The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 16, 2022
O Star-flinging God, whose light dances across eternity, dazzle us into your presence this new year. Open our hearts to the mystery of your love. Awaken us to your presence, knit to the ordinary. Reveal to us what is possible, but not yet present. Heal us, that we might be healers. Reconcile us to you and to ourselves, that our living might be reconciling. Stop us often, we pray with news that is good with hope that holds with truth that transforms with a Word tailored to this trail we’re on. May the word of your grace guide our steps like the sun by day and the north star by night, as we travel into the gift of a new year. Amen.
PRELUDE “In Heavenly Love Abiding” Horatio Parker
CALL TO WORSHIP
a community of faith in God’s subversive world.
to celebrate that no darkness can extinguish light, to remember that love will always be more powerful than death, and to trust that peace will always be stronger than violence.
people of faith in the light of God’s world.
Welcome to worship.
*HYMN No. 149 “All Hail to God’s Anointed”
1 All hail to God’s anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
All hail, in time appointed,
your reign on earth begun!
You come to break oppression,
to set the captive free,
to take away transgression
and rule in equity.
2 You come with rescue speedy
to those who suffer wrong,
to help the poor and needy
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in your sight.
3 You shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in your path to birth.
Before you on the mountains
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness in fountains
from hill to valley flow.
4 All rulers bow before you,
and gold and incense bring.
All nations shall adore you;
your praise all people sing.
To you shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend.
Your rule is still increasing;
your rule is without end.
*CALL TO CONFESSION
Why do we huddle in the shadowed corners of life, rather than running to the Light of life? Why do we love the wrong we do rather than grasping the good news offered to us? As we struggle with such questions, let us speak to God of all we have failed to do, seeking hope and grace as we pray,
*CONFESSION OF SIN
We search for your light, Star Caster, but too often end up settling for the dimness of temptation. Our motives for seeking to find Christ are not always pure, for we expect him to fulfill our desires, rather than your hopes for us. We want the gifts of wealth, health, success, fulfillment, rather than those of servanthood, of compassion, of peace. Forgive us, Shaper of our lives, that we are so foolish to put our needs ahead of your grace. Help us to be like those wise people of so long ago, who found hope, instead of a destination; who found grace, instead of gratitude; who found salvation, instead of a sign. As we journey with your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, fill us with the light of your joy and love.
*DECLARATION OF FORGIVENESS
Up, on your feet! Grace has been poured into our hearts, love has flooded our souls, the light of hope shines in us.
This is the light which has come to all, the light we will carry and give to everyone we meet. 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
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.”
ANTHEM “Sometimes a Light Surprises” Craig Courtney
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.
It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither their wanted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet, God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Holy God, shine your light upon us that we might lift up our eyes and be radiant. Give our hearts cause to thrill and rejoice at the beauty and wonder you are bringing to us. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 2:1-12
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “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.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They 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.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.”
9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
SERMON “Which Star Are We Following”
Do you remember where you were on August 16, 1977? It’s strange that I remember that date and the cultural significance of that day. My family was visiting my maternal grandmother after our week at the beach. That morning, Nanny Goodnight was fixing a classic southern breakfast: eggs, bacon, biscuits, homemade preserves, sausage gravy and diced fruit. As we set down at the table, Dad brought in the Charlotte Observer that had been delivered that morning and in bold font: ELVIS PRESELY IS DEAD. August 16, 1977 was the day that Elvis Aaron Presley died, and it was THE news story of that late august week. He was a superstar, singer in multiple styles, movie star and big personality. He was recognized as the king of rock n’ roll. Lots of folks accept this performer from Tupelo, Mississippi as “The King.” Allegedly one of the wisemen followed that “star,” as per this picture…
This cartoon asks the question: Which star are we following?
For all we do not know about the magi, we do know they followed a star that led them to Jesus. Unlike the magi who followed Elvis, they didn’t just see this star and decide, “hey! That one looks interesting—let’s go this way!”
No, they had been studying the star charts, and had been reading prophecies, and they had prepared for that moment. So, while God can make Godself manifest to people in many ways, for the magi, they were present for the epiphany, for the revelation of Jesus as savior of the world, because they’d been studying. So, if an epiphany is something you think you could use in your life right now, let me make a not so subtle connection. It might not happen if you just sit around. It might involve you studying and preparing for it.
I know that some of you are involved in regular Bible study—either through Women’s Association, or the Sunday morning or evening classes. But this church statistically has a low participation in Adult education. You don’t have to be studying here, but I hope you are studying somewhere. And I hope you have opportunities to study with others. While we don’t know how many magi came to see Jesus, we know it was more than one. Studying in community can be a great experience. This coming year, we’ll be continue offering opportunities for small group participation, Sunday morning classes, and other things as the interest surfaces. Please consider joining.
And while the magi studied and prepared so that they’d be in the right place for the epiphany, they did more than just study. If looking at their star charts was all they did, they wouldn’t have seen Jesus. Study will only get you so far. After study, you have to go out into the world.
Study prepares you for what you encounter in the world.
And the magi encountered quite a bit. They left Persia and journeyed to Jerusalem. They met King Herod. They went to Bethlehem, where they, like the shepherds in Luke, saw the star stopped over the family and they bow down and worship him. Persian astrologers bowing down before a poor Hebrew baby. Quite a change, I would imagine, from their routine at the university.
But, of course, the epiphany was only the beginning of the changes for the magi. And not all changes are easy. The epiphany of a child born as king in Bethlehem shook the palace in Jerusalem. The world responds when God breaks into the world—and it isn’t always peaceful. I invite you to read ahead in Matthew this week and see how the powers of the world responded to the epiphany.
The magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they left for their own country by another road. But Matthew doesn’t say what happened next for the magi.
Did they make it home?
And if they did make it home, what was it like to return to their routine?
We don’t know what happened with the magi, but we do know that once you encounter Jesus, you travel on different roads. Epiphany is about God coming to us in ways we would never have predicted on our own. Because, really, if you can come up with the idea on your own, then what need do you have for epiphany? And, post-epiphany, you don’t travel the same roads, you go home by another road.
For Americans who are becoming more and more accustomed to maps, GPS navigation, WAZE, and cell phones, we don’t, perhaps, still have the same level of anxiety about setting out on new and different roads. If I get lost, I am fairly confident that I’ll be able to call for help.
So, to make the image work, perhaps we should consider other metaphors. We are at a New Year. While the pundits are making predictions for 2009, we too are wondering where this road will lead. Will we have peace in the Middle East, or just more and more bloodshed? Will the economy rebound quickly? Will things be different with the administration in Washington? Will I keep my New Year’s resolution for more than a couple of weeks? 2022 is another road and what is around the corner remains to be seen.
As we journey into the coming year, we will, like the magi, be “going home by another road”. One we’ve never traveled before. I look forward to traveling down it with you, thankful that God has put us together in this time and place to be magi together.
What star will we follow as we journey?
How will we prepare?
John Bunyan put it well in Pilgrim’s Progress:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” He replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than the known way.”
Liturgy & Commentary provided by Sarah Henrich, Amy L.B. Peeler, Stephen M. Fearing, Marcie Glass, and John Piper.
*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. 151 “We Three Kings of Orient Are”
1 We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light!
2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never
over us all to reign. (Refrain)
3 Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a deity nigh;
prayer and praising gladly raising,
worshiping God Most High. (Refrain)
4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. (Refrain)
5 Glorious now behold him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice:
sounds through the earth and skies. (Refrain)
TITHES & OFFERINGS
As we seek the presence of God in our lives, we will begin to sense how God is calling us to use our gifts to build our church, our community, and our world. It is a privilege to share what we have been given to love and light this earth.
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
Divine Lamplighter, in gratitude, we share our treasures, our talents, and our time with this congregation. We humbly ask that you illuminate our minds and hearts as we use all our resources to craft a just world for all. Amen.
*HYMN No. 634“To God Be the Glory”
1 To God be the glory;
great things he has done!
So loved he the world
that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life
an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate
that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord;
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord;
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father
through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory:
great things he has done!
2 Great things he has taught us;
great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing
through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher
and greater will be
our wonder, our transport,
when Jesus we see. (Refrain)
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! We have been called, we have been anointed, we have been given a task. So, go out from this place into the mission field that is the world. We go carrying Good News to the world: news about freedom from oppression and healing for the afflicted. The time of the Lord’s favor is now! Hallelujah! Amen.