Sunday After Christmas – January 1, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Note: Epiphany does not appear in this year’s Sunday readings. Because it’s the starting point of the season, you might consider using Epiphany readings this Sunday.

Isaiah 63.7-9 proclaims the stunning news that God did not just send a messenger for our salvation, but came in person, saying, “Surely they are my people.” One way to translate verse 9 is, “In all their distresses God was distressed. The angel of God’s presence saved them.”

Psalm 148: All people and all Creation praise God who has “raised up a horn”—that is, who has acted decisively for us.

Hebrews 2. 10-18: Jesus is “the pioneer of our faith,” the one who goes first, whom we follow. Through “sufferings,” that is, through human experience, he has been “perfected:” not that he never makes mistakes, but that he is in harmony with God, even though he must suffer for it. Jesus is glad to claim us as his siblings. Because he shares our life and sufferings, he can authentically free us from our enslavement to our attachments and our fear of death.

In Matthew 2. 13-23 Herod reacts to the birth of a potential king by slaughtering all of Bethlehem’s baby boys, but Jesus and his parents escape to Egypt.

Preaching Thoughts

The story of the flight to Egypt parallels that of Moses, of course, who comes from Egypt, who escapes an angry king’s attempt to kill all the male babies, and who grows up to set the people free. Jesus’ life parallels the whole nation of Israel’s. (The image of Rachel weeping for her children is from Jeremiah 31:15, in a lament about the people taken into exile.) Preachers often want to skip this story, especially the reason for the flight—the slaughter of the innocents— for fear of “scaring the children” (it’s actually the adults who’ll be troubled). But the story of the flight to Egypt without the persecution makes it sound like a holiday, not story of people fleeing for their lives. It’s the story of refugees the world over.

But the truth is that this is the Christmas story (and the world we live in): God dwells with us amid violence, evil and injustice. The struggle between good and evil isn’t some cosmic battle out among the stars: it’s right here in ordinary human hate, discrimination, greed and violence. It’s the rich and powerful oppressing the poor and vulnerable. And God is always among the victims, not the violent; the refugees, not the settled ones; the vulnerable, not the powerful. And yet God, the poor, despised, homeless alien, is the Source of All Power.

Seeing God in this “powerless” way opens our eyes to God’s grace for us even in difficult situations. (Where is my “Egypt?” How does God accompany me?) It re-aligns our sense of “good.” (“Good” doesn’t mean successful; “different” doesn’t mean evil.) It opens our eyes to issues of justice. (Where is the Holy Family now? Who are the refugees?) It calls us to examine our own complicity with injustice. (How have I participated in endangering the Christ child? Have we welcomed or refused the holy refugees?) It calls us to act on behalf of the vulnerable. (How could we contribute to the well-being of people society endangers, rejects or ignores?)

In light of this, what does it mean to follow Jesus. As Hebrews says, Jesus is the “pioneer of our faith.” He isn’t a hero we’re supposed to idolize; he’s a leader we’re supposed to follow. And that means following him in bearing love into the suffering of the world.

Herod’s violence affected the holy family from the outside; but God’s grace sustained, empowered and guided them from within. Even amid the awfulness of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, something new emerged in the life of the child Jesus. New Year’s Day is a good day to acknowledge the violence of our world, and the allegiance it asks of us; to confess our complicity in it; to renounce the forces of domination, oppression and injustice; and to resolve, by God’s spirit, to live by values contrary to the world’s values: lives of love, mercy and justice.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Praise the Holy One, sun, moon and shining stars!
All: Praise God, earth and sea and all its monsters, fire and snow, hail and frost!
Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and birds, praise!
Rulers and peoples, men and women, young and old, praise!

For God has raised up a ruler for all people,
a gift for God’s faithful, for those who are dear to God. Praise the Holy One!


2.
Reader: [Isaiah 63.7-9]
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Holy One,
        the praiseworthy acts of God,
because of all that God has done for us,
        and the great favor to the house of Israel that God has shown them
        according to God’s mercy,
        according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
For God said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely”;
        and God became their savior in all their distress.
It was no mere messenger or angel
        but God’s presence that saved them.
In love and in pity God redeemed them;
        God lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Leader: Let me tell you the wonderful things God has done!
All: Yes! The mercy God has shown us! The overflowing, steadfast love!
God said, “These are my people, and they will be true to me.”
And God became our savior in all our distress.
God, it was not merely a messenger or an angel,
but your presence that saved us.
In your tender love you redeemed us.
You have lifted us up and carried us since the beginning. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: I bring you good news of great joy,
for unto you is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.
All: Alleluia! Christ, holy child, bearer of the light of heaven among us,
we greet you with glad and humble hearts.
Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, who saves us and makes us holy,
is not ashamed to call us siblings.
Alleluia! Jesus, our brother and our teacher,
we praise you and we open our hearts to you.
Christ shares our flesh and blood, and shares our suffering,
so that we might be set free from our fear of death.
Alleluia! Christ our savior, free us from our fears and attachments,
and save us from sin and death.
Living among us, transform us by your Spirit
and fill us with your glory. Alleluia!


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
God, you spoke to us through the prophets, and led us in your way.
You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and guided him through danger.
You led the magi by a star, and guided them to Christ.
Alleluia! Speak to us, God, and guide us.
Be present with us, Christ, and save us.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
People: Holy One, and we worship you.
For the birth of your son, we thank you.
No one has seen you,
but Christ has made you known.
Alleluia! You have dwelt among us,
and from you we have received grace upon grace.
Bless us that we may shine with your light.
Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, you have come among us in the flesh, sharing the dangers and fragility of the flesh. Among those who fear and hate you have come as a child, defenseless and tender. Speak to us now, and give us courage, that in a world of hardness we may be children of peace. Amen.

2.
God of tender love, you came into this harsh world as a helpless child. Your Word was made flesh by a poor peasant. We thank you for the gift of your Son, the gift of your presence among us. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts to behold your presence and to hear your Word in faith and joy. Amen.

3.
God of glory, your Christ is born among us! We come to the manger to kneel in awe, to give our gifts, to keep watch in silent praise. We belong to your mystery. We belong to this little child. We belong to your grace. Speak to us, and fill us with your Spirit. Amen.

4.
God, we are not saved by a messenger, but by your very presence in Christ, your Word made flesh. Bless us now that we may be mindful of your presence and open our hearts to your Word, so that we, too, may make your Word flesh in our lives. We pray in the Spirit of Christ, who is with us. Amen.

5.
Gracious and Eternal God, angels appeared to Joseph in dreams, and guided him in protecting the Christ child. Come to us now in our worship and speak to us, and guide us. Fill us with your Spirit that we may hear and obey, and so serve and glorify you. Open our hearts now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God, of grace,
we who are attached to our lives as they are
confess that we need to be made new.
Forgive our sin, heal our hearts, and re-create us.
As the new year dawns,
let the old self we fearfully cling to pass away;
raise us in your love,
and grant that we may continually be made new
by your grace.
(Silent prayer…)


Response / Creed / Affirmation:

1.
I recommend the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan tradition: “I am no longer my own but thine…”

2.
Leader: Today God gives us a new year,
a new day in this world of beauty and wonder.
Yet Herod still reigns with evil and violence,
with the domination, oppression, injustice and enmity
by which Empire works.
All: We acknowledge that we live in a world
of cruelty and injustice, a world that needs to be healed.
Herod did not slaughter those children on his own;
he enlisted an army, the army of the Empire.
We confess that acts of injustice are carried out in our name,
that we are complicit in injustice and oppression.
God of love, we ask your forgiveness, and trust your grace.
By the grace of God, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
We renounce the powers of evil and injustice
and the violent ways of this world.
In this new year we can be made new people,
set free from the world’s ways of domination and cruelty.
Baptized into Christ, renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we are freed from old ways that we have followed.
We resolve to live new lives, lives of mercy, love and justice,
in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
God, by your grace, may all the world be made new!


Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

The day is new;
the year is new;
let your grace unfold in us,
that we, too, may be made new.

Eucharistic Prayer

[Following the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you, God, that you make all things, and make all things new.
You create us in your image; you claim us as your children,
and you guide us by your grace.
You judge for forces of oppression and set free all your beloved children;
and you call us to bee free.
From every yoke of slavery you liberate us;
you lead us out of narrow confines into broad and spacious places.
Even in the terror of oppression under Herod
you brought forth something new in Jesus.
And you guide us, as you did Joseph and Mary, toward peace.
By your Spirit in us you heal us, transform us
and enable us to become new people, born anew of your Spirit.
And so, with all your saints, we sing your praise.

     —Sanctus

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who transformed our old faith and made it new.
He fed the hungry and healed the broken,
who took old, wounded lives and made them new.
Amid the strife of violence and injustice
he gathered with his beloved and celebrated in a new way/
your Covenant to be with us in love forever.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
set free and made new by your grace,
re-dedicated to your love in this world,
looking forward to a whole new Creation,
by your grace, in the name of Christ.

Amen

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for / your grace / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You dwell among us in the poor and the vulnerable, and you call us as well to this holy self-giving. Send us into the world as your light, to care for all your holy children, in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Your Word is made flesh in our midst in Jesus, in the bread and wine, and in our lives. Send us into the world to embody your love and to live in peace and compassion with our brother Jesus, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, Joseph served you in faith, and through his obedience great gifts came into this world. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. IN this new year, make us new, and send us into the world to listen for your Word and to follow in faith, to serve you by serving others, in the name of Christ. Amen.


Suggested Songs

As on Christmas Day, I recommend singing all those less commonly sung Christmas songs you haven’t sung yet.

[Click on the title to view on the music page.]


Peace, Peace, Peace (Tune: Still, Still, Still)
[Music includes optional parts for two flutes.]

Peace, peace, peace. God grant you peace, my friends.
The Christ child comes, so sweet and tender.
Greet him with your trust and wonder.
Peace, peace, peace, God be with you, my friends.

Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.
Here at the manger humbly kneeling;
gladly going, serving, healing.
Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.