The following is an interactive sermon meant to be read aloud by members who are in attendance. Some parts have been directly adapted from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled “My Spirit Rejoices.”
[The congregation should be arranged in manner that encircles an empty manger, decorated so as to help those in attendance focus their attention. Congregation members should be selected as readers for the following parts:
- Scripture Reader
- Teen 1 (the skeptic)
- Teen 2 (the responder)
- Adult (another responder)]
Narrator: This is the God of every nation and people, the God of our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the very beginning of creation this God’s love has been present and active. When our need for a Savior was great, this God came to us, born of a virgin. In a world of danger and devastation, opposing our vanity and abhorring our violence; addressing our humanity by rejecting our hatred; this God brings joy and peace,justice, mercy, and love.
As we look upon this manger; may we recall his humble birth. May the presence of the manger among us, raise our thoughts to him. For in this manger we are reminded that God does not desire to be God without us. For the story of the manger is the proclamation of the truth that this God is God-with-us and Savior of all, and who lives and reigns forever and ever.
Let us join together and sing…
[A familiar community song should be selected.]
[The following scripture passage is from Luke 2:1-20.]
Scripture Reader: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Child [questioning the parent]: “Daddy [or substitute appropriate affectionate title], why is Christmas time so special?”
Parent: Because once we were slaves to the powers of sin and death. On Christmas, we remember that God came down to rescue us.
Child [questions parent]: “Daddy [or substitute appropriate affectionate title], why is the manger so special?”
Parent: “We don’t approach the manger like we would approach the cradle of any other child. The manger can be dangerous, but that doesn’t mean we should be afraid. It only means that we should be humble. When we come to the manger, we come expecting that something powerful will happen. When we leave the manger, we are either convicted that there are things in our lives we must change, or we leave in celebration that we have been delivered. The manger challenges our pride and self-righteousness, but it also reveals God’s comfort and compassion. It is a place of judgment, but it is also a place of grace.
Don’t you want to celebrate Christmas correctly?
[Child nods his/her head in affirmation]
Well, then, that means that at the manger we have to give up all our power, all our honor, all our reputation, all our vanity, all our pride, and all our selfishness. At the manger, we have to be content to be lowly and to let God alone be high.
Child: “But Daddy [or substitute appropriate affectionate title], what if you are already lowly?”
Parent: Then the manger is the greatest blessing of all. At the manger, we are reminded that God looks upon us with favor. God chooses to lift up the lowly. God says, “Wherever you are, I am always with you!”
[A familiar community song should be selected.]
Scripture Reader: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be 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 is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Teen 1 (The Skeptic): Who of us would really want to celebrate Christmas correctly? Who would really choose to come to the manger and give up all their power, all their honor, all their reputation, all their vanity, all their pride, and all their selfishness? Who really is comfortable just being lowly, letting God alone be high? Who can really see the glory of God in the humble state of the child in the manger?
Teen 2 (The Responder): The manger reminds us of all of the wonderful ways God is with us. God doesn’t arrange things to suit our opinions and views. God doesn’t always do things the way we want them to be done. God is free and has the ability to work in ways we don’t always understand.
Teen 1 (The Skeptic): But that is what is so outrageous. Does God want us to be rebels? Does God want us to keep a distance? Does God really want us to think that he can be found in a manger, in lowly people like servants, and the shepherds, and in the weakness of a child?
Adult Responder: God is not ashamed of the same things we are ashamed of. God doesn’t shy away from human lowliness but goes right into the middle of it. God chooses those that the rest of the world would put aside, and performs miracles right there where we least expect. God draws near to the lowly, loves the lost, the unnoticed, the unremarkable, the excluded, the powerless, and the broken. What people say is lost, God says is found; what people say is “condemned,” God says is “saved.” Where people say No! God says Yes!
Where people turn their eyes away in indifference or arrogance, God gazes with a love that glows warmer there than anywhere else. Where people say something is despicable, God calls it blessed. When we come to a point in our lives where we are completely ashamed of ourselves and before God; when we believe that God especially must now be ashamed of us, and when we feel as far away from God as ever in all our lives—that is the moment in which God is closer to us than ever, wanting to break into our lives, wanting us to feel the presence of the holy and to grasp the miracle of God’s love, God’s nearness and grace.
Teen 1 (The Skeptic): So, what you are saying is that if I want to be part of Christmas, I cannot just sit here like it’s all a show, like we are an audience watching. If this God, the God of Christmas, chooses to be born in a manger, then we should be caught up in the action too. Right?
Teen 2 (The Responder): Yeah. I think I get it! The manger really reverses everything. That means we are not the audience of Christmas. It is more like we are the actors on the stage. Christmas is more like a play, and each spectator gets a part to play. Right?
Teen 1 (The Skeptic): We cannot just sit here? Right?
Teen 2 (The Responder): Right. What will our role be? What part are we supposed to play?
Teen 1 (The Skeptic): I think I want to be one of those worshipful shepherds. What about you?