Welcome to our joint service for the first Sunday in the calendar year. This week our thoughts turn to how we are truly blessed by God as He calls us to him not as a reward but as an act of love.
Call to Worship (Psalm 147: 1)
Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
HYMN 103 Fill your hearts with joy and gladness (Psalm 147)
Let us pray:
How good it is to sing praises to You, our God;
for You gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
at the start of a New Year we do what we always do;
we gather to seek Your grace for the time that lies ahead,
Your wisdom for its puzzles,
Your strength for all that will challenge us.
You build up Your people,
You gather the outcast,
You heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.
You are the kind of God we long to know, and to know better.
You are the kind of God who deserves everything we have to give.
You number the stars,
You know them by their names,
yet You also know each one of us.
We have gathered to praise You, to listen to You, to find new strength in Your service.
in Your Son Jesus Christ we are perfect,
tasting already the joy of heaven,
wonderfully in harmony with You and with one another.
But in ourselves we are still messing up,
living as if You had not sent Your Son to save us.
We confess our sins, and the sins of this community and nation, before You.
Heal us, change us, redirect us, sort us out, that we may live before You
and before the world in newness of life,
humbly rejoicing in the new life of Christ.
You have wonderfully created the world,
that over millennia it might grow to develop and sustain human life.
While You occupy the wind and water, and can be seen everywhere,
You are greater than nature;
You delight in all You have made;
You take pleasure not so much in strength,
but in the obedience of Your people,
and in those who hope in Your steadfast love.
How should we hope in that love unless You teach us,
unless You show us,
unless You reveal Christ afresh to us,
unless Your Spirit occupies our worship, our song, our scriptures, our response.
That is our desire, Lord.
God of power and life, You are the glory of all who believe in You.
Fill the world with Your splendour and show the nations the light of Your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray:
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.
For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.
John 1: 1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
HYMN 617 Great and deep the spirit’s purpose
When we hear the name ‘Jeremiah’ do we tend to think of ‘doom and gloom’ and a voice, reminiscent of the TV character private Fraser crying out “we’re aw doomed!” Yet, his words to us today are ones of hope, joy, and celebration. He proclaims that God has rescued His people, ransoming them from their captivity. It is a time of celebration and is a great way to begin a New Year.
Most of us will never have experienced the pain of exile as known first-hand by the Israelites. But physical distancing and captivity are not the only forms that exile may take. Indeed, we may be exiled much closer to home. We may be exiled from friends or families; we may be exiled from ourselves due to the pains of mental health issues or addictions; we may be exiled from God by our denial of Him. In all forms of exile, we are being held captive by someone or something.
Irrespective of our personal circumstances we have all shared in one form of exile, our separation from God. We separate ourselves from him by the choices we make that are contrary to His will. We exile ourselves from the source of life itself. In the language of the Bible this is described as sin. In the New Testament it is also described as being in bondage. Our bondage, though, is not in the fetters of a foreign human power but in the consequences of our own choices. Like Israel, we need to be ransomed.
As Christians we are ransomed through the self-sacrifice of God through the Cross. It is in Jesus that the ransom has been paid. Saint Paul takes this further writing that this sacrifice causes us non-Jews to be grafted into the vine that is Israel. Note that we are transplanted into it, we do not replace it. Indeed we are blessed by it; without it we do not exist. But what does it mean for us living in Christ today?
First, it means that we are ‘different’ from other people. We see this in a late verse from the Psalm that formed our call to worship, and that we further sang. That verse states that God has not dealt with any other nation the way he has dealt with the people of Israel. Since we are grafted into that race it means that he has not dealt with others the way he has dealt with us. Yet we are not insulated from the highs and lows of human life. We may enjoy the same celebrations and rejoicing when good things happen but so, too, do we feel the pains when misfortune befalls us. As Shylock says in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” Second, it does not mean that we are superior, either to the Jews or to any other group. We were chosen as an act of grace, a grace revealed to us in John’s Gospel as seen through Jesus. Remember that in the book of Genesis that Jacob was chosen despite being a rather nasty piece of work!
That we are chosen is a thread that runs all the way through scripture. But we are chosen for a purpose; we are called to bear witness to three things. First is the faithfulness of God. There are more refugees from the other parts of the world than ever before, and this is true of the Middle-East. After the Holocaust what was seen as a ‘new return from exile’ has led to Israel no longer being the ‘underdog’ in the way it once was. That said, anti-Semitism is still with us even here in Edinburgh. Yet throughout the centuries the people of Israel have survived – they are chosen, and the Christian Church has the privilege of being drawn into that.
The second is that God has a plan.The Hebrew scriptures are full, from beginning to end, of practices and observances that the New Testament recognised were there to teach us about God’s plan for the whole world. When Saint Paul writes about ‘redemption through his blood’, this makes sense because the animal sacrifices outlined in Leviticus taught Israel that sin can only be dealt with by sacrifice. For Christians this sacrifice was that of Jesus. God has a plan, and it has been there since the beginning.
The third is that it is God who chooses. Israel is clearly chosen to be witness to God’s grace, to be the ‘suffering servant’ of the prophet Isaiah. In Jesus those words are fulfilled in a most literal way showing us God taking on the life and death of the servant. As Christians we are chosen to share in this, both the sufferings and the joys that follow.
In very practical ways we can share that role within our nation, we can influence it to witness to the grace and mercy of God. Yet, for our nation to do this, we will have to change both our priorities and our practices. Let’s begin with providing the world with vaccines, let’s have a proper and meaningful response to climate change, let’s closing tax havens too. We also need to look hard at our other actions, and end those that we discern are not modelling the kingdom of God.
Israel is a chosen people, and we are chosen to serve alongside them to witness to both the plan and faithfulness of God to humankind. At times it will be extremely challenging for we will have to do it God’s way, not that of the world. Being chosen means learning to trust the one who chose us. It will cost-us, perhaps dearly, but it brings us blessings or, as John puts it in today’s Gospel reading, ‘grace upon grace’.
HYMN 522 The Church is wherever God’s people are praising
Let us pray:
Good and gracious Father,
we have emerged from a difficult year,
and we give thanks for help found in times of illness, bereavement, perplexity and stress, and for all those who have served the needs of others during the pandemic.
We thank You for the message of Christmas,
that He who was with You in the beginning
loved us enough to come and take our flesh in the womb of Mary.
We bless You that the babe of Bethlehem is the Redeemer of Calvary,
that the one who ruled the ways and touched the outcast is mighty to save today,
and that we have been born again to a living hope.
In the words of Paul,
blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has given us every spiritual blessing in high places,
who chose us before the world began to be part of Your extraordinary love so freely give to us in Christ.
You are the Creator of all things,
snow and hail and frost, the ice of winter as well as the warmth of summer,
and we marvel at the mysteries of Your providence in the shaping of our world.
You have Your own ways of working things out,
of bringing peace within our borders,
of bringing down the tyrants, of lifting the humble and meek.
We bless You for Your justice, which is better than ours.
We bless You for Your good purposes, which are wiser than ours.
We bless You for the future which is Your gift to us in this year of 2022
Help us to live in hope, not fear, in love not cynicism, in resolution not despair,
for Jesus Christ our Saviour’s sake.
at the start of a new year we bring You our hopes for the world and for its peoples.
Grant us peace in place of strife, a desire for justice instead of a dash for growth,
the building up of forests not their pulling down,
the cleansing not the pollution of our seas, and in place of hatred goodwill.
We pray for the Queen, and for all the Parliaments and Councils of these island in which we live.
Grant them wisdom and courage for this year ahead,
integrity of life, strength in every good resolution.
And for all who lead, in church and state,
grant humble hearts and minds to listen to You and others,
to distinguish the good from the bad, the wise from the foolish, the fruitful from the empty.
Lord, this year will bring its share of illness and bereavement and family conflict.
We pray now for those who already face these trials.
May they know Your healing and hope, and the good news of Jesus Christ
who is Lord of this life and the life to come,
our brother who is human like us,
yet picked up our frail bodies and took us with Him into life eternal.
May His Spirit bear witness to these things,
to what You are doing in their lives and ours.
Lord, this year many words will be spoken in public in our land.
We take a minute to reflect quietly on what lies ahead for each one of us,
and to ask Your help and blessing . . .
Lord God, one day we will see all things gathered up in Jesus Christ:
may we live now and always in the light and love of that.
HYMN 562 Through the love of God, our Saviour
(from the combined virtual choir of Troon Old Parish Church and Portland Parish Church)
May you know how special you are in Christ,
and in his service.
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with you always.
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 and blessing by the Rev. Dr. Jock Stein. Taken, with minor changes, from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 2nd January 2022.
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