The Old and the New
Prayers of Adoration and Confession and The Lord's Prayer
God of grace and glory, we praise you from the heights and from the depths;
in the heavens and on the seas; in the courts of power and from the margins of society. Your splendour shines from a manger, where the Light of the world was born to pierce the darkness. In the fragility of flesh you are revealed to us face to face. And so we gather with all people who have glimpsed your salvation and grace. Together we worship and praise you as Creator, Son, and Spirit; Source of life, Glorious light, Wisdom of the ages.
You, O God, are the source of all hope. You invite us to live in the light and to experience the splendour of your glory. We confess that we are reluctant to embrace this new life and choose instead to remain in the darkness. We allow our fears and hurts to hold us hostage and our illusions to hold us back from new and real possibilities. You offer us unconditional love, but we expect our own love to be earned. Forgive us and create us anew in the image of your Son who taught us to pray by saying:
Our Father which 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. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil - for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever, Amen
Assurance of Pardon
Here is the good news of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is our light and our salvation. In him we are made new. Let us give thanks to God, and be at peace with ourselves and with one another.
- Isaiah 61: 10 – 62:3
- Psalm 148
- Gal 4: 4-7
- Luke 2: 22-40
SERMON – 12-31-17 – The Old and the New
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts and minds be pleasing to you, O God. Amen.
So it's New Year's Eve! It's hard to believe that 2017 is over. When I was a child, I sometimes thought that time was standing still, especially when something exciting like Christmas was approaching. It seemed as if the big day was taking forever to arrive. Now, as an adult, I think that time goes faster, especially when something exciting like Christmas is approaching. There never seems enough time to do all the things that I would like to. This year when I pulled out my Christmas bins to decorate our Christmas tree, on top of some decorations I found a big note that I had written to myself last year. It said, in large capital letters, “DO NOT USE THIS STUFF! KEEP IT SIMPLE?” So I heeded that excellent advice and kept our tree simpler. What I appreciate is the way my old experiences prepare me for the new. What I try to do is figure out, with God's help, what I should take with me and what I should leave behind.
Our Scripture readings today reveal three faithful Israelites who were very attuned to God and to His will. Isaiah, Simeon and Anna were part of the old order, but they, too, were excited about the new things that were to come.
The role of Isaiah and of the other prophets was not to predict the future the way some unscrupulous souls might claim to do. The prophets' role was to foster obedience to God's covenant among the people and to bring about repentance among the people who, like us, continually failed to live up to their good intentions. Prophets never claimed any power for themselves but did everything they could to follow God's orders, no matter how hard these might be. They lived difficult and dangerous lives but counted their personal difficulties as nothing compared to the importance of their message to the people: Remember the old ways and times when God was with you and cared for you and comforted you. If you repent and turn to God, you will experience that same comfort and love and will be able to show to the world a new thing: that God is still God of all the world. Over and over again, Isaiah talked about the importance of leaving behind the old ways of sin and moving forward into a new joyous relationship with the Creator.
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, we find many examples of this conflict between the old and the new. In the 540's B.C.E., 2 Isaiah had announced to the Jewish exiles in Babylon that God would bring about their release from captivity and return to Zion. He had even named King Cyrus of Persia as God's instrument for this purpose.
However, life had become too good for some of the Jewish captives in Babylon and they didn't want to leave. They were not interested in going back to their old ways. Others chose the difficult known situation of captivity rather than take a chance that the new one would be better. This tension between the familiar old and the uncertain new is one which we see today. People live in very difficult situations because they are afraid to take a step forward to a new life. In times of adversity, it is very easy to blame God for one's suffering, to think that He does not care but Isaiah pointed out that God does care. As our scripture this morning said, God “will not keep silent”. He wanted the nations to see the Israelites as a light in the darkness, “a crown of splendour in the Lord's hand”.
In 538 B.C.E., the Persians overthrew Babylon and allowed the Jewish captives to go home if they wanted to. Initially the experience of the Remnant of the Israelites who returned to their homeland was not good. They made the wrong choices of what to do. They focused on what they thought was important rather than listen to what God had asked them to do. They experienced great hardship because they didn't put God's orders first. They didn't immediately rebuild His temple in Jerusalem to show their gratitude for His leading them home. And they continued to think that it was not important to show to the world that God was Lord of all nations. Both civil and religious leaders built up their own power and wealth at the expense of the poor. They turned to their old habits, and ignored the new things that God wanted them to do. However, once again, God sent his prophet Isaiah to remind them that they were to leave behind their old self-centred ways and share the new good news with all nations that God was indeed Lord of all.
Luke wrote his Gospel sometime between 59 A.D. and perhaps twenty or thirty years later. Obviously a lot of time had passed between Jesus' birth, life and crucifixion. Luke wanted to make sure that the record of the life of Jesus was accurate and he was very specific about historical events. For example, he begins Ch 2 with
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria
If we wanted to write about something that happened in the 1950's, our task would be ever so much easier with all the media reports and documents available to us. Probably Luke had to rely a great deal on oral memories and he wanted to make sure that this history was not lost. By his time, the Christian church was becoming an institution and as such needed to be kept aware of God's purposes. Luke wanted to emphasize that God was very much the principal character and power in and through all the events of the life of Jesus and the early church.
With Luke, old stories become new stories: an old couple is to have a child. Zechariah and Elizabeth are to have a son John just like Abraham and Sarah back in Genesis were to have Isaac. Angels announce miracles. Women like Hannah (mother of Samuel) and Mary (mother of Jesus) who were unexpectedly pregnant sing songs of praise to God. And, always, God uses ordinary people to bring in a new era of justice and mercy.
According to Jewish law, following the birth of a son, the mother (in this case Mary) had to wait 40 days before going to the temple to offer sacrifice for her purification. It was about a six mile journey from Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph to complete this ritual which dated from the ancient book of Leviticus. Jesus' parents were devoted to their religion and tried to follow its precepts. The first born of both man and animal were supposed to be dedicated to the Lord. The animals were sacrificed but the human beings were to serve God throughout their lives. The Levites actually served in the place of all the firstborn males in Israel. So Mary and Joseph showed their faithfulness to these old rules in bringing to the temple their new baby boy Jesus to dedicate him to God.
In the temple was an old man Simeon who had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw God's Christ who would be the “consolation of Israel”, the bringer of the messianic age of which Isaiah prophesied. According to Isaiah, Jesus was to be the saviour of Jews and Gentiles alike. Can you imagine the excitement and the joy on Simeon's face when he held the baby Jesus in his arms, realizing how precious he was to the world? What love and what awe he must have felt looking down into the face of the Saviour of the world. Yet in the midst of his own joy came the old knowledge that while Jesus would save the world bringing in a new era of relationship with God, it would come at terrible personal cost to both him and his mother.
The prophetess Anna appears next, brought here by God to affirm Simeon's proclamation. She is very old and thanks God for sending this redeemer to his people. She also tells anyone who will listen that God is revealing himself through Jesus who has come to save them.
Anna and Simeon are examples of devout Jews. They spend their time at the temple, follow the best they can the religious rules, and they are led by the Holy Spirit. They know God's promises and trust in the fulfilment of them. God is doing something new, the fulfilment of an old promise.
Mary and Joseph, also devout Jews, had thought they were going to the temple for her purification and for Jesus' dedication but their encounters with Simeon and Anna must have made them pause and reflect on how old promises had come to life in a brand new way.
So what do these people have to say to us on the day before the New Year begins? These stories are old. When we read them, we think, “Okay, now, why did Luke think it was important to include these two brief mentions of
two old people?” We wonder what the essence of Isaiah's message was. What was it that kept Isaiah, Simeon and Anna so devoted to God?
If we look at the characters of Isaiah, Simeon and Anna we begin to see similarities. All are open to the Holy Spirit and let themselves be guided by it. They do not care what other people think. They know they have a mission and in spite of probable opposition from their families and friends, they persevere. Theirs is a lonely life, bereft of the usual comforts and perks one might expect. Anna spends all her time in the temple worshipping God, fasting and praying for the redemption of Israel. Simeon has waited patiently his whole life to see the Christ and finally views him as just a baby. There is no conquering hero riding on a fine horse, leading a military life and running the Romans out of the country but instead he holds in his arms a baby and he praises God for the light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. Isaiah, the greatest of the prophets, also brings God's message of salvation to his people. Yet, old or new, often the people do not listen or heed the advice these three offer.
What are the truths in their messages? Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to learn. Often the old messages are the ones to which we cling. Many of us can almost recite the nativity story of Jesus. This story rests in our hearts because it touches our hearts. It is old but every year it is new again. Isaiah talked about “a new thing”, the return of the Israelites to their homeland and to the covenant with God. They had forgotten the old and were unwilling to seek out new ways of living. Simeon saw the old oppression of Rome and looked forward to the Messiah whom God would send to save the world from oppression. Anna kept sharing her hope for the future.
That is the real message today. Jesus was the incarnation of all the previous promises rolled into one. What became important was not the law and its impossible fulfilment. What was important was the old message that God was prepared to do a new thing for His people. He would provide a Saviour who would lead us into a new relationship with God since we had such a hard time living according to the old code. And why would God freely offer his forgiveness through his son? Because He loves us so much.
Of course we are flawed. Of course we have made mistakes. But, as Isaiah said, God is doing a new thing and that is promising us a new life of joy and grace if we just leave behind the old and move forward to the new, confident that, no matter what, God loves us and wants us as his very own. As we begin the new year, 2018, let us remember that God still loves us just as we are. When we turn to him, we can be forgiven for our old sins and enter into a brand new life of blessings. Take that forgiveness with you into 2018. Leave the old behind and have a Happy New Year!
WE RESPOND IN FAITH
Hymn #811 – Standing at the portal...
This morning we will be lifting up to God those people who are on our prayer list. Every Wednesday in our Bible Study prayer time we do this as well, and after each name, we say Amen. I would ask that when we get to this part of the Prayers of the People that you say Amen as well. The prayer list is in your leaflet if you want to follow along. You may not know who these people are nor why they are on the list, but God knows each one of them as He also knows everything about each of us and we trust that He will act on our petitions as He knows best. Let us pray.
Prayers of the People:
God of love, as we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, our Saviour, we are filled with thanks. Our gratitude overflows in prayers for our world.
We pray for all children. Guard their minds, protect their bodies, strengthen their characters, and give them joy.
We pray for those whose hearts are filled with pain and fear. We pray for those for whom Christmas is linked with loss or grief. Surround them with a strong sense of your healing presence.
Who pray for those who do not have enough to eat, or who lack adequate shelter. We pray for those who eat alone, without the comfort of human contact. We pray for those whose hearts and lives have been broken by trauma and loss.
We pray for the names on our Prayer List:
We pray for family members and friends who are struggling. Hear us now as we name them in the silence of our hearts: [Silence]
To all who are burdened, O God, give your gift of peace.
As the year draws to a close, help us to look back with gratitude for all that has been. Give us strength of mind and body to make the changes necessary so that the year ahead will be one of transformation and growth. May we look forward with eager anticipation to new opportunities to grow closer to you and to each other. In Jesus' holy name we pray, Amen.
Remember it is more blessed to give than to receive. Be generous to God. He has been very generous to you. The offering will now be received.
We give thee but thine own, whate'er the gift may be. All that we have is thine alone – a trust dear Lord from thee. Please, dear God, accept these offerings and use them for your purposes. In Christ's name, we pray, Amen.
HYMN # 166 – Once in Royal David's city, ...
Receive a Blessing
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you, and all whom you love, peace.
Parting Hymn – Go in Love ...