ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – We Three Kings, Pianissimo Brothers
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Come Healing, Leonard Cohen
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:1-12
- Message – Finding the Messiah – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – Carol of the Magi, John Rutter, Gabriel Crouch, Tim Gill, Cambridge Singers, & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – The Magi, Peter, Paul & Mary
Hello! I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville and I want to welcome you to this morning’s worship service.
We are finishing up our series, “Searching for the Light,” with this final installment, “Finding the Messiah.” And, even though Epiphany is technically on January 6th, we’re observing it today.
If you’re financially able, please consider taking time to make weekly offerings. You can make them online through a secure service provided by Holston Conference or you can mail them in. The information is available on our website, at the end of this video, and in our weekly worship bulletins sent through our email list.
Father of light, unchanging God, today you reveal to men of faith the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh. Your light is strong, Your love is near; draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes, to the life where Your Spirit makes all life complete.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now hear this call to worship.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praises and our petitions. To protect the privacy of those we pray for, we do not say any names. Please know that I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There may be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may also be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud. Just watch the screen and if words appear in front of me, say them with me.
God, we thank you and praise your holy name that we are here to worship you.
Today, God we focus our prayers on all the victims of this horrific virus – On those whose lives were cut short because of it, on the families and friends of those who are gone too soon, on those who are struggling economically because of it.
Holy God: All our lives we have been searching for you, seeking you, wanting to know who you are, what you want, what you are about. In moments we would never share, we have even entertained deep doubts. Many times, we’ve been confused–one person says one thing and another person says another. One passage of scripture seems one way and another passage seems so different.
It’s easy to feel lost. It’s easy to give up our search. It’s easy to let the darkness of this world encompass us. It’s easy to get distracted by the many diversions of this world, the multitude of competing interests that keep our minds and eyes occupied and divert us from keeping our eyes on you.
Long ago, those who lived in darkness saw a great light. The people around the Galilee saw the face of God in the face of Jesus. Pagan astrologers from the east were rewarded in their search for you when they saw the glory of God in the face of the Christ child.
So help us, holy God, to keep looking for you. Help us to see Jesus. Help us to know you heart and to have your heart as we encounter him. Help us to keep our gaze fixed on him, to let nothing distract us from following the light we have seen in him. Help us to share the light of Christ in a world full of folks like the Magi from the east–good people who are looking for you in all kinds of ways and places and need just a little help figuring out that Jesus Christ is the one they are looking for.
Merciful God, heal the sick, comfort those in difficulty, draw the lost to yourself. May your light shine in every dark corner of our hearts and our world.
We ask these things today in the name of your Son, our Lord, and with the confidence of your children we pray the words he taught us to pray:
“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, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. ”
O God, most holy and praised: As Your Son gathered disciples to himself to teach them your ways, so your Spirit has gathered us in this time and place. Make us alert and attentive as we read and reflect on Your scriptures; help us take them to heart and live into them so that your will is truly done on earth as in heaven. We pray in the name of our true Teacher, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 2:1-12 (NSRV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Finding Faith …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Bethlehem, of noblest cities
None can once with thee compare;
Thou alone, the Lord from heaven
Didst for us incarnate bare.
Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told his birth;
To the lands their God announcing,
Seen in fleshly form on earth.
By its lambent beauty guided
See the eastern kings appear;
See them bend, their gifts to offer,
Gifts of incense, gold and myrrh.
Solemn things of mystic meaning:
Incense doth the God disclose,
Gold a royal child proclaimeth,
Myrrh a future tomb foreshadows.
Holy Jesus, in thy brightness
To the Gentile world displayed,
With the Father and the Spirit
Endless praise to thee be paid.
Thus wrote Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, a Roman Christian poet, 350 to 400 years after Jesus’ birth.
17th Century English poet, John Milton who wrote: Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies – those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
Epiphany is one of my favorite special days. There are so many … epiphanies! … packed into those 12 verses from Matthew!
Let’s start with the magi. First, the actual number of magi is unknown. The bible doesn’t really say how many. The assumption of “three” is based on the three gifts.
The Magi were probably priestly descendants of the people of Media which is the area that we now refer to as Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and parts of Kermanshah in northwestern Iran. They weren’t Jewish. They were Gentiles, most likely pagan in their spiritual beliefs. These magi were the scientists of their day. They studied the sky, the movement of the stars, the world around them. Through their observations, they became aware that something big was unfolding in the universe, and that there would be a sign to foretell the event. They felt so strongly about the importance of whatever was coming that they traveled somewhere around 830-1864 miles … depending on which route they took … by camel … a trip that would have taken somewhere between 43 and 98 days, again depending on which route they took, across deserts and wilderness, and through foreign countries.
It was because it was customary in those days to request permission from the ruler of a country to travel through his lands and like going through customs today, declare their intentions while there, that Herod becomes involved in the story.
Herod, who’s parents were both Edomites … Arabs … was a despot if ever there was one. Around 100 years before he came along, John Hyrcanus and the Maccabean had conquered Edom. Hyrcanus required all Edomites to obey Jewish law or to leave, so most Edomites including Herod’s parents converted to Judaism and many had intermarried with the Jews and adopted their customs. While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some, that he was completely aligned with Caesar combined with his lifestyle angered the observant Jews like the Sanhedrin.
So here come these magi asking about the prophesied birth of “the King of the Jews.” Alarmed, Herod turns to his own scribes and pharisees who tell him, “Yep. Prophesied by Micah. It’s in The Book.”
The very idea that a “king of the Jews” had been born … and in his kingdom … was a threat to the authority appointed to him by Rome and, more importantly, his ambitions. I imagine it ranks right up there with an incumbent losing an election.
Herod is also calculating. He puts on a false demeanor of devoutly sincere interest and instructs the magi to send word back when they find the child so he can “come and worship him, too.”
We know the rest of this story. The magi followed the star and found the house where Mary and Jesus were. When they walked in and saw Jesus, they had one of those transcendent moments of awe that changed forever how they would experience life and the world. They had an epiphany.
Going back to the beginning of the nativity story, up until now everyone involved had been Jewish. Mary and Joseph were both Jewish. The shepherds were most likely Jewish. The majority of people in Bethlehem were Jewish. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were Jewish. Simeon and Anna and everyone in the temple were Jewish. The scribes and pharisees that Herod consulted were Jewish. They were all aware of the prophecies of Micah and Isaiah.
The magi were not. The magi were Gentiles. The magi didn’t come because of something they’d read in their sacred scrolls. Something else moved them to pay attention. Something else moved them to all draw the same conclusion … that something big, something important was happening … something that they needed to witness for themselves. Something created that star that they followed so diligently.
Something moved them to bring the gifts they did – Gold, the appropriate gift for a king, frankincense, an expensive perfume like the one Mary would eventually pour on his feet, and myrrh – an anointing oil – like the oil used when his body was prepared for the tomb.
Something moved within them so that they only had to see him, to be in his presence, to know he wasn’t just the king of the Jews … he was the King of Kings, the Christ, the Messiah of Micah’s prophecies. And something moved in their dreams to warn them that Herod was a danger to Jesus and to avoid reporting back to him as he’d commanded … to go home by another way.
That something was someone. That something was the One. The One was God through the movement of the Holy Spirit so strongly, so surely, that the magi had the epiphany.
As I said at the beginning, there are multiple epiphanies to be had in this passage. There’s the Epiphany experienced by the magi. But there’s also …
That the first signs of Jesus’ birth were given not to the “chosen” ones, but to those labeled unworthy by the chosen ones: the wise ones were Gentiles and from other lands, the shepherds had so many labels it wasn’t even funny … Mary got pregnant while betrothed to Joseph… how like God to pull one like that.
That God used the things these scientists understood to communicate with them. God speaks to all people in ways that resonate with them. These men were likely Zoroastrians, a very old pagan religion. Their religious language was the heavens/stars…and God speaks to them on those terms.
God uses our ‘knowns’ to bring revelation. There is no indication that the ‘wise men’ had a belief in the God we know, but they did know astronomy and so God wove that into the plan. What was plain to the magi was ignored by “chosen ones” who should have been ready and watching.
That even wise men get lost and have to ask for directions and help
That these Gentile scientists not only recognized Jesus as Christ, as the King of Kings, but they also paid him homage as such and were compelled to change their route home in order to keep him safe from Herod’s wrath.
That the religious didn’t find God in their theology or history or knowledge.
That Herod didn’t find God in authority or power of his appointed earthly position.
That God was in the dreams and the dreaming and the dreamers … the ones willing to take risks and to venture into the unknown … are the ones who journeyed.
That there are at least four lessons in this story:
- Following the Light requires action
- Following the Light is a journey of faith requiring perseverance
- Following the Light will cost you something … like going a different way after you encounter Jesus
- Following the Light results in a glorious ending
Epiphany is about seeing Christ, about the manifestation of Messiah in the person of Jesus. In other words, not just being told Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah but, with your own eyes, taking one look at that baby and seeing Christ, intuitively knowing without anyone saying a word that he is the Messiah.
God led the magi using the “language” they understood … the light of a magnificent star … to reveal the Messiah to the non-Jewish world. The magi were willing to undertake this journey regardless of any risk or cost in order to follow that light.
What possesses people to go where they never have been, not as tourists, but as those seeking a new life? Pioneers… explorers… seekers…refugees. Where is God leading us in 2021?
The magi traveled home by another road…what road is God inviting you to take? The old familiar one….or a new one…all because of the Christmas event experience?
Think of the recent ‘Christmas Star’ sighting, the convergence of Venus and Saturn on Christmas Eve. It was through scientists that we were made aware of it. It makes one wonder how many faith ‘stars’ of opportunity we miss because we aren’t paying attention.
Most residents in Bethlehem weren’t aware of Jesus or didn’t connect his birth to the prophecies. How do we make sure we are seeking Jesus in midst of this noisy complicated world? How will we intentionally seek him this year?
These are all questions to ponder as we begin our own Journey With Jesus next week.
Please join me in this closing prayer:
L: Arise, shine inheritors of God’s light, bearers of Christ’s light to our darkened world,
P: The light of God has come into our world, and nations will come to its brightness,
L: Arise, shine, privileged ones who live in the light of Christ, bow before God not in shame but in awe,
P: All is visible in Christ’s eternal light. In us God’s light never goes out.
L: Arise shine, in Christ, God’s light has been revealed to us,
It reaches across time and space,
P: We have come to see, we have come to follow,
L: Arise shine, in Christ God’s light has been revealed to all people,
God’s glory has been unveiled in all the earth,
P: May we go and tell, may we go and share God’s light with our needy world.
L: Come and see
P: The light of God has come into our world to proclaim God’s justice and love. It has overcome the darkness and brought new life
L: Come and follow
P: Christ our king has redeemed our world. He draws us into a loving family from every tribe and family and culture
L: Go and tell
P: The Spirit has equipped us for service to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth
L: Come and see, come and follow, go and tell
P: In God’s Son the nations of the earth will put their hope
God, we have come to see and we will follow and show others. In times of scarcity may we see your generosity. In places of oppression may we see your freedom. In a world at war may we see your peace.
Lord God Almighty, thank you that Jesus’ epiphany as Son of God reaches across time and space. As we go into this day may we embrace your call to come and see, come and follow, go and tell others. May we remember that we are bearers of Christ’s light sent out to touch others so that they may know him as Son of God and experience the hope his message brings.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. Next Sunday we’ll be doing a special observance for the Baptism of the Lord. I hope you’ll come back and join me for that as well.
Now hear this benediction by Sir Thomas à Beckett:
May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain, but by strengthening you to bear it as it comes;
Not by making your path easy, but by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you, but by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine, but by keeping your face bright even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant, but by showing you when people and their causes need you the most and by making you anxious to be there to help.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, and get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, please. God be with you.
- Pastoral Prayer – adapted from a prayer by Nathan Attwood
- Closing Prayer – from EPiphany Litany by Christine Sine, Godspacelight.com
- A huge thank you to the members of UM Clergywomen (Facebook Group) for their comments relevant to and used in this message.
Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!