Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we relight the candles of hope … peace … joy … and love … we are reminded of the one in whom all these gifts were united, and we light his candle, the Christ candle, we are reminded of our commitment to follow where he leads, carrying his light with us.
Call to Worship
So are you ready for the part of the story that is not always told? Are you ready for the part that has challenges, uncertainty, questions, and ever dire warnings? Too often we stay at the stable gazing into the manger long after the Holy Family have moved on. Moving on challenges us to move forward. So today, we are here to answer God’s call to move forward, following the one whose birth we honour. So come, let us worship the God who calls us ever forward.
God, you are the very symbol of new beginnings. As we gather in this time of worship, open us to the new beginnings and new possibilities that you place before us each new day. As we celebrate the child of Bethlehem remind us to always look beyond the stable and the manger to see the challenge he lays before us, and grant us the hope, peace, joy, and love to follow where he leads. Amen.
Today’s reading comes from a time when the exiles have returned to Jerusalem. The prophet is rejoicing because of the restoration of Israel and his joy seems to be the type of joy that naturally springs from a wedding celebration or in the new growth of springtime. Chapter 62 opens with the prophet’s personal commitment to the restored Jerusalem, to pray and speak out until everyone knows that Jerusalem is blessed by God.
Our reading from Galatians reminds us that, through Christ, we are all Children of God.
Our Gospel reading is the story of Jesus being presented in the temple and dedicated to God. While there the family encounters Simeon and Anna, two holy people who both recognize the baby as being the one sent by God.
Well, our celebration of Christmas is over. The gifts have been exchanged, the turkey has been eaten, except for the leftover of course, which are in the fridge, and those family and friends who have been able to gather this year, have gone home. Now all that remains is to take the tree down, put away the decoration, and get back to normal.
But this year, perhaps more than ever before, “normal” seems to have taken on an entirely different meaning. What is normal anymore, if there is a normal at all? Will normal look anything like what it once did? So perhaps today, as we prepare to celebrate Epiphany next Sunday, we need to ask ourselves what we would like “normal” to look like in the year ahead.
I think for most of us the things we would like for the year ahead are very similar to what we would like at any time. We would like a year where our family and friends are healthy and happy, our work is productive and rewarding, and our finances are stable. But of course, this year there is a difference. The thing that most of us are most focused on is the hope that this year we will see an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and a time of recovery for our health care system and for our economy.
Today, the reality is, that for many of us, what we have previously known as normal has been so completely altered over the past year and any sense of normality is completely gone. To even begin to think about what the future might hold is impossible in the face of the current situation in which we find ourselves.
Yet over and over I hear people talk about trying to maintain some sort of normality in their lives. At first, it may seem a bit ironic that in the midst of a situation that is about as far from normal as it is possible to be, people still seemed to seek out the familiar and normal in whatever way they can.
Yet the more I think about it, the more I realize just how strong the desire for the familiar or the normal, really is. The unknown, the uncertain, and the unfamiliar are often frightening, and even when the familiar is far from pleasant, we often cling to it rather than facing the unknown.
When Jesus was eight days old, he was taken to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised and presented to God, as was the tradition of his people as set out by the laws of Moses. The first-born son of every family, when he reaches the age of eight days, was to be brought before the altar of God in the temple at Jerusalem and there consecrated to God. This act of consecration was a symbolic sacrifice of the firstborn to God, confirming that the child, and all children, belonged to God.
Perhaps, in this act of faithfulness to the traditions of their people, Mary and Joseph were somehow striving to leave behind all the strange events that have surrounded the birth of Jesus and bring some semblance of order back into their lives. Perhaps they were simply trying to “get back to normal” or as normal as it is possible to be after the birth of a child.
But this was not to be. The birth of this particular child meant that their lives would never be the same again. What had once been normal had shifted, changed forever. Their world and their reality would never be quite the same again.
And just in case they had any doubt about that, it was made clear on that day in the temple. When God decides to make a point in our lives, it is not easy to avoid. Even in the midst of the most ordinary of activities, a tradition handed down through generations, the nature of this child, the essential difference from any child that has come before him, was clearly and convincingly reaffirmed. As his parents struggle to bring some semblance of the ordinary back into the confusion of this amazing birth, the divine, once again asserts itself.
As the child was presented to the priest in the temple, Simeon entered. Simeon was very old, but had lived an exemplary life, and was known as a man who has found favour with God. But Simeon knew something no one else did. He knew that God had promised him, that he would not die before he had seen the face of the messiah. With his whole heart, Simeon believed this and when he saw the child Jesus, he took him in his arms and praised God.
Any possibility that life could return to what it was, or could go on as if nothing extraordinary had happened, was shattered by Simeon’s declaration, “my eyes have seen your salvation”.
For Mary and Joseph, it had not been easy. They had just begun their life together when all their plans were completely obliterated by the announcement that Mary was to bear a child who would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to the people. It was an amazing proclamation and an amazing responsibility. Yet both Mary and Joseph accepted the call of God trusting that God would lead them.
They must have had to deal with a great number of questions and uncertainties. Yet they accepted all that they were told. They put all their own plans on hold and left everything behind to do as God instructed, even though it meant a level of trust and sacrifice that I doubt many of us could have demonstrated.
But now the child had been born. Surely, they had fulfilled the obligation that God had set before them. Surely now, they could finally begin to get back to normal. So, they began to look towards the future. They began to make plans for their new family. And they did what they would normally have done in any other circumstance. They took the child to the temple to be circumcised, blessed, and named, just as any new parents of the time would have done. It was time to leave behind all the preparations that had been made for the birth, all the wonder and fear of words of the angels, all the excitement and apprehension of the birth in the humble surroundings of a stable, and the awe and wonder of the adoration of the shepherds. It was time to put all the Christmas trimmings away and get on with the matter of living.
But the extraordinary nature of God is that even in the ordinary activities of life, the extraordinary will of God cannot be denied. The reality of Christmas, the reality of what this birth really meant, could not be set aside as a wonderful memory to be cherished and pondered. Instead, it was something that must become an ongoing reality. The reality of what was normal in the past had been forever changed into a new reality that included Jesus in the world.
As we begin to look ahead to a new year, much in our world has changed. What is normal today is very different from what was normal at the start of 2020. Our reality and our concepts of normal has changed and continues to change with each passing day.
But the truth is that no matter how much may have changed this year, that is nothing new. God has never promised us stability or comfort in our lives. What we have been promised is, that no matter what is happening, we will never have to face life alone.
This promise of God’s love for us is as ancient as time itself and is demonstrated for us in the living example of Christ. What is known and familiar may be comfortable, but it is only when we are willing to set aside our own ideas of how things should be and accept God’s plan, no matter how much it might upset our normal lives, that we can find the fulfillment of that ancient promise.
Mary and Joseph were willing to set aside their own plans when God called them to become the parents of Christ, and throughout this difficult and confusing time, God was with them. When they took Jesus to the temple in what appeared to be a very normal activity, God’s promise was once again confirmed to them in Simeon. Later on, when, at age twelve, Jesus remained in the temple after his parents had left, they were again reminded of God’s promise. At each new beginning the old promise, the promise of who this child was and who he would become, was confirmed.
As we prepare to start a new year surrounded by doubts and uncertainty, we too are reminded of the ancient promise. We do not know what lies ahead of us in 2021. Over and over again I hear people talk about getting back to “normal” in the new year, but the truth is that we have no idea what will be normal in the days to come. Some things have changed forever and there is nothing we can do to undo the realities of this past year.
But the reality is that things never stay the same. Things are always changing. But what got Mary and Joseph through all the uncertainty and all the incredible changes that they faced after the birth of Jesus is the same thing that will get us through whatever changes and uncertainty lie ahead for us. Faith.
No matter what happened to them Mary and Joseph held on to their faith. They trusted God and believed that God would never desert them. And God never did. That same promise, the promise made to Mary and Joseph long ago, is made to us today. God will never desert us. Christ’s birth is the confirmation of that promise, and it is that promise that will carry us through 2021 and whatever it might hold. Amen
We Offer Our Gifts
Christmas is much more than one day a year. Christmas is the gift that keeps giving! So as we recognize and celebrate that, let us offer our gifts to God.
Let us pray; Where we see scarcity, you see abundance, O God. Where we see limitations, you see possibilities. Where we see endings, you see beginnings. Open our hearts Gracious God, to know gratitude for your abundance in our lives and to share that abundance with others. Bless what we offer today, in Christ’s name. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Prayer of the People
God, as we reflect on the story of Anna and Simeon today, we remember how they recognized all the hope, peace, joy, and love that was born in your holy child. We long to recognize that same hope, peace, joy, and love in our world today. Open our eyes to see your hope, demonstrated in the parent who, although they have been unable to give their children the Christmas they had longed for, still hold on to the hope that next year will be better … demonstrated in the person who is lonely and isolated, but still hold on to the hope that the ones they love will reach out to them, connecting and reconnecting and easing their loneliness … demonstrated in the one who refuses to let even the worst circumstances defeat them and take away their hope for the future.
Open our eyes to see your peace, demonstrated in the victim of violence who refuses to hate, but chooses instead to forgive … demonstrated in the child that stands up to the bully with words rather than with fists … demonstrated in the leaders who agree to compromise in order to avoid war … demonstrated in the person who is able to trust in you and lean on you, even in the most stressful and tumultuous times of their lives.
Open our eyes to see your joy, demonstrated in the laughter of a child, even when the adults who surround the child can see no reason for laughter … demonstrated in the song of a bird or the exuberance of a puppy playing in the newly fallen snow … demonstrated in the radiant face and shining eyes of someone who seems to understand the secret of true contentment.
Open our eyes to see your love, demonstrated each time one person does something kind for another.
God, help us to not only see your hope, peace, joy, and love. Help us to be instruments of that same hope, peace, joy, and love where ever we go and whatever we do as we take the child of Christmas with us into whatever lies ahead. It is in his name we pray. Amen.
Christmas has not ended. It has only just begun. So take the Christ of Christmas with you as you leave this place today, knowing that you are not alone. God is with you, Christ leads the way, and the Spirit is your companion and guides each day as you go out from here into the future. God with God.