Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week, by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Christmas: Welcoming the Familiar Stranger
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 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.
And 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.” When 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. (Luke 2:1-20, New International Version)
Scripture: In 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. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 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. (John 1:1-14, New International Version)
Message: Welcoming the Familiar Stranger
Five years ago, I attended a Catholic Christmas Eve service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, near where my parent’s live. It was a midnight service, lit by candle light and there were plenty of Christmas carols sung to add to the holiday atmosphere. The bishop gave the homily that evening and he spoke of being in the holy land, in Bethlehem the year before for Christmas. He described breaking bread with other Christian leaders at the shepherds fields and together experiencing the beauty and mystery of Jesus’s birth. There was something familiar among the services of these other traditions, yet they were still strangers to each other.
I had been to Bethlehem earlier that year too, and the bishop’s description of the land and its people brought back vivid memories for me. There is a culture of hospitality in Palestine, of being welcomed into a stranger’s home and given tea and food. There is a sense that we are part of one large family, familiar strangers to each other, yet sharing in this beauty and mystery we call life.
Carrying around a child for nine months is also full of beauty and mystery and an intimate experience, a holy incarnation of holding another life inside your body as it grows and develops. I felt that my child was very familiar to me, yet when my son was born, he was also a stranger. He was a new person in his own right, yet someone I had had close to me for so long. As he grows, I continue to get to know who he is becoming, he is familiar stranger who is becoming known to himself and to me.
I wonder how Mary felt when she birthed Jesus, this precious child she had dreamed about, been told by God was divine, had carried inside her body for nine months. Yet here she was in a strange place, surrounded by strangers, giving birth to a baby who while so familiar was also a stranger. As she looked into his eyes, did she see the face of God? Was that face familiar? or was the mystery looking back at her?
The recent election has brought to even more clearer light than before the fear that so many people in this country have towards the stranger. The violence towards Muslism, Blacks and the LGBTQ community; the desire to expel immigrants and build a wall around our country; the rise in hate crimes against anyone who looks remotely “different” however you define that. This picture was going around Facebook and emails this past week, it is a picture of the manger, where Mary gave birth to Jesus, and the caption reads “What the Nativity scene would look like without Muslims, Arabs, Africans, Jews or Refugees.” If we expel the stranger from our midst we both destroy our rich cultural and religious history but we also expel ourselves.
For the reason that strangers seem familiar to us, is not that we have met before or because we look like other people we know to each other, but because as we look into the face of the stranger, we see the face of God. I pray that this Christmas season, we can not be fearful of the mystery that looks back at us, but instead embrace the awe and beauty of that familiarity in each and every stranger we meet.
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. Below is part of Christmas card I received from the World Student Christian Federation, an ecumenical group that I was apart of many years ago. The card reads of its hopes and prayers in the face of injustice. May we embrace the stranger in each other and in ourselves; May we embrace that of God in each other and in ourselves.
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breath deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, I pray that this Christmas Season and New Year that I can embrace the stranger who comes to the stable when there is no room in the inn. I pray that when the Angels sing out in the heavens, our communities do not run away in fear but instead dive deep into the mystery of God's new creation awaiting us. Help us, O Lord to embrace the familiar stranger in each other and that of God in ourselves. Amen.”