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Sunday Service 31st December



Call to worship

Hymn 326: As with gladness men of old


Time for all


Hymn 323: The first Nowell


Reading:    Matthew 2: 1-15 - Margaret



Hymn 322: Good Christians all rejoice



Prayer of Dedication


Hymn 740(MP): We three kings






Welcome to our reflection for 31st December.

This is the last service for 2023.

The year is done and the temptation is to look back over the year; has it been good, or has it been bad, and what message should we take from the year?

We will reflect on that after Margaret leads us in our prayer and reading for today.


Remember that you can ask for our church to pray for you or people that you care about by contacting us at









Here is a basic question.

If the wise men were really wise men.

Why did they stop following the star and go to Jerusalem?

Going to Jerusalem started a domino effect that put Herod on the offensive and the holy family in danger.

If they were following a star then they could have avoided Herod’s palace and just gone straight to Bethlehem.

But they didn’t...they veered off the road and went to Jerusalem.


It is tempting to believe that.

Tempting to believe the wise men weren’t all that wise;.

and to get a really important message from that.

That sometimes, even when we are following God’s path that we are not following God’s path.

We will do what we think God wants us to do, but we will do it in our way.

And that is always a recipe for disaster.


No doubt in the new year at some point we will look at Moses bringing the people from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.

I think this is a wonderful example of Moses doing God’s work but not in God’s way.

Often Moses gets frustrated and attacks the people for them being disobedient.

Moses wants to lead the people but they don’t want to be led and they keep on rebelling...Moses can’t understand why they don’t obey him without questioning because he represents God.

What Moses can’t see is that they have had generations of people being led by Pharaoh; someone who believed they should be obeyed without question because he represents God.

Instead of acting like a pharaoh that should be obeyed, maybe Moses could act like a leader who had a new beginning by God, and who is now offering them a new beginning.


We can be exactly the same...trying to do God’s work, but do it our way.

Like the way we treat our family.

When I was young, minister’s children were often like children of policemen, they often had a terrible reputation for behaviour.

And many put that down to ministers, mostly at that time men, having an expectation of bringing up the family in a Christian way...which in their eyes meant that the children should behave themselves in a certain way...not that the minister should act as a father in a certain way.

So the responsibility was placed on the children to behave, and many of them resented that, especially when often their father was never there for them, they were always there for the church, but never there for them.



When the children rebelled, congregations would make comments on the children and their behaviour, they rarely made comments on the father and his lack of presence in the family home.

Often male ministers had God’s responsibility for their family, but did it in their way.


And that is maybe a message we need to take into the New Year.

Not only to do what God asks of us, but to do it in God’s way.


However, I would like to quote many a chaser on the quiz show the CHASE. Who when the contestant explains why they picked their answer says,

 ‘You got the right answer in completely the wrong way.’


Living the life God wants of us in God’s way is a brilliant message...not however one from this passage.

Because the wise men were not stupid in going to see Herod, it was the only thing to do


They didn’t deliberately not follow the star; they had no choice but to not follow the star.

The Bible just doesn’t explain it to us because it expects us to work it out for ourselves.

This is one of those times when the Bible doesn’t explain things because it presumes an knowledge that is obvious, just common sense, that we would all ready know so it won’t waste valuable space explaining the obvious.


The only problem is that what was obvious then...might not be so obvious now.

So I would ask you to be patient with me as I work it through for you.


Let’s start off with some educated guesses as to how many were in this party of wise men.


My rough guess is about 40.

This is how I came that conclusion.

Let’s say each gift represents a wise man.

That gives you three men

If you want to be attacked, if you want to shorten your life, then the surest way to do it is to put yourself in danger.

One obvious way to do it is to be very rich, to travel into an area that you don’t know, in an area with lots of quiet places that no one goes to, and to do it unaccompanied.

It would be like very rich man, in a rich outfit,

wandering the streets of the poorest areas of Glasgow, Edinburgh or, Dundee,

going into the shops and asking if they had change of £100 notes during the day, then wandering the darkest, neglected streets at night asking people if they knew where the nearest Hilton was.

Then doing this over a fortnight.


You do something like that and the people you don’t want to know are going to find out.

And what do you think they will do?


These wise men were very rich; they were travelling in unknown areas for maybe two years.

They didn’t know what way the star would move; they couldn’t predict something as unique as this, once in a lifetime event.

There is no way they would go off into the unknown with all their riches unaccompanied.

Therefore they would have had guards. Let’s say six guards each.

That immediately takes you to 21 people.

But these people are travelling a long way.

Would they expect inns along the way to be able to take that many people? Probably not.

Would they be suspect of inns as places where they might be attacked? Probably

An unscrupulous innkeeper might pass on to some friends... for a set amount of money... information about a very wealthy group and share with his friends numbers of guards and direction of travel.


So now you are talking tents.

You are talking cooks.

You are talking provisions.

You are talking people to look after the camels and the donkeys.

You are talking servants to look after all this stuff and to load and unload them every night and morning.

I think 40 is a reasonable number.

But 40 folk travelling as a group from outside the empire into the empire would be looked upon suspiciously.

What if they are spies?

What if they are out gather information about border guards and soldier deployment?

The empire was always at its weakest at the edges of the empire.

There is a reason that they put Harridans wall at the border with Scotland and not round London.

The Roman Empire didn’t need to protect itself from those in deepest darkest Essex, it did from the Caledonians.


So a group of 40 with guards coming in from the east of the empire would expect to be monitored everywhere they went.

They would be followed, either discreetly or obviously, from the moment they entered the Empire.

They would know that.


If they followed the star to Bethlehem they may have led Herod straight to the infant king.


So the smart thing to do is to go to the source of the problem, the existing kings court, Herod, declare outright what you are doing.

If that king is honest and good then you allayed his fears and are free to do your own thing.

If that king is not good and worthy then you have advanced knowledge and you know where the spies are coming from, also as there are a lot less built roads at that time, Jerusalem would have one direct road to Bethlehem, here then you can monitor the roads behind you and see if you are followed.


The wise men did what they could to keep everyone safe.


Here’s the lesson we need to learn from this.

Life is never as easy as we would want it to be.

Often life is a lot more complex than we thought it was.

But that’s not a reason for giving up.


The star was an opportunity to follow God wherever it may lead,

just because it would be a hard journey was not a reason for giving up,

just because it became even more complex than they thought it would be was not a reason for giving up,

just because it lead them to places of danger was not a reason for giving up.


Well that’s not true; the truth is that they were all reasons to give up.


But if they had, then they would have missed out in seeing God face to face in the most unexpected of places.

They would have missed out in the peace of knowing that their life had meaning and purpose.

They would have missed out in the joy of knowing that God had a plan for them and they had fulfilled that plan.

They would have missed out on knowing that no matter what they did, no matter what they faced, that God was there for them.


Life is never as easy as we would want it to be; it wasn’t last year, it probably won’t be next year.

Often life is a lot more complex than we think it is; it was last year, it probably will be next year.


But within that are the opportunities that God gives us,

and if we are brave enough to follow,

we may even see his face in the most unexpected of places,

and in seeing his face find assurance that our life has meaning,

that we are deeply loved,

and that God is with us...That is a message worth taking into the New Year.

Let us pray


Heavenly Father

It is the eve of a New Year.

A time of potential renewal, a time of new starts and new beginnings.

A time for reflecting on who we are, how we are, what we could be.


It is the eve of a New Year.

A time of potential renewal, a time of new starts and new beginnings.

A time for promises to do more, to do better at loving and caring.


It is the eve of a New Year.

A time of potential renewal, a time of new starts and new beginnings.

At time for new ideas, new attitudes, new ways of being.


Lord of love,

Lord of our being,

Lord of us all,

in all that is new remind us of your presence, your love and your care.


And as we reach out to that unknown future, may we never forget that you are already there, waiting for us, hoping that we will take your hand of guidance and let you lead us forward into whatever adventures await us.


Remind us also, especially in those unexpected moment that surprise us and for which we are sorely unprepared, that you have not deserted us in these moments,

but that you are waiting for us to trust in your wisdom and strength,

waiting for us to grow in faith and compassion,

waiting for us to become the disciples of love that you call us always to be.



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