05 January 2014

After the lament of last week, it’s a bit of a relief to return to joy again this week. The power of celebration, thankfulness and acknowledging the blessings God has poured on us is the focus of the readings this week, and they offer us great cause for both celebration and confession – celebration of God’s goodness and grace, and confession of our failure to recognise the goodness we enjoy.

May our worship this week fill us with laughter, praise and celebration, and may we carry God’s abundant blessing with us out into the world.

READINGS:
Jeremiah 31:7-14: God promises to bring a remnant of the people of Israel back to their homeland with joy and celebration, and with assurance of abundant provision for their needs – including the weak, poor and infirm.
OR Sirach 24:1-12: Wisdom seeks a place to dwell, and the Creator instructs her to dwell in Israel.

Psalm 147:12-20: An invitation to praise God who controls the snow, the frost and the hail and who has given God’s people wisdom and instruction by which they are strengthened and blessed.
OR Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21: Wisdom led God’s people out of Egypt and saved them from their enemies, leading them to sing songs of joy and praise.

Ephesians 1:3-14: In Christ God has brought both Jew and Gentile into God’s family and given us all an inheritance as God works out God’s plan of restoration for all creation through Christ.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18: God’s Word made flesh, through whom all things were created, has brought us into a new birth as children of God, has revealed God to us, and has given us an abundance of grace and blessing.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Throughout the readings of this week is the joyous promise of blessing and grace – which is, perhaps, a welcome contrast to last week’s weeping and grief. In Jeremiah, the remnant is promised a return with joy and security – God’s blessing of provision and comfort. The Psalmist celebrates the God who strengthens and protects God’s people and gives them wisdom. In resonance with this Psalm, the apocryphal readings both celebrate the Wisdom which God has caused to dwell with God’s people, and which rescues them and leads them to joy and celebration. Paul, in Ephesians, celebrates the blessings and grace which have come to us in Christ, making us part of God’s family and ensuring us an eternal inheritance in God’s realm. And in the prologue to John’s Gospel (which was set for Christmas Day as well – although a slightly shorter section) we are reminded of our birth as children of God in Christ, and of the gracious blessings which we receive through Christ. There is no question that this is a week for celebration – remembering the grace and life we enjoy in Christ, and opening our hearts to God’s blessings and wisdom which are sure and sustaining – no matter what we may face in this world.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: An often forgotten task which we are called to as followers of Christ is that of celebration and life-giving. As we challenge injustice and work to bring healing and restoration to our world, celebration can feel like indulgence, and worship can seem like impractical introspection. However, there is tremendous power in recognising goodness and life, in celebrating blessings and wisdom, wherever we may find it – even in those with whom we may generally disagree. And so, as we continue to celebrate the incarnation of Christ, we live this incarnation by acknowledging and affirming the wisdom that is at work in our world, in our leaders and thought-leaders. We live the incarnation by enjoying the blessings we see and experience, and by enabling others to find joy and reason to celebrate even in their struggle. We live the incarnation by embracing all people and welcoming them into the family of God into which we have ourselves been welcomed. As we draw attention to goodness and grace around us, and as we enable ourselves and others to embrace this goodness and grace, our world is gently transformed into a more secure, more blessed and more whole place. If this is not a work of justice – of God’s reign – then I don’t know what is!

LOCAL APPLICATION: It is all too easy in our Churches and faith communities to define ourselves by what we resist, what we denounce, or what we stand against. It is all too easy to make celebration, blessing and enjoyment something that we view as evil and to be shunned, but this is not Gospel living. In every person, in every community, there is goodness, grace and blessing to be found – no matter how tough or painful or unjust our lives may be. This is why slaves could sing of their hope and joy in Christ, and why artists in every oppressive regime have continued to perform, to sing and dance and create. It is a prophetic and liberating act to celebrate in the midst of grief and darkness. It is a prophetic and liberating act to enable people to recognise and embrace the goodness hidden even in their pain. It is a prophetic and liberating act to affirm goodness and wisdom wherever we may find it, and to welcome all people into the celebration. As God’s family, as followers of the incarnate, light-bringing Christ, may we be known for our joy, our hope, our wisdom, our celebration and our enjoyment of whatever blessings we may be able to receive and give. Surely this is a far more Christ-like and healing thing than to be known only for what we oppose and condemn?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Truly Blessed
The Healing Power Of Celebration
Shared Blessings

Hymn Suggestions:
For All Your Blessings
For The Beauty Of The Earth
At The Name Of Jesus
Joy to the World
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Do You Hear What I Hear (Link to YouTube video)
All Who Are Thirsty (Link to YouTube video)
You, You Are The God
Blessed Be Your Name (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions
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