Welcome (Isaiah 42:5-9)
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
Create me a clean heart
Call to Worship
Who has seen God?
Who has known God?
Come and see what God has done for us.
Come and praise all that God has done for us.
Come and worship God who called us through Christ.
Rejoice and be glad.
Jesus stand among us
O God, the very Wonderful Counsellor,
Who are we that you are so wonderful to us?
Who are we that you gently lead us?
O God, the Mighty God,
Not in your might, but in your gentleness come to us.
Not in your might, but in your grace be with us.
O God, the Everlasting Father,
Your steadfast love endures forever with the world you created.
Your steadfast love never leaves us.
O God, the Prince of Peace
Come and bring us this peace that passes all understanding.
Come and bestow upon us the peace that recreates all that are in this world.
In this worship, may we come to worship you, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! Amen.
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:19-25
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
According to our news services, we are constantly fighting once in many hundred years natural disasters.The Northern European countries like Poland and Russia had temperatures hitting as high as 19 degrees Celsius on the New Year’s Day. Instead of the annual polar bear swim, they were actually quite comfortable. No freezing. In the meantime, the Christmas weekend was a terrible disaster for Buffalo, in Western New York and Southern Niagara Peninsula with more than four feet of snow in some parts. This week I read an article declaring that human beings are cancers, metastasizing and killing nature.
In the meantime, world politicians are busy fighting over who will be the top dog in the near future. Wars continue on all fronts. It’s not just Ukraine that is getting hit with bombs. The world is facing food and energy shortages that we have not seen in years. People everywhere are suffering while politicians are manoeuvring for the best advantage they could get. This, as we begin our new year, is not a picture we ought to start on as we try our best to figure out the best way to insure the bright future for humanity everywhere. Getting rid of bad apples will not bring the world peace and prosperity for all.
There are two passages that are part of the Common Lectionary Readings for the Year A. They are Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3:13-17. Isaiah passage speaks of the coming of the new. Matthew’s passage about the baptism of Jesus shows how this new world was beginning in Jesus. At the beginning of every third year, most Christians are reading and hearing these passages in churches reminding us to put our faith, hope and love in Christ. This ritual that is repeated every three years is deliberate and pointed in order for Christians to be reminded that world history belongs to God. As much as human beings try to wrestle away the ownership of the universe, these passages point to a world that is different from the world we live in.
It is quite easy for us, caught up in the grinds of daily living, to think that we are in charge of our own future and that the earth is here to supply us all our needs. We also can easily be convinced that without human knowledge, ingenuity and technology, the world will not be able to survive. It is true that we can put all our efforts to save animals from extinction, forests from devastation of deforestation and seas from over-filled with plastic garbage. It is also true that we are slowly creating a world that will be totally toxic to humanity as forever chemicals we use fill our bodies.
In this gloom-filled world, George Carlin, an out of control former Roman Catholic comic who died a few years ago, reminded us in one of his comedic sketches that the world will flourish without human beings. What George Carlin said to get a laugh is far more accurate than we might think. Indeed, there are trillions of life forms on earth that will flourish especially without any interference from human beings. Indeed some are thriving because of the devastation human beings created. We give ourselves too much credit if we think we are controlling how earth is continuing to foster life. We are only one life form among trillions of organisms in creation. We may come and go, but our disappearance does not end life on earth.
Let us now follow today’s two lectionary readings along with one from Romans to see where we end up in our view of the world. First, we begin with Isaiah’s passage. The message is simple and clear. Humanity is not the one who created the heavens and earth and all there in. God is. Indeed, in those few sentences the prophet reminds us clearly that God is the one who gives life. This statement ought to humble us. We are not the makers of new heavens and new earth. We are only the created beings who have been put on earth to enjoy life. However, something has not been right under the stewardship of human beings. From the very beginning, we failed to be part of new heavens and new earth. Instead, we trampled on God’s creation in order to build and create our own worlds.
Yet, according to Paul, creation is groaning. Just think for a moment. Creation has been groaning since Paul’s time, 2000 years plus. Now we experience the effects of devastation in ways that Paul had never imagined. In Paul’s days, groaning of creation did not include these horrific natural disasters that are caused by how poorly human beings dealt with nature. Of course, we can take Paul’s sentences out of context and make an unwarranted application to today’s situation. However, in ways, what Paul intended in his letter to Roman Christians regarding nature do resonate well with today’s Christians who are doing their best to be good stewards of nature and all forms of life in it.
What is so encouraging about Paul’s speech here is that he is not defeated or gloomy. The world may be in a fast downhill trip, but Paul’s eyes and hearts are firmly set on God. He speaks of hope. This is the hope that is always present and long lasting. This hope does not focus us on our desires, wishes and pie-in-the-sky dreams. It directs our entire future on God. In this case, because Paul has no idea what God is intending in the future, he waits. He also councils other Christians to wait patiently in hope. True. When we try to find out what hope means for Paul, he does not tell us. He simply says to wait for God. There is no instant answer. No matter how we ask Paul, the answer comes back the same, “wait with patience.”
In today's world, waiting is difficult. We expect answers to come instantaneously. There is no time for waiting. We are busy for no reason other than to be busy. We rush from one place to another. If we desire something, we buy it on the internet and expect an immediate delivery. We are even given tracking numbers for our orders to see how far our orders have come. Many people pay more for expedited delivery. The same happens when we go to restaurants. We order and are very impatient. If our order takes too long, many young people are immediately on review websites complaining about slow service. Paul, on the other hand, tells us to wait. Yes, wait indefinitely without a clear arrival time.
In this context we see Jesus beginning his ministry with baptism. Though we celebrate the birth of Jesus, he had to wait until he was about thirty years old in order to begin his ministry. In his days, age thirty would be seen as the beginning of a person's middle age life. In those days many people, especially peasants, died fairly young. He waited a long time to start his ministry. Compare this to our rich young people who speed through life and want to retire early in order to enjoy a good life. It is now possible to find stories about these wealthy young people retiring in their late twenties and early thirties. The people of Israel had to wait a long time for their Messiah to come.
Waiting with patience brings us into this mystery of life. In waiting, we face ourselves and our powerlessness to do anything about the future. Hope with patience in this sense tests our ability to have faith, trust, and commitment to God. Hope with patience helps us to choose God over our anxieties, fears and powerlessness. It teaches us to wait for what we do not see. Our faith is fully tested in hope. We are to put our life in God’s hand without any guarantees or any assurances. This total surrender, committing one's life in God’s hand, is not for the weak of hearts. It requires full trust.
In Jesus’ baptism Jesus puts his future completely in God’s hand while God puts the future of God’s people in Jesus and his ministry. Both Jesus and God now wait in hope with patience. The work of salvation of God’s people is not done immediately and instantly. Jesus now embarks on whatever awaits him in his life as God unfolds the mystery of God’s salvation. God, too, waits with patience instead of commanding the new creation to be there right away as God did when the first creation work was done. Instead of seven days to complete God’s new creation, it will be done through Jesus’ life and ministry as well as until the end of time.
Nothing is done instantaneously. Paul commends us to hope with patience. The world’s affairs appear dire and are ready to collapse any minute as we mentioned at the beginning. However, for the salvation we hope and wait, always realizing that what we can see as our end is not really what we hope for. It is a mirage that needs to be cast aside. Our lives can continue to be full in waiting with patience following Christ each step of the way. There is nothing to fear about the demise of the earth, nations, nature or humanity. Our hope is in God alone. Yes, as Paul says, let us hope with patience for the unseen and unrevealed new creation which God has prepared for all God’s people.
Seek ye first
as it was in the beginning,
In your image
We came into being
As your word commanded
Yet, without your glory, we fashioned ourselves in our glory, covering up in shame whom you created us to be. We shaped our glory to shine forth in this world. As in Babel we gather our strength to raid heavens while plundering your earth to laud things we make with our own hands. Only in your Son we come, bringing all that we are, covered in sin, marked as slaves to the powers of this world.
In your Son
You restore your image in us.
By your image
We are made whole.
Yet, suffering and pain are our experiences. Diseases, frailties, and poverty afflict us. Their power under the grip of death grows over us as you tear us away to life. Walk with us. Stay beside us. Through cancers, diseases, and all those that wound and torture us, by your presence and call, lead us into the life of new creation where tears are wiped away and life is abundant.
By your Spirit
Not by our might,
Not by our minds,
Not by our will,
Form us as the body of Christ
Bringing the good news of peace,
Sharing the Love that was, is and will always be,
Exalting the Light to brighten the sights of all people.
Remind us to be your people,
extending welcome to all who are seeking peace,
opening the doors to all who are the outcast,
sharing the blessings with the poor and oppressed,
caring for the sick,
giving hope to those who despair,
filling the hungry.
May we be your servants, bringing strength to the weak, love to the hated, and your presence to all who are downtrodden!
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
God of plenty,
You filled us fully. You blessed us abundantly. Now we bring our offerings. Through these offerings, we give you thanks and commit our future in your hands. Lead us to be your servants who share your good news with all who need you now and always. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The session will meet after this worship service and determine when to hold our annual meeting. It will be either the last Sunday of January or one of the early Sundays in February.
Please let the office know if there are those in need of pastoral care.
We ask you to pray for elders and leaders of this congregation in planning for 2023.
I’m gonna live so God can use me