In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook.  Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.



God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are from the NRSV.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

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.

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him 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 flock by night.

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

 So 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; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – Our Wondrous Light*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tomorrow is Christmas. Tonight, two thousand and twenty-third anniversary of the birth of Christ. Christ who is the Truth and the Light. Today we lit the Christ Candle as a symbol of His light.

Looking at the candle, its flame seems so small … it doesn’t take up much room. And yet, if we could completely darken this room, this single flame would be enough to find our way.

This light … this small flickering flame needs room, lots of room, all the room we can spare. This light asks a lot of us. Asks for a shocking hope and a just peace. We are asked to express a fierce joy and to embrace the love that transforms. It asks a lot, this light, as wondrous as it is. It wants to take over our whole life, our lives as the community of faith, the body of Christ. Our problem this Christmas Eve is that we’ve gotten too used to the darkness.

The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.

We have? Where?

On them has the light shined.

Really? It has?

For unto them a son is given.

A what?

Unto them a child is born.

A child?

Wait, I don’t know about this.

And the government shall be upon his shoulders.

Ah, this is a government plot. Count me out! And they missed it. Announcements came and went; proclaimers proclaimed; heralds heralded. And they missed it. It was too long coming. It was too obscure. Not enough press, not enough bright lights. Sure, there was the star thing, but we see stars all the time. Angels? Well, everybody and Charlie has angels. No big deal. Foreigners showing up? Keep them out, too risky. They missed it.

We miss it. Sometimes we miss it because it is old news. God with us? Yeah, I have a bumper sticker. I’m good. It’s old news. We forget to be amazed. We forget to be humbled. We forget to be grateful. What have you done for us lately? A baby over 2,000 years ago? OK, got it, thanks. Next?

Except that baby grew up to say “I will be with you always. Even to the end of the age.”

Always. All ways. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. On your best days, he’s there celebrating with you, being proud of you, clapping you on the shoulder, giving high fives and atta boys, atta girls. On your worst days when even your mother is disappointed in you, when even you are disappointed in you, and you want to dig a hole and crawl in, pulling it over you, he’s there. The days of emptiness and brokenness, the days of fullness and joy. The days of love overflowing and the days of loneliness that suck at your soul. “I am with you always.” This baby didn’t stay a baby. But he stayed. Stayed God with you. God with me. God with us.

We have to lean into the light. We have to make room. In our busy lives, we have to make room. Because this baby, this Savior is polite; he has the manners his mom taught him. He’ll wait. He won’t force himself on you, won’t horn his way into your busyness and demand attention. He’ll wait. Until you turn. Until you stop running. And turn and give a hint. That’s all, just a hint. Just an opening. Just a tear shed or a smile offered. Just a hand held out, hoping, wishing, wanting someone to take it and hold on for dear life.

And then he’ll come. He’ll fill you. He’ll want you. He’ll remind you that you are one of the special ones, one of the chosen ones. He’ll lift you up until you think you can fly. He’ll bandage your wounds until you forget that you even had them; even the scars will be forgotten. He’ll turn you around until your head is spinning, and you find your feet on the path you wanted all along, even if you didn’t know it.

We have to make room. For the story, for the song. For hope and fulfillment. For the here and the not yet. For the dreams you still dream and the longings of your heart, even as you claim contentment with what already is. For the love you have and the love you need. We have to make room. For a child, that’s all. Just a tiny baby. Like all babies, this one seems so small, so helpless, so simple – feed me, clean me, love me – yet, who takes up more room than you thought possible.

We’ve all had room; we’ve had room, and yet we’ve had no idea how much room our lives – our children, our partners, our families, our friends needed. Over the years, we still had room. And, once more, we were surprised at the room our daughter had taken over. More room than we thought we had, more room that we didn’t know we had. Jesus comes to fill the emptiness that you don’t even know you have because you’ve filled it with so much else. But none of that really fills the emptiness like you thought it would. Until Him. Until God with us. Until the Firstborn. The Word made flesh.

“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 …

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

And Luke takes that flesh and turns it back into Word. And we love the story he tells. Love it enough not to worry about the detail, about the timing. I mean Quirinius was not governor when Herod was on the throne; the dates don’t match. But who cares? It’s the story that matters. And Luke gets that right. We have to make room, he says.

We have to make room. No, wait. We get to make room. So … make room. This blessed Christmas season, make room. Make room …

Howard Thurman wrote this of Christmas:

“Christmas is a mood, a quality, a symbol. It is never merely a fact. As a fact it is a date on the calendar — to the believer it is the anniversary of an event in human history. An individual may relate (themselves) meaningfully to the fact or the event, but that would not be Christmas.

The mood of Christmas — what is it? It is a quickening of the presence of other human beings into whose lives a precious part of one’s own has been released.

It is a memory of other days when into one’s path an angel appeared spreading a halo over an ordinary moment or a commonplace event. It is an iridescence of sheer delight that bathes one’s whole being with something more wonderful than words can ever tell. Of such is the mood of Christmas.”

Parker J. Palmer, an author and poet wrote, “The Christmas story challenges and inspires me. The challenge is clear: we live among forces of darkness whose sole aim is to protect their own power and wealth without regard for the suffering they cause. The inspiration comes from the implausible notion that a defenseless infant who represents the light of love, truth, and justice might illumine, warm, and transform this dark, cold world.

As we approach the end of 2023, it’s hard to imagine how implausible hope can win the day. Millions in the U.S. and around the world suffer from the heedless use of power by extremist thugs who break the law and the norms of decency without remorse. To make matters worse, millions cheer these thugs on, even claiming that God has “ordained” them and the living hells they stir up: Christian nationalism, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, a culture of violence, etc., etc. How anyone can celebrate Christmas and play footsie with evil is beyond me, but millions do.

Will love, truth, and justice have the final say, or even a voice along the way? The answer is clear: the outcome depends on the rest of us bearing witness to what is right and good and true—something we will not do as long as we are silenced by the fear that keeps us from following the lead of our better angels.

Here the Christmas story has a pointed word for us, a word from those angels: “Be not afraid.” Those words do not say, “HAVE no fear.” Instead, they say we don’t need to BE fear when we speak and act. The inner landscapes of our lives offer many places to stand. Alongside fear, there are places with names like compassion, trust, faith, simple humanity, and a devotion to truth. By choosing to stand in one of those places when we show up in the world, it’s possible to BE something better than our fear. We can be light, illumining, warming, transforming light.

The Christmas story reminds me of a simple fact that transcends traditions and creeds: each of us has a chance to live as a light in the darkness, right here, right now. Standing alone, my little light makes little difference to anyone but me and the few I might touch. Multiply it by the millions who want to take back the night, and we can write a new story for our time. It’s been done before, and it can be done again…

In that spirit, I wish everyone the blessings of light, and a resolve to BE the light!”

Resolve to BE the light … it seems such a tall order in this darkening world in which we live. And we are mere humans. If we choose to be. Or we can choose to be more … to accept his invitation, his call to follow him. To accept our worth in him.

Jennifer Dukes Lee explains that worth better than I can. She wrote, “Seeing yourself as worthy of love and belonging isn’t a matter of willpower.

You can’t WILL yourself to feel your worth like you can will yourself to get out of bed. Feeling one’s worth happens by agreeing and cooperating with God, who determines your value.

I’m reminded of that truth every Christmas when I sing “O Holy Night.” There’s a line that goes like this:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Til he appeared and the soul felt it worth.”

The soul feeling its worth here … is linked to Jesus’ appearing.

Our souls can FEEL a lot of things, and they aren’t all good things. Looking back on my life, my soul has felt unloved, unseen, shameful, weak, and disgraceful.

But along comes Jesus, affirming the worth of our souls with His presence on earth—and in us.

The birth of Jesus means a lot of things, but one of the things it means is this: who you are matters. You have significance and worth as a human being.

Imagine a world where all of us believed this truth, deep down in the heart of things.

I know how hard it is, because there are unhealed parts inside of each of us that have been wounded by people who trampled on our worth. It can be a process to get to a place where your soul feels its worth in Jesus. But I pray today that you will have the courage and strength to take another step toward believing it’s true.

Let this be the Christmas that your precious soul feels its worth.”

There lie the gifts of Christmas … to RESOLVE to BE the light to others. To MAKE ROOM for Christ and Christmas in your life. And to KNOW you are worthy.

“I will light candles this Christmas.

Candles of joy, despite all the sadness.

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.

Candles of courage where fear is ever present.

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days.

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens.

Candles of love to inspire all of my living.

Candles that will burn all the year long. “

Meditations Of The Heart (1953) ~ Howard Thurman

And remember … even Christ born in the rubble is Lord of All, Prince of Peace, our sovereign King.

Let’s pray:

God of David’s fragile house of hope and expectation:

In the time of empires, your word is born to those who have no place and sung to those who watch in the wild; may his birth unsettle our world with hidden glory and untold peace, through Jesus Christ, the Child of Promise.

God of rough hands and hardened feet, giving light to the daughters and sons of earth:

In agony of birth and gentleness of newborn skin, may we discover your ordinary beauty in the heart of our longing world, through Jesus Christ, the Icon of the Unseen God.

God of every creature whose Son was born for all the world;

We praise you for the shepherds who lived between the earth and sky, who, with animals and angels, greeted the Word made flesh: may we share their urgency to meet the promised child with wonder and with joy; through Jesus Christ, who binds all things together.




  • Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
  • *Adapted in full from “Our Wondrous Light” Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Series, December 24, 2023.

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