Sunday, December 13, 2020

Welcome and Announcements


Thank you for your donations to both YWCA and Salvation Army. As an example we like to let you know that just on Mitten Tree Project we passed onto the Salvation army, 23 scarves, 70 toques, 15 headbands, 66 mittens and gloves, 41 pairs of socks, 15 mitt and hat sets, 8 slippers, 4 hand knitted stuffed animals, and 5 toys and dolls. Again, that is not even counting what we have collected for YWCA. Well done!

Please let everyone know that we will not be holding in-person Christmas Eve worship services this year. Christmas Eve worship will be online. We are still scheduling the Christmas Day in person worship service at 10:30 am. This, however, will depend on which zone Niagara Region will be on Christmas Day. According to the Niagara’s health officer, we might be looking at moving into the Red Zone before Christmas. We will monitor this very carefully and make decisions accordingly.

During the winter months, for those who are not able to come out to worship or to join our worship on our website, we will mail out the services. If you know of our church members who may prefer receiving services through mails, please, let us know.

Hymn of Preparation: Emmanuel His Name



Call to Worship:

Come, let us sing a wonderful song to God!
Let us prepare to receive the Lord who will reveal God’s reign to all people.
Let us praise and worship God whose love for us endures forever.

Hymn: Angels From the Realms



Prayer


With you as our Lord, O God, we live the life of love for you and for one another. We thank you for your grace that enables us to live this purposeful life of love. As we humbly approach you, knowing that on our own we are not able be in your presence without your Son’s calling, be gentle and merciful to us. Receive us as your children. Grant us the privilege of worshipping you. May this worship be acceptable to you.

O Christ, remember us when we come to you this way. We are tattered, broken and lost. Yet, in you, we find faith and strength to come because of the love you have for us. Be kind and let our worship be the very act of our love for you.

O Holy Spirit, fill us as we worship. May you be present in this worship so that because of your presence this worship may become a worthy offering to God who created the world and Jesus who called us into being. By your guidance, help us to worship in ways that you our God is pleased and blessed.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: Do you hear what I hear)



Offering Prayer


In all things, we give you thanks, O Lord. Our hearts are set on you. Our faith is steadfast and strong in your Son our Lord. In hope that you will be glad of our love for you, we bring these offerings. These are small amounts. Yet, through these small offerings we recommit our faith in you and our service to your ministry. Receive these gifts. Continue to instill in us through the Holy Spirit our will to share your love unconditionally. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Psalm 41:1-3


Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
they are called happy in the land.
You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;
in their illness you heal all their infirmities.

Sermon: Blessings to the righteous


What makes us to hang onto the idea that Jesus is the good news for this world? So many people will not remember the meaning of Christmas. Many, however, will be sad that they cannot get together and spend time over this year’s Christmas because of the warnings. They are more concerned about not being able to be together with their loved ones than Jesus’ birth. This year, as small local store and restaurant owners are finding no hope and joy, it is hard to get the message across about the good news of God. Doom and gloom are everywhere. The terrible news has already overwhelmed any good news there can be. Even when people can muster all their optimisms, those optimisms are used for day to day survival activities.

So, who gets excited for Christ’s coming? Who are the ones who wait for and go through the rituals of Christmas in expectation of the birth of Christ and all that is contained in the fulfillment of the promise of the coming Messiah?

It may sound simple on the surface. We may answer, “the poor,” “the oppressed,” “the marginalized,” and so on. We might think they are the ones who wait for Jesus’ coming. In a way many of these answers might be correct in some situations because some among them are indeed waiting for Jesus’ coming and will rejoice when God’s promise from long ago is fulfilled. In truth, however, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized will benefit from the coming Messiah, but they are not the ones waiting. What they are waiting for is the relief from their terrible life conditions. This is why in the four Gospels we see so many people of various conditions come and get healed, but soon disappear before Jesus, never to be heard from again. Yes, those who are poor will find life without hunger and stress, the oppressed will surely enjoy freedom and the marginalized will certainly be included in all matters under God’s reign. This is the condition in which everyone will find themselves when God’s reign is revealed fully. But, being beneficiaries of God’s reign does not mean that they are the very ones waiting for the Messiah as promised by the prophets of Israel.

Indeed, in the days before Jesus, many Jews were waiting for the right messiah to come along. They imagined this messiah to rise out of the people of Israel and Judah to lead them against Roman Empire and to reestablish the glory days of King David. That is, they were looking for political and economic dominance in the region. There were many groups in Palestine and Judea preparing to overthrow the Romans. Before and after Jesus’ arrival some succeeded to a small degree. The Roman Empire, however, was always able to put down these pesky rebellions brutally.

The early christians understood things totally differently than those groups who rebelled against the Roman Empire. Following Christ, these believers did not seek to overthrow the political powers. Rather, they lived in ways that they embodied what God’s reign might look like. They gathered as a community and interacted as if they were living under God’s reign. They treated each other as from Christ. They did not rank themselves according to wealth or social and political status. They shared what they had freely.

From historical studies, we do know that there were some fringe groups like Ebionites and Zealots who held things in common and lived together in communal settings for their shared purpose of holiness and faithfulness to God of Israel. Some of you may remember the TV drama Masada in the 1980s. It was the Roman soldiers crushing the rebellious group known as Sicarii or a group that broke off from Zealots. The difference between Christians and these groups like Zealots was that from the very beginning Christians were not segregated nor were they rejecting to live in the world: they lived among people in the cities and villages without separating themselves from their neighbours based on shared beliefs. These early Christians were not motivated by political, economic or social reasons. They were bound by their belief in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the Son of God. With this difference, they carried on their daily lives while gathering on the first day of the week to celebrate and worship the resurrection of Jesus and the new creation that was made possible by the risen Christ.

In those early days of Christianity, Christians were not too concerned about celebrating Jesus’ birth. Though the pagan world of their time was full of festivals on the births of their gods, or heroes, or passing of one year to receiving the new one, initially Christians stayed away from worrying over the birth of Jesus. It was enough for them to be able to come together on the first day of each week to worship and share meals together to commemorate Jesus and remind themselves of his return. It was not until a few centuries later that as Christianity was institutionalized and formalized many local religious bodies began instituting certain festival days as yearly festivals according to local customs including Christmas. All this is to say is that Christmas is a yearly festival to mark the birth of Jesus which began as local customs in various regions. Again, this celebration of Jesus’ birth did not come into effect until a few centuries later. As many Christians began usurping festivals of other Gods, Christmas was set to coincide with festivals known as Solstice or Saturnalia (both in December) depending on where one was living at the time.
What has been retained and incorporated into Christmas celebrations is the notion that God’s promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. That is, through his birth, God’s reign began anew in the world.

As to the notion whether Christmas should or should not be celebrated since the date was adopted from other religions is not worth debating as billions of people are now celebrating December 25th as Christmas for whatever purpose that suits them. What we need to remember is that Advent and Christmas are the time in which Christians educate, celebrate and share God’s gift of love reminding us that the New Creation began with his coming. The spirit in which Christmas is being celebrated ought not be forgotten especially in this very commercially and materially charged culture where marketing messages to buy and buy to give more expensive gifts have taken over.

Now, back to the original question of who are the ones waiting for the return of Christ as we remember God’s promise being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus? To whom does God being with us was directed so that they waited patiently for his coming?

Our world of gift giving has no clue about who waits for Christ’s return by looking back into the birth of Christ as the sure and certain fulfillment of the promise in the Old Testament. The question of who awaits Christ is often not asked even among many Christians as they try to help their poorer neighbours with Christmas hampers and gifts.

One thing that is fascinating about the Scripture passages on Jesus’ birth is that shepherds were the first ones to be told by angels. The trouble is, they were not waiting for the Messiah to come. They were busy with their everyday life of keeping sheep. The wisemen of the East were also not waiting for the Messiah. The star led them by appearing in the sky.

Ones who waited for the Messiah were those who were righteous. These were the ones who studied the Scriptures, knew prophecies and took God’s words seriously. However, these righteous ones like priests, Pharisees, scribes and other devotees had their own ideas. Some tried to force God’s hand by following their leaders as messiahs. Some simply accepted that the world was not going to see the Messiah in their lifetime. Some were serious, but did not know what to look for and figure out who the Messiah was.

Then there were those who were righteous and believed. These were not those who were highly educated and were in positions of power. They were fisherpeople and sinners. They were ones among the class of people separated as sinners. They waited. They lived the lives of ordinary people. Yet, they were waiting. When they were called, they responded.

In the same way, those who are waiting for the return of Jesus by celebrating the birth of Jesus are the righteous. These righteous Christians are not those with power and influence. Neither are they the ones who are educated and knowledgeable. They are regular folks. They are the ones who quietly go about embodying the coming of God’s reign in their daily lives. They consider the poor, the marginalized, the weak, the abused, the neglected, the lost and the forgotten. They share the life of eternal (or as we say, God’s reign) with these people at the margins of our world. Again these people who are at the margins hear about the good news, but are not the ones who wait. They will benefit from the fulfillment of God’s promise, but are not the ones waiting in faith. The righteous Christians are the one who enjoy God’s promise being fulfilled in Jesus’ birth while glorifying by considering and caring for sinners, outsiders, deplorables and untouchables and wait patiently for the return of Christ without condemnation and judgment.

As followers of Christ, our righteousness is shown in loving God and loving all neighbours without partiality. Those who are righteous believers of Jesus living out his commands to love are the ones who wait and pray for the Lord’s return as part of loving those around us as we remember God’s promise being fulfilled in the birth of Christ. As today's passage from Psalm 41 prays, these believers of Jesus are the happy or blessed ones for they consider the poor. As they live in Christ awaiting for his return to fulfill his promise, the Lord delivers and protects them.

Prayer


In your grace, we come once again to bring our prayer. These are prayers for us and those around us. In your mercy hear our prayer.

As the Niagara Region prepares for Christmas, we pray for everyone in this area of your vineyard. Some are sleeping outdoors. Many are hungry every day. Everyone seeks comfort. Too many are struggling to survive each day. As we do our best to share your love in this important season, help us to continue in helping others. Often we feel very powerless when facing these insurmountable difficulties. Make us focus on each person you send to us. With your heart, may we serve them.

We struggle with all the difficulties of dealing with COVID 19. We miss our families, friends and simple freedom of being able to go out to walk. Our minds are full with concerns. Help us to trust you with our spirits and let you minister to us so that we may find peace and tranquility in all matters that we need to deal with each day. Help us to pray for and be in touch with those who need love and care. Fill us with your love in ways that even through simple phone calls they may find your love’s embrace.

As we approach we pray for all those neighbours near and far who are concerned about not being able to live up to what life ought to be especially during Christmas time. Many without means are trying to find ways to make the Christmas season bright and hopeful for their family members and friends. They struggle to make life normal, especially for their children, in every possible way. Some face humiliation. Some have to deal with people who see them with disdain. In seeing so many neighbours in these situations, we do not know what else to do but pray. Hear our prayer for them. Tend to their needs, O God.

As we survey the world, we see there are still so many of your people struggling under wars, sickness and poverty. Again we can only pray to you that your love will fill the hearts of those who have plenty of peace, health and wealth to share. Move everyone’s heart with compassion. We know we are too timid to follow your Son all the way. Fill us with your Spirit in ways that we will find strength to do as your Son has done in loving even unto death.

We pray for those who belong to this church. Be with each one. Guard and protect them with faith, hope and love. If we falter, forgive us. If we do things well, perfect what we do so that our work may glorify your name. Especially in this season of Advent and Christmas, may we do all things that will manifest your love and glorify you always. All these things we pray in the name of your Son our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: God Rest Ye



Benediction