- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 2, 2022
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship: (based on Job 38:4-7)
The Almighty, the Creator asks:
“Where were you when I made the earth?
God is the one who determined these things, and we have no clue.
We don’t know when or who or why.
And so, with all creation we join to sing and joyfully praise our great Redeemer and God.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: Arise Your Light is Come
Prayers of Adoration & Confession
Holy God – Lord of all time, creator of the day and night. We are happy for a new day – light and beauty and things to do – and for this moment when we can come here to worship you and tell you how much you mean to us. It is an honour that you ask us into your presence, and we are humbled by your invitation. You are a great God, powerful beyond our wildest dreams – and gracious beyond anything we can know. You inspire us with awe. You are all goodness, you are grace, you are magnificent. Creation points towards you. Our need to love and be loved stems from and is fulfilled in you. Our hope for a better future guides us to you. Our anticipation of life after death leads us to you.
At the beginning of another year, we think of what has transpired in 2021. There are some things that make us smile, and we are content. There are thoughts that cause us to cringe a tad, and we confess our shame. There are other moments that feel like raw, like a scab is being pulled off a wound and we know we need your healing touch. And then there is Covid with all its repercussions spreading around the world. We confess that during the pandemic we have not always loved others the way Christ loves us. We have struggled to know what is best for ourselves, our families, and friends. We have not always looked to you or trusted you with our lives. We have clung to our health with fear, overlooking you who has authority over both our bodies and our spirits.
We pray that you would forgive our mistakes our shortcomings, our missed opportunities; our reticence to follow your lead and our penchant to cling to securities that are empty of your promise. We pray that our confession would not only be words spoken to clear our conscience or give us a clean slate, but heart felt self-awareness and grief that leads to repentance.
We remember your people throughout the world and those within our congregation and thank you for each one.
As we worship you today, may our hearts and minds be turned towards you, and may you be glorified in all we offer. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (based on John 8:12)
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
As you have confessed and repented, you are forgiven.
Let us walk in the light!
Hymn: Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
The exchange of the Peace
Prayer for Illumination: Lord God, as you set a star in the sky to guide the magi, may your Word and your Spirit be our guides bringing us to Christ, so we may worship him. Amen.
Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
Hymn: What Child is This?
Message: Lessons from the Magi
One cold, snowy night, a new driver got lost on the way home. The snow was blowing so fast and piling up so high, he couldn’t see any street signs. With no map and a dead cell phone, he was lost. Then he remembered his father’s sage advice, “If you’re ever lost in the snow, wait for a snowplough and follow it.” He pulled over to the side of the road and waited. Relief flooded over him when through the flurries, he saw the lights of a snowplough in his rear-view mirror. As the truck went by, he pulled out and followed it staying right on its bumper. If it turned left, the young man turned left, when the plough swung right, he was right behind him. This went on for a good hour or so, but nothing looked familiar. After a while, the plough stopped. The driver got out and went to the car. He rapped on the window and when the young man opened it, he asked, “Why are you following me, kid?” “Well sir, my dad told me if I was ever lost in a snowstorm, I should wait for a snowplough and then follow it.” “Well,” said the truck driver. “I just finished clearing the Walmart parking lot. Want to follow me over to Best Buy??”
Being lost is unsettling. We all like to know where we’re going, and what’s going to happen next. We’ve just passed through the doorway of a new year and with it comes a troubling sense of the unknown. We cannot predict what might happen in 2022. Some look ahead with optimistic wonder at all the possibilities, others cringe at the thought. Either way we don’t know what the coming year will bring.
This year, like years gone by and years to come, is part of the journey of life. As Christians we view life as a voyage powered by a loving God. The future isn’t just about unfolding events, it’s about what God will do and what he might ask us to do. What things does God desire me to discover about myself and my relationships? How does God want me to grow or change? Will I live more faithfully and worship more wholeheartedly? Will I trust in Christ? Will my journey bring me closer to God or farther from him? And how will God use my experiences to bring about the good he desires? We have no way of knowing. All we can do is push off the shore of 2021 into whatever tomorrow will bring.
As mystic astrologers, the magi made predictions by looking at the stars. When something changed in the skies it meant something was about to occur here on earth. When a new and unusually bright star appeared, they set off not knowing where they were going, how long a journey it would be or what they’d discover. I imagine they felt both excited and anxious. They journeyed from Persia to Bethlehem, making a brief diplomatic stop to meet with the Judean King, Herod the Great. Believing the star indicated birth of a king, they asked what Herod knew. He had no news but feigned interest in paying his respects and asked the magi to return after they found him. The magi continued on to find Jesus. The journey of the magi teaches us a few things about the journey of life.
First, they were attuned to new signs. They were open to seeing new things. The saw the star and left the world they knew to follow where it led. Not only was it their business to gaze into the heavens and see signs, they believed signs would appear and that they had meaning. Although they didn’t share our faith, they believed these signs had meaning; some transcendent power was guiding them. The Bible is filled with examples of God coming to people in new and unusual ways. In the story of Christ’s birth, an angel appeared to Mary, the shepherds heard a heavenly choir, Joseph had a dream, and the wise men saw a star. What about us? Are we open to signs from God? On the one hand, signs from God are exciting. On the other hand, they’re disruptive. If you’re like me, life is filled with routines. When I get up in the morning go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, get a coffee, etc. I can do these things on autopilot. Which is good because some mornings I get out of bed while I’m still asleep. The same is true of work, household chores, even visiting family. It all follows a pattern. I even have routines for my spiritual health – times of scripture reading and prayer, going to worship on Sunday. All these routines are necessary and good. However, our journey through life also requires us to keep an eye out for what is new.
Usually, new things are not as Earth shattering as angels with messianic messages or hosts of heavenly beings having a carol sing. They’re subtle. We find them right in the middle of our everyday routines. Worship is the first place we can expect God to speak to us. God comes to worship every week hoping to transform and guide us. Do you crack open your Bible with the intent of listening to the Spirit? Something in nature catches our eye and we’re reminded of God’s immense creative power and imagination. We have a dream. A different perspective opens our mind to other possibilities and a paradigm shift takes place. A word of kindness touches us, peeling off a self-protective layer of psychic crust. Wise counsel comes from someone who isn’t a Christian or maybe a Christian we never thought of as wise. We hear the same scripture within a short period of time, have a repeated affirmation or a déjà vu moment. When a new person comes into a web of relationships – a baby, a co-worker, a new friend, things shift. The question is, where is God in this? Is God’s hand bringing these things to bear? How will God use what’s happening? Sometimes, we only discover that when we begin to respond and go in an unexpected direction.
When a revelation, sign or word from God occurs are we ready to step out in faith? Do we go with it, to see where the Spirit takes us? The second thing we learn from the magi is trust. Not only do they see the star, they head out on an extended journey, not knowing exactly where it will lead or what might happen. They pack up their things leaving the comforts and security of home behind them. Off they go – no map, no GPS, no phone with that google voice telling them to turn left in 800 metres. How one follows a star is beyond me. To me they just hang there, unmoving. But not all stars are physical. Following a star is a common practice in the Bible. Many people followed the voice of God. They heard God whisper to their spirits and went. We call that willingness to act, faith. Abraham left his hometown and headed off for an unknown place. He not only had no idea how to get there, he had no clue where “there” was. After rescuing his people, Moses took them into the wilderness with the promise God would lead him. They followed a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It took them around in circles for 40 years, but they continued to walk by faith. Mary started her journey as a mother with nothing but God’s promise. You may think God doesn’t give us stars anymore, but he does – God invites us to follow Jesus. Our journey in Christ is cradled in faith – for it is never a tidy crystal-clear kind of life. Just as the wise men had to figure out if they should veer left or right, what direction to take after a sandstorm, or if they should stop at Herod’s palace, following Christ is not always linear. God doesn’t give us his blessings consistently, immediately or in the way we want. If we could control life by telling God how it should be, we wouldn’t need faith at all. But the journey of life takes us up and down hills, through storms and along winding roads. People die. Friends betray us. Children go astray. We give way to temptation. It’s because following Christ can be obscured by many clouds, that it’s essential to trust God every step of the way.
And this brings us to our next learning. The journey of the magi was not a straight, upward progression. Things didn’t go from good to great without a hitch. They faced some potentially destructive moments. Their journey took them to the corridors of power – right to King Herod’s palace and his dark soul. With innocence and enthusiasm, the magi explained to Herod about the star and inquired about the birth of the newborn king. Herod was less enthusiastic. In fact, he was hostile at the thought of a usurper to his throne. Who saw that coming? Here are the magi, leaving the comfort of home to follow a new star with the faith that they would be guided on their way, and they are led to a dangerous, toxic person. Moreover, here is God doing the greatest thing outside of creation itself, and someone interferes with his plan, threatening to undo the whole thing. But why would we expect it to be otherwise? In our journey, having heard God’s whisper and moving out in faith, there will be others who are much less excited about it then we are. In fact, they will do all they can to get in our way, to sabotage God’s designs and destroy the good he intends. They will put obstacles in our way. They will discourage us. They will try to scare us back to safe routines. In other words, they’ll do what they can to keep you from loving and worshipping God, and they will curb your enthusiasm to love others as you have been loved. Rather than being surprised, we should expect it and trust that if we continue to watch and listen for God’s direction, we will be guided to outmaneuver them. The magi didn’t stop their journey or return home. They pressed on and finally got to the place God was leading them. There they discovered Christ who is at the center of everything. They worshipped him and offered their gifts. And God gave them another sign – a dream, telling them to not return to Herod but to take a different route home. God is faithful and God’s will prevails.
All of us have ended 2021 tired of Covid and cranky about changes it’s brought, eager to have things go back to “normal” and tempted to throw in the towel. As we begin a new year, remember God has something in store for you. Even in this tedious chaos, God is faithfully in control. The new year will be filled with twists and turns but through it all, Christ is at the centre. We may be limited but God is not. If we are open to God’s nudges and whispers, stars and dreams and angels, scriptures and revelation, God will continue to do new things in us and bring us closer to Christ so that we might be part of his story and bring glory to his name. Life is an adventure designed to help us discover God’s grace and goodness at every turn So, as we greet a new year, let’s be ready to follow “a star”.
May the Lord bless you in many ways this 2022 and may your faith deepen as you enjoy following God’s greatest sign – the baby in the manger!
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Holy God, as we begin a New Year, it is our joy to make this offering. We ask that You would bless it and us so that the Good News of Jesus will be spread to the ends of the earth. In His name we ask, Amen.
Hymn: We Three Kings
Ordination and Induction of Elders
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn: As With Gladness
Invitation to Mission
We go from here trusting God to guide our lives.
Willing to follow wherever he leads us.
Faithful even when things are confusing or difficult
Rejoicing that Christ has been revealed and ready to reveal him to others
Benediction May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.