December 31, 2023
1st Sunday of Christmas
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· There will be a reception following worship today for Pastor Joyce's last day with us. Please join us.
· Taking Down Christmas Decoration January 9th @ 9am
· Office is closed December 22nd– January 4th
· The Gathering Place will reconvene Jan. 11.
· JoAnn Grimm and Joan Boyd residents of Fieldstone in DeWitt.
· Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
· Ellen and Keith Miller who struggle with health issues. Ellen is at Eagle Point Care Center
· For our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine and Ukraine.
*CALL TO WORSHIP (adapted from Ephesians 4: 4-7)
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.
He was sent to redeem those who were under the law so we might receive an adoption as children.
And because we are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.
We are enabled to cry, “Abba! Father!”
No longer slaves to the law, we are children of God, heirs of God’s goodness.
We are Children of God! Brothers with Christ! Joyful recipients of God’s grace! Let us worship and praise, give thanks and rejoice! Amen.
O Lord, we join with Mary and Joseph this day to dedicate the Holy child to you. May our hearts witness their faith and may our souls expand with your amazing love that is being poured into our world even yet today. Come, Precious Lord. Amen
*HYMN Angels, from the Realms of Glory #22
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
From a stable in Bethlehem a glimmer of hope arises. It flickers and dances, inviting us to lay our sins beside the manger that we might grab hold of God’s love and share it with all the world. Please join me in our prayer of confession.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord God. On this day when the Christmas bells still echo in the silence of our hearts, let us stop to consider your gift to us this season. You sent your Son who meets us along the byways of our lives. He is the light that shines in the darkness, the healing that points to your glory. Forgive us for dimming that light with our apathy and hard heartedness. Forgive us for turning away from your glory to follow paths of selfishness and disdain. May your Spirit show us the true hope of the world that rested in a manger. That tiny babe grew to become our Savior. Let us join our lives to his that we, too, can sing to your glory. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
God has opened our eyes to see his salvation which was prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation, and glory to God’s people. I declare to you, my Friends, in the amazing love that descended to Bethlehem that night so long ago, your sins are forgiven. Your new life has sprung forth. Praise to God, our Lord. Amen.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
ORDINATION OF LUCY MELVIN AND INSTALLATION OF ELDERS FOR 2024
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Lord God, With the words spoken this day, may we, too, be nudged to declare, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, anointing us to bring good news to the oppressed and to bind up the brokenhearted.” We open our ears and our hearts to you, Gracious Lord. Amen.
Isaiah 61: 10 – 62:3
10 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. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. 62 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.
2 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. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Luke 2: 22-40
2 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”), 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.”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 Out with the Old; In with the New!
Out with the Old; In with the New!
Happy New Year! Ok, I know I’m about 15 hours hear, but today we stand at the edge of a new year. Many of us, maybe even most of us long for that fresh new start. A new calendar is so hopeful!
Let’s be done with a war in Ukraine, and let the Ukrainian people begin to rebuild their nation with self rule.
Let’s welcome home the hostages from Gaza.
Let’s see that region rebuilding and looking toward a new and lasting peace.
Let’s see the hurting people who are streaming over our southern border find what the new life they are looking for—many or even most in their own countries where the violence and poverty is replaced with peace and jobs.
Let’s see the political questions around our elections resolved and people begin to feel confident in our elected officials again.
Let’s see the questions around this congregations future be answered in a way that gives new life!
And I could keep going, couldn’t I? Climate change, the economy, gun violence, crime, health care costs and even the threat of artificial intelligence. And we haven’t even begun to touch the personal issues that all of us live with.
So how appropriate it is that both of our scriptures this morning address that hope that God is present and about to do a new thing.
The prophet who speaks to us in Isaiah is addressing a people who have returned to their beloved Jerusalem after being held in captivity for something like 70 years. That means that almost all of them have been born in Babylon and have only heard the stories of this place where God had settled his people. They had never seen the beautiful temple that their parents and grandparents described to them. They had been steeped in the faith and traditions of this faith that had been passed down from Abraham, and now it was their turn to revitalize the land, to rebuild Jerusalem in it’s glory, to reestablish themselves as God’s covenant people.
With such high hopes they had returned. It was as if God had traveled with them, and they were convinced that God would give them what they needed to accomplish this task. But then they arrived, and it was a lot tougher than they had imagined. All sorts of barriers stood in their way. Differing ideas about what and how to do things, differing time tables for when things needed to be done, differing problems, personality conflicts, problems with those who had stayed behind, weather, lack of resources, and more.
Where was God? Why wasn’t God at work to deal with these issues?
So the prophet lifts up the image of God’s faithful servant from earlier in Isaiah. This servant is both the prophet who now speaks to them, but also, at another level, all of Israel is that servant who brings good news to the poor and binds up the broken hearted. In other words, don’t lose sight of the goal, folks. A first step for that goal is to rebuild the city. It’s important, not just from an infrastructure stand point, but also to rebuild their own confidence and sense of themselves as God’s people, a capable people, a confident people, a servant people.
The prophet paints a picture for them of “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God!
Let go of the woe-is-me mentality. Hold your head high. Look around and see not only God’s vision for you, but the ways God is at work right now. Press on. Don’t quit. Don’t lose sight of who God is calling you to be!
In other words, Out with the old baggage; in with the new understanding of who we are and what we are about. It’s a course correction, a new path, a new way of taking God’s hand to walk through the difficulties.
We all need that, and as midnight hits and Ald Lan Syn is song we look for that new hope to enter our lives.
Mary and Joseph would have been doing some of that seeking the new hope and new possibility, too. According to our scriptures, both of them had a sense that this baby IS the new hope of God.
Luke wants us to know that Jesus isn’t some radical new implant from beyond d the faith of Abraham. In fact his parents are deeply faithful to the laws and traditions of Judaism. Four times in our short reading for today, Luke tells us that they are bringing Jesus to the temple in accordance with the law of the Lord. It must be important because he tells us that four times in 18 verses.
It’s important because Jesus’ activity and call for newness isn’t outside of God’s history with his people. Jesus will be the very essence of God speaking a new word into the life of the world. Mary and Joseph keep the law. Jesus understands and respects the law, even as he will one day call for reform of that very same law!
Mary and Joseph come to the temple because it WAS required in the law. There were two duties here. The first was to seek purification for Mary after having delivered a child. The second was to dedicate that child to God. In Judaism, a first born son was given to God. That meant the main focus of that boy’s life was to serve the Lord. (Do you remember Samuel? It was in that tradition that first sons were to be offered to God. There was, of course, a mechanism for being released of that requirement. Five shekels paid to the temple meant that the boy would be free to live a more secular life. Do you notice that Joseph and Mary didn’t offer that? Instead they offered 2 turtle doves or two pigeons for Mary’s purification. First century readers would immediately see that Jesus was, indeed, dedicated as God’s servant.
I’m also fascinated with Simeon and Anna. These faithful servants of God would have encountered hundreds (perhaps thousands) of families living out this same ritual. Seeing new parents and baby boys was nothing new for them. But in this baby boy they saw God’s Messiah. I wonder how that was made known to them?
God had promised this very old man that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before God called him home to heaven. He would see the new hope of Israel. They could certainly use some new hope because the Roman occupation was just as difficult as any point in their history. People were buckling under the boot of Rome. People were throwing up their hands and abandoning their sense of being God’s own people. Things were getting worse, not better.
It was the Holy Spirit who nudged Simeon towards Mary and Joseph and that tiny bundle they cradled. Can you see it? Can you see this very old man who hung out at the temple? Can you see him take the baby in his arms and then lifting his face towards God, “Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people, Israel.” God had kept his promise and that promise allowed Simeon to witness salvation—a dawning new light that would welcome new people to the Lord.
He blessed them and said, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” He was telling us that the way people respond to Jesus will either lift them up or sink them even lower. In their response the world will see how they really are. It’s a sort of litmus test. But to Mary and Joseph he warned that it wouldn’t be easy. “Be prepared, he warned, “It will feel like a sword cutting into your heart, as well, at times.
How must that have felt for Mary and Joseph? A lot to consider, and then just a few steps away was Anna. She was perhaps even older than Simeon. At the age of 84, she would have seemed very, very old in that era. And when she sees the Baby Jesus she began to offer praise to God. She then went to tell everyone about this particular baby and God’s plan for him.
Both of these folks were very old. Both incredibly faithful. Both waiting to witness God’s Messiah and to be, in their own way a part of this new hope and new healing from God.
It’s as if these two stand on the cusp of a new age. An old man and an old woman greeting the new as they prepare to exit the stage. It’s not just a new year, but a whole new era of God’s grace and love pouring into the world. Out with the old and in with the new!
What Simeon foretold of Jesus would come to pass. How people respond to him will show the world who they are. Their acceptance and participation will offer new life and power to do the work of God. Their rejection will sink them and the world just a bit more into the chaos and devastation that is all around.
And it is still the case today, isn’t it? How we need the new vibrancy and life that Jesus offers. It is the same, and yet it’s promise if also different. But God offers us the courage and the strength to walk that walk, to let go of what was, those things we have been clinging to. God invites us to let go and to walk into the new with him. It can be scary. It can feel overwhelming. It seems foreign and not at all what we want, but if God is calling us, calling you, this congregation, then it will be good and joyful. Of that we can be assured.
We need to be ready to say goodbye, not just to a year that is passing, but to the ways of yesterday so we can welcome God’s new plan for today. God stands in the new. Jesus Christ calls us into the new. The Holy Spirit will assist us into the new. Your job is to take the steps and to find the joy.
I have loved being your pastor for these last 18 months, and now I will watch and pray from the sidelines as you walk into the joy of our Lord.
Praise be to God. Amen.
*HYMN What Child is This #53
(you may be seated.)
PASTORAL PRAYER AND 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.
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, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS AND OUR PLEDGESTO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
We trust in Jesus Christ.
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God;
Preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives,
Teaching by word and deed and blessing the children,
Healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted,
Eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners,
And calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
HYMN Go Tell it on the Mountain #29
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE AND BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.