Happy New Year! The video for worship for this week is uploaded and ready to premiere at 10am on Sunday, January 3, 2021 (it will take me a while to get used to typing that year correctly)!
The worship bulletin can be found here.
As with most weeks, if you want a more full worship experience, you may have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle in your space. None of these are mandatory of course, but are to help enhance your worship time at home.
Here is the video!
God of new beginnings, the nations come to your light and rulers to the brightness of your dawn. By the compelling radiance of your Spirit, draw us near, reveal your truth, and teach us faithful obedience to your holy Word become flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Well, we made it. We endured. We survived not just 2020, but the most unusual Christmas season that most of us probably had ever experienced. Whatever your tradition is for Christmas, whether it be a big giant party with family and friends, or a quiet evening at home, or even leading a multitude of worship services in a very short period of time, I’m sure that this time around for many of us was just… different.
And we survived it. It wasn’t the disaster that we might have thought it would be because of the pandemic, at least not from my standpoint. People got creative in their celebrations, found different kinds of traditions, and were still able to experience the joy of Christmas, birth of Christ, the light entering into our world. So this kind of proves my point from Christmas Eve when we talked about this light and how it cannot be overcome by any kind of darkness, any kind of pandemic, or any kind of change thrown at it.
But, in spite of those profound words of profundity, I know that perhaps there were still some that weren’t able to celebrate. They weren’t able to feel that joy. They weren’t able to see the light as though the darkness had overcome it. And I get it, it was a different kind of Christmas, and perhaps it was too much change for some to handle. I’ve heard that some of my colleagues took some heat for making the decision not to have in person services over the Christmas season, and how that decision effectively ruined Christmas for those who were complaining. And again, I get it, it is different. It isn’t what we’re used to. It isn’t what we wanted. But ruin Christmas? C’mon now.
I’m not trying to belittle the feelings of those who have been hurt. But at the same time I’m not going to totally validate them either. I’m not saying that people are wrong in feeling that their Christmas was ruined, but I am saying that it isn’t right to blame your pastor for doing what they feel is best for the health and safety of the community as a whole as well as for themselves. And this isn’t even to say that this past Christmas wasn’t different and difficult, because it totally was. But it is to say that if you felt like it was ruined, perhaps your focus was on the wrong thing and that you were distracted from truly seeing that light.
And I don’t blame you for that either, truth be told, in my planning and preparing, I too was a bit worried that this Christmas would be ruined because of this pandemic. It’s hard for us to not be distracted by the wrong things. We tend to look for things in the wrong places. It isn’t unusual for us to feel like we know how things are supposed to or should happen, so when they don’t, we might feel like we’ve been slighted or even wronged in some way. So maybe we lash out. Blame others and point fingers. Think that this is somehow personal and that we’ve been targeted to face this hardship alone.
While today is technically the Second Sunday of Christmas, we are using the Epiphany texts which include the story of the Magi visiting the young Jesus. We’re doing this for a couple reasons. The first is because the actual texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas is the same passage about the Word being with God and was God from John that we got in Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day if we had a Christmas Day service, and I don’t know if we need to focus on that same text again. And the second reason is specifically because the story of the Magi is one that we also get every year for Epiphany, and it’s a staple for our Christmas narrative and it might just be weird if we don’t get it sometime during this season.
And normally we focus on the journey that the Magi took to find the Messiah, the star that led their way, and gifts that they gave, today I wanted to focus on a different part of the story. With a story as familiar as this, that isn’t an easy task. But today, I want to focus on Herod, this Roman-appointed King of the Jews, this ruler that is usually painted as a tyrant in our bibles, this guy who just wanted to protect this throne from this new king that he was tipped off to by this so-called wise Magi.
I mean, wouldn’t you want to protect what you worked so hard to get and held onto for so many years? Would you actually just give up the fight for your rights just because some kid was born somewhere that was supposed to be this new king? Wouldn’t you do whatever you can to not let this unwanted change to your life take place? I mean, poor Herod probably already had to defend his Jewishness in the past to his Roman counterparts. He had already defended his kingship several times throughout his career. He worked hard in doing what was best for his constituents in protecting their religious freedoms and even rebuilding and remodelling their temple that meant so much to them. And now these strange Magi come and tell him that they want to worship some new king? Forget that noise.
So maybe now we understand what was going through Herod’s head here. Maybe it even sounds a bit familiar. Maybe we can even draw parallels between his attitude and the attitudes of those who felt like Christmas was ruined because we weren’t able to meet together in a church building, we weren’t able to feast with our friends and family, and we weren’t able to exchange gifts in the traditional way because we weren’t allowed in anyone’s houses.
Sure, the threat of losing your throne is really different from the threat of a pandemic Christmas, but I think the root of the problem is the same. And that is the focus is on the wrong thing. Just as how Herod’s focus on keeping his throne prevented him from seeing how this child was to change the world, so was our focus on this ruined Christmas preventing us from seeing Christ in the season, and maybe even throughout the whole past year.
See, this whole thing of distraction and being focussed on the wrong thing preventing you from seeing Jesus isn’t exclusive to just Christmas and/or losing your throne. But it reaches all areas of life and was really prevalent this past year, as we all had to face one thing that was largely distracting and consuming (I’m talking about the pandemic, by the way). In fact, this pandemic was so distracting and consuming that I’m willing to bet that at least 50-60% of my sermons in the past 9 and a half months mentioned it at least once. But the reason I kept bringing it up wasn’t just because we were in the thick of it the whole time (which we were), or because it was really on my mind (which it was), or because all the news sources pretty much only talked about it (which they did). But I kept bringing it up because I don’t want us, any of us, to lose sight of God in Jesus through the Spirit present with us throughout it all. I kept talking about it because we need to be reminded that through all of this change and hardship and stress, we aren’t alone but surrounded by our community and all the saints. I kept referencing the pandemic in my sermons because even though it is largely distracting and commanding our focus, we need that nudge to keep our focus on God’s love, our gaze on God’s grace, and our minds on God’s blessing for us all that envelops us throughout the year but we’re reminded how it enters our lives in the Christmas season.
See, no matter what we are going through, know that God is with us. No matter what is thrown in our way and blocks our paths in the past year of 2020 and this current new year of 2021, know that God holds us and continues to lead us in truth and righteousness. No matter what might distract us and take our focus, know that God has entered our lives, brightened the darkness with the light, and filled the world with redeeming love.
So as we enter this brand new year and this season after the Epiphany, may we continually look for and see and recognise God in Christ through the Spirit in our world, that we might draw strength through God’s presence, grace, and love even was we continue through this pandemic. Thanks be to God. Amen.