Welcome and Intimations
Call to Worship (from Psalm 148)
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
And he has raised up his people
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the Lord!
HYMN 326 As with gladness men of old
as we look forward to the coming year,
may we know the hope you offer.
As we look back in grief at the year just gone
may we know the peace you bring.
As we reflect on our muted celebrations of the season
may we find joy in you.
As the world around us struggles
may we feel your love in our midst.
As we gather around your word,
we can find ourselves distracted by the colour and noise around us.
As we stand at the change of the year,
we find ourselves reflecting in the regrets we have.
yet in the distractions your voice still cries out,
calling us by name into your presence.
Yet, despite our regrets, you love us still,
seeking to restore and renew us.
As we move forward into a new year
lift up our heads that we may see you.
As we move forward in life’s struggles
may we put our trust in you.
As we journey through each day
may we lift high your holy name.
As we turn to sleep each night,
may we surrender to you.
The Lord’s Prayer
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the young plant come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Luke 2: 21-40
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), 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’.
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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 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, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 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, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
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, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 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.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
HYMN 315 Once in Royal David’s City
It is the last Sunday of the year, and it continues to be Christmastide. Yet, with all that has taken place this year, I am not sure that it is foremost in our thoughts. After all, this is the year that brought you Covid-19, lockdown, isolation, and devastating consequences for livelihoods, families, countries, mental and physical health. Many other crises beyond coronavirus have also grabbed our attention, including the refugee catastrophe, habitat destruction and species extinction, racism, and climate change. Directly or otherwise these all impact on our lives, and not for the better.
Perhaps we have had enough of this year and, instead, wish to look forward. After all, things can only get better … can’t they? Looking forward we may have hope for vaccines and treatment. Next year also brings Brexit, and Scottish Parliamentary elections. It may also bring the Olympics, and the COP26 climate change conference. Finally, there will also be the events that impact our lives but not on the remainder of the world. Like this year it will bring challenges and new possibilities for all of us, including the churches.
These thoughts have a thread that runs through them – continual change. As we look at our Bible verses for today, we see that in the time of Isaiah, and at the birth of Jesus, the world was also in a state of flux. It was not into a fanciful world of dreams that Isaiah prophesied but into a world that knew conquest and exile, slavery, and poverty. It was not into the serene calm of a nativity scene that Jesus was born but into the squalor and messiness of the real world. In both these passages God speaks into the reality of life, offering hope.
Jesus was not born into a vacuum but into a particular time and place, and within a specific cultural context. Yet it is not the details of the culture that are focussed upon but the encounters between people. The story of the reaction of Simeon reflects his hopes, both personal and for the world. Something in the child fills him with both joy and hope, and he sees the fulfilment of the promises of God. There is the reality that some would be raised up while others are brought low; in other words, there would be justice. Somehow in the infant Jesus he sees hope for all humanity. In the story of Anna we find another who is equally touched by the child before her. Like Simeon she sees promises answered and hope fulfilled. Her sense of joy overflows and she shares her excitement with others.
In these stories we see the fulfilment of the hopes of one generation made real through the presence of a younger one. Both ends of the ages of community come together for the the plans of God. In other words, no-one is to be left out on grounds of age.
After the excitement and strangeness of these events we must wonder at the conversation that took place as the family journeyed home. In Matthew’s Gospel, the story takes a darker, more sinister, tone as the despotic ruler ‘Herod the Great’ sets out on a course of mass murder. Luke, though, skips all this summarising the remainder of the youthful part of the life of Jesus in just one sentence.
This Gospel passage is one that may bring both sorrow and joy in equal measure, and that because of its comparison with our situation. Imagine a newborn child in your own family, fussed over and cuddled by all and sundry. Yet today such opportunities for contact and intimacy have mostly been taken away from us by the virus. In today’s world Simeon and Anna would have to keep their distance. In today’s world the undiscussed rites and practices that brought the holy family to Jerusalem would be close to impossible to perform. How are we to respond?
Perhaps we may begin with Mary. She is told by Simeon that a ‘sword will pierce your own soul too’. Right at this time of joy she is presented with the reality that there would be suffering and heartache. Yet Mary does not run away or break down; rather she continues. In other places we encounter the phrase that ‘she stored these things up in her own heart’ meaning that she did not ignore events but thought upon them. The mother of Jesus was there at some of the miracles; she was there, no doubt, at some of the teaching; we know she worried about him; she was there at the crucifixion. Mary was a realist yet could dwell in the promises and hope that God offers. In our time of darkness could we follow her example; could we dwell in the hope of blessings to come?
God, you are with us;
you know this world better than we ever could.
We share our concerns with you
knowing that you understand.
As we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus,
we bring to mind all the children of this world.
We remember those that struggle
even in our land.
We think of those who are hungry;
we pray for them
and for those who seek to feed them.
We give thanks for the FoodBanks
and those who support their work.
As we reflect on the Gospel
we remember those who are nearing the end.
In these difficult times
we especially think of those in care homes or hospitals;
may their days be touched by grace and dignity.
We remember those who care for them,
their families and the workers;
may they find strength and compassion
to continue on in their giving.
We think of those who struggle with living,
whether through shortage of resources,
or through inner turmoil.
We pray for justice in our world,
that the hungry may be fed,
the thirsty given drink,
the naked clothed,
the homeless sheltered.
We pray for those who are ill
whether in heart or mind;
may they know your healing and peace.
We pray for ourselves;
may we find the courage to journey in faith
to live out your word in our world
and bring your kingdom to come.
Encourage and refresh us
as we seek to love you and our neighbour.
In Jesus name we pray.
HYMN 324 Angels from the realms of glory
Let us go into the world
seeing God at work around us
and calling us to join him.
As we go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
go with us.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.