Christmas Eve Eucharist: The Estuary of Christmas

St Mary’s – Midnight Eucharist


Christmas Eve – Set 3 (Year A)
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-12
John 1:1-14

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord. Amen.

The Estuary of Christmas

One of the best Christmas records ever made was released in 1979. It has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas in the Lepp household. I have been listening to it again over the last few days as I searched for some additional inspiration for tonight. I can’t stop listening to it!

We have sung and will sing some beautiful pieces of music tonight. But nothing (at least to me) compares with this album. It is silly, it is sublime, and I will go so far as to say it is also profound.

That record: ‘A Christmas Together’ by John Denver and the Muppets! I kid you not. It is glorious mix of auditory fun – Miss Piggy’s 5 Gold Rings in the Twelve Days of Christmas is not to be missed. Ralph the Dog’s soulful rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is divine.
Silent Night in German by all the Muppets will bring to you tears. In between the silly songs, there are some profound lyrical gems that reflect the Christmas season.

One of these gems is ‘When the River Meets the Sea’- the inspiration for the title and contents of tonight’s sermon. The official term for a river meeting the sea is an estuary. In an estuary, the freshwater of the river meets the saltwater of the ocean. The combining of the waters makes a difference – the salt content is changed.

When we combined with the kingdom of God – we are changed.

I think that we see something of an estuary in our readings and songs tonight. By this I mean the grandness, the greatness of God coming down to meet us and sweep us into the bigger picture of his love and kingdom.

Isaiah, his mountains and the beautiful feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation to the Israelites in captivity. Hebrews takes us back to long ago when God spoke to the ancestors and the prophets but now through the Son whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he created all things.

John 1: In the beginning was the word, the word was with God, and the word was God. John casts us back to the opening of Genesis when in the beginning there was nothing, but God created order out of chaos. Light in the midst of darkness. And like a human author who creates a new world simply with words on a page, God speaks a word and things come to be.
These big readings hold grand visions promises that break into the lives of people who are struggling and in need of some good news.

The people of Israel who Isaiah was prophesying to were in slavery in Babylon, they had been taken away from their homes and were desperate to go back. The Hebrew community was struggling to stay faithful to what they had been taught about God and Jesus. They needed to be reminded that better times were ahead – God was making a way for them to be rescued. St. John begins his Gospel in darkness and mystery but then there is a burst of light; there is a new light and a new life coming through Jesus.

In an estuary, water is continually being circulated as the ocean tides and the mouth of the river combine their waters. In the estuary of these readings we see the coming of the promises of God meeting the reality of the people waiting for the Good News. That Good News is Jesus.

We sing it in our songs too – ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee (Jesus) tonight.

Who’s got some hopes and fears here tonight?

Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

Anyone meek of soul? Good – the dear Christ wants to enter in!

The 3rd verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing – my favourite of any verse of any song ever written.

Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings;
Born that man no more may die.

More light and better life in 2020 to all?

O come, all ye faithful – born this happy morning, Jesu, to thee be glory given; Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing.

Oh yeah! It came true!

Tonight we go back to the beginning, to when the Word became flesh and all things came into being through him and lived among us. We see his glory, the Son full of grace and truth. Just as true now as it was then.

The final thing about estuaries is that they are, according to National Geographic, excellent for community living. They provide fresh water and hygiene. The earliest civilizations in the world developed around estuaries around 4000 thousand years ago.

Where the river meets the sea is good for life and living. Not just for us but for everyone. Jesus came for everyone, every single person. No one is excluded – however much we may wish to exclude ourselves. The Word made flesh and dwells among us full of grace and truth. This is no man-made solution; this is all God. Jesus came from the will of God.

Like the river meeting sea, we can flow into the life and love of God and become part of his most glorious story. The lyrics of When the River Meets the Sea are not particularly Christmas related but they talk about transition. I will end with the words from this beautiful song.

When the River Meets the Sea
Composed by: Paul Williams

When the mountain touches the valley
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully
Though our minds be filled with questions
In our hearts we’ll understand
When the river meets the sea

Like a flower that has blossomed
In the dry & barren sand
We are born & born again most gracefully
Thus the winds of time will take us
With a sure and steady hand
When the river meets the sea

Patience, my brother and patience, my son
In that sweet and final hour
Truth and justice will be done
Like a baby when it is sleeping
In its loving mother’s arms
What a newborn baby dreams is a mystery

But his life will find a purpose
And in time he’ll understand
When the river meets the sea
When the river meets the almighty sea!!

Author: Sue Lepp

Newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches and will start later in January 2021. Time for a new start at the beginning of a new year. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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