Sunday, November 29, 2020

Welcome and Announcements


Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We begin our spiritual meditative pilgrimage to the coming of our Lord. Please be mindful of this season of anticipation as we ponder God’s love for the world to be manifested in the birth of our Lord.

We thank you for your generosity in participating in the Mitten Tree Project and Helping YWCA. Next Sunday is the last Sunday for bringing your contribution in winter gloves, hats, toques, scarves for Salvation Army and bed sheets for single beds, pajamas, underwear, socks and personal care items for women and children for YWCA.

Due to the pandemic restrictions, we are unable to host our Annual Christmas Turkey Dinner or any other fundraisers. Instead we ask you to contribute generously to Love Your Church drive that will end at the end of December.

Next Sunday, December 6th, is the Sunday of our traditional Advent Communion Sunday. However, due to COVID-19 we will not be able to partake in communion as we have done in the past. Like our Worldwide Communion Sunday, we will reflect deeply on the meaning of communion and what it means to celebrate communion as part of Advent.

Meditative Hymn: Open Our Eyes Lord



Call to Worship


There is one true God whom to know is life eternal, whom to serve is joy and peace. God has created all that is. Let us come and worship God testifying with the whole universe to the majesty and power of our Maker.

Hymn: Prepare the way O Zion



Prayer:


Praise and thanks, we give to you, O God. This is the day that you have made. In it, we come to ponder on and enjoy your love. We are awed by your infinite love. You called us into being. You made us your people through Christ your Son our Lord.

We were once like everyone in the world living for ourselves. In your grace, you came to us to be with us changing us to live in ways to be your vehicles of that infinite love. You became our Emmanuel, God-with-us, always steadfastly leading us to a life of love that is only possible under your reign.

As we prepare the coming of your reign in Christ, we ask for your Holy Spirit’s presence in this worship. Through it, ready our hearts and minds for the joyful time of your Son’s arrival in this worship.

We pray in the name of your Son. Amen.

(Anthem: In Christ Alone)



Offering Prayer


O gracious and merciful God, who are we to you that you receive these gifts and are glad? What in this world will bless you when we bring these earthly things as our offering to God who is already sufficient? How can we as sinners bring these sin tainted gifts to the very holy place of your presence? What makes us dare to gather things of this world and place them before you as our expression of thanksgiving?

In humility we bring these symbols of our love and put before you to enjoy them as from our hearts. Remember your Son our Lord and receive these gifts, for we can only offer them in your Son’s name. Bless these gifts in ways that your reign will shine through when they are used to witness your unending love.

In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5


Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Sermon: Good news breaking out


According to Christians, from the very beginning when Christ was among his disciples, the world has been covered in darkness. By darkness, we mean that it is a place of injustice, oppression, sadness, despair and abuse. As the world refuses to acknowledge God and Christ who is God-with-us, the world is becoming darker, filled less and less with the love of God and neighbours, the compassion for each human person and mercy to all our neighbours. In many ways the world is becoming more dangerous for everyone as pursuits of power, glory and riches replace faith, hope and love. Nations with wealth and power dominate the rest. The World Bank announced in October that over 9% or about 689 million people are in extreme poverty or are living with less than $1.90 US or less per day. People in the richest countries in the world are not exempt from this severe poverty. We saw in the news this week how Americans were lined up miles and miles at Foodbanks in order to get through their Thanksgiving holiday.

As the world struggles in all areas of life during this worldwide pandemic, threatened by even harsher realities for so many more people, Christians around the world are welcoming the season of Advent. Our hope reawakens. We are not discouraged as we prepare to witness the good news of God to the world. Our hope rises not because there will be an economic recovery or a turn around in political leadership that will save the world, but from our faith that is forged on revelations given through prophets of Israel that God’s love for us is realized in the birth of Messiah, the Christ.

In the Old Testament Prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea brought God’s judgments and impending punishments on people of Israel and people of Judah. For their wrong doings they would be exiled and made slaves to Assyrians and later to Babylonians. Along with these doom and gloom news, the voice of God broke through the words of these prophets that there would be a new day once God’s people served their term in exile. These prophets would leave the good news of God for God’s people who as slaves would experience despair and humiliation. That is, as God created the world at the beginning out of chaos and darkness, God’s word would break through once again into the darkening world to bring the Light. Through Isaiah God told the people, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and the all people shall see it together.” God was saying that in the darkest moment in Israel’s life, God’s presence would be revealed to the world. This revelation would be the way of salvation for the suffering people of God. We still hear this phrase by Isaiah as the words from God that reach into the depths of this dark world as the words of hope and life.

This phrase, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and the all people shall see it together,” is not a speculation put together by well meaning psychologists who want to give hope to anyone in therapy. This statement is not a declaration by a theologian who writes a speech to increase people’s morale. This is not a praise verse that is being composed by a talented songwriter. This is not a beautiful verse being sung by a gifted singer. It is a blunt, direct and no nonsense declaration by God hurled to the broken and despairing people. Through the prophet, these words proclaim the coming of a new world: it is the world where God’s glory takes the centre stage as God’s reign overtakes the reigns of powerful kings. The entire world will see this new reign dawning. To us who are waiting for the return of Christ as Christ ushers in God's eternal reign, these words give all those who see no end to suffering hope and life.

Both in the Old and New Testaments, pestilences are God’s instruments to entice people to see the world that they have made from God’s perspective. When the Pharaoh refused to see God’s way, all kinds of pestilences befell on Egypt. When Israel began to do what it wanted to do and began constructing its society based on desires for power and wealth, forgetting what God commanded, God sent famines and other nations to destroy Israel. These, according to prophets like Isaiah and Amos, were God’s way of trying to force the people of Israel to repent and be reconciled to God.

In our scientific age, we have come to consider this way of thinking as superstitious. Indeed, there is no God’s intentions in pestilences we experience. Famines, forest fires, hurricanes and swarming locusts are given proper explanations based on biology, physics and chemistry. Climate science is what offers proper answers, not God’s intent. The current pandemic of COVID-19 also has its share of scientific answers. Yet, with more answers less capable we are as humanity in finding our way out.

On the other hand, faith as being encouraged in many churches has not been helping either. This past Monday, news from Steinbach, Manitoba was that there was another massive breakout of COVID-19 in a church where more than 150 people gathered to worship. They sang, prayed and heard a sermon only to discover later that God did not protect them. Their superstitious faith ended up proving that doctors with scientific knowledge were right.

Is it wrong, then, to think that God has anything to do with COVID-19 when science can tell us more than what religious people can?

Science certainly offers us incredible powerful answers by which we may get out of the current mess. As vaccines are developed and dispensed, our world is positioned far better than any time in history to deal with these biological threats against humanity. However, finding cures to COVID-19 does not do anything to humanity if conditions for humanity does not change. As the world scholars in all areas of social and psychological sciences have been sounding alarms, our current economic, social, cultural and political systems are skewed to the powerful and super-rich. There are just too many people around the world unable to make a decent living under today’s condition while living under horribly unhealthy and poor conditions by any measures known to us. At the same time, climate science points out that all living things including trees and plants are about to disappear due to human exploitations. As Apostle Paul said, the entire creation is groaning.

As Christians who live and breathe the Old and New Testaments, we hang onto every word in the Scripture. We do so by taking seriously that we are not the creators of this universe, but the stewards. We argue for God’s intent, not because we do not know the science, but science, too, points to the glory of God beyond our understanding. Science helps us to be humble in revealing how little we know of this world and of ourselves. For us science is an essential part of knowledge that helps us to enjoy God’s grace in nature. In this faith, we humbly come to take the message of the Old and New Testaments that pestilences are God’s way of making God’s people see the original intent of God in God’s creation.

For us, the people of the Old and New Testaments, COVID-19 is not simply a scientific mystery to survive through, but an occasion for us to rethink our world. As part of God’s creation, COVID-19 virus, though horrid in its affliction on humanity, is an agent that was initially not part of human life, but is now causing great harm to human life. As its destruction rages on in every human society, it reveals the evil structures that we have created to extract labours from the weak at exorbitant prices, to exploit not only the natural resources but also human resources, and to dehumanize personhood in ways we have not acknowledged in years. That is, this pandemic has exposed sins of this world in ways that we could have never imagined before. The way we are responding to this pestilence shows how far our societies have moved away from the world that God intended for humanity.

What does it mean for the prophet to say that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together? This question is the centre of all our existence especially in the dark times. Why is this a good news to all who are suffering in this despairing world? It makes us see how human beings are misusing and abusing God’s creation as well as each other. It opens our eyes to compare the world we built--the world of inequality, injustice, economic disparities, hatred and ruthless politics--to the world where God reigns with justice, peace, equity, compassion, love. Our world of hunger and poverty is juxtaposed against God’s reign without hunger and want. The current of wars between persons, groups and countries is challenged by the new creation under Christ where all live in reconciliation. As another passage in Isaiah depicts, it is the world where lions and lambs reside together.

So we begin our Advent--the season of waiting for God’s reign. We celebrate this good news in this very dark time as we await the day of the coming of our Messiah who is God with us.

Prayer


O Lord our God, we bring our prayer full of our concerns and supplications. Our spirits are low in this world, but high in your presence while our minds are strained in our tasks, but free in this worship because we testify with the Holy Spirit these prayers. Hear our prayer.

As we have done without fail in the past 8 months, we bring to you our concerns of those who are battling this virus. So many are bravely in frontlines looking after those who are ill because of this novel virus. Be with them all. Continue to give them strength and encouragements in ways to empower them to create conditions of healing.

Again we ask you to care for all those who are suffering away from the main battles with COVID-19. Many are suffering because our current medical priority is to get the handle on the pandemic. They struggle in silence. Things have become so bad that our leaders and our neigbhours are using languages of wars to describe what is happening due to this virus. The entire world is fearful. Everyone is without knowing where to go. Be with this rudderless world, O Lord. Help our leaders to steady our sails.

Today we pray for ordinary people who struggle daily to figure out how to keep themselves safe as they send their children to school, shop, go to work and do their best to provide a decent life for their families. Everything they have been forced to take on has put more pressure on their lives. Fear and worries occupy their minds and actions. They do not know who to follow and trust. Keep them in your care. May they have eyes to see you among them and follow you.

Be with the members and friends of this church. Many have not seen the inside of the church for months. Worship used to be a joyful gathering to experience your love and to enjoy your love. Isolated, worship still binds us with you and each other. As all of us continue to worship you and connect with others of this church, bless them with health and strength. May the experience of communing through worship help us to transcend the distances between us with you and with each other.

Help us, O God, to prepare our hearts and minds in ways that we will not lose focus on you. Our worldly struggles often become our priorities. We forget that loving you is our first joy. Remind us constantly that only when we keep our eyes on you, we will be able to share the hope of life eternal here and now with our neighbours. Grant us your presence as we witness you in and through who we are and what we do.

We lift up those among us who are sick. They lift up their prayers each day to you. They do their best to be faithful and be hope filled. Guard and protect them.

May we continue to remember the names of those who are suffering poverty, hunger, homelessness, addiction, loneliness and fear before you. Through this remembrance may we receive courage from your Son to share your love with all.

Without fail, each week, we bring you our thanksgiving for all that we have received. Be pleased. Lead us to you always in this troubled life. Fill us with the Holy Spirit in ways that we may continue to witness your good news in this world.

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

Hymn: My Hope Is Built



Benediction