Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Concert Highlights

O Holy Night from Concert
Fum, Fum, Fum with Coralee
Deck the Halls with Coralee and Clara
Coralee singing Christmas Secret

Coralee in Blue Ridge School Children's Choir
DeAnna Directing

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 24, 2013
5 p.m.

Call to Worship

Leader:  This night is born Jesus, Son of God, King of glory.
People:   This night is born to us the root of our joy.
Leader:  How lowly, how gracious is His coming to earth.
People:   His love kindles my love in the joy of his birth.
Unison:  This night was born Jesus Christ, the Lord.  

Special Music                                        "Fum, Fum, Fum"                     CATALONIAN CAROL

The Story of Christmas 

Long was the night,
For darkness had covered the face of the Earth.       
The cloud of Sin had hidden God’s light,
From the eyes of His people,
And we had gotten lost in the wilderness.
God had promised, through the prophets,
To send His anointed, a Messiah,
A Light to shine through the darkness,          (Lift Single Candle from behind pulpit)
Restoring the Light to our eyes,
To show us the way out of the wilderness
To our home with Him,
And God does not forget His promises.
Now the time has finally come,
For the light of Hope,                                                 (Light the purple candle)
The light of Peace,                                                      (Light the purple candle)
The Light of Joy,                                                        (Light the pink candle)
And the Light of Love,                                              (Light the purple candle)
To shine again in our world,
At long last. 

The Summons

At that time, the Emperor Augustus,
Set forth a decree stating that a census was to be taken,
All people in the Empire must return to their towns to be registered.
Mary’s Betrothed, Joseph, was from the line of David,
So they had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem,
The City of David.

So they traveled, together,
To that great city,
With Mary expecting,
And the time for the Holy birth approaching. 

Carol v.1                                        "O Little Town of Bethlehem"                                              ST. LOUIS

Christ is Born 

When they got to Bethlehem,
No room could they find to stay,
Not even in the Inn, for it was full.
They were given shelter in the stable of the Inn,
And the time came, and the baby was born.
Having no bed, nor cradle for the child,
She wrapped him warmly in cloth,
And laid him in a manger. 

Carol v.1                                               "Away in a Manger"                                          AWAY IN A MANGER 

The Shepherds and the Angels
Meanwhile, on the hills outside of town,
In the fields,
Where shepherds were living,
Keeping the night’s watch over their flocks,
There came upon them an Angel,
Shining the glory of the Lord around them,
And they were in awe of the sight.
The Angel said,
Fear not, for I bring to you good news,
For this night was born in the city of David,
A savior, a Messiah, the Lord.
Let this be a sign to you,
He will be wrapped in cloth,
And lying in a manger.”
And suddenly the angel was joined
By a multitude,  
A heavenly choir singing,
“Glory to God in the Highest Heaven,
And peace on the Earth.”
Special Music                                        "One Angel Sang"                                                      PROSPECT
Soloist: Coralee Atkinson

One Angel Sang
Rev. Peter T. Atkinson 

One angel sang a heavenly tune
That Echoed 'neath the valley moon
He sang of a king, born to save the world
A gift to each little boy and girl. 

Two shepherds heard the holy sound
As they kept watch on rugged ground
Blessed they would be, the joy they felt
Rushed to his side, bowed low and knelt. 

From one then two, to all of us,
The news did spread for us to trust,
Oh hear you today, the joy we sing,
Of Jesus Christ the newborn king. 

The Shepherds Run to Bethlehem 

When the angels had gone,
The shepherds said to each other,
“Let’s go to Bethlehem, immediately,
And see this wonder for ourselves.”  

Carol (chorus)                                "Go Tell It on the Mountain"                                             GO TELL IT 

So they went to Bethlehem,
And found Mary, Joseph, and the Child,
Just as they had been told. 

The Wisemen 

In the sky, shone a new star,
And this star was observed by Wise men from the East,
Who came from their homes to pay homage
To the new king, who had been born king of the Jews.
They followed the star, leading them toward Bethlehem,
Bearing with them gifts for the Child,
Of Frankincense, Myrrh, and Gold. 

Carol v.1                                                "We Three Kings"                                               KINGS OF ORIENT 

And the star led them to the place where Jesus lay,
They knelt down, paying homage,
And presenting their gifts to the Child born King. 

Special Music                                      "A Christmas Secret"                                                arr. Mackenzie

Lighting the Christ Candle
And the light had come into the world, humbly in a manger, visited by Kings and Shepherds, angels, and now each of us. Blessed be the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Carol                                                   "What Child is This?"                                             GREENSLEEVES

The Message of Christmas 

Gospel Reading                                          John 1:1-14 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. [1]

Call for Offering 

 The Shepherds, the Wisemen, the Angels, and the animals, began the Holy Christmas tradition of Gift Giving. It is now time for us to continue this sacred tradition by presenting our own gifts to God. May the offering be given and received.

Offertory                                                 "O Holy Night"                                                   A. Adam
Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Invitation to the Table 

Here on Christmas Eve when we celebrate the birth of the child of promise, it is important for us to also remember the great sacrifice that he made for all of us. Therefore we come to the table, the Lord's Table to remember, and not just to remember in our minds, but to experientially remember as Christ has invited us to do, communing with Christ and with each other. This table is the Lord's Table, it is Christ's Table, and any who believe in him are invited. Come not because you must but because you may, come not because you are worthy but because you are not. Come let us share the holy feast.   

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving 

Let us pray. . .
Holy God we come to you in great thanksgiving for the wondrous works that you have done. From the beginning of time, when you created all, bringing light filling up the darkness with the simple speaking of Your Holy Word. And throughout History where you have continually reached out to us, promising us, teaching us, showing us, the amazing vastness of Your love, and especially in the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, whose holy and yet humble birth we celebrate tonight. Thank you for the life of Christ, everything that each detail of his holy life shows us about Your love. And we sing with the Angels,

Singing, Holy, holy, holy, glory to god in the Highest
Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory,
Hosanna, in the Highest,
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Glory to God in the Highest. Amen
Words of Institution

On the night Jesus was betrayed, in the fullness of time he took bread and broke it, saying this is my body broken for you, take, eat, in remembrance of me.
And in the same manner he took the cup saying, this cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again. These are the gifts of God for the people of God, let us keep the feast.

Sharing of the Bread
Sharing of the Cup 

Prayer after Communion

Let us pray. .  .
Almighty father God, we pray this night for the people who surround us that are hurting, suffering, or are in need. May they find hope, love, joy, an peace on this most holy of nights. May they find sheltering and open arms. May they find the strength of Your holy presence. Bless those here tonight worshiping Your holy name, fill us with the special Joy that the celebration of Christmas brings, may the child in all of us be born anew this night in your love. These things we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who was born in the lowliest of human humility, and has been raised to sit at Your right hand for all eternity, and who taught us when praying to say. . . Our father. . .

Carol                                          "Angels We Have Heard on High"                                            GLORIA

The World in Darkness

The darkness started in the garden
when humans believed the lie
hiding themselves, and their shame,
in the darkness, choosing darkness           (Begin by extinguishing the candles on pulpit and table)
instead of light,
the darkness began to spread. . .

And it spread quickly,                                         
Envy, jealousy, then murder,                                                     (Extinguish one candle for each sin)
Power, lust, control. . .
Idols. . .

And God reached out
Trying to bring us out of the darkness
Again into the light
Through covenants, promises,
To Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Moses, Joshua, David.                               (Extinguish one candle for each human broken promise)
All broken, for the dark appeal of sin
Was strong in us. . . 

Love was misconstrued as hatred                                                         (Extinguish Candle of Love)
Joy was mired in cynicism                                                                       (Extinguish Candle of Joy)
And Peace seemed impossible                                                             (Extinguish Candle of Peace)
and all hope was dashed.                                                                     (Extinguish Candle of Hope)
And the darkness seemed impenetrable,                                          (Spoken in total pitch darkness)
It seemed as if no light could pierce it,
that the darkness would suffocate
the faintest spark of light. . .

The Spreading Light

But at that time, God again showed what his Love truly is. . .    (Light Christ Candle in Darkness)
And a light was born in the darkness,
In the small town of Bethlehem
into the world through a virgin,
betrothed to a carpenter
born in a stable, laid in a manger,
because light is more humble
than the darkness, but stronger by far
and eternal. . .

And the angels called him prince of peace,                                                  (Light Candle of Peace)
for he would make peace again possible,
And they sang it to the shepherds                                                                   (Light Candle of Joy)
and they were filled with great Joy
at the wonders that they had seen

And Mary and Joseph understood                                                          (Light the Candle of Love)
the new love that God was bringing into the world 

And the star shown above,                                                                     (Light the Candle of Hope)
 lighting up the night,
 inspiring a hopeful journey
of wise men from the east. 

And with the lights                             (Light the Candles behind pulpit and on Communion Table)
of Peace, Joy, Love, and Hope
all burning, the light could spread. 

Inspiring, teaching, sacrificing,                                  (Light one candle for each of Christ's actions)
sharing, giving, healing, trusting. . .

Truth, Friendship, Charity,                                                            (Light one candle for each virtue)
Relationship, Forgiveness, Humility, and Faith. . .
Faith in the possibility, that the kingdom of God is at hand
And that light could not be stopped by the darkness again. . .              (Light the Elder's Candles)
And would now be spread one by one
to all of the waiting world. . .                                                  (Elder's Light Congregation candles)

Carol                                                         "Silent Night"                                                     STILLE NACHT


While wandering in darkness you have found a great light, so go out into the world and sing the good news to the rest of the wandering world! Christmas is here, it's true, and it's greatly needed. . . Joy to the World, the Lord has Come, let us join with heaven and nature and sing.

Recessional                                            "Joy to the World"                                                      ANTIOCH

May the Christmas Peace be with all of you!

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 1:1-14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

All Signs Point to Bethlehem: The Angel Choir

All Signs Point to Bethlehem: The Angel Choir
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 22, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 2: 8-15
Genesis 22: 9-18
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14     “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 
15 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.” [1]  

I'd like to start this morning, by taking a look back at our Advent journey. It is hard to believe that Christmas is already upon us. Once you get to the 20's it's really here, even if it is 60 degrees outside. It can catch us by surprise though. It especially jumps out at you,  if you are like me and wait until the last minute to do all your Christmas shopping. I'm planning to face that whirlwind tomorrow morning. DeAnna and I have been joking lately about how we don't really focus on things until it's next. Like we focused on church last week, then a special service at Blue Ridge, then practicing with Kane and the bells, then finishing school, then the concert, then this morning. . . it does seem to be one day at a time, one thing after another, busy busy busy, time of year for so many of us. . . and so for me shopping for Christmas hasn't been next yet, but if I waited really until it was next, it wouldn't get done. . . so tomorrow's the day.
Luckily for me my journey to Bethlehem doesn't always mirror the whirlwind of Christmas. Advent often takes us on a more intentional and focused route. For us we've looked at the prophets. . . reminding ourselves that the key focus of their message is making the claim that God is very much in control of this world. And those prophetic messages trace through the entire gamut of historical situations: good times and bad times, times of peace, times of war, times of plenty and times of lack, times of independence and times of domination, times in that land flowing of milk and honey, and then times of exile, and the one key component of all the messages of all prophets is there recurring again and again. . . God's reign is real, and His will, will be done. So that was the first Sunday of Advent where we lit the Candle of Hope.
We were snowed out the following week, but we had a mid week special prayer service, where a few of us gathered after sharing soup, we sang songs that echoed the very same message. . . We sang:

"Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten; Those who seek God shall never go wanting.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten; God alone fills us."
"Our darkness is never darkness in your sight: the deepest night is clear as the daylight." 

"Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.
Within our darkest night you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away."

And on that day we expressed our faith, proclaiming again that prophetic message. That even in the darkness there is light. . . We said:

Lord you have always given bread for the coming day
And though I am poor today I believe 

Lord you have always given strength for the coming day
And though I am weak today I believe
Lord you have always given peace for the coming day
And though of anxious heart today I believe 

Lord you have always kept me safe in trials
And now tried as I am today I believe 

Lord you have always marked the road for the coming day
And though it may be hidden today I believe
Lord you have always lightened this darkness of mine
And though the night is here today I believe 

Lord you have always spoken when time was right
And though you be silent now today I believe 

And on that night of prayer we lit the candle of peace. And then last week we were filled with Joy, lighting that special pink candle, surrounded by the wonderful music of HARP, and I combined two sermons into one, looking at how both the secular world and the natural world lead us towards Bethlehem, lead us towards Christmas. We find in both the secular world and the natural world the echo of the prophetic message, that God is very much in control, even when we don't see it, even when we don't think so, even around and amongst those who don't believe. The world does not have to believe to give God his power. God's power simply is. On Monday night this week, there was a beautiful almost full moon, a gibbon moon, it was breathtaking and gorgeous. We talked about it for a bit at the Advent study, Nancy Roache said, it's hard to see something like that and not believe. Oh man she's so right, and so perfect for that night, just in time to make the point, but it led me to a question. Is it easy to see something like that and see God's power, can we also see it when we see the things of man, when we see what humans do, do we see God's power there, too, working in and through us, the best and the worst of us, our friends and even our enemies. The claim of my advent series has been, yeah we're supposed to. Love points us that way, it does. Love, todays, candle, are we there yet? Let me tell you it's been easy the last two weeks with the joy of the music of the season, Harp, and then the bells today, sharing God's gifts to us with the world. It's there we see it. . . It's beautiful. Maybe especially today, all of the talent joining together, yes we may just be ready to love.
And so we come to today, and we get our final piece, the final piece of the story of who originally travelled to Bethlehem and what compelled them each to go. The hearts and minds of our imagination giving background to what we are looking for from the Prophets, Mary and Joseph driven by the Census, the Wisemen following the star. . . and finally today, the angel choir singing to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace and Good Will unto men!" Today we talk about miracles -- history, the secular world, the natural world, and now miracles, angels singing in and to our faces.
If you look up miracle in the dictionary you'll find that it says: "an extraordinary event in the physical world, that surpasses all known human and natural powers, and is ascribed therefore to a super natural cause." I would think that an angel choir manifesting itself in the night sky all those years ago certainly fits that definition. The other thing that it is, that is missing in the definition is that it is immediate, hard to miss, in your face, like a slap, like a wake up call, much different than the census where you plan your journey, of course all except that all important hotel reservation, or following the star where you have a long way to go, to journey and to ponder, charts to study, all of that, these shepherds have the immediacy of Angels. . . there is also a Bible Dictionary definition of miracle and it includes this immediacy, it says: an event brought about by the immediate agency or volition of God. A miracle is the get up and go of the story. You can't miss it, it's happening, now, Go now!
Earlier this year some of us read Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. It is the best book I've ever read about miracles, fiction of course, but I've found that truth finds its way into fiction more deeply than does it into fact. In that book is the following:

Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave--now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of earth. My sister, Swede, who often sees the numb, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed--though ignoring them will change you also." 

That's the deal right, could you have ignored it if you were a shepherd? Could you not go? Was there one shepherd, standing out in the field that was like, yeah umm I saw the angels, but I'm not sure we should go. Who is going to watch these sheep? Don't you think it's best that someone should remain back and watch the flock, you know just in case? I'll stay. . . You guys go. I'll be good here. No you just can't imagine that. You see an angel choir, you pretty much go.
My girls have been so excited about the Elf of the Shelf. We have ours, his name is Quincy, he's been all over the house. But they weren't sure about it at first, but then they watched the Elf on the Shelf show, the Christmas special that was on tv a few weeks ago. In that show there is this boy who doesn't believe. . . he wants the elf to prove himself. He slowly pushes his finger toward him, saying, "Just Fly" show me. I want you to show me. I want to see then I will believe. His two younger sisters know that it doesn't work that way, he touches the elf, and it falls lifeless to the ground.
How often are we like the kid? We've read the prophets. We know in our minds that God is real, that God is in control, that Jesus is coming. We see the truth in the world. We look at the moon, at the beauty of a sunset, at the magic of falling snow, and we see God there too. We see the amazing gifts of people, we see our friends, we see the genius of music and art, the truth of God's gifts manifesting themselves all around us. We've seen all that, but we are still in that Advent mode, not ready for Christmas, desperately craving the one miracle to remove all doubt and strengthen us forever. See that's the thing, miracles last, they are permanent, whereas the truth of the Bible needs to be studied and worked at, the wonders of nature are all around us, and we're used to people, we take them for granted, often in our times of need we miss the wonder and the truth in them. . . and those doubts creep in, but a miracle, now that would last. We pray please God send me something, let me know. . . and we stick our finger out pushing towards our faith like it's some kind of Elf on the Shelf.
We can't control a miracle, we can't make it happen. If we could it wouldn't be a miracle. . it would break the definition. I remember there was a Christmas special, a cartoon called, "Twas the Night Before Christmas." We had the record of the story and the songs when I was growing up. It was the one with the mice and the clock. The oldest mouse boy doesn't believe in Santa, so sends letter to the editor of a newspaper, saying:

Dear editor, Santa Claus is a fraudulent myth rooted in unconscious fantasies. . . P.S. the reindeer are phony too.  

So Santa has decided he won't come to that town. Do you remember this one. Eventually the boy has a change of heart and decides he wants to help. He does so because he hears the humans, in whose house the mice live, the clock maker, singing a song called, "Even a Miracle needs a hand." It inspires him to act, and he ends up saving the clock, the clock strikes 12 and sings a song of apology to Santa and they all live happily ever after, Santa comes. Even a miracle needs a hand. . . no it doesn't, that song is part of that myth that we hold to so often that we are in control. We just can't make a miracle happen, all we can do is take a leap of faith when and if it does.
Ten years ago I wrote the song Leap of Faith, and whether I had this idea in mind then is doubtful. I sang it last night at the concert, and I've sung it often in the 10 years since I wrote it. It always means something different to me. Today it meant this: It has three verses: The first is about the shepherds, how they saw the angel choir, and didn't hesitate, they took their leap of faith, the second is how the wisemen, like wise, saw the star and did the same. The third verse is set up for us. It describes the cross, and the miracle of resurrection the miracle of our salvation, the miracle of Immanuel, God with us, the incarnation, Jesus Christ and the work that he does on our behalf, a miracle needing no hand, completely sufficient without us doing a thing, the chorus of that verse goes:
Could a lonely cross
Help you forget the cost?
Would that be enough love
Sent from God above?
Is that what it would take
For all of us to make
Our own Leap of faith 

We said that a miracle is immediate and lasting. . . why not this one? Why is the Christmas story not miracle enough for us? Hopefully Christmas hasn't become so normal to us that we don't see it as miraculous any more. God with us, so loving us, that he would become one of us, and die to be raised saving us forever. I end the song with a small coda type thing at the end, saying: 

Do we really need a sign
To change our minds?
Let’s take that leap of faith
On this Christmas day.

The Cross sings the song of the prophets, it shines the light of the star, it ironically surpasses even the earthly power of Rome, and it echoes the song of the angels: Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on Earth, Good will to all men. I hope you hear the song of this miracle today and all days, for its choir is still singing. Shall we go to Bethlehem now and see? Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 2:8-15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.