The message for Christmas: Joy, peace, love, transformation
Christians who go to church on Tuesday and Wednesday for Christmas Eve and Christmas services will hear different sermons, but there will be underlying messages of peace, love, joy, and the power of God to help us transform ourselves.
The Rev. Arnold Thomas of Wilton Congregational Church said the point he will be making is “the events of the first Christmas have not changed all that much.
“Often people think the events of biblical times are such that they cannot happen again … they see God obviously involved in the lives of individuals and these individuals were great and unlike themselves. My message is God continues to be involved in human life and with normal individuals. That involvement happens in the best of times and the worst of times. I cannot escape the memory of the Sandy Hook and Newtown event,” he added. Similar things happened at the time of Jesus, as well, Mr. Thomas said.
“Herod was an individual of unexpected greatness and unexpected madness. He initiated the slaughter of innocent lives in the Bible. The events of the time of Christ have not changed. People continue to act as they do. Leaders continue to do great things and commit atrocities, but God intervenes.
“Christ is being born every day in the most unexpected places,” he said, “as was the case in Bethlehem.
“Christ is being born every day in human lives, be they Christian or non-Christian. The message of justice and peace tries to make its way into hearts and minds of human souls.”
God’s presence, he said, “continues to be in individuals like ourselves to do great things and inspire great deeds in ordinary people.”
Jason Coker of Wilton Baptist Church said his denomination follows the church calendar of the Advent season, which expresses hope, peace, joy, and love.
“The first two Sundays are hope and peace,” he said, and also encourage reflection.
“The third Sunday is joy,” the turning point of the season, “when we celebrate the birth of Christ. It is all celebration from then on,” he said.
The last Sunday of Advent focuses on love, he said, which “leads right up to the Christmas Eve service where we have lessons and carols. We read passages about the birth of Jesus and sing carols.
“The biggest thing for us is that delicate balance,” Mr. Coker said. “We do recognize a lot of us have lost loved ones. There are folks who have experienced pain, which is accentuated during the holiday season. We are always mindful how these big holidays can be painful. We pay attention to that but focus, instead of just a family time, on the reason for our celebration and make this a religious holiday.”
Celebrating the birth of Jesus, he said, “is a way to take the edge off that pain.”
Sermons preached at Wilton Baptist Church are available as a podcast on the church’s website, listed below.
Shannon White of Wilton Presbyterian Church said her sermon will be called “Joy to the World.”
“I will be talking about the difference between happiness and joy,” she said. “Joy is a much deeper human experience than the emotion of happiness. One does not need to feel happy to have joy. Joy is a state of being which acknowledges the difficulties of our lives with gratitude because we know God is with us, loving us and giving us the courage and strength to be agents of hope and reconciliation to a hurting world.
“We have experienced so much in our world over the last year,” she continued. “Add to that local tragedies and then our personal struggles, and it can leave people either overwhelmed and out of touch or hopeless and cynical.
“At Christmas, we remember a deep and abiding sense of joy born anew — a sense of joy that melts us and assures us that while all of these things exist, we are held and loved by God, who knows the depths and the heights of our humanity.
Father Reginald Norman emailed The Bulletin a summary of his thoughts.
“I will be preaching on the true present of Christmas,” he said. “I will discuss love of neighbor and forgiveness. I will focus on reuniting our efforts to be better people.”
Perhaps more than any other time of year, music is a huge part of Christmas services, from simple carols to grand classical pieces.
Rodney Ayers, music director of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, said the major musical offerings will be on Christmas Eve, when a half-hour “mini concert” will precede the 11 p.m. service. The organ and a harpist will be joined by the choir and soloists performing a mixture of classical and traditional music, including familiar English and German carols as well as a piece by the late John Tavener, a well-known English composer.
“We are doing one of his pieces in the Russian Orthodox style,” Mr. Ayers said. Also, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the choir will offer part of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremonious Carols.
Of the music selected, he said, “love and peace are the two main themes that appear over and over.”
Throughout the service, the congregation will sing “the favorites,” including O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Silent Night.
The Christmas morning service at 10 will feature the organ and caroling.
Clay Zambo, music director at Our Lady of Fatima, has seven services to orchestrate.
The Christmas Eve service at 4 will feature the children’s choir and a Christmas pageant and living Nativity.
At 6 is the teen-oriented Mass, and at 7:30 the service is “quiet and small,” Mr. Zambo said, and he is usually the only musician. “To me it is the most like ‘Silent Night.’ It’s very sweet,” he said.
For midnight Mass, the adult choir sings a half-hour choral prelude “that this year will not be familiar carols,” Mr. Zambo said. While the familiar carols will all be sung during Mass, the prelude will feature “ a contemporary cantata that tells the story of Christmas from each of the characters. There is a song about what Mary was thinking, a song about what Joseph was thinking, the message the angels brought, the shepherds, the magi. It’s a little bit like lessons and carols, but it’s all new music, original music. In the best possible way,” he added, “it’s a little bit Broadway-sounding.
“There are little hints of carols here and there. An introduction to one song is Away in the Manger, Joy to the World is part of the finale. It will feel comfortable and familiar.”
The choirs do not sing on Christmas morning, and for Mr. Zambo these services are “a little bit of a family gathering for me” as friends and former students drop by and sing with him.
“It’s beautiful and easy,” he said, “and almost exclusively traditional carols.”
When asked if he had anything to add, he said he wants people “to come and sing. Don’t come and listen. Nothing makes me happier than to hear a congregation sing. There’s nothing more beautiful than a church full of people singing. Don’t worry, we all sound great together.”
For service information:
• Our Lady of Fatima — olfwilton.org/203-762-3928.
• St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church — stmatthewswilton.org/203-762-7400.
• Wilton Baptist Church — wiltonbaptist.org/203-762-2429.
• Wilton Congregational Church — wiltoncongregational.org/203-762-5591.