Planning - New Year's Eve or Day/The Holy Name of Jesus
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings for New Year's Eve/Day and The Holy Name of Jesus
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
December 31 and January 1 bring with them a variety of celebrations all at once. Watch Night remains an important celebration for some of our congregations, as well as services of baptismal reaffirmation or covenant renewal on this night. For Lutherans, Episcopalians and some others in the Western tradition, January 1 is also The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, commemorating his naming on the day of his circumcision (the eighth day).
Congregations that are part of ecumenical parishes or are seeking greater ecumenical celebration, especially with Lutherans and Episcopalians, or those that are seeking to celebrate the connections of our faith with the practices of historic Judaism would do well to design worship around The Holy Name of Jesus. Congregations that wish to celebrate January 1 as Covenant Renewal may choose the readings for New Year's Day or incorporate Covenant Renewal as part of worship on Baptism of the Lord (January 10). See the Holy Name of Jesus and New Year's Day texts online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
God has ordered our lives and our skills in many ways, all of them appropriate in their season and all of them intended as a source of joy.
Psalm 8 (UMH 743).
A psalm of wonder and joy, seeing the world with new eyes and awe.
New heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem, new world order -- all things new because of the renewal of all things in Jesus Christ.
Jesus establishes the priorities and practices of faithful discipleship in his "new world order," the reign of God -- feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, welcoming the stranger, refreshing the thirsty, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
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Which way does your worshiping community need to head with these texts for this service, which will probably be celebrated late at night on New Years Eve? Are you focusing on first things, or new things, or both? Priorities or resolutions for change, or both?
Put another way, do you need to reaffirm or renew what God has already given, or do you need to commit to next steps in Gods mission where you are? How you answer these questions as a worship planning team may determine how you address these texts and how you design worship and worship space for this occasion of worship.
If your focus is on first things, on reaffirming priorities, you may wish to deal primarily with the Old Testament and the Gospel. Rather than letting the old year go, instead, with Ecclesiastes, plan singing, prayers, and images that help you remember all the good not only of the past year but of all of life God has already built into the basic fabric of life on earth. Create a ritual of thanksgiving in prayer, song, and perhaps even simple dance all can join to celebrate these good gifts and pledge to use them faithfully in service to Gods mission.
Then, with Matthew, consider a dialog between the givers and the receivers, between both sides of the sheep in the story. That is, let the voices of thankfulness from those who have been visited, or welcomed, or fed, or whose thirst has been satisfied by God in this past year be heard, as well as the voices of those who have been on the giving side, and conclude with a commitment to continue both to give and receive as the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood around the Lords Table.
If your focus is on brand new things, or changed behavior, consider focusing on Revelation and Matthew. With Revelation, plan worship with all times in mind future, past and present. Imagine what the brand new things will be like in the age to come, offer thanks for signs of them already present and in the past, and commit to being part of the emergence of these brand new things this day and in the days ahead. With Matthew, a focus on changed behavior might lead you to think about how to play up the contrast between the behavior of the goats and the sheep in this story, and a commitment now to act more sheep-like going forward.
Make sure the commitments you suggest are specific, not general, but concrete.
Think through in your worship planning team concrete actions that people in your congregation can take in the very next week to carry out the specific practices Jesus commends here.
Where are there strangers who need to be welcomed, and what are some specific ways folks in your congregation can commit to doing that in the coming week?
How will people visit prisoners or the sick in the coming week?
Apart from giving money or canned goods (both fine things to do), how will people where you are feed hungry people directly?
Give double checkliststheyll fill it out twice, keeping one copy for themselves-- of commitments people can make in response to the sermon, and have them bring these forward at communion and place them on the Lords table or collect them at the offering.
Then be sure to follow up with each person who turns in a checklist during the weekwhether by phone, email, or Twitter or other social networking reminders to see how theyve done what they pledged to do, or how theyre planning to get it done.
This simple act of following up may be a first step toward living the covenant of baptism, or the Wesley Covenant, you may reaffirm this night. Do this simple act of watching over one another in love. But then take the next step in Wesleyan discipleship. Start considering how you can create ongoing processes that support each other living out your covenantal vows with God and each other.
The "Aaronic blessing" is more than kind words or wishes. It is a way of placing God's name upon God's people.
Psalm 8 (UMH 743).
Same psalm as for New Year/Watch Night, but with a different emphasis. Here, focus on the majesty of God's name.
A hymn that reminds the church at Philippi of its own history and mission and celebrates that Jesus is given the name above all names because he humbled himself.
The shepherds tell Mary and Joseph what the angels revealed to them. Mary ponders these things in her heart, and Jesus is circumcised and named on the eighth day.
As with all "feast days" in the life of the church, the readings for this day are designed to coordinate with one another, and in this case around themes of God's name and our identity as people of this God. The blessing in Numbers is understood to be a means by which the priest places the name of YHWH upon the faithful, not unlike the Trinitarian benediction offered at the end of our ritual in the hymnal and the Book of Worship (see UMH 11).
These are more than nice words. They are words intended to convey the presence and power of God upon those who receive them.
Every time we offer such blessings, we embody our priesthood as the baptized for others.
How do people experience and express such placing of God's name upon others where you are?
How might they experience and express that more fully, and in more places, and for more people?
A suggestion from a friend of mine: Encourage folks to hang out (in pairs at least, to be safe) where people may be at night -- liquor stores, convenience stores, other places -- and offer to pray with and bless anyone who desires it. Clear this with the store owner first, of course! The point of this isn't to convert anyone, but to offer presence in listening, the voice of prayer, and an act of blessing for people who may need such a blessing on a cold winter's night!
If several of your worship planning team try this out before you do the service, perhaps they can offer brief testimonies about what happened when they extended the blessing of God to others in this way. Or you might show pictures or video of this happening (with the written permission of those photographed if they are at all recognizable!) as this text is being read.
The hymn from Philippians blesses the name of Jesus in language that reflects the character of that community and the reality of how they had encountered Jesus Christ and the claims of God's kingdom in their midst. Paul here sings them their song, reminding them of who they are because they belong to Jesus Christ, whose holy name will be blessed forever because he humbled himself. What is your congregation's song?
What song best names who they are and blesses Jesus for how your congregation has encountered him and the claims of God's kingdom?
While Luke 2 may seem like a repeat of the Christmas Eve text (it is, mostly!), the point of this reading for this service is the last line, referring to Jesus' circumcision on the eighth day. Once again we see Luke giving attention to the ways Jesus' family observed and fulfilled Jewish ritual life. Male babies were officially named at their circumcision on the eighth day after their birth. Celebrating the naming and circumcision of Jesus also celebrates how the community of the people called Israel, and by extension the people called church, are blessed by this name (Ye-shua, "The Lord Saves"), and how we continue this practice of naming others in Christ through baptism and through our ongoing support of one another as a living, active community of faith in the risen Christ.
What practices are in place where you are to receive and nurture those newborn in Christ's name? This service is an opportunity to lift those practices up, and where they may be lacking, to encourage new ones to begin.
Whatever the Christian calendar may call this day, in the U.S., this is New Year's Eve or Day, very often a party night or a "morning after" an evening of partying and frivolity. Attendance at worship may be as low or lower than on the Sunday after Christmas Day. But those who do come will come seeking to be part of something substantial that helps them live better in the coming year than in the year that is past. The richness of the possibilities for worship should be plumbed to their depths. Although attendance may be low, worship planning should seek to make this a significant event for those who may be present.
The Holy Name of Jesus may be a celebration unfamiliar to many United Methodists unless they have been in communities with significant Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Episcopal religious influences. The heart of this celebration may be an exploration of how we are named -- by our families, by our career paths, by the cultures surrounding us, but above all, by God in Jesus Christ. What names "stick"? What names keep us "stuck"? How does God's invitation to adoption and a new name (child, heir) in Jesus Christ re-orient our sense of identity and re-order the world?
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The United Methodist Book of Worship offers several possible services and other resources you may use or adapt to your setting:
- "The Great Thanksgiving for Christmas Eve, Day or Season," 56-57 (First Sunday After Christmas, Holy Name)
- "The Great Thanksgiving for New Year, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord or Covenant Reaffirmation," 58-59 (New Year, Epiphany)
- Covenant Renewal Service, 288 (New Year's Day -- although this may be more appropriate for Baptism of the Lord, provided that it supplements, rather than supplants, baptismal renewal)
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Greeting: BOW 273 (both options)
Opening Prayer: BOW 277, BOW 278, BOW 297
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer: UMH 82, "Canticle of God's Glory" (Luke)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 279, BOW 495
- For other intercessory words for this Sunday, see Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (Augsburg Fortress), page 42 (First Sunday after Christmas), page 44 (Holy Name), 45 (New Year).
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Territories including Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, The Palestinian Authority, Syria
- For other forms of Prayers of the People, see The Book of Common Prayer, pages 383-393
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 56-57 or BOW 58-59
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 551 (New Year, Covenant, First Sunday after Christmas, Epiphany)
Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 265 (A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using the first section and the pastor speak the blessing beginning with "And the blessing of God Almighty ...")
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