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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for Epiphany Sunday - Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 (13-23)
"The Rest of The Story"


READING:  Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 (13-23)
SERMON :  "The Rest of The Story"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-epipsu 962
                    
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
  
   Sources:  Parts of The Prayers of the People are adapted from "A
   Prayer for Epiphany" by Bruce Prewer as found in (and also adapted
   by) John Maynard, "Prayers and Litanies For Epiphany, Year A" as
   sent to the PRCL List, 2002.  The Prayer of Dedication is adapted
   from Nathan Nettleton's (nathan@webtime.com.au) "Eucharistic Preface
   for Epiphany Sunday" as sent to the PRCL List, 1999.  The sermon is
   deeply indebted to "From Lamentation to Light" and other material
   posted by Rev. James Murray of Montreal West United Church to
   "United Forum" and to his church's Website, 2001.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* GREETING & CALL TO WORSHIP
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you
L  God's glory revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
P  He is God's only begotten Son, born of Mary and the Holy Spirit.
L  He is the Light of The World.
P  Through him God overcomes the darkness that surrounds us.
L  He is the bread of life.
P  By him death is overcome and the doors of heaven are opened.
L  He is our hope and our salvation.


* INTROIT  "This is The Day" (Verse One)                           - VU 412
   
       
CHRISTMAS CANDLE LIGHTING AND PRAYER OF INVOCATION
VOICE  This is the day that the Lord has made.  We rejoice in all that God
       has done.  We enter into God's presence with joy and celebration,
       knowing that the one who was born in Bethlehem is even now being
       born anew in the hearts of those who love him.

VOICE  As the Wise Men sought him and found him by the light of the star,
       so we, following the light that God has given us, find him this day
       in the praise and the prayers, the and words and the actions, of his
       faithful people.

VOICE  We thank God for the Christ child and for the hope, the peace, the
       joy, and the love that his coming has brought to the world.

       --- Light the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Christ Candle   

VOICE  Let us pray:  Loving God, Emmanuel, as we enter into the new year,
       we give thanks to you for how you have blessed us in the past year -
       and for what you will lead us to in the days ahead.  Grant that we
       may walk with the one born in Bethlehem, and that our worship and
       our praise may bring to him, and to you, and to the Holy Spirit, 
       the glory and honour due your most Holy Name.  Bless this gathering
       of your people with your presence and feed and inspire us in body,
       mind, soul, and spirit.  Amen

 
* HYMN: "This Is The Day" (Verses 2-3 and repeat 1)                - VU 412


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements    
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


MUSIC AND SILENT PREPARATION


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh"
Object:   Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Theme:    The Gifts of The Wise Men
Source:   Self

Good Morning.....  Christmas Season is ending today - a new year has begun. 
What did you get for Christmas as a gift???  

I brought today two of the things that Jesus was given for his birthday by
the wisemen.  Can you guess what it is?  (Show the Frankincense and Myrrh)

The other thing that Jesus was given by the Wise Men was Gold.

Each of the gifts that the wise men gave Jesus had a special meaning.   

The gold represents purity and the royal crown.  It is a gift fit for a
king.   

Frankincense, which is the white bits here - is from the gum resin of a
tree that grows in Arabia - and was used to make special incense which was
then burned in the temple by the priests as a sweet smelling offering to
God.   The Frankincense reminds us that Jesus is both a priest and an
offering to God on our behalf.  

Myrrh is the slightly darker chunks here.  It too comes from Arabia - from
a small bush rather than a tree - and it was used to make perfume and
anointing oil.  Myrrh was used by the Egyptians in their embalming fluids
and as a perfume and an oil was used by many nations as part of preparing a
body for burial.  So the Myrrh, as the song we are going to sing suggests,
is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The gifts that he wise men gave Jesus then remind us that Jesus is a
special kind of King - and a special  kind of Priest - one who would
offered his life for us to God.    

Jesus is in fact God's Christmas gift to us.   He is the gift of God's love
and presence with us.  As the wise men worshipped him and gave him gifts
for his work in the world - so do we - the followers of Jesus.   We do what
they did because in Jesus we find all the wondrous gifts of life that we
need.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Gracious God   Thank you for Christmas - thank you for the birth of
   Jesus - thank you for your love.  -- As the wise men gave Jesus
   their gifts - and knelt and worshipped him - so may we show Jesus
   our love - by worshipping him - and by giving to him - our love and
   devotion - each and every day - both now and forevermore -- Amen

   And with the word's that Jesus taught us - let us pray to God:

   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 trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN: "We Three Kings"
   We three kings of Orient are;  Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star.
            
   Refrain  O star of wonder, star of light,  Star with royal beauty bright,
   Westward leading, still proceeding;  Guide us to thy perfect
light.
            
   Born a King on Bethlehem's plain; Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never;  Over us all to reign.
               
   Refrain
            
   Frankincense to offer have I;  Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising;  Worshipping God on high.
          
   Refrain
               
   Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume; Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,  Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
              
   Refrain
                

A READING FROM ISAIAH 60:1-6
   (NIV)  "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the
   LORD rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick
   darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his
   glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your light, and kings
   to the brightness of your dawn.  

   "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.
   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.  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.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING:   Psalm 72 (Voices United 790 - entire)


A READING FROM EPHESIANS 3:1-12
   (NIV)  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.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


* HYMN:  "The First Noel"                                           - VU 91
                

A READING FROM MATTHEW 2:1-12
   (NIV)   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 worshipped 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.

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


SERMON:  "The Rest of the Story"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in 
   the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 
   Amen.

This afternoon I leave for Calgary - where tomorrow I will have a small
biopsy performed on some kind of growth in my mouth.  Naturally I will not
know the results for a couple of weeks or so - and naturally I have a
certain amount of anxiety about it - but as I wrote in my report to be
delivered to the Board tomorrow night, "God is good in all situations."

Let me repeat that to you - because it is relevant to this sermon - 
"God is good in all situations"

I would think just about everyone of you here today has heard me quote
Romans 8:28 at one time or another.   It goes like this:

   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who
   love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

And it is so.

It is so despite the fact that all things are not good
and it is so despite the fact the all things will not be good until the Day
of Judgement.

We have heard the Christmas Story several times over the last three weeks.
   The Sunday School did a version of it on White Gift Sunday.
       Then on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and Christmas Eve, and again
Last Sunday parts of it - or almost all of it - was read and sung about.

It is a marvellous story - the story of the conception and birth of Jesus
but it is a story in which certain characters are most often forgotten 
- and their actions and the meaning of those actions not thought about.

Today I want to do a Paul Harvie on you and tell you the rest of the story,
the story that comes to us in part because of the visit of the magi or the
wise men to see the infant Jesus - the one whom they describe to King Herod
in today's gospel reading as "the one born King of the Jews".

It doesn't matter how you tell the Christmas tale, no one loves King Herod. 
No one includes him in their Nativity scenes.  
No one sings carols about him.  
No one admires him.

And there is a good reason for that.  Herod wasn't a nice man.  
Even by the standards of his day, he was a ruthless, conniving,
backstabbing ruler. 

People had a reason to dislike him for what he did.  To make matters worse,
the people of Israel had a reason for disliking him for what he was.  

Herod, who was king of the Jews, wasn't a Jew. 
Herod was an Idumean.  

Israel had conquered the neighbouring country of Idumea about one hundred
and fifty years before this.  The Idumeans were forced to convert to the
Jewish faith, but they were treated as second class Jews.  

Herod's father had been a general, who served the last Jewish king.  When
the last Jewish king started an uprising against Rome, the Roman Senate
made Herod king of the Jews.  Herod then led the Roman army, and proceeded
to take the country by force, making it into a loyal Roman state.  Herod
controlled everything in Israel, including who ran the religious
institutions.  In fact several times Herod made a handsome profit from
selling the position of High Priest to the highest bidder.

Graft, nepotism, and simony are not new inventions.

So imagine the impact of the visit of the Magi to Jerusalem for a moment.

Our reading today - that old familiar reading - says when the wise men come
to the city and started asking "Where is the one who has been born of the
Jews?" and claiming that they had seen "his star in the east and have come
to worship him"  that Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."

Herod had every reason to be disturbed.  
Every reason to be concerned.

A real Jew, born to the old line of kings, would have a lot more political
support among the people than Herod ever would.  

A real king, born to David's lineage, would have more religious support
than Herod could ever dream of.

And so the part of the story we are most familiar with continues on by
telling us that after the chief priests and teachers of the law tell Herod
that the Christ - the anointed one promised of old  - was to be born in
Bethlehem, that Herod calls the wise men to him in secret - finds out when
they first the star in the East - and then instructs the wise men to go to
Bethlehem, locate the child, and then immediately report back to him so
that he too may go and worship him."

Well we know the wise men don't do that.   

They are warned in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, and they depart for
home from the side of the infant Jesus by a different route than they had
arrived.

Here is what happens next:

   When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a
   dream. 

   "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to
   Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search
   for the child to kill him." 

   So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and
   left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. 

   And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet:
   "Out of Egypt I called my son." 

When is the last time you ever thought of Mary and Joseph - and the infant
Jesus - as poor refugees?  
   - As a family forced to flee from their home and their country  because
   of the injustice and inhumanity of their  government?
   - As refugees forced to flee to the very land where over 1400 years
   earlier their ancestors were kept as slaves. 
   - As refugees subject to all the indignities that refugees undergo at
   first and sometimes at last as well.  No family, no friends, no food,
   no shelter, no work....

Mary, Joseph and Jesus were put in a situation similar to that of the
people of Afghanistan during the last few years.  A situation like that
suffered by the people of the Sahara  and of Vietnam and Cuba and Cambodia
and so many others nations over the last few decades.

Yet, in these awful circumstances in which Mary and Jesus and Joseph found
   themselves the scripture is fulfilled that says "Out of Egypt I have
   called my son", 
and through those terrible circumstances the life of Jesus is saved.

That is something to think about is it not?  Especially it is something to
think about when we are thinking about the refugees who seek safety in
Canada and how our nation should respond to their plight.. 

In all things God works for the good of those who love him....

Anyway - the rest of the Christmas story continues this way:

   When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was
   furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and
   its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with
   the time he had learned from the Magi. 

Ouch!!!    

Is it any wonder we don't want this part of the tale to be a part of our
   Christmas story?  
Is it any wonder why it is not made part of the pageant?

Quite naturally we want to avoid pain and suffering.  And equally
naturally, especially when we are celebrating, we don't want to admit - or
think about the fact - that we live in a world where innocents are
slaughtered for no good reason.

The sad truth is that we do we live in a world where innocents are
slaughtered for no good reason.  

We live in a world where terrorists can hijack planes and kill thousands of
people.  

We live in a world where unspeakable horrors can happen in the blink of an
eye -for no good reason..

There is a reason why no one loved Herod.

To Herod - killing a few score children from a small village was no big
deal, especially if it would help ensure that he would remain in power.  
Herod was not only capable of such an act, he caused it to happen.

And the people wept.

The story as told by Matthew says it this way:

   Thus what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A
   voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping
   for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no
   more." 

Rachel was a mother of Israel, a mother figure for the nation. 
She knew all too well the pain of losing a child.  
Rachel died after giving birth to her son Benjamin - whose name means "A
son of my sorrow".

For Matthew to quote Jeremiah's prophecy and say Rachel is weeping is a way
of saying the whole nation wept at the loss of these children, much as we
weep at the terrible things that happen in our world today.

It is also a way of pointing out to us our hope
a hope also proclaimed by Jeremiah - where we find these words:

   'Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears for your
   work will be rewarded',  declares the Lord

   'They will return from the land of the enemy.  So there is hope for
   your future', declares the Lord.  'Your children will return to
   their own land.'

There is a promise here - but the grief - ah the grief - 
such a grief is a hard one to bear - even in the midst of hope...
How much more so without hope!

The story of Herod and of the infant Jesus - the refugee Jesus - and his
family ends this way:

   After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph
   in Egypt and said, 

   "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel,
   for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." 

   So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of
   Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in
   place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been
   warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he
   went and lived in a town called Nazareth. 

   So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be
   called a Nazarene."

As Paul Harvie might say - "And that is the rest of the story".

Scores of innocent children have been slaughtered.
   
Herod has died - and someone not much better is on the throne in his place.
       
And Mary and Joseph and Jesus -  while no longer refugees in a foreign
land, are labouring and living in a town of Israel that is not their own.

The rest of the story does not tell a wonderful tale - all things were not
good; but it is a part of the story that is important to know and to
understand because it points out to us how God is good in all things.

It is important to know and understand the rest of the story because it
gives meaning to the first part of the story and transforms it from a cute
tale about a special child being born in a special way, to the story of how
God meets us in the midst of every situation and transforms that which is
meant for evil into something that works for the good.

Think of the refrain throughout the entire Christmas story, 
   the refrain heard even throughout the lesser known part of it - 
          the refrain that goes: 
"This took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet..."

We live in a world of death, violence, hatred, tensions, and if I dare say
it, sin.  

And as the old Christmas carol says,  
"Jesus Christ was born for this".

We celebrate Christmas because we live in a world full of death 
   - and one has come who gives life.
We celebrate Christmas, not to escape the hard realities of the times, 
   but because one has come who has overcome the hardest of hard times,
and who offers freely to all who seek him a lasting victory over sin and
death, and a way to live now in the world that makes true the words "Bars
and locks do not a prison make."

We celebrate Christmas because even the bad news is news that God can use
   and does use to fulfill his purpose.  God's purpose is not thwarted by
   evil designs.

That old Christmas Carol - which we will sing in just a minute, goes on to
say,

   "Good Christian friends rejoice with heart and soul and voice!
   Now you need not fear the grave.  
   Peace.  Peace.  Jesus Christ was born to save."

This applies every year, but is particularly apt when you consider how
in this world the innocents continue to be slaughtered.

To skip over or ignore the harsh reality of our world is to say our faith
has nothing to say to it. 

But it is to these situations that the faith most strongly speaks,
reminding us that even though we are put to death - and even though the
innocent are slaughtered - we will not die - the innocent will not be lost
forever - nor will what is good be extinguished.

So - during Advent and Christmas we light candles for our God, or
ourselves, and for our world - candles of hope and peace and joy and love.

And most of all - in this Christmas Season  - and throughout the whole
year, we light a Christ candle and we proclaim the deepest truth of
Christmas time, the truth that is known by all who have encountered Christ
and worshipped him with the Shepherds and the Wise Men...  the truth that
indeed in all situations God works for the good for those who love him,
the truth that I proclaimed at the start of the sermon today when I said
"God is good in all situations".

Today go into the world as the people of God, the body of Christ.  
   - Go to fulfill your calling knowing that nothing in this world can
   separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord 
   - and knowing that as you love one another and love our world as did he 
that the kingdom draws closer, the kingdom in which we and all the innocent
are blest forevermore.

Praise be to the name of  God, day by day.  Amen


* HYMN: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice"                           - VU 35
                            

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Loving God - in a world of sin - a world of violence - Christ was born to
save.   He brings peace and joy to the lives of those who recognize him and
follow him - and at the end - his kingdom will never fail.  We give you
thanks, O God, that his ways are not the ways of earthly rulers and that
his rule is not one of oppression and of violence, but of truth and love... 
Most loving God, as you put it into the mind of the Wise Men to search for
Jesus, please give to us the wisdom to seek and to find ....  God of Love,
Lord of Light, hear our prayer..... 

When we become proud and stubborn, give us the wisdom to find our humble
Lord, born in a stable ...  God of Love, Lord of Light, hear our
prayer..... 

When we become bewildered and lost in life's rush, give us the wisdom to
find ourselves in the light that streams from Bethlehem ...  God of Love,
Lord of Light, hear our prayer..... 

When we become selfish and covetous, cluttering our lives with possessions,
give us the wisdom to find that the best joy lies in offering our treasures
to Christ ...  God of Love, Lord of Light, hear our prayer..... 

When we become depressed by our human failures and sin, give us the wisdom
to find the divine compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus came to
bring and to live as children of light rather than as children of
darkness....  God of Love, Lord of Light, hear our prayer..... 

Father God - hear our prayers for our rulers and for the rulers of the
nations of this world - that they may rule with justice and with truth and
love and dwell together in peace....  Lord,  hear our prayer....

Caring God - as we recall the events surrounding the birth of Jesus today,
hear our prayers for the children who are killed by men of evil; hear too
our prayers for those like Joseph and Mary who must flee their homes and
live in foreign lands; and our prayers for those who hunger and thirst
while the rich buy weapons of war and gather possessions that serve only
their own appetites...   Lord, hear our prayer...

Father - hear our prayers this day as well for those situations and
individuals that we name before you now in the silence of our hearts and
with the words of our lips.... bless each one as we ask....  (BIDDING
PRAYER)... Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray to you and we give you thanks, O Lord,  through your beloved child,
Jesus, whom you have revealed to the whole world as Saviour and Redeemer. 
We thank you for how he has overcome the darkness of this world and brought
to us a lasting hope and an eternal joy.  May his light shine through your
people in this place and his peace and love be known and accepted by all. 
We ask it in his name.  Amen.


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   O God of the stars of night, accept the thanksgiving we offer on
   this joyful feast.  You are the one who fills our hunger with your
   word of truth and summons all who thirst to the banquet of your
   love.  And so we join the wise men from the East and humbly offer
   gifts at the feet of Jesus.  Accept, O Lord, all that we offer, we
   ask it in his name.   Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "I Am The Light of The World"                    - VU 87
          

* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.


* BENEDICTION
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Jesus,
and as this new year commences and continues
- may the light of God surround you,
- the love of Jesus draw you closer to Himself,
- and the power of the Spirit strengthen you and grant you joy,
both now and for evermore.  Amen.


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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