First Sunday after Christmas
Joy to the World
by Chris Tomlin
CALL TO WORSHIP
When Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph,
God was there.
This very moment,
God is here.
In a future, we cannot see,
God will be there.
Let us worship God!
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Thank you God, for this time to be together to celebrate the gift of Christmas. Thank you for making divine love real by giving us the gift of your Son, Jesus, who first comes to us as an infant. As we depart the manger scene of Bethlehem, help us see others as you see them; to see that each one of us is uniquely gifted; and that you have plans for each of us. As we worship you now, remind us to make time for the hopes and dreams you have instore for the world. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy and Loving God, we give thanks for the promise of this sacred season of Christmas and the joy we find in the Christ child. Yet even as we rejoice, we recognize that we often fail to live with the hope of redemption. We know that we are easily distracted by our own projects and interests. When we lose focus on the true meaning of Christmas for our lives, please forgive us and bring us back to the precious gift that changed the world. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
The promise of the Good News is Emmanuel, God with us. Therefore, let us lay aside all those things that distract us from bringing the light of Christ into our lives. Let us believe and make real the spirit of this season: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy, now and forever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Ephesians 3: 7-15
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
SERMON ……………………… A New Proclaimation …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
I will start with some wonderful news from the time of Jesus. It is a proclamation of good news that is not found in our bible. It is a genuine historical document written over 2000 years ago to commemorate this most important human being.
It would have been posted on the sides of buildings, on walls, and columns throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, posted in every country village and every urban center.
It was intended to be good news for all the people of all the lands! People would have read this good news and wept; read this good news and cheered; read this good news and fell upon their knees and bowed their heads in solemn reverence. Oh, and those who opposed this proclamation of good news knew enough to keep quiet and to keep walking.
It reads this way:
To all you citizens, a proclamation that,
“Since the providence that has divinely ordered our existence has applied her energy and zeal and has brought to life the most perfect good in a person filled with virtues for the benefit of mankind… Bestowing upon him as a savior for us and our descendants.
He who had put an end to war will order peace, and by his epiphany exceeded our hopes of those who brought good news in the past. And not only out doing the benefactors of the past but also allowing no such hope of a greater benefactor in the future.
Since the birth of this god brought to the world the good news residing in him for that reason, good fortune and safety it has been decided to remember the birthday of this wonderful person.”
Isn’t that neat? Okay, I confess I omitted some words for effect, so it might have been a little misleading. Here goes again. This time I will reinstate those other words.
Those words are “To all you citizens of Roman…” (and it goes on…)
“Since the providence that has divinely ordered our existence has applied her energy and zeal and has brought to life the most perfect good in Emperor Augustus… whom she filled with virtues for the benefit of mankind…
Bestowing upon him as a savior for us and our descendants.
He who had put an end to war will order peace. (Caesar), who by his epiphany, exceeded the hopes of those who brought good news in the past and not only out doing the benefactors of the past but also allowing no such hope of a greater benefactors in the future.
And since the birth of the god brought to the world the good tidings (good news) residing in him for that reason good fortune and safety it has been decided that on August 23 all cities will remember the birthday of Caesar Augustus.”
We know that this proclamation had gone out to the cities of the Roman Empire to not only make a change in the calendar, but tell the world that Augustus was the living, ruling god. In those days, loyalty went first to the emperor and the empire. And this proclamation was one more reminder – that as subjects of Rome, your job was to strictly serve Roman interests.
Did you imagine hearing that proclamation, the first time I read it as a celebration announcement for Jesus? The language extraordinarily familiar. Perfect good, hopes, epiphany, good news, savior….it’s all there.
It might interest you to know this came just before the birth of Jesus. And it was still in play during Jesus’ lifetime and more than likely, Jesus knew it. Jesus was not only born a Jew. He was born a Roman subject. In this kingdom, this emperor king told the people how to live, how to work, and how to have peace.
No wonder the power structures of that day were worried when they heard rumors that a “new king” was born. Word was spreading that as those who knelt beside the manger, gazing into the face of the Christ child, recognized a much different Kingdom was about to take hold and spread through the lands.
Christmas is about a radical shift in the definition of power. A definition that no longer emphasizes how high you stand over others, but how low you kneel in honoring others; a definition that no longer glorifies your ability to take, but rather on how much you are able to give.
The One who comes at Christmas says, “You are no longer subjects. You are friends. You are part of a divine plan. And from this manger, go out bringing love to others.” A gift like this, the gift we are given is unstoppable. Unstoppable -because the angels also say to us, “Do not be afraid.”
This new king will unleash the full potential in us —the potential for good, for joy, for peace, for healing, for reconciliation, for transformation. We are empowered to do the work of Christmas and serve others – not to be slaves to idols, corrupt power, and self-interests. The good news of Christmas tells all those who have come to expect the worst out of life – life will get better.
In 2008, the Bishop of Rwanda, seeing the devastation and plight of his people, committed himself to take bold action. He said to a reporter, “I knew that to really minister to Rwanda’s needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, as much as it did in the churches and in the cities and villages throughout the country.
It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable. I knew I had to be committed to preaching a transforming message to the people of Rwanda. Jesus did not come into our world and die for people to be religious. He came into our world and died so that we might believe in him and be transformed.”
The birth we celebrate is something we are invited to celebrate every day of our lives. When we contemplate that birth, the danger is to sentimentalize the cuteness of the newborn child in a manger, rather than focus on the awesome mystery of the incarnation. (William Placher)
When we look to the incarnation of God and the profound mystery of the birth of love into the world, then we can begin to change from expecting the worst to working toward something good. We are believers in the child of Bethlehem, and because of that, we have work to do. As Peter Gomes has said, we are not seduced by the culture of the world; we do not fear the powers or principalities of the world. For we know where we stand, we know who we are, and we know to whom we belong.
It is this truth that gives us warmth in the cold; it is this truth that gives us light in the darkness; it is this truth that feeds us when we are hungry and gives us drink when we are thirsty. It is this truth that allows us, who are poor in the face of the world, to be rich in the face of God.
This is the reality check of the gospel. In the heart of our story, lying in the manger is the incarnation of love and a gift that allows us to pray with courage and imagination for the joy of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.
This knowledge invites us not to expect the worst but to live into love and bring the light of Christmas to the suffering people, places and situations of the world. This knowledge invites us not to expect the worst but to explore all truth and to be restless in the face of complacency and tireless in our pursuit of justice and peace. This knowledge invites us to go into the world in peace, to love and serve the Lord, who came on Christmas morning, to love all humankind.
So here we are, called again to begin where we left off and yet to make a new beginning—to be a beginning, to create something new, to change from expecting the worst to working toward something good. It is an old choice and a new chance for us and for the world. And what a joy for us that our gospel is one of second chances, new opportunities to claim the love of God, new opportunities to express that love in the world, new opportunities to discover who we are and what we can become in Christ.
Gomes reminds us that, “Our routine beckons, the familiar haunts require our attention and our return, and before long the memory of this holy time will disappear and be packed away with the tinsel and the crèches and all the paraphernalia of this season; and by God’s grace, God’s most remarkable and surprising love will have made its way into our hearts.”
So from our kneeling place beside the manger, we slowly rise to our feet and slowly step back toward that cowshed door and out into the cold winter air and to the world from which we came. But, the miracle of this birth and the glow of this gift of love is with us.
Christ only asks that you use this gift and share it with all you meet. Begin this new year with courage and joy and love to set about doing the work of Christmas in all the far away and forgotten places of our lives and of the world where people expect the worst.
Let each of us be bearers of the nativity light and builders of something good. The world’s calendar will soon turn to a new year, and this is traditionally a time to make an assessment of the year past and the new goals for the year to come. But faith is always best measured, not by what we have for ourselves, but by how much we love one another and take care of one another.
Rabbi David Wolpe offers these words, may we always fall upon our knees when we give thanks. May we believe deeply without despising difference; hope extravagantly without being crushed by failure; take our shortcomings seriously without being discouraged by them; do good for others without calculation and may we love – love without fear, love without narrowness, love without limit.
Amen, and have Happy New Year!
THE LORD’S PRAYER
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 debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
by Norton Hall Band
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen
May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.
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