Sunday, December 20, 2020

Welcome and Announcements

Thank you for sharing this special worship time with us. We are thankful to God that you have come to celebrate Jesus’ birth this day. Christmas Sunday is always very special because we can receive and enjoy God’s love in a very meaningful way.

Our Saturday Takeout Lunches will be changed to Christmas Eve between 10 am and 11 am. We are trying to share special Christmas joy by doing it on Christmas Eve instead of Boxing Day. We will resume Saturday Takeout Lunches on January, 2.

We are anticipating that the Niagara Region will be moved into the Red Zone on Monday. In the event that our region is to go into the Red Zone, we will stop having in-person worship services. It is true that the rule allows us to have worship services with up to 30% capacity while being in the Red Zone. However, the session has agreed that we will move worship services onto our website in order to provide a safe worshipping environment.

As we have already indicated to you, we have already cancelled Christmas Eve services. If we are declared to be in the Red Zone, we will also cancel Christmas Day service as well as Sunday services until we recede back into the Orange Zone. Please check all information on our website (

Preparation Hymn: Emmanuel His Name is Emmanuel

Call to Worship:

This is the day that the joyful news of salvation was revealed in Christ child.
In thanksgiving, come and praise with angels and archangels.
Let us sing a wonderful song to our God! Let us worship God for what God has done for us.
Let our voices shout in joy for our God!

Hymn: Once in Royal David's City


O God,
What a joyful day it is for us to celebrate your Son’s coming. You have not failed us, but chose to reveal to us your love in ways beyond our imagining. Though our world abandoned you and turned away discarding all the love you gave your people, you did not quit us. You steadfastly stayed with us fulfilling the promise from long ago to deliver your people.

In gratitude we bring our joys, praise, and worship for all your mighty works of deliverance. On this day, we gladly shout out your name to give glory and blessings for all that you have done by sending your Son our Lord.

Receive this worship, we pray. Humbly we bring ourselves and bow before you in awe of all you have done for us to make us yours. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Offering: (Anthem: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne)

Offering Prayer:

In your limitless grace, having received immeasurable mercy, we come bringing symbols of our hearts of thanksgiving. We put before you these offerings. Though small in amount, we offer them as tokens of our love for you in return for all you have done through your Son our Lord. Especially on this day, as we bring all our praises for your Son’s birth, we offer these our gifts. Receive them and be blessed by them. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child
from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Sermon: God with Us

Remember hearing about a scary god? You know, the one in the sky watching every little thing we do and will pounce on when we do wrong or remember every sin we would commit in our lives waiting to send us to hell forever? This god, we were told, was everywhere and made us really scared about if we do right or wrong all the time. Often we heard about this god in Sunday school classes. As we were told of the need to repent, we were given pictures of the eternal fire of hell. If you have not heard of this terrifying fatherlike god, you probably learned about an omnipotent and omniscient God who could change the world in any way he liked. Tower of Babel, Noah’s flood, and pestilences in Egypt against King Pharaoh were some of the examples of this mighty God’s power.

As I was growing up, I wondered about how this all-knowing and always watching god was only punishing me with bad grades when I did not study for exams while my friends were getting good grades for fooling around all the time without studying. Oh, also how come did those bad bullies were able to date the most beautiful girls in school while all those nice guys could not? Where was God when I needed good grades and popularity?

The more I thought about it, the more my Sunday school god may be like a Siri, Google, or Alexa device. Imagine what might happen when a person starts to talk on a phone. Certain words trigger a Siri, Google, or Alexa device and it may sound like this:
A person: Yes, I am thinking of ordering a pizza for lunch today.

A friend: That’s nice.
Siri/Google/Alexa: The nearest pizzeria is Domino's and it is open. Do you want me to get a menu?
A person: Just a moment, Ann. Shut up, Siri/Google/Alexa. Sorry about that Ann.
Siri/Google/Alexa: You are rude.
A person: No, Siri, I am not talking to you…”
A friend: Are you okay?
Siri/Google/Alexa: I did not get your answer. Please repeat what you said.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if our God was like this intervening always into our lives to do everything according to God’s law watching and listening to us every moment every day?

I became a minister as the Ethiopian famine raged and raised many questions. One question that stuck with me was asked by a sincere elderly Christian. She asked how could the God of love allow the deaths of so many innocent children. She was overwhelmed by pictures of children dying of hunger with bloated bodies and sunken eyes. I have been facing this question in many variations throughout my ministry. As we struggle through this pandemic, the question comes to the forefront of my mind every day. In these contexts, the god of my Sunday school still resides in the minds of many Christians. So many of them have been linking the pandemic as God’s punishment as they did with the Ethiopian famine and also with AIDs in the 1970s. In the meantime, these Christians have no trouble telling how God walks only with the faithful ones like them in the same way God sent angels to protect three friends in the lion’s den and in the furnace of fire as told in the Book of Daniel. They are arguing that we have to be on our best behaviours at all times since God punishes us for our sins by sending these perils. At the same time, without irony, they tell us that this terrifying God is so loving that when we repent, we are forgiven. But how can we think of coming near this scary God to ask for forgiveness?

Thankfully, our God is not like that scary god of the Sunday school classes of the yesteryears. Our God is the one who stood by the unfaithful Israelites throughout their history. Our God chose the way of love instead of angry punishment in dealing with the people who turned their backs on God not only by going after other gods but also by mistreating God’s own people who were weak, powerless, hungry, poor, and unable. Our God chose to keep the promise not to destroy the creation in anger as in the time of Noah after seeing the carnage caused by the just rage. Our God, like a good shepherd, chose to lead God’s own people to green pastures near still waters. Unlike computer technology that allows the powers of this world to keep the record of wrongs forever, our God forgives, wipes out, and blots out our sins totally and does not remember things that are forgiven.

To our faithful ears, this gentle and kind God is not new. However, it took thousands of years of human time to see this story of love demonstrated to the world in a very human way. Perhaps, the simplicity caught all those smart and powerful people off guard. Instead of dazzles and pomp, our God, unlike the scary god of the Sunday school, chose to be just like us. Our God came to us in ways that we could have never imagined--not as a terrifying judge, but as one just like us.

For nine months, as a baby, this God was carried by a young woman. Mary, like all other women, went through the pregnancy the way every expectant woman on earth carried a baby. With fears, surprises, twists, and turns of pregnancy, she bore this child. We often don’t think much about Mary trying to carry the baby to the full term, but you have to remember the time. Many pregnancies were not successful in those days. Also, we do not think of the ups and downs of her ordeal. Can you imagine travelling so far from Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem riding a donkey on a full term? What danger and discomfort she had to endure! We do not even allow our pregnant mothers to stand a long time or do anything strenuous.

This struggle by Mary helps us to see an important point. From the very beginning, this God-with-us being carried by Mary became the recipient of Mary’s total attention and love. It is true that Mary was awed by the responsibility related to her through the angel Gabriel. It is also true that as an expectant mother, Mary began nurturing, caring, and loving God-with-us within her. The mystery of life within her was fully dependent on her in ways all babies were in their mothers’ wombs. Mary’s experience of God-with-us in those nine months was totally unique in that she was the one providing, sustaining, and bringing to full term the very God who came to save us. This new understanding of God being with us for Mary meant that she was the life-sustaining one to Emmanuel who was promised to come.

Imagine, then, this God, who was betrayed and deprived of love so often, was now receiving the love unconditionally from Mary. God enters into this relationship of love by being loved first. Before humanity can love again, God chooses to receive the love of God’s chosen people through this young person. In fulfilling the promise of sending the Messiah, God was re-establishing the relationship with the people by whom God had been aggrieved. This forsaken God was repairing the broken partnership for the sake of love by sending the Son. In this new way, God does things the opposite. In loving first, God through the Son received Mary’s love before Jesus could bring into the world God’s love. That is, God-with-us came into the world receiving love from Mary who was unflinchingly faithful to the Son from the very time of conception until the last moment of death. Unlike the people of the world who abandoned their God, Mary did not fail the Son. This abiding ‘being with’ was the first clue to us understanding how the name God-with-us became the very reality by which God’s presence among us was sealed and our presence with the Son was bound.

As God entered into the human world in the person of the Son, the true meaning of the name Emmanuel, God-with-us, was finally revealed to the world in human terms. The Son’s purpose of existence was to be with us. We are because he is with us. His and our existence are present together: he and we are one entity. That is why he calls us his body. Together with Christ, we are one, we confess. This is, indeed, a very mysterious and intimate communal relationship between God-with-us and those of us who believe and follow him. Oneness here is forged in God’s steadfast love for Israel that compelled God to enter humanity as the Son and Israel’s love manifested by Mary’s love of the Son. In this complex communion of God’s love for the world and our love for God represented by Mary’s love for the Son, love is transformed into the very source of new life revealing to humanity the new creation under God’s reign. This God-with-us is not found in the way that Siri/Google/Alexa is always listening, ready to intervene and punish those who sin according to the law. This is not an angry vindictive God who is out to exact the pound of flesh from us sinners. No, our God frees us from the sin in this world to be God’s beloved by marking us as ones with God. Sin no longer has the power to separate/alienate God from us. In repentance, we receive forgiveness in order to be reconciled to God. In this way, God-with-us displays a very close relationship in which God and we are bound together. As God is with us, we are with God.

Emmanuel has no reason to meddle in daily human affairs or conversations. This Son of God does not feel compelled to correct the wrongs of humanity. Rather, he is present with us to free those who believe and follow him from the bondage of sin. We are liberated from our ways and means of building lives. That is, he opens our eyes to show a different path where God’s justice, peace, and mercy make humanity gain its rightful places in God’s new creation. Wars and fights become obsolete means by which we achieve our desires. Hatred, enmity, and revenge become useless as tools for obtaining power and wealth. After all, in this new creation, there are no enemies, abusers, and bullies. People are able to enjoy God and each other fully as they share equitably in harmony as they were intended to be. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

When God-with-us is our God, there is no reason to be separated from and alienated from our Creator. Christmas is all about remembering this intimate relationship of love between Emmanuel and those who believe and follow the Son guided by the Holy Spirit. Christmas is when we remember what Paul said, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35,38,39) This is the reason why we celebrate the birth of the Son who was named Jesus and rejoice in God who came to us to be with us and called us to reside in him and be one with him.


O Lord our God,
With praise and blessings, we bring our prayers. We are your people full of joy, peace, hope and love. In this season of Christmas, bless us to bless others with your good news. Fill us with the Holy Spirit to share your infinite love witnessing your Son to the end of the world.

Today, we pray on behalf of all who have worked so hard to help those who contracted COVID-19 and other illnesses. It certainly has been a difficult year where many died. Many others who did their best to keep them safe and alive are still mired in the tasks of caring for the dying. Doctors, nurses, and all hospital staff have been exhausted and drained of life’s energy as they cared for others. Worries, guilt, powerlessness, and despair have overwhelmed them throughout the year. Be with each and every one of them. As we continue to hear how the infection is rising, keep them in your care. Fill them abundantly with your Son’s love in ways that they will never tire in fighting against death and unrelenting in sharing love fully.

We pray for our leaders. They, too, have been lost in this fight trying to do their best to help everyone under their charge to keep safe. They have so many interests to balance in making decisions. Give them wisdom and insights to draw from your wisdom as they continue to lead us in this very difficult time. Help us to be patient and be attentive to our leaders even if we disagree with their decisions. May we follow their guidance in ways that your love may embrace all those who are in need.

We pray this day that our compassion and mercy will not run dry. You have provided us with all we require. Help us to be your hand in ministry of love as given to us by your Son our Lord. As we take each moment, may we walk in thanksgiving with courage--not because we are able, but because of your presence within us--to minister to all those whom you are sending to us to tend to.

Be we each member of our church family. There are those who are sick, those who are fearful, those who struggle with COVID-19 virus, and those who are afflicted with isolation and loneliness. Be with each one as we pray for each of our own. Help us to tend to all your servants who in health and sickness require your loving and life-giving presence. Use us as your presence with each of them.

As we celebrate your Son’s birth, may we not forget our neighbours in far away places. Many suffer hunger, poverty, illness and other severe conditions of life. Give us deep compassion to remember them in their troubles as you remember us in our troubles.

All these, we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High