The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
January 2, 2022
Second Sunday of Christmas
Lord of the opening way, we bring to you this day our past, with all that has happened in our lives, our hopes and our dreams, our successes and our failures, our gains and our losses. We bring to you our present, lives filled with exhaustion, wonder, fear, concern. We come to you with hearts open to receive your word for us, for the future. We want to be part of your new heaven and earth, to serve you by serving others. Speak to us, heal us, teach us, lead us, for we ask these things in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.
PRELUDE “Hark! The Sound of Angels” Gilbert Martin
CALL TO WORSHIP
A new year begins, and with it new opportunities to preach the Gospel!
We give thanks to God for the year past, and look with anticipation at what God will bring in the year to come.
God has destined us for adoption as God’s children, the season of Christmas reminds us of the fulfillment of that adoption.
We are God’s children, and the Lord is our God!
In Christ, we have obtained an inheritance;
We, who have set our hope in Christ, live for the praise of his glory!
Come, let us worship the newborn King!
HYMN No. 146 “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child”
1 Gentle Mary laid her child
lowly in a manger;
there he lay, the undefiled,
to the world a stranger.
Such a babe in such a place,
can he be the Savior?
Ask the saved of all the race
who have found his favor.
2 Angels sang about his birth;
wise men sought and found him;
heaven’s star shone brightly forth,
glory all around him.
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight,
heard the angels singing;
all the plains were lit that night;
all the hills were ringing.
3 Gentle Mary laid her child
lowly in a manger;
he is still the undefiled,
but no more a stranger.
Son of God, of humble birth,
beautiful the story;
praise his name in all the earth;
hail the King of glory!
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Will this year be a time of new life, new ways for us – or will we continue to live the same old way? Let us confess to our God our failures, as well as our hopes, as we begin this year.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
We admit that we always find the time to fill our stomachs, God of every moment, but not our souls. We spend hours watching television, but not the wonders of Your creation. We arrange outings with our friends, yet ignore Your invitation to sit and talk. We make resolutions to change every aspect of our lives, except for that which pertains to You. Forgive us, God of Glory, and make us new. In the moments to come this year, remind us that if there is a time for everything, then we do have those moments for grace, for hope, for joy, for a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
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. 133 “O Come, All Ye Faithful” v. 3
Sing, choirs of angels;
sing in exultation;
sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all
glory in the highest!
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!
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.”
ANTHEM “I Ponder” Craig Courtney
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God of all wisdom and might, send your Spirit this day that we might hear your word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believe in you. May your scripture be a feast upon our lips and a gladsome song to be sung for all eternity. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Ephesians 1:3-14
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Three years ago, I stood in a court room in Camden, NJ and watched a good friend officially adopt a small child that the family had been fostering for about 14 months. There were a few legal questions from the judge to complete paperwork, but after those formalities, it became a celebration of a baby being added to a family with joyful shouts, tears of excitement, and laughter. A family that promised to nurture and care for this child. A young kid adopted into a family.
And that, my friends, is the opening metaphor of the Book of Ephesians. We have been destined, Paul says, for adoption as God’s children through Jesus Christ. We have been chosen, picked out, predestined to be a part of this family. That is what it means to be adopted into the family of God.
But adoption is not always an easy or intuitive transition. Putting away one life and taking on another is a complicated process, to say the least. And that is why it’s so important that the Book of Ephesians emphasizes that we are not adopted members of God’s family in isolation, rather we are adopted members of God’s family in community with one another. Together, we are called to be holy and blameless, not that that is easy or even completely possible, but that we are to strive together to live into our new identities as adopted children of God.
Although we are talking about adoption in primarily emotional and spiritual contexts, the meaning of adoption back then was just as much about economics and finances. As it turns out, in the time that the letter to the Ephesians was being written, it was very common for adults to be adopted for at least two reasons. First of all, if you did not have a son to pass along your inheritance, you could adopt another man to be your heir. Once the adoption was complete, the adoptee enjoyed all the legal rights that a biological son would have. Secondly, if you, as an adult, were adopted by another family, the financial debt you had incurred in your life up to that point did not follow you. That’s right, adoption gave you a financial “clean slate.” That being said, I still have a fair amount of debt from Walter’s undergraduate years so if any of y’all would like to adopt my child, I’d be just fine with that! Needless to say, I don’t think things work that way anymore. But if we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were hearing this passage at the time it was written, we just might feel their relief upon hearing that they were adopted children of God. Indeed, today we might hear this Good News telling us that God has freely bestowed upon us a clean slate in which our past sins do not prevent our future faithfulness.
After reminding us that we’re adopted children in God’s family, Paul then pivots to the next natural subject: inheritance. Hear again these words from today’s passage: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
Take a minute and think about something that you inherited: Maybe it’s a piece of furniture that we inherited from our families. Maybe it’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe that has been handed down. Some of us have inherited our family bible, with pages marked up with years of notes and the front and back pages filled with dates of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.
No matter what you’ve inherited, chances are you received that inheritance because someone trusted you to care for it and share it with others. That chocolate chip recipe that belonged to your mother, and her mother before her, and her mother before her, does little good if it’s never baked and shared. That family bible that’s been handed down to you means that you’ve inherited a story that needs to be told and passed down.
True and meaningful inheritances are never given lightly. And so, in the context of today’s passage from Ephesians, isn’t it remarkable that God would choose us, broken people that we are, to adopt and to call his own. Isn’t it a beautiful, curious truth that God chose us to inherit the promise of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s son? Sometimes I want to look at God and say, “God, did you really think this through?” And in those moments, I imagine God looking back at me, winking, and saying: “yep.”
Friends, what if each and every single day, you and I woke up and the first thing that went through our minds was this: “I’m adopted by God and I’ve inherited God’s salvation. Now what am I going to do with it today?”
The Book of Ephesians is very clear on this point: we have inherited salvation through Jesus Christ, and the spiritual gifts that are bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit are God’s means of passing that inheritance on to the next generation in ever wider and wondrous ways.
And, to take the model of Ephesians to its deepest roots, these inheritances are meant to sustain and share Christian unity. You see, we are meant to be unified and cohesive as a Christian family. Now, that does not mean that we are always going to agree on everything. Christian unity does not mean that we sit around and hold hands and sing “kumbayah.” Christian unity does not mean that we never take a prophetic stand that might challenge the way people think.
Rather, Christian unity, in the context of the Book of Ephesians, means that we are unified in a shared inheritance. An inheritance according to God’s good pleasure as a plan for the fullness of time. We are bound in Christian unity when they will know we are Christians by our love. We are bound in Christian unity when we gather to share this inheritance of love and salvation with everyone, and I do mean everyone, we encounter. We are bound in Christian unity when we stop hiding behind the argument that politics don’t belong in the Church. We are bound in Christian unity when we recognize that what is far more important is that we stand with our sisters and brothers who need the benefit of the inheritance of love we have received through no merit of our own.
You see, the church in Ephesus, towards the end of the first century, was moving from being predominantly Jewish to predominantly Gentile. I’m sure that many in the church who were of Jewish descent were uncomfortable with the new people coming to worship with them. Paul, in the Book of Ephesians, does not tell the congregation to forget their differences. Rather, Paul encourages them not to let their differences prevent them from sharing their mutual inheritance as adopted children of God.
That, my friends, is the heart of today’s passage. Together, let us claim our inheritance and use that inheritance to lead this world ever closer to its redemption, a redemption that has been promised to us by the life, death, and resurrection of our greatest inheritance, Jesus Christ.
Liturgy and Commentary provided by Thom Shuman, Stephen Fearing, and David Lose.
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 COMMUNION
Invitation to Communion
This is Holy Communion for a Journey Sunday. It is the Second Sunday after Christmas, the Sunday three days after New Year, and three days before Epiphany, and, in the old song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” it is the ninth day – the day when the “gift” is nine people dancing.
So come to this table of … one star for following,
bread and cup for sharing,
three days of New Year
at least four still-traveling camels,
and many, many hopes for the world.
Come to this table, even if you want
to be laying everything down
because you are so weary of being fearful,
isolated or essential to everyone but you.
Come to this table if you are swimming
in Zoom, virtual education,
financial risk, or grief.
Come to this table if you milked
all the joy from Christmas –
enough to carry you into 2021 …
or not nearly enough.
Come to this table,
if you have stopped dancing,
you are carrying many gifts,
or you need to be healed
by watching for the dance
in snowflake or pohutukawa*
in friend or stranger,
in the old story
of another path home,
and the warm bread and sweet cup
shared right now.
Words of Remembering
We remember in this New Year
with the fearfulness of the pandemic
and hope that it will be ended —
not only the journey of the magi
guided by a star,
but all the oases where they rested
and the people they met,
who lived in those places,
and shared their food.
We remember a Child born to change everything
and the endangerment of many children,
and we remember that the baby
grew up to help people
in their hurting and loss,
traveled as many roads as we do,
and taught us with simple words
we can understand,
and stories we come to many times
to find new meaning.
At Passover he blessed unleavened bread.
and poured wine and love freely.
At Emmaus, he prayed and broke the bread,
but sent us to find the cup in the world.
Prayer of Consecration
Emmanuel, God you are with us,
in our lonely nights,
following so-distant stars
We are carrying our old years
and opening our new ones,
for an oasis for each of us
and a blessing on earth,
in the form of bread in our hands,
and the cup we lift.
(in silence or with music playing –
breaking, touching or lifting the bread,
pouring, touching or lifting the cup)
May this bread and cup be so sacred
we never lose the Star’s shine,
ignore a New Year embedded in every day,
or forget the Christ of the Dance,
and the invitation to joy.
Prayer of our Savior …
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, forever. Amen.
Sharing of the Elements
Leader: Let us share the bread.
Unison: It is the gift that reminds us of our gifts.
Leader: Let us drink deeply.
Unison: So that we may always travel on.
Prayer of Thanksgiving (based on Howard Thurman’s ‘The Work of Christmas”)
God, we thank you that when the star in the sky is gone, the kings and princes are home, the shepherds are back with their flocks, and we are tempted to pack the story away, this very Bread and Cup gives us the hope and courage to begin the true work of Christmas. Help us to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, release the prisoner, rebuild the nations, bring peace among all, and make a heart-music so that everyone can dance. Amen
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
By the goodness of God, we are called into the family of the church. By God’s grace, we rejoice to share in the church’s life of mission and ministry. Let us offer our tithes and gifts to God’s glory as a token of the offering of our very lives.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully know; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, through the offering of these gifts, we become a more open people—open-minded in hearing your word and wisdom, open-hearted in healing a broken world, open-handed in heeding your call to charity and enacted love. With thanks for all good gifts, we present a portion of our substance and the whole of ourselves. Amen.
*HYMN No. 135 “There’s a Star in the East”
1 There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Christ was born.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
rise up, shepherd, and follow.
Follow the star of Bethlehem.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
2 If you take good heed to the angel’s words,
rise up, shepherd, and follow.
You’ll forget your flocks, you’ll forget your herds.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow. (Refrain)
Let us go from this time of silence and song, to be God’s voice,
to speak out for the oppressed of our communities and world.
Let us go from this time of community, to be Jesus’ faithful,
to feed the hungry, to visit the sick, to be a friend to the prisoner.
Let us go from this sacred space, to share the peace of the Spirit,
to work for reconciliation in our neighborhoods,
to put an end to violence and death as solutions for fear.