January 7, 2024 - Epiphany

For the week of January 7 – Epiphany Sunday

Morning prayer: O God of light and peace, whose glory, shining in the Child of Bethlehem, still draws the nations to Yourself: dispel the darkness that shrouds our path, that we may come to kneel before Christ in true worship, offer Him our hearts and souls, and return from His presence to live as He has taught. Amen. (Lectionary Prayers)

Hymn: #245 The First Noel

  1. The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
    in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Refrain: Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel.

  1. They looked up and saw a star shining in the east, beyond them far;
    and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night. (Refrain)
  2. And by the light of that same star three Wise Men came from country far;
    to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went. (Refrain)
  3. This star drew nigh to the northwest, o'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
    and there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay. (Refrain)
  4. Then entered in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon the knee,
    and offered there, in His presence, gold and myrrh and frankincense. (Refrain)

Psalm 72:10-14

72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render Him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

72:11 May all kings fall down before Him, all nations give Him service.

72:12 For He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

72:14 From oppression and violence He redeems their life; and precious is their blood in His sight.

Children’s Time Revelation 22:16

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Children’s Message

Jesus is known by many names: Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Son of God, Son of Man, and this morning we are going to talk about Bright, Morning Star. It is the name that is most linked to Epiphany, which is the liturgical holiday we are celebrating today. It is the celebration of the visitation of the Wise Men. They saw Jesus’ star at its rising and went to where it rested.

Stars are heavily connected to this season. They were in the sky when the angels herald the birth of Jesus and the heavens are where we set our gaze when we talk about Jesus coming back.

Have you ever looked up at the clear night sky? If you look long enough, you can start to see the different colors and sizes of the stars. If you stay up late enough or get up early enough, about 3am the planet Venus comes into view. She is the biggest light and she is very bright. Venus is referred to as the morning star, because she announces that the sun will be rising soon, it won’t be dark much longer, a new day is breaking.

Jesus announces a new day, a new time coming as well. He is announcing the reign of the Kingdom of God. The same God that created all the vastness of the universe, created you and me. God sent Jesus out of God’s love for each of us to repair the broken relationship between us and God, because only God could do it.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlight: The Missions team chose 24 different organizations and projects to support financially with the offering that you have designated for Missions and benevolent giving.  There is also funding earmarked for emergencies in the community and around the world.  In addition to your own charitable giving, if there is an unmet need, talk to one of the Missions representatives.

Offering prayer: God of Light. We take these gifts and present them with love. We rejoice in our ability to share, but long to do more. Help us to be like the magi and carefully plan the gifts we bring you. May we not be satisfied with what is enough, but instead be inspired to do more. May these gifts be used so others may know the hope that is found in You. In His name, we pray. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Hymn of preparation: #87 What Gift Can We Bring

  1. What gift can we bring, what present, what token?

What words can convey it, the joy of this day?

When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing, what song can we offer in honor and praise?

  1. Give thanks for the past, for those who had vision,

who planted and watered so dreams could come true.

Give thanks for the now, for study, for worship, for mission that bids us turn prayer into deed.

  1. Give thanks for tomorrow, full of surprises, for knowing whatever tomorrow may bring,

The Word is our promise always, forever, we rest in God’s keeping and live in God’s love.

  1. This gift we now bring, this present, this token, these words can convey it, the joy of this day.

When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing, this song we now offer in honor and praise!

Message Scripture:  Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the Child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed His star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the Child; and when you have found Him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay Him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they knelt down and paid Him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Message:                       Pastor Becky

“For we have observed His star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage.”

All we actually know about the wise men or magi is speculation. No one did a biographical interview with them while they were in Jerusalem. Nobody took down their addresses for the thank you notes once they left Bethlehem. My life would be somewhat easier during this season if their information had been collected and preserved historically. There seems to be more lore and myth about them than any other part of the Christmas story.

We count them as three in number based solely on the gifts they brought. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gave them names in his poem The Three Kings. He named them Melchoir, Gaspar, and Baltasar. St. Francis of Assisi in presenting the first live nativity in Greccio, Italy in 1223 had the wise men appear on the night of Jesus’ birth. I understand the desire to tell the whole story all at once, but it has messed with the collective timeframe of the birth and infancy of Jesus since then. Plus, who is going to come back in two weeks, just to hear the end, when the birth is good enough to celebrate?

I can relate to feeling like Epiphany draws out an already long season. I mean, our society begins welcoming the Christmas season at 12:01 am November 1. The stores begin decorating and having Christmas sales. Town begins to decorate the streets and homeowners follow suit by lighting up their homes. I don’t mean to downplay these things, I get excited for Christmas too. But it is about this time every year, when I swear I am not doing it all again next year. I have exchanged my excitement for exhaustion and I’m ready to stuff all of it back in the attic.

Yet, this is precisely why we can’t have the visitation of the wise men included in the birth narrative. We celebrate a silent night, a holy night, when God touches earth. We would miss the frightening nature of this visit. It frightened Herod, it frightened all of Jerusalem and if we are listening, it should frighten us too.

What is frightening is contained in the second thing the wise men said: “For we have observed His star at its rising and have come to pay Him homage.” Wait! What? They saw the star, right there in the sky above Jerusalem? It is in the sky above us? If we were to just look up, it can be seen? How can we have missed this? I’m sure once it was seen, you couldn’t unsee it. How could the entire city miss it? I can only come up with three reasons, that isn’t to say there could be more, but I’ve hit on three.

  1. Maybe the star was obscured by God. Perhaps, God kept its presence hidden. There are other instances where information has been kept from being revealed to all. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Only Paul saw Jesus. The Transfiguration of Jesus. Only the three disciples with Jesus saw Him with Elijah and Moses. The only problem is that when God obscures knowledge, the scriptures tell us that is what is happening. So I'm not sure this is the reason.
  2. Jerusalem knew the prophecies too well. They have become so ingrained in the people and the ordering of life, the people just forgot what they knew. They lived so long with the promise of Messiah in their midst, they became satisfied with merely having the promise they didn’t seek the fulfillment of the promise. Similar to how we profess Jesus’ return, but aren’t actually looking for Jesus’ return.
  3. or maybe the opposite is true. Because it had been so long, they didn’t know to look for the birth of Messiah. They had their religious lives and cultural lives linking them to the Temple but no depth or relationship with the promise. It was just something handed down and folks went through the motions of tradition, but no connection to the traditions formed out of the prophecies.

No matter the reason, it took outsiders to point out to them that their prophecies had been fulfilled. Make no mistake, the wise men were outsiders in every sense. They came from a foreign place. They had different cultural practices. They had different beliefs and prayed to different gods. We don’t even know if they all came from the same place or found each other on the way. They had no link to Jerusalem, the Temple, or to the people.

We often get the most clarity about ourselves from someone outside of our circles. Your best friend, your sibling, your spouse – would prefer to lie to you before telling you something they think might hurt or upset you. They will downplay what we don’t see about ourselves, in an effort to maintain a relationship. Sometimes the closeness doesn’t afford them or us the space to see what is right in front us and sometimes we don’t want to see.

It is the outsider that can objectively gauge what is and what isn’t happening. They can give feedback we most need to hear, because it comes from a place of truth. There are no stakes in telling the truth from the outside because there is nothing to weigh out; there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. The outsider is the mirror we need to keep us focused on following Jesus as a church and as individuals.

Only the outsider can say whether or not we are loving our neighbors. We don’t get to decide if we are just because we have plans, projects, and programs. Only our neighbors know if they are loved and the outsider is their mouthpiece. The outsider calls us to where Jesus needs us to be. They point us to the signs of where we are to pay homage, which is just a big way of saying to worship – adore Jesus. And, that will always be with our neighbors – out there, outside of where we have become comfortable, lulled by complacency, or drifting by tradition. Calling us outside so that we can encounter our neighbor and see the face of God.

Closing Hymn #254 We Three Kings

  1. We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we traverse afar,
    field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

Refrain: O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.

  1. Born a King on Bethlehem's plain, gold I bring to crown Him again,
    King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign. (Refrain)
  2. Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh;
    prayer and praising, voices raising, worshiping God on high. (Refrain)
  3. Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;
    sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb. (Refrain)
  4. Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice:
    Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies. (Refrain)

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.