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Sunday Service, 3rd January 2021

Led by Rev. Ann Inglis and Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome and notices

Call to worship

Like Simeon, may I grow old in hope and in wonder.
Like Anna, may I be in love with you all my days.
May I be open to truth, open to surprises.
May I let your spirit into my life.
May I let your justice change my behaviour.
May I live in the brightness of your joy.

Hymn 161 – O God, our help in ages past. Listen here.

Prayer

The waiting is over. The gift has been presented. And what will we do with it now?

Simeon has waited for the Messiah through many long years. Such patience he has shown in his worship and his waiting. For him this is the moment which will change the world. Now he can go in peace and sleep the final sleep of a very old man.

The Christ child lies before us with all the promise of his life in front of him. Simeon speaks of the future but his words chill Mary’s heart.

When Anna sees the baby she praises God. She cannot keep silence because her wait has been recorded. She speaks about the child to everyone. The waiting is over.

Thank you, Lord, for the days of Christmas, so different this year and yet exactly the same as always, because we, like Simeon and Anna, have welcomed the Christ child.

We confess that as the year ahead unfolds there will be many days when we forget to give thanks for this most wonderful gift of all. We will forget that we have knelt at the manger and rejoiced in Emmanuel – God with us. We will forget to speak about him. And so we ask forgiveness now and ask that you will help us not to forget. May we not say goodbye to the baby when we put the decorations away this week.

God of our past, reconcile our brokenness.

God of our future, renew our faith.

God of the present moment, reach out to touch us and, through us, the lives of those we meet on our daily journey.

May we be made whole through the holiness of God the Father, the healing power of the Holy Spirit, and the humanity of Jesus the Son.

When he grew to be a man he taught his disciples to pray and we pray now in the words he taught.

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen

Scripture Reading (NRSV)

Joshua 1: 1–9

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, ‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: Crossing the Threshold

“Joshua – I will be with you as I was with Moses, I will always be with you, I will never abandon you. Don’t be afraid or discouraged for I, the Lord your God am with you wherever you go.”

According to Scripture, these were the words of encouragement spoken by God to Joshua as he was called to take on the reins of leadership of the Israelite nation after the death of Moses. Those Israelites had left Egypt seeking a new life, seeking freedom. Forty years later after many a mishap they found themselves standing on the banks of the river Jordan, about to cross into what they believed to be their land of promise, their land flowing with milk and honey.

Moses had led them through many difficult situations – their food had run out and the Lord had provided a daily provision of manna; on an occasion of extreme thirst, water had gushed out of the rock to satisfy their need. They had walked the road and the miles one day, only having to, at least metaphorically, retrace their steps the next. They could only have been described, at best, as a wandering nomadic people. But now they stood on the threshold of what would be for them a new experience. They were under new leadership, with a leader whose task would be to take this nomadic people and transform them into a nation, a people with homes of their own, a nation with a land to call their own.

There is no record as to how Joshua felt as he faced the task before him. Did he suffer from a sense of his own inadequacy for the task? Any evidence of a panic attack, as he thought of his future and the future of the people? Any uncertainty in his mind as to the road ahead and the problems he would have to face head on?

Scripture doesn’t share any such feelings. But Joshua was human and I have no doubt in my mind that as he stood there on the river bank he would be very much aware of his humanity and of the inadequacies that most of us would experience, having been called to such a situation. Thus this very special word from the Lord – “Joshua, I will be with you, as I was with Moses.” Words of encouragement and reassurance. It is almost as if the Lord is saying, “Take that step of faith, cross the river, establish the nation – I will be with you through all the changing scenes of life. Take my people and cross this threshold.”

Like Joshua, I would suggest that as individuals and as a church we find ourselves standing at a couple of different thresholds at this particular time. One we have already negotiated, having passed from what was a very difficult year and entered the early days of a new year with all its possibilities and challenges stretching out in front of us.

2020 is a year that none of us will ever forget; it will be etched in our memories as long as we have breath in our bodies. Who would have thought this time last year that we would have to face up to the struggles, the isolation, the uncertainties that confronted us during the months and weeks and days of the past year? I am sure that living through a world pandemic never entered our consciousness – such an idea was something of history, or fiction, not reality.

Yet we are where we are and we have crossed the threshold and entered another year, a year stretching out before us, full of questions, full of uncertainty, a year in which, in a sense, we find ourselves walking out into the unknown. Isn’t it encouraging and reassuring to take the promise made to Joshua and claim it for ourselves – “As I have been with you in the past, I will be with you now and out into the future.”

Despite the roll out of vaccines there can be no promise that things will be well soon but, through the promises found in Scripture, I can assure you of the Lord’s presence with you through any days of darkness you might have to face, the assurance that his presence will be just as real in the valley as it is through the days of mountain-top experiences. “As I was with Moses, as I have been with my people across the centuries of time, so I will be with you.”

As a congregation you are standing on a threshold and it is my prayer for you that in this year you will welcome a new minister who, like Joshua, will take on the reins of leadership of this congregation and lead you to a new chapter in the history of this church. When that moment comes you will be challenged, with your new minister, to take a step of faith to live out the gospel together.

The welcoming of a new minister into a congregation is not always an easy process for either the church or the minister.

For some within the church there is always the hankering back to the way that things were done under the leadership of a previous minister and no matter what changes may be suggested – as far as you are concerned church life and practice will never be quite the same – you would rather be standing still or taking a step back into the past rather than being willing to move forward in faith accepting change.

I must admit that there are times when I really struggle with the whole concept of change. I want to hold on, at times grimly, to the way things were and the way things were done in past days. I would even describe it as my Christian heritage. While change may not be right and necessary in all situations, nevertheless we must have minds and hearts that are open to the leading of God and his Holy Spirit.

When the time comes to enter through the gate and into a new chapter in the church’s history make certain that you do so with open minds and open hearts. Out into an unknown future, yes, but with the assurance of the Lord’s presence in the midst of his people. “As I have been with you in the past, be assured of my presence with you today and out into the future”.

And as for your new minister, whoever he or she may be, with the challenge comes the same assurance. Speaking from experience, when you set aside the expectation and excitement of moving to a new charge, the change also brings with it feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, of inadequacy and hesitation. But in the midst of any anxiety and any feelings of inadequacy comes the same word of assurance at the beginning and throughout any ministry: “As I have been with those called to the task in previous years, so I will be with you.”

A new year, and hopefully the beginning of a new ministry in the life and history of the church and a promise of the Lord’s presence and guidance through each and every perplexing path of life.

Hymn 234 – ʼTis winter now; the fallen snow

Scripture Reading (NRSV)

Luke 2: 22–40

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 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 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, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 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 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

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 for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 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.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

and Anna

I often wonder if Simeon felt impatient. He must have been torn – the longer the Messiah delayed, the longer he would live. Love of life invites him to hope for delay, but the longing to see the Messiah impels him to want the time to be shorter, even though that means he will live for a shorter time.

Simeon lives with the mature serenity of his years and the joy given to him by the Holy Spirit in whom he trusts.

The family arrive, taking Jesus to the Temple on the eighth day as the religious law required. They had already travelled to Bethlehem to comply with the law of the land when they went there for the Roman census and now they travel to Jerusalem.

They are not important enough for special treatment when they arrive at the Temple. The child is blessed by Simeon. We are told he is righteous and devout but it seems he is not a priest and we would perhaps expect this child to be blessed by a priest.

What a moment for Simeon. He took Jesus in his arms and gave thanks and praise in the words we read and which we know as the nunc dimittis.

We know very little about Anna. She has a very brief appearance in the Gospel. Differences in manuscripts make it unclear whether she was a widow aged 84 or had been a widow for 84 years. Given that we are told she had been married for 7 years the 84 years of widowhood would mean she was well over 100 years old. I’m sure her exact age doesn’t matter.

Anna is described as a prophetess. She clearly had a deep faith and she spent much of her time in the Temple, and she had an expectant faith. She believed the prophecies which said the Messiah would come.

Like Simeon, Anna gave thanks for the baby brought by his parents, AND spoke about him to all who were waiting for the Messiah. It is therefore suggested by many commentators that she was the first person to acknowledge Jesus as Christ and to speak about him in these terms. So, a remarkable character despite her brief appearance.

Hymn 332 – When Mary brought her treasure

Intercessory Prayer by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Lord of the ages, you are our beginning and our end.

Everlasting God, we place the days of this year into your care.

We trust you and praise you for your faithfulness to us throughout our lives.
We put ourselves into your keeping to guard and keep us today and every day.
We offer our lives to you, open to your call today and out into the future.
Hear our cry as we turn to you as we think of the needs that surround us.

We thank you for our National Health Service and for all who work within it, from those who head the administration, to the consultants and doctors and nurses who have held such a heavy load over these past months. We pray for those who hold auxiliary and support positions in hospitals and care settings throughout the country. Renew their strength and devotion day by day.

We thank you for the roll out of the new vaccines, for the skill of the doctors and scientists who have been involved in its production and pray for those who will administer the process in the coming days.

We continue to pray for those who are finding their day-to-day living difficult. Amidst all the anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty of this present age bring a word of hope and encouragement to all and the assurance of your constant and continuing presence in the gloom as well as in the sunshine.

Journeying God, who beckons us to join you on the road, be with all your people as we set out into this new year.

Give courage to those who are cautious, strength to the weary, vision to those who are short sighted, hope to those who are broken in spirit.

When we are unsure of where you are leading, give us a sense of trust and a toleration of not knowing.

When we are certain about your mind and will for us, give us humility – and the grace to listen and learn from each new situation.

May we share material resources justly, practise fair trade, respect the earth and exercise mutual deference.

May we promote freedom of thought, speech and worship – find opportunities for all to grow in grace and stature – take quietness with us wherever we go and exercise mutual encouragement.

May we stand in solidarity with the oppressed and suffering; weep with those who weep; lament the atrocities of history; bring balm for tomorrow and exercise mutual love.

Journeying God, help us to follow you, however risky it seems, for in you lies our ultimate security, our greatest freedom. Journey with us today, journey with us out into future days and hear these our prayers, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymn 159 Lord, for the years. Listen here.

Blessing

The blessing of God the Creator, there from the beginning;
The blessing of Christ our Saviour, God-with-us in history and humanity;
The blessing of the Holy Spirit, calling us into a future of hope:
Be with each one of us, our communities and our world.

And now go in peace, and may the blessing of the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest and abide with each one of you and all whom you love this day and throughout the year ahead.

Amen