OPENING SENTENCE OF SCRIPTURE
Kings bow down before him; all the nations do him service.
HYMN The First Nowell
Let us pray
Glory to the Father, the God of love, who created us;
who continually preserves and sustains us;
who has loved us with an everlasting love,
and given us the light of the knowledge of his Glory,
in the face of Jesus Christ
Blessed be God for ever.
Glory to Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor,
and was tested in every way as we are,
yet without sin;
who proclaimed the good news of the kingdom,
and was obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross;
who was raised from the dead and is alive for ever,
and has opened the Kingdom of Heaven.
to all who trust in Him:
who is seated at God’s right hand in glory,
and will come to be our judge.
Blessed be God for ever.
Glory to the Holy Spirit
the Lord the giver of life
by whom we are born into the family of God,
and made members of the Body of Christ;
who witness confirms us,
whose wisdom teaches us,
whose power enable us,
who will do for us more than we ask or think.
Blessed be God for ever.
To the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be praise and glory for ever. Amen
sung by Billy Dewar Riddick
God of grace
through the mediation of your Son
you call us into a new covenant.
Help us therefore to draw near with faith
and join ourselves in a perpetual covenant with you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A reading from the law Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
For the wisdom that guides us
we praise you O God.
Reading from the prophets
ISAIAH 60: 1-6
read by Andrew Ratnam
The Glory of Zion
1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.
For the word that inspires us
we praise you O God
A reading from the Epistles
EPHESIANS 3: 1-12
read by Annabelle Guthrie
Paul the Preacher to the Gentiles
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
For the truth that enlightens us
we praise you O God.
GRADUAL HYMN As with gladness men of old.
MATTHEW 2: 1-12
read by Reverend Janice Aiton
Hear the Holy Gospel of Christ according to St Matthew chapter 2 beginning at verse 1
Glory to Christ our Saviour
The Visit of the Magi
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
This is the Gospel of Christ
Praise to Christ our Lord.
There is a story about two men, who were sitting together on an airplane? As some are wont to do, when strapped together thirty thousand feet above where they ought to be, they begin to get acquainted. One man was an astronomer, the other a theologian. After a while each began to share his understanding of the other’s discipline. The astronomer said, “I believe that all religion can be summed up in the phrase, ‘Jesus Loves Me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ The theologian, somewhat miffed at this simplistic understanding of his scholarly discipline, said, “And I believe that all astronomy can be summed up with the phrase, ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.’
Today we see astrology and religion come together in the wise men. Science and religion are not opponents but complement each other. The truth of the matter is that science and religion are two different approaches to the same reality. Science uncovers a dimension of reality that religion does not have the tools to discover. Religion sees a dimension of reality that science is blind to. It doesn’t have the eyes to see. So, science and religion need each other, and together reveal the truth.
We see this coming together of science and religion in the magi. The magi, known as wise men, were skilled in philosophy, medicine, and natural science. Tradition connects them with astrology and astronomy. So, the magi used the very best science available to them at the time. They didn’t abandon their way of understanding the world in order to get to Bethlehem, rather they held to their science and knowledge, and benefitted from it. The magi followed a star, convinced from their studies that it would lead them to the place where a new king was born. It was their science that led the wise men to Bethlehem. They didn’t abandon who they were and became something else in order to find Christ. Sometimes people think they have to become something else before they can come to Christ but that is simply not true we come to Christ as we are, with the partial knowledge, understanding, and way of life we have. The magi highlight this truth for us.
The wise men knew their science, but they also knew that their science did not hold all the answers. They knew that their wisdom was incomplete, and they knew that their knowledge could not save them. Their salvation is beyond their science and their system. At times we think education will save us, and then in one of the most educated nations of the world, we have a Dictator and a war We think government will do it, then in the boldest experiment in democracy, we have war and instability. We think social enlightenment and secular humanism will do it, and in our nation that prides itself in such, we abort a million babies each year, and every city has the poor and the homeless to shame us and to show us the limitation of putting our hope in social theories or institutions. Our knowledge alone will never save us, and like the wise men we must acknowledge the limitations of our wisdom. The limitations of their wisdom and the insufficiency of science and systems may well account for the wise men’s quest in the first place? It was the need of their life, the deep yearning for meaning that drove them to embark on a journey. They had not found salvation and meaning in their studies, their systems, or their science not even in their stars. So, in their wisdom, they started looking for Christ.
Looking for Christ meant embarking on a dangerous and hazardous journey. So, whilst we may not know how many magi there were, although we presume three and where exactly they came from, although we are told from the east, probably Persia, what we do know is that they were men of courage. They embarked on a journey, that was bold and courageous and to many may have seemed foolish and crazy. It would not have been an easy journey- T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem ‘the magi had a hard time of it’. They would have encountered many difficulties and knew moments of doubt and danger during their journey. Every time the star disappeared under clouds or the light of the day, they would have lost their bearings temporarily. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, doubts and dangers the magi persevered in their quest – it is estimated that the journey could have been as long as two years.
The magi were people, possibly kings who had great courage for they left all they had known behind and set out on a journey with no specific destination in mind. That takes guts! What takes even more guts is hanging in there with all the difficulties and never losing hope and never giving up. Winston Churchhill once addressed a school assembly, and his speech captivated their attention. It was short. It had three words repeated three times and it was never give up, never give up, never give up. The magi not only were courageous, but they lived out Winston Churchill’ s words –they never gave up but were determined and persevering.
In many ways their journey highlights another quality in them- the quality of deep faith and vision. Despite challenges and obstacles their faith remained strong. That does not mean they were not tempted at times to give up and or that they were not assailed by doubt – they were but their faith prevented them from doing so. Like the magi we too are on a journey of faith, particularly at this time of year as we are about to enter a new year of uncertainty and restrictions but also of opportunities. When we start out on a new road, a new year, or a new vocation, new relationship, or a new role in life we too are attracted by something bright- an ideal, vision or hope. However, the initial star does not remain in the sky, it grows dim, clouds get in the way and deprive us of its light. So, we encounter difficulties and doubts.
Doubt is not the opposite of belief- that is unbelief. Doubt is a questioning of belief that strengthens belief. So, we must not be surprised by doubt when it comes our way. Rather we must imitate the magi. When they were in doubt they went to Herod for help, they went seeking guidance. We must not be too proud to ask for guidance. We must believe that the darkness will pass and once again we will see the star beckoning to us.
The Magi can serve as models to us on our faith journey. They were single- minded. They refused to be put off by difficulties and hardships. Notice too they were never alone they formed a community. The community was their strength – they had each other. As a church we too are a community that is there to help and strengthen one another. The magi were like us too – they were not Jews but Gentiles. The magi highlighted that Christ is not just for the Jewish people but for all people-the gift of salvation in Christ is for all people- no- one is excluded. Like the magi we need to reach out and seek Christ with all our hearts and then we will find him.
So, the magi were kings of bold courage, great determination, and strong faith. They were also blessed. The blessedness of people who believe runs through the gospel of Matthew. Wonderful things happen to those who believe. You could even say that the central theme of Matthew is the blessedness of those who believe. However, as the magi, show it is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief, or living according to it. It was a question of hearing the word and doing it- taking risks on, and making, like the magi, sacrifices because of it. We too will blessed in 2024 if we hear the word of God and act on it.
Wonderful things happen for those who believe. That is the truth, the magi tell us -they found the Christ child and what a moment that was. Their hearts were awakened and burst into life. They were filled with mighty wonder and worship. We are told -they bowed down and paid him homage. They offered their gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh to Christ, the true King.
Gifts are a joy to receive, especially those that hold great significance and deep meaning. Joseph and Mary treasured the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the wise men brought to Jesus. These gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh held a rich value and significance for Mary and Joseph, as they revealed something of Jesus’ future role and ministry to them.
Gold is the king of metals and this is a fitting gift for a king. So, Jesus, young as he was, was a King that people were drawn to and worshipped. The frankincense is a gift for a priest who builds bridges between human beings and God. Jesus opened the way to God and made it possible for us to enter into the very presence of God. Finally, the gift of myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. It tells us that Jesus came into the world to live for all people and to die for all. These precious gifts were amazing as they foretold Jesus as the true king, the perfect priest and the divine Saviour of the World.
The magi’s gifts of bold courage, great determination, deep faith, costly sacrifice, and their wonder and worship touched the hearts of Mary and Joseph just as much as their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The magi are our role models. In 2024 we want to emulate in our own lives the same courage, determination, faith, wonder and worship -gifts that will be of great significance and value to God our Father. Amen
HYMN Brightest and best of the sons of the morning
God made a Covenant with the people of Israel,
calling them to be a holy nation, chosen to bear witness
to his steadfast love by finding delight in the law.
The Covenant was renewed in Jesus Christ our Lord,
in his life, work, death and resurrection.
In him all people may be set free from sin and its power
and united in love and obedience.
In this Covenant God promises us new life in Christ.
For our part, we promise to live no longer for ourselves,
but for God.
We meet, therefore, as generations have met before us,
to renew the covenant which bound them and binds us to God.
Let us then seek forgiveness, for the sin by which we have denied God’s claim upon us.
Let us pray
God of mercy, hear us as we confess our sins,
for the sins that has made us slow to learn from Christ,
reluctant to follow him and afraid to bear the cross:
Lord have mercy
For the sin that has caused us the poverty of our worship,
the formality and selfishness of our prayers,
our neglect of fellowship and the means of grace,
and our hesitating witness for Christ:
Lord have mercy
For the sin that has led us to waste time,
misuse our gifts,
evade our responsibilities,
and fail to be good stewards of your creation:
Lord have mercy,
For the sin that has made us unwilling
to overcome evil with good,
tolerant of injustice,
quick to condemn
and selfish in sharing your love with others:
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on me O God,
in your constant love
in the fullness of your mercy
blot out my offences.
Wash away my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Give me the joy of your help again.
and strengthen me with a willing spirit.
The presiding minster says:
If we confess our sins
God is faithful and just
and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
therefore to all, who truly repent
this is his gracious word:
your sins are forgiven. Amen. Thanks be to God.
The people remain standing and the presiding minster says:
Sisters and brothers in Christ
Let us again accept our place within this Covenant,
which God has made with us and with all who are
called to be Christ’s disciples.
This means that, by the help of the Holy Spirit,
we accept God’s purpose for us,
and the call to love and serve God
in all our life and work.
Christ has many services to be done,
some are easy, others are difficult;
some bring honour, others bring reproach;
some are suitable to our natural inclinations
and material interests,
others are contrary to both:
in some we may please Christ and please ourselves,
in others we cannot please Christ
except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do all these things
is given to us in Christ,
who strengthens us.
Therefore, let us make this Covenant of God our own.
Let us give ourselves to him,
trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.
Eternal God, in your faithful and enduring love
you call us to share
in your gracious Covenant in Jesus Christ.
In obedience we hear and accept your commands,
in love we seek to do your perfect will,
with joy we offer ourselves anew to you.
We are no longer our own but yours.
I am no longer my own but yours.
your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
where there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done when I am valued
and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you,
as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessed God
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You are mine and I am yours.
May it be so for ever.
Let this covenant now made on earth
be fulfilled in heaven. Amen.
As we have entered this covenant not for ourselves alone
but as God’s servants and witnesses,
let us pray for the Church and the world.
Loving God, hear us as we pray for your holy catholic Church:
make us all one, that the world might believe.
Inspire and lead all who govern and hold authority
in the nations of the world:
establish justice and peace among all people.
Have compassion on all who suffer from any sickness,
grief or trouble:
deliver them from their distress.
We praise you for all your saints
who have entered eternal glory
bring us all to share in your heavenly kingdom.
Let us pray in silence for our own needs and for those of others…..
Lord our God,
you have helped us by your grace to make these prayers,
and you have promised through Jesus Christ our Lord
that when two or three agree in his name
you will grant what they ask.
Answer now your servant’s prayers according to their needs;
in this world that we may truly know you,
and in the world to come
graciously give us eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Christ the Son of God gladden your hearts with the good news of his kingdom and the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen
HYMN Joy to the world
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen