Morning Service for Epiphany

HYMN - Bethlehem, of noblest cities NEH48 - Stuttgart 

1 Bethlehem, of noblest cities
None can once with thee compare;
Thou alone the Lord from heaven
Didst for us incarnate bear.

2 Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told his birth;
To the lands their God announcing,
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

3 By its lambent beauty guided
See the eastern kings appear;
See them bend, their gifts to offer,
Gifts of incense, gold and myrrh.

4 Solemn things of mystic meaning:
Incense doth the God disclose,
Gold a royal child proclaimeth,
Myrrh a future tomb foreshows.

5 Holy Jesu, in thy brightness
To the Gentile world displayed,
With the Father and the Spirit
Endless praise to thee be paid. Amen.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.

Lord of grace and truth, we confess our unworthiness
to stand in your presence as your children.
We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The Virgin Mary accepted your call to be the mother of Jesus.
Forgive our disobedience to your will.
We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

Your Son our Saviour was born in poverty in a manger.
Forgive our greed and rejection of your ways.
We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The shepherds left their flocks to go to Bethlehem.
Forgive our self-interest and lack of vision.
We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

The wise men followed the star to find Jesus the King.
Forgive our reluctance to seek you.
We have sinned:

Forgive and heal us.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

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. Amen

FIRST READING - Isaiah 60.1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

HYMN - We thee kings BCS 26 

1. We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
Refrain
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

2. Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3. Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high. [Refrain]

4. Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb. [Refrain]

5. Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

GOSPEL - Matthew 2.1-12

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.

SERMON 

That remarkable piece from Isaiah is worth pausing to notice. It is easily overlooked on a day so full of obvious sermons about Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, Wise Men, Stars and the like. They are stirring words of hope to a people reluctant to hope – a people whose hope has been squeezed from them by poverty, by homelessness – by being strangers in a foreign land. They are words maybe for our own time, when although we have so much we are very aware of the fragility of our world, possibly as never before.

This Isaiah finds hope for his people from one source – their God, Yahweh. He will save them from despair, he will make their world new.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”

Israel has had a long season of darkness, the despair of exile in Babylon. Now comes its season of light. The light is not self generated by Israel. It is a gift given by its God. In the liturgical life of Israel, God's powerful coming is often presented as the coming of light, though the word used for such light is “glory". God's glory “shines". And when God's glory, his powerful, magisterial presence, “shines", Israel lives in the glow, and is itself a presence of light in the world. So these words that call Israel from darkness to light signal a dramatic move from absence to presence, from despair to hope, from dismay to well-being.

Israel is called to recognise what has already happened – an invitation has been given – an invitation to return to the land of the living, to its promised land.

The words “your light has come,” are wonderfully ambiguous since they can relate both to the coming of Yahweh, Israel’s only source of hope and possibility, and to Israel’s own glow, its own reflection of that light, which is a gift from Yahweh that changes the very character of Israel.

The glory comes upon darkness and thick or gross darkness, despair and utter despair, and utterly overwhelms it. So extraordinary is it that, whole nations and kings, people long scattered far and wide will return, such will be the brightness of Israel’s dawning. From its severe poverty unimagined wealth will descend upon them.

Is this a text for our time? It would be easy to find all kinds of ridiculous parallels which we should avoid. Isaiah wrote for his time and the plight of his people then. But his words carry the hope that faith can bring, not a hope in magic or what is beyond reason, but a hope that God will work with the best endeavours of people to bring about the best that we can labour for and struggle to make happen. He works to inspire the compassionate and strengthen those who spend themselves for others. The character of our God is seen in the feeding, healing, crucified Jesus and in the risen Christ of Easter morning - that, in the end, is the Epiphany that really counts. 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.
1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Vear Oldham

Heavenly Father, creator of a universe full of wonder and mystery, help us in our modern, confusing and fast changing world to pause and reflect on your glory and in the stillness to listen for your voice speaking to us all.
We bring to you now our prayers and concerns for others, confident in the knowledge that they will be both heard and answered. 
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

We pray for our fellow Christians throughout your world, thinking particularly of all those for whom worshipping will lead them into dangers and difficulty. Be near them and give them courage and strength in their witness. Make them aware at all times that you are with them.

We pray for our church here in this Benefice, for William and his family, for our Readers and Churchwardens, our organist and choir and all those who serve our Benefice by giving so freely of their time and skills on a voluntary basis. We remember especially all those who during this difficult year have worked to keep our churches alive and who have been a help and inspiration to so many.
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

We continue to pray for peace in our world. We pray for those parts of this world where life is a continual struggle and where peace is too often a dream drowned under a sea of violence. Help us wherever and whenever we can in our everyday lives to be instruments of your peace. 
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

We pray for our own nation, for Elizabeth our Queen, her ministers and for all who serve the people at all levels of government and responsibility.
There are many uncertainties and hardships in our society and we pray for careful and considered leadership that transcends party politics and works for the betterment of all in creating and maintaining a just, equitable and loving society.
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, we bring before you those people for whom we have especial concern and we turn our thoughts and prayers to those who are in physical, mental or spiritual need. We pray for those suffering from the COVID-19 virus, those who are housebound, alone and isolated from their families, those whose livelihoods and education have been disrupted and all the key workers and scientists who are working so hard to help and protect us during these difficult times. 
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

We pray today for those who have died recently and for their families and friends who mourn their passing. We remember too all those whose anniversaries fall at this time. Let the knowledge of your resurrection in glory be a comfort to them all.
Lord in Your mercy - Hear our prayer.

Lord, as we leave behind us what has been a most dark and difficult year for us all, may we look ahead with renewed hope and optimism. Although we still must face a life full of difficulties and restrictions and whilst the dangers presented by the virus are still present, we can feel reassured that an end to this dark period is in sight with the development of these new vaccines. Give us all a renewed strength of hope, purpose and faith in you as we move into the light that a new year may bring, safe in the knowledge that you will be with us on our journey.

Merciful Father, 
accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

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. Amen.

HYMN - As with gladness men of old NEH 47 - Dix

1 As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious God, may we
Evermore be led to thee.

2 As with joyful steps they sped,
To that lowly manger-bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek thy mercy-seat.

3 As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure, and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee our heavenly King.

4 Holy Jesu, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds thy glory hide.

5 In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down:
There for ever may we sing
Alleluyas to our King.

BLESSING
Mysterious God, confounding expectations, 
meeting us where we least expect to find you,
be with us this Epiphany.
Child of the manger, healing our pain,
sharing our weakness,
be with us this Epiphany. 
Source of life
birth of God within our own experience,
be with us this Epiphany.
Be with us in our frailty
be with us on our journey
walk beside us, live within us
lead us to glory, lead us home.

May he who who by his incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant us the fullness of peace and goodwill and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon us and remain with us always. Amen

HYMN - The first Nowell NEH 36

1 The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep:
Refrain:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

2 They lookèd up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far:
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night: [Refrain]

3 And by the light of that same star,
Three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wheresoever it went: [Refrain]

4 This star drew nigh to the north-west;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest,
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay: [Refrain]

5 Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon their knee,
And offered there in his presence
Both gold and myrrh and frankincense: [Refrain]

6 Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind hath bought: [Refrain]

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen