Sunday 23rd January 2022

Welcome
Welcome to our service for the 23rd of January. As we worship we do so during the ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’. Today, we unite with fellow Christians throughout the world as we gather to pray for the visible unity of the Church. Led by the Middle East Council of Churches, our theme is inspired by the visit of the Magi to the new-born King, as described in the Gospel according to Matthew: “We observed his star in the East, and have come to pay him homage.” Let us look upon the star that was seen in the East and let it guide us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the ‘Light of the world’.

Call to worship (Psalm 8:1-2, 9) 
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

HYMN 127 O worship the King, all glorious above

(from Manchester Cathedral)

Prayer:

Let us pray:

We glorify you, O Lord, creator of heaven and earth, for you have set the lights in the sky. How majestic are your works, the heavens declare your glory and the skies proclaim the work of your hands!

We praise you for you did not abandon us despite our rebellion but sent your Son to brighten our darkness and be our light and our salvation. In him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. Your light continues to shines in the darkest of times.

We worship you, O Lord, for you journey with us in the chaos of our lives through the power of your Holy Spirit. You light up our paths and give us wisdom and faith in a world filled with fear and uncertainty.

We thank you, O Lord, for you send us into the world to bear witness to your light, in our various churches and diverse cultures, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, the one true King.

We confess that we have turned from your ways. We have not followed your light and guidance. We have not been the salt and light you redeemed us to be. We have not drawn others to you.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy

We have acted selfishly towards our brothers and sisters. We have put our own needs and desires above our commitment to justice. We have built walls between us and planted seeds of mistrust when you have called us to be instruments of reconciliation and hope.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy

We have divided people based on ethnicity and culture, vocation and education, wealth and titles, discriminating instead of celebrating difference.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy

Forgive all these thoughts and deeds, O Lord, as we come before you in repentance. Shine on our path by the light of Christ once again. Enlighten us and dwell within us.

Guide us to discover a manger in our hearts where your great light still shines.

Knowing we are forgiven, cleansed and filled with your light, empower us to walk a new path.

Heal our divisions and draw us closer to the Light that we may find our unity in you and thus shine forth your grace. Amen.

Scriptures:

Ephesians 5:8-14rr
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’


Matthew 2: 1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“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.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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.’ When 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Amen

HYMN 694 Brother, Sister, let me serve you

Reflection:

I would like to begin by sharing with you another Gospel passage, this time from that of John, where Jesus declares: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.(John 8:12)

One of the strange, and sometimes irritating, features of the lectionary is that it plays about with timelines. This partly explains why today we have returned to a reading that we heard not too many weeks ago in our preparations for Christmas. Today, though, we are being encouraged by this reading from Matthew’s Gospel to look beyond the light of a star and to the light to which it pointed – Jesus, the Light of the World.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus makes His bold claim of being the light of the world. Further, he does this right in front of the temple, during the festival of Tabernacles, when a great crowd would have been gathered. Some commentators go further, suggesting that Jesus made his proclamation at night, as the temple was surrounded by burning torches and lights. Imagine the scene: it’s night yet the crowds are surrounded by manmade light. Into this steps Jesus proclaiming that He is the Light of the world. What Jesus said was true two-thousand years ago; it remains true today.

In the beginning, John’s Gospel tells us, Christ was with God. This was the God who said, ‘Let there be light’. This was the God who was in the burning bush when He spoke to Moses, and in the pillar of fire which led Israel through the Exodus. Jesus was the light of the world, born at night to dispel darkness. Jesus was the bright light seen by disciples at the transfiguration; He was the light which blinded Saul on the road to Damascus. From Revelation, we know that this same Jesus is the light of heaven, where there is no need of sun or moon.

The world, though, doesn’t see it like that. Rather, it sees our faith as a leap of faith, a leap into the darkness. The truth, though, is the opposite; the leap of faith is a leap into the light! Jesus illuminates the darkness, but what is darkness? At its simplest, it is the absence of light. If you walk into a dark room and you don’t like it, there is no point standing there complaining. Why not turn on a light, and then darkness goes. In Scripture, darkness is symbolic of a life without God. To live without the first-hand knowledge of God and His living Word is to walk in darkness … a spiritual darkness.

There is more to darkness than the absence of physical light. First, there is an intellectual one. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “they profess themselves to be wise, and are become fools, because they reject God and walk in darkness.” We choose to walk in darkness rather than step into the light for to do so would expose us for all that it we are, warts and all. Rather than be seen as we truly are we prefer to hide in the shadows. But in the shadows, we do not find answers to the great questions of existence: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? The world has no good answers to these questions; it does no more that say that nobody is special, there is no real purpose to life, and that death is the end of existence. But, in the light of Christ, we know that we are specially created by God, made in His image. We know that we were created for a purpose, ‘to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.’ Finally, in Christ we are headed into eternity, not annihilation.

Darkness may also be moral. The world can call good evil and evil good; it can mock things that are morally good, and praise low morality. How often in popular media do we hear adultery praised because the offending partners ‘love each other’. How often do we hear comedians gain praise for verbally abusing each other? Places of power are no different. How many were seriously impacted by the policies and practices of corrupt or inept senior bank officials who were subsequently rewarded with honours and fortunes? The moral hypocrisy at large is sadly sometimes supported by the church. It has been known to look away rather than comment because to do so may cost it in money or influence. Light and dark do not mix. They are not tolerant of one another. What we believe affects how we behave. If we accept darkness, we will someday find ourselves walking in darkness.

Finally, darkness may be spiritual. Contemporary religious tolerance is not what it says it is; it is not tolerance but a lack of commitment to challenge falsehood. For example, what is sometimes known as ‘spirituality’ is a mixture of pantheism, mysticism, and the occult. The argument is that there is no personal God, but that god is what you want him, her, or it, to be. It is a spirituality that quickly turns the god-in-the-image-of-man into self-worship. It is a movement that speaks a lot about light, yet it is not true light; it is an artificial counterfeit light. As one American commentator said, “all that glitters is not God!”

Likewise, many churches today say Jesus is the light, but then they base their beliefs or faith on tradition not the Light of the World; they walk down paths of seeking to earn God’s approval through good works and social action, instead of walking in the light of Jesus’. It is in Jesus that we gain the approval of God, and from there righteous living flows. But are we also guilty of hiding our faith? If we are then how will the world get to see and know the light of Jesus?

In John chapter 9:5, Jesus says the following: ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’. Without Him, the world is a dark place, unless He shines through us! So, what are we to do? In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ These are times in which great darkness abounds, darkness that can be intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Yet these are also incredible times as our light can really shine and be seen. Amen.

HYMN 336 Christ is our light!

(performed by Peter Christie)

Prayer c/w Lord’s Prayer:

Let us pray:

With faith and confidence, we come in prayer, before God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

The Magi came from the East to pay homage and offer special gifts from their cultures and countries. We pray today for all Christian communities around the world in their diversity of worship and tradition: Lord, we ask you to preserve your communities of faith wherever they gather to inspire and bring hope. We pray particularly for areas of the world where the presence and survival of the Church is threatened by violence and oppression. We pray too for Churches in many other areas paralyzed by comfort, apathy and conformity.

O, Lord, hear our prayer
Lord, hear us.

The early years of the Lord’s life were marked by violence and massacres at the orders of the despot Herod.
We pray for children living in places in the world where violence continues and where its results are hurt, harm and heartache. Break our hearts for what breaks yours, O Lord, and strengthen, the bonds of unity and mutual love among our churches so that we are a witness to your holy Name. Inspire us to work creatively and passionately to defend the oppressed and include the marginalized. Encourage us to stand together in the face of hate and discrimination of all kinds as we seek your Kingdom among us.

O, Lord, hear our prayer
Lord, hear us.

After the visit of the Magi, the holy family experienced migration through the wilderness and became refugees in the land of Egypt.
We pray for all the refugees and uprooted people in this world:
Equip us, Lord, to show hospitality to those driven from their homes, and grant us the spirit of welcome to those looking for a safe haven.

O, Lord, hear our prayer
Lord, hear us.

The birth of Jesus was good news for all, gathering people from different nations and religions in worship of the holy child.
We pray for our efforts to gather all to bow before your throne of grace, irrespective of their history, culture or understanding:
Lord, give us humility and patience to walk with others with respect on their journey.

O, Lord, hear our prayer
Lord, hear us.

The Magi returned to their home by a different way.
We pray for our churches in this changing world:
Lord, help us to find new and creative ways to follow you and to witness to you, so that the world may believe.

O, Lord, hear our prayer
Lord, hear us.

When the Magi saw the holy child, they rejoiced with great joy.

Heavenly Father, fix our eyes on him so we do not lose our way. Even as we face challenges and change may the joy of your salvation in us shine through, uniting us and drawing in others. For we declare that you are the only true way to life. So in unity we pray as our Lord and Saviour taught, saying:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN 448 Lord, the light of your love is shining (Shine, Jesus, Shine)

(from the Royal Albert Hall)

Benediction

Go now and live as children of light.
And as you go may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with you now and evermore.
Amen.

Sung Amen

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org

Prayers based upon materials from ‘The Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’ for ‘The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’ 2022.

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