Prime Time for Worship
Call to Worship
“O, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker” (Ps. 95:6).
*Praise # 223 God Hath Spoken
*Invocation (Lord’s Prayer) Holy and gracious Father, on this the first Sunday of the New Year, we come before you seeking the renewal of our spirits as preparation for our living. You, who indeed turn the shadow of night into morning, satisfy us with your mercy that we may be glad all the day. Lift the light of your eternal countenance upon us and guide us in the ways of peace the whole year through. Help us now to worship you in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
*Gloria Patri # 575
Just for Kids
Our Offering to God “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come before him. Worship the Lord in holy splendor” (1 Chron. 16:29).
*Prayer of Dedication Father, we bow in gratitude as a New Year begins. We give thanks for the resources with which we have been blessed and for the opportunity we have in our giving to share your love with all who call upon us—and you.
Scripture Reading Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)
Restoration and Protection Promised
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
*Hymn of Prayer # 503 Jesus Calls Us
Pastoral Prayer Father, by the leading of a star you revealed your only Son to the peoples of the earth. Lead us, who know you now by faith, into your presence, where we may see your glory face-to-face. Today, give us a glimpse of how truly wonderful, loving, and accepting you are. Help us to enjoy you now, tomorrow, and each day. As we remember the Wise Men seeking out your Son and publicly declaring to the world that he was your Son, give us the freedom to do the same. Give us the courage to adequately praise you and declare to those around us that we are yours. We pray all of these things through the strong name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.—Larry Ellis
*Hymn of Praise # 224 How Firm a Foundation
Scripture Reading Matt. 2:1–12 (NRSV)
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘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.’ ”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Message Prime Time for Worship
It has been said that too many Christians worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship. To the extent that this statement is true, it is tragic. It represents an inversion of values—eternal values—that can ultimately lead only to impoverished souls.
In the Christmas season, just concluded, the statement takes a peculiar twist, equally unfortunate. For many, the season becomes so full of parties, shopping, and a host of other activity that the birth of Christ is reduced to an excuse for rather than the reason for the season.
So this is a good time to take a new look at an old lesson, one modeled by an unlikely cast of characters. It is a lesson in worship, sponsored by the Magi from the East.
The Story of the Fire Worshippers
It seems that, as they were traveling, Marco’s caravan came to a town called the town of the fire-worshipers, because the men of this town worship fire. The inhabitants declared that in days gone by three kings of this country went to worship a new-born prophet and took with them three offerings - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - so as to discover whether this prophet was a god, or an earthly king or a healer. For they said : 'If he takes gold, he is an earthly king; if frankincense, a god; if myrrh, a healer.' When they had come to the place where the prophet was born, they worshipped him and offered him the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh. The child took all three offerings and then gave them a closed casket. And the three kings set out to return to their own country. After they had ridden for some days, they resolved to see what the child had given them. They opened the casket and found inside it a stone. They wondered greatly what this could be. The child had given it to them to signify that they should be firm as stone in the faith that they had adopted. For, when the three kings saw that the child had taken all three offerings, they concluded that he was at once a god, and an earthly king, and a healer. And, since the child knew that the three kings believed this, he gave them the stone to signify that they should be firm and constant in their belief. The three kings, not knowing why the stone had been given to them, took it and threw it into a well. No sooner had it fallen in than there descended from heaven a burning fire, which came straight to the well into which it had been thrown. When the three kings saw this miracle, they were taken aback and repented of their throwing away the stone; for they saw clearly that its significance was great and good. They immediately took some of this fire and carried it to their country and put it in one of their churches, a very fine and splendid building. They keep it perpetually burning and worship it as a god.
I like this story even though the descendants of the three kings ended up worshipping the fire instead of the fire-giver, because it tells us something wonderful about our Lord Jesus.
What do we learn from the Magi?
I. Worship may arise from persons unlikely to offer it (v. 1). It would have been no surprise for Jewish people, grounded in the traditions of their faith and anticipating the coming of their Messiah, to have worshiped Jesus at his coming. However, the Wise Men from the East were outsiders concerning the faith. Most probably, they were pagan astrologers—priests of a naturalistic religion of seventh-century B.C. Medean origin. The Old Testament book of Daniel describes practitioners of their order as operating in Babylon in the sixth century B.C.
Moreover, these people were Gentiles. Under the Old Testament Law, and in the Jewish social and religious order, they would have been held in low esteem. They were outside the covenant and denied the privileged favor of God that the Jews experienced. Their practices of astrology were forbidden and mocked in the Old Testament, further accenting their alienation from the things of God.
But the Magi surprise us, for Matthew features their eagerness to worship Jesus, the king of the Jews, whose star they had followed to Jerusalem. The surprise is lessened, however, when we realize that their coming attests to the marvelous grace of God, who prompted and led them to find Jesus. Unlikely worshipers do not arise of their own accord. They simply respond to the grace of God freely granted them.
II. Worship entails resolute purpose (vv. 2–10). The worship of the Magi was sincere. The text clearly states that the purpose for which they had resolutely traveled so long and far was to offer untainted worship (vv. 2, 11). The term used to describe their intent—the word most frequently used for “worship” in the New Testament—always presupposes the divinity of its object. How much theology they understood may be unknown, but this much is clear: they knew that they sought the King worthy of worship. When finally they arrived at the end of their journey, they celebrated with great joy (vv. 9–10).///
HEROD’S FORCE. There is a saying that is popular in the Pacific Northwest: “When Boeing sneezes, Seattle catches cold.” The obvious point of the saying is that Boeing is such a force in the economy in the Seattle area that the impact of its fortunes touches on the entire city. This kind of situation existed also in Jerusalem during the reign of Herod. He was such a force, albeit a capricious one, that when he acted, the whole city braced itself. And so, when Herod was troubled by the announcement of the Magi, so also was the whole city.—
Herod, professed a desire to worship (v. 3), but his motives were malicious. He was troubled by the announcement of the Magi, fearing the birth of a usurper to the throne. And because he was troubled, so was the whole city, for he was a volatile and emotionally unstable man. He called for the experts to ask where the Christ was to be born (v. 4). The experts, citing Micah 5:2 combined with 2 Samuel 5:2 and 1 Chronicles 11:2, informed the king that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem (vv. 5–6). Treacherously, Herod inquired
of the Wise Men exactly when the star had appeared (v. 7). Later, he would use the information to initiate the slaughter of the innocents. He then sent them to Bethlehem, instructing them to return with word so that he also could come and worship (v. 8). His interest and investigation in the matter was solely so that he could pursue his perverse purposes—a pretense of worship to mask an evil heart.
III. Worship finds tangible expression (vv. 11–12). When the Magi arrived at the house where Jesus was, they fell prostrate in reverence before him. Their posture was a visible, outward expression of the submission of their hearts before the King. In addition, they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—expensive tokens of their esteem. Their gifts indicated the disposition of their hearts, for in their way of life bringing gifts was particularly important when one approached a superior. Their gifts also foreshadowed realities concerning Jesus’ rule as King, his worthiness to be worshiped as the Son of God, and his death on the cross for sinners.
The worship of the Magi—an unlikely cast of characters—is instructive for us, as well.
Our worship, like theirs, is enabled by divine grace. It is to be offered in sincerity of heart rather than in ostentation or in deceit. It is expressed in humble and sacrificial giving to our matchless Lord. This is the worship that is appropriate for Christmas—and throughout the year!—Robert Vogel
Topic: The Turn of a New Year
TEXT: Isa. 43:16, 18
Who can deny the tug in two directions at the same time? There are the demands to return to the sanity and security of the past before it is too late and the lure of a future that is to be carved out with courage and creativity. Both seem, by turns, right and reasonable. Which way do we turn?
I. In an era marked by uncertainty we can appreciate the call for a return to the “old values.” Yet, at the same time, there is a tug away from what is called a dim mystic past. Some say that what is needed are “futurists”—people who will admit that society, family, and education can never be the same again. Not even the realm of religion escapes this bifurcation. Do we call for a return to our spiritual roots and disciplines, or do we dare dream new dreams and entertain visions of God’s future? Maybe it is not just choosing “one of the above.” Maybe there is a third way—the way of biblical faith. For the Hebrew mind, present responsibilities and blessings are understood only in the light of the memory of the past and
a hope for the future.
II. Yes, “Which way do we turn?” is the crucial question; however, “way” does not mean “direction” but “manner.” What is the way (manner) in which we approach the past and the future?
The answer from the biblical perspective is that we are not to treat history as a God, but rather the acts of God are to be seen in history. It is a temptation tailor-made for Americans to ignore history. Realize that world, national, and personal histories are inextricably bound together. As Christians, who we are and what we do is based on God’s freeing us through Jesus Christ. Do we believe that we no longer need to be slaves to eternal death and daily living? We are called to be living reminders of that great salvation.
III. Knowing this, can we believe Isaiah, who says, in effect, “Forget the day of your salvation, remember it no longer”? Isaiah engages in such hyperbole so the auditor will be jolted by the power of God’s present plan. In other words, we block God’s “new thing” from happening in our lives because we “dwell on days gone by”—we brood over past history.
The Christian life need not mean making a choice between old and new. Rather, it means something like this: your present faith (trust in God) is based on past experience (ours and the community of faith), and you are called forward by a future hope (demonstrated by the Resurrection). The Bible would be more concrete than that. It would tell us of Abraham, called to father a new people of promise. The Bible would speak of Israel freed from bondage in Egypt. If we listen, the Gospels would speak of Jesus, the Word made flesh, tempted in the desert places of this life and yet, finally, faithful into death. From his faithfulness, a new beginning is possible for all who believe.
Hear the news. God is present in the old, in the new, and in the dangerous desert inbetween.
God, who redeemed you in Christ, will complete that work at the end of time and
will sustain you in-between.—Gary Stratman
Communion Hymn # 213 Let us Break Bread Together
*Hymn of Response # 278 Jesus Is All the World to Me