The Rev. Dr. Brenda Pelc-Faszcza is the pastor of The First Congregational Church of Canton Center, CT, UCC, and a lecturer at Yale Divinity School.
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Reflection: The End of the Story
With the exception of stories told to little children,
who don’t seem to mind many repetitions of the same ones,
it’s hard to tell those where everybody already knows the ending.
We’re tempted to stop listening
when we know where it’s going,
which makes it hard, in the church,
to tell the Christmas story
all the way through to Epiphany.
Every preacher knows this.
You stand up and read,
“In the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men came from the East…”
and you feel a collective dozing off in the room.
Yet, as the wise ones arrive again,
we may grudgingly grant Christmas its one more week
and admit that this is a lovely way to end the story –
the baby is born,
the special star shines,
the foreigners come and adore,
Box it up and put it away for another year.
In fact, the Bible itself moves on just about that fast.
After Bethlehem, the next thing we know
is that Jesus is an adult, being baptized at age thirty.
Luke gives us that one vignette about Jesus at age twelve,
but that’s it.
Three out of four gospels don’t even have that.
Jesus’ birth stories, once told,
are never heard from again in the Scriptures,
neither in Matthew nor in Luke,
the only two gospels to have them in the first place.
The manger, the angels, the shepherds, the magi
are never mentioned again.
The End, until next December.
I am wondering, though, if this year might be different,
this year of extra strain and deep weariness.
Just as I noticed how many Christmas decorations
were put up way early this year,
as though people had an extra-deep longing
for this festival of birth, beginnings and light
and just couldn’t wait,
I wonder if our consciousness of Christmas
might linger longer than usual too,
and maybe we just won't want to be done with it so fast.
To put it another way,
I wonder if, paradoxically, our very weariness –
world-weariness, pandemic-weariness, anxiety-weariness—
might help us keep listening this time,
might help the heart of the stories stay alive in us
and help us remember that whatever the coming of Jesus
is going to mean in us and in the world,
there’s no such thing as putting it away.
This year, we just might remember better
that, of course, there is no “The End.”
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins…
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To make music in the heart.
- Howard Thurman.
May it be so with us.
God of births, beginnings and light, help us to keep listening, to keep watching,
to keep loving, to keep Christmas, so that its bright and beautiful spirit will keep us. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 330,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For the compassion to make safe and reasonable choices as Covid-19 cases rise in the region and across the country
- For the new members of the Southern New England Conference staff who begin there ministry in January
- For the victims of gun violence and their families and friends as the U.S. exceeds 600 mass shootings in 2020
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the members of the Southern New England Conference staff who are finishing there ministry in the Conference in the coming weeks
- For the sense of hope and new opportunities that come with the approach of a new year
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
Ballard Vale United Church, Andover, MA
First Congregational Church, Andover, CT
South Church in Andover, UCC, Andover, MA
West Parish Church of Andover, Andover, MA
First Congregational Church, UCC, Amherst, MA
South Congregational Church, UCC, Amherst, MA
Main Street Congregational Church, UCC, Amesbury, MA
Union Congregational of Amesbury UCC, Amesbury, MA
Agawam Congregational Church, UCC, Agawam, MA
Acton Congregational Church, UCC, Acton, MA
South Acton Congregational Church, Acton, MA
United Church of Christ in Abington, Abington, MA
This Week in History:
January 2, 1890 (131 years ago) Alice Sanger becomes the first female White House staffer, appointed by President Benjamin Harrison. Sanger was appointed as the presidential secretary and also worked as an assistant to the First Lady. Women have since held many White House positions including some senior cabinet positions, though there has never been a female President, Vice-President, or White House Chief of Staff. On January 20, 2021, Senator Kamala Harris will become the first woman to be sworn in as Vice-President of the United States of America.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
interim pastor of First Congregational Church in Canton Center