EPIPHANY

January 2022 – Sunday after Epiphany

This short act of worship has been prepared for you. I invite you to share in a few moments with God, knowing that other people within Paulton, Trinity and Chew Stoke Methodist Churches are sharing this act of worship with you.

Revd Martin Slocombe

Camels

Hymn – Brightest and best of the sons of the morning

   1      Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
           dawn on our darkness, and lend us your aid;
           star of the east, the horizon adorning,
           guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

   2      Cold on his cradle the dew-drops are shining;
           low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
           angels adore him in slumber reclining,
           Maker, and Monarch, and Saviour of all.

   3      Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
           odours of Edom, and offerings divine,
           gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
           myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?

   4      Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
           vainly with gifts would his favour secure;
           richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
           dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

   5      Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
           dawn on our darkness, and lend us your aid;
           star of the east, the horizon adorning,
           guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Reginald Heber (1783–1826)

Introduction

Last Thursday marked the feast of the Epiphany.  Not only is it the day when we take our Christmas decorations down, but it is when we think about the visit of the Wise Men to the manger.

They travelled to an unknown destination, following a star to an encounter with God, who then spoke to them in a dream, and they changed their plans, and went home by a different route.

The dictionary definition of Epiphany is “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi” and/or “a moment of sudden and great revelation”.

What does this revelation of God to us gentiles mean for us today?

Prayer of adoration & confession

God the Father, who calls us to set forth upon our journey of faith:
Christ the Son who journeys with us:
Holy Spirit who inspires us for the road ahead:
We worship and adore you.
 

By a heavenly sign you called them, those seekers who crossed sands and rivers and rocky places to find you.
We praise you for the example of their perseverance in their pilgrimage to prove the truth of their observations.
So, Lord, we thank you for calling us to the pilgrimage of this New Year; for the journey we must make through it, and for the inner journeys into our faith and spirituality and the epiphanies they will bring.
We set out in faith.
Amen.

Lord, we are dwellers in darkness, and are often content to stay there.
We confess that we are not always seekers after signs, nor do we actively pursue your guiding light.  Forgive us for dwelling on the darkness of our lives.
Let your star blaze anew in our vision, that we may follow where you lead, our hope rekindled, our strength renewed.

As the festive lights are dimming, you blaze into our darkness and dazzle us with hope.
You reach out your hand and raise us up.
And you bind us in this active forgiveness that encourages, and inspires, and urges us onwards.

May we continue to seek, to follow and to find you in unexpected places.
Amen.

Readings

Isaiah 60:1-6 - The Ingathering of the Dispersed

60Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you. 
3 Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 
4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
   they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
   and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
   your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
   the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
   the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
   all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
   and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Matthew 2:1-12 - The Visit of the Wise Men

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Song – Wise Men

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pppy7thsK08

Post-Christmas correspondence from a shepherd to a traveller from the East

Dear Melchior,
Greetings from all of us.

We trust you made the journey home safely and didn’t run into any of Herod’s lot because terrible things happened after you left! When you and your friends didn’t report back to him after your visit to Bethlehem, he went totally berserk. His soldiers went from house to house looking for any boy child who looked the right age. Terrible! All those angelic glad tidings and now this.

Will this killing madness ever end? Always the children, always the little people coming off worst. We wept. God must weep, too. The town is inconsolable. In the meantime, thankfully, Joseph and Mary got away by the skin of their teeth, but they had precious little between them and she was washed out before they set off.

Egypt, they said. I saw Joseph wrap your gifts tightly into his cloak. The gold will be a Godsend. Who knows who they might have to bribe and how much money they will need to see them through. Will we ever see them again?

I‘ve done a lot of thinking about our chance meeting in that cow shed. What a picture we will make someday! Will anyone believe it? You and I at opposite ends of the world. You and all your learning and wealth, me and my flock and a smattering of country wisdom – what a combination we might make! And me, a weathered old Jew who hasn’t been to synagogue in a decade, and you with your oriental head in the heavens trying to read God’s mind. And just look at what brought us together! A baby in a hay box. No, nobody will ever believe it, will they? You know, you couldn’t make it up if you tried. Well, could you?

But I can’t get that child out of my mind, not that I would want to. I keep wondering if anything has changed or do we just go back – me to the hills and you to your stars? I guess we just have to wait to find out, but I do know that nothing I ever saw in my life made me ask as many questions. What did we see, Melchior? You are the wise one. Do you think we really were looking into the face of God, you and me? Why us?

I haven’t told my wife yet, well, not the whole story. She knows the bit about leaving the sheep to wander – spot of bother over that. How do you tell anyone that you think you may have seen, even touched, the Saviour of the world?

This time next year, Melchior, it may all be old news but I won’t ever, can’t ever, forget.

Your friend, Jethro, (third shepherd from the left).

Reflection

The Wise Men always feature with the shepherds in our nativity scenes, and this fictional letter from Jethro to Melchior also assumes that they were around the manger together.  But that may not be historically correct.  It is thought that the Wise Men may have arrived up to 2 years after the shepherds.  They needed perseverance on their long journey.  The camels signify the importance of travelling resolutely but slowly.

Modern communications now demand an instant response.  If we send an email we expect a response immediately, whereas when our parents wrote a letter they would be lucky to get a response within a week.  Travelling slowly is no longer acceptable.

As many of you know, I will be away from April to June this year on my sabbatical.  For part of that, I am planning to walk the pilgrimage route of St James, called The Camino, from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella in Spain – about 780km.  I am planning to walk at least 15km a day, but the joy of having this amount of time away from my normal responsibilities is that the journey can take as long as it takes (within reason!).  I am reading a book written by someone walking the Camino who starts off trying to walk as far as he can each day, but soon realises that he has to do “a little less walking and little more growing” if he is to get the most out of the experience.  The journey is not about how fast you walk, but how much you grow whilst doing so.

And so, I am not going to worry about how long it took for the Wise Men to reach Bethlehem, or whether they met the shepherds, or not.  That is not important.  The important thing is how much they grew in faith and understanding during their journey, following an unexpected star to an unknown destination, and their response to the revelation of God when they got there.

The Epiphany moment occurs when they arrive at the stable, gaze into the manger, and see the face of God in the face of a baby – a moment of sudden and great revelation.  As Jethro writes,

“And just look at what brought us together! A baby in a hay box”.

A revelation is a surprising disclosure of something previously unknown.  And what could be more surprising than to meet God in a baby, born in a cold and draughty stable?

New Year is a time to reflect on our faith journey, to recognise the importance of taking our time as we travel towards our destination, and to ensure that we grow in the process.  We do so as we take the time to learn of God’s love for us, and recognise his active presence in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.  We do so as we allow God to reveal himself to us in new and amazing ways.  We do so as we realise that the path of faith stretches unendingly before us, a marathon not a sprint, but is a source of constant new revelation and surprise.

We must travel with the expectation that God will reveal Godself to us.  That may be in unexpected places or through unexpected people, but if we do not expect that to happen, there is little point in setting out on the journey in the first place.  We grow and flourish as disciples when we take the time to recognise God in the world and the people around us.  But we fail if we rush off with no clear shining star to guide us or to give us a sense of direction.

What journey are we on?  Where have I been and where am I going?  How will I grow as I travel onwards? What do I hope for? These are all questions that we can reflect upon as we start 2022.

Questions for reflection:-

1 – what will I take away from today’s journey of worship;

2 – what am I looking forward to in the coming year;

3 – what do I hope for in the coming year

And most importantly, am I open to an unexpected revelation of God’s presence in my life?

Amen

Prayers for others

Loving God, we remember the wise men and their gifts.
As we think of gold, we thank you for all that we have, for our possessions, for the money in our bank accounts and the security that gives us;
and we pray  
for those who have gone into debt in order to celebrate Christmas,
for those whose income is insecure as a result of the Covid pandemic,
and for those who can’t afford to adequately heat their homes.

As we think of frankincense, we thank you 
for our church and for all places of worship,
for those who help us find peace in our hearts, and for those who enable us to know your holiness;
and we pray for our churches and the churches of our community, and for the wider Circuit as we pray for our church in Keynsham and for Jane, their Minister; and for Kingswood School 

As we think of myrrh, we thank you for the death and resurrection of Jesus,
and we pray for those who care for the dying and the bereaved, and for those who grieve lost time and lost opportunities.

We pray for all those who are suffering at this time, and those from Covid, and for all who mourn loved ones at this time.
Lord of light: Bring hope into the darkness. 

May the wisdom of the wise men inspire us to continue to seek your light and love, and to offer you our gifts, that you may use us to build your kingdom.
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us

 

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 trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power, and the glory

for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

Hymn - As with gladness men of old

   1      As with gladness men of old
           did the guiding star behold,
           as with joy they hailed its light,
           leading onward, beaming bright,
           so, most gracious Lord, may we
           evermore be led to thee.

   2      As with joyful steps they sped,
           Saviour, to thy lowly bed,
           there to bend the knee before
           thee, whom heaven and earth adore,
           so may we with willing feet
           ever seek thy mercy-seat.

   3      As they offered gifts most rare
           at thy cradle rude and bare,
           so may we with holy joy,
           pure, and free from sin’s alloy,
           all our costliest treasures bring,
           Christ, to thee, our heavenly King.

   4      Holy Jesus, every day
           keep us in the narrow way;
           and, when earthly things are past,
           bring our ransomed souls at last
           where they need no star to guide,
           where no clouds thy glory hide.

   5      In the heavenly country bright
           need they no created light;
           thou its light, its joy, its crown,
           thou its sun which goes not down;
           there for ever may we sing
           alleluias to our King.

William Chatterton Dix (1837–1898)

 

Blessing

God of hope, Jesus our companion, Holy Spirit our strength, travel with us as we journey onwards into paths known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar, always knowing that you are by our side.

Amen

Gold Frankinsense & Myrrh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CCLI Licence 354889


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