On January 1st New Year’s Day I led worship at Harlow Hill chapel. Brian the worship leader had set out the seats in a circle as we realised there might not be a large congregation, so it was a lovely intimate act of worship. Our opening hymn was ‘As with gladness men of old’ as I decided that it was the Sunday nearest to Epiphany, when the magi came to bring their gifts to the Christ child. I led the opening prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. Even though there were no children I still did a short talk about an orphan, who heard the story of the birth of Jesus for the first time. The children were given some items to make their own cribs and when the leader came to the child’s table there were two babies in the crib! The child explained that he wanted to give something to the baby Jesus, but he had nothing. Eventually he offered to keep Jesus warm and Jesus had told him that was the best gift of all. The orphan had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him in the Baby Jesus, who welcomed him to share his crib. We then sang, my late first husband’s favourite carol, ‘In the bleak midwinter.’ The members of the congregation took part in the dramatised readings based on Isaiah 60.1-6 and Matthew 2.1-12.
We sang, ‘Lord for the years’ before I preached on the theme of Epiphany. Isaiah could foresee the day when the glory of the Lord would arise in Jerusalem and shine for all nations. Not only would all the nations come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, they would come bringing their wealth of gold and incense to the Lord. Foreigners would sing praises and come in pilgrimage to honour God. The Magi had a revelation of the star they saw in the East that led them on their journey. The Magi were holy men, who were skilled in philosophy, medicine and natural science. When a brilliant star suddenly appeared, they believed God was announcing something special that was about to happen, which they interpreted as announcing the birth of a king. However they mistakenly thought the king would be born in Jerusalem, the royal city and had gone there and asked Herod where such a king might be born. Having found out that Bethlehem would be the birthplace the Magi saw that the star guided them to Bethlehem, where the baby king was found in poor surroundings.
Herod felt the threat of this new king as he was insanely suspicious and had murdered anyone who posed a potential threat to him. The people of Jerusalem were troubled as they knew how Herod would use his power to track down and eliminate the new king. Herod summoned the chief priests and scribes who were experts in the law to find out where such a king would be born and they followed the star, which led them to Bethlehem. There the Magi had fallen down and worshipped Jesus offering their special gifts to him. They recognised the message of that Star and if we had seen its significance would we have responded and decided to follow it, as the Magi did? The Magi brought 3 gifts but that does not mean there were three of them. The gifts of the Magi foretold that Jesus would become a true king; gold; be a perfect priest; frankincense; and would die for us; myrrh.
May we too be led to Jesus and worship and adore him as the Magi did to our Lord. In the carol, ‘As with gladness men of old’ we were expressing the desire to follow, kneel and give with the same extravagance that the Magi did. We are learning to follow Jesus with single minded devotion, submitting our lives afresh to him in the New Year. How can we make a difference in this New Year? We could look for ways to help those who cannot help themselves. We could be like Jesus and share his unconditional love freely with those who need it most. Help us to recognise that our life is a gift from God and use that gift in service to others. What can we give in thanks to God for His greatest gift to us of Jesus? We can introduce a friend to Jesus and find ways to share Jesus’ unconditional love in this New Year.
We sang ‘Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here;’ before Brian led the prayers of intercession. Our service concluded when we sang ‘I, the Lord of sea and sky.’