Sunday, 3rd January 2021

Together in Prayer

O Lord, open our lips
And our mouth shall declare you praise!
Reveal among us the light of your presence
that we may behold your power and glory.

The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.

Preparing our hearts
O Holy Father, who gave guidance to the wise men
until they bowed in worship before our Saviour,
lead us to an awareness of your presence
and to bow in adoration before Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12
The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘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.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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.” When 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Thought for the week: Rev Joe Knight

That lesser light led you along the way,
set the course, but you had to take each step.
In truth, did wisdom draw you, or folly
and fantasy, untamed superstition?
Yet, the lesser light led you when the day
was far gone, and over the world night swept
the dust of faith, reaping melancholy.
On and on. Go on starstruck magician…
Starlight, startling me, casting light upon
the light that lightens all, in whose true light
we see your humble flame. Shine through the throng
of tireless constraints, until we have sight.
Waiting, waiting. Nearly. Then suddenly,
the dawn illumines all that I can see.

Near the beginning of the first lockdown, in late spring, Bishop Rachel gathered ministers together for a diocese-wide zoom meeting. There was a tangible sense of both bewilderment and friendship, as though the lights had been turned off in a familiar room. Back then, and now, a serious conversation began about ministry in the Church of England and the patterns of worship and service that shape us, drain us, and bring us life.

And, from looking back, we tentatively began to look forward, with new questions about our own wellbeing, but also about the wellbeing of the church of God, about keeping our eyes open to the mission of God in today’s new world.

That conversation continues and is not something just for bishops and clergy to explore. All of us can be praying and seeking God about the shape of things to come. The past year has unveiled a fragile, vulnerable world, and in most areas of life, people are seeking a sense of stability, of courage, of keeping hope alive.

In those first gatherings on zoom, one thing stood out more than most, and it was Bishop Rachel’s reflection, surprisingly, focused on the journey of the magi. She encouraged us to sit with those final words in the passage, ‘they left for their own country by another road.’ The journey of the wise men had been courageous but would have seemed foolish to many. But in their encounter with Jesus, they found something that transformed their whole world. This dramatic transformation is embodied in their journey, the change of direction, back to their homeland as though they were foreigners, as T.S Eliot says in his famous poem.

In the poem above, the first lines ask questions about the so-called ‘wise’ men, what really drew them to Bethlehem, wisdom, or superstition? What kind of conviction did they have to leave their families and venture out on a dangerous journey?

Guided by the star, their journey again symbolises their world – a world of night, darkness, of little hope. And though the star gave a general direction, their steps would have to be made in faith, stumbling across the desert, with little confidence in the way ahead – especially as it led them into enemy territories.

By contrast, having met with Jesus, we might presume that the star was no longer needed to guide them, and their return journey was not only made by another route, but is likely to have been made in the daylight. Again, a symbol of the impact of meeting Jesus. Their eyes have been opened to see the world differently. And though the way still holds challenges, they can face them in an entirely different manner.

The poem turns its focus from the magi to the star and the true light of the world, to Christ himself. A glance, a glimpse of light in this story has turned something in the heart of the poet, and the questions turn to prayer, a longing for the light to transform the way we see the world, to enlighten every step of life’s journey.

Sitting here, as I write this ‘thought for the week,’ reading and praying it all through, I think this captures so much of how we are entering into the New Year of 2021. The past year has held so many challenges, there have been times of sadness and loss for most of us. In these times, faith can feel fragile, and we can lose trust in the voices of hope, those who seem like they’re chasing starlight, star-struck by their own illusions, while we wait for more restrictions on how we go about daily life.

But in this season, we celebrate something far greater than mere hope and starlight in the sky. We celebrate that God himself, the light of the world, has come to dwell with us, to draw near, that we may encounter him. And this encounter causes transformation, it gives us a new way to see world. We walk now, ‘as in the day’ (Romans 13:13), and whatever we face, we can be comforted that God is with us. As we enter this year, we look forward to a world post-pandemic, but we know we will face other challenges, and we need the light of Christ more than ever. So, I want to encourage us to use this transition time, from one year into the next, as a time of prayer; to pray and ask God for a fresh encounter with Jesus, the light of the world, that our vision would be renewed, and we would know his presence every day- As the hymn says, ‘I need thee every hour, in joy or pain, come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.’

Collect for Epiphany
O God,
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
mercifully grant that we,
who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Great and wonderful God, we seek you.
We look for you. We long for you.
We come and offer our lives, our love, our hopes to you.
God, richer than all we have to offer, we offer you our worship.
We give thanks for the offering of frankincense and pray for all
who give their lives in adoration.
We pray for the congregation and church to which we belong.
We pray for all leaders of worship, for all who bow in quiet
By the light of your presence.
fill us with your glory.
O God, Creator of all things, we offer you all we have received.
We offer our talents, our possessions, ourselves in your service.
We remember before you the world’s poor, bankrupt, the
underprivileged, the starving and all who are homeless
through no fault of their own.
May all who have received a share of your bounty share generously
with those in need
By the light of your presence.
fill us with your glory.
O God, whose son was born of an earthly family, bless our
homes and our loved ones.
Reveal your presence in our homes and in our relationships.
We pray for all who have been unable to leave their homes
because of illness or because of fear.
We ask that they find the strength and resolve to stay strong
through your love and compassion.
By the light of your presence.
fill us with your glory.
As we rejoice in Christ the Light of the world, and know the
darkness is conquered,
we pray for friends and loved ones who have passed through the
darkness to eternal light.
O Christ, our morning star when the darkness of this world is past,
let us come before your presence in love and adoration.
By the light of your presence.
fill us with your glory.

You may wish to add your own prayers at this time.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
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.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

The Peace
The Light of Christ scatter the darkness from before you.
The Light of Christ guide you into the ways of peace.
The peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.

The Blessing

Shine as bright lights in this world.
Live to show the glory of God.
Let the presence be seen in your life.
And may the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us
all today, tomorrow, and always