A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (31:7-14)
Thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel’ See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’ For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,” says the Lord.
1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9 For one day in your courts is better than
a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (1:3-6, 15-19a)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The day of the year that we choose to mark the start of a new year is purely arbitrary. Many cultures have done so in spring, when the winter is over and new life begins. Others have chosen autumn, when the growing season has been completed and the harvest is done. Each of these approaches is tied in with the annual cycle of the natural world.
Due to a papal decree from 1582 and an act of the British Parliament from 1752, we observe that turning point on January 1. That, too, has a connection with the natural cycle of life on earth. It is a date that comes shortly after the winter solstice: at that point in the year when the days slowly begin to lengthen, and light begins to emerge from darkness.
That image of light shining in darkness is one that is so integral to our shared human experience that it has been employed in many cultures in a variety of different ways. It signals a great new beginning, despair conquered by hope, death conquered by life.
When St. Matthew created his wonderful set of stories that surround the birth of Jesus, he, too, used that image of a light shining in the darkness. He included in his narrative the image of a new, very special star. This star inexplicably moves across the sky, changes directions, and leads a group of exotic strangers to the city of Bethlehem, where it somehow settles over a single building: the house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus live.
It is not surprising that Matthew should incorporate that theme of light shining in darkness in his infancy narrative. It prepares the reader for the start of his main story: the story of Jesus’ public ministry. In the opening scene of that ministry (which we will hear in our gospel reading later this month), Matthew (4:16) quotes the beginning of Isaiah, chapter 9, that served as our first reading on Christmas Eve:
“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.”
For Matthew, the life and ministry of Jesus brings light out of darkness for all the world.
But Jesus not only brings the light. He himself serves as the light. Essentially, Jesus is the star. Just as the star in Matthew’s familiar story leads the magi to Jesus, so Jesus himself shines so that people can find their way to God. Over this new year, our weekly gospel readings will describe the many different ways that Jesus, both in his teaching and in his actions, lights the way, enabling people to find their way to the Father
That image of Jesus as the star, lighting the way to God, has two important implications for us as we make our way through this new year.
First, we need to ensure that we ourselves are walking in the light of that star. That involves a conscious effort on our part to see that we continue to grow in our own lives of faith, through prayer, study and reflecting on God’s word in scripture. That is basically what we do here every Sunday morning and through special opportunities and programs during the year. And it is something on which each of us can build through the rest of the week as well.
But second, that image of Jesus as the star, as the light helping people to find their way to God, calls us not only to a receptive role but also to a giving role. Jesus, in the gospel according to Matthew, begins by calling people to become his disciples, his followers, but ends by sending them out to become his apostles. They are now supposed to do what he has done.
For us, that means that we are now the ones who have been charged by God to go out and bring light to the world, or maybe better, to be the light that enables people to find their way to God. To borrow a theme that was used a number of years ago in promoting Dayton’s Victoria Theater, “You are the star!” You are the ones that God sends out to bring light into the darkness of people’s lives, to those places and conditions where that light, and the life and hope it brings, is so greatly needed.
We do that, of course, for those whom we serve in the variety of outreach ministries in which the members of St. Mark’s are engaged. But we also exercise our roles as stars, leading people to God, in other places of darkness, a darkness that is not so obvious. We do so not only by serving those in need in our wider community and world, but also by letting other people – people who are not in need in any material way – by letting them know that that is what we do and that is who we are and that it is there that we find the life and the joy of God.
Many people all around us live fairly comfortable lives in relatively safe communities. They don’t need us to come to feed them because they are hungry, to tutor their children because they are behind in their education, to provide for them because they are poor and elderly and have no place to live. But they do need us to bring the light of the gospel. They need us to help them turn their focus away from themselves and their own often closed worlds and outward, toward the much wider community in which they and we live. They need us to help them recognize their God-given obligations to work to alleviate, not only and not even primarily their own wants, but the very real needs of those who are not nearly as fortunate as they and we are. Like the magi in Matthew’s story, they need us to be the stars who point the way to Jesus: to the one who showed us that the way to real life and happiness is one that leads us to go out and serve the world in God’s name.
As we will hear Jesus remind us in the gospel (Mt 4:13-16) just a few weeks from now, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” As we begin this new year, we ask God to help us to be God’s stars, to help us brings God’s light to all places of darkness, to help us point the way to Jesus.