• Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
  • Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
  • Hymn – We Three Kings (UMH 254)
  • Responsive Reading 
  • Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
  • Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
  • Scripture Readings – Isaiah 60:1-5; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Acts 8:14-17 (all readings from NRSV) – Rev. Val
  • Hymn – Sing We Now of Christmas (v. 1, 4-5; UMH 237)
  • Message: The Gifts – Rev. Val
  • Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
  • Doxology (UMH 95)
  • Baptism Covenant (UMH 50-53)
  • Covenant Renewal Service
  • Hymn – Holy Spirit, Come Confirm Us (UMH 331)
  • Benediction & Chalking the Door – Rev. Val & Congregation


Welcome one and all. A special welcome to our visitors. We’re glad youre here with us. We have a lot to get through today, so I’m going to forego announcements unless any of you have something you need to say …

Call to Worship
“Epiphany Call to Worship” Copyright 2011 Nathan Decker. All Rights Reserved. Posted with Permission on the Discipleship Ministries Worship website.

L: Lord, this year, we will follow the Star of Bethlehem.
P: Too long we’ve gone the wrong way, followed the wrong stars!

L: We went South following movie stars, greed, and lust.
P: Star of Wonder…

L: We went East following stars of militarism, nationalism, and war.
P: Star of Light…

L: We even went North following our own visions, our own intuition, and our own way.
P: Star with Royal Beauty Bright…

L: Lord, this year, we will follow the Star of Bethlehem.
P: The Star of Hope.
L: The Star of Peace.
P: The Star of Joy.
L: The Star of Love.
P: The Star that is You.

L: Let us worship the God who gathers us! Let us pray in his name together:

Opening Prayer
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright © 2002


O God of light and peace,
whose glory, shining in the child of Bethlehem,
still draws the nations to yourself:
dispel the darkness that shrouds our path,
that we may come
to kneel before Christ in true worship,
offer him our hearts and souls,
and return from his presence to live as he has taught.


Responsive Reading – Psalm 72:1-8 (UMH 795)


From the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Worship Planning Page. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/12/prayers-of-people-january-8-2012.html

In the waters of baptism we were made God’s children

and called to serve one another as we have been served by Christ.

Therefore let us pray for one another and for all people

who will not or cannot pray for themselves.

Dear heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise that in your mercy you brought us to baptism, and there gave us Jesus’ holiness in exchange for our sin and impurity. Thank you for our parents who brought us up in the faith and to baptism, thank you for those other people whom you used to bring us the gospel, and thank you for our pastors and teachers in the faith.

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

We pray for the baptized people of God, that we may hang on to your promises in true faith, especially when we experience the wilderness of sin and evil within, and temptations and trials from outside. Strengthen us with your Holy Spirit so that Jesus’ victory may be our victory.

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

We pray for all people, that the good news of Christ will be proclaimed and heard by all people, and that many will believe and be baptized. To this end, send and support pastors, missionaries, teachers, and lay people able to give truthful and loving witness to Christ.

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Have mercy on those in need, those who are struggling because of domestic violence and break-down, those who are suffering from harmful behavior and hurting relationships. Heal, restore, and renew dear Lord.

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

We pray for the sick, those who are disabled, those in hospital, those facing death. Show them the light of the gospel, provide helpers and caregivers and medical resources, and heal both body and soul. Be with those among us who are sick or recovering from surgery, and in particular (insert names), and others whom we name in our hearts… (brief silence)

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, you have shown us your love and salvation in the baptism of your Son. Accept these prayers of your children in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Dearest Lord, whatever else You see that we need—whatever is for the good of our neighbor and redounds to Your glory—we pray that You would grant to us, Your children. We ask it Jesus’ name who 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, the power, and the glory forever.



Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, in our living, and in our loving.


Isaiah 60:1-5 (NRSV) – Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV) – 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.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (NRSV) – As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Acts 8:14-17 (NRSV) – Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.

The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).

Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

The scriptures of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE – The Gifts

Sources cited within message.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

There are so many gifts in the Christmas Story, that it’s hard to know where to begin … so many hidden treasures … so many priceless treasures. We’re taught throughout advent and even through Christmastide about four gifts … hope, love, joy, and peace. And don’t forget grace. The Grace that is coming. But there are more.

I’m not going to go over the whole Christmas story, but I do need to back up a little bit … back to Christmas night when the heavenly host visited those shepherds. Shepherds were some of the lowliest in the social hierarchy of Jewish culture, and yet they were told before anyone else about Christ’s birth? The gifts in that was the reminder that the last will be made first and the first made last … that power and wealth and status are not determiners of God’s chosen people and really never have been if you think about it.

Now let’s look at the Magi. It’s unlikely they were kings. It’s much more likely that they were Zoroastrian priests, astronomers, and astrologists from at least as far away as what we know as western Iraq. Zoroastrians were monotheistic, but they weren’t followers of the God of Abraham. They just believed there was a singular omnipotent power in the universe. Zoroastrian priests would watch for signs in the sky … changes in stars and constellations and other celestial bodies … to prophesy.

Now, where Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth and Zechariah all got in-person visits from an angel and the shepherds got a heavenly Facetime session with a host of angels, the Magi got a celestial text message. The star signs they watched so carefully told them something was happening, and that someone really important and world-changing was coming … someone important enough for them to pack up and make what would have been an extraordinarily treacherous journey to follow a very special and unique star all the way from their land through other lands to wherever the star led them.

It was protocol at the time that, when a group like theirs had to pass through or had business in someone else’s territory, a visit to the reuler in charge of said territory was in order. Otherwise, if you were to get stopped along the way, you might be arrested or even executed.

So, their visit to Herod was necessary even if it would later turn out to be ill advised. Apparently the signs they had been seeing in the stars didn’t give them any indication that Herod was untrustworthy, so it didn’t occur to them to tell Herod anything but the truth … the signs they saw in the stars said a king had been born and the signs had led them to Herod’s kingdom.

Herod asked them … well … asked in the way any king asks which is ultimately an order … to report back to him after they located the new king so that Herod could “go pay his respects, too,” and off they went.

This next part of the story always gives me pause. To me it’s the most amazing part. They arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph, walked in to find the baby in his mother’s lap, and immediately … IMMEDIATELY … knewrecognized the baby as not just any king but the king of kings, dropped to their knees, and offered him their gifts.

That instant recognition … immediate revelation … is why the day is called Epiphany. The Magi … collectively … not just one of them but all of them who were present … had an epiphany. Such a major epiphany, they also recognized they had to protect this child from Herod, so they defied his order to report back to him and went home by another route.

OK, let’s stop for a second.  We know the gifts the Magi brought … gold, a kingly gift, frankincense, a special incense burned to honor a deity, and myrrh, an anointing oil used when preparing a body for burial. We can understand why they would have brought gold. They knew from the signs that they were coming to meet a new king. We don’t know why they chose the frankincense or the myrrh, though and kind of have to assume the star signs were telling them what to bring. But wow, what foreshadowing in those gifts, huh?

But the gifts in their visit to us were an affirmation of seeking, of wonder, and of inclusion … yes inclusion … and diversity because the second folk to get told about Christ’s birth were not only not Jewish, they didn’t even worship God as the Jewish people knew God. And an affirmation that … if it’s for a good cause … risk is sometimes necessary and justifiable.

Rev. Chuck F. Queen, Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in **** and a longtime friend on Facebook, wrote this about the Magi: “Before George Lucas gave us Jedi, Matthew’s Gospel gave us Magi. Now, the question, of course, is this: What is Matthew trying to say to his readers by having these Gentiles from some Eastern land who are devotees of a completely different religion come to Bethlehem to give homage to the one they call “King of the Jews?” These Eastern sages are apparently astrologers who are accustomed to gazing into the heavens and witness an unusual star that somehow signals to them the birth of a King, which, in turn, compels them to make this journey crossing geographical, social, national, and religious boundaries to pay respect and reverence to a person representing a faith tradition very different than their own. Matthew has no interest in trying to explain how they drew the conclusions they did from the appearance of the star. That’s insignificant to his purpose.

I’m not exactly sure what Matthew may have had in mind (how can we read the mind of a biblical author?), but he portrays them as peace makers and truth seekers. They are willing to cross boundaries to give reverence to another religious tradition where wisdom and truth can be found. The magi feel no compulsion to convert to Judaism, nor do they feel any need to import their own religion. These magi apparently make this long journey for a single purpose, namely, to pay homage and bring gifts. I believe that the more we grow in the Spirit of Divine Love, the more we are able to learn from and be informed by the values of diversity, inclusivity, and the inherent dignity of persons of other faith traditions.

What would interfaith relations look like if we looked for common ground and felt no need to convince anyone of the advantages of our religion? What would it mean for Christians to make the long journey across strange social, cultural and religious landscapes bearing only gifts of respect and reverence and appreciation for all that is true and loving and sacred in these other traditions?”

I wish for you during this “Epiphany of the Lord” week (celebrated Jan. 6 in the Revised Common Lectionary) that you have your own personal epiphany of the inclusive love of the one God of many names who welcomes us right where we are.”

Hope, love, joy, peace, grace, acceptance regardless of socio-economic status, affirmation that it’s okay and even good to seek answers, that it’s okay to feel wonder, and that literally all are included. Those are some amazing gifts.

Of course, the biggest gift was Immanuel, God With Us. But the gifting didn’t stop there.

Our passage from Luke jumps forward to the beginning of Jesus’s adult ministry and talks about Jesus’s baptism at the Jordan. Which might seem like a weird juxtaposition considering we were just talking about his birth, but bear with me.  Ask yourselves why Jesus … of all people … would feel the need to get baptized? He’s got nothing, nada, zero to repent for … so what’s the point in his getting baptized? Was this just an opportunity for the crowds John had been drawing to be introduced to Jesus? One of those, “Oh, hey, everyone! This is my cousin Jesus. He’ll be playing at the Temple all week. Check him out!” moments?

To quote Derek Weber, “Jesus went to John to be baptized because he was entering into this messy world that we live in. All of us are born into a world not of our making – a world we can barely understand at the best of times, a world we cannot explain at the worst of times, a world that needs repentance, which is a corporate need as much as an individual one. Jesus strode into the river to be buried up to the neck in the sin of the world, and then to rise to the Spirit. He didn’t approve of the brokenness of this world, but he embraced it; he made it his, and he carried it with him, like a chip on the shoulder, like a pack on his back; he carried it all the way to the cross.”

Buried to the neck in the sin of the world and rising to the Spirit. And setting an example for us when he did. That’s a gift and much more.

Now, I want to share one of the greatest gifts I see in all of this … the gift of community.  Mary and Joseph could have brought Christ into the world that night and no one would have been the wiser. But God brought them a community … a community of shepherds and Magis … and when Jesus was baptized, there was … again … a community of people who believed in God and believed in the prophesied Messiah standing on the banks of the Jordan with him.

Jesus didn’t address the crowds that day on the Jordan. As Weber continues in his writing, “And what did he say, when he embraced all that is wrong in this life, all that is less than divine, less than holy? What words did he use to give meaning and understanding and explanation? He didn’t say a thing. Like us, he was silent. Did he want to speak? Or was the weight of the burden he accepted so heavy that even he was struck dumb? Like us, he was silent. So that he would know what we experience when we have no words to say in the face of death or worse.

There were words spoken in that moment, though. Words that echo in the silence of our moments even to this day. They weren’t his words or ours or any human words. They were God’s words, and they said simply, “I love you.” They were words of affirmation, not for deeds done or not done, but for being—just for being. “I love you” – words to hear in the midst of darkness, words to cling to in the midst of doubt. In the maelstrom of living and of dying, we hear and then—by grace—speak these words; they are all we have: “I love you.”

Love … love was, is and always shall be the greatest of The Gifts.

Remember that Luke wrote the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him? It is the same Spirit that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost and that they then shared to the Gentiles in our passage from Acts … a gift, indeed, an eternal helper and guide.

Today, we will remember our own baptisms and renew our Covenant as a beloved community and as believers, and recommit to loving God with all our hearts and all our minds, and all our strength. If you would please turn to Page 50 in your hymnals, we’ll begin.


We do not provide a transcript of this portion of our service.


We do not provide a transcript of this portion of our service.


Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:

God of new beginnings, as we move into this new year, stir in us the feelings of expectation! Kindle our hearts and minds to see possibilities for our world and for your kingdom. Help us to believe that the world we have can be better: more loving, more just, more compassionate, and looking much more like the world you’ve imagined for us. Lord, help us to give generously this day to empower that to happen. In the name of Christ, Savior and Redeemer, we pray.



Nancy C. Townley, Ministry Matters

Thank you, everyone here and those viewing online for being here this morning. We have one more thing to do today as soon as we are dismissed and that is to go outside together and chalk the door of the church. Chalking the Door is an old, European tradition that is done on Epiphany. The purpose is to pray a blessing over the house … in this case, God’s house. It is still done in many parts of Europe and is beginning to become a tradition here in the US as well. We’ll be taking our online viewers with us … Tracy, would you please man the camera, so stay with us folks out there in Facebook land.

Now hear this benediction:

The Light of the Star, the light of God’s love, shines before you as you leave this place. Go in peace, go in joy, go in love to meet God’s people in the world and greet them with the good news.


Now, if you will all join me on the front steps, we will chalk the door!


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