Hope at Christmas (click here)
St ANDREW’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
December 27, 2020 First Sunday after Christmas
LIGHTING OF THE CHRIST CANDLE
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light for unto us a Child is born.
- Thank you Rev. Shirley Cochrane for leading our worship at St. Andrew's today. May God grant us an understanding of His Word and bring us Hope as we look forward to a new year.
- Rev. Colin G. Harris sends his greetings to St. Andrew's, especially those who remember him. It was 40 years ago this past summer that Colin came to us as a student minister and he remarked to John and Janet in his Christmas letter that it was the best summer of his life. How could it not be, right? If you wish to see what Colin is up to these days, in Northern Ireland, you can check out this web-page: scarvastreet.com
- And speaking of Northern Ireland St. Andrew's wishes Dean Frazer and Samantha Boyd a very Happy and Healthy New Year. God bless you both and thank you for checking in on us online. One of Dean's cheesecakes would be good right about now.
- On New Year's Eve we invite you to join us for a virtual prayer meeting, as we lament for what 2020 has brought and pray with hope for 2021.
- As we reflect on the past year let us be mindful of the grace of God that has brought us safely to this point in time. May we come before the Lord with grateful and generous hearts, full of praise and thanksgiving.
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come in this service to God
In our need and bringing the needs of the world
We come to God who comes to us in Jesus
And who knows by experience what human life is like
We come with our faith and our doubts
We come with our hopes and fears
We come to worship the newborn child
We come as we are because it is God who has invited us
And has promised never to turn us away
HYMN 135 Christians awake – Salute the happy morn (click the blue text for YouTube music, sorry there may be advertising)
God of grace and glory, we praise you from the heights and from the depths.
in the heavens, on earth and from the seas; in the courts of power and from the sidewalks of our lives. Your splendour shines from a manger, where the Light of the world was born to pierce the darkness. In fragile of flesh, you are revealed to us face to face
Thank You, dear Lord, for the greatest gift, your own Son Jesus, given for us at great cost and with great love. We thank You for the opportunity to worship You with exceedingly great joy, generosity, and love each year. Although we cannot gather face to face with all people in every place who have glimpsed your salvation and grace, we are together in spirit to rejoice in your love born for us. In the light of that love, we confess before you ….
UNISON PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Source of all hope, you invite us to live in the light and discover the splendour of your glory. We confess we often choose to remain in the darkness. We allow our fears and hurts to hold us hostage. Our expectations of life prevent us from seeing new and real possibilities. You offer us unconditional love, but we expect others to earn our love. Forgive us. May the new life born in the manger awaken new life in us and allow hope to dawn in the year ahead. In Jesus name. AMEN
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
People of God, through the coming of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate The Lord has comforted us and redeemed us. In Christ we receive the salvation of our God. Glory to God in the highest!
The peace of Christ be with you and all who dwell with you
HYMN 161 What Child is this
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
SERMON: Hope at Christmas
Holy God send us your Spirit to open our minds and hearts to receive your truth through Christ, your Word made flesh.
When we began the Christmas season, we lit a candle named Hope. Hope is an orientation toward the future: the world is going somewhere, and hope is the means by which it gets there. Hope is something which changes our innermost way of, not just seeing, but also of understanding. The Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault in her book called Mystical Hope defines hope as an abiding state of being. We are not the source of hope, but hope is an incredible deep connection with the source of creation – that is- the love of God.
The innate longing of the human heart is for something outside itself, something transcendent, something “other.” The author of Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God’s placing of "eternity in man’s heart." God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our desire for eternity, therefore it has been said that within each of us there is a “God shaped hole” Just as a square peg cannot fill a round hole, neither can the “God-shaped hole” inside each of us be filled by anyone or anything other than God. Only through a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ can the “God-shaped hole” be filled and the desire for eternity fulfilled, and mystical hope marks our deepest connection with the Lord
Six days ago, we marked the day as the “winter solstice” ... the shortest day and longest night in the northern hemisphere. From here on, each day gets a little lighter by 3 minutes until the spring equinox and onward to the Summer Solstice.
This same day also saw a rare solar happening when the planets Saturn and Jupiter were in so close an alignment they appeared as one. From astronomical records – the last time this occurred was about 800 years ago. Yet another theory comes forward that this phenomenon may have been the very same astrological occurrence which led the wise men to worship the Christ child. Hence it has been dubbed the “Christmas Star”
The solstice and the "Christmas Star’ give a coronavirus-weary world two potent symbols of hope and reminders of a universe that marches ever onward to its own beat which no virus can stop.
For centuries Israel clung to the hope that a Messiah would come in power and pomp to reclaim the throne of David - one who would re-establish the Nation. This Old Testament promise was embodied in the Messiah, the anointed one sent by God to deliver his people from oppression. As well, the promised Deliverer would deliver his people from the oppression of sin. The deliverance would be spiritual rather than simply political. The Messiah would be the consolation – the comfort - of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah in particular emphasized the Messiah’s role as the consolation of Israel. wrote, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” In chapter 40, verse 10, Isaiah identifies the one who would bring comfort, that is, consolation, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
As we come to the close of another year and the embark on the year 2021, it’s only natural for people to take look back at what the last 12 months has entailed. And maybe you’re thinking, “2020 – what a year it has been!” I certainly feel that way.
Our story today occurs in the life of Mary, Joseph and Jesus about a month and a half after that momentous birth in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
I can only imagine that, as Mary and Joseph travel the six miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, they may have had a similar conversation, “What a year it has been!” Just think, 12 months ago, Mary and Joseph were engaged and starting to plan their wedding and looking forward to beginning their married lives together. Then plans were abruptly interrupted by an angel delivering some startling news – pregnant by the Holy Spirit, a baby, the Son of God, Savior of the world. Mary spent 3 months with her relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then returned home to Nazareth where she and Joseph began to prepare for the birth of their child. Then came the mandate of the Roman government. that forced them to make the 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary had given birth to Jesus in less-than-ideal circumstances. Yes, Mary and Joseph may have looked at one another and with a slight smile on their face saying, “What a year this has been!”
Luke’s gospel continues on the other side of Christmas. There are no angels, shepherds nor stars this time. Yet, these few verses in Luke allow us to glimpse the depth of Mary and Joseph's faith. They were deeply involved in the religious life and rituals of their Jewish faith. They brought Jesus up in the context of the temple and synagogues. Worship, sacrifice, prayer, study, discussion and fellowship were all a part of Jesus' life. These factors shaped him and molded Jesus' relationship with God.
Jesus is being presented in the temple for dedication to God, since He is the first-born child. Mary is also coming to the temple for a sacrifice of purification. Childbirth rendered a woman as unclean. 40 days was the time appointed before the sacrifice could be made that renders her clean again.
It is here that we have evidence Joseph and Mary were poor, at least at that time in their life, because they brought the sacrifice of two pigeons or turtledoves. That was the sacrifice allowed for the poor. Had they been of means, a lamb would have been required.
An elderly priest, Simeon described as a man who was righteous and devout, is in the temple. He has received a promise from God that He will not die until He personally sees the Messiah. We are not told when or how the Holy Spirit revealed this to Simeon. Nevertheless, this revelation to Simeon must have encouraged him tremendously and given him mystical hope. As Mary and Joseph enter the temple, once again the Holy Spirit guides him to the place where they are standing. Overcome with joy, Simeon takes baby Jesus in his arms, and says those words we know so well,
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon cares deeply about the people of God, Israel. His concern is heightened by the distressing circumstances in which the nation finds itself at that time, chafing under the brutal occupation of the hated Roman Empire. This oppression caused the nation of Israel to long even more for the deliverance that is promised to them by God in the Old Testament.
After he finishes his song of praise, Simeon blesses Joseph and Mary. Then he says directly to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” (2:34-35).
In his great mercy God addresses these words through Simeon to Mary so that she would prepare herself for what is to come. Apparently, Joseph would not be around to witness the hostility that would come to Jesus. In fact, after the incident at Passover, when Jesus was twelve years old, (Luke 2:41-52,) we never hear of Joseph again. Presumably, Joseph died before Jesus began his ministry.
Simeon sees the end in the beginning. He sees the completion of the salvation of God. There is also a woman, Anna. She too is aged, lives in the temple, and is always praying and fasting. When she sees Jesus what joy, what delight, what blessing floods her heart as she holds the tiny infant. Anna tells anyone and everyone who are looking for the redemption of Israel about this Jesus. She too, sees the Messiah and by faith, recognizes the end in the beginning.
But do you realize that we actually have more reason to believe that Jesus is the promised Deliverer than did Simeon and Anna? You see, we know about Jesus’ perfect life. We know about his death. We know about his resurrection. We know about his ascension into heaven. Simeon knew none of this.
And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40)
As we head into the beginning of New Year, it might be advantageous for us to stop and review how we nurture our faith. In what ways do we open ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the Celtic world there is a deep connection to the rhythms of the natural world. As we watch for the return of the sun’s light, so we long for a greater shining of Christ’s light within us and in our world. In this season of the longest night of the year, we hold both the pain and struggle of humanity, as well as the beauty of our strength and courage in coming together. May our solidarity and oneness bring us into greater awareness of the Light in the heart of all of creation. With Simeon and Anna, we too are filled with Mystical Hope. we too are standing on the other side of Christmas. And Christ is born, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.
HYMN 137 Born in the night
In the season of Christmas, we celebrate God’s gifts to us in Christ Jesus and express our love for each other in the gifts we exchange. Our gifts today express our love for God and our gratitude for all we have received in love this year.
Good and gracious God, your love overflows in the goodness we have met even in this challenging year. As one-year closes and another begins, help us trust your goodness. Bless the gifts we bring to you so that they may provide others with the hope we know in Christ Jesus and the love you share with the world through him.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of love, as we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, our Saviour, we are filled with thanks. Our gratitude overflows in prayers for our world, the world you love.
We pray for all children. Guard their minds, protect their bodies, strengthen their characters, and give them joy. Help them look to the future with hope and trust.
We pray for the most aged among us, those whom Simeon and Anna bring to mind. Protect them in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and reassure them of their value to you and to us, even when we cannot meet together.
We pray for those whose hearts are filled with pain and fear. We pray for those for whom Christmas is linked with loss or grief. (Keep a time of silence) Surround each one with a strong sense of your comforting presence.
We pray for those who do not have enough to eat, and for those who lack adequate shelter in our community and in desperate corners of the world… may we be agents of hope…
For those who eat alone, without the comfort of human contact…
and for those whose hearts and lives have been broken by trauma and loss,
and for those who struggle with the many costs of the pandemic.
(Keep a time of silence) Surround each one with a strong sense of your comforting presence.
We pray for family members and friends, those nearby and those we could not meet with this year. (Keep a time of silence) Remind them of your steadfast love, and to any who are struggling this season, O God, give your gift of peace. We give you thanks for the people who continue to care for us and care about us.
God who is the Great Physician, There are so many in your world who need spiritual and mental healing as well as physical healing. Deep fear and confusion abound with the spread of false information and conspiracy theories. We pray for those caught fast in both the distribution and in the net of believing that which is far from the truth. May your truth and justice overcome evil.
As the year draws to a close, we surrender to you, O God, the challenges it has held for us so that they will not remain as burdens. Remind us of the good things that have offered us encouragement in times of isolation. Give us courage and wisdom for the year ahead.
We pray for a spirit of co-operation and understanding among leaders in our communities, nations and the world as they seek ways to recover in the face of the global pandemic.
We pray that our leaders will have wisdom and generosity of spirit for the decisions they must make on our behalf.
Guide scientists working to produce vaccines against COVID-19; and support all those essential workers whose faithfulness to their responsibilities helps us all cope in these difficult days.
Though 2020 was a difficult year for every country in the world, we pray for the ability to see the blessings of the past year, mourn the sorrows we experienced, and look to 2021 with hope and open hearts.
Grant us all the hope, joy and peace we find through trusting you, as we pray together the words Jesus taught us:
The Lord’s Prayer
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 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,
HYMN 166 – Once in royal David’s city
CHARGE AND BENEDICTION
The joy of the angels
The eagerness of the shepherds
The perseverance of the Magi
The obedience of Mary and Joseph
and the peace of the Christ child
be yours this Christmas
Go forth in holy hope.
The Blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you
And remain with you always
SUNG BLESSING: EMMANUEL, EMMANUEL