Communal Prayer – Covenant Renewal

In the spirit of our founder’s traditions, we spoke the following prayer in covenant renewal.

I am not my own self-made, self-reliant human being.

In truth, O God, I am Yours.

Make me into what You will.

Make me a neighbor with those whom You will.

Guide me on the easy path for You.

Guide me on the rocky road for You.

Whether I am to step up for You or step aside for You;

Whether I am to be lifted high for You or brought low for You;

Whether I become full or empty, with all things or with nothing;

I give all that I have and all that I am for You.

So be it.

And may I always remember that you, O God, and I belong to each other. Amen.[i]

 

[i] Contemporized Covenant Renewal Prayer by Rev. Jeremy Smith at hackingchristianity.net.

Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.

I love Epiphany Sunday. For starters, the first worship service I ever wrote and led and the first time I ever delivered the message was on Epiphany Sunday. It’s also very near or, like this year, on my grandson Keagan’s birthday. Epiphany itself is January 6 and is the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany used to be the third most important season of the church, next to Lent and Pentecost. Christmas was actually a lesser celebration. In the times of Henry the Eighth in Tudor England, the gifts we exchange at Christmas were exchanged on Epiphany.

And then there is the meaning of the word, Epiphany.  Although the word actually comes to us from the Greco-Roman context, my favorite definition is that of the 17th Century English poet, John Milton who wrote: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies – those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Originally, the word functioned as a designation for the public appearance (or the epiphaneia) of state officials in provinces. The literal meaning is to manifest, show forth, or clarify. Today, we tend to use the word when we have an idea that’s a revelation like … we say, “I’ve had an epiphany!”.

Based on this definition, the first-century church embraced the term as a designation for the manifestation, the brilliant appearance of Christ, in the flesh for the world. The gospels describe an unusual sighting of a brilliant star in the eastern skies that served as a guiding light for a distinguished group of foreigners … the Magi … seeking the long-awaited Messiah, the king of the Jews!

Let’s talk about the Magi for a moment.  We most commonly refer to them as the three kings, but the truth is the only thing we know that were three in number were their gifts – gold for a king. None of the gospels specify the number of magi bearing those three gifts.

Matthew’s text refers to an unknown number of Magi. The Magi were probably priestly descendants of the people of Media which is the area that we now refer to as Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and parts of Kermanshah in northwestern Iran. They were also Gentiles meaning they were not Jewish. They became aware through dreams or prophecies that something big was unfolding in the universe, and that there would be a sign to foretell the event.

These Magi felt so strongly about the importance of whatever was coming that they traveled somewhere around 830-1864 miles (depending on which route they took) by camel for somewhere between 43 and 98 days (again depending on which route they took) through foreign countries, across deserts, and causing them to meet … per accepted protocol at the time … with rulers like Herod who were known to be not so nice to deal with.

Biblically, Epiphany occurred when the Magi finally arrived at Bethlehem by following that glorious, glorious star and, after taking one look at the infant Jesus, they knew – they just simply knew – that, not only was He a King, but he was the King of Kings! They were so certain of who He was and how important He was, that they defied Herod’s order to tell him where the Christ child was, and instead left the country by a different route to go home and share the news with their own people that the light of that star had led them to another light … to Jesus.  In John 8:12 and John 9:5, Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the World, and in Matthew 5:14, he refers to his disciples, his followers as the light of the world.

Herod was so threatened by this new light in the world, he ordered the slaughter of the innocents that we learned about last week.  Even today, there are Herods among us that fear the true light of Christ – the light of the world. And there are Herods among us that fail to see that Jesus named us the light of the world, too. It galls the Herods when we don’t push God into the small boxes they make for Him or when we see Jesus’ sacrifice as being for the whole world instead of those members of the world they deem worthy.

Epiphany opened the coming of Jesus to the Gentiles long before Paul ever came along. If you think about it, the first to know of Jesus’ birth were the Jewish shepherds from the hills surrounding Bethlehem.  But the second to know were the Magi who were not Jewish, but Gentile.

The Magi’s Epiphany … that realization by of who Jesus was … and is … is why the season of Advent … our preparation and anticipation and waiting for the Messiah … is followed by with Epiphany. The Messiah has come, and we now find ourselves in the season of illumination … the Season of Light.

We are called to do two things … follow the Light of the World and be the light of the world.

Let’s pray.

Merciful God, we have gathered ourselves for the days of work ahead.

But we know that in the true light of day, you can see what we’ve hidden and covered up.

We confess that we have denied water to those in need; we have polluted streams and lakes; we have played it safe, staying clear of the forbidden places that we pass on our way to somewhere more important to us, forgetting that we carry your Spirit, your Spark, your New Life within us, and that you are found when we veer off the track.

Have mercy on us, O God, for we are sorry for all we have done in forgetting that we belong to you.

Help us to live in the Spirit’s power and in the light of your love. through Jesus Christ. Amen!

Scripture Readings

Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Ephesians 3:1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel, I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.

Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.