Sunday, January 2, 2022

Second Sunday After Christmas

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We Three Kings
by The Hound + The Fox

We remember the Magi,
Who set out with singular focus on the promise of the heavens.
We remember the ways that we have lost sight of you, O God,
as the bright guide for our lives.
We have seen the star in the east and we are ready to follow.
The mystery of God’s wonder and grace is here. Come, let us adore the Christ child yet again. Let us worship God.

God of wonder and mystery, you surprise us in every age. Into the gloom of fear, you bring light; into emptiness of worry, you bring abundance; into the cold of indifference, you bring warmth. Enter now, O Holy One, to be among us and within us, and move us to joyful adoration of your mystery and wonder. Amen.

We can hide nothing from God, who knows our every thought.  God is aware of sins we have not recognized. We cannot be right with God unless we examine ourselves and repent. Let us confess our sin before God and one another, and may God have mercy.
May Christ have mercy.
May God have mercy.
O God, our lives are an open book to you.  Help us to recognize in ourselves what you have seen there. Remove the distortions that keep us from acknowledging our sin.  Awaken in us a sorrow over the wrong we have done and the good we have neglected.  Create in us an earnest desire to change. O God, we are in touch with the pain we have caused and the pain within us. Because of your love and care, we can face and overcome the sins we here confess. Amen.

Hear now these words of assurance:
Your struggles to know yourself are prompted by God’s love.  God leads the community of faith beyond what is lawful to what is holy.  We are not our own. We are Christ’s. By God’s grace, we may turn from self-serving ways to selfless ministries that glorify God.

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.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Isaiah 60: 1-6
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 72: 1-7
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound,
until the moon is no more.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… 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.

SERMON ……………………… Offering Our Best …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
When we “give,” we expect the other to receive. When we “offer” something, it can be accepted or rejected. The offer stands on its own and does not depend on acceptance to be relevant or generous. An offer is not tied to the giver but stands in front of the receiver unashamed to be accepted or rejected.  -Peter Gomes

A question for you – is it better to give or receive? This old question has ancient roots in all religions. The bible, the Torah, and the Quran all encourage helping others and giving to others – and to give with no strings attached. 

Scientists study biological evidence to measure our physical and mental health benefits when we practice giving freely. For example, when we regularly practice the act of giving, we reduce stress. That is a significant benefit. The more we give, the more we receive

From personal experiences, we know how good it feels – to give our attention, spend time, or share advice with others. We learn there are built-in rewards, so we are more inclined to repeat volunteering and giving patterns. We earn respect by honoring others. The more we give, the more we receive.

Christmas and Epiphany’s central theme encourages us to do more selfless acts of thoughtful giving. Giving gifts can be relatively easy. We live in a world where we can send gifts remotely from our home computers by shopping or a company of your choice. Then, pay a little extra to personalize it, have it wrapped with a pretty bow, and deliver it first-class the next day.  

In “the old days,” you drove to icy, snow-covered mall parking lots and walked a treacherous journey from your car to the entrance of a store, hoping for a particular gift that may or may not be in stock. If it was in stock, you paid the price that the merchant asked. But I think that was part of the fun of shopping. It’s also fun knowing that others are out looking for gifts for you. 

Giving is the most wonderful part of the Christmas season for many good reasons. But there is more….as people of faith. We want to help create and give joy, not necessarily happiness. There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is something that happens to you by some external means. Happiness comes and goes. Joy is something that is pleasing and assuring within you – a deep sense of knowing goodness. Joy, true joy is strong and stays with you.

Epiphany is an experience of joy that moves us from giving gifts to offering treasure. The Magi from the East come to Bethlehem to offer Mary, Joseph, and young Jesus the very best they have to offer. They do so because they recognize the world has just received the very best gift God can offer. The gift came with the fanfare of angels, although not that many people came that first night. And even though the baby was wrapped and swaddled in some old, hand-me-down bands of cloth, and placed in a manger, this small human package came to us as the Messiah. 

The strangers from the East understand and make the long journey to say, “Welcome, Messiah! Praise be to God most high!” This is God with us, and this infant child is here to stay; the power of the world no longer belongs to the earthly rulers like Caesar, but instead comes as tireless, relentless, eternal love, given to us, “the least and the last.”  

A friend of mine likes to say, “By January 2nd, I put away everything “Christmas”—everything, that is, except the nativity scene. The rule in our household is that the nativity has to stay on display until Epiphany.”

Religious scholar Peter Gomes reminds us, “Epiphany is the most important season of the church because it is the season in which Jesus’ identity is made clear to all who will look and see.” “Epiphany,” he says, “is that manifestation of God in the world where the message is greater than the manger and goes well beyond it. To leave the story of Jesus in the manger, to pack it up as we have done with our crèche and put away for another year, is to fail to understand what the Epiphany is all about.” (Peter Gomes)

In today’s scripture lesson from Matthew’s gospel, the wise men “get it.” They understand this is Epiphany in their midst. They know what is happening and offer their very best and the best of themselves. 

They had been drawn in by the light, following the star. In their own epiphany moment, they recognize the holy child and respond to the mystery by bowing and kneeling, knowing this precious gift is for them, for the world, for all time. A gift that can only be acknowledged, received, and adored.

These were wise and cultured people from the East. They were not masters of magic; they were seekers of understanding and respecters of mystery. Like us, they sought to understand the universe and noticed a change in the night sky, a star they could not explain, and followed where it led.

The wise men were people like us: people on a journey, seeking understanding, valuing the very best in science and technology, but wanting to be connected to that which lies beyond what we can explain in human terms, transcending our limits.

In the twenty-first century, we understand and stretch our limits in new ways, yet the ultimate limits we know are the same limits experienced by the ancients: birth and death. Epiphany is a celebration of the God who entered the limits of our lives to transcend them. When we experience the incarnation, we are drawn in by a God who experienced both birth and death with us and for us.

God asks us to offer the best of ourselves and our fidelity. The way God gives to us. This is the reciprocity of our faith. A faith that enriches us by stretching our comfort zones and exposing our vulnerabilities. A faith that draws us to a God who has something to give us that we cannot attain with money or our earthly power. 

Faith draws us to a community where we can open ourselves up and trust that the community has something to offer us; that the Holy Spirit is at work in ways that we cannot accomplish on our own, that we can travel together, following the light that guides us.  

Author of so many wonderful books, Madelaine L’Engle, took this tone, “Each time we read the Gospels we are offered anew the opportunity to encounter the Mystery of God with us in the form of Jesus, and if we will, we can accept the most wondrous gift…” (Glimpses of Grace, Epiphany meditation).

This is the reality check of the gospel 
and in the nativity is the heart of our story 
and lying in the manger is the incarnation of love, 
and this is the message that allows us to pray with courage and imagine with joy.  

As Peter Gomes puts it, “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 food and drink when we hunger and thirst.” So, as we put away our nativity sets….let us be confident that we cannot put away the light of Christ; let us receive this precious gift and always take it with us. 

Epiphanies come to us in all shapes and sizes: angels, stars, babies, water. They come in all sorts of moments: ordinary, simple, humble…sometimes, unexpected and bright. They come to us to show us how we might be changed profoundly; they come to show us another road. Don’t be afraid of being waylaid. Pause before that epiphany moment—take that other road with courage and hope as God shapes a bright new reality in us, one that is rich with God’s grace.

We are given a new vision of who God is, which cultivates radical gratitude that manifests itself in so many ways. The gifts brought by the Magi are particularly poignant. They invite us to consider: What will you bring to the manger? Amen.

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.

A Celtic Noel (The First Noel)
by Berean Bible Baptist Church Virtual Choir

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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