Worship Resources for New Year’s Sunday can be found here.
Revised Common Lectionary:
Second Sunday of Christmas: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: (1-9), 10-18
Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Narrative Lectionary: Boy in the Temple, Luke 2:41-52 (Psalm 2:7-8)
The Hebrew Scripture selection for the second Sunday of the Christmas season is the prophet Jeremiah’s vision of God gathering the remnant of Israel from the first exile of the northern tribes. God has not forgotten them, nor has God forgotten the other marginalized among them, including people with disabilities that would have been left behind. God will lead them home, for God has become a parent to them, Ephraim (a name associated with the northern kingdom of Israel) like God’s firstborn. Jeremiah envisions a time of celebration and rejoicing as all the exiles return home to Zion.
Psalm 147:12-20 is a song of praise and blessing for Jerusalem, that there would be peace within its borders. God is the one who provides for the harvest, and in the psalmist’s view, provides the weather. God is also the one who declares the law and ordinances, and what God will do to the people. No other nation knows God the way Israel knows God and God’s ways.
The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians is an introduction to the writer’s understanding of Christ’s role in their Jewish tradition and understanding. Scholars debate whether Ephesians was written by Paul or is taken from an earlier letter of Paul. In the writer’s view, all may become children of God by adoption through the grace of Jesus Christ. In Christ, all have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. God’s will was made known through Jesus Christ, and all who believe have obtained an inheritance through Christ as God’s own people.
The Gospel According to John begins with the Word. The writer of John sets Jesus as the Word (Logos), at the very beginning of creation with God, as the light of the world, the Word that became flesh and lived among us. John introduces John the Baptist to us at the beginning, the one who came before to testify to the light. Verse 10 focuses on the Light being in the world, but the world didn’t know the Light as Jesus, nor did his own people accept him. But to all who believed, they became known as children of God. John testified to the Light, the Word that became flesh and lived among us. While the law was known through Moses, according to the writer of John, grace and truth were made known through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God, but the Son has made God known, for the Son is close to the Father’s heart.
The readings for Epiphany begin with the prophet Isaiah’s declaration to the people who have come out of exile in chapter 60. “Arise, shine, your light has come!” For a people who had been in darkness (an image Isaiah uses multiple times, including 9:2), the light has come. God’s glory is their light, but then the people themselves are called to shine their light, for nations are drawn to them. The exile has ended, and the people are returning home. Leaders and nations are drawn to the brightness of their new beginning, and even the wealth of nations, brought on camels, will come to the people.
Psalm 72 calls for God’s blessing on a new king, to judge righteously, to rule with justice and equity. The psalmist charges the king in God’s presence with defending the cause of the poor and delivering the needy, crushing the hand of the oppressor. Later in the psalm, the psalmist calls upon other nations to pay the new king tribute, to bring gifts and offer service, for surely the new king will lift up the cause of the poor and needy and defend them from oppression.
The writer of Ephesians purports to be Paul, although most scholars believe the letter we have to the Ephesians is taken from an earlier letter of Paul’s and edited. In this chapter, the writer explains the mystery of Christ, revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles are now co-inheritors of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. This is the gospel the writer was given to share: the mystery hidden for the ages is now revealed, in accordance with God’s eternal purpose through Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-12 is the story of the visit of the magi to Jesus. These magi from the east traveled to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea and the seat of King Herod and asked where had been born the king of the Jews. The magi had observed his star at its rising, suggesting they were astrologers. The chief priests and scribes were called by Herod to search the scriptures to learn where the Messiah was to be born, and sent the magi on to Bethlehem, where they followed the star to the place where the child lay. They were overcome with joy and brought gifts for the child and were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to go home by another way.
The Narrative Lectionary follows the story of Jesus in Luke’s account, now a twelve-year-old boy in Luke 2:41-52. When his family pilgrimaged to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus stayed behind in the temple as his parents returned home. They made it a day out of the city before they realized Jesus wasn’t with them, and went back to search for him. He was found in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions, and those who heard him were amazed. His parents were shocked, worried sick about him, and Mary said that his father and her had been looking for him. However, Jesus responded, “Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but Jesus returned home with them and obeyed them.
Psalm 2:7-8 is part of a song of God’s anointed king. Kings were referred to as God’s sons, and in this psalm, the psalmist sings of how everything on the earth will belong to the son of God, the king ruling and anointed by God.
Epiphany means “revelation.” In the traditional story found in Matthew 2:1-12, it is the magi, wise ones from outside of Israel who reveal that a messiah, a new king, has been born. We must be careful in our reading and interpretation to understand that Jesus was not born to be king of the Jewish people—that is a claim that the magi make from their point of view, not anyone else. Instead, the story shows us that holding on to power makes us afraid of losing it. Both the stories of Christmas and the words of John’s gospel have been used to fuel antisemitism. Christians must be aware of this and pay attention to how we read and interpret these scriptures, understanding that both the writer of Matthew and John’s gospel accounts were Jewish themselves. Instead, we might look to these scriptures, where the Magi see something Herod and others do not, and where John writes about Jesus’ own people not accepting him with a new understanding. We might look at times we have not accepted other Christians, or not accepted where Jesus is leading us to new understandings and insights. For Epiphany, we may look at places where we have failed to recognize what God is revealing to us, and look to the voices on the outside that continue to speak the truth against the systems and structures of power that we often hold on to so dear, to hold on to our own power over others.
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 60:1-2)
Arise, shine, your light has come!
The glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
Darkness has covered the earth,
But the Lord has risen upon us.
A new day, a new year, a new moment is here.
Come and worship, Come and worship,
Worship Christ the newborn king!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, O God, that it is hard to be hopeful when there is so much pain and sorrow in the world. We confess, O God, that we keep our heads down and fail to envision where You are at work in our world and lives in a new way. We fail to perceive You, even as You are revealed to the world. Be revealed to us, O God, in new and uplifting ways. May hope and joy be revealed to us long after the ornaments and lights are put away for another year. May Your justice, mercy, and love be revealed to us when we so desperately need it. Be revealed in our hearts, O God, so that we might break open Your light into the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray that all things will be revealed. Amen.
As the magi revealed Christ to the world, God’s love is revealed in us by others who love us. Let yourself be loved. Let yourself be cared for. Let yourself break down and cry when you need to. Let others lift you up. Know God’s love is in the words of assurance from friends, the listening ear, the shoulder to cry on. Know God’s love is with you when you love one another and care for them as well. Go and share God’s love. Amen.
God of the Ages, we have faced difficult times in this past year. Remind us of how You cared for Your people when they were oppressed in Egypt, when they were lost in the wilderness. Remind us of how Your love was made known to the exiles in Babylon, and how You made their joy complete as they returned home. As we prepare to return from an exile, remind us that it took years for our ancestors in the faith, and it may take longer than we expect to return from this exile. Prepare our hearts, O God, to love one another more deeply than we did before. Prepare our minds, O God, to pursue justice more heartily than we did before. Prepare our bodies, O God, to embrace and care for each other in ways that honor boundaries and protect each other, but also offer the nurturing touch that many of us need. Prepare us, O God, to love and care for each other as You have loved and cared for us in this time of exile. We look to our future with hope in this coming year, knowing You are with us, every moment, as we wait. Amen.