Sunday January 1, 2023 – New Year’s Day
Behold, behold, I make all things new beginning with you and starting from today.
Behold, behold, I make all things new, my promise is true, for I am Christ the way.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land, for those who have tended it before us and we commit ourselves to use and share this land wisely.
Call to Worship
A new year stands on the doorstep waiting to be invited in to become part of our life’s journey.
Sometimes we welcome this visitor with hope, joy, and the anticipation of unseen potential.
Sometimes we resent this visitor: the swiftness of its coming, its persistence, the demand it makes, that we let go and say good-bye of the past year.
Sometimes we fear this visitor: the challenges that future days will hold, the uncertainty of whether we will walk its path well, the demand it makes that we keep going and keep growing.
A new year stands on the doorstep. With fragile caution but with deep faith, we open the door for its entrance, trusting that the One we gather to worship leads us and walks with us into the future.
Lighting the Christ Candle
Today we are reminded that Christmas does not end at midnight on December 25th. We are reminded that the Hope, (light) the Peace, (light) the Joy (light) and the Love (light) that was born at Christmas continues to be with us always, as long as we carry the light of Christ (light) in our hearts.
As we stand at the beginning of this new year, each with our own hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us, we know that only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. And so, we humbly put our hands into Your hand, trusting that you will guide us, direct us and walk with us during this coming year, and always. Amen.
Gift of Music Joy Is Now in Every Place #45
Throughout Advent and Christmas this year we have focused, as we often do, on Luke’s story of shepherds, angels and a baby in a manger. But the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel that we are focusing on this year in our Narrative Lectionary, tells a very different story. And so today, we turn to the story of the birth of Jesus as it is related to us in The Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus, tracing his birth from Joseph, the husband of Mary all the way back to Abraham. He then tells how Joseph was visited by an angel who tells him to marry the girl to whom he is betrothed despite her being pregnant. He does so, and when the child is born, Joseph names him Jesus. And this is where we pick up the story.
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard about this, he was very upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?” “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea,” they answered.
“For this is what the prophet wrote: ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah; for from you will come a leader who will guide my people Israel.’”
So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”
And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him. Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.
After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.”
Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt
Because our tradition for so long, has placed the magi in the nativity scene with the shepherd and the baby in the manger, we seldom think of Matthew’s story of the three magi as something totally separate and distinct from Luke’s story of the shepherds and the manger. But when we look at these stories separately, forgetting about the manger and the shepherds, it becomes a very different story.
Jesus is born in Bethlehem, not because his parents were forced to travel there from Nazareth, but because that is where his family was from. He was not born in a stable but in the house where his parents lived, likely surrounded by family and with the help of a midwife.
We are then told that, at the time of his birth, a new star had arisen in the East and a group of astronomers who had seen and studied this star arrived in Jerusalem looking for a child, born to be King of the Jews. At the time, they believed that the birth of a new star signaled the birth of a new king and the brighter the star, the more important the king. So, when the star led them to the land of Judah, the magi immediately went to the palace in Jerusalem.
The news that a new king had been born in Judah was not welcome information for King Herod. He knew it was not his son, and therefore was extremely disturbed by the possibility that it was not his son who would inherit the crown. The rest of Jerusalem was also worried because, if a new king had been born outside the palace, a dispute over who should be the rightful king could result in war.
So, Herod called his all advisors together. But the question he asked them was not where would a king be born but rather where would the Messiah be born. Quoting the prophet Micah, Herod is told that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod finds out from the magi exactly when the star first appeared and then sends them to Bethlehem.
The scriptures never tell us exactly where these magi were coming from or how long they had travelled to get to Jerusalem. Many scholars believe that it could have been up to three years between the time of Jesus’ birth and the time the magi arrived. But regardless, we are told they proceeded to Bethlehem and entered the house where they found the child with his mother Mary.
Matthew also tells us that the magi did not return to Herod and that Joseph, after being visited by another angel, takes Jesus and Mary and escapes to Egypt under the cover of darkness, knowing that Herod will not allow a possible heir to the throne that is not his blood, to live. When they eventually return from Egypt, after the death of Herod, they settle in Nazareth rather than returning to Bethlehem. This is the story of Jesus birth according to Matthew.
But this is New Year’s Day. Shouldn’t we be talking about new beginning, new possibilities and new direction? Shouldn’t we be making New Years Resolutions and planning for 2023? Why reread Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus today? Well, it seems to me that this is the perfect story to read as we are preparing for a new year. It is, in many ways, a story of stepping out in faith and having the courage to head out into the unknown.
The magi set out on a journey into the unknown. We don’t know where they came from or how long they travelled. We are only told that they followed a star. And when they reached what they thought would be the end of their journey, they learned that there was still further that they had to travel.
If you had asked most people at the beginning of 2022, they would likely have told you that by the summer we would be over COVID and getting back to “normal”. Instead, we discovered that we still had further to travel. It can be very disconcerting when you think you are headed one place and you find out that your final destination is somewhere totally different.
But the magi trusted the star and continued to follow it even after it turned out that it was not leading them where they expected. They had no proof that the star was actually leading them anywhere. All they had was their belief that what they had learned from the stars already, confirmed that the king they sought did exist. All they had was their belief that the heavens, which they had studied for so long, would not let them down. That’s called faith.
But their faith was not rigid and unyielding. As the situation changed, they adapted, they re-evaluated and they changed direction, but they never stopped believing. And eventually they found the one that they were searching for, not in a royal palace, but in a humble home in a small village called Bethlehem. They bowed down and offered him the precious gifts they had brought with them. But even here, at the end of their journey, another detour awaited. Being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned home by a different route.
But the magi were not the only ones in this story to set out on a journey into the unknown. If we look only at Matthew’s story of Jesus birth, Mary and Joseph were simple smalltown folk form the village of Bethlehem. They had a house there and it was in Bethlehem that they would almost certainly have intended to raise their family. Most people at that time did not travel a great deal and Mary and Joseph would likely have had a large extended family around Bethlehem.
But after the visit of the Magi, things changed. It became clear that Herod would do anything he could to prevent the spread of the idea that a Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. Perhaps Joseph already suspected that his family was in danger, or perhaps not. But just as an angel had told him to marry Mary, an angel now told him to pack up his family and escape to Egypt.
This is not what Joseph had planned for his family. This is not what anyone plans. Becoming a refugee, fleeing your home, family and everything you know for fear of your life, is not what anyone would willingly choose. But this is the choice that Joseph was forced to make. Joseph, left everything behind and set out on a journey into the unknown.
But, like the magi, Joseph went forward in faith. He believed with his whole heart that this was Yahweh who was leading him. He had no idea what lay ahead. And like the magi, even after he set out on an unknown journey to Egypt, he would discover that it was not the final destination. Although he may have planned on returning to Bethlehem after Herod died, that is not where he eventually ended up. The journey home would lead them, not to Bethlehem, but to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up.
As we begin a new year, like it or not, we are heading into the unknown. We do not know what the year ahead will hold. But like Joseph and like the Magi, we trust that we will be led where we need to go.
The journey may not always be easy, but when we truly believe that we are not alone in the journey, when we truly believe that we are being guided and led just as surly as the star led the magi and the angel guided Joseph, then we have nothing to fear from whatever may lie ahead.
In fact, there can be great excitement about setting out into the unknown. There can be endless possibilities that we could not even imagine. There could be experiences and encounters that will change us and perhaps even change the direction we choose to go.
Who know the wonderful people, places or things the magi may have encountered when they decided to take a different road home. Who knows the experiences Mary, Joseph and Jesus may have had in Egypt or the things they may have learned that they would never otherwise have known. And who knows what lies ahead for us in 2023. Well, our faith tells us that God knows … and perhaps that is enough. Amen.
Gift of Music As with Gladness Men of Old #81
We Offer Our Gifts
God has given us a brand-new year, a clean slate, and it is up to us what we do with it. This is the time when we will decide what we will make of the coming year, what we will support and what we will oppose, what changes we will make and what traditions and commitments we will continue. As we present our offering this morning, let us each consider what we will choose to do with this coming year and what we will offer God in return for the gift of another year. So, as we offer our gifts this morning, let’s sing our offertory response.
Offertory Response #55
What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man, I would do my part, yet what I can I give him –
Give my heart.
In gratitude for all the blessings we have received in this past year and as a sign of our commitment to you in the year ahead we offer these gifts. May they be a blessing to others as you have continued to be a blessing to us. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
As we look to the year ahead, we do so with wonder and gratitude, knowing that whatever the year brings You will be with us, knowing that however lost we may get you will find us, knowing that you will be by our side.
And so, we bring before you our prayers for peace …
that this year may find the News dominated not by greed and fear and war and violence but be full of hope and possibility, that there will be an end of the numerous conflicts around the world, the war in Ukraine, the political upheaval and injustice in Israel and Palestine, the violent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and other places around the globe …
We bring before you our prayers for the poor …
for those who will die this day because they do not have enough to eat, for those who struggle each day just to put food on the table and provide safe shelter for their families, for those who must choose between food and housing, or between heat and medications, for those who are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet …
We bring before you our prayers for those who are ill …
those in hospital or nursing homes, those sick at home and all those dealing with chronic, long-term pain or disease, those who deal with mental health issues, especially those who are unable to access help …
We bring before you our prayers for those who are alone and lonely …
those who have no family or friends close by to share their lives with, those who do not feel loved or loveable and who cut themselves off from others, those for whom age or physical difficulties have limited their access to other people …
Divine One, we know that you are with us at all times and in all places. Bless each one of us and through us, bless others. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Gift of Music Arise, Your Light Is Come #79
I want to send you out today with the words of Joyce Rupp
I hope for you in this new year;
That the single, most significant dimension of life is your relationship with the Source of Goodness who never ceases to sing love songs to your soul
That you find meaning, purpose, and vitality in what you do daily
That you treasure your loved ones and let them know how dear they are to you
That you make choices and decisions that reflect your truest self
That you look in the mirror at least once a day and smile in happy amazement
That you remember relationships are what count above all else – more than work or money, or all the material things we spend so much time tending
That you live in an uncluttered manner, enjoying the freedom to be content
That you keep your sense of humor when things don’t go the way you want
That you find adventure in each new day and marvel at the wonders of creation
which constantly present themselves to you
That you never give up on yourself when others turn away or do not understand
That you are attentive to the health of your body, mind and spirit
That you take risks and accept the growth-filled challenges that come to you
That you draw on your inner strength and resiliency when you are in need
That you carry peace within yourself, allowing it to slip into the hearts of others
so our planet becomes a place where violence, division, and war are no more.
~ Copyright © Joyce Rupp
Choral Blessing MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.
May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know,
and may the world that God would see be found in you.