O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey’s end
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord;
he said to me: ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.
‘Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance
and the ends of the earth for your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’
Now therefore be wise, O kings;
be prudent, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and with trembling kiss his feet,
lest he be angry and you perish from the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all they who take refuge in him.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Matthew 4.12-17, 23-25
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat
in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
We have reflected upon and celebrated the birth of Jesus and, yesterday, we recalled and gave thanks for the moment when the Good News of the Incarnation was revealed to the wider world. Today we see Jesus beginning his adult ministry.
At this time of year I often wonder what it must have felt like for the shepherds and the wise men, even for Joseph and Mary. From the moment of the Annunciation things were changed. The appearance of angels and a prophetic star in the sky began a chain of events that was destined to change the world. Ancient prophecies were being fulfilled and a totally different future was being opened up for the whole of humanity, for ever. That door on the future was opened to a humble Jewish craftsman and his teenage wife, to lowly isolated shepherds, and to wise travellers from distant lands. In response to the revelation that had been shared with such a disparate and unlikely group of people, the shepherds were heard to praise and glorify God, while the wise men took tales of their experiences much further abroad. But … then what …?
After the fanfares of the angels, the leading of that special star and the presenting of symbolic and prophesied gifts … all was silent. For thirty years all was silent. We know from our reading of scripture that Joseph and Mary saw the child grow, become strong and filled with wisdom, as well as seeing that the favour of God was indeed upon him. But … for those first witnesses of the Incarnation … all was silent.
In today’s reading we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry … some thirty years after his birth. In the first century, thirty years was not that far short of the average working man’s lifespan. Even today it is considered to be more than a generation. Thirty years was a long time to wait for that special baby to reveal his true identity. We struggle to remain convinced, hopeful and optimistic for more than a couple of days. It is not difficult to see how negativity could have grown in the hearts of those who witnessed Jesus’ birth. They may not have know what to expect, but they must have expected something!
It is easier for us to be firm in our faith because we can look back at the whole narrative. Not so for those shepherds and wise men. But … we do not always hold firm, do we? Throughout 2020 I heard the faith of many being questioned. But … there was good news too. Through the necessary re-sculpting of prayer and worship, many came to realize just how the presence of God manifests itself in our troubled and divided world. Even when we were compelled to close our churches, many made the journey of the shepherds and the wise men to gaze on the unlimited love of God.
Let us pray that our personal glimpses of God’s love might not fade as we step further and further into 2021.
Prayers of Intercession
Guided by the great light of divine glory, let us pray to God who calls us to follow and worship him.
Illumine the Church with the light of your truth. Keep her faithful to her one Lord, Jesus Christ, avoiding contention and never trusting in human strength alone.
Shine with divine love on those who walk in darkness. Let the nations hear the gentle voice of your call and respond with joy, that there may be peace in place of strife.
As the disciples were call to be fishers of people for the Kingdom, make us obedient to the call to be ministers of the Gospel in our homes, our work, our community.
As our Lord Jesus in his earthly ministry healed all kinds of sickness and disease, may his healing power come now to the sick and injured. Strengthen and enable all who work to heal the sick.
We remember before you those who were your disciples in this world and now rejoice in the great light of heaven. We give thanks that you have indeed multiplied their joy.
Rejoicing that we are led in the way of obedience and love, we pray to the Lord of light and truth.
Prayer for the week
who by the light of a star
led wise men to Jesus:
by the light of your Word
lead us and all nations to him,
the Saviour of the world;
that together we may bring him our best gifts,
and pay homage to him as our King.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Though hope desert my heart,
though strangeness fill my soul,
though truth torment my troubled mind,
you have been here before.
In Christ who, on the cross,
felt all our hurt and more,
and cried in deep abandonment,
you have been here before.
I will not dread the dark,
the fate beyond control,
nor fear what reigns in frightening things:
you will be there before.
John L. Bell (b. 1949)