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Writer, Retreat Leader, Resource Creator
(For the new year, I am switching my order of scriptures; I will follow the order used by Vanderbilt Library and place the Epistle reading before the Gospel reading)
Since Epiphany is January 6th, I will include both readings for January 5th and January 6th to use:
Revised Common Lectionary January 5th: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
Epiphany Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
In our readings for January 5th, Jeremiah sings a song of joy of the return from exile. The remnant that shall be saved is full of hope—women in labor and with young children. New life is flourishing. God is with them as a father to his children, and as a shepherd, God is gathering them all together and leading them back to Zion. Young women and men shall dance and be full of joy along with the elderly. God will lead them home and they will know that the Lord is their God. There will be no more weeping and mourning.
Psalm 147:12-20 contains a blessing for Jerusalem, blessing the children that live there and blessings of peace for all who reside within the city. God blesses the people with the seasons and the harvest. God has given the people the statutes and ordinances, the commandments of long ago to live by, and the people of Israel know God because they follow God’s ways. This is a unique relationship God has with the people, and the responsibility of this unique relationship is in the covenant with Israel.
Ephesians 1:3-14 proclaims that all have become children of God through Jesus Christ, and that all have redemption and the forgiveness of sins according to God’s grace. In Christ we have an inheritance, the promise of eternal life. We set our hope on Christ, who will gather up all things in heaven and on earth in him.
John 1:1-18 is the poetic beginning to John’s Gospel, and a poetic description of the Incarnation, the Word Becoming Flesh. While John’s Gospel does not contain a birth narrative, this is appropriate to read during the Christmas season, reminding us of the reason for Jesus coming to us, that God sent Jesus to be light and life in our world, showing us the true light from God. Jesus makes known the fullness of God, and it is Jesus who reveals who God is to the world: light, and love.
Our Epiphany Readings begin with the image of light in Isaiah 60:1-6: The light for the people who have been in the darkness of exile has come. The light will draw other nations to them, and not only that, but for the exiles, they will become light to the world, for the world will see the glory of God through them. From verse 6, our common image of the Magi, the visitors to Jesus in Matthew 1:1-12, comes. Though Matthew does not mention camels, our imaginations for the last two thousand years have drawn an image from this verse, which mentions that the nations drawn to the light of Israel will bring frankincense and myrrh, two of the three gifts brought to Jesus by the Magi. But looking at this passage alone without Matthew’s vague reference, we recognize the hope for the people of Israel, and that by their faithfulness to God, even through the darkest of times, their light will come—which is God—and in turn, they will become the light that nations are drawn to.
Psalm 72:1-7 is a song of blessing for a new king, one who leads in God’s ways, who lifts up the poor and needy and delivers the oppressed. The psalmist seeks God’s blessing for the king that he will lead with God’s righteousness and that peace will prevail. This is a king who cares for all the people, especially those who are in need the most.
Ephesians 3:1-12 proclaims that the mystery of Christ has now been revealed to the people: that Jesus was sent for all people, Jews and Gentiles. Grace has been given to all people by God through Jesus the Christ, and this was God’s eternal purpose, that all people would be drawn unto God. The message is for all people, and the mystery of Christ needs to be revealed to all people by the sharing of the Good News, the Gospel.
Matthew 2:1-12 contains the visit of the Magi; strangers from the east—foreigners—drawn to this newborn king. There are many themes in this passage: echoes back to Isaiah 60 of nations being drawn to the light in Israel; outsiders who help reveal the Good News to those inside; that there is understanding of God’s plan for salvation outside of Israel, and therefore also outside of Scripture (the “star” being observed by these astrologers or magi would indicate other understandings/teachings outside of the Bible as known at that time). There is also the theme of fear: there is fear of the unknown by Herod, and therefore this fear leads to misunderstanding that this new king would not be an earthly king.
The Incarnation: God living and dwelling among us as fully human as us—is still a mystery. This mystery continues to be revealed to us. What we know is this: the Word became Flesh and lived among us. God’s love is for all, Jews and Gentiles, and that when we try to limit God’s grace, we may find ourselves not understanding, and it may be those we have pushed to the margins who receive God’s grace and experience the revelation of God more fully. For us who follow Christ, we need to be clear that we can be the ones on the inside pushing others out if we are not careful, and thereby not understanding, and reacting out of fear.
Call to Worship:
The days are beginning to grow longer
The Light of the World is Jesus
Hopes for the New Year are blooming
The Light of the World is Jesus
Even though it is still dark early, even though it is not time yet to plant,
The Light of the World is Jesus
The Light of Jesus is the Light of all people
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!
We join together in worship to be light to the world!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, forgive us when we have set boundaries where you have set no borders. Forgive us when we include some and exclude others. Forgive us when we feel we are so in the right that we hurt and marginalize others. Call us away from closing gates and instead, keep us to the path of opening doors for all to enter Your love, grace, and freedom. In the name of Jesus, who came to break down all ways and open all doors in the name of love, we pray, Amen.
Blessing/Assurance of Pardon
When you have felt pushed down and kept out, God comes to lift you up and see you safely across. God has given you the promise of new life in Christ, and that gift cannot be kept from you. God’s love is for you, through Jesus the Christ. Accept God’s love, and live. Amen.
Holy God, we enter the dawning of this near year with hope, and perhaps some fear. We are afraid nothing will change and we will just continue on, but we hope for something new. God, help us to live without fear. Guide us to embrace Your new life with joy, knowing that Your promises are new every morning. Help us to leave fear behind, and to embrace forgiveness, peace, and hope. In the name of Christ, who leads us into life, we pray. Amen.