance requirements. Those with reservations should arrive 15-30 minutes early to allow for registration and seating. The service will also be available by livestream on our YouTube channel. The link is embedded below..

  • Join us for worship at 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 27 for a service of  Lessons & Carols. Join us in person or enjoy our livestream broadcast on our YouTube channel at the link below:

  • At noon on Sunday, December 27, we will rebroadcast the Delaware-Maryland Synod’s service of Lessons & Carols, featuring musical offerings and readings from churches throughout the Synod. Two selections from our Virtual Choir will be included. Join in at the link below. If you’d like  a copy of the Synod’s bulletin, you may view and download it by clicking here.

  • Catch up on our pre-recorded Advent Devotions if you missed any of them. They also are available on our YouTube channel.

 

Christmas Eve

Poinsettias at the altar

Christmas Eve at St. Mark’s will be quite different this year, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

We are planning ONE 7:30 p.m. service. Attendance is limited to 45 worshippers.

For those who have reservations, a reminder that we will follow all safety precautions and ask that you arrive 15-30 minutes before the service begins to allow for the check-in process, social distancing, retrieving your communion packet and finding your seat.

The service will be livestreamed on our YouTube channel for those preferring to worship from home. The link to our Christmas Eve service is below, for your convenience.

Thank you!

St. Mark’s Worship and Music Committee

 

The joy of Christmas!

The altar with poinsettias

Come and celebrate with us as we gather for worship on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24.

Enjoy the music, the candles and especially the Good News that comes wrapped in the Christ!

We have two services planned:

    6 p.m. Contemporary Christmas Eve service
    10 p.m. Traditional Christmas Eve service

We hope to see you!

Twelfth Night Concert

Wilmington Handbell Ensemble

Our friends and neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant are hosting the Wilmington Handbell Ensemble for a “Twelfth Night” concert.

According to WHE’s website, the ensemble is celebrating its 19th season. It has performed at Longwood Gardens, First Night Wilmington, Christmas in Old New Castle, Christmas Open Houses in Salem and Woodstown, N.J., Brandywine River Museum and the Delaware Art Museum. The ensemble also has been featured with the Newark Symphony, the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware and the Wilmington Madrigal Singers.

All are welcome. A $15 donation is suggested.

PCOC is at 503 Duncan Road, just across Villa Place from St. Mark’s.

The Longest Night Service

For many, the holiday season holds sorrow, loss and grief. A loved one who has died is mourned. Losses and other unwanted changes can make normal holiday celebrations too painful for many.

The “Longest Night Service” is meant for all — families, individuals, friends — who have suffered loss. It is a time of reflection and contemplative respite. Its name refers to the time it usually is scheduled — on or near the longest night of the year.

The service will be held at Chester Bethel United Methodist Church, located at 2619 Foulk Rd. in Brandywine Hundred, north of Wilmington. All are welcome.

Caroling on the Square

St. Mark’s worship band — Souls on Fire — will sing and accompany carolers during the City of Wilmington’s annual Caroling on the Square event.

This is a joyous community gathering held at Rodney Square in the heart of Delaware’s largest city. Come join us as we celebrate the season with our community.

During the event, organizers will collect donations of canned goods, blankets, coats, socks and new toys for kids.