EPIPHANY

North Congregational UCC
New Hartford CT.
WORSHIP CELEBRATING THE EPIPHANY
January 3, 2021

FOR YOUR MEDITATION:

“But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest…. They are the magi.” O Henry The Gift of the Magi  1905.

PRELUDE:

We Three Kings  arr. Lani Smith

INVITATION TO WORSHIP:

Come into the presence of God who gifted us with Jesus and fills us with God’s Holy Spirit. Come to experience the Light that has come into the world and learn what gifts we might possess to bring in order to celebrate and reflect that Light. Let us prepare a table for us to be invited to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion using simple elements of bread and wine (or substitutes) in our homes. These symbols of Christ’s sacrifice will be consecrated later in this time of worship.

OPENING HYMN

“As With Gladness Men of Old”

“As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed the light, leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we evermore be led to thee.

Holy Jesus, every day keep us in the narrow way;
And when earthly things are past, bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide, where no clouds thy glory hide.”

OPENING PRAYER

Wondrous Creator of all that is in the vast universe, we unite in our homes, connected by our faith and love at North Congregational, to seek Your Truth as the magi of old came seeking the incarnation of your powerful love in a child born to save us all. May our journey at this moment convince us of our need to depart from ways that divide, hurt and glorify self over helping others on this magnificent journey of life. In this New Year help us to commit, not in trusting ourselves to make resolutions to change, but to trust in you to help transform our nature to reflect more your glory, love and grace. Amen.

THE GOSPEL LESSON:
Matthew 2:1-12 The Visitation of the Magi

The Visit of the Wise Men

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and  frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

MEDITATION:
“An Epiphany For The Wise” Arthur Yost Supply Pastor

For most people, the holiday is over. Decorations that have been up for almost a month have already or will shortly be taken down. I’m already seeing “Christmas trees” out by the curb, ready to be picked up and recycled. Some gifts have already been recycled- via a return to the store or perhaps re-gifted to someone else you think might appreciate what you don’t need (or want). Today’s reading from Matthew seems redundant because many have already heard them read as part of a Christmas Eve Service of readings and candle lighting. A careful reading of this passage though will bring to light some interesting facts- one being that shepherds and magi both appear in a group picture at the manger. You will also note that nowhere in the reading can we find the names of the magi and no indication of how many there might have been. Tradition, apart from scripture, and legend have created the image of three magi probably from the three gifts mentioned in this passage. Scholars also disagree as to what these magi did for a living. The best guess is that they were rich because they could afford pretty expensive gifts and probably had an interest in astronomy/astrology since they sought meaning in star gazing. They were certainly seekers of truth since they were willing to risk a rather treacherous journey to see if a prophecy about an infant ruler was fulfilled.

Of the two accounts we have of the birth of Jesus (Luke and Matthew) this one certainly has a lot more dramatic interest- in my opinion. It could be that I have more interest in starry nights than I do in smelly shepherds shirking their responsibilities to care for the sheep. Also Matthew mentions one character that seldom appears in a Christmas pageant because he is a scary individual. Matthew has a true villain in Herod. There is no reason for anyone to like Herod- a man insanely jealous, abusive of his wives (he had nine) and his children to the point of even murdering some of them. He ruled not by the pleasure of the people he governed but by the power of an external force (Roman) who set him up in a leadership role. He meets with the magi I hopes that they will do the “leg work” for him in finding this child who is to be king under the pretense that he would want to “pay him homage.” You can read all the gory details in Matthew 2: 13-18. The horror actually appears in a lovely sounding carol-The Coventry Carol, verse three,” Herod the king, in his raging, charged he hath this day his men of might in his own sight all young to slay.” The “slaughter of the innocents” amounted to about the death of 30 male children two and under.  Note this other factoid concerning the visit of the magi. Scriptures say they found the child in a home, not a manger, and also the child must have been close to two years old which is why Herod used that age to kill those two and under.

My favorite line in the tale of the magi is simply this, being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for home “A DIFFERENT WAY.” When I have preached this in a time when we were physically gathered in a Sanctuary, I would ask my congregation to intentionally go home a different way, this was true whether they rode or walked to church. For you at home this is probably difficult to achieve. But the symbolism of it is to get us to consider that, witnessing and experiencing Jesus, would have an effect on the way we are living our lives. We are not given the information to know what lasting change the journey of the magi had on their lives once they arrived back home. For too long, many have allowed sentiment to flow, followed by a temporary flurry of giving gifts even to strangers-yet to often the sentiment gets squeezed out by the ordinary and the usual and a return to the way things were.

I came across a film clip dramatizing the momentary pause in the front lines of battle during WWI often entitled the Christmas truce. Of course it lasted only a few hours and then those who came out of bunkers went back to slaughtering those with whom they met in a short lived peace. (in the movie anyway). Unless we willfully and prayerfully go back to life in a different way, this annual celebration of Light shining in Darkness will end with few differences in life.

One of my favorite carols is “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” Many of us, having sung it many times, know the first verse and maybe the second. Here is the third verse:

” Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long;
beneath the heavenly hymns have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
and we at war on earth hear not the tidings that they bring;
O hush the noise and cease the strife to hear the angels sing.”

The magi of scripture have inspired other writers to catch the essence of what an epiphany- a revelation of God’s light and understanding into our lives can do to inspire and change the direction of our lives, our family, our church, our nation, our world.

The Gift of the Magi is a remarkable story of two simple human beings who sacrifice their most beloved possessions in order buy a gift for the other. Jim and Della Young are the foolish beings who have loved unselfishly. O Henry ends this short story with the quote used above for our meditation thought above.

The other story is one beautifully penned by Henry Van Dyke in 1895 about the other wise man, named Artaban, who desires to pay homage to the infant king with a gift of three precious gem stones- a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl of great price. He is thwarted in his attempts to present these gifts. First, by assisting a seriously ill man, he misses the caravan of other magi going to Bethlehem. Selling the sapphire he buys a camel and all that he needs but arrives after the holy family has fled to Egypt to avoid Herod However as he is learning about this from a young family with children there is a commotion outside and it is Herod’s soldiers on a mission to kill the children.  He meets the soldier at the door and offers the ruby if the soldier will ignore searching the house and the soldier takes the offer. The story progresses with Artaban living a life of devotion and service to others while still striving for thirty-three years to find the baby, now a man, who is to be the Savior of the world.  He hears of a man who has been arrested who is known as the Son of God and Artaban hurries to find him but is stopped by a pleading girl who is about to be sold into slavery as payment for her family’s debt. He pays the debt with his last stone-the ruby. At that moment the sky turns black and there is an earthquake that sends a tile from the roof of the temple into the forehead of Artaban. As he lies dying in the girl’s arms he is regretting his failed life goal of wanting to pay homage, they hear a voice saying, “As you have done to the least of these, Artaban, you have done it onto me.

The take away for us is, we are the magi. The Epiphany is God revealing to us this day that God has come to be with us in the flesh. Our epiphany may be one involving the sense of hearing, or sight, or touch, or intellect or a combination. And even if we think we’re heading in the right direction, it might be interesting to not return to the normal way of being post holiday but seek to try a different way.

As the magi refused to buy into the darkness of Herod, so we can be bearers of light wherever we encounter darkness in this New Year.

PASTORAL PRAYER

God of Grace and Glory, although we are together only online, as we continue to face the coronavirus that has infected and affected so many around the world and in this country, we know that we are connected in this unique community of North Church. We also know that your Spirit is with us in all that we do to be present to each other and to serve you faithfully. We have begun a new calendar year and look forward to continue to be a representative of your love and light even in the midst of great darkness and despair for so many. You know our desires and our needs even before we give voice to them so we ask you to mend our brokenness, replace fear with faith, anxiety with peace, and frustration with hope. We are so very grateful for the promise brought to us through so many hours of medical research to produce vaccines to help those who are sick. We appreciate and are inspired by the many stories of heroic compassion from those who serve as front line workers, medical, fire, police, ambulance EMT’S, mail and package deliverers, food producers and everyone who connects with each other. While our memorial on our lawn is limited by frost, we remember all who have died and their loved ones who mourn. We know that more will suffer and the loss of life will continue yet we rest in the comfort that each life is precious and that you never leave them in this journey and in the next.

As a nation we pray for our leaders, both those leaving office as well as the new administration and all who serve in our governing bodies. May the freedoms we so enjoy be used in such a way that no one suffers from our actions. May we be blind to those things that divide us and have sight where necessary to be able to address all behavior that hurts rather than helps any of your children.

If there are situations that we know about involving members and friends of our congregation, we pause to speak aloud or quietly their names to lift them in prayer and to remind us to care in every way possible.

We pray as Jesus taught us, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE
Bread of Life from Heaven

INVITATION TO THE SACRAMENT

Our Lord welcomes everyone, no exceptions, to this opportunity to share at this communion table. If you seek God’s presence in your life, come and partake. If you are hungry for this spiritual food, come and partake. If you have questions or doubts, come and partake. If you feel unworthy, come and eat. This table is open for all of us that we might each experience God’s abundant and unconditional love.

PRAYER OF CONSECRATION OF COMMUNION ELEMENTS

We give you thanks, O God, for creation and the gift of life itself. You have revealed yourself by word and deed. We thank you that you sent Jesus, our Savior and teacher, who showed us the way to a new life-a life of love that gathers all of our diversity and unites us as one in Christ. Bless this meal we share in our homes today. We do this in remembrance of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room. He took bread, blessed it and broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Likewise, he took the cup and he said, “drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.” Do this in remembrance of me. Bless us and these elements of bread and fruit of the vine with the presence of your Holy Spirit, that they may be for us, the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We offer ourselves that our lives, broken and poured out in compassion for our brothers and sisters everywhere, may be a continuation of your plan for all humanity. For this, you have called us. Amen.

Taking the bread: “The body of Christ. Take and eat in remembrance of him.”

Taking the cup: “The cup of the new covenant. Drink from this, in remembrance of him.”

PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

We thank you, God, for welcoming us to this feast. Strengthen our faith, increase our love for one another and let us show forth your glory in our lives, through Jesus Christ. Amen

HYMN OF JOURNEYING
(words written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette) The Church in the World, Used by permission.

A Voice Was Heard in Ramah

A voice was heard in Ramah that could not be consoled,
As Rachel wept for children she could no longer hold.
For Herod ruled the nation, yet feared the infant king.
How great the devastation that fear and anger bring.

O God, we hear the crying for little ones of yours;
For many still are dying in conflicts and in wars-
In every troubled nation, on every violent street,
How great the lamentation when fear and anger meet!

Whenever one is weeping, the whole world suffers, too.
Yet, Jesus, as we serve them, we’re also serving you.
So may we not ignore them, nor turn our eyes away,
But help us labor for them to bring a better day.

O Prince of Peace, you lead us in ways of truth and grace.
May we be brave to practice your peace in every place-
To love each fear-filled nation, to serve each troubled street,
How great the celebration when peace and justice meet.

BENEDICTION

Now let us go into the world, taking a different road of grace to be bearers of hope and love, shining the Light of Christ that has come to us. Let us continue our journey choosing the road less travelled knowing we are not alone for others of faith have gone before us and will join with us. The epiphany we share is not one of success but service, not greedy acquisition but selfless giving. To God be the glory and may peace, inner and outer, be our companion. Amen.

POSTLUDE
What Star is This?     (Tune Puer Nobis)    Franklin Ritter

Rev. Art Yost Supply Pastor

Shirley McCunn Organist