December 27, 2020 – First Sunday after ChristmaS
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A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to all to this time of worship for the first Sunday after Christmas. We come, still filled with the joy of Christmas Day, with the announcement to the shepherds that a saviour had been born. It is the news that carries us forward with the confidence that whatever the future holds for us, we do not face it alone, but in the company of the faithful one who walks with us.
As we come, we are still apart, and we rejoice that Christ’s presence in our midst is not limited by that, but that we continue as best we can, a community of faith bound together by the love which has come to us in the season. We are grateful for one another, and for the ties that bind us together. May God’s Spirit be present among us, and continue to equip us as we announce the good news in our community and beyond.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 161 “What child is this?”
- Video without on-screen words; use the words from the hymnbook, which are also reprinted just below.
- “What Child is This?”. Christmas carol from 1865 with words by English hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix (1837–1898) which was set in 1871 to the traditional English tune “Greensleeves”.
- Recorded in 2008 by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
What child is this, who laid to rest,
on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the king,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud
the babe, the son of Mary.
Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
the silent word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the babe, the son of Mary.
So bring him incense, gold and myrrh;
come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise a song on high;
the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
the Babe, the son of Mary.
Prayers of Adoration, Confession, Lord’s Prayer
O God, we praise you for the birth of your son Jesus, who in such humility and simplicity, comes to us as the hope of all the ages. He brings joy to our hearts, and as we sense his Spirit present in is, we are aware that his life shall change our lives forever. As we see him show forth your glory, fill us with the certainty of your saving presence. O God, newborn, yet ageless – we praise you for the promise and blessing with which you have graced the earth.
Faithful God, we rejoice that you have sent your promised Christ. And yet, O God, we confess that we are still not ready for Christ’s coming; we are reluctant to live as if the whole earth were your domain. We know the story – the shepherds, the angels, the wise men – but we do not yet fully understand what it all means. Awaken us to your Spirit, help us to hear your prophetic word, let Christ’s birth make a difference in our lives, and grant us your peace, through the grace of Jesus Christ. We pray in the name of Jesus, and join our voices together in the prayer that he taught us:
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.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, rejoice at the good news. John tells us that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him. Receive the forgiveness that God offers to you in Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
They’re late getting to the temple, of course — but then they have a baby now, just a few weeks old so what can you expect?
You’ve seen them, or at least people like them. Joseph is holding the diaper bag in one hand, and trying to figure out how to make the stroller collapse with the other. Mary has the baby wrapped up tight so no cold breezes can get anywhere near him — you can see on the shoulder of her dress a spot where little Jesus spit up on her; she combed her hair just before heading out the door, but the baby managed to grab at it, and now it is all over the place.
They’re frazzled, and a little sleep deprived, but they’re filled with excitement that they can be out in public as a family, blushing a little with their awkwardness in their new role as parents. Even the baby is in a good mood.
They barge in, the two young parents with their baby. They are full of life, full of love. They have the world by the tail, and the future stretches out before them this day, full of hope and promise.
What’s happening here is that these young parents are observing the ancient requirements of the Jewish law, the ritual purification of the mother after childbirth and the dedication of their first-born son to God. That’s the official bit — this is also their first real chance to show off the baby, and they’re having family and friends back to their house after the service for brunch. They are out of breath, trying to organize themselves. Joseph is digging in the diaper bag for the soother to keep Jesus quiet during the ceremony. The priest is waiting, prayer book in hand, ready to do his thing.
Slowly, out of the shadows step two elderly people, a man and a woman, but they are not together. They approach the young family from separate directions. The parents have seen these two before — they’re almost fixtures in the temple. Their names are Simeon and Anna.
They’ve been old as long as anyone can remember, and they spend all their time here, surrounding themselves with the action, the devotion, the history of the temple. But they’re not just going through the motions — it’s almost as if they have been waiting for something all these years.
As they come forward, Mary realizes she has never heard either of them speak, or even interact with anyone else at all. A hush has fallen on everyone in the room. Simeon comes right up to Mary, and takes their little son into his arms, his gnarled finger stroking the child’s cheek.
A righteous and devout man, it has long been his dream that he will see the redemption of Israel, and he figures that by hanging around the temple will be the best way not to miss it. In fact, long ago he received a message from God, that he will not see death before he sees the Lord’s Messiah. “Now, O God,” he says, “I can die in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people.”
The parents, and everyone else, for that matter, are amazed at these words. But the old man continues with his prophecy speaking to Mary. “This child will divide Israel. Some will follow him, some will oppose him. And your own soul will be pierced as if by a sword because of him.”
Then Anna approaches. A widow for many years, she spends all her time in this holy place fasting and praying, waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She breaks into a song of praise addressed to all who are waiting for the Saviour’s appearing.
Mary and Joseph are speechless. It’s hard to know what hopes and fears race through their heads in that moment. Every parent knows that they will not be able to prevent their children from pain or loss and that every wound their children suffers is something that will cut to their hearts as well. But to be reminded of that today, when their hopes and dreams are so high, when the future looked so bright, seems kind of cruel…
But, wouldn’t you rather know the truth, even if it’s hard? Would you rather go ahead, in blissful ignorance of what is to come, or would you want to be forewarned, given some time to prepare?
For Mary and Joseph, and their little Saviour-child, it is old Simeon and Anna who help them to understand. It is their revelation, their prophecy, their word that will guide them on their journey. And it comes from these two devout old saints who have hung around the dusty corners of this temple for longer than anyone can remember for just this moment, so that they can point the way.
Through them, this moment of dedication and purification, special and yet not uncommon, which links them to their past and the great story of how God has given their people a way, becomes one that opens up their child’s future, and the way he will bring hope to all people,
Simeon and Anna the two old temple fixtures, represent Israel, and the church at its best — devout, obedient, constant in prayer, filled with the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises and daily attentive to it.
They have lived out their days, and are ready to move offstage, to yield their place to others, to depart in peace. God is doing a new thing, but really not so new, because when we are God’s people our hope is always joined to a memory, understood in terms of the promises of God from long ago.
They are hopeful for that new thing that God is doing, but do not have on rose-coloured glasses for what God’s new thing will be like. As it always has, the good news divides, drives some away, causes offense, and can be a heavy load to bear. The cost of following in God’s new way may be great, but it always has been, and as we have come to know, that is the way that will bring us life.
So Simeon and Anne remind us of the need for both faithfulness and hope, for being rooted in our past and open to the future, for connecting with the tradition yet watching for the new ways in which God is speaking, for appreciating the story of how God worked in days gone by yet knowing that we cannot return there, for both the world and the church have changed, for knowing the story of how God has brought us to this place yet ready for the new journey God has in store for us.
The voices of Simeon and Anna speak from far in our past, and were old even then, but call for a patience and watchfulness, an openness and readiness for new experiences. These two old saints tell us something about what it is for us to be faithful in our day and open to what the Christ-child will do in us.
We will be grounded in our traditions, but open to the new thing that God is wanting to do in us. We will be at home in our church, in our place of worship, but will be watchful for how the Saviour will make himself known in new ways, out in the world and through voices different than our own.
We will be familiar with the old, old story of our faith, but understand that its forms and expressions will change over time as the world around us changes. We will acknowledge the work of those who have gone before who have watched for signs of the presence of the Saviour, but be courageous in seizing the vision that will move that work further forward still, as the Saviour is still acting in renewing and using us.
We will be confident in what God can do in us but have a certain humility about what we bring to it, confessing that we know only provisionally and that, at our best, our contribution will be a partial one, and itself will become the foundation on which others, in faith, will one day build.
There can be no encounter with the child of Bethlehem without it changing us, no being touched by the Good News of his coming without it taking us to some new place and connecting us with some new ministry.
By God’s grace, may we listen for the voices of those who will help us discern what that future will look like for us. Voices that go back a ways, and so can help us to know our story, where we have come from, and where we are going. Voices as well that will help us to understand where that story’s next chapter is going to recognize who we are becoming and where God is taking us as we try to remain faithful
Mary and Joseph returned home after their visit to the temple and continued to care for their little son providing for him and loving him.
But they have been changed… and so will we.
We know where we have come from, and will be true to the heritage that our forebears have given to us. But we give ourselves in confidence and hope; to the new thing that God is doing in us; the new places, experiences and discoveries to which God will lead us; the new partners who will join us on this journey; and to the kingdom that God is building through us.
- “Still, still, still”. The original German words may date to 1819. English translation by American music director and organist George K. Evans (1917–?). The tune (titled “Still, still, still”) is a traditional Austrian melody from the Salzburg area, first published in a folk-song collection in 1865.
- Guitar and vocals performed by Rachelle Risling, Music Director of GCPC.
- English words copyright © 1963, 1980 Walton Music. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. Arrangement copyright © 2020 Rachelle Risling, used by permission.
- This audio recording copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayer of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
God of many gifts, as Mary and Joseph dedicated their son, Jesus, in the temple, so we dedicate ourselves and our gifts to you. Use us and them in your service, and for your glory.
God of love, as we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, our Saviour, we are filled with thanks. Our gratitude overflows in prayers for our world, the world you love. We pray for all children. Guard their minds, protect their bodies, strengthen their characters, and give them joy. Help them look to the future with hope and trust. We pray for the most aged among us, those whom Simeon and Anna bring to mind. Protect them in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and reassure them of their value to you and to us, even when we cannot meet together. We pray for those whose hearts are filled with pain and fear. We pray for those for whom Christmas is linked with loss or grief. Surround each one with a strong sense of your comforting presence.
We pray for those who do not have enough to eat, and for those who lack adequate shelter in our community and in desperate corners of the world. For those who eat alone, without the comfort of human contact; for those whose hearts and lives have been broken by trauma and loss; for those who struggle with the many costs of the pandemic. Surround each one with a strong sense of your comforting presence. We pray for family members and friends, those nearby and those we could not meet with this year. Remind them of our steadfast love, and to any who are struggling this season, O God, give your gift of peace.
O God, we pray that you would give us a spirit of discernment in following in your way, and in moving into that new thing that you would do in us. Give us grace to honour our past while bravely moving into our future; to understand how you have been with us on our journey while ready to embrace all that you want us to become; to recognize what you have already accomplished in us, yet confident and hopeful for the good that lies ahead, and the promise of the new life that you bring to us all.
As the year draws to a close, we surrender to you, O God, the challenges it has held for us so that they will not remain as burdens. Remind us of the good things that have offered us encouragement in times of isolation. We give you thanks for the people who continue to care for us and care about us. Give us courage and wisdom for the year ahead.
Grant us all the hope, joy and peace we find through trusting you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Praise – 168 “See amid the winter’s snow”
- Video with on-screen words; differences from the hymnbook — follow along on-screen; verses 1, 2, and 5 are sung, and the final verse is one not in the hymnbook.
- Words, first published in 1858, by English clergyman and hymnwriter Edward Caswall (1814–1878). Music (tune: “Humility”) composed in 1871 by English composer and organist Sir Jon Goss (1800–1880). Words and music in the public domain.
- Version in the video recorded by the choir of Guildford Cathedral.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in peace, for in the birth of the Christ of Bethlehem
our eyes have seen God’s salvation —
light for revelation to all nations,
and for glory to all God’s people.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2020-12-25 at 20:10: first version.