The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
January 1, 2023
First Sunday of Christmas
Lord of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we gather here this first Sunday of the New Year, in a mixture of hope, anticipation, fear, excitement, and expectation. We do not know what the year holds for us. there are things we are afraid of – worries about health and family, job security and finances. There is much to look forward to – weddings or anniversaries or baptisms, holidays to enjoy, friends to laugh with.
Lord God, the coming year is full of uncertainty and hope. Whatever the year holds for us, though, we trust You, and we place every day of this year in your care knowing that, as in the past, You are with us, caring for us with constant love.
And so Lord, we place ourselves into your keeping and dedicate our lives to your service through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.
PRELUDE “Improvisation on ‘The Infant King’” Robert Roth
CALL TO WORSHIP
Congregation, what is your source of comfort and encouragement?
Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
With joy receive these words of greeting from God: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.
*HYMN No. 140 “Once in Royal David’s City”
1 Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild;
Jesus Christ, her little child.
2 He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor and meek and lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.
3 Jesus is our childhood’s pattern;
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless;
tears and smiles like us he knew;
and he feels for all our sadness,
and he shares in all our gladness.
4 And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that child so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.
*CALL TO CONFESSION
The act of confessing our sin is not simply a recitation of our faults and wrongs, but also an opportunity to receive God’s mercy and share in that abundant grace. Confident of God’s love for us, let us offer our prayers,
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Merciful God and Father in heaven, you are faithful and just; you are willing to forgive our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness. Before you and our sisters and brothers, we confess that we have spoken many empty words and have at times broken even our most sacred vows. Our sins are an affront to you; they are a disgrace before the watching world, and they have caused us unspeakable pain. Through our Lord Jesus may we begin this new year with the joy of knowing we belong to you, with the freedom of being purified by your blood, and with the healing which your grace alone can bring. In the name of our blessed Savior we pray.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
It’s over – last year is gone. Our words, our thoughts, our deeds are in the past. Today, we begin anew. Today, and every day, God offers us life and hope.
Here, now, forever – we are forgiven and healed. This year, let us live as such people. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To The Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
MUSICAL INTERLUDE “No Golden Carriage, No Bright Toy” Gilbert Martin
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE Laken Franchetti
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 2:13-23
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
SERMON “Let’s hope it’s a good one”
Wasn’t it just Christmas four days ago? Didn’t we all just get to visit the manger again, sing all those wonderful carols, feel aglow in the wash of twinkling lights and glimpses of angels fluttering overhead? But now Matthew, fresh off his exceedingly short birth narrative in chapter 1 and then the Magi story at the head of this second chapter, gives us THIS story? Clearly the Gospel writers were not nearly sentimental enough. It’s still “the holidays” after all and we’re not quite ready to let down from all the good times and Normal Rockwell-like dinners and all the Currier & Ives moments by the hearth.
Yet there it is: the neck of the woods that first welcomed God’s own Son, Jesus, was rocked some while after his birth by the deaths of many infants who were about the same age as Jesus, give or take a few months. Matthew 1 told us that this little one would be Immanuel, God with us. But God no sooner arrives “with us” and the worlds of many families get turned upside down through the tragic, brutal murder of toddlers and infants who had done nothing wrong but who very much found themselves in the wrong place and at a profoundly wrong time.
It was Herod who went crazy, of course, and of course that stands to reason as Herod was crazy just generally. To put it mildly, the Magi had most definitely set a spark to a very bad powder keg. “You’d be better off as one of Herod’s pigs as one of his sons” the Caesar himself is said to have once remarked after hearing that the paranoid man on the throne had wiped out yet another heir apparent whom Herod regarded as being altogether too eager to take his father’s place on the throne. Herod definitely was one of those nutty loons who fancied he might just live forever—he didn’t—and so would brook no rival to his position.
A ”king of the Jews” was out there somewhere, the astrologers from Baghdad had told Herod. Who knows where these pagans got their theology from but weird and discredited though their pseudo-science was, they got that much right. Alas, they had no GPS to help them on the final leg of their journey and so they stopped off at the palace for some help. Surely the palace would have some experts who could lend a hand to help them find the king. It’s not clear how much actual help they got—it was again the star that re-appeared and led them the rest of the way to Jesus—but first they had tipped off the wrong man.
Fans of the Star Wars films may remember that in Episode 7 The Force Awakens we were introduced to the fallen son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, a troubled man named Kylo Ren. Twice in that film, Kylo Ren threw a meltdown hissy fit after something did not go his way. He activated his light saber and–even as he screamed “Noooo, Nooooo, Noooo” over and over–he used his laser sword to slash through walls and computer consoles, causing all around him to scatter. I imagine this was Herod after hearing a new king has been born.
And so it was that after having just punched a few holes in a wall and after having kicked the cat clear across the room, Herod managed to smooth back his hair, wipe the furious sweat off his brow, straighten up his royal robes, and re-appear before the Magi with the hollow words, “Well, good luck to you, gentlemen, and once you find the king you’re looking for . . . um, er, let me know where he is. I have a little something for him myself. Can’t wait to give it to the little fellow . . .”
God was several moves ahead of Herod and so the Magi are tipped off to scurry back to Baghdad by another way. Once Herod figures out, he’d been out-foxed, he kicks a few more walls and throws another hissy fit before issuing a dark decree: kill all the babies in this area of a certain age and with luck, we’ll take out this wannabe king while we’re at it.
“The first martyrs” they have been called, those babies who were run through with Herod’s bloody spears. The title doesn’t really fit since a martyr is literally a “witness” who dies on account of not recanting his or her witness to the reality of Jesus as God and Lord. The babies in question—and their parents for that matter—had in fact never heard of Jesus, had no faith to profess or recant. All they could do is suffer a cruel fate for reasons many of those parents may never have come remotely close to figuring out.
Why? Why must the world react to the advent of the Christ with violence? Then again, why not? Let’s admit that this is a horrible story. But let’s acknowledge that every day the news is filled with the same thing. Oh, maybe not in direct response to Jesus or the Gospel but the children of Aleppo have been dying for a long time now. So have children in and around Bethlehem; children in Juba, South Sudan; children in Darfur; children in Ukraine. . . well, you fill in the blank. It’s not difficult to do.
It will not be difficult to look back on the year just gone by and see it as another bloody year of travail, murder, suffering, sorrow, and imprisonment. This part of Matthew 2 is not the exception to the rule in this fallen, broken world. It is the rule. The fact is that Jesus and his parents barely escaped with their lives, and the Christmas story cannot really be told in all its brutal fullness without acknowledging that even the very salvation of this world could not come without being surrounded by the very mayhem and evil that Jesus came to fix.
But if we cannot or will not do that—if we insist that the advent of God’s Messiah stay ensconced in a pretty and twinkly narrative of all sweetness and light—then we are missing the real punch of the narrative, not just of the Christmas story but of God’s wider story that gets narrated from Genesis 1 through to Revelation 22. It’s a brutal world God came to save. It’s a world a holy God would have had every right to turn his back on—as he nearly did once in a time of a great flood—but God stuck with the world anyway. He made a promise to save. God knew it would not be easy. Not by a long shot. God knew that it would never work to wait for his creatures to get their acts together and meet him halfway, or a quarter of the way, or a tenth of the way, or a micro-fraction of the way. God was going to have to do this bloody work himself and the Slaughter of the Innocents is proof positive of both the long odds God faced and at the same time the very reason the work had to be done by God’s Son in the first place.
A popular John Lennon song that often gets played around this time of the year has as its refrain “A very merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.” But who are we kidding? The new year will have plenty of fear even as the old year did. We can wish it were not so but . . .
The Good News that emerges from the Horrible News is that even as Herod’s evil did not undo God’s plan or wipe out God’s Christ, so God is still marching on toward that day when a child will lead them and when God will declare “Behold, I make all things new.” We cannot do that. God can. God will.
Liturgy and Commentaries provided by Ian Elston, Cara Heafey, Beth Merrill Neel, David Lose, Scott Hoezee
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
*HYMN No. 144 “In the Bleak Midwinter”
1 In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan;
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
2 Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ.
3 Angels and archangels
may have gathered there;
cherubim and seraphim
thronged the air;
but his mother only,
in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
4 What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
Jesus, you invite us to your table, freely, without condition.
We cannot earn a seat at your table and yet we are here.
We came together as individuals,
but have now formed a community of believers.
Just as the grapes and the grains of wheat are transformed,
we also are transformed by your grace and your love.
Christ, you have brought us together into your extraordinary presence.
We have no words with which to explain or to fully understand,
and yet we are here with open hearts and open hands.
As we work together to make this world the New Jerusalem,
we ask that you continue to transform us.
A new year is upon us, a year full of your promise and possibilities.
Help us to see ourselves in a new light and fill us with a desire for change.
ou taught us that God’s creation is full of abundance
to be shared with everyone.
Encourage us to share your love and your gifts with those around us.
We have come to this table at your invitation.
Once strangers, now family.
Together, we lift up our voices to give you praise and thanksgiving:
Prayer of Thanksgiving
In this act of sharing a common meal, we ask the Holy Spirit to come to us.
At this table, we are able to see, smell, touch and taste
the gifts that our God freely offers to us.
And yet, this table, is filled with not only God’s gifts to us,
but also with our dedications to God for the new year.
Fill us, Holy Spirit, with the promise of new possibilities
and open our hearts to the New Jerusalem here on earth.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, who taught us to pray saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Words of Institution
God of this new day and this new year, thank you for your presence in our lives, today and each day. Thank you for renewing us through this meal and strengthening us each step we take into this new year. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
God of glorious surprises: Like the wise men sent by Herod, we, too, come as searchers for a glimpse of your presence. As were the people in those days, we are surprised that we find you not in a palace but in a stable, surrounded by a family of poor refugees and worshiped by the lowly shepherds. Like them, our gifts from our wealth seem simultaneously too material and woefully shabby and outshined by what you have given us. Just the same, use our gifts for the work of justice, mercy, and compassion—as would befit the Savior who sleeps in a manger. It’s in is holy name, we pray. Amen.
*HYMN No. 113 “Angels, We Have Heard on High”
1 Angels we have heard on high,
sweetly singing o’er the plains,
and the mountains in reply
echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
2 Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heavenly song?
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
3 Come to Bethlehem and see
him whose birth the angels sing;
come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Let us look for Christ wherever we go
Let us never stop seeking
Believing that there is a light that shines in the darkness
Which the darkness shall not overcome
And may the love of the Creator
The joy of the Spirit
And the peace of the Christ-child
Be with you this New Year, and evermore.