Worship Service for Ashgrove West Uniting Church
9.30am, Sunday 1st January, 2012
Year B. Christmas 1.
Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 148)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord in the Heavens
Praise the Lord angels and the heavenly host.
Praise the Lord in Creation
Praise the Lord, sun, moon, stars
Praise the Lord, trees and plants,
Praise the Lord, rocks and mountains,
Praise the Lord, animals and humans,
Praise the Lord, all of his works,
At his word we came to be,
Through his will we continue to be.
Praise the Lord!
As you know, we began our year about six weeks ago, with the start of Advent. The secular calendar clocks over to its new year today. One of those traditions that has grown up over the start of the secular year is the making of resolutions – things we aim to do differently. I'm going to hand out some cards and some pens. (Don't worry about the printed side, you're writing on the blank side.) What I want you to do, as the service goes on, is to write down what you think should be our resolutions as a congregation over the coming year. Drop your card, or cards, into the offering plates with the offering later in the service. The cards will go to the Church Council to help with our planning for the year. (All church council members have permission to glare at me and mumble about the extra work. I'm looking for a volunteer to type up the suggested resolutions and email the list out to all the church council members before the next meeting.)
Hymn Together in Song 304 O Come all ye faithful. (verses 1, 2 and 5)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
We thank you for all those witnesses
who have helped us to know you better.
For prophets in ancient times -
For prophets like Anna and Simeon and John
in New Testament times
For modern prophets who still help us to understand
your word for us.
We thank you that you have always provided us with
people who understand you well
who can help us to understand you, too.
Like Anna and Simeon,
we would seek to live lives
that are in harmony with you,
that are so dedicated to your worship
that we would understand you well,
and recognise what you are doing in the world.
We confess, that sometimes our devotion
is not what it could be.
We don't live in close relationship with you,
and we don't love our neighbours as ourselves.
We get things wrong, sometimes by accident,
sometimes by intent.
Help us to change, we pray.
Help us to be so close to you,
that we will recognise Jesus,
wherever and whenever we meet him.
In Jesus' name, we pray.
Declaration of Forgiveness.
Kid's Time – Thom
Hymn Together in Song 322 The North Wind
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Hymn Together in Song 320. Never in all human story.
Well, we're about half way through Christmas, and we've jumped ahead in the story to about 40 days after Jesus' birth.
Once a child was forty days old, the mother took sacrifices to the temple. She had one sacrifice for her own purification. If the baby was a first-born male, she also had to take a sacrifice to “buy back” the baby from God.
All first-born males belonged to God, under the law, first-born male animals were sacrificed; humans were “bought back” with an animal sacrifice.
There was an option for a poor woman to only bring her purification sacrifice, and this is what we see Mary doing in this passage. Jesus was never “bought back” - he belonged to God. No animal ever took his place as a sacrifice. (But ultimately, he would fulfil the role of the first-born male, as a sacrifice, but on behalf of others.)
So, the first thing to note about this incident, is that although Mary and Joseph are doing all that is absolutely necessary for this baby – they are not claiming him as their own. Jesus may be in their care, but he belongs to God.
The next thing unusual is the encounter with the two aged prophets, Simeon and Anna. That devout people would offer their blessings to a family coming with their new-born baby, is not a surprising thing in itself. What is surprising is the nature of what they say. They've both been people who've lived an especially devout life. Simeon so close to God, he's been promised he'll see Israel's salvation before his death, and Anna, a devout widow who's committed decades to worship in the temple. Both of these people seem to have some special relationship with God. Both of them would have seen a lot of babies coming into the temple. And both of them recognised that this baby was not the same as all the others.
We're not told exactly what Anna said, so presumably, it was an echo of what Simeon said. That was enough that Mary and Joseph, already visited by angels, and told amazing things by shepherds who'd also been visited by angels, were amazed. (One would think that over the previous 11 months or so, they would have seen and heard so much as to have become immune to amazement.)
So what was this amazing message? What had they not already heard? Firstly, that Jesus would be a sign to the Gentiles, as well as a saviour to Israel. He would be a uniting factor – someone who would link all of the people of God's creation. That ancient distinction between “us” and “them”, would be overcome by this one infant. In Jesus, God's promises to Israel, would be made available to the whole world.
The next thing they hadn't already heard, was the controversy that would surround him. (Although, even at his conception, he was no stranger to controversy as his mother wasn't married at the time.) But Simeon tells them Jesus is going to be the kind of force that disrupts politics, polarises opinions, and helps to show up people for who they really are and what they really believe. In the process, he would make many enemies.
And finally, a sword would pierce his mother's heart. I wonder if she remembered that prophecy on Good Friday? Surely as she watched a spear pierce her son's side, she felt the sword Simeon predicted piercing her own heart.
It's a strange story, these two devout elderly people blessing a baby, by declaring him to be the means of God's salvation for a nation, and even beyond the nation.
Halfway through the season of Christmas, when the parties are over, we're now reminded of what was actually beginning. Christmas isn't just about the birth of a homeless baby. It's about a change in the entire nature of reality.
Jesus' role in history is about mending divisions – divisions between those people promised the ancient covenant and those who had always been outside of it – but more importantly the divisions between God and humankind. In the process, he would suffer much, and would be the sacrifice that made it all possible.
Hymn Together in Song 324. Lord, bid your servant go in peace.
Prayers of the People
we pray for Jesus' coming into the world again this Christmas
we pray that we would see signs of the breaking down of barriers – between humankind, and between us and you.
And as the secular calendar begins its new year,
we pray for the year ahead.
As we make our resolutions, and plan how to make 2012 different from 2011, be with us. Inspire us to serve you, and give us the strength to do so.
Be with the people of your world who have no hope of things being better:
people who are long-term in refugee camps or detention centres
people who are living in poverty
people who are prisoners unjustly
people who are slaves
people who are victims of violence that is ongoing
people who live in war-torn countries
people who are tormented by physical or mental illnesses
people who are lonely
people who have no access to medical care
be with this world we pray -
Like Simeon and Anna,
we look to your son to be our salvation.
In Jesus' name, we pray,
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 317 Love came down at Christmas