P. O. BOX 222811


(831) 624-8595










Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor


Independent and United Church of Christ


January 3, 2021


Dear Friends,


Welcome to our first worship service for 2021! ​​ I know we all share the prayer that sometime early in this New Year we will be able to celebrate worshipping in person again.


Please keep Joanne Anderson in your prayers. ​​ She is having surgery for skin cancer this Monday, January 4th.


The sermon this week is one that I have given at CCMP before. ​​ On January 17th​​ I’m starting a new sermon series on the parables of Jesus, which we haven’t looked at in more than ten years. ​​ I’ve been busy reading the latest scholarship on the parables, linking each of the parables to a particular character trait that Jesus would like us to develop more fully, and, in general, making plans to have this series be as much about practical spirituality as it is about good theology.


Stay Safe, Take Care,

And Always Remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel – God WITH Us!



Pastor Paul





INTRODUCTORY READING  ​​​​  ​​​​ J.R.H. Moorman, Contemporary​​ (Adapted)


If we are to practice obedience we can scarcely do better than follow the examples of both Mary and Joseph.


And if we are to practice obedience we can scarcely do better than begin with the three commands which Jesus gave to Peter in the boat. ​​ ‘Thrust out a little from the land’; do not allow yourself to become earthbound, your life dominated by things of this world; . . .And then ‘launch out into the deep’ and explore the depths of God’s love; consider God’s nature, God’s goodness, God’s strength; let the thought of God’s majesty and of God’s tender mercy and compassion flow into your heart; learn to be alone with God in the deep. ​​ And then ​​ ‘Let down your nets for a draught’; learn to accept what God gives of God’s grace, God’s peace, God’s strength; spread your nets wide for that miraculous draught of all that your soul can need.


SUGGESTED MUSIC  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Mary Did You Know? (Official Music Video)

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ One Voice Children’s Choir cover  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube


OPENING PRAYER  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Peter Armstrong, Contemporary


Mary could not have known

what she was saying ‘Yes’ to:

we pray for her trust.


Joseph could not have known​​ 

where his trust was leading him:

we pray for his patience.


The travelers could not have known

the end of their journey:

we pray for their boldness and adventure.


The shepherds could not have known

the meaning of their vision:

we pray for their open minds.

The Christ-child could not have known

what was happening to him:

we join with him

in his fragile humanity

in bringing before​​ 

the unknown of divinity

our prayer, praise, and wonder this Christmastide. ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Amen.




Our Father,

who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth

as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those​​ 

who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Amen.


SCRIPTURE READING: ​​ Luke​​ 1:39-56; Luke 2:19


In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. ​​ When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. ​​ And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blesses are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. ​​ And why has this happened to me,that the mother of my Lord comes to me? ​​ For as soon as I heard the sound of​​ your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. ​​ And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

 ​​ ​​​​ and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

​​ for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

 ​​ ​​​​ Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

​​ for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

 ​​ ​​​​ and holy is his name.

​​ His mercy is on those who {revere] him

 ​​ ​​​​ from generation to generation.

​​ He has shown strength with his arm;

 ​​ ​​​​ he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

​​ He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

 ​​ ​​​​ and lifted up the lowly;

​​ he has filled the hungry with good things,

 ​​ ​​​​ and sent the rich away empty.

​​ He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy,

 ​​ ​​​​ according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

 ​​ ​​​​ to Abraham and to his descendants forever”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.


Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.



Rev. Paul Wrightman


(The underlining simply indicates what I would emphasize if delivered orally.)


When I was a child there was a game we would play in our neighborhood to pass the time on rainy afternoons. ​​ It was a game of the imagination, and if it had a name, which I don’t think it did, it would have been called “Where would you leave the​​ treasure?


The idea was this: ​​ Suppose you had a large amount of money, a treasure really, but some unexpected crisis has come up, and suddenly you have to​​ leave​​ the treasure with someone for safekeeping. ​​ You can’t put it in the bank or bury it under the tree in the back yard – there isn’t time.


The rule of the game is that you have to​​ entrust​​ it with​​ someone. ​​ Who would​​ you​​ choose? ​​ 


The​​ fun​​ of the game​​ was sitting around in a circle exploring all the character​​ flaws​​ and​​ virtues​​ of the various possibilities, searching for someone who was​​ trustworthy.


“How about the​​ school​​ principal?” somebody would suggest. ​​ “Nah, he’d probably

steal​​ it.” ​​ “Well, how about the​​ preacher?” ​​ “Too​​ risky. ​​ He’d probably put it in the

collection​​ plate.” ​​ “OK, then, what about your​​ sister?” ​​ “Are you​​ kidding? ​​ She’d want to​​ split​​ it.”


And on it would go, the search for just the​​ right​​ person to keep the treasure. ​​ In the mind of a​​ child, the stakes were​​ high: ​​ your whole treasure risked on something as​​ fragile​​ as the​​ trustworthiness​​ of another​​ human​​ being.


One way to read the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke is as a​​ divine​​ version of “Where Would You Leave the Treasure?” ​​ God​​ was searching for some place in human life to leave the​​ treasure.


In God’s case, the treasure was not​​ gold, but the​​ Gospel. ​​ The treasure was not​​ silver, but​​ news​​ –​​ Good​​ News. ​​ Not cold, hard​​ cash, but the deep, rich, and abiding​​ promise​​ that, when all is said and done, we are​​ not​​ alone, that God is, finally, “God​​ with​​ us.” ​​ 


Thats​​ the treasure.


Now, where in the world would you​​ leave​​ a treasure like​​ that? ​​ Where do you leave a treasure like that so that it will be preserved, cherished, and encouraged to grow?


That’s what​​ Luke wants to tell us. ​​ Luke wants to tell us the story of where God decided to leave the treasure, and this is the way he begins: ​​ “In the days of​​ Herod,​​ king​​ of Judea. . .” ​​ (Luke 1:5), almost as if to say, “Now,​​ theres​​ a possibility!”

God​​ could​​ have left the treasure with the Herods’​​ of the world, with the​​ politicians, the ones who pave the roads and collect the taxes, the ones who pass the laws and command the armies.


God​​ could​​ have left the treasure with the Herods’, and it’s not as strange a possibility as it might first seem, because, after all, the treasure​​ is, in part,​​ political.


The treasure is the news, which we encountered in today’s Scripture reading, and which is commonly known as Mary’s Magnificat: that God is at work in the world to pull tyrants off their high horses and to lift up those who hunger and thirst for justice; that when one more starving child in Africa, or anywhere else,​​ dies, something at the heart of​​ God​​ dies, too.


It would have made a certain kind of sense for God to have entrusted the treasure to the movers and shakers – the Herods of the world. ​​ But God did​​ not​​ leave the treasure with Herod, because the Gospel is the Good News that, if there is to be​​ justice​​ in the world, there can only be​​ one​​ TRUE​​ king. ​​ If there is to be​​ peace​​ in the world, there can only be​​ one​​ TRUE​​ ruler. ​​ If there is to be​​ compassion​​ in the world, there can only be​​ one​​ true​​ Lord. . . ​​ And that person’s name is​​ not​​ Herod.


Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful eighteenth century Neapolitan nativity scene. ​​ 


In many ways, it is a very​​ familiar​​ scene. ​​ The​​ usual​​ characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East; Mary, Joseph, the babe – all are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint.


There is, however, something​​ surprising​​ about this scene, something​​ unexpected here, easily​​ missed​​ by the​​ casual​​ observer. ​​ What is​​ strange​​ here is that the​​ stable, and the shepherds, and the cradle are set,​​ not​​ in the​​ expected​​ small town of​​ Bethlehem, but among the​​ ruins​​ of mighty​​ Roman​​ columns.


The artists knew the meaning of the treasure: ​​ The Gospel, the​​ birth​​ of God’s​​ new​​ age, was also the beginning of the end for the​​ old​​ world. ​​ Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: ​​ Gods​​ presence in the world means, finally, the​​ end​​ of their own​​ power. ​​ They seek not to​​ preserve​​ the treasure, but to​​ crush​​ it. ​​ For Herod, the Gospel is news too​​ bad​​ to be​​ endured, and Luke wants us to see that God had to find​​ another​​ place to leave the treasure.


Returning to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we find: ​​ “In the days of Herod. . . there was a​​ priest​​ named Zechariah.” ​​ (Luke 1:5) ​​ There’s​​ another​​ possibility.


God​​ could​​ have left the treasure with the​​ Zechariahs​​ of the world, the ones who​​ think​​ holy​​ thoughts,​​ handle​​ holy​​ things, and​​ perform​​ holy​​ deeds.


God could have left the treasure with the Zechariahs, and it’s not a strange thought, because Zechariah is a​​ priest. ​​ Priest are theologians of a sort, and, after all, the treasure​​ is, in part,​​ theological.


The treasure is the Good News that it is​​ God​​ who is at work to set things right, that it is​​ God​​ who gathers up all efforts of human good will and gives them​​ strength​​ beyond their​​ measure,​​ mercy​​ beyond their​​ depth, and​​ hope​​ beyond their grandest​​ dreams. ​​ It is​​ God​​ who has​​ made​​ us, and​​ God​​ who is​​ with​​ us, and​​ God​​ who​​ reclaims​​ us, and not we ourselves.


So, Zechariah, a person who handles holy things, and thinks holy thoughts, and performs holy deeds, would seem to be a good place to leave the treasure. ​​ There are signs that God did, indeed,​​ consider​​ leaving the treasure with the priestly family of Zechariah. ​​ 


Zechariah was an ordinary priest, with the ordinary priestly responsibilities of burning incense and making sacrifices at the temple, and he had done the ordinary thing of marrying Elizabeth, herself the daughter of a priest.


But he and Elizabeth had one extraordinary problem. ​​ They were not able to have children, and for reasons which have to do with the culture of the first century, that was a sadness for them both, and a deep embarrassment to Elizabeth.


Then, one day in the temple, when Zechariah was lighting the incense, God – almost as a way of​​ testing​​ to see if Zechariah’s family was a good place to leave the treasure, gave Zechariah a​​ taste​​ of the Good News, an anticipatory touch of the treasure. ​​ An angel appeared to Zechariah and told him, “Do not be afraid, your prayer has been answered. ​​ You will have great joy and gladness, your wife will become pregnant and bear a son.” ​​ (Luke 1:13-14)


Zechariah, so​​ familiar​​ with the holy, finally could not​​ believe​​ the​​ presence​​ of the holy when it intruded into his life. ​​ “How shall I​​ know​​ this?” he whined. ​​ (Luke 1:18) ​​ “I need​​ proof. ​​ I’m an old man. ​​ My wife is an old woman. ​​ This is​​ impossible.”


And in a scene of great​​ sadness, the angel reaches forth towards Zechariah’s lips, saying, “You will be silent. ​​ You will be unable to speak until the child is born, for you did not believe my words.” ​​ (Luke 1:20) ​​ 


There is a​​ familiarity​​ with the holy which, ironically, produces a​​ numbness​​ to the holy, and Zechariah’s family was not the place to leave the treasure.


For​​ Herod, the Gospel was news too​​ bad​​ to be​​ endured. ​​ For Zechariah, it was too​​ amazing​​ to be​​ believed, too​​ good​​ to be​​ true.


God did not leave the treasure with the Herods; they would​​ crush​​ it. ​​ God did not leave the treasure with the Zechariahs; they could not​​ believe​​ it. ​​ God did not leave the treasure in the​​ palace​​ or at the​​ altar.


It is​​ now​​ that Luke tells us the​​ surprise: ​​ God left the treasure in a place which was in that time considered the​​ weakest​​ of​​ all​​ places, the​​ least​​ likely of all spots – the​​ womb​​ of a​​ woman.


And Luke also tells us that the first time that the Gospel is proclaimed by human lips, it is​​ not​​ in the Roman senate or in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple; it is not by Caesar, or Peter, or Paul. ​​ It is in a place the world at that time would count for​​ nothing: a conversation between two women, Mary and Elizabeth, facing their pregnancies.


Luke wants us to know that the treasure of the Gospel, which will one day fill the earth with the power of forgiveness and compassion, must​​ first​​ be planted in those weak and helpless places which yearn for it the most, hunger for it most deeply, and thus can believe and cherish it most fully.


God’s treasure was to be entrusted with Mary.


I sometimes wonder if we don’t over-sentimentalize Mary. ​​ We tend to think of her, in the words of an old hymn, as “Gentle Mary, meek and mild, who looks upon her little child.”


Think about the ways Mary is portrayed. ​​ 


Years ago when I was a Catholic, I checked out a Roman Catholic religious goods store for images of Mary. ​​ The store had​​ dozens​​ of Marys’​​ in stock. ​​ In every single case, Mary was portrayed as serene and beatific, came with a halo – in many cases a detachable halo – and light brown hair and blue eyes.


The clerk told me that all their Marys’​​ were made in northern Italy. ​​ Apparently, most women there have light brown hair and blue eyes. ​​ Choosing just one of many possible paintings of Mary​​ as an example, let’s consider the​​ “Annunciation” by Sandro Bottichelli of Florence.


You will see that, sure enough, Mary has light brown hair and light blue eyes, and is the epitome of serenity and peacefulness.


Now, Mary may well have​​ been serene and peaceful, but if​​ she was, it was​​ in​​ spite​​ of, not​​ because​​ of​​ her lot in life.


Think about it. ​​ She was poor. ​​ She was young, fourteen, maybe. ​​ Like most peasant women of her time, she was probably uneducated. ​​ She was pregnant out-of-wedlock. ​​ Her fiancé had lurking suspicions about her pregnancy. ​​ Her mother and father aren’t mentioned at all. ​​ Maybe Mary’s parents were embarrassed. ​​ Maybe that’s why Mary went out of town for three months to visit her cousin.


Think of the utter​​ courage​​ it must have taken for Mary to have done what she did.


Rather than “Gentle Mary, meek and mild,” the impression we get is of one​​ strong​​ and​​ courageous​​ young woman. ​​ As Denise Levertov mentions in a poem about Mary: ​​ “. . .We are told of meek obedience. ​​ No one mentions​​ courage.”


Poverty, scandal, questions at home, Roman oppression abroad, the anxieties of a first-time pregnancy. ​​ Then, giving birth in a stable, surrounded by animals, far away from home, with no midwives or female relatives in attendance.


Mary’s life​​ wasnt​​ peaceful. ​​ It was a​​ mess. ​​ But in the midst of Mary’s mess, there was a​​ message: ​​ a reminder that God​​ particularly​​ chooses and uses the​​ lowliest​​ and​​ ​​ became almost​​ nothing.


Philip Yancey in his classic,​​ The Jesus I Never Knew, writes: ​​ “. . .The maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become an ovum, a single fertilized egg barely visible to the naked eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a fetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. . .God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat​​ solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food and love.”


Taking another look at Bottichelli’s​​ Annunciation, we see that the landscape in the background is not the landscape of​​ Israel, but the landscape of​​ Tuscany​​ in northern​​ Italy. ​​ This​​ is why Mary has light brown hair and light blue eyes: she is being portrayed as a young woman of the Italian Renaissance.


These Renaissance painters understood Meister Eckhart’s dictum of God needing to be born anew in our own time and place. ​​ Every Renaissance painting of Mary,​​ every Renaissance painting of Jesus, places Mary and Jesus solidly in the time and place of the particular painter.


The problem with the Catholic religious goods store I mentioned earlier was​​ not​​ that Mary had light brown hair and blue eyes, it was that this was the​​ only​​ Mary available. ​​ The buyer needed to be more​​ inclusive​​ in her selection of Marys’​​ and include the dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes of Marys​​ from Guatemala and Peru, of Marys​​ from India, of Mary’s from Israel itself.


Finally, we can​​ learn​​ from Mary that it is the places of​​ weakness​​ in our lives and in the world which are most open to the amazing intrusion of God’s presence. ​​ Part of the Good News is that it is precisely​​ there​​ where God leaves God’s​​ treasure. ​​ 


God does​​ not​​ come to that part of us which​​ swaggers​​ through life, confident in our​​ self-sufficiency. ​​ God, rather, leaves the treasure in the​​ broken​​ places where we know we cannot make it on our own.


God comes to us in those moments when we transcend​​ ourselves​​ long enough to​​ glimpse​​ the​​ needs​​ of​​ others​​ and to​​ feel​​ those needs​​ deeply​​ enough to​​ hunger​​ and​​ thirst​​ for​​ God​​ to set it​​ right.






  • Why do you think Mary went to Elizabeth’s home?










  • What do you need to share with an “Elizabeth” right now?
















  • Which of the words found in Mary’s song best describes how you are feeling about your spiritual life at present? ​​ Rejoicing, humble, blessed, lifted up, filled, hungry, empty.

















  • In what way would you like to be more like Mary?
















  • Of the attributes of God celebrated in Mary’s song, which do you appreciate the most? ​​ Which challenges you the most? ​​ Why?


















CLOSING PRAYER  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ The Promise of His Glory


May the humility of the shepherds,

the perseverance of the wise men,

the joy of the angels,

and the peace of the Christ-child

be God’s gifts to us and to people everywhere

this Christmas time.

And may the blessing of the Christ-child

be upon us always.



SUGGESTED MUSIC  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Andrea Bocelli – Silent Night

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ (Piano Version/Lyric Video)  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube




Patiently and persistently, God loves.


Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.


Now and forever, God loves.



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Independent and United Church of Christ