This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 27th at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
“We promise according to our hopes; we perform according to our fears.” (La Rochefoucauld)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
R: Amen! Joy to the world, our Lord has come.
L: “God, now your servants may go on in peace, just as your word has promised;
R: for our own eyes have seen your salvation made ready with everyone looking on, a revealing light for outsiders, and a glory for all your faithful people.”
LIGHTING THE COMMUNITY CANDLE
(Those at home may light a candle)
R: letting go of what has been,
L: open and hopeful for what may come,
R: renewed, restored, ready
L: to live Life fully anew.
R: May we move forward with intention.
L: Spirit of life, bring to us beauty.
R: The beauty of coloured wild flowers and ripened fruit.
L: Bring to us strength.
R: The strength of torrents of rain-filled rivers and the quiet strength of a gum tree’s roots, pushing deep into the ground for nourishment.
L: Bring to us pleasure.
L: Bring to us wisdom.
R: The knowledge that new life springs up without help. In spite of everything we do or do not do.
L: Spirit of life, come to us that all the energy and power of the seasons of the year will make us tall and smiling and expectant.
ACT OF AWARENESS
Silently a flower blooms. In silence it falls away. Yet here now, in this moment, at this place, the world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming. This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom: the glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “Each Birth a Revolution” by Sitar Situmorang
Some are born in a cottage, some in a field,
but wherever a child is born,
in its eyes the world is reflected,
in its cries Christ is present.
Christ the son of man
was born to renew the world
like every child in the mother’s womb
is granted by the Lord at its time.
As we gather together in this silent time for the last time this year and in these seasons of Christmas, New Year, and Summer, may we give thanks for the past, and celebrate the future, yet unknown, which shall be woven out of our possibilities and realities, our hopes and our fears.
OUR FAILINGS AND GOD ‘S GRACE
L: Holy Friend, Saviour and Healer of the world, we in your church family admit to you the frustration we feel for our part in the evil that infests humanity. We are called to truth,
L: We are called to hope,
R: but we slide into the negativity of the snide and lost.
L: We are called to grace,
R: but we are at times as mean-spirited as the self-serving.
L: We are called to mercy,
R: but we harbour grudges and let slip insidious innuendos.
L: We are called to faith,
R: but we live as if everything depended on us.
L: We are called to love,
R: but it rarely goes beyond loving those who love us.
L: God of abundant loving, please forgive your church family for our failure to uphold and express the generosity of your ways. Forgive us for those sins of which we are ashamed, and for the sly sins which as yet we have not recognised and brought out into your light. Please be to us, not the God we deserve but the Saviour who heaps grace upon grace. In you alone we place our trust. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer, Amen!
L: Though a sinner myself, I have a commission from the Living God to proclaim to you the forgiveness of sins and the life abundant. In God you may receive the grace, mercy and peace which make renewal undeniable, and so I can declare to you: the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be God
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Is.61:10-62:5
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its bud,
As the garden causes the things
that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring forth before all the nations.
62 For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
And her salvation as a lamp that burns.
3 You shall also be a crown of glory
In the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem
In the hand of your God.
4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Lk.2:22-40
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now let your servant depart in peace
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There 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, 37 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. 38 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.
The Return to Nazareth
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “Joy-Fear All Ye Nations Rise”
“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace…?”(Lk.2:29)
And so we come to the end of another year; a year with more than its share of turmoil, given the bushfires and the pandemic along with the usual trials we must face. But while we simply come to the end of a year, Simeon in our gospel story, is coming to the end of his life. Of course, the purpose of the reading in Luke is not just to speak of departures or endings at the this time of year. Indeed, the primary focus is on beginnings. Simeon is ready to depart because something else has begun.
January got its name from the Roman God, Janus, depicted as having two faces: one facing the past and one the future. It is a very appropriate perspective as we approach New Year’s Day: looking forward and looking back. But the contrast of endings and beginnings in today’s reading is not the only polarity. At this time of year when we think of endings and beginnings, we tend to focus on things getting better. We make New Year ‘s resolutions to that effect: giving up bad habits, taking on a more healthy life-style, i.e making ourselves better and creating a better world around us. We celebrate the new year as leaving behind the disappointments, the bad luck, the mistakes of the past year, and starting fresh in the new.
There is nothing like the birth of a baby to symbolise this transition. Indeed the new year is often personified by an infant, because they are new, fresh, joyful. They joy of the baby born at Christmas primes us for a new start a week later for a better future…Or does it?
One year, a church was asked to set up a seasonal display in one of the local shopping malls. A committee went to work and built a display that featured a movie screen with the words over the screen taken from a familiar carol, “Christ was born for this.” While that carol played continuously, slides of scenes from current events flashed upon the screen; scenes of war, poverty, riots, natural disasters, little children, families decorating Christmas trees. The message: Christ was born for this right now.
After two days, the management of the mall called the church and demanded that the display be removed because, they said, “Merchants feel that it is depressing, and it will be bad for business, because people don’t want to think about stuff like that at Christmas.” You can understand the point of the shop owners.
We have come here to celebrate Christmas, to rejoice at the birth of a baby, and we don’t really want to reminded of the more depressing aspects of life. Babies go with joy. After all that waiting and preparation, at last the baby arrives, and there is great joy! Well, it ‘s joyful at first anyway. Then come the bills to pay, clothes to be bought, education to be financed. Children, our joy, turn out to be the most expensive gifts we’ll ever receive.
I remember telling my children, after reading that the average cost of raising a child to adulthood was over $500,000, that as an investment, they had made me a millionaire. (But trying to cash in that investment is another matter.) And this was in the 1970s. I shudder to think what the price tag is now.
Of course, you don’t think about mundane things like money when a baby is born. You hold this little baby in your arms, cherishing it, loving it;… (pause)… yet there will be other days when you walk the floor at night trying to get it to sleep. When it grows up, you are still fitfully walking the floor at night waiting for him or her to come home safe.
Yes, having a baby is a fitting analogy for starting a new year. Most new parents are extremely proud and joyful about their new baby, and so we have a joyful basis for our expectations for the new year; yet beneath the parental flood of great joy, there runs another current: a fearful anticipation for what the future may hold.
Babies bring joy today, but they also carry us forward, beyond today, into the future. What will tomorrow bring? We may celebrate the new year as a new start, leaving behind the pain, the mistakes, unfortunate events of the past year, but we have no guarantee that the new year will be any better. Indeed, although it is hard to believe it could be worse than this year, nevertheless we harbour fears that it well may be. As we consider the future, joyful anticipation is always moderated by the dread evoked by uncertainty.
The birth of the baby at Bethlehem is no different than any other birth. There is the great joy after all the waiting, captured so well in the poetry of the Isaiah passage. Let us join the throng in the scene that Luke describes to us. Let us come to the Temple. Let us participate in the joy. On our way we meet two old people who have been waiting a long time for this moment, Simeon and Anna.
They appear to love babies, these two. Simeon reaches out and takes the little babe in his arms, and praises God for this gift, this newness, this fresh life. The old man then says that he is at last ready to die because he has seen God’s salvation. Simeon then gives the new parents his blessing, but a strange blessing it is. “This child will cause the falling and rising of many,” he predicted. “He shall be opposed. A sword shall also pierce your heart.”
Amid all of the joy about this little baby, what strange words: opposition, falling and rising, a sword. Is this appropriate Christmas talk? Is this what we want to hear this time of year? We have been given a baby, fresh, new, full of joyous potential, then we meet old Simeon who tells us that this birth shall involve as much pain as joy.
Certainly this is not the message the world wants to hear. The world wants to celebrate, to dance to Christmas jingles, to spend unlimitedly in the shopping malls, to envision itself as happy, peaceful and generous.
Now on New Year ‘s Day, after all the shopping mall jingles are silent, the partying over, after we’ve had the buying and the giving, the church gathers and celebrates joy, real joy. Christmas joy is not about an annual fantasy trip into never-never land. It is about a God who comes to us in the flesh. And a God who comes to us must be a God willing to get his hands dirty in the human condition. This God will be resisted, because Truth is a threat, and this God ‘s words will be as much a sword in our hearts as a comfort.
Old Simeon had lived long enough to know that if God really wants to bless us, to save us, somehow this God must confront the worst about us, the things we do to one another, the terrible things we do to ourselves. Such a confrontation can never be cheap. Simeon ‘s words rearrange our notions of babies and joy. If Christmas is really about joy, it must be a joy which comes in the midst of realism about what ails us, and it must be a joy which somehow does business with our pain.
The message of Christmas is found in the peace that comes to Simeon, even knowing what he knows and having lived through the trial we call life, when he holds on to this little bundle of new life.
The life and person of this Jesus will help many to recognise the birth of God in their own lives, and will enable many to walk his way, the way of suffering for sake of others, for God ‘s sake, and so find God ‘s path to peace and joy and new life.
LITANY FOR THE PAST YEAR (Those at home may use any 5 candles)
L: Let us remember and celebrate the past year.
We light this candle remembering the children who have been part of our church family this past year…(First candle is lit)
L: We light this second candle remembering all those who have experienced grief and loss in our congregation: the death of a loved one, the ending of a significant relationship, the loss of employment…(Second candle is lit)
R: This light beams for their continuing comfort and support.
L: We light this third candle remembering all those who have shared in ministry in among us: Ministers, lay preachers, organists and singers, those who offered pastoral care or reminded us of our wider community, those who visited hospitals, nursing homes, cooked meals or offered transport.(Third candle is lit)
R: This light beams with the acts of compassion shared in our midst.
L: We light this fourth candle mindful of those who have called us to risk the way of Jesus: to create inclusive and safe, open, and honest communities for all.
R: This light beams as a symbol of hope in the midst of both challenge and comfort.
L: We light this fifth candle having each and everyone of us in mind, bearing each other in strengths and weaknesses, anxieties and hopes. (5th candle is lit)
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
Loving God, as we get ready welcome a new year, we pray for both the world at large and for the intimate world of our family, friends, church, neighbours and workmates.
For those who in the coming year will enjoy good health and buoyant spirits, and those who will suffer injury, disease, increasing handicap, or mental disability. Help us enjoy the strong and encourage those who are weak, Lord Jesus.
For prominent people who govern nations, negotiate for peace, and struggle against injustice, and counter terrorism; and for the people in the background who quietly go on loving their neighbours without receiving any recognition. Help us to appreciate great gifts and to celebrate small ones, Lord Jesus.
For the many in the coming year who will rejoice in birth and growth, and for those who must endure decline, decay or be plunged into the anguish of sorrow. Help us to laugh with the happy and to grieve with the sad, Lord Jesus.
For churches that will seem to flourish with new members and programmes, and those who will appear to shrink and struggle to maintain their mission. Help us to walk humbly when strong and faithfully when weak, Lord Jesus.
Most patient and generous God, please continue to deal graciously with this congregation, and enable us as individuals and as a fellowship to serve you boldly in times of doubt and to go gently in times of confidence. For the healing of the nations, the love of the least and lost, and to the glory of your wonderful name, we pray, and continue with the words passed down to us: “Our Father…
THE 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 in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
THE SENDING OUT
R: Together may we walk the path of justice, speak words of love, live the selfless deed, tread gently upon the earth, and fill the world with compassion.
The world can never be big enough for the Holy One who has created and redeemed it. Yet by astounding grace, God can live in the small hearts of those who receive and share God. May God be a smooth path ahead of you, a guiding star above you, a sharp eye behind you, today, tonight, and forever. Amen.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1. What would you like to leave behind with the old year?
2. What blessings do you seek in the new year.
3. What must be left behind in order to receive the new that you seek.
Answer these questions from a personal point of view and also as a member of the Ocean Grove/Barwon Heads congregations.