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This is the fourth Sunday in Advent. We light the candle of Peace. This fourth candle reminds us that Jesus comes to bring Peace to both the world and to people’s hearts. Without Christ there is no peace in this world. It is also the time for our Cantata. A cantata is a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment. They are most often based on a poem, play, or story. Our story is the coming of Jesus to the world. We do this presentation for Christmas Cantata because it expresses Christmas in a way that everyone around the world can easily understand. For this year, a cantata written and arranged by Lloyd Larson has been chosen. It is a wonderful mix of traditional and contemporary music in a Lessons and Carols style.

The incarnation message is central to the Christmas story: God becoming human and living among us. The gospel of John says it best: “The Word (meaning God) became flesh and lived among us.” (John1:14) What a powerful statement of love and devotion! God loved us enough that we became the recipients of more than a letter; more than a phone call; even more than a visit from a special friend. We were chosen to be the recipients of the Creator’s greatest gift – a portion of the very being of God himself. And then we were invited into a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

In the celebration of Christmas, we all enjoy the meaningful family traditions, inspiring programs and pageantry, the beloved carols, and all of the sights, sounds and smells of the season. But in the midst of it all there is one basic and central message which pervades all that transpires in this holy season: Emmanuel – God With Us! May that message be clear as you read these timeless scriptural passages and as you sing the songs of the season – both old and new. This personal gift from God is truly the greatest of all Christmas gifts!

This specific lesson borrows from a very famous founding father, Thomas Jefferson. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible, is one of two religious works constructed by Thomas Jefferson. The first, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1804, but no copies exist today. The second, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1820 by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition excludes all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels that contain the Resurrection and most other miracles, and passages that portray Jesus as divine. Jefferson wrote that the doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus Himself are within the comprehension of a child.

It is understood by some historians that Jefferson composed it for his own satisfaction, supporting the Christian faith as he saw it. As a retired President, he did not produce his small book to shock or offend the world; he composed it for himself, for his devotion, for his assurance, for a more restful sleep at nights and a more confident greeting of the mornings. The draft was found at Jefferson’s bedside after his passing and then published later under his name. It is with this Jeffersonian spirit that we place our cantata’s Scriptural Text into a story, for all to read and understand where and why our Savior came to this world.

Emmanuel – God With Us

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

2Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

3The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

4This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

5The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

6In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

7And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

8When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

9In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Isaiah 11:1-4a, 6 ↩; Isaiah 40:1-5 (7:14) ↩; Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 ↩; Matthew 1:18-21 ↩; Luke 1:35-38a ↩; Luke 2:1, 3-7 ↩; Luke 2:8 -14 ↩; Luke 2:15-20 ↩; John 1:1-5,14 ↩

Items for Discussion

  • What Biblical stories would you include or exclude if you were telling the story of Christmas, Christ’s coming?
  • How would you describe the purpose of Christ, why He came?
  • What traditions of Christmas are the most important to you and your family?

Discussion Challenge

  • How do we keep Christmas alive all year?

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 11:1-4a, 6
  2. Isaiah 40:1-5 (7:14)
  3. Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
  4. Matthew 1:18-21
  5. Luke 1:35-38a
  6. Luke 2:1, 3-7
  7. Luke 2:8 -14
  8. Luke 2:15-20
  9. John 1:1-5,14
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