Creative Worship Ideas: Epiphany

I have a tradition in my church to have a Christmas story in place of the sermon on the Sunday after Christmas. This year I’m doing things a little different. On the Sunday after Christmas, we’re going to sing Christmas carols and hear the stories behind them. The Christmas story was going to be the following Sunday, on January 2. I even had a story picked out. And then I read commentary on the story of the wise men in Matthew 2.

One particular idea struck me: that the magi, wise men from another country, were coming to worship Jesus. The commentary said that Jewish tradition expected a pilgrimage of the nations to the God of Israel as part of the end times, and the gospel writer Matthew saw that already happening in the response of the magi. Last week the carol Hark! The Herald Angels Sing was the focus of my sermon. I talked about “peace on earth” being at the heart of Christmas. I decided we would celebrate Epiphany on January 2, and the theme would be peace on earth throughout all the nations.

Various pieces of the service started to fall together, including some elements I’ve been wanting to use.

Several years back I used the story of “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke as my sermon. That will be my story-sermon this year.

I’ll have the children study the wise men in Sunday school.

Last year in the journal Reformed Worship, I had read about a church that gives “Star Gifts” on Epiphany. A star-gift is a star-shaped piece of brightly colored paper with a word, like “love” or “faith” or “time” printed on it. Everyone receives a star-gift in worship that Sunday and is encouraged to think about that word throughout the year. I’ll have the kids hand out star-gifts during the children’s sermon.

On msnbc.com, I found a slideshow of children from different countries, all living in New York City. Photographer Danny Goldberg talks about how he came up with the idea for the project, called NY Children.

In 2003, while driving across the United States, I stopped at a gas station in Mesa, Arizona and met Rana, a Sikh whose brother was lost to a hate crime in front of their family-owned gas station in 2001. In 2002, Rana’s second brother was working his taxicab in San Francisco when a thief took his life.

Rana’s response to these violent acts against his brothers was a refusal to hole up and live in fear. Rana said, “It is important for me to get out of my house and meet my neighbors.” By reaching out to those who might not otherwise know him, he hoped to reduce the danger to himself, his family and his community.

Driving later that night, inspired by Rana’s simple prescription to make the world safer, I was struck by the idea to photograph a child from every country on earth and find them all living in New York City. This is how I would bring neighbors together. I returned home to New York and sought the help of community builders, clergy members, educators, business people, politicians, journalists, artists, students and families. These photographs exist because of their stories, efforts and good will.

Someday I hope Rana can come to New York City and meet the children and families from NYChildren.

I’m going to show the photographs of the children during our Prayers of the People. We’ll pray for the children, the nations, our neighbors, and peace on earth.

I hope through these various worship elements we can worship the baby who came to bring peace to all the nations of the world.

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