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What a Welcome! - First Sunday of Epiphany - Luke 2

A service for Epiphany focusing on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Luke 2:22-40.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

Not only is this the first Sunday of a new year, but it is the first Sunday of Epiphany. Epiphany is concerned with the "manifestation" of Jesus as the light of the world and the bringing of God's reign. (See the material below about Epiphany) In this service we focus on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Though he was the long-awaited Messiah, his welcome was very mixed. While Simeon and Anna welcomed him in faith and proclaimed that he was the Messiah, the response of others seems to be less enthusiastic.


"Often the content of our Christmas celebration is shaped by what we do with the weeks following Christmas. Churches that observe Christmas as a standalone event may find it difficult to get past the sentimentality of seeing a cute, mild-natured baby in the manger. But the incarnation involves much more than the drama of Christmas itself; it brings a vision of God’s glory to the nations of the world.

Our word epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation or appearance,” and in church history this word has become closely associated with the revelation of Christ in connection with the visit of the Magi. Epiphany has been observed throughout much of the Western church as occurring on January 6, but because most churches do not mark Epiphany with a midweek service, the celebration of this special day is often associated with the nearest Sunday. In recent years many churches have worked to recover a full celebration that begins at Christmas and ends at Epiphany twelve days later.

In the traditional celebration of the Christian year, the Sundays after Epiphany do not constitute a special season in the same way as do Advent and Lent. However, some congregations do celebrate this period as “Epiphany season,” focusing on the teaching and healing ministry of Christ. Some of the resources in this section are applicable for use in that extended approach to observing Epiphany. Whether or not congregations follow a traditional lectionary for the weeks after Epiphany (making use of the traditional color green), these weeks can be a time to focus on Jesus’ ministry so that, from Christmas onward, worshipers grow in awareness of the significance of Jesus’ entire life.

The visual appearance of the worship space during Epiphany maintains the textures and colors of Christmas (white, yellow, and gold) to communicate that this season is a time of joy and light."

(from The Worship Sourcebook, pp. 493-494)


* * *

On the first Sunday after Christmas, we worship in the joy
of knowing Immanuel has come among us for joy, light, and peace.  

We Gather in the Presence of God 

Prelude: “In Thee Is Gladness”
  “How Bright Appears the Morning Star” [see music notes]

The Call to Worship

*Song: "How Bright Appears the Morning Star” PH 69, PsH 357, RL 367, TH 515
or “In You Is Gladness” PsH 566, UMH 169

*Our Opening Words

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
You, Creator God, brought light out of the darkness.
You, Protector God, marched before your people
as a pillar of light in the desert night.
Your glory shone from the face of your son, Jesus,
who alone could say, "I am the light of the world."
The people who sit in darkness,
have seen a great light.
Let us celebrate the Light of the world,
For upon us has the Light shined!

*God's Greeting and Congregational Amen!

*Song: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" PH 31/32, PsH 345, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171, UMH 240

We are Renewed In God's Grace

The Children's Moment

Our Prayer of Confession  

God of eternal hope,
you place a light into every darkness and a star in every sky,
and yet we sometimes choose to walk in the darkness of despair and worry.
Sometimes we forget that there is never a moment that you are not with us,
that your Son was called Immanuel, which means "God with us".
Shine your light upon our path
and walk with us through all the valleys of our lives.
Hear our confession of those times when we try to forge ahead
and handle life in our own strength.
 (Silence for personal prayers)
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy and forgive us. Amen.  

The Assurance of God's Pardon: Matthew 1:21

Song: "Shine, Jesus, Shine" RN 247, SFL 239, SNC 128, TWC 721, WOV 651

Hearing God's Will for Our Lives - Ephesians 5:8-21

God Speaks to Us Through His Word

*Song: "Once in Royal David's City" PH 49:1-3, PsH 346:1-3, RL 201:1-3, TH 225:1-2, TWC 161:1-3, WOV 643:1-2, UMH 250:1-3

The Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of the First Scripture: John 1:1-14

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The Reading of the Second Scripture: Luke 2:22-40

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!  

Sermon: "What a Welcome!"

The Prayer of Application

We Respond to God's Word

Anthem: "Sun of My Soul”, Forrest
or: “The Lord is My Light", Allitsen [see music notes]

The Prayers of the People: “The Lord Is My Light” SNC 206 [see liturgy notes for additional suggestions]

The Offertory
The Offering of Music: “Once in Royal David’s City” [see music notes]
We Offer our Gifts to….

*Song: "Once in Royal David's City" PH 49:4, PsH 346:4-5, RL 201:4-5, TH 225:4-5, TWC 161:4, WOV 643:3-4, UMH 250:4

We Go Out to Live in the Light

*The Call to Discipleship

The light of God’s purposes has shone upon us.
Carry that light into another week.
The star of God’s promises that led us to worship
now leads us to serve in God’s world.
When we have met God in the light,
we cannot dwell comfortably in the shadows.
We cannot enjoy our abundance and wealth
without thanksgiving and generous sharing.
The glory of God shines on you today.
Others will see your radiance and rejoice with you.
We seek God’s peace that we may share it,
God’s wisdom that we may live by it,
in Christ’s name.
Amen. Amen.   (TWS, F.9.l.1)

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Closing Song: “Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace” RN 295, SNC 292
or: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" PH 28:2-3, PsH 355:2-3, RL 218:2-3, TH 207:2-3, TWC 157:2-3, UMH 224:2-3

Postlude: “Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace” or "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" [see music notes]

  * You are invited to stand.

Liturgy Notes

  1. The Children's Moment is placed early in this service as the first action in the Service of Renewal and would be an excellent time to explain to the children why we need to confess our sins when we worship together. Meet them on their level and address such questions as these: Can we be sure God will listen to us? Can we be honest with God about our sins? How does God feel when we confess? Can we be sure that we are forgiven? What does that mean? How should we feel afterward? You could also explain to them why there is a time of silence for each worshiper to make personal confession and why we are given an assurance of pardon after we confess.
  2. Two Scripture readings are included in this service. We suggest that the passage from John be read first even though it follows Luke in the canon of Scripture. John's passage sets forth the broader theological background of the narrative in Luke. For variation, we suggest that each of these passages be read by a different lay reader.
  3. For Prayers of the People that are appropriate to the Epiphany Season, we suggest you consult The Worship Sourcebook, pp. 505-511, for a helpful variety of suggestions.
  4. The Call to Discipleship is placed at the conclusion of the service so that worshipers are sent out with God's call to walk in his light ringing in their ears and heart.

Sermon Notes

The overarching aim of this service and sermon is to examine what happened when Christ entered this world and what difference that makes for us. The theme of Epiphany points us to the truth that Christ came to bring the light of God to us in this dark world. But the anomaly is that when the light comes, people do not often welcome it. Indeed, the anomaly of this world today is that the light it so badly needs has come to us in Jesus Christ, but most fail to recognize or welcome it.

Our first Scripture reading sets the stage for this anomaly. John says, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:5), "he was in the world….the world did not recognize him," (John 1:10) and "he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11).

This dramatic contrast of coming as the light we so badly need yet being unrecognized and unwelcomed is played out in the story of Luke 2. We know that while he was welcomed by the shepherds; he was not welcomed by the innkeeper. The same contrast occurred in the Temple.

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple followed the normal required custom and was a very significant event. His parents seemed to grasp that. We must not miss the fact that the Temple to which he now came for the first time was the Temple that was constructed to receive him. Now as he finally arrives, the reaction is very mixed. Simeon and Anna clearly and publicly welcomed him and proclaimed to all who are there who he is. But there is no overwhelming response…as should have happened! The narrative simply says they did what they had to and went home (Luke 2:39). No tumultuous welcome! No celebration! Only a couple of old folks who testified and seem to have been summarily ignored by everyone else.

How like our world today! He brings the very light of God, the light we so badly need, but the welcome is muted or confused at best. He is often ignored and rejected. Yet, blessed are those who welcome him and live in his light!

Music Notes

Suggestions for prelude are based on the following two hymn tunes. The text of IN DIR IST FREUDE has historically been used as a New Year’s hymn and the text of WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET reflects the theme of light as used in this Epiphany service.

IN DIR IST FREUDE [In Thee Is Gladness]

  • Organ
    • Bach, J. S. The Liturgical Year (ed. Riemenschneider). Ditson [1933] (M)
    • Beck, Theodore. Augsburg Organ Library – Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (M) 
    • Beck, Theodore. Five Hymn Preludes. Concordia 97-5391 [1976] (M) 
    • Burkhardt, Michael. Six General Hymn Improvisations set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-846 [1992] (E-M) 
    • Haan, Raymond H. Introduction and Variations on In Thee Is Gladness. Concordia 97-5995 [1988] (with trumpet; M) 
    • Sedio, Mark. Eight Hymn Introductions. Morningstar MSM-10-836 [1991] (E-M)

WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET [How Bright Appears the Morning Star]

  • Organ
    • Cherwien, David. Interpretations bk. 5. AMSI SP-102 [1985] (D) 
    • Cherwien, David. Seasonal InterpretationsAdvent/Christmas. Summa Productions SP-110 [1997] (M) 
    • Held, Wilbur. 6 Hymn Settings for Epiphany. Morningstar MSM-10-206 [1999] (E-M)
    • Hildebrand, Kevin. Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ vol. 3. Concordia 97-7052 [2004] (E) 
    • Leupold, A. W. An Organ Book. Chantry Music Press [1960] (E-M) 
    • Manz, Paul. Augsburg Organ Library – Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (M) 
    • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (M) 
    • Manz, Paul. How Lovely Shines the Morning Star. Concordia 97-5306 [1975] (E, with oboe) 
    • Manz, Paul. Three For Epiphany. Morningstar MSM-10-203 [1992] (M) 
    • Peeters, Flor. 30 Chorale Preludes. Peters 6023 [1950] (M) 
    • Pelz, Walter L. O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright. Morningstar MSM-10-201 [1990] (M-D) 
    • Sedio, Mark. (1996) Augsburg Organ Library – Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (M) 
    • Sedio, Mark. Eight Hymn Introductions. Morningstar MSM-10-836 [1991] (E-M) 
    • Sedio, Mark. Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ. Augsburg 11-10718 [1996] (M)
  • Piano
    • Carter, John. Still More Carols for Piano. Hope 8175 [2002] (E-M)
  • Alternative Harmonization for Organ
    • Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001]
  • Alternative Harmonization for Piano
    • Cherwien, David. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000]  

The two anthem response suggestions follow. If you do not have a choir available to sing, consider using “The Lord Is My Light” from SNC 192 as a congregational song of response.

Forrest, Dan Jr. Sun of My Soul. Beckenhorst BP1605 [2001] (SATB and keyboard; E-M)
Allitsen, Frances. The Lord Is My Light. Temple C116 [1956] (SATB and keyboard; E-M)

The Prayers of the People could be sung and spoken responsorially from SNC 206 or spoken. Suggestions for a spoken prayer can be found in the liturgy notes.

Suggestions for offertory music, based on “Once in Royal David’s City” can be found in the following resources:

IRBY [Once in Royal David’s City]

  • Organ
    • Cherwien, David. Interpretations bk. 5. AMSI SP-102 [1985] (E-M) 
    • Farlee, Robert Buckley. Augsburg Organ Library – Christmas. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-5935-X [2001] (E-M) 
    • Phipps, Karen Emmett. Organ Music for the Seasons vol. 3. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7564-9 [2003] (M) 
    • Visser, Larry. Noels on Christmas Themes. Leupold WL600090 [1998] (M) 
    • Wold, Wayne L. God with Us. Augsburg 11-10975 [1999] (E-M)
  • Handbells
    • Page, Anna Laura. Once in Royal David's City. Brentwood OTH-1054 [1986] (3 octaves with organ and C instrument, E-M)
  • Alternative Harmonization for Piano
    • Carlson, J. Bert. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000]

Postlude ideas and alternative harmonizations for the two suggestions given for the closing hymn can be found in:

LAND OF REST [Song of Simeon / Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace]

  • Organ
    • Callahan, Charles. Six Meditations on American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-6140 [1992] (E-M) 
    • Haan, Raymond H. O Worship the King. Broadman 4570-42 [1979] (E-M) 
    • Held, Wilbur. Seven Settings of American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-5829 [1984] (E-M) 
    • Wood, Dale. Seven Folk Tune Sketches. H. W. Grey GB 357 [1966] (E-M)
  • Alternative Harmonization for Organ
    • Busarow, Donald. All Praise to You, Eternal God. Augsburg 11-9076 [1980]
  • Alternative Harmonization for Piano
    • Cherwien, David. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000] 

IN DULCI JUBILO [Good Christian Friends, Rejoice]

  • Organ
    • Bach, J. S. The Liturgical Year (ed. Riemenschneider). Ditson [1933] (M-D) 
    • Bach, J. S. Three Preludes on In Dulci Jubilo. Peters 356 [1953] (E-D) 
    • Bach, J. S. Twelve Chorale Preludes (ed. Glynn). Schirmer 1441 (M) 
    • Cherwien, David. Seasonal Interpretations. Advent/Christmas Summa Productions SP-110 [1997] (E-M) 
    • Haan, Raymond H. Partita on In Dulci Jubilo. Concordia 97-5405 [1977] (E-M) 
    • Leavitt, John. Christmas Suite. Augsburg 11-10857 [1998] (M) 
    • Whitsett, Eleanor. In Dulci Jubilo. Morningstar MSM-10-154 [2004] (E-M)
  • Piano
    • Gerig, Reginald. Piano Preludes on Hymns and Chorales. Hope 251 [1959] (D)
  • Handbells
    • Dobrinski, Cynthia. Good Christian Friends, Rejoice. Agape 1826 [1995] (3-5 octaves, M) 
    • Morris, Hart. Ring We Now of Christmas. AGEHR AG 35040 [1988] (3-5 octaves, M)
  • Alternative Harmonization for Organ
    • Burkhardt, Michael. Easy Hymn Settings Christmas. Morningstar MSM-10-115 [1992] 
    • Busarow, Donald. Thirty More Accompaniments for Hymns in Canon. Augsburg 11-10163 [1992] 
    • Eggert, John. Creative Hymn Accompaniments for Organ vol. 2. CPH97-6851 [2000]
    • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H W Grey GB 644 [1978] 
    • Wood, Dale. New Settings of Twenty Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9292 [1968]

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations

  • PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
  • PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
  • RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
  • SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
  • Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America;
  • Great Commission Publications)
  • TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
  • UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
  • WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)