Sunday, December 23, 2018

Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community - Christmas Liturgy - Presiders: Mary Theresa Streck, ARCWP, and Kathleen Ryan, ARCWP

Mural in Shepherd's Field Chapel in Bethlehem. Photo by Mary Theresa Streck
Mary Theresa Streck, ARCWP, and Kathleen Ryan, ARCWP, led the Upper Room Christmas liturgy with the theme: Peace Through Justice. This theme runs through the Old and New Testaments and especially in the stories about the prophets and the stories we hear about Jesus. In the good news as recorded by Luke, that message begins in the birth narratives and continues throughout the life of Jesus. 
Lighting of Advent Candle and Prayer
We light this fourth candle and remember that we are called to create, to share and be light in all our ways, and to commit ourselves to the works of peace and justice needed in our world.
Let us kindle the light of love! Amen.

Opening Prayer 
O Holy One, you bless us always and invite us to awaken to your life within us. May we like Jesus, continue your incarnation as we look beyond our comfortable lives and find you among the lost, lonely, ill and neglected. This season reminds us again and again, that the story begun over 13 billion years ago continues through the ages in each of us as we open our hearts to you and your light shines through us.  Amen.

Opening song: Little Town by Over the Rhine
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy dark and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

The lamplit streets of Bethlehem
We walk now through the night
There is no peace in Bethlehem
There is no peace in sight
The wounds of generations
Almost too deep to heal
Scar the timeworn miracle
And make it seem surreal

The baby in the manger
Grew to a man one day
And still we try to listen now
To what he had to say
Put up your swords forever
Forgive your enemies
Love your neighbor as yourself
Let your little children come to me

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy dark and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Mural in Shepherd's Field Chapel in Bethlehem. Photo by Mary Theresa Streck
A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah
Isaiah 9:2-7a

In darkness, a light was born.
From deep darkness, a crest of dawn shines.
You enlarged life, and Your people were born.
Even though they knew pain and suffering,
You increased their joy.

They rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest,
as children exult at play, and delight in sharing gifts.
For You have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For unto us a baby is born.
For unto us a child is given
on whose shoulders our future rests.
The child will be called: Wonderful Counselor,
Strength of God, Everlasting One, Voice of Peace.
And of the peace the Child brings,
there will be no end.

These are the inspired words of the Prophet Isaiah.

Glory to God  
Marty Haugen

Glory to God, in the highest (3x)
And peace to God’s people on earth.

We sing praises to you,
God of life, God of wonder,
Hearts filled with joy,
let our voices be thunder.

Sing to Jesus the Christ,
Word of life to the nations,
Raised up in glory
As our hope and salvation.

In the Spirit we come
For the feast and the stories,
Speaking of God
In the pain and the glory.
Refrain (2x)


A Reading from the Good News according to Luke
Luke 2:1-20

In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 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 and Bathsheba. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was pledged to be married and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. She gave birth to her firstborn and wrapped the babe in bands of cloth. She laid the newborn in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel, a messenger of God, stood before them. The glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people:
Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Messiah, the Anointed One. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, there was with the messenger a multitude of the heavenly beings, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to all God's people!”

When the angels had left them, retreating into cosmic splendor, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which God has made known to us.” 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. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

Mary treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned to their pastures, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which was just as they had been told.

These are the inspired words of Luke, Disciple of Jesus.
Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem. Photo by Mary Theresa Streck
 Homily reflection by Mary Theresa Streck:

Last January, I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land. One of the stops in my travels was the Shepherd’s Field Chapel in Bethlehem which marks the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields below. While I was there, I was imagining the Christmas story that is so familiar to all of us. It did not matter what I knew from contemporary theology, I just remembered a sacred, ancient story that has lasted for 2000 years.

We can read infancy narratives of Jesus of Nazareth and debate if they are history or parables. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did angels appear to shepherds? Did three wise men come to visit Jesus in Bethlehem, etc.?   In other words, is this story true?  And the answer is, yes, this story is a true faith story – a story about a child who grew in wisdom, age and grace and brought an extraordinary message of love and peace for the human race.

Peace on earth. Don’t we all long for that?  If we travel back to the first century CE and imagine ourselves in the communities that gathered to remember Jesus, we would be among his followers who so longed for peace. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and although there was peace in the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus, it was not the peace promised by the prophets and by the Holy Rabbi Jesus.

Caesar Augustus brought about the Pax Romana, a time of law and order and security in the empire through military conquest. Caesar was acclaimed in story and in stone throughout the empire as Divine, Son of God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer Liberator, and Savior of the World.  The stories surrounding Caesar Augustus were probably never meant to be history, but rather stories that delivered the very clear message that Caesar Augustus was an extraordinary human being.

I imagine those first followers of Jesus knew the stories about Caesar Augustus and borrowed from them to tell a powerful parable about Jesus. In the beginning of their Gospel stories, Matthew and Luke proclaim the good news about the birthday of a divine child, greater than Caesar Augustus who would save the world from destruction by establishing a lasting peace. And, according to the story, the good news was for everyone, even the lowliest in society, the shepherds, the marginalized, the poorest of the poor.

The difference between Caesar Augustus and Jesus was that the first brought peace through violent victory and Jesus taught about transformational love and lasting peace through non-violent justice. Peace through conquest is not lasting. It may create a lull for a period of time, but peace through justice is lasting peace for it requires that all humans have what they need, free from oppression, injustice, and violence. It is the perennial message of the prophets and Jesus to live justly, love tenderly and walk with integrity.

As we ponder the beautiful birth parable as told to us by Luke, the fundamental question we might ask is not about the biology of the mother, or angels appearing in a nearby field, or three wise men following a star to Bethlehem. Rather, the fundamental question might be about the destiny of the child.

“What is that destiny? and, once you know it, are you willing to commit your life to it? To Caesar the Augustus or to Jesus the Christ?” (Borg and Crossan)

What did you hear in these readings?  What will you do? What will it cost you?
Mural in Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem. Photo by Mary Theresa Streck
Presider 2: Please join in praying our Statement of Faith

Statement of Faith

We believe in the Holy One, a divine mystery
beyond all definition and rational understanding,
the heart of all that has ever existed,
that exists now, or that ever will exist.

We believe in Jesus, messenger of the Divine Word,
bringer of healing, heart of Divine compassion,
bright star in the firmament of the Holy One's
prophets, mystics, and saints.

 We believe that We are called to follow Jesus
as a vehicle of divine love,
a source of wisdom and truth,
and an instrument of peace in the world.

We believe in the Spirit of the Holy One,
the life that is our innermost life,
the breath moving in our being,
the depth living in each of us.

We believe that the Divine kin-dom is here and now,
stretched out all around us for those
with eyes to see it, hearts to receive it,
and hands to make it happen.


Presider 1: As we prepare for the sacred meal, we bring to this table our blessings, cares and concerns.  Please feel free to voice your concerns beginning with the words “I bring to the table….”  (pause) And we pray for these and all unspoken cares and concerns. Amen.

Presider 2: Please join in praying our Eucharistic Prayer: (written by Jay Murnane)

O Holy One, you are continually creating the universe, continually giving birth to all of us. We sense the need to do the same, to set ourselves free from a sense of emptiness and barren hopelessness.

We celebrate you as the Source of light and life and love, and we celebrate your presence and all-ways care. We give thanks, and joined with your vision of harmony and peace, we sing:

Blessed be our God!
Blessed be our God! 
Joy of our hearts, source of all life and love! 
God of Heaven and Earth!
God of Heaven and Earth!
Dwelling within, calling us all by name! 
Alleluia, sing!
Alleluia, sing!

Gift of love and peace!
Gift of love and peace!
Jesus Christ, Jesus our hope and light!
A flame of faith in our hearts!
A flame of faith in our hearts!
Proclaiming the day, shining throughout the night!
Alleluia, sing!
Alleluia, sing!
(Alleluia Sing by David Haas)

Your wisdom invites us to draw on our tradition, as old as the stars, shining through Sarah and Abraham, shining through your prophets in every age and every culture. We join that enlightening, enlivening tradition with what we are as we risk fidelity to a dream.

Filled with your spirit, we, like Jesus, can give birth in our day to your living word for the sake of hope enfleshed in creativity and confrontation, healing and reconciliation, justice, universal and unconditional love.

(presiders approach table)

On the night before he faced his own death, Jesus sat at the Seder supper with his companions and friends.  He reminded them of all that he taught them, and to fix that memory clearly with them, he bent down and washed their feet.

(presider lifts bread)

When he returned to his place, he took bread, gave thanks and offered it to them saying:
Take and eat of the Bread of Life
Given to strengthen you
Whenever you remember me like this
I am among you. (pause)

(presider lifts cup)

Jesus then raised a cup of blessing, spoke the grace saying:
Take and drink of the covenant
Made new again through my life in you.
Whenever you remember me like this,
I am among you.  (pause)

Let us share this bread and cup 
To proclaim and live the gospel of justice and peace

O Holy One, we dare again to dream the ancient dreams and open ourselves to marvelous visions. There are mountains of arrogance to lower, valleys of fear and separation to fill in, to create a community and communion that stretches throughout our consciousness and around our world.

In this way, working to renew the face of the earth, we are opened up to your Spirit, the Spirit of light and life and love born in Jesus.

For it is through his life and teaching, all honor and glory is yours, O Holy One, forever and ever.

All: Amen.

Presider: Let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us:

O Holy one who is within, around and among us.
We celebrate your many names.
Your wisdom come; your will be done,
unfolding from the depths within us.
Each day you give us all that we need.
You remind us of our limits and we let go.
You support us in our power, and we act with courage.
For you are the dwelling place within us,
the empowerment around us,
and the celebration among us,
now and forever, Amen.
Adapted by Miriam Therese Winter

Presider 1: Please join in our prayer for the breaking of the bread:
(presiders break bread during this prayer)

All:  O Holy One, You call us to live the Gospel of peace and justice.  We will live justly.  
You call us to be Your presence in the world.  We will love tenderly.
You call us to speak truth to power.  We will walk with integrity in your presence.

(Presiders hold up bread and wine)

Presider 2: "This is the bread of life. Through it we are nourished and we nourish each other.

All:  What we have heard with our ears, we will live with our lives; as we share communion, we will become communion, both Love’s nourishment and Love’s challenge.

Presider 1: Our Eucharistic celebration is all-inclusive. You are a spark of the Divine and nothing can separate you from God’s love. All are welcome to receive at this table. 
Please pass the bread and the cup with the words: “You are an incarnation of the Divine!”

Presider 2: Our communion meditation is:  Silent Night / Each Holy Child by Shaina Noll


Presider 1: Let us pray together our blessing:

May we continue to be the face of God to each other.  May we call each other to extravagant generosity!  May we, like Jesus, be a shining light and a blessing in our time! 
All: AMEN                            

Presider 2: Please join in singing our closing songs - selection of carols with justice. 
Shepherd's Field Chapel, Bethlehem. Photo by Mary Theresa Streck

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