|Liturgy by TLW|
Ideas for Christmas Liturgies
by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
When it comes to Christmas, most congregations have well developed traditions that have grown out of the experience and resources of that particular parish community. It's an occasion to "pull out all the stops" and celebrate with due pomp and ceremony. Here are few ideas which I would recommend:
1. First, I would hope that at least one of your services is a Christmas Eucharist, that is, a Christ-Mass. The mystery of the Word made Flesh is so well expressed in the reception of Holy Communion, with hands upheld and forming something of a manger to receive the Incarnate Lord. A quiet communion, like the quiet of that Bethlehem night, with lullaby carols sung by angel voices within the congregation, makes for a eucharist unlike others during the year.
See The Christ Mass at Midnight on the Nativity of Our Lord for a full liturgy.
See also A Service for Christmas Eve (without Communion) for another full liturgy.
2. Second, if you bring out a Nativity Scene during Advent, I hope that you hold back the infant Christ Child for placement at the Christmas Eve Service. (Save the magi for Epiphany too). In fact, I would suggest a Procession of the Christ Child, perhaps as part of the Entrance Rite, during which the infant is brought forward and placed in the manger. If the service is Lessons and Carols, the procession might occur prior to the final lesson (the Christmas gospel), which would then be read before the creche. (See A Service for Christmas Eve (without Communion) for a sample of how the Procession is used.)
After placing the Christ Child in the manger, use the following Blessing of the Creche:
P. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe. You have enriched our lives with every good and perfect gift; you have commanded us to show your splendor to our children and to praise you with lives of love, justice, and joy. Be with us this night, and bless + this creche, that it may be a visible sign of your saving grace and love in all our Christmas celebrations; through your Son, Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever.
C. Amen (LBW Occ. Serv., p.176 and TLW)
3. Special Offertory and Post-Communion Prayers appropriate to Christmas are helpful as well. I offer the following:
A. Almighty God,
C. We are mindful of the supreme gift that you gave us in a manger at Bethlehem. Humbly we offer our gifts of service and possessions in joyful thanksgiving for the love you have shown us. We bring as well the concerns of our hearts for ourselves and for others. Hear our prayers and accept these gifts for the sake of your Son who was born this day, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A. Let us pray. Almighty and Redeeming God, today you have made us one with you by lovingly sending your Son to take on our frail flesh. We thank you for this Word made flesh, revealed to us in the manger and in the bread and wine. Grant that we may find in his birth the new birth which he brings in us, to live out your gospel of love in the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
4. If you are planning to use Hand-Held Candles as part of the Christmas Eve Service, then take full advantage of the symbolism of light that is such a part of the Incarnation.
Save the reading of St. John's mighty prologue (1:1-14) for the time when the light is being passed. When candles are lighted, have all recite "Lord, Now You Let," the Nunc Dimittis, with its reference to the light that lightens the Gentiles. Then sing "Silent Night" or whatever carol is traditional for you. Have the Nunc Dimittis and the carol printed out (on the same or facing page, please) for ease of handling both candle and bulletin. This makes a powerful Post-Communion section or closing to Lessons and Carols while allowing a traditional church symbol (light) to speak without sentimentality. After final prayers and Benediction, extinguish candles. By the way, if you haven't seen some of the new plastic candle holders in the catalogs, you should. No more dripping through holes or down the slanted cardboard holder. Costs are reasonable.
5. Incense can add a touch of mystery to Incarnation celebrations. It need not be swung in a traditional thurible, nor does it need to be heavy in volume or smell. A stationary pot (perhaps of clay), placed either near the altar or near the creche, can add just a touch of other-worldliness, reminiscent of the gift of the magi and the scenes of heaven in the Book of Revelation. (Good for Epiphany too). Add a dash of incense to a burning coal at the Entrance Rite and again at the Offertory.
6. If you do not presently do a Christmas Day Eucharist, I heartily encourage it. When Christmas falls on a Sunday, that is an especially good opportunity to begin and then continue a new service tradition on Christmas Day. In the past, I have done a 45-min. liturgy at the regular morning worship hour (10:30 or 11 a.m.) that draws people who cannot get out on Christmas Eve. Crowds are always small, but I find it to be quite intimate and one of my favorite services.
See The Christ Mass for Christmas Morning for a full liturgy.