Come and behold the salvation of God. God has acted to redeem God’s people. God appears as light. There are several aspects of the light in the opening three verses. The presence of God's salvation is imaged as light. The light is not a static image, but is used to signify the movement of God toward Zion. Zion must be summoned to arise, pull herself up even though theophany is already taking place. There are two results of the theophany. Light necessarily creates contrast by highlighting darkness in all the places where it is absent. Zion becomes a reflector of divine light. The nations will travel to the light. We are called to reflect that light.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
This is classified as a royal psalm. It composed to be used when the king was present in worship. This is an intercessory prayer for the king. This represents the point of view of Israel's “royal theologians” who believed that the king was God's special representative on earth. The Psalm requests that God transfer attributes of righteousness and justice to the king, so that the king could then mediate these qualities to the people.
The text moves to recall Paul's part in God's work, his understanding of God's purposes, and his and the church's divinely-appointed place(s) in God's intentions. The mystery hidden through the ages and now revealed is the mystery of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Reconciliation by grace through Jesus Christ was God's eternal purpose. God has graciously incorporated all into God’s grace. God has been gracious to humankind even though we were unworthy. This grace breaks down all walls dividing us.
This miraculous light transforms all our ways. Having seen the star and the Christ child, the kings went home a different way. God is at work fulfilling the promises made to Israel. Here is the real king in the line of David. Herod flip flops; at first he seems to support the new king and then he opposes God’s plan. The magi are led to the baby and they are led home a different way. We glimpse the power of divine revelation. They are precursors of later Gentiles who will gladly receive the gospel. After seeing and worshiping the baby, there directions are re-routed by the Divine GPS system.
Greetings/Calls to Worship
Arise, shine, for your light has come.
The glory of the Lord has risen upon us!
Behold, the nations have come to witness God’s light.
Kings have come to behold Christ’s brightness.
Lift up your eyes and look around.
The glory of the Lord has come!
Call to Worship (Psalm 72)
O God, your justice rolls down like waters,
your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
You deliver the needy when they call.
You hear the voice of the poor and the helpless.
You have delivered us, O God,
and we proclaim your glory to the nations.
Our God is king.
Let all who oppress the poor tremble.
Our God is righteous.
Let the sinner repent and return to the Lord.
Our God is just.
Let all those who love God shout for joy.
Our God is king.
Let us worship the king of glory.
Look around you. God’s light shines in the darkness.
The darkness has lifted from our eyes.
Look around you. God’s glory is all around us.
Our hearts are filled with joy.
Look around you. Christ’s star is risen in the sky.
We will follow this star
to discover the light of the world.
you are nearer to us than our very breath,
yet we often fail to see you in
our everyday lives.
Grant us the courage to follow your light,
wherever you would lead us.
May we follow the kings of old,
as they followed the star
to find the infant Jesus.
Help us give of ourselves,
that we may forsake the glitter
of things that do not endure,
for the brightness of life eternal,
found in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Prayer of Confession
kings of old left their homelands and their own people,
to follow a star and find a foreigner
whose birth was so profound,
it was proclaimed in the heavens above.
Forgive our feet of clay,
when we would rather sit comfortably in our homes,
than venture forth to follow your guidance in our lives.
Help us follow the example of the Magi,
who brought precious gifts
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,
to honor the King of kings.
Teach us to open our shut-up hearts
to those in need around us,
through the one who brought light into our lives. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
The power that brought light and salvation to the Gentiles
is at work in the world today,
granting eternal life to those who turn to God.
The power of the living God
transforms our hearts of stone
into hearts that sing with gladness.
O God of light and peace,
whose glory, shining in the child of Bethlehem,
still draws the nations to yourself:
dispel the darkness that shrouds our path,
that we may come
to kneel before Christ in true worship,
offer him our hearts and souls,
and return from his presence to live as he has taught. Amen.
God of revelation,
as we gather in praise for the gracious mystery of your Son,
we remember the many needs of your church and your world.
Prayers of the People, concluding with:
Guide us on the path of salvation, O God,
that the radiance and power of your Holy Spirit
working in the world
will gather together all peoples and nations in one community
to offer you worship and proclaim your splendor. Amen.
Go forth as a light to the nations.
We go forth, following the star of Christ’s birth.
Go forth as a people of blessing.
We go forth, proclaiming hope
to the poor and needy.
Go forth as a light to the nations.
We go forth, with God’s blessings.
What a glorious way to begin a new calendar year and new season than with this message from “Second Isaiah.” Here is a song of dreams, hope, and certitude of salvation. A woman -- Jerusalem or Zion – is addressed. Because her deliverance has come she is to rise from her place of darkness: "the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." The light she will shine with is not her own, but the reflected radiance of the Lord. Redemption signifies a reversal in status. With women's lack of status and influence, the figure of Zion as female makes the reversal particularly poignant. “Numerous contrasts in these verses show the impact of God's salvific acts: darkness and light, cast down and lifted up, disgrace and honor, isolation and community, poverty and wealth, the absence of God and God's presence, the distant and the proximate, the rejected and the esteemed, the mature and the youth.” (Proclamation Year A)
The Psalm is a prayer for the king. The Psalm prays the enactment of God's reign and God's will for the world. Two key words in the opening of the prayer are justice and righteousness. Justice and righteousness are characteristics of God’s reign. The role of the earthly king is to enact God’s rule. When God’s will is done, there is shalom. “In other words, Psalms 72 finally calls us as citizens of God's realm to remind every human ruler, politician, and government that "the way to peace and well-being is found only when power assumes responsibility for justice and is clothed in compassion, regarding as precious and valuable the life of every citizen in the land.’” (Patrick Miller, Patrick D. Miller, "Power, Justice, and Peace: An Exegesis of Psalms 72," quoted in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV)
This text deals with the humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus identifies completely with humankind, even in suffering. The writer asserts that God saved humankind through the suffering of Jesus. The text notes the full humanity of Jesus. Being human, Jesus was able to stand among humankind and communicate with them. The identification of Jesus with humanity, even in suffering and death, had the power to destroy the power of death. “When Jesus died and rose, he exposed the limits of the power of death and showed that God was the one who had final authority. God worked in Jesus to give humans real hope, not to make them something other than truly human.” (Preaching the New Revised Common Lectionary, Year A) God’s saving grace is working for humankind.
Mystery. What is the mystery? While the word has a variety of New Testament meanings, here it refers to God's inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. God’s grace has been poured out. It is the writer’s purpose to bring the message of grace and salvation to the Gentiles. God’s wisdom is revealed in and to the church. It is the responsibility of the church to share God’s wisdom. Through Christ, we have access to God.
Matthew’s gospel is the only one to offer the account of the magi or wise men. We know almost nothing of the magi— including their numbers, their ethnic background, their religious perspectives, the time of their journey, the reasons for it, and their societal status. Herod and all Judea are frightened. Herod meets with the magi in private. He asks them to return and tell him if they find this baby born to be king. Herod wants to worship him. Sure he does! The magi followed the star and found the baby. “They were overwhelmed with joy” when they bowed before the baby. Being warned in a dream, the magi went home a different way. Those may be good words at the outset of a new year: go home a different way; be transformed by Christ. Some of my twelve-step program friends define insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results each time.
Greetings/Calls to Worship
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
for eternal salvation has appeared on the earth. Alleluia!
We gather wondering, 'Where will we find the Babe born in Bethlehem?'
We will find the Babe in the laughter of children, in the wisdom of grandparents.
We gather asking, 'where will we find the Child of Christmas?'
We will find the Child where the needy are gifted with hope, where the oppressed are set free.
We gather wanting to know, 'where will we find the Christ who has come for us?'
We will find our Hope where fear is overwhelmed by grace, where hatred is overwhelmed by love,
where all people are overwhelmed by joy.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Need we make hymn suggestions for this service? The traditional Christmas hymns are probably the best known hymns. (Not to mention that you have probably been hearing them since October!)
Just another Sunday? Maybe you know the famous sermon, Its Friday, but Sundays coming! That is a great message of hope for Good Friday but a frightening prospect for busy pastors. Because of pastoral and administrative duties, worship planning may slip by the way side.
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