Sunday, 16th January 6.00 pm Order of Service

WELCOME

HYMN All people that on earth do dwell

All people that on earth do dwell,

sing to the Lord with cheerful voice:

him serve with mirth,1 his praise forth tell,

come ye before him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;

without our aid he did us make:

we are his folk, he doth us feed,

and for his sheep he doth us take.

O enter then his gates with praise,

approach with joy his courts unto;

praise, laud, and bless his Name always,

for it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good,

his mercy is for ever sure;

his truth at all times firmly stood,

and shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

the God whom heaven and earth adore,

from men and from the angel host

be praise and glory evermore.

PRAYER

READING Luke 2:22-40

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31

which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

SERMON

In 516 BC the reconstruction of the Temple was complete. King Herod renovated it in 19 BC, expanding the facility to include what was basically a large shopping precinct, where you could buy religious goods and animals for sacrifice. It would have been a great sight to behold, especially for Mary and Joseph who had come from a very small town to the big city.

Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. They would have travelled for about a week to get there, at great expense. For them, observing the laws of purification was absolutely essential. Verse 39 says, they “had done everything required by the law”. They dedicated Jesus, their firstborn son to the Lord, which would have involved paying a redemption price to the Temple (Num 18).

They also went in order to make a sacrifice for ritual cleansing, following childbirth (Lev 12).

And all of this, for the child who was destined to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. His death would destroy the need for a Temple. Because of him, the need for ritual purification would end with his generation.

Until recently, people had an annual cleansing ritual- in Scotland, it might have involved a lump of coal, or welcoming a tall dark stranger into your home, or even going to Princes Street in Edinburgh – NEW YEAR – and all its resolutions – a time of cleansing. It marks a new beginning; a fresh start; a time to turn over a new leaf and start again … a time to kiss the person next to you – pre-Covid, of course.

Of course, this is a totally secular form of ritual purification. It has absolutely nothing to do with God … and it certainly wasn’t ordained by God, as the day of Atonement was. But here’s what New Year’s Eve countdowns and the Temple sacrificial system have in common:

They don’t effect permanent change.

Jesus came to bring permanent change into people’s lives, to bring in a new kingdom, a new period of history and a brand new life for anyone who wants it. The sacrificial system could not achieve this.

Why not? What was insufficient about the sacrificial system?

There were really two major issues.

1. Jesus fulfils the Old Covenant

First, in the long run, no animal sacrifice was ever sufficient to deal with the problem of sin – you had to keep going back.

Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all, he bore the punishment of death on behalf of all His people for all time (in human flesh) .. so that we can be totally forgiven and freed from death.

But secondly… in the Old Testament, when a sin offering was made, it wasn’t only the priest and God who made the exchange. A person would place their hands on the animal to acknowledge their sinfulness (their need to change), and then the life of the animal would be offered for their sins. There was always an element of repentance.

The Law that God set before Moses was clear: if the people obeyed they would be blessed in the land, if they disobeyed they would be cursed … but, as Deuteronomy chapter 30 says, though they had sinned, if they turned to the Lord (if they repented), he would restore them and have compassion on them. It goes further to say that he would gather them from exile and circumcise their hearts …

2. Jesus brings in a New Covenant

In other words, where there is repentance, God will forgive and bring about a permanent change of the heart … so that there’s no going back year after year after year. As Jeremiah (31) and Ezekiel (36) prophesied, God was going to create a new covenant, in which he would bring about a permanent change of heart.

The problem with the Mosaic covenant wasn’t only that the people continually sinned and needed constant forgiving … God is a forgiving God, which is why he gave the gift of sacrifice … he is ready and willing to forgive and start again … the problem was that they were required to repent … and repentance itself had become a problem.

Because the people were living in darkness, they didn’t know God, they didn’t know the truth, and their hearts had become hardened to the truth.

As Simeon took Jesus into his arms, he thanked God and said, “30

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31

which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.
” (v30-32)

The prophecy goes on … he says to Mary:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (v34-35)

Repentance had become a problem for Israel, not only because they stubbornly wouldn’t do it … but because they didn’t even know how to repent. They were a people, as Isaiah prophesied, living in darkness. Their eyes and ears were shut from knowing the truth.

Repentance was always the necessary requirement for any sacrifice and it remains the way we access the benefits of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. This was John the Baptist’s message: Jesus is coming to save you, prepare the way for him by repenting.

Sin isn’t just something we do; it’s something we think and feel. It begins in the heart and a good 90% of it, remains hidden from our consciousness.

In other words, we live in denial … about who we’ve judged, who we’ve hated, who we’ve been jealous of and what we have coveted.

It’s like the person who on the surface is fit, the picture of health, and physically beautiful and they go to have a scan, and find their body full of cancer. Only small symptoms have begun to emerge, but how it looks on the outside, is no indicator of what’s inside the body.

Sin is like a cancer. It goes unnoticed, even by ourselves. Until we come into the presence of a holy God, who shines a light and exposes everything that is hidden … Jesus’ light is like a CT-scan over the body, or a sword that pierces the soul.

In Hebrews 4 it says that the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Here’s the good news …. Because we are forgiven we can stand before a Holy God, without fear and we can face the truth in our hearts, because we know he has already paid the price for it ….

And that means we can do something no one can do outside of being hidden in Jesus Christ: we can repent … of everything. As his light shows us the sin in our lives, we can face it and repent of it.

We don’t need to live in darkness, making New Year’s resolutions, and never understanding why we can’t change, despite our best efforts.

He has put his Spirit within us, who counsels us and shows us the sin in our heart. The secrets of our heart will be disclosed to us …

At this time of year we celebrate the beginning of a new year, but more importantly, that God made with us a new covenant … a covenant that does lead to permanent change.

PRAYER

Hymn Lord for the years

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive Your people’s praise.

Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care:
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world when we disown and doubt him,
loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain,
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him:
Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us –
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Benediction

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