A Shepherd Lights the Christ Candle

Good evening. As you can see I make my living as a shepherd and my home is in the fields. Sheep are my business and our lives are pretty routine, even boring at times. But there was one night, much like this one, that I will never forget.

It started out as a normal night. I was watching the stars, one of my favorite pastimes. When suddenly, a light shone all around us, and we felt a, well…a presence. We turned, and there stood an angel! Frankly, it scared us out of our wits!

But the calmness in the angel’s voice quieted our fears as he told us of an incredible event that had just happened over in Bethlehem. The angel told us that our savior had just been born! Christ the Lord! Then he said a very strange thing. He said that we would find the messiah in a cattle stall, lying in, of all things, a manger. Then the sky filled with angels, all of them praising god for this marvelous gift. [Pause] and then they were gone and it was very quiet again.

Our people had been waiting for the messiah for a very long time, and we’ve had a lot of false alarms. But after talking it over, we decided we had to go check this out for ourselves. And, believe it or not, when we got to Bethlehem we found a little family in the stall and quietly approached them. We didn’t want to wake the baby. And there he was…the sweet little baby who would become our King of Kings, our Lord of Lords. The hope of all creation.

After a little while we returned to the fields full of hope and praising god for what we had heard and witnessed firsthand. We had seen the good shepherd who will always lead us back to god when we get off the path. [pause]

And so tonight, I light the Christ candle, to celebrate the gift of God’s son, the light of the world.

[Christmas Eve, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH, concluding a series on the “Supporting Cast of Christmas.”

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Lighting the Christ Candle:

During the Advent season, we have waited like expectant parents for God to deliver – to show up in the big brown truck with the promised gifts of hope, peace, joy and love. We wait in a world that has never needed those gifts more. And God hides the gifts in plain sight, in Bethlehem, right where the prophets told us they would be. And like every year, we’re surprised, still not convinced that God’s Messiah should be born in a barn.

Tonight our waiting is rewarded as we celebrate again the eternal gift of unconditional love and the marvelous ways God leads us to the Light of the World. God showed the shepherds and the magi the way to Bethlehem. And tonight God is showing us the Way again.

We light the Christ Candle on this holy night to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. He has led us here and calls us to follow him on a marvelous journey of seeking, finding, waiting, hoping and growing.

Prayer:

O eternal God, forgive us when we doubt that a peasant boy of low estate could possibly overcome our fearful and divided world. When our skepticism threatens to overwhelm us, wrap us in the warm swaddling cloths of hope, peace, joy and love. We have waited and prayed for your Messiah. Now it’s time for us to receive the most precious gift ever and to be the light of Christ to warm and heal broken lives and our darkened world. In the holy name of the one we celebrate this night, Amen.

Christ Candle Drama

Narrator: During the 4 weeks of Advent we have had some interesting people from modern and Biblical times help us light the 4 candles on our Advent Wreath. I’m sorry to say that the guest we hoped to have tonight will not be able to be here. We wanted to have one of the Wise Men light the Christ Candle for us, but as you may recall from Matthew’s Gospel, the Wise Men didn’t actually arrive to give their gifts to Baby Jesus until he was almost two years old. So I guess we will have to get by without their wisdom tonight.

Shepherd: [enters from off stage with an attitude] Wait just a minute, please. You don’t think the Magi were the only wise people in the Christmas story, do you? I get pretty tired of those three kings getting all the publicity with their fancy robes and big camels, and expensive gifts. If it hadn’t been for a lot of other smart people the whole Christmas story would never have happened.

Narrator: Excuse me, who might you be and what are you talking about?

Shepherd: Oh, I had a small part in the Christmas story, too; I’m Eli, one of the shepherds who came to the manger.

Narrator: Oh my, I didn’t recognize you, Eli, I mean without your sheep and away from the Nativity scene and all. I’m so sorry. But what were you saying about the other wise people in the Christmas story?

Shepherd: Well, think about it. The story begins with Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. They had to be wise enough to believe God when they were told they would have a child in their old age. And their son, John the Baptist, prepared the way for Jesus and even baptized him. And what about Mary’s fiancé, Joseph? He was wise enough to believe the angel who told him Mary’s baby was really God’s son. Believe me; most guys would not have believed that story.

Narrator: I see your point. These were common ordinary people who were smart enough to trust God with some incredible ideas.

Shepherd: And that’s not all. Think about us shepherds—we didn’t have college degrees, but once we got over the shock of seeing all those angels, we were wise enough to pay attention to the biggest birth announcement in all of history. Everybody else in Bethlehem was too busy to even notice. But we heard God’s message and came running; so we got to be the very first people ever to worship the Christ child.

Narrator: You’re right, that was very wise. And now that I think about it, we’ve left out a very important wise person in this story. There was a certain young peasant girl who got some very shocking news about becoming the mother of God’s son. Mary must have been scared to death!

Shepherd: Yes, I’m sure she was. She told us she didn’t think Joseph or anyone else would believe such a wild story about her baby’s father. But she was smart enough to go to Elizabeth for advice. Mary was wise beyond her years to have the faith to say “yes” to what God was asking her to do. And because of all the wisdom from all those people the history of the world was changed forever. [Pause]

Narrator: Eli, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Would you do us the honor of lighting the Christ Candle tonight, as we celebrate again the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world? [Eli lights the Christ candle and both exit.]

Room at the Inn

A Drama for Christmas Eve, 2011, Lighting of the Christ Candle, Jerome UMC

[The four Advent candles are lit before the service begins]

One:    One of the traditional things we do very Christmas Eve is the lighting of the Christ Candle.  Do you ever wonder why we do all the things we do at Christmas?  We sing the same songs, eat the same foods, decorate our homes and our churches with the same lights and ornaments, read the same Scriptures.  I wonder if we really stop to think about why we do those things or what they mean.  Are we just going through the motions? Are all of these traditions just habits—things we do every year, well, because that’s what we do every year?

[Two hurries in late for worship, well dressed, checks his cell phone for messages and puts it away]

One:    Excuse me, sir, maybe you can help me.  I was just trying to figure out why we do all the things we do to celebrate the birth of a simple peasant child who was born over 2000 years ago.  And why do we all these people come to church on a cold dark Saturday night?

Two:    I can’t imagine being anywhere else tonight.

One:    So does that mean that coming to church is just part of the holiday tradition for you – like decorations and holiday parties?  You buy gifts, you send Christmas cards and you go to church?

Two:    No, not at all.  Without Jesus’ birth, none of those other things would happen at all.  Christmas isn’t just about what happened in Bethlehem so long ago.  That’s important history, but what happens in here (points to his heart) that’s what really counts.

One:    What do you mean?

Two:    Let me tell you my story.  I used to be kind of a Bah Humbug guy when it came to Christmas.  I thought I had outgrown all that baby Jesus stuff.  I left home for college, partied hearty, if you know what I mean, flunked out of school and dropped out of church.  My family disowned me.  I couldn’t pay my rent.  I was hungry and cold, walking the streets of Columbus in February.

One:    Well, you look pretty well off now.  What changed?

Two:    Things changed on a very cold, dark night like tonight.  I slipped into the Hyatt downtown, just to get in out of the cold and wind for a little while.  I sneaked in when the doorman was busy with someone else.   But he saw me and immediately came over to tell me only paying guests were welcome in the lobby.  He began to escort me back out onto the street, and I was at the end of my rope.

One:    I’m so sorry. [pause]  But you’re here now.  Something major must have happened to turn things around?

Two:    Sure did, and not just some thing but some one.  Just as I was being kicked out of the Hyatt, this well-dressed woman with a brief case was leaving.  Turns out she was the hotel manager and was leaving for the night.  She stopped and asked the doorman what was going on.  When the doorman said he was just following company policy and removing someone out who would scare off paying customers, the manager thanked him for doing his job.  But I guess she could see how desperate I was.  I’m sure she had family waiting for her at home, but for some reason she took pity on me.  She invited me back into the hotel restaurant and bought me a steak dinner.   It was fantastic.  I hadn’t eaten for days.  But what blew my mind was that she sat down at the table and talked to me.  She treated me like she would a paying guest or a business partner.  I couldn’t believe it.  And then, it got even crazier.

One:  How could it get any crazier than that?

Two:  When she learned I was homeless and had no job, she asked if I’d like to work for the hotel.  She gave me a job on the spot, and then she told me I could stay in one of the hotel rooms until I could find a place of my own.  I thought I was dreaming, but I wasn’t.

When I tried to thank her, she said something I have never forgotten.  It turned my life around.

One:    What did she say that could have that much impact on you?

Two:  She said, “Don’t thank me.  Give God the Glory and thank Jesus for leading me to you.”  [pause]   That’s why tonight is so special – because Christ lives in the hearts of people who share his love and peace with others.

One:   [pause]  Thank you so much for sharing your witness about the true meaning of Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  [They shake hands and Two goes to take his/her seat in the congregation.

One:  [Goes to Advent Wreath]  As we light the Christ Candle this Christmas eve, our prayer is that  the Peace and Love of Christ will shine brightly in all of our hearts, this night and always.  [lights the Christ candle]