Welcome (Isaiah 64:1-4)

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

In His Time

Call to Worship (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Make ma e servant


God of grace, God of love,
We gather together to thank you on this day as we remember, ponder and meditate on your Son our Lord! As we face the world where the power of death is overwhelming, you call us to yourself in these worship services, filling us with hope. We gladly come. We rejoice knowing that you are with us.

You have set your table in the midst of this troubled world, calling us home from the death filled world. On your call, we are gathering. Do not turn us away. Receive us into your presence. Fill us with your Son’s love in ways that we may be your servants this day as we praise and worship you. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture (Luke 1:39-45)

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 leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed 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 leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Sermon: The Upside down world

One thing everyone seems to crave is the power to live in ways we have full control over what happens to us. Everything we do is an attempt by us to see if we can exert our wish on life so that our lives would be more to our liking. Whether we work hard to get enough to live comfortably without much worries or we rearrange our rooms, everything we do displays our attempt to gain power in order to live better. Sadly our attempts often do not succeed. Rather, we end up realizing how little power and control we have in life.

Our desire for a messiah, too, is an attempt to gain some control over our lives. In this case, knowing that we do not have power to turn things around, we wish that one who is more powerful than we will come and do our bidding of turning the world around in order for us to enjoy life, rather than live life always enslaves to others or needs of others. In many ways this desire for a messiah is acted upon through revolutions as well as elections. When authoritarian dictators or monarchs rule over a country, at some point people rise up at the beckoning call of revolutionary leaders. On election day, we vote in hope that the government we elect will implement policies that are beneficial to us the voters.

History is a long list of how lofty dreams of people without power were left unquenched in spite of revolutions and elections. Rarely here and there in long human history, ordinary people were able to live life without worries and constant threats to their well being. In reality, mostly people lived under leaders who oppressed, abused and trampled people for personal gains. This led to people hoping for messiahs to ease their burdens as well as suffering imposed upon them by these greedy and selfish leaders. Dreams of messiahs were a very basic human reaction to atrocious human conditions everywhere in all of time.

Today’s reality is even more gruesome in our eyes because with all the advancements and learning and knowledge, humanity ought to be in a better position to help everyone thrive. Yet, what we experience in life everyday is totally opposite. With unprecedented wealth as well as better ways open for healthy living, everyone ought to live longer and with less pain. The trouble is, for various human failings, we see many people suffer and are in despair as people have never experienced in human history. Add to this are those self-inflicted endless wars where the powerful crush the powerless with unbearable sufferings.

In this context of today’s misery, for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we usually read Mary’s Song known as Magnificat. Today, however, we will be rebels and read a passage just prior to Mary’s Song. This is also very strategic because we are to study one woman who is forgotten in Christian tradition altogether. Like her son John the Baptist, Elizabeth gets no reward for coming before Mary. Everyone talks about Mary as the mother of Jesus and in Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, she is revered right next to Jesus. However, Elizabeth is hardly mentioned. Yeah, sure. We know Elizabeth as that old wife of Zechariah who could not speak after seeing an angel. At best she speaks to help us know who Mary truly is.

Here is a slightly different way of seeing the story of Jesus’ entry into the human world. The angel Gabriel came to Mary and spoke to her. According to Gospel Matthew, by the time Mary was given the news of bearing a child, Mary was already betrothed to Joseph according to the custom. What happens to a young woman who is not married, yet facing pregnancy? What should she do when she begins to feel her body changing? Who can she tell this secret that without Joseph she is carrying a child? In this early time, can she go to her mother? Does she have a sister to talk to? That’s when she goes to see Elizabeth.

The passage is very clear. Mary “set out and went in haste.” Soon her body will demand to provide for a child in her womb. Various signs of pregnancy will begin to appear (morning sickness, anyone?). Can you imagine how confused, worried, or fearful Mary might be at this stage? The announcement in private by the angel does not help Mary. What will the world think? How will the world respond to her physical changes? If what we read in the Gospel Matthew is any indication, Mary has a lot to worry about. There in Matthew we see how Joseph tries to dismiss her quietly upon finding out that Mary was carrying a child.

Mary goes in haste to see Elizabeth. The angel told her that Elizabeth was already with a child for six months. Somewhere in her mind, she knew she would be welcomed. She knew that she would be safe with Elizabeth. So she goes in haste. On her way does she worry about being discovered by others? Is she fearful of being accused of wrongdoing by Joseph? At this early stage, Joseph does not know about the pregnancy. Joseph has no idea what has happened to Mary and how her life has been upended by the news from the angel. Mary knows Elizabeth. Mary also knows old Elizabeth is with a child, too. The angel told Mary pointing to Elizabeth that nothing is impossible with God.

Two women carrying children in their wombs meet. Gospel Luke makes it clear that these two relatives who are vastly different in ages are joined together in God’s mission for the world. They are bound by God’s salvation plan for the world. This is one thing we forget. Elizabeth is part of this God’s salvation history unfolding in the world as much as Mary is. It is good and necessary to sing and learn from Mary’s Song, Magnificat. But to fully understand the meaning embedded in that song, we need to sing and receive Elizabeth’s words as well. Without these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s Song lacks the right context.

Instead of rejection, accusation and condemnation, Mary found in Elizabeth welcome and blessings. Yes, this is the strange part. No one told Elizabeth, but by the reaction of her baby in her own womb, she instinctively understood who Mary was and was going to be. Listen to what she said when Mary arrived:

‘Blessed 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 leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

It is essential for us to realize that these words from Elizabeth are spoken from the deep of God’s will. They are given to Mary not only to encourage and prepare but also to dispel her fears and worries. That is why it is important for us to read over and over that these words of blessings are given by Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit. By these words of blessings, Mary is being affirmed, encouraged and dare we say anointed. Elizabeth gives witness not only to the coming Jesus, but also to Mary who is to bring him into the world. Yes, before John the Baptist testify regarding Jesus, there is Elizabeth proclaiming God’s salvation in Jesus for the world.

When we think of the difficulty Mary will face  when others in the world finds out (keep in mind what Joseph will try to do when he finds out), Elizabeth’s words as the glad welcome and blessing foretell all rejoicings we will hear from God’s people, starting with shepherds and throughout Jesus’ ministry later on. What is said in private from the old woman to the young woman will be proclaimed by all who have been waiting for the salvation of God from this point on until the end of time.

It is fascinating to think about the two very different reactions these two women face. In Elizabeth’s case, no one thinks twice about the fact that she is carrying a child. In Elizabeth’s own words, she faced disgrace in the world due to her inability to bear children. People rejoice with Elizabeth. They rejoice with her that God is blessing her. In Mary’s case, it is a scandal possibly bringing rejection and shame as a young woman, betrothed, but not yet married.

In a way, Elizabeth is more like the people of the world. She lived with the shame of being unable to bear children. She as a woman and wife lived with this mark against her and was resigned knowing that her child bearing years passed by her. In many ways she knew the difficulties of living, losing hope and accepting her lot in life. She represents this life of waiting and being disappointed more than the young women like Mary. In Paul’s words, she belongs to the old world that is passing away while Mary symbolizes the new world that is coming in Jesus.

Yet, God’s great news does not leave out Elizabeth. She is as much part of God’s plan of bringing the new creation into the world as Mary is. Here in this first chapter of Luke we see Mary finding welcome and blessing from Elizabeth who fully understands what it is like to be God’s servant and understands the immensity of God’s grace because of what she endured in her life. Gospel Luke opens our eyes to God’s way of doing things that is totally different than any other views in the New Testament. We are led to this wonderful vision where young Mary does not have to navigate her fears and wonders alone, but is given a wiser and older companion who already knows what it is like to be God’s servant who takes part in unfolding the salvation history of God.

In a way through Elizabeth, we get to ponder how the failing and dying world where people suffer and are losing hope, where life seems to be full of misery and where death extinguishes any life that stirs is not thrown out in favour of the new, but becomes the essential part of God’s salvation history. From Mary’s Song we find the way God will recreate the world. From Elizabeth’s words to Mary we find God’s steadfast love that has never left, but has always been in the world unfolding the promise of God’s salvation.

On a very human level, Elizabeth is the very person who understands and knows what Mary is going through and will face. Mary is not alone. The angel told Mary that. Mary finds strength and courage to be God’s servant because Elizabeth shares her experience of God with her. God has given us those who are like Elizabeth in our world, too. God has always shown God’s steadfast love by revealing to us those who live in the world full of the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, we seek our own Elizabeth who is already walking on the path of God’s salvation in this dark world bringing hope to all those who are under the power of death.

Let us give God thanks for Mary, but even more so for Elizabet who represents us to let us know that hope in God thrives in this death-filled world.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our guest, 
and enter our lives today with your blessing.
We are lonely for you and the peace you bring.
Draw near to us in friendship and faithfulness
so that in this season which combines celebration in the face of uncertainty, 
we may know your presence… 
and sing with all your people:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our guide,
and show us the way to wisdom and gratitude.
We are thankful for the kindness we know in friends and good neighbours, 
in warm houses and warm smiles,
which hold off the darkness and fears for the future.
Encourage us to reach out to those who need your embrace and ours…
so that together we may sing of your presence:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our hope
and touch us with your healing and grace.
We remember before you all those we know and those known to you alone
who are living with loss or illness this season,
those who face depression or discouragement,
and all who will find it hard to be merry this year.

    (Keep a silence for 15-20 seconds)

Shine the light of your comfort into their lives…
as we sing of the hope that dawns in your love:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our king,
and claim your rightful place in our hearts.
Our world is struggling to find the justice and mercy you call for.
Draw near to our leaders and all citizens working for peace and justice,
and those striving to mediate or contain conflicts.
Encourage honourable action and co-operation on all sides.
Give hope to people under oppression
and to those living with fear or hunger day by day.
Hasten the day when the world’s peoples will live as neighbours
reconciled in your truth and freedom.
For the coming of this day we pray in the words Jesus taught us:
The Lord’s Prayer

Offering/Offering Prayer


We give God thanks to all those who have helped in our Annual Christmas Turkey Dinner. Deanna and her volunteers did a wonderful job.

Please remember the Christmas singalong we are doing at 2:30 pm today. Come and join us.

Next Sunday, we are having two services. The morning service is our traditional Christmas service at 10:30 am. Our evening service will be taking place at 8 pm. Please take note of time.

On Christmas Day, we will hold our worship service at 11 am followed by lunch.

We thank all the volunteers who came and cleaned the basement on Friday.

Remember that everyone is invited to the African fellowship on Friday at 2 pm.

Hark! The herald angels sing