Earth Sunday: open your eyes

*reflection based on Romans 1:18-23 and John 1:1-14 for Earth Sunday – Season of Creation*

A couple of years ago my optometrist told me that the best gift I could give myself when I hit 40 was a pair of reading glasses. I’m now 42 and quite proud of the fact that I still haven’t had to get a pair; although, honestly, my eyes are very tired after a few hours of serious study and there are more than a few nights when I’ve gone to bed with a searing headache.

That gift to myself is actually long overdue, but I have plenty of good excuses: I don’t have time to go and see an optometrist; I’ve never found a pair of frames that really suits my face; it’s just another thing to remember and misplace and waste time looking for; but – honestly again – I’m actually pretty smug about the fact that I’ve spent hours of my life in front of a computer screen gaming and I still have excellent eye-sight!

The truth we encounter in Scripture today is that God longs to be known and offers us all of creation as the lens through which we can begin to see God’s eternal power and to unveil the mystery of God’s divine being.

Equally true is that many of us don’t want these God-coloured glasses – even though they’re the best thing for us. And we’re full of fantastic excuses:

  • we don’t have time to sit with and see the Divine Optometrist;
  • we’ve never found frames that suit our pre-existing picture of God or ourselves or the world around us;
  • they’re yet another thing for us to forget and misplace and have to intentionally search for;
  • and, actually, we’re pretty smug surrounded by the cheap figurines we’ve accumulated along life’s way that give the impression that we’re really important or smart or popular or successful or just plain better than other people.

The Message tells us that the reality of God is plain enough (vs. 18).

It’s captured in the stars, the silence, the burnt-orange sunsets, the crashing seas.

It’s in the science that keeps us grounded to this spot instead of suddenly floating away; that dictates that with the phloem and xylem of a flower cut off from the roots of the plant, it will wither and die in a few days; that allows us to create and capture our thoughts while sitting in our studies in Australia and share them with people we’ve never met, in places we’ve never visited in an instant.

It’s in the sum total of your life story and my life story woven together – all of the “coincidences,” all of the “you won’t believe what happened next-s,” all of the inexplicable moments that we haven’t even shared out loud because people might think we’re crazy.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

When we put on the God-coloured glasses of creation, and take a long and thoughtful look around us, there are a few things that we can see more clearly.

Firstly, we can see that God is far bigger than we can ever imagine or comprehend or describe or even begin to worship adequately. That’s why mystery is such an important term in the Christian faith: we’ll never know it all; we’ll never be able to claim that we are on the inside track of God’s good graces while others are on the out; we’ll never have a perfect understanding of who God is or what God wants – at least not in this life.

But God longs to be known by us, and every day, if we’re open to it, God enriches our knowing and our wonder and our love by unveiling the next little bit of the Divine mystery that we’re ready to receive, ready to wrestle with, ready to respond to.

In being open to the length and breadth and height and depth of God – and God’s love – we, secondly, see more clearly our own smallness in the ways in which we seek to contain and control this creative fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – or Birther of the Cosmos, Liberator of Women, and Comforter of those who weep – if we’re looking for less traditional imagery and language.

Sometimes we don’t treat God like God because we’re afraid of what we might have to sacrifice or surrender or change along the way. Sometimes we’re just being stubborn. Sometimes we’re so focussed on being good leaders that we forget to be humble followers. Sometimes we want things to work out in our favour, to go according to our plans. Sometimes we’re enraged by the bad things that happen to good people and the good things that happen to bad people and figure that if we take charge things would turn out more fairly. And sometimes, well, sometimes we think that we know best so we roll up our sleeves with an “I’ve got this God” attitude and get right to work without thinking through the consequences or worrying about who we might hurt or alienate or forget along the way.

There’s no excuse for it. No way to avoid the damage that we do when we pretend to know it all, to have it all sorted; when we replace the hands that hold the whole world with our own.

For it’s when we try to trivialise God’s glory and apportion God’s love and administer God’s justice through our own small view that human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate and people lose faith in a church that has lost sight of the renewing, restoring, revitalising life and love of the God who paints with many colours ….

Indeed, through the lens of creation we begin to see the both-and possibilities of God, rather than the either-or (or even neither-nor) position that, in our smallness, we seem to adopt as our default way of being in a world so big and a universe so unknown and mysterious.

In the beginning … was the Word and the Word was with God; in that beginning, as all things came into being through the Word and the words “let there be light” brought something new into the darkness, we saw the full glory of God – not in the light obliterating the darkness but, in fact, accentuated by it.

Light and dark;
heaven and earth;
ebb and flow;
life and death;

Father, Son and Spirit;
proton, neutron, and electron;
gas, liquid, and solid;
animals in the sea and sky and on land;

spring, summer, autumn, and winter;
earth, air, fire, and water;
north, south, east, and west ….

In our ever-expanding Universe, God is always astounding and – sometimes – confounding us – in the miracles of conception and development, the abundant diversity of life, and the confluence of factors that sustain it.

You and I are wholly insignificant in the grand scheme of things and yet we act as though we are at the centre of the universe and all that exists should either contribute to our happiness or be cut off, cut out, ignored, isolated, attacked, ridiculed, corrected, or even – obliterated.

Do you want to know the most amazing thing about being God’s created children?

Despite our smallness and our relative insignificance and our silliness, God sees us – clearly; beyond the skin and bones that God knit together cell by cell, to who we are in our hidden depths … and God wants to be known and loved and worshipped by all (the whole) of us.

Over the next five weeks of the season of creation, as we look together at the earth, at humanity, at the sky, at the mountains, and at the animals, we have the opportunity to examine our lives through the lens of God’s creation and see who or what it is that we are really worshipping.

Against the vast mystery of who God is and how and why God loves us, we can know our own smallness and take ownership of the myriad ways in which our insecurities and ambitions have damaged the Earth and caused the people with whom we have journeyed pain or sorrow. We may even be moved to that radically vulnerable act of saying sorry and working towards reconciliation and understanding.

We can be liberated through the creative imaginings of God who brings together colour and form and function in oftentimes contradictory and surprising ways to enrich the grand tapestry of life from the sense of scarcity and self-importance that leads to so much of the mistrust and wrongdoing in the world.

We can find rest as we entrust those things that we have grasped hold of as our own and sought to manage and contain and control into the hands of the One who holds the whole world.

And, above all, if we’re open to it, we can be surprised by God, delighted by the gift of Earth, re-energised and revitalised by the wonder of what is and what might be.

So … clear a morning, or an evening, turn off your phone, shake off your walking shoes, pack a picnic, head to a quiet spot … perhaps even take a friend or a family member with you … and sit in a place that speaks to you of God’s greatness and your smallness … and treasure a moment in which you are surrounded by the handiwork of God … and wonder at the fact that in that moment God is treasuring you too – for you are God’s handiwork.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity Prayer

by Richard Rohr, 2005

God for us, we call you Father.
God alongside us, we call you Jesus.
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.
You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing –
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Amen. (So be it.)

Day Thirty Five: Enter The Mystery

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Embodied God,
on the ladder between the home of heaven and earth’s dwelling place,
the crack between the worlds,
a baby journeyed, belonging to both.
Tess Ward

Epiphany is the story of the Wise Men – philosophers, astrologers, or mystics – who travelled across countries from the East in response to the sudden appearance, the showing forth of a star, the sign of long-awaited King; bearing with them all the way precious gifts fit for the One whom they sought:
~ gold, symbolising his wealth and, some scholars speculate, financing the holy family’s exile into Egypt before the Massacre of the Innocents;
~ frankincense, representing his holiness;
~ and myrrh, foreshadowing his early death.

Occurring on the Eastern date of Christmas, January 6, it celebrates the gift of God to all people and reminds us, particularly while the year is fresh and new, of our own journeys:
what has brought us to this particular place
and point in time,
and what unchartered territory we might well venture into if we truly long for and look for the signs of God’s guiding presence in our lives.

Having been given a glimpse over this season into the enigma of a God too big to know or truly comprehend who becomes small enough to hold in human arms,
we are invited to enter fully into the unfolding mystery of God’s love for us,
and for the whole world;
and to walk boldly, decisively, faithfully
in the light of God’s glory –
long after the tree has been taken down
and the ornaments packed away
and the final guest has gone
and the merriment has passed ….

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”
Isaiah 60:1

This day, and every day,
the star(s), reminds us to step out of the ordinary confines of human existence into the extraordinary adventure of a life filled with the power and creativity and movement of God’s presence;
to move beyond the boundaries of the seen and known, of reason, of geography, of budgets, of daily routine into the realm of hope and possibility;
to examine whether we living our best possible life:

… a life lived with a deep awareness of our connection to God, to one another, to the world around us, to enemy and to stranger …
… an open-eyed life in which we look constantly for evidence of God with us, in the familiar and in the unexpected …
… a life in which we are not bound by rules and routines so much as liberated by Love, to love – in simple acts of kindness as well as extravagant, outrageous, generous gestures …
… a life in which work is a joy and a reward, and rest is protected and savoured …
… a life in which our immediate answer is not “No” when we are confronted by the uncomfortable, the unknown, the unplanned for; nor “Yes” to everything that is simply expected from us …
… a life of seeking and searching, sitting with questions, sharing stories, seeing new perspectives, standing steady on what we know to be true: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

Light of the World,
Sun which does not go down,
Bright Mystery,
give us each day a glimpse of Your glory;
an epiphany of where we fit
into Your heart and Your plan.
Amen. 

Day Twenty Five: A Shared Life Taking Shape

Psalm 148
Exodus 33:18-23
1 John 1:1-9

Within the Christmas Mystery this year, I have been captivated by the wonder of the God-of-our-wide-universe
(the Maker of mountaintops and morning stars,
of sunshine and thunderstorms,
of apple orchards and cedar forests,
of fire and hail and snow and ice,
of ocean depths
and the fantastic beasts that dwell within them,
of animals, wild and tame,
of angel armies and intimate friends,
of old and young of different races and giftings;
praised by all created things as the
God-whose-radiance-exceeds-everything) – see Psalm 148 –
choosing
to enter into our lives
in the wrapped-up form of a human baby.

To borrow (and re-order) the words of the hymn-writer, Charles Wesley:

“He laid his glory by,
He wrapped him in our clay …
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.”

At the heart of my wonder is the realisation that though our Christmas celebrations centre around a historical act, it is one that spans the ages to offer me (and you), personally and intimately, the invitation to experience a shared life with God –

a life lived right beside God,
shielded by God’s own hand from the fullness of God’s glory which we cannot yet grasp or understand (Exodus 33:22),
yet fully welcome in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
and present to the Infinite and Eternal taking shape and unfolding right before us
(1 John 1:2-3).

God not only knows you and I by name
but God longs to be known
by you and by me
in increasing intensity of understanding and intimacy …

… the God who holds everything known and unknown about the universe
in such mighty hands,
shielding us in such gentle hands,
entrusting Godself into our hands
made clean by the blood of God’s son …

… that our joy (and God’s) may be complete
as we walk and fellowship and grow in God’s truth and light.

For a moment, make your arms into the shape of a cradle waiting to receive a child. Feel the emptiness of space waiting to be filled.

Now imagine the Infinite God, wrapped in cloth, in human form, lying in your arms. Savour the weight of such presence,
the warmth of such intimacy.

Reflect on what Christ gave up in taking on such a fragile form. Wonder about some of the yearnings of God to share life with YOU. 

Such intimacy,
such trust,
such knowing
is not – as we saw in yesterday’s readings concerning Jeremiah and Stephen –
without implications or consequence:
if we long to share life with the One-in-whom-there-is-no-darkness,
that life needs to make place:
for God’s Word and Truth,
for fellowship with one another,
for confession of our sin, our need,
for God’s faithfulness and forgiveness,
for “Son-bathing” in God’s light and love
for us and for others (1 John 1:6-10).

As you think about the year that lies ahead, reflect on the space that you have created and might want to create to share life. Where and when and how will you find place to cradle and to be cradled?

Epiphany: showing forth God’s secrets

Epiphany is, perhaps, my favourite of the Christian festivals and rituals. Occurring twelve days after Christmas – that is, on the 6th of January – it is a Greek word meaning “showing forth” or “sudden appearance.” Commonly used within the English language to refer to a sudden revelation, it is, for me, about being given a glimpse into the mystery of a God too big to know or truly comprehend who becomes small enough to hold in human arms. There is something incredibly intimate and inviting in that choice; something that necessitates response.

The traditional readings for an Epiphany service are:

  • Isaiah 60:1-6 – the glory of God rises upon people living in hopelessness, in darkness, transforming their circumstances in a way which reveals God’s presence and action within their lives;
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 – the coming King, Christ Jesus, is to be honoured and exalted by the people and the powers of the world, for his reign will be wise and just and peaceful;
  • Ephesians 3:1-12 – the great responsibility of revealing God’s secret plan to grant all people bold and confident access to God’s immeasurable riches is entrusted to God’s prophets and apostles;
  • Matthew 2:1-12 – the wise men travel from the east to worship Jesus and, in the gifts they offer, a glimpse of the baby’s true nature is given: gold, for a king, which will provide for the family as they flee to Egypt from jealous Herod; frankincense used for worship and prayer, a symbol of holiness; and myrrh which was placed within the tombs of someone whose death was important.

The liturgy below is designed to help people experience a bit of the unfamiliar, the unknown. The traditional order of service with a central sermon has been put aside in favour of a reflection in four parts bound together by songs and prayer. The hymn and song selections shown are for  a multicultural community and encompass not only different languages but also different styles of worship.

Part 1: Opening ourselves up to the unknown

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 Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee!

As with joyful steps they sped,
Savior, to Thy lowly bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy-seat!

As they offered gifts most rare
At Thy cradle, 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!

Holy Jesus, 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.

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 forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

We say we’ve had an epiphany when the light suddenly goes on; when the unseen or the unfathomable suddenly becomes clear; when we boldly and decisively know what to do in the midst of our situation; when we are struck by a thought or a realisation that we had never had before.

Epiphany is about wise men from the East who saw a new star in the sky
and realised that God’s promises were unfolding right before their eyes.

Epiphany is about the journey that they undertook, boldly, faithfully, without knowing where it would lead them – just that it was important.

Epiphany is about the gifts that they offered – not toys for a baby to play with; but gold, frankincense and myrrh for a King not like other kings.

Epiphany is about the God-given insight into the hidden, horrible motives of those who feel their power threatened by news that signals newness for all under their rule and reign.

Epiphany is about our responsibility as those who come close to God and who God has come close to, to walk with our faces in the sunlight of God’s glory that the secret of God’s all-embracing love may be shared.

Light of the World,
Sun which does not go down,
Bright Mystery, 
give us this day a glimpse of Your glory;
an epiphany of where we fit into Your heart and Your plan.
Amen. 

Sing prayerfully a few times …

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you
I want to see you.

***

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
Altogether lovely, altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

King of all days, oh so highly exalted
You’re glorious in heaven above, yes You are
Humbly You came to this Earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
Altogether lovely, altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

***

You are holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy,
Holy, holy, holy
I want to see You.

Part 2: Praising the King who has come

The prophet Isaiah urged the people of Jerusalem to wake up, get up, look up:
“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
    Your sons are coming from distant lands;
    your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
    and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
    They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
    the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
    and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Many of us have shut our eyes to the darkness, hardened our hearts against the hope that the world can be different – that we can be different – for fear of yet another disappointment but Epiphany invites us to open our eyes and lift our faces to the light of Christ with and within us.

Yet the imagery of the coming Messiah is not only the imagery of a suffering servant, but also the imagery of a Mighty Ruler.

For some of us, when we think of kings, we think of yet another power to exploit and oppress us; another ruler to pay unearned homage to; another palace to be built on our sweat and tears; another ego to be pleased and placated. Yet the Christ who comes at Christmas-time is the King of kings, unlike any other king.

For some of us, when we think of Christ as king, a sense of anxiety or stubbornness overtakes us, for while we want a Saviour, a new best friend,
we would prefer to keep God small and manageable within our arms rather than having to contemplate the bowing down, the obedience, the surrender that the majesty of our Sovereign Lord demands.

And so I invite you to take a moment in silence to bring before God any fear, any anxiety, any rebellion within your heart that you may, with freedom and great joy, praise the King who has come.

Lord, Your light has come
Into our darkness,
Into our desire,
Into our despair,
Into our desperation.

In Your light we are made radiant;
through Your love we are gathered home.
You bring peace to Your people,
Justice to the poor,
Judgement tempered with mercy,
Compassion to the weak,
Hope to the children of the needy,
Salvation from oppression and violence. 

You come at unexpected times,

in unexpected ways:
who are we that human hands should hold you,
that unclean lips should tell of God with and within us?
Yet we are precious in Your eyes –
when we bleed, You bleed;
when we die, You die.

We see You this day for who You are –
beautiful and glorious,
mighty and magnificent,
all powerful and ever-compassionate
and we praise You alone,
for You alone are holy and humble and righteous.

A SeShona chorus with English translation in brackets:

Ndiye oga (He is the only one)
Ndiye, Ndiye (He is, He is)
O Ndiye, (He is the only one)
Wakarurama (Who is righteous)

Simudza maoko ako (Raise up your hands)
Urumbidze Mwari (And praise God)
Nekuti ndiye oga (For He is the only one)
Wakarurama (Who is righteous)

***

Hosanna, hosanna,
hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna, hosanna,
hosanna in the highest.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
hosanna in the highest.

Glory, glory,
glory to the King of kings.
Glory, glory,
glory to the King of kings.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
glory to the King of kings.

Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus is the King of kings.
Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus is the King of kings.
Lord, we lift up Your name,
with our hearts full of praise.
Be exalted, O Lord, our God,
Jesus is the King of kings.

***

A multilingual chorus with English translation in brackets:

Uyahalalela uyahalalela,
Uyahalalela Jesu wa Makgotla
(Glorious, he is glorious, Jesus Lord of hosts)
Mphefumlo wam’ Uyakhudumisa
(My soul worships You)
Uyakhazimula uyakhazimula,
Uyakhazimula Nkosi yama Nkosi
(Glorious, he is glorious, Jesus Lord of hosts)

Moya waka o ea ho rorisa
(My soul worships You)

Part 3: Surrendering to our best life
*A dramatic reading combining Psalm 72:1-7,10-14 and Matthew 2:1-12*

Voice 1: Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea during the time when Herod was king. When Jesus was born, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.
Voice 2: They asked, “Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Voice 3: Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
Voice 4: May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
Voice 3: May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
Voice 4: May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
Voice 3: May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
Voice 4: May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
Voice 3: In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Voice 4: May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

Voice 1: When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, as were all the people in Jerusalem. Herod called a meeting of all the leading priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Christ would be born. They answered,
Voice 2: “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea. The prophet wrote about this in the Scriptures:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are not just an insignificant village in Judah.
A ruler will come from you
    who will be like a shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Voice 3: May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
Voice 4: For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
Voice 3: He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
Voice 4: From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Voice 1: Then Herod had a secret meeting with the wise men and learned from them the exact time they first saw the star. He sent the wise men to Bethlehem, saying,
Voice 2: “Look carefully for the child. When you find him, come tell me so I can worship him too.”

*As Voice 1 concludes the story, voices 2, 3 and 4 make their way to the altar and place the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.*

After the wise men heard the king, they left. The star that they had seen in the east went before them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 
When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy. They came to the house where the child was and saw him with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their gifts and gave him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their own country by a different way.

***

*a brief reflection is offered*

Epiphany is about God declaring in word and flesh: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

Often, when we hear the story of the wise men who travelled far from the East following a star, we focus on the remarkable faith required for them to undertake such a journey, or on the preciousness and the rich symbolism of the gifts that they carried with them.

Seldom do we take time to reflect on the profound gift that God offers in this moment of  revelation: the invitation to step out of the ordinary confines of human existence into the extraordinary adventure of a life filled with the power and creativity and movement of God’s presence.

The star in the sky was, indeed, a birth announcement but it was also a catalyst for those who believed in God’s faithfulness, those who trusted in God’s promises, to move beyond the boundaries of the seen and known;of reason, of geography, of budgets, of daily routine into the realm of hope and possibility.

God’s “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!” invites us to examine whether we living our best possible life. Not a good life. Not a safe life. Not a happy-enough life. Not an at-least-I-know-what-tomorrow-holds life. Not even a I-have-all-I-could-ask-for life. Our best possible life.

A life lived with a deep awareness of our connection to God, to one another, to the world around us, to enemy and to stranger. An open-eyed life in which we look constantly for evidence of God with us, in the familiar and in the unexpected. A life in which we are not bound by rules and routines so much as liberated by Love, to love – in simple acts of kindness as well as extravagant, outrageous, generous gestures. A life in which work is a joy and a reward, and rest is protected and savoured. A life in which our immediate answer is not “No” when we are confronted by the uncomfortable, the unknown, the unplanned for; nor “Yes” to everything that is simply expected from us. A life of seeking and searching, sitting with questions, sharing stories, seeing new perspectives, standing steady on what we know to be true: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

God’s declaration set the wise men on their journey. Yet for King Herod and all the people in Jerusalem, it caused anxiety and worry, and a stubborn refusal to move from his palace and his power until he knew exactly where the king of the Jews was to be found and what was going on.

Surrendering to the best possible life that God has dreamed of for us often means giving up the security of our good-enough lives. And so I invite you to take a moment to think about God’s promise “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!” and how you would like to respond at the start of 2016.

*the invitation can be made for people to come to the altar in prayer or to place their offertory gifts on the altar as a symbol of their surrender to their best possible life in and with God*

A SeSotho hymn of dedication with English translation in brackets:
‘Mêlê, pêlo, lê moea, (Body, heart and Soul,)
Botho kaofêla, (my whole being,)
Ke u bêêla tsona, (I am sparing them for you,)
Ke li têlla uêna.(I am saving them for you.)
Bohle (chorus):
Ê, sehlabêlo sa ka (Yes, my offering)
Ke ‘na ka sebele; (It’s me truly;)
Jêsu, Morên’a ka, (Jesus, my Lord,)
U se amohêlê! (Accept it!)
Ha ke hopola uêna, (When I think of you,)
Na nka qênêhêla’ng? (Why should I worry?)
Tsê ntlê ha ke na tsona, (I don’t have beautiful things,)
Tsê ka u khahlisang. (Which will satisfy you.)
Matla, leruo, bocha, (Strength, wealth, youth,)
Hlalêfo le tsohlê, (Intelligence and all,
U se kê ua li khêsa, (Don’t be against them,)
U li amohêle. (Accept them.)
Ho phêla hohlê ha ka, (My whole being,)
Nyênê lê bosiu, (Day and night,)
Ke ho bêêtse uêna, (I am sparing them for you,)
Ha ke ho re letho! (Let that mean something to you!)
U buê hlê, Monghali, (Talk please Lord,)
Le ‘na u ntaêlê, (Instruct me too,)
U nthomê mosêbêtsi, (Send me to work,)
Ke u sêbêlêtse. (To work for you.)
Leha u ka nthoma kaê, (Even if you send me anywhere,)
Ke na le ho thaba, (It makes me happy,)
Kahohle ho ‘n kê haê, (I feel at home,)
Moo kê rongoang k’uêna. (Where I am sent by you.)
Leha ke le lefêêla, (Even though I am nothing,)
Ke ntho êa hao ruri: (I am yours indeed:)
‘Na ha ke sa na taba, (I don’t worry,)
Ke ho uêna, nthêrê. (I am yours build me.)

Part 4: Sharing the promise of life
The news of God with us, in our midst, is a promise of life for all people – not for us alone. And so, as those who have received God’s love and light, let us pray for the life of all people, everywhere.

O Father who so faithfully brings light into the darkness, beauty into chaos, love into power
we pray this day for all who suffer under the oppression of tyranny and trouble,
of flood and famine,
of war and disaster,
of hatred and suspicion,
of greed and terror.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for hope and freedom.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

O Christ cradled in human arms as angels and shepherds and wise men worshipped,
we pray this day for all who feel vulnerable, fragile, afraid of what the future holds –
for those homeless by choice and by necessity,
for those barely able to afford a little bread,
for those who have been criticised and ridiculed,
victimised and abused because of their age or gender or religion or ethnicity,
for those chronically ill or in constant pain.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for sanctuary and justice.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

O Spirit whose guiding star leads people to the truth of Your presence,
and the best life made possible by Your love,
we pray this day for all who are on the path of seeking and searching
whether driven there by unquenchable curiosity,
or longing,
or loneliness,
or boredom,
or stress-related illness,
or heart-wrenching loss.
Make us welcoming and sensitive to all who come into our midst looking for significance and sense.
Let Your light shine through us with the promise of life.

Lord of the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus, light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me
Shine Jesus shine,
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth your Word, Lord
And let there be light.
Lord I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me …
As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me …

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
We will wake up, look up,
put our face in the sunlight,
and speak up
that God’s bright glory might shine upon the whole earth.
Amen.