Pastoral Welcome

The Christmas after I gave birth to my son, Wade, I remember feeling painfully alone. Although Christmas Eve is the night Mary gives birth to Jesus, I heard nothing of the kind while sitting in the church pew. I heard nothing of Mary’s groans, nothing of her fear, nothing of her work, nothing of her rest, nothing of her deep breathing, nothing of her terror, nothing of her delight. As a new mother, all I wanted was to find myself in Mary’s story and for Mary to find herself in mine. We broke ourselves open to bring these babies into the world. The least the church could do would be to honor our breaking and our mending in its liturgy. Yet what I heard were songs of shepherds and angels, silence and wonder—an important cast of characters and moods the night Mary gave birth to Jesus, no doubt, but the liturgy seemed to be missing the real core of that blessed night. What a person goes through to bring life into the world, even in the most peaceful of circumstances, is worthy of our giving and our receiving. It is worthy of our witness. 

What would it mean to reimagine the Christmas Eve liturgy from Mary’s perspective? How might it turn the world upside down? How might it illuminate Mary’s Magnificat, removing tyrants from their thrones, scattering those who deceive, crying mercy for all? What would hearing Mary’s story do for the countless mothers who have sat in pews longing to hear the good news of Mary’s blood, sweat, and tears? What would it do for all of us to hear that Jesus, our deliverer, can only deliver us because he was first delivered? That he came into this world the same way we did—through our mother’s bodies? What might change for us to know Mary as a survivor, breastfeeder, bleeder, healer? 

Tonight is Christmas Eve, one of the most well-attended holy days of the year. As thousands sit to listen and walk to receive, let us feast our minds, bodies, and hearts on a mother’s love. How might this change us? How might this change the world? 

Come, dear ones, let’s find out.

Opening Song

Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.

—Rory Cooney, “Canticle of the Turning”1

Communal Prayer 

On this holy night, Mother God, we pray together in the spirit of young Mary, whose song echoes throughout Jesus’s ministry, whose fire and passion, conviction and grace lead us to light and life.2 Help us turn the world upside down. Help us join in the groans of labor to bring forth life anew. Help us fan the flames of your justice. Help us burn what needs burning. Help us mend what needs mending. And on this most holy of nights, help us honor Mary and all who mother the world into love. 



Scripture Reading                

A reading from 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. (NRSV)

Homily: On Birthing

It was quiet but for the bleating of a goat and the soft suckle of your lips on my nipple. The First Supper. Your father slept in the corner of the barn on a pillow of hay. After stitching my body where it tore, the midwife left, weary from attending my long, slow labor.

I lay awake. Bleeding. Desperate for something stronger to take away the pain. Labor is its own wave after wave of hell.3 And then, once the baby has left the body, there comes a new wave, a softer one, but still a wave crashing upon the shore, whispering quietly, “You survived. Just barely.”

Every cell tingles with this awareness and shudders at the thought of it—death was so close I could taste it. But then life was so close, too. Does the body quake at the ground of them both? You can’t have one without the other.

I was so tired all I could do was lie there and stare, acutely aware of my surroundings and yet unhinged from this earth, floating up and beyond whatever life this was, whatever lives we had become.

I remember the smell of lavender and blood. Both soothed me—lavender with its sweet and calming scent; blood with its awakening.

I didn’t cry when I first saw you; I only gasped, desperate for air. Although I labored for hours, the moment of your arrival on earth came in an instant. They had to tear you from my body—that’s how reluctant either of us was to let go.

Covered in blood—was it yours or mine or both?—they placed you on my chest. You screamed. I marveled. I created this?

Dark hair. Dark eyes. You illumined that night with your darkness, and I began to see darkness as beautiful, to realize that making our way in the evocative dark is all there ever is. You taught me this, dear one. You.

Your father wasn’t meant to be there. Matters of labor and birth, blood and uterus were withheld from men, thought to be spaces where only women dwelt, understood as unclean. Yet there he was, holding my hand, watching me bleed. Another one of the night’s tiny miracles—your dad presently, patiently helping me bring you into this world.

I had a month left before I thought you’d arrive, so the plan was to be back at home where my mother-in-law and sisters could tend to me as I rode wave upon wave of contraction and pain.

Plans are for fools. Wisdom laughs in their face. In the end, all we have is a hope and a prayer, a kneeling down and a letting go.


They say shepherds visited us that night, but their visit came later, after the days of cleansing had passed, and I was considered pure again. How, after bringing you into this world through sweat and blood, broken flesh and tilting bone, I could be considered impure is beyond me.

No, that night, it was just us. And a host of mother saints cheering us on, bidding me, “Push,” and holding you, “Hush.”

That was the first night I remember thinking: I am never alone no matter how alone I may feel. This same thought would return to me throughout your life—your leaving, your preaching, your dying. All of this broke me in two.

It was as if your birth prepared me for a reliance on Mother God and gave me practice for what was to come, the foreboding of the body-breaking, blood-shedding miracle that you were only able to endure because I endured it first.

Of course, none of this was coherent on the night you were born. Only you and your darkening light as you suckled my breast. Only me and my stinging, dull pain. Only my body and yours. Bruised and bloodied, lying on the floor of a nameless barn on the outskirts of Bethlehem. With a bleating goat and a soft snore from your father.

It was there that I felt remade, not so much as your mother, though that was a title I claimed joyfully, but as a survivor, as one who came face-to-face with death and lived.


Night Song

Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven’s answer hidden from our sight. As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.

—Daniel L. Schutte, “Holy Darkness”4

Prayer of Confession

Mother God who sustained Mary, who sustains us all—

               We confess we’ve done a poor job of caring for mothers, of listening and holding and honoring and celebrating their stories, of bowing down at the feet of those who bring us into the world and keep it spinning. We confess that without Mary, we would not have Jesus. We confess that without Jesus, we would not truly live. Forgive us, O God of Mary, for our ignorance and our disregard, and let us follow the light of the flame into places that honor and bless the ones from whom we come, the bodies, broken, from which we burst forth. Help us honor. Help us love. Help us, Mother God, we pray.  

Forgiveness and Grace

God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next. Thanks be to Mary. Thanks be to God. 

Alleluia! Amen. 

Passing of the Peace

In the spirit of Mary, let us offer signs of reconciliation and love by placing one hand on our heart and one on our belly, extending peace, first, to ourselves, and then to others—honoring Mary’s body and all bodies from which we come. 

The Great Thanksgiving 

May the spirit of Mary be with you all. 

               And also with you. 

               Open your hearts to Love. 

               We open our hearts to Love. 

               Let us give thanks to Mother God and Mother Mary. 

               It is right to give our thanks and praise to our deliverers. 

Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One, 

               You hovered over the face of the deep, 

               setting both light and dark in motion. 

               You crashed waves and lit the moon

               and set the sun on fire. 

               Before a word was ever spoken, 

               a song ever sung, 

               a love ever made, 

               you, there. 

Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One, 

               Babies cry your praise, 

               Trees sway your song, 

               Poets dance your beat. 

               Saints and sinners, 

               ministers and mystics, 

               planets, galaxies, 

               matter we cannot explain, 

               all exist in you. 

So we sing with mystery your unending praise: 

Holy, holy, holy. God of birth and matter. Power and vulnerability. 

The universe is full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed are the ones who come in the name of you.

Hosanna in the highest. 

Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One, 

               with Hagar in the desert, 

               with Tamar in the palace bedroom, 

               with Miriam on the shore, 

               with Ruth in the field, 

               with Rahab in the streets, 

               you, there. 

               With Mary in her laboring, 

               with Elizabeth in her waiting, 

               with Anna in her prophesying, 

               with the woman in her bleeding, 

               with the one bending in the dirt, 

               you, there. 

               With Jesus as he taught, healed, cried, grieved, 

               with Jesus as his heart broke, 

               with Jesus as he invited, welcomed, loved, celebrated, 

               with Jesus as he died, 

               with Jesus as he rose, 

               you, there. 

               With Mary, on the night she gave birth, as she said: 

               This is my body, broken for you. 

               This is my blood, poured out for you. 

               Eat. Drink. Remember me. 

               With Jesus, on the night before he died, as he said: 

               This is my body, broken for you.

               This is my blood, poured out for you.  

               Eat. Drink. Remember me. 

               With the women as they questioned and wondered, 

               you, there. 

Pour out on us your mercy, Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One.

               Bless these gifts of bread and wine, 

               that they may become for us

               the body and the blood of Mary,

               without which we do not have

               the body and blood of Jesus, 

               shared with us for the deliverance 

               of the world into love. 

And so we boldly proclaim the mystery of our faith: 

               Mary gave birth to the Christ child.

               The Christ child lived. The Christ died. 

               The Christ rose. The Christ will come again.

               Mother Mary, Mother God with him, with us. 

Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One,  

               With us as we remember Mother Mary, 

               with us as we remember the child, Jesus, 

               with us as we share in the bodies and the blood, 

               the groans and the tears, the sweat and the labor that 

               sustain us and call us forth to healing and shalom. 

               With bread, 

               with wine, 

               with birthing ones, near and far, 

               on this night and all nights. 

               With strangers and foes, 

               with family and friends, 

               with all the earth that was then, 

               all the earth this is now, 

               all the earth that is to come,

               you are here now.







birthing the world anew, 

Holy Deliverer, Eternal Birthing One,   

               all praise, 

               all glory, 

               all love, 

               all faithfulness, 

               all justice, 

               all mercy,

               eternally now. 

And so we sing our confident and hopeful amen: 

Amen. Amen. Amen. 

The Prayer of Mary (inspired by Luke 1:46–55) 

O Mother, we glorify you. 

From the depths of our beings, we rejoice in you, 

our Deliverer. 

As you show mercy to us, help us show mercy to others. 

As you honor our bodies, help us honor all other bodies. 

As you scatter the deceitful and remove tyrants from their thrones,

               help us work for justice and shalom. 

Fill the hungry with good things. 

Show us what is enough.

Deliver us from pride into mercy. 

Deliver us from evil into love. 

For yours is the birthing room, the power, the vulnerability, 

               the glory, and the love, 

               eternally here, eternally now. 


Breaking the Bread and Blessing the Cup

Broken in silence, poured in quiet, we’re invited to remember both Mary and Jesus—birthing and being born. 

Sharing in the Sacred Meal 

Take, eat, the bread from which Mary and Jesus sustain you.  

Take, drink, the blood from which Mary and Jesus deliver you.  

Prayer After Receiving 

We thank you, Holy Mother, 

for inviting us to the birthing and communion tables, 

for the First Supper and the last. 

For reminding us of the thin veil between this world and the next. 

For reminding us of the sacred, holy work of bringing life into the world. 

For ushering us into your holy delivering and delivered bodies. 

Tonight, we are sustained in the darkness and beckoned by the light. 

Tonight, we are honored and honoring of your First Supper feast. 


Closing Song 

My soul proclaims with wonder the greatness of the Lord; rejoicing in God’s goodness, my spirit is restored. To me has God shown favor, to one the world thought frail, and every age will echo the angel’s first “All hail!” 

—Carl P. Daw Jr., “My Soul Proclaims with Wonder”5

Pastoral Benediction 

May we live

               in the spirit of Mary, who turned the world and our liturgy upside down,

               without whom we have no Jesus, no Christ to follow into a life of trust, 

               delivering that which needs to be delivered into love. 

May we work

               in the spirit of all who mother, everywhere, working for justice on behalf of their

               broken-open bodies that keep the world spinning. 

May we breathe 

               in the spirit of Christmas that remembers the First Supper 

               of blood and bone, breast milk and pain, love and survival, power and vulnerability. 

May we be

               in the spirit. In the body. In the blood.

               Of our Deliverer, our Eternal Birthing One. 

Alleluia. Amen.

  1. See “Canticle of the Turning—Rory Cooney,” YouTube, video, 3:32, December 9, 2011,
  2. Note that bold text in this liturgy signifies words that are to be read together by the assembled congregation.
  3. See Katie Prudek Lin, “Perinatal Eucharist,” The Other Journal 32 (October 2020):
  4. See “Holy Darkness,” YouTube, video, 3:27, May 2, 2015,
  5. See “My Soul Proclaims with Wonder,” Hymnary,