O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
This service will celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, the twelfth and final day of Christmas, which is the completion and fulfillment of the Advent and Christmas seasons. The series of lessons and carols will begin with the story of Jesus’s birth and then move on to the adoration of the Magi, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the presentation of Christ at the Temple. Some themes that run throughout the service:
Light is a theme that is central to the whole of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. The advent wreath, for example, gets brighter as the days get shorter until all of its candles are lit a Christmas–when the light of the world makes its appearance at the darkest time of the year. At Epiphany the wise men are led to the infant Jesus by the guiding of a star, in spite of the dark motives of those who would thwart God’s loving purpose. The light of this same star–in the person of Jesus and in the form of his Word–remains undimmed as a source of guidance and illumination in our lives today. In the words of William Chatterton Dix, “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 to thee.” (Hymn 119)
Revelation and Fulfillment
Every aspect of the Christmas story sheds some light (sorry–couldn’t resist) on what the incarnation means for us. The fact that the angels appear to shepherds (and not priests or kings) means that God reveals himself to even the most scorned and outcast of humanity. It is significant that the Magi are from the East (i. e., non-Jewish foreigners) because their presence at the cradle means that God is no long just the God of Israel, but that the incarnation is a gift for all the nations of the world. The indiscriminate murder of a whole city-full of infant males by a jealous Herod teaches us that all the evil in the world, hurtful and frightening as it is, cannot overcome God’s love. The episode with Simeon in the temple is yet another illustration is that God is always faithful to his promises, and that those promises bring lasting joy.
Epiphany commemorates, among other things, the very first Christian pilgrimage. The arduous and expensive (even dangerous) journey of the Magi would have required great faith to undertake and even greater determination to carry out. The extended procession at the beginning of tonight’s service is meant to recall this extraordinary act of devotion.
Tension between the Cradle and the Cross
Precursors of the ultimate purpose of Christ’s incarnation are found throughout the Biblical narrative of his birth. The gift of gold symbolizes Christ’s kingship, but the gift of myrrh foretells his death; the story of the Magi is followed immediately by the slaughter of the Holy Innocents; Simeon is overjoyed to at the sight of the infant Messiah but warns Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.
A free dinner in Gravely Hall is served at 5:45, and the service (lasting about an hour) will begin at 6:30. The service with be led by Trinity’s adult and children’s choirs, and will feature music by the Musica Milenio early music ensemble, under the direction of Bob Lauer. Childcare is provided.
Luke 2:1-20, The birth of Jesus the Christ
Isaiah 60:1-6, The coming of the Wise Men is foretold
Matthew 2:1-12, The story of the Wise Men and Herod
Matthew 2:13-18, The story of the Holy Innocents
Luke 2:22-35, Simeon blesses God
I John 3:11-18, 23-24, We are instructed to love one another
Anthems and Carols:
Howells: A spotless Rose
Proulx: Prayer of the Venerable Bede
arr. Schop and Schein: How brightly shines the Morning Star
traditional, arr. Lauer (yes, that Lauer): Coventry Carol
‘He whom shepherds once came praising’ (Quempas Carol)
‘From heaven above to earth I come’ (Vom Himmel hoch)
‘What child is this’ (Greensleeves)
‘Of the Father’s love begotten’ (Divinum mysterium)
‘In the bleak mid-winter’ (Cranham)
‘We three kings of Orient are’ (Three Kings of Orient)