January 3rd Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeAway In A MangerChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongOnce In Royal David’s City
#269
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Part II
ScriptureLuke 2: 21-40Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnGood Christian Friends, Rejoice
#288
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionPastor Linda
Communion
Lord’s Prayer
Prayer
Pastor Linda
BenedictionPastor Linda
Closing HymnLove Has Come
#292
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeRise Up, Shepherd and FollowChris Johansen

Part I

Part II


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and confess our sin. 

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

 God of grace and truth,

C: in Christ Jesus you come among us as light shining in the darkness. Standing in this new year, we are offered possibilities, yet continue to carry the fears and doubts that have held us captive. We celebrate the gift of Jesus, but forget that he was a gift of love to all the world, every tribe and tongue; at times, in our selfishness, we cannot hear God’s call and become quiet when our voices are most needed. Help us to do what’s right in the days to come. Surround us and renew us by your grace so that we may live in the fullness of your love, trusting in the compassion of the Lord of life.

P: In the mercy of almighty God, in the Word made flesh among us, in the child of Mary born to set us free, – in him, our sin is forgiven.    Amen


Gathering Song – 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.
And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that child so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heav’n above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.

4.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing by,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God’s right hand on high;
there his children gather round,
bright like stars, with glory crowned.


Greeting

    The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

O God the Three, be the God of me,
Come, my Lord, my light, my way;
Come my lantern, night and day;
Come, my healer, make me whole;
Come, my Savior, protect my soul;
Come, my King, enter my heart;
Come, Prince of Peace, and never depart.  
Amen          

~ adapted from a Celtic prayer


Scripture Reading – Luke 2: 21-40

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel Gabriel before he was conceived in the womb.

23When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),  and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.  At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


Sermon

Luke is a very good story teller. Very organized.

He begins by drawing his original reader in, to connect the most excellent Theophilus to Hebrew scripture, traditions, piety – to the things Theophilus knows, and to things that he doesn’t know, in order to convince him of the truth of this claim – that Jesus is the son of God and that through him, salvation has been given now, to all people, through grace. Once and for all.

It is still a worthwhile message to tell.

This second chapter of Luke contains the entire nativity story.

It begins with Joseph and Mary journeying from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, and ends with their return. Enclosed is the fulfillment of the law.

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” So, despite being great with child, Mary and Jospeh traveled because Joseph belonged to the house and line of David. Bethlehem was the city of David. Therefore, Joseph had to go there to be registered for the census. While there, the time came for Mary to give birth. And eight days later, in accordance with the law of Moses, they took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised.  Circumcision marked Jesus’ inclusion into the covenant community. His name was conferred – the name given – not by Joseph, but by the angel Gabriel. Jesus, Yeshua, meaning, “to deliver, or save; to rescue.”

Now, 33 days later, they are back at the temple to fulfill what the law of the Lord prescribes. Two additional acts are required of devout parents: the consecration of the ‘firstling’ and the purification of the mother. As a reminder of the Jewish exodus experience, all firstborn sons were to be dedicated to God. Firstborns could be redeemed (bought back) from priestly service by paying 5 silver shekels. I was curious, and searched for the price of redeeming a firstborn female. According to midrash, “The Torah did not grant to women any holiness of the firstborn for any matter.”

After giving birth, a mother was ceremonially unclean. Leviticus 12 lays out the three-step purification procedure required: at the birth of a male, there is a seven day period of impurity, followed by 33 days of ṭahara (or purification). This time of isolation and impurity is doubled for a female child.

After the 40 or 80 days, she was to offer a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. If she could not afford a lamb, she could offer instead two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons. This is what Mary and Joseph offered.

It is beautifully ironic that Mary could not afford a lamb – she who bore the Lamb of God, and that Luke did not mention the 5 shekels of silver which would have redeemed Jesus, freeing him from devoting his life to God’s service.

In all of these things, Mary and Joseph prove their obedience to the demands of human and religious law. They are free to return home and begin life as a family.

But Luke wants us to know that the Law – human and spiritual –  is not the only thing to be fulfilled.

Mary and Joseph meet two people in the Temple who recognize their tiny son.

Details about Simeon and Anna are given so that we know they are reliable witnesses; they are the elders, imbued with the knowledge of God; they are prophetic characters who greet this baby with great joy, but also with the fore-knowledge of who he is. Unlike the shepherds, these two do not need to be told – they’ve been anticipating this moment, faithfully waiting – echoing Gabriel’s message to Mary and the shepherds about who Jesus is and what he will be.

The moment is choreographed by the Holy Spirit.

Anna, we are told – was old, widowed, a spirit person, a prophetess – who seemingly lived in the temple – never leaving it, praying and fasting night and day. Simeon, though, lived in Jerusalem. He came to the temple that day, at that time, to that location in the temple, precisely to find this child.

‘The temple’ was the locus of God’s presence in the world. ‘The temple’ houses the holy of holies, the closest contact with divinity that the Jewish people experienced or expected – only there, only through their high priest, and only one day a year on the day of atonement for the people’s sin.

‘The temple’ was built on temple mount, which (in talmud tradition) was the first bit of dry land of creation and from which the rest of the world expanded into its present form. It is here that God gathered the dust to create the first human. It is here where tradition says Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God by taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed. It is here that King David had the vision of angels ascending a golden ladder into the sky. ‘The temple’ is the meeting place between divine and human – a thin spot in Celtic tradition. And it is here – in this story – in this most holy of Jewish locations, that God brings the word of salvation to all people, Gentile and Jew, free and slave, male and female. It is here that God uses the faithfulness of ordinary people – Joseph and Mary – to fulfill the promise of redemption for all.

To this place, in this moment, God’s Spirit draws Simeon to find the baby he has been expecting. To the place of holy encounter. And, holding this newborn, Simeon thanks God and knows his prophetic vocation is fulfilled. With Jesus’ conception, birth, and now, presentation – in the recognition of who Jesus is and what he is to do, by old Simeon and Anna, who represent the best of expectant Israel, salvation has come. The promises of God, have already been fulfilled. (1.)

I want to let that settle for a moment.

At 40 days old, according to Luke, Jesus has already fulfilled the promise of salvation, of redemption, ransom, for the all the people of the world, for all time, in all places.

What was it the angel said to the shepherds? “Do not be afraid, for behold I announce good news to you of great joy which will be to all the people. Because was born to you today a savior who is Christ the Lord in the the city of David.” 

I feel obligated to remind you that Luke is the only gospel that tells this nativity story. That in Mark, for example, we first see Jesus as an adult. “And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan River by John.”

We get there soon enough in Luke, too, sort of. There’s one more quick story about a 12 year old Jesus, and then chapter 3 begins with John out in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And then John is arrested and imprisoned. And only then we read, “When all of the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized, too, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   It’s a different order. There is no conversation or observed meeting of Jesus and John together. No disciples getting their first glimpse.

But, more to my point, that’s the last we hear from God. Chaper 4 talks about Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, and Jesus himself reads from the scroll of Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s what Gabriel told Mary, what Mary sang in her Magnificat, what Simeon and Anna sang and recognized. In the living Jesus, salvation has already come.

I’m not going to say that the resurrection was unnecessary. I have no idea. But – to me – it seems that Luke is clearly saying that Jesus was enough. In his birth, in his being, he was God’s good news (the gospel) of great joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit. And accomplished – even as a baby – the redemption of the world. Because redemption is not fulfilled by human or religious law, by correct belief or pious acts. God’s love incarnate in Jesus creates redemption. A child of divine love for all the earth and her creatures. I may be wrong, but I do believe that.

As we read on from here, we will recognize that the mystery and majesty have changed, dimmed. Where did the angels go? And why? Why are they so prominent – even named – Gabriel, we feel like we know him… he and the heavenly host fill these opening chapters of Luke’s gospel and then play no part in the rest of it what-so-ever. Why don’t they appear from time to time? Why do they not swoop down in their fearsome, blinding glory and put an exclamation point on some of Jesus’ most difficult teachings?  Or rescue him when he is most in need?  Psalm 91 offers the narrative: 11 For God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Who would this apply to if not to Jesus?

Why does the spirit of God not inform and enlighten other principle players in this passion play?      

I spent bit of time fussing about it this week, and it might be whimsical, but theology often is – so here’s what I’ve come up with.

In these opening chapters of Luke, there is a sensory overload of God’s presence brooding over the earth like the spirit brooded over the primordial soup of creation in the opening verses of Genesis. Because there is a new creation here, a new upending order.

God is restless, nesting, like a pregnant mother, freewheeling in the universe, sparking up stars, whispering even to blades of grass, (the Talmud tells us) “grow, grow,” sinking into small dark places like Mary’s womb and bringing light and life. The angelic messengers, the spirit of God, swirl around the town of Nazareth, startle the sheep-filled hills outside the little town of Bethlehem, herald God’s presence around the ancient temple mount. Whispering the news of a birth, of a beginning, of great joy to the earth, searching the faithful young and old and those ready to hear, igniting old memories and wistfully held dreams; God is readying the scene. Preparing, expecting.

And then there is the birth and a manger glows, and God is greatly pleased and quieted and time passes. And one day, Jesus walks down into the Jordan River to be baptized and the moment has come, and God imparts the fullness of his grace – completely – in Jesus. Just in Jesus. God is just there in Jesus. This is the scariest, riskiest time of heaven and earth – these three years when God is all in all, and all in Jesus. No wonder the disciples and pharisees are clueless. The voice from heaven is silent because the voice of God is Jesus’ voice, the light of God is Jesus’ life, Jesus and God are one in the same. God isn’t freewheeling in the cosmos, sparking up stars to guide and enlighten, God is Jesus. Incognito. Living. Observing how this will all come to pass. And so Luke’s songs end, and the skies over Bethlehem darken, and the shepherds and townspeople and powers and principalities are true to their own nature, and the narrative changes. We know about people: that people are willful and ignorant, often corrupt, generally self-serving, easily led astray, quite temporal beings – of the moment. We know this to be self-evident. They/we couldn’t seem to see God because, unlike Simeon and Anna, they didn’t expect to.

I know this is not proper theology, but I kind of like the idea of heaven being empty of God. Briefly. That during Jesus’ lifetime, the Christ, the Creator, the Spirit were all incarnate. Tremendously vulnerable. If so, it makes sense that the song of the angels is spent. I picture Gabriel biting his fingernails and hovering, worried, anxious, but constrained; waiting until those alleluias could ring out again through the heavens and earthly realm.

In the continuing ministry of Jesus, as when he lay in the animal’s manger, and in old Simeon and Anna’s devoted gaze, Luke’s gospel has eyes only for him, ears only for him, because Luke would move heaven and earth, invoke heaven and earth, for us to understand that Jesus is the Son of God and that through him, salvation has been given, to all people, through the abundance of God’s love. Once and for all.

______________

1. The Gospel of Luke, Joel B. Green. “The manifestation of Jesus to Simeon” pg 143    


Hymn – Good Christian Friends, Rejoice

1.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ is born today;
ox and ass before him bow,
and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

2.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
and we are blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

3.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye need not fear the grave;
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
to gain the everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!


Prayers of Intercession

Let us, God’s People, Pray

Jesus, the Joy of Simeon who knows Your arrival is a cataclysmic event!  Keep us always surprised and joyful at your sudden arrivals in our hearts and minds and let our lives radiate the exhilaration of being in Your Presence.
 O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, we present ourselves to you as pilgrims on Your Way.  Refine and purify our hearts and souls so that we may find favor as servant messengers of your presence, your faithfulness and your love.
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Simeon, attend to those who present themselves in the world’s temples of government.  Fill their hearts with Your wisdom, justice, and mercy and diverge them from paths of greed and inhumanity. We pray especially for peace in Georgia as voters go back to the polls, and peace throughout the  nation during the transference of power.
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, we ask Your Healing for all who are seriously ill, frightened, or exhausted, and for those who tend to their needs  

We pray especially for:  Cordelia Strandskov, Dorothy Kass (Barb’s mom), Vivian Johnson (Brenda’s mom), Bob Clifton, Ken DeVries, Tom Cuttill (Mike M’s bro-in-law);

We also remember all those we don’t get to see each week during this dumb time apart – especially Donna and Hartvig, Danny and Marilene, Mary Adams, Donna Pedersen, Milda and Darrel, Norman, Tom and Joyce;  parents and grandparents subbing in as teachers – especially Nikki and Henrik; teachers working so hard to connect and teach; caregivers of elderly and homebound; families changing configurations for financial stability; those serving in the military (Luke, Matt, Phillip, Alec – known to us) …. And we remember those who fall between categories, into the cracks, who struggle with addictions, identity, mental health, loneliness. Be present with all these, your beloved, and send us into their lives.

O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Simeon, open our eyes to Your Place of peace in the desert of sorrow, as the ones whose loss we mourn are set free in peace to a new life. We pray especially for: Judy (Dodge) Cummings, her children and family

O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, Grant continuous discernment, wisdom, and prophetic understanding to Pastor Linda and the West Denmark community who worship together while apart.  Help us all be merciful and faithful followers of the incarnation, of you with us. 
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

On this first Sunday of the new year, we rejoice with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and prepare ourselves for the many risings and fallings yet to come in our own lives.  We  re-dedicate ourselves to You on this day and ask Your blessings for strength, integrity, and faithfulness.  Amen.

Communion

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen

Prayer

In the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, you shine light into the darkness, provide water that brings new life, and give bread that nourishes your people and frees us from our fear. Help us be incarnate witnesses of Jesus’ birth and resurrection and empower us to show your glory to all the world.  Amen.


Benediction


Hymn – Love Has Come

1.
Love has come, a light in the darkness!
Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
hear how their song of joy arises:
Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior!
Love! Love! Glory to God on high!

2.
Love is born! Come share in the wonder.
Love is God now asleep in the hay.
See the glow in the eyes of His mother.
What is the name her heart is saying?
Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers.
Love! Love! Jesus, Immanuel.

3.
Love has come and never will leave us!
Love is life everlasting and free.
Love is Jesus within and among us.
Love is the peace our hearts are seeking.
Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas.
Love! Love! Praise to You, God on high!


Dismissal

Go with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And may the Spirit of God go with you.  Amen


Postlude

Chris Johansen