Mitchells Presbyterian Church
Audio/Video Service January 3, 2021
Second Sunday of Christmas/Epiphany Sunday
Arise, shine; for your light has come!
Opening Prayer and Candle Lighting:
I would invite you to light a candle as we light these candles for Epiphany. Let us pray: Glorious God, may our eyes and hearts and minds be further opened this day, to see with the Magi beyond the dark of the world into the mystery and power of Christ’s coming into our midst. Let the ancient stories and the loving songs enkindle a fire by whose light we may perceive better the Holy One born into our world anew. Amen.
Happy New Year and welcome everyone to Mitchells Presbyterian Church on this Epiphany Sunday! I’m Reverend Michael Clang, Covenant Pastor here at Mitchells and I am so glad that you all have tuned in to our YouTube channel to worship with us today. It’s my hope and prayer that the next 30 minutes will be a real blessing to you.
I would let the Mitchells family know that the Building and Grounds Committee and the Safety and Security Committee have been hard at work on a joint venture replacing the sign in the front of the church. This week, they removed the old sign and had some fun playing in the dirt to the tune of a 4-foot hole and 2,300 lbs. of hand-mixed concrete! Needless to say, they have built a great foundation for the new sign. Once the concrete “cures” they will install the sign, so be on the lookout!
You will notice that Chuck and I have included a brief survey in this month’s newsletter regarding these services so please take just a couple minutes and let us know your thoughts as we endeavor to improve these in any way that we can. Your feedback is greatly appreciated!
Finally, todays Order of Worship bulletin that you can find on our web page and on the Sunday Newsletter blast, has an Epiphany House Blessing Prayer that you can do at home. It’s a chalk prayer but you don’t have to use chalk, you can just stand at your door and repeat the prayer as you bless your dwelling for 2021.
United together as one, wherever we may be this day, let us now call ourselves to worship.
Call to Worship:
L: Rise up in splendor, Your light has come.
P: The glory of God shines upon us.
L: Though darkness may cover the earth and thick clouds its peoples.
P: Yet the Lord shall arise and God’s glory shall appear.
L: Rejoice! God dwells within us.
P: Let us worship God!
Hymn of Adoration: #66 “We Three Kings” (verses 1&2)
1 We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.
2 Born a King on Bethlehem's plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign. [Refrain]
Prayer of Confession:
God’s light has come to shine in our darkness, so let us confess our sins:
God of glory, you sent Jesus among us as the light of the world, to reveal your love for all people. We confess that our sin and pride hide the brightness of your light. We turn away from the poor; we ignore cries for justice; we do not strive for peace. In your mercy, cleanse us of our sin, and pour out the gifts of your Spirit, that, forgiven and renewed, we may show forth your glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ (time of silent confession). Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
This is the good news: Christ is the light of the world, who grants forgiveness and healing of our sins. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. Amen
Prayer for Illumination:
Spirit of God, in the proclamation of your Word, reveal to us the hidden mystery of your love in Christ, and strengthen our faith that we may approach you with boldness. Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6 & Matthew 2:1-12
Sermon: “Blessings of the Magi”
“Let the words of my mouth . . . “
In our Advent Bible Study this year we spent some time reflecting on the main characters of the nativity, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men. Our objective was to learn a bit more about them and to see how their stories impacted our own journey to Bethlehem and the manger. In the end, we all shared some of our insights and, of these four characters, myself and I think several from the class, really came to develop a newfound respect and admiration for Joseph. His patience, his forbearance, his willingness, and openness to listen to and follow the dreams he received from God, really made an impact on us.
And while I now see Joseph in a new way, if I’m honest, the characters that still hold the most intrigue for me are the wise men. These three regal men, riding their beautifully adorned camels hundreds of miles over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following the light of a far-away star, just piques my imagination. Maybe it does yours too.
But what is interesting though is that Matthews Gospel really tells us little about these men from afar. He refers to them as “magi”, a word that can mean wise men or astrologers, which probably means they came from Persia where there was a class of priestly folk who were referred to as “magi”. We’re not even sure how many there were. Because they offered three gifts, tradition has assumed there were three and sometime around the 1300’s, legend assigned them the names of Caspar, King of Sheba; Melchior, King of Arabia; and Balthazar, King of Tarse and Egypt. And while we refer to these three wise men as Kings, Matthew does not give them those titles but rather that comes from our passage in Isaiah where we heard that Kings will be drawn to the “brightness of a new dawn”. All this to say that the magi are shrouded in a bit of mystery.
But what we do know is that they possessed the ability to read the heavens, they felt compelled to follow a star, they traveled a vast distance to welcome and pay homage to Jesus, and they brought him gifts. Some have joked that if the wise men had been women they would have arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts because what is a baby or toddler to do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh! But for as lacking as Matthew is in the details of these travelers from the East, he is EXTREMELY specific on the gifts they bring which leads me to believe that as we ponder this story today, that it might be good to remind ourselves just what these gifts would have meant because maybe that is why Matthew tells us this story.
Gold. In Jesus day, this first gift had a lot of the same connotations that it does for us. It’s precious. It’s lavish. It’s a gift fit for a king. In the Bible, gold is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as royalty. Isaiah and the Psalms refer to kings who bring gold to honor a great ruler. So, first and foremost, for these wise men, the gift of gold was a way of acknowledging Jesus as a king.
The next two gifts are a bit harder for us to value like the gift of gold. Both Frankincense and myrrh come from the aromatic resin of trees and after being dried they are basically incense that is burned for its fragrant aromas, though myrrh is often kept in liquid form. And while they are inexpensive to us, they were anything but that in the time of Jesus.
Frankincense was typically used in religious rituals like the one we read about in Exodus 30 where God tells Moses to make an incense for use in the “tent of meeting” which is where God meet with the priests. God tells Moses, “it shall be for you most holy.”
So, their gift of frankincense symbolizes that God has now come in the person of Jesus and that Jesus has become the place of meeting between divinity and humanity. In other words, the priestly mediator between us and God. Finally, the myrrh. This would seem the strangest gift of all given that it was mostly associated with funerals and was used in the process of preparing a body for burial. While this does seem a curious gift for a young child, it carries the foreshadowing of what will happen to Jesus with his crucifixion and death.
But as one commentator noted, maybe the magi intended it, not as a morbid gift but rather as a reminder to Jesus, that even for him, earthly life is brief, and we are called to use it well. So, on this Epiphany Sunday, as we sit on the brink of a brand-new year and reflect on these gifts that are so rich in symbolism, what insights or questions might they encourage us to ask ourselves as we enter 2021? First, the gift of GOLD, the gift that recognized Jesus as a king, invites us to consider the question: Who were you born to be? This is perhaps the most crucial and most complicated question of our lives and the one that quite frankly seems to be continually evolving.
My youngest nephew, Cody, recently graduated from college and is on track for future graduate studies in Dental School. During this liminal period between his Dental School Application Test and the actual interviews, he has been working and spending a fair amount of time reflecting and journaling on who he is right now. What are his gifts, not just as a prospective dental student, but as a young man on this journey of life? It’s an exercise that can bear much fruit. I know I went through it before starting seminary in my 40’s and as a chaplain who has worked with both youth and seniors, I have seen that it’s an exercise that should never end. What are you born to be in 2021?
Second, the gift of frankincense, the gift that recognized Jesus as the one who is a meeting place of humanity and divinity, invites us to ponder the question: How do you want to encounter God? In reflecting on the wise men, our Bible Study leader Krin Van Tatenhove said this, “there has been much conjecture about these characters, but one of the most basic facts about them is that they were not content with their existing spiritual conditions. They wanted more. They were seekers. We are all on a spiritual quest, whether we are aware of it or not.”
The Sufi master Rumi once said, “Search, no matter what situation you are in. O thirsty one, search for water constantly. Finally, the time will come when you will reach the spring.” What spiritual disciplines might you use in 2021 to encounter the Divine? Prayer, meditation, Bible Study, walks in the park, talking to the birds like St. Francis. The list in endless. But as the Nike commercial used to say, “just do it” because that leads us to the third and final gift, the gift of myrrh that recognized that even for Jesus, earthly life is brief, a twinkling of an eye, so: What is your relationship to time? How do you enter your days in a way that helps you discern who you are and helps you seek God?
I have this app on my phone called “WeCroak” and at five random times during the day it sends me a message that says, “don’t forget, you are going to die”. It sounds morbid, but standing in line at the grocery store, or while getting gas, or eating dinner, or watching TV with Tracie, it’s always a reminder that time is precious and that I need to be present to whatever I am doing.
Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What are you born to be this year? How will you encounter God? What is your relationship to time? Our invitation is to rely on God to show us our path. The magi did not show up with maps; they just brought gifts that helped Jesus know who he was. Like the wise men, who had to travel by another road when they left Jesus, we may find ourselves on some strange and unfamiliar territory as we follow Christ. But in his company, we will, like those wise travelers, find our way home.
Let me close with a poem by Jan Richardson called the Blessing of the Magi:
There is no reversing this road. The path that bore you here
goes in one direction only, every step drawing you
down a way by which you will not return.
You thought arrival was everything, that your entire journey
ended with kneeling in the place you had spent all to find.
When you laid down your gift, release came with such ease,
your treasure tumbling from your hands in awe and benediction.
Now the knowledge of your leaving comes like a stone laid over your heart,
the familiar path closed and not even the solace of a star to guide your way.
You will set out in fear. You will set out in dream. But you will set out by that other road that
lies in shadow and in dark.
We cannot show you the route that will take you home; that way is yours
and will be found in the walking.
But we tell you, you will wonder at how the light you thought you had left behind
goes with you, spilling from your empty hands, shimmering beneath your homeward feet,
illuminating the road with every step you take.
May it be so! Thanks be to God!
Affirmation of Faith (Apostle’s Creed)
As our response to the scriptures being read and proclaimed, let us affirm together what we believe by reciting together the Apostles Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Call for Offering:
“From the fullness of God, we have all received grace upon grace.”
Thank you everyone for continuing to send in your tithes and offerings to the church office. For the offerings that we have received this week, let us pray:
Prayer of Dedication:
As the Magi offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we too offer our gifts in gratitude, reverence, and thanksgiving for the birth of your child, whom you called to lead the world into fullness of life. Receive and bless this offering as a joyful sign of the boundless love and abundant life we are called to share in Christ. Amen.
Blessing Prayer (with Lord’s Prayer):
Like the wise men, we are all on a journey and a journey can be a time of mixed blessing. There is the excitement of new places, the uncertainties of travel, and the curiosity of new sounds, tastes, and languages. But above all, there is an abandonment to the movement, fast or slow, chaotic or tranquil, comfy and safe, or challenging and transforming. So much of our experience is shaped by our openness to receive the various blessings of what we encounter on the road. So, on this Epiphany morning, receive this blessing for your journey through 2021 and beyond. The response is “May it be so”!
As you make your journey into this new year may you experience hidden blessing of this year in sound: in holy words, healing songs, sincere greetings, and in the music of nature. May it be so!
As you travel your road to the “epiphanies” that await you, may you be open to the hidden blessings of this year in touch: the feel of wind, snow, rain, and sun on your face, the comfort of a cup of coffee or tea, and a well-worn quilt. May it be so!
As you discover the landscapes of the month unfolding before you, may you be receptive to the hidden blessings of this year in sight: passages of light and dark, the appearances of stars, vistas of pure prairie, plain, mountain, the thrill of bright fires, the comfort of a single flame. May it be so!
As you move, fast or slow, through your journey before you, may you be open to the blessings of this year hidden in other people: the presence of those who are in need, the quiet company of those who sustain you, the celebrations of your family and friends, and in the less-visible need of those who find these times hard to endure. May it be so!
As you strive again to find your way to Bethlehem: may you find the hope that uplifts you; may you discover the generosity that improves you; may you cultivate the patience that gentles you; and may you spend time with the Spirit that make the journey possible. We offer all these blessings in the name of the one who taught us the prayer that we now pray together:
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. 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.
Hear these words again from the poem:
“We, (the wise men) cannot show you the route that will take you home; that way is yours and will be found in the walking. But we tell you, you will wonder at how the light you thought you had left behind goes with you, spilling from your empty hands, shimmering beneath your homeward feet, illuminating the road with every step you take.”
On this Epiphany, the light is here, guiding us and leading us. Where will it take you this year? I am so grateful for all of you. Have a great week and Happy New Year!
Here is your virtual hug.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord be kind and gracious to you.
May the Lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace.
God’s Shalom! Today and every day! Amen.