HE WILL STAND AND SHEPHERD HIS FLOCK IN THE STRENGTH OF THE LORD, IN THE MAJESTY OF THE NAME OF THE LORD HIS GOD. AND THEY WILL LIVE SECURELY, FOR THEN HIS GREATNESS WILL REACH TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. AND HE WILL BE THEIR PEACE. (Micah 5: 4 – 5)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP!
OPENING HYMN – (CH-176) – STILL THE NIGHT, holy the night! Sleeps the world; hid from sight, Mary and Joseph in stable bare watch o’er the Child beloved and fair, sleeping in heavenly rest, sleeping in heavenly rest.
Still the night, holy the night! Shepherds first saw the light, heard resounding clear and long, far and near, the angel-song, “Christ the Redeemer is here! Christ the Redeemer is here!”
Still the night, holy the night! Son of God, O how bright love is smiling from Thy face! Strikes for us now the hour of grace, Saviour, since Thou art born! Saviour, since Thou art born!
LET US PRAY:
LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, You came in Jesus Christ – The Word-Made-Flesh, – identifying Yourself with our humanity, sharing our joy and our sorrow, experiencing our life and our death. You came in fulfilment of Your promises of old, revealing the extent of Your love through everything YOU said and did, demonstrating Your gracious purpose for us all. For Your WORD-OF-LIFE we praise You ! You speak still through the pages of Scripture; through their record of Your involvement in history and their testimony to Your will for the world. You speak through dialogue between Christians, through the witness of Your Church, and through the sharing of fellowship. You speak through the grandeur of the universe and the wonder of life, Your still small voice breaking into our experience to challenge and inspire. Gracious God, we rejoice at the way You have spoken to us in the past and the way You continue to speak today. We receive Your WORD with joyful thanksgiving, and we pray for strength to make it so much a part of us that Your voice may be heard through all that we are, we say, and we do, to the glory of Your name. For Your WORD-OF-LIFE we praise You! Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – NUMBERS 24: 16 – 17a.
THE ORACLE OF ONE WHO HEARS THE WORDS OF GOD, WHO HAS KNOWLEDGE FROM THE MOST HIGH, WHO SEES A VISION FROM THE ALMIGHTY, WHO FALLS PROSTRATE, AND WHOSE EYES ARE OPENED: -“I SEE HIM, BUT NOT NOW; I BEHOLD HIM, BUT NOT NEAR. A STAR WILL COME OUT OF JACOB; A SCEPTRE WILL RISE OUT OF ISRAEL…
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – MATTHEW 2: 10 – 11.
WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE OVERJOYED. ON COMING TO THE HOUSE, THEY SAW THE CHILD WITH HIS MOTHER MARY, AND THEY BOWED DOWN AND WORSHIPPED HIM. THEN THEY OPENED THEIR TREASURES AND PRESENTED HIM WITH GIFTS OF GOLD AND OF INCENSE AND MYRRH. AND HAVING BEEN WARNED IN A DREAM NOT TO GO BACK TO HEROD, THEY RETURNED TO THEIR COUNTRY BY ANOTHER ROUTE.
The first excitement of Jesus’ birth is past. The shepherds returned to their flocks, and Mary and Joseph started enjoying family life with Baby-Jesus. Then … we are drawn into a fascinating story of some anonymous characters, who have captured the imaginations of countless generations, being written into songs and screenplays: -THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST, so often called: THE MAGI.
It was to the East of Eden that Adam and Eve were banished by God after they had fallen into sin. It was to the East of Eden that Cain was expelled to live after he had slain his brother Abel. The East was always regarded by the Jews to be the land of shadows, danger and death. It was from the East that the WISE MEN came, and it is from “East of Eden”, from the periphery of true life, that we are called alongside of them to meet the Saviour of the world, to bow down humbly before the magnificence of the Salvation-work God has done for those who believe in Him. To be given the eye-opening experience of worshiping Jesus who will teach us to watch the birds and flowers, who will remind us of how much more we are worth to God, and to rise, thrilled just to be there, and to return by another way to our life, determined not to live East of Eden ever again.
We remember the Magi mainly for the gifts that they presented to the infant Jesus. We are moved by the fact that they travelled so far to deliver their presents. We are inspired by the fact that they presented valuable gifts, perhaps the best that they could offer, to the NEWBORN KING. We think of our Christmas gift-giving as being inspired by the gifts of the Magi. No doubt about it, they did offer fine gifts, and that their gift-giving is inspiring to us still.
- – GOD’S GIFTS IN HIS CREATION.
The gifts of the Magi were given in response to a gift that they had received. The Magi were astrologers, likely from the area of modern-day Iraq or Iran. They spent most of their time gazing at the stars. Out of all the stars on which they could have focused, God led them to see one that would lead them to Jesus. That is awe inspiring. Think about it. How many stars are there in the universe? The number is larger than a simple mind like mine can comprehend. When we look into the night sky, the vastness of it all amazes us, and when we can do some occasional stargazing here on Skye, we are seeing only a tiny fraction of our own solar system, which is, in turn, is only a tiny fraction of the Universe. I am reminded over and over again of my favourite psalm: – When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour (Psalm 8: 3-5). And yet, out of that vastness, God directed the Magi to the one star that made all the difference. What a gift, what a wonderful gift !
- – GOD’S GIFT FOR YOU AND ME.
The astounding thing about the revelation given by God to the Wise Men is that they were GENTILES. According to the gospels, the first announcement of the birth of the Messiah was to Jewish shepherds – men who lived on the periphery of the Hebrew society. The second announcement was to Gentiles – people who lived on the outside of that society, named in the Old Testament as the People of God. Even though it was always God’s intention for the Hebrews to be a light to the nations and for gentiles to be included in His Kingdom, it took the coming of Jesus as the Messiah to get the way for us to open wide. Even then it was a hard challenge. It took much suffering, debate and the heroic efforts of people like Paul to make full Gentile-inclusion in the Church a reality. But God’s truth won out: Salvation is by Grace of God through Faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. We come in from different backgrounds, but we all come in the same way: –through Christ. God went to the extreme of extremes to make salvation possible for people like us, who once were considered outsiders – gaining something far more than valuable: FAITH through Christ,- and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the MORNING STAR rises in your hearts – the Apostle said. (2 Peter 1: 19).
- – GOD’S GIFT IS FOR EVERYBODY.
God went to great lengths to let the Magi know about the birth of Jesus, because what He was saying to them was what God wanted to say to the whole world. His sign to the Magi signalled from the very beginning that God’s gift of FAITH IN HIS SON was for all, not just for a select few. God’s revelation to the Magi was also at the same time an eye-opener for the early readers of the Gospel of Matthew. After all, the Magi were foreigners, they were practitioners of another religion, and they were astrologers. They were believed to be disqualified from having a positive experience with the Messiah. And yet God showed them the STAR, they saw the Star, and followed the Star. They were Gentiles, and yet God gave them the gift of His Son; Jesus came for them, just as He came for the people of Israel. Indeed, we will gain the most valuable gift possible if we reclaim the Gospel-truth that the COMING OF CHRIST means that the Church gathered around Christ is a Church that makes no distinctions because of race, gender, or any other human standing. From very early times the Gifts of the Wise Men were seen as representing something which specifically matched some characteristics of Jesus.
– GOLD – is a gift for a King. Jesus was the Man born to be KING. But He was to reign not by force but by LOVE; and He was to rule over human hearts, not from a throne, but from a CROSS. We can never meet Jesus on equal terms. We must always meet Him on terms of complete submission.
– FRANKINCENSE – is the gift for a Priest. It was in the Temple, at worships and sacrifices, that the sweet perfume of frankincense was used. The function of a priest is to open the way to God for men and women. The Latin word is pontifex, which means bridge-builder. The priest builds a bridge between human beings and God. That is what Jesus did. He opened the way to God; he made it possible for us to enter into the very presence of God. He is the only PRIEST we need.
– MYRRH – is the gift for ONE WHO IS TO DIE. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Jesus came into the world to live and die for us, giving His life to us through His death on the Cross.
– GOLD FOR THE KING, FRANKINCENSE FOR THE PRIEST, MYRRH FOR THE ONE WHO WAS TO DIE FOR US, – these were the gifts of the Wise Men, and even at the cradle of Christ, they foretold that HE WAS TO BE THE TRUE KING, THE PERFECT PRIEST, AND IN THE END THE SUPREME SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD.
- – RESPONDING TO GOD’S GIFT.
We don’t always take advantage of the gifts that are given to us. God has given us such tremendous gifts: He has given us SALVATION, He has given us our Christian fellowship, our Bibles, a free country and our places of worship in which to exercise our faith, and so much more. How, though, are we responding to these gifts, are they taken for granted? …If I were a wise man, I would do my part – Yet what can I give Him… I GIVE MY HEART,- the poet writes. But are we really giving Jesus what He deserves? The early Jewish Christians had a hard time accepting the fact that God wanted Jews and Gentiles in His Church on the same terms. Now the Church is a Gentile-Church. Are we ready to accept the fact that God welcomes all into His Family? If we withhold a large part of our greatest gift – our lives – from God, we withhold God Himself – who is LOVE – from His Family we use to call THE CHURCH. We all are surrounded by people for whom God has the GREATEST GIFT and who would be the greatest Gift of God to us. As we find them, and relate to them, we will be ever reminded of GOD’S LOVE for them – and for us. What a gift that will be! Take it as something to remember in the forthcoming NEW YEAR. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
LORD OUR GOD, we praise You for Your love that never ends, never lets us down and never lets us go. We praise You for dealing with our fears, touching our lives and healing our brokenness. We praise You that in Your wisdom and grace You did not leave us to try to find You in our strength or to be in any doubt as to the reality of Your loving-kindness and mercy. We praise You for always being there when we need You most; for being there when we least expect it; for being there with us when no one else could be there, and no one else wanted to be there for us. We praise You that every time we look to Christ, we are reminded that there is nothing He does not know about us and nothing He does not understand about our lives. We praise You that You come to us again and again. You lift us when we are down and hold us when we are hurting; You fill us with Your grace and share all the twists and turns of our lives. As we come to the end of another year, we thank and praise You for the way You have led us through good and bad, joy and sorrow, hope and disappointment, pleasure and pain. We thank You for the way You have led us as individuals – the experiences we have gone through, challenges we have faced, the people we could meet, the inspiration You have offered. We thank You for the guidance, support and protection You have given to us in these hard times of pandemic. We thank You for the way You have led us as a church – the things learned, the worships offered and services given, even in lockdown and self-isolation, and for all the answered prayers. We praise and thank You that we can come now in confidence, knowing from experience that You will be with us in the days and years to come, seeking to help us grow in grace, Your power being sufficient for all our needs, whatever we may face. Bless our Church, bless our loved-ones and all those whom we now quietly name in our hearts … through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN: – (CH-197) – BEHOLD THE GREAT CREATOR makes Himself a house of clay, a robe of human flesh He takes which He will wear for aye.
Hark, hark, the wise eternal Word, like a weak infant cries! In form of servant is the Lord, and God in cradle lies.
Glad shepherds came to view this sight; a choir of angels sings, and eastern sages with delight adore this King of kings.
Join then, all hearts that are not stone, and all our voices prove, to celebrate this Holy One the God of peace and love.
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOUR RESTS.
(Luke 2: 14)
MAY THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. (2 Corinthians 13: 14)
Sandor, your Minister.