First Sunday after Christmas
Guided by the Spirit
Isaiah 61:10—62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Doctrine and Covenants 163:9
This scripture provides an opportunity to offer the sacrament of Blessing of Children. Are there children in the congregation who have not been blessed?
Prior to the service invite individuals to participate in the Focus Moment and arrange for a run through of the actions needed.
Call to Worship
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:10a
Hymn of Praise
“O God beyond All Praising” CCS 90
OR “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CCS 400
OR “Canticle of the Turning” CCS 404
OR “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” CCS 101
Encourage participants to sing in languages other than their own.
Congregational Prayer of Praise
Leader: God beyond all praising
Congregation: you are mystery beyond understanding.
Leader: God beyond all praising
Congregation: you are love beyond imagination.
Leader: God beyond all praising
Congregation: we pray and sing our gratitude for your gift of Jesus, who came to show us the way.
Leader: In praise and gratitude we pray, Amen.
Disciples’ Generous Response
Fresh in our memories is the celebration of the birth of Jesus and the generosity of God to gift the world with God’s son. Our Enduring Principle of Grace and Generosity is spoken to in Doctrine and Covenants 163:9.
Scripture Reading: Doctrine and Covenants 163:9
During the Disciples’ Generous Response, we focus on aligning our heart with God’s heart. Our offerings are more than meeting budgets or funding mission. Through our offerings, we are able to tangibly express our gratitude to God who is the giver of all. As we share our mission tithes either by placing money in the plates or through eTithing, use this time to thank God for the many gifts received in life. Our hearts grow aligned with God’s when we gratefully receive and faithfully respond by living Christ’s mission.
Blessing and Receiving of Local and Worldwide Mission Tithes
For additional ideas, see Disciples’ Generous Response Tools at www.CofChrist.org/disciples-generous-response-tools.
Ask individuals to pantomime or act out the roles of Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna during the narration of Luke 2:22-40 as it is read. Use a doll for the Baby Jesus.
Today our scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit when Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the Temple. It was the custom in that time for parents to bring their firstborn son to the Temple and offer a gift of two turtledoves to God.
When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple the Gospel of Luke tells of two people who were there. Simeon said he was led by the Spirit to come to the Temple. When Simeon saw Mary and Joseph, he took Jesus in his arms and praised God. Through the Holy Spirit he recognized that Jesus was the Savior. Simeon blessed Jesus and his mother and father.
Another person was also in the Temple. Anna was an older lady who spent most of her time fasting and praying in the Temple. When Anna met the baby Jesus, she also felt through the Holy Spirit that Jesus had been sent to save the world.
Anna and Simeon were just ordinary people who listened to the Holy Spirit and responded. They went to the Temple and encountered Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus through the Holy Spirit. They knew Jesus was going to do important things for God.
Following the pantomime, the leader shares a testimony describing a time when they felt guided by the Spirit.
Have you felt the Spirit helping you understand something or leading you to do something as Simeon and Anna did? Maybe you thought it would be good to go sit with a friend or telephone someone you haven’t spoken to recently.
Wait for verbal responses to be shared.
Those nudges can be the Holy Spirit guiding you. We sense the Holy Spirit guiding us in many ways. Notice the different ways we experience the Holy Spirit as you sing the next hymn.
Hymn of the Spirit
“As the Wind Song through the Trees” CCS 42
OR “Listen in the Silence” Sing three times. CCS 153
Based on Luke 2:22-40
“I Wonder as I Wander” CCS 435
OR “Not in Grand Estate” CCS 444
If the sacrament, Blessing of Children, is scheduled, follow the music with this talk and then the sacrament. Otherwise omit the next two elements and move directly to the Prayer for Peace.
Talk on Blessing of Children
Before or after the message include a short testimony from a parent who has had a child blessed. Consider parents who recently had their baby blessed by the elders. Ask the parents to share how the Holy Spirit guided them as they chose to have their child blessed or how the Holy Spirit is guiding them now as they raise their child. Alternatively, ask someone to speak about the congregation’s responsibility to respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they provide a loving community in which the child can thrive and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Sacrament of Blessing of Children
Prayer for Peace
Light the Peace Candle.
Loving God, we come to you acknowledging how much you have blessed us. You sent your son, Jesus, to show us how shalom can be lived in our families, neighborhoods, churches and world. We have your Holy Spirit always present with us as we look for ways to respond. We pray that those working for peace feel your Spirit present with them. May they be strengthened and comforted as they seek to find ways to meet the needs of the
poor, hungry, displaced, or amid political strife in the places they live. In the name of the one who is shalom, Amen.
A Daily Prayer for Peace service is held at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, USA 365 days a year. Additional ideas for Prayer for Peace can be found at www.CofChrist.org/daily-prayer-for-peace.
“Lord, Lead Me by Your Spirit” Stanzas 2 and 3 CCS 209
OR “To Be Your Presence” CCS 351
OR “We Are One in the Spirit” CCS 359
Go, guided by the Spirit into an awareness of Holy Presence all around you. Go in peace.
First Sunday after Christmas Day
Exploring the Scripture
Today’s text is set at the temple at Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law. The previous verse (Luke 2:21) refers to Jesus’ circumcision, the ritual required for all newborn males. But in the temple we read of presenting Jesus, as the firstborn male, to the service of God, a ritual also required by Jewish law. Included is the necessary sacrifice. Wealthier couples would have brought a lamb, but Jesus’ parents brought the also-acceptable sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (v. 24), perhaps showing the family’s low economic standing.
After these requirements were fulfilled, the text describes the words and actions of two people who are on the scene at the time. Nine verses (vv. 25–34) are devoted to Simeon, who, according to the text, was guided to the temple that day by the Spirit—an important motif for Luke. But Simeon was not just a casual observer. The Spirit had assured him that he would live to see the One who God sent for the world’s salvation. He recognized, by the Spirit’s power, the baby Jesus was this savior. Simeon blessed Jesus and his mother and father.
The other person to give attention to Jesus on that occasion was an aged widow, Anna. She had lived at the temple for some time, engaging constantly in fasting and prayer. Like Simeon, Anna recognized who Jesus was and the role of redemption he would play. The importance of these two elderly sages was in their recognition and prophetic declaration of whom Jesus was and that he had been sent for the world’s salvation. This confirmed what Mary had been told previously by the angel Gabriel and by her relative Elizabeth.
The last verse records the family’s return to their home in Nazareth, where Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (v. 40). This description of Jesus’ obedience and devotion is significant as we do not have other information about Jesus’ upbringing until his visit to Jerusalem at age 12.
Today’s text highlights fulfilling tradition and law, which was of major importance then. But in today’s world, in many places, conforming to rules is not stressed. Religious rituals have become less commonplace. People are less aware of mystery. We can learn important lessons from today’s text. Simeon and Anna were not authority figures. Like Joseph and Mary—and therefore Jesus—they were ordinary people. Yet God, through the Spirit, graced them with the insight, devotion, and faith to be instruments of blessing at this formative time in the life of Jesus and his parents.
This text invites us to find expressive rituals for celebrating the presence of God in the ordinary people and experiences of life. We may not do this in the same ways as did our forebears. But it is just as important for our spiritual well-being and our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, we will keep our lives focused on the One who was sent to redeem the world.
- Jesus was born into a tradition where following ritual and law was important.
- The Spirit guided Simeon and Anna as they became instruments of God’s blessing to Jesus and his parents.
- In today’s more-secular world, we are challenged to find expressive rituals that keep us connected to the Divine.
- We need to always open ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance.
Questions to Consider
- What relevance do you see in fulfilling rituals and laws as described in the text?
- What to you were the key features of the blessing Simeon and Anna brought?
- How have you felt guided by the Spirit?
- How can you challenge the congregation to be guided by the Spirit?
Small-group Worship Suggestions
First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10–62:3 NRSV
The Facilitator Notes provide an overview of Sacred Space and how to use the resource to best meet ministry needs. This is a must read for first-time users.
The weekly outline and handouts provide everything needed to plan and facilitate a scripture-focused Sacred Space gathering and includes additional options such as Thoughts for Children.
Prayer for Peace
Ring a bell or chime three times slowly.
Light the peace candle.
God of love, of peace, and of justice:
We live in a violent world, Lord. Wars between nations and tribes exist all over the world and it must trouble you deeply. We pray for a cessation of hostilities, that differences might be settled through negotiations, through getting to know and empathizing with “the other”—who we all too often demonize.
We have treated as less-than human beings of other religions, other races, other ethnic groups, other gender identification, other tribes. Women are still treated as property in much of the world, and far too often, still, in this country.
We are inspired by the model of Jesus, who saw all people as persons of worth, and by Joseph Smith, who echoed this message.
May we remember—from the teachings of Jesus, and of Gandhi, and of Dr. King, and of Nelson Mandela—that returning hatred for hatred, violence for violence, only escalates the existence of hatred and violence in the world. Let us respond to hate with love, to violence with non-violence. Help us work to create the peaceable kingdom, Lord.
We ask this in the name of the humble carpenter from Nazareth, whose life and courageous facing of death helped us see what kind of people you would have us be.
Praying Liturgical Prayer
Give each person a copy of the prayer. Invite the group to read the prayer aloud with you.
remembering the exile of the holy family
and Herod’s slaughter of the children,
we remember all who need our sustaining love. …
Grant that all people may hear together the song of joy,
and find their homes in the garden of justice and hope,
that we may experience the fullness of life,
which is your will for all,
in the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sharing Around the Table
Isaiah 61:10–62:3 NRSV
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest…” (Isaiah 62:1). Opinions differ on the speaker of this passage. Is it the voice of the prophet, the Messiah, or God? Whichever way you read it the message is clear: I will not give up on the hope of Zion. Perhaps the ambiguity of voice permits a sense of mutual determination. There is an interdependent relationship between the prophet, the Messiah, God, and Jerusalem.
Prophetic writings often portray Jerusalem’s relationship with God as a marriage. This passage is no different. The bridegroom is putting on fine wedding apparel while the bride adorns herself with a jeweled tiara (perhaps a reference to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem). But wait! Do not let the wedding feast imagery distract you from this fact: This is the second marriage between God and Jerusalem.
Marriages can be difficult, and the relationship between God and Judah became strained during the exile. After what seemed like a generation of the silent treatment, God and Judah are now on the path towards reconciliation. And this restoration is a joyous occasion!
But marriage relationships at the time of this writing also represented a creative aspect described in this passage as the Earth bringing forth its shoots and a new garden springing up. More than reunion, this is revitalization and new life. Indeed, much of Judah’s former glory was restored following Judah’s return from exile. Under King Cyrus, the Jews were able to rebuild the temple and repair the destruction to their many cities.
Reading this passage on the first Sunday after Christmas day reminds us of God’s ultimate act of reconciliation through the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s desire for reconciliation with humankind. More than that, God seeks to revitalize us and bring about new life within us. But reconciliation can be a difficult journey that requires rebuilding and repairing what was destroyed. The work of rebuilding and reparation is the desire for Shalom—peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness—in our relationships and, by extension, our society.
As we celebrate the Christmas season, may we strive to bring about God’s redemptive work of Shalom by healing divisions and offering hope of new life to those who long for reconciliation.
- Are there relationships in your life that have been strained, but have since been reconciled? How did reconciliation happen?
- In what ways do you feel God’s desire for reconciliation? In what way is the reconciling work of rebuilding and repairing taking place within society?
- What does it mean to you that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s desire for reconciliation?
Faithful disciples respond to an increasing awareness of the abundant generosity of God by sharing according to the desires of their hearts; not by commandment or constraint.
—Doctrine and Covenants 163:9
The offering basket is available if you would like to support ongoing small-group ministries as part of your generous response.
God of Love and Light,
In this season of hope, love, and joy, may the peace of your son Jesus be made real in the world. May our hearts, minds, hands, and resources be useful in the cause of bringing your light where there is darkness and your love where there is despair, anger, fear, and suffering. May our offerings be used toward your purposes we pray.
Invitation to Next Meeting
Community of Christ Sings 420, “Star-Child”