2ND JANUARY 2022
EPIPHANY & COVENANT SERVICE
OPENING SENTENCE OF SCRIPTURE
Kings bow down before him; all the nations do him service.
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 Sue Turner
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, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
For the wisdom that guides us
we praise you O God.
Reading from the prophets
ISAIAH 60: 1-6
read by Robyn Brotherston
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.
MATTHEW 2: 1-12
read by Reverend Ann Wren
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.
Sorting through the stack of Christmas Cards that arrived at my house in December, I noted that all kinds of symbols have edged their way into the celebration. There are the traditional snowy landscape scenes, usually with the added touch of a horse drawn sleigh. On other cards animals abound, not only reindeer, but dogs and cats. Angels have made a huge comeback in recent years and Hallmark now feature them prominently, though as demure, cuddly looking things, not the type who would ever need to announce fear not. The explicit religious cards focus on the Holy Family, and you can tell at a glance these folks are different. They seem unruffled and serene. Bright gold halos, like crowns from another world, hover just above their heads. For me this Christmas, the most popular Christmas card was that of the wise men, journeying on their camels to Bethlehem, again all is depicted as calm and smooth. Yet T.S Eliot’s description in his poem of the Magi, where they were struggling in all weathers, ready to give up, thought crazy by others, seems nearer the truth.
Today our focus this Epiphany Sunday is on the wise men, the magi. Epiphany itself falls on Thursday 6th January and is celebrated in various forms and styles across the world. What is it about Epiphany that captures the imagination and celebration of so many people? Here in the west, Epiphany is overshadowed by Christmas and Epiphany is almost lost. Would it matter if it was lost, what significance does it have anyway? I believe that Epiphany is important in our understanding of the Christ Child. There is a difference in our understanding of Christmas and of the Epiphany.
Let me first look briefly at Christmas. Through all the various stories of Christmas we bow down in awe that God would become human. It is to us incredible that God the creator of all should come to earth as a helpless babe. Something of this sense of awe and amazement comes through in J. B. Philips writings. He writes about a senior angel showing a very young angel around the splendour of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its own axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of all he had seen. I want you to watch that one in particular, said the senior angel, pointing with his finger. Well it looks rather small and dirty to me, said the little angel. What’s special about that one? Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should he do a thing like that? The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust – Do you mean to tell me, he said, that he stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball? I do and I don’t think that he would like you to call them those creeping crawling creatures in that tone of voice! For strange as it may seem, he loves them! He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like him. The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension. Christmas is all about celebrating the wonder of Jesus’ birth as man, it’s about the miracle of incarnation, the wonder of Jesus leaving all glory and majesty behind and becoming human. The emphasis of Christmas is on Jesus’ humanity!
The emphasis of Epiphany is on Jesus’ divinity. The word Epiphany means a showing forth, a divine manifestation or a revelation. The wise men when they saw the Christ Child, they had a moment of revelation- it was as though the curtain was drawn back, the veil moved from their eyes and they saw God. They saw his greatness, his divinity and worshipped him. Christmas speaks of Christ as the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, those prophecies that the Jews knew and understood.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the one the Jews had longed for and waited for. In many ways Christmas, Christ’s coming was for the Jews, but sadly they did not receive him. Epiphany gives us a broader perspective. Epiphany shows that Jesus is not just for the Jews! The wise men were probably Gentiles, and they received a revelation through astrology to visit this new King. Epiphany speaks powerfully of how Jesus came for the Gentiles- for all. He came to break down all barriers between Jews and Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are on equal footing-they too can share in God’s salvation. The Jews are no longer God’s chosen people- all humankind is God’s chosen people. This revelation changes everything for us. Epiphany is an inclusive feast- it is for all! Epiphany is where God’s light shines for all, and the wise men by their presence and worship revealed that to us.
Let’s stay with the wise men. Let’s look a little at the gifts they bring. The gifts that the magi bring are viewed as symbols, and perhaps we’re a bit too quick and slick in saying what they represent- Gold ‘for a king,’ Frankincense ‘for priest,’ and myrrh as a sign of suffering and death.
But the Bible tells the story without comment, and we find that the early Christian thinkers had a rich variety of ideas about the gifts. The gifts are in a symbolic story, and we mustn’t limit what they signify with a single ‘off the peg’ explanation. Perhaps, for instance, the gifts have something to do with the Trinity. After all, it’s St Matthew’s Gospel where we find this story, and Matthew sometimes uses the literary device of repeating a word or phrase or idea at the beginning and end of a passage to show that everything in between has been a unity.
In the story of the visit of the Magi we have Jesus’ very first appearance; people representing the wide world have come to him with three gifts. Now look to Jesus’ very last appearance: standing on the Galilean mountain, he sends the disciples out into the world to baptize people everywhere ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If we see the gold as a sign of God the Father, the creator, the pure source from which all things flow; and if we see the myrrh as a sign of God the Son, who embraces the pains and death of humanity, and comes to heal it; and if we see the incense as a sign of the Holy Spirit, pervading all things, blowing like wind where it wills – then we find that Jesus’ first and last appearances in the gospel speak of the Trinity, and of engagement with all of humanity, and the whole Gospel has been comprehended between these identical poles.
And here’s another suggestion: that these astrologers were laying down the substances used in their divinations, surrendering them to Christ; it isn’t what they give, but what they mean by the giving that matters. They are surrendering their life’s work, their system of belief, and their sacred tools, to the Lordship of Christ. Their divination had brought them to him in darkness and uncertainty; it had been a glimmer in the direction of truth. Now they see face to face, and having no need of divination any longer they present their tools in the worship of Christ. They give all they are and have in surrender to Christ.
Epiphany is all about revelation. Early Christian thinkers spoke about Christ revealing afresh the true splendour and full dignity of what humanity was created to be; he is the perfect image made manifest, and in seeing him we begin to enter upon our own healing and transformation. In encountering Christ, we see our calling and our identity. The Magi might be an image of that for us. They sought Christ and found him. In their encounter with him, they see God, and they loved him – each in a different way, each with a different gift to leave at his feet. Their lives are changed forever- they set off by a different route! They have changed after their encounter with God. they are new people!
So, for ourselves, as we seek Christ and have some sense of finding him, we too will find our lives are turned around. We too want to lay our gifts at his feet in worship and adoration. The gifts will differ for each of us -for one person, perhaps, the gift and use of money and resources in his name; for another, a life of sacrificial service to friend or stranger, for yet another the offering of intellect, for another his artistry or craft, yet another the discipline of prayer and contemplation. Gold, frankincense, myrrh – what are these gifts, these symbols? They are our sacrificial gifts of love and devotion to God.
As our Christmas Carol says: “What can I give him poor as a I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part, yet what I can him give him, give my heart.” The wise men gave their hearts and if we are wise, we too will give our hearts to Christ. As the wise men journeyed to find the Christ-Child, and had an Epiphany, a moment that shaped and changed their lives for ever, may we as we journey through 2022 have small epiphanies of Christ’s presence among us and like the wise men be spurred on in our faith, love and service. As we take down our Christmas cards may the ones with the wise men speak to us and cause us to celebrate this feast of Epiphany, when Christ was more fully known as human and divine. Amen
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 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
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen