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 complete the season of Christmas and begin the season of Epiphany, we relight the candles of hope … peace … joy … and love … and we remember the one in whom all these gifts were united. As 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
We are drawn to light – the full, soft moon shining on a winter’s night;
The bright rays of the sun reflecting off the ocean waves.
We are drawn to light – the light shining through a window signaling welcome and safety;
Light shining through a stained glass window promising an encounter with the sacred.
We are drawn to light – and so we are drawn to the Christ, God’s light shining in our world.
As we gather here this morning, we seek to follow that light.
We gather to worship the one who calls us to live in God’s light.
God, as we celebrate the season of Epiphany, illuminate for us the places in our lives most in need of your light and guidance. Enlighten us to notice the sacred and the divine shining through and within the ordinary events of our lives. Make us aware of your light illumination the way before us. As we celebrate the revelation of your presence with us, may we reveal through our words and our actions, your light shining within us. In the name of the light that came into our world long ago and still shines for us today, we pray. Amen.
Our reading this morning from the book of Isaiah directly reflects the Epiphany story of the visit of the Magi. It speaks of the great light that has come and of how nations will come to that light. Those who come will bring gold and incense and will tell the Good News of what God has done.
Paul’s message to the Ephesians is simple. In previous generations, the mystery of God was hidden, but through Christ, the mystery has been revealed to all people, both Jews, and Gentiles.
Our Gospel reading is the traditional story of the Epiphany that we read each year. In the Gospel According to Matthew, the identity of the child born in Bethlehem is not revealed through angles and shepherds, but through the story of the visit of the magi. In the Light of Confusion
Have you ever wondered why moths fly directly into a light bulb even when it often means they get burned? Scientists suggest that the moths are just confused, thinking that the light bulb is the light of the moon. They fly toward it trying to navigate by what they assume is the light they would normally follow. They assume that they know where they are going and how they should be able to get there.
When the Magi left their own country, they were following a star that shone brighter than anything they had ever seen before. Their research and their understanding of astronomy told them that the birth of a new star indicated the birth of a new king. They believed that such a bright star had to represent the birth of a king of unparalleled power and importance. That is why they were willing to leave everything behind and seek out this powerful new king.
And, of course, if you are looking for a king, where would you go, except to a palace? So once the magi realize that the star was leading them to the land of Judea, they made the only logical choice. They headed to Jerusalem the seat of power within Judea and the location of the royal palace. They went to talk to the current king, assuming a new king would natural be his son.
Perhaps they could not tell exactly where the light of the star pointed, or perhaps they believed that the star was only intending to lead them so far. Perhaps they thought the star had taken them as far as it could and now that they knew the king was to be born in Judea, they could work it out for themselves.
We might question their decision. We might ask why they stop trusting the star, but what would we have done in their position? Let’s face it. How many of us could imagine following a star and believing that it would cross the heavens, leading us forward, and then stop and remain stationary overtop of one specific location? We generally trust the light to point the direction we should go, to light up the path for us, but we still have to step out onto the path and trust that we can see where we are going.
And there are times when light can actually point us in the wrong direction. If we are not very careful to make sure we know exactly what light we are following and why we are following it we can end up getting ourselves into a lot of trouble.
I vividly remember driving home in a dense fog one night. At times, it was almost impossible to see the edges of the road. The only way I could be sure where I was, was by following the taillights of the car ahead of me and avoiding the oncoming headlights. I was doing pretty well until I saw a bright light ahead of me that did not make sense. It was not a set of two lights as headlights would be and it seemed to be off to my right rather than the left where I would have expected it. I could see enough to know that I was in the correct lane and I knew the road well enough to know there were no sharp turns coming up.
As I got nearer to the light, the fog began to thin out a little bit and I realized that the light I was looking at was actually the porch light on a house to the right of the road. If I had followed that light I would have ended up in the ditch.
But the consequences of the decision made by the Magi to stop at Herod’s palace, according to Matthew, was far more serious than ending up in the ditch. When Herod realized that the Magi were not going to return and tell him where to find the child, Herod made the decision that if he couldn’t find the child he sought, he would eliminate all the possibilities, resulting in the death of every male child in Bethlehem under the age of two.
Had the Magi known this, would they have ever considered stopping in Jerusalem, even if it meant they would never find the one they sought? The Magi made the assumption that the king they sought after would be born in a palace and therefore they headed for Jerusalem. It made sense, even if the star did not appear to be centered over Jerusalem, it was logical to assume that a king would be born in a palace.
Isn’t it amazing that even when we make a wrong turn or when we head in a direction that we are not being led, God has a way of using our mistakes to get us back on track? The magi may have strayed off their path, they may have failed to trust in the star, but it was because of this mistake that they ended up being reaffirmed in their final destination.
It was Herod himself who first suggested that the king the Magi are searching for was actually the long-promised messiah, not the political monarch as they were expecting. It is also Herod, through his advisors, that suggests to the Magi that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
I can’t help but wonder if the Magi would have recognized the son of a simple carpenter as the one they were looking for if Herod had not suggested that they look for a Messiah rather than a king? Would they have assumed they had made a wrong turn if they had ended up at the home of a carpenter rather than a king? Would they have to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh at the feet of a simple peasant child or would they have turned around and tried to find the ‘king’ they sought?
We can never know what would have happened if the Magi had not stopped in Jerusalem. But, like all the other ‘what ifs’ in our lives, dwelling on what might have been, cannot change what is. Instead, within what is, we must seek out and find the way forward.
As we leave behind 2020 there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ hanging over us. What if the Covid-19 virus had been contained when it was first discovered? Could we have avoided a worldwide pandemic? What if certain countries and certain political leaders had not ignored health concerns placing economic prosperity above the lives of people? Would we be facing the even more serious ‘second wave’ we are now dealing with? And what if scientists had not been able to come up with an effective vaccine? Would we be forced to the social distance for the rest of our lives?
But the reality is that the ‘what ifs’ don’t matter. We cannot change what has already happened. We cannot figure out why it happened by asking ‘what if’. All we can change and all that matters is where we go from here.
The magi got back on track. They moved forward, once again following the light of the star. They headed to Bethlehem, and when the light led them to the house of a carpenter, they did not question it. They entered and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, fit for a king, frankincense, the incense of worship, and myrrh, the fragrant resin used in burials.
It all sounds so simple. Follow the star and you’ll be fine. But life is seldom as simple as it might sound. What if the sky is cloudy and you can’t see the stars? Or what if there is more than one bright star? How can you really be sure where a star is leading you even if you do know which star to follow?
There are many lights and many different paths in life. How do you know the difference between the light that is leading us on the path we should be following and the light that will take us off the path and lead us where we really don’t want to go, like into a ditch?
It is not always easy to know. There will be times when the light seems uncertain and the path unclear. There will be times when we will have to choose between numerous lights and there will be times we make the wrong choice. There will be times we go in the wrong decision. And we will have to face the consequences of the decisions we make.
But the good news is that just because we might get off course, just because we decide to trust our own logic or follow the path we think is best, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there with us, still guiding us and still helping us find our way back.
The magi did find the child they were searching for. And after bowing down before him and offering their gifts, they returned home by a different route trusting that the God who had led them where they needed to go, would also lead them home. Like the magi, we need to trust that whatever 2021 may hold, God will continue to lead us if only we are willing to follow. Amen.
We Offer Our Gifts
During Epiphany we celebrate God’s love revealed to us. That love is shown to us today and every day in the many gifts and blessings we receive from God. And so, we take time today to reflect on the gifts we offer to God. Those gifts may be through our financial offerings, placed in the offering plates at the back of the church, through Par or through our online donations, or they may be the gifts of our time, our abilities, and our commitment, but whatever it is we offer God this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; What we have, what we are, what we long to be … we offer it all to you, O God. Bless whatever it is we offer, in the light of Christ. 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.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
On the way home, did the magi wonder? Did they wonder if they really understood all that had happened? There are times we wonder God. There are times we wonder if we understand what you want from us.
On the way home, did the magi wonder if they were on the right path? They were returning to their own home by a different and unfamiliar route. As we begin in 2021, we are on a different path. We hope it will lead us back to some sort of normality in our world, but the path is unfamiliar and we will simply have to trust that you will lead us in the right direction.
On the way home, did the magi wonder if perhaps they could have done more for the poor peasant family they had encountered? We long to help the poor of our own time but sometimes, no matter how much we try to do, it feels like we haven’t done enough.
Did the magi know that the family they had visited would soon be forced into exile, becoming refugees in a strange country? We long to help provide security and safety for refugees in our own country and around the world.
Did the magi know that the child they had bowed down to worship would call people to change how they lived, would show people how to love everyone equally, and would challenge people to follow his example? We long to follow the example of Christ, caring for the sick, providing for the poor, embracing the lost, comforting the sad, protecting the vulnerable, welcoming the stranger, and treating all people as beloved brothers and sisters.
God, on this Epiphany Sunday, teach us how to do the things we long to do in our efforts to follow you. Amen.
So now, we go out from here, following the light that God places before us, taking the light of Christ with us, and sharing that light with all those we meet. We go knowing God is with us, Christ leads the way, and the Spirit is our companion and guide wherever the future may lead. God with God.