By: Joyce MacKichan Walker

No matter where it falls in the week after Christmas, the next Sunday can be a challenge. Another service of lessons and carols? A family-friendly hour that might include all-ages in leadership? Some poetry, liturgical dance – worship enhanced by the arts? But it’s a difficult time to gather folks to prepare, and to practice.

As I wondered how to honor the biblical stories that immediately follow the birth, and to honor a chronology that is more symbolic than literal, I examined the stories you don’t often hear read or preached – Anna, Simeon, Herod’s response to the magi’s visit, the slaughter of all the infants, the flight to Egypt and subsequent return. And I have never heard them read all together – as a series of symbolic events that mark the early years of Jesus’ life, and of his parents. When I expressed a desire to do so to our Director of Music, he pointed out all the new hymns in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal that both tell and interpret those stories in song. The inspiration to work for justice, peace, and radical welcome was overwhelming. When these stories and hymns are paired, we see

  • in the temple stories, the powerful revelation of Jesus as the light of all nations
  • in the homage of the magi and in Herod’s despicable action, a foreshadowing of worship and violence sharing our streets and shaping our lives, and
  • in Jesus’ escape and return, his shelter in a foreign land and thus his solidarity with the poor, the migrant, and the refugee.

And to balance new hymns with classic carols, the opening hymn reviews both the story and the glory of the birth of Jesus; the response of praise to the assurance of forgiveness calls us to adore Christ, the Lord; the responsive hymn after the offering reminds us why Jesus came; and the final hymn sends us out rejoicing in the Savior’s love for the whole world.

Practically speaking:

  1. to avoid additional preparation for participants, readers came a little early to find their place and read their part aloud
  2. I introduced the readings and hymns with a brief context and some clues to connections they would hear between story and interpretation (provided)
  3. I provided a “reader’s theatre” script to the family who read the story of the magi (The Magi Come to Honor Jesus) and
  4. I have included here all the liturgy, whether adopted or adapted from liturgical resources or written for this purpose. You are welcome to adopt and adapt and reframe and reform at will.  Worship for the Sunday after Christmas

With gratitude to and for Noel Werner, Director of Music extraordinaire at Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, and to that congregation that listens and sings and worships and lives as God’s beloved, called, gifted, and sent people.

Joyce MacKichan Walker, Minister of Education and Mission, retired August 2018