Anticipating the Return of Christ

BLCF: animated_magi-starstargraphic

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

Anticipating the Return of Christ

© January 1, 2017 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF: Bulletin-January-1-2017

Announcements and Call to Worship:

Responsive Reading #645: Christian Conduct (Galatians 5 and 6); Prayer      

Opening Hymn #126: Amen, Amen!   

Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers                                              

Scripture Verses: Matthew 2:1-15, Jeremiah 23:16, 1 Peter 2:1-11

BLCF: events-surrounding-Jesus-birth

Let us pray…

Welcome to Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church’s first Sunday Praise and Worship Service for 2017, which happens to be Communion Sunday.

BLCF: happy-new-year-2015

That said, I would like to wish everyone in the congregation, a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2017, blessed by our loving Lord.

BLCF: Noah-Movie

Over the holidays, I watched a documentary on Noah’s Ark which began by stating that since the people of Israel did not have a written language, they adopted a Cuneiform language adapted from that used by the Babylonians. While Daniel and others were captives of Babylon, they were taught Babylonian. The show takes a leap to an ancient scroll written in that same language, apparently by a student regarding a Great Flood, where a Babylonian was inspired to build a great ark which contained two of every available animal. In other words, Daniel or some other scribe apparently took the Great Flood story from his Babylonian teachers so that it ended in the Book of Genesis.

The documentary jumped to India, where another individual had a team both engineering and building an enlarged Babylonian vessel, but according to the build of materials described by Noah used in Genesis.

It seems strange that credit for the ark described in the Scriptures was taken away from Noah and given to an unknown Babylonian, and yet the linguist does not deny whether or not there was a flood. It seems that he is more determined to show an inclination to believe that a Great Flood did occur and ark was built by a Babylonian implying that Noah was a fictional character created in a Jewish retelling of a Babylonian historical event. Even Hollywood attempts to change the Bible’s account of Noah and the ark.

Regardless of whether the ark was built by Noah or some Babylonian, the “giant elephant in the room” is an acknowledgement that an ark was built, populated by the last of humanity and large assortment of animals.

We may conclude from either the Genesis account or the Babylonian scroll, that a Great Flood took place destroying all life and humanity, save for those who survived the deluge inside a giant Ark built especially for that purpose.

Considering the fact that the people of Babylon attempted to elevate themselves to God and heaven, by building a tower, (sounds like when Adam and Eve were temped by the devil to acquire the knowledge and understanding of God by eating forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge), I would be more inclined to accept  Holy Scripture over a Babylonian student’s notes inscribed on a scroll.

Both the Babylonians and the People of Israel, (as the rest of humanity), can trace their lineage to Noah’s sons, who survived the Great Flood aboard the ark, as described in Genesis 9:18-19 (ESV):

Noah’s Descendants

BLCF: the-bible-genesis-9_18-19

 18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.[a]

Footnotes: a. Genesis 9:19 Or from these the whole earth was populated

BLCF: Noah

What impressed me with this documentary was the author by giving credit to a Babylonian over Noah based on an ancient scroll he ignores an array of alternate explanations.

While the Cuneiform language used by the Babylonians may predate the Hebrew language used to write Genesis, the Babylonian account could have been dictated by a Jew to a Babylonian scribe, where the latter changed the name of the main character from Noah to some Babylonian, rather than the other way around. If the Jew who dictated the Noah account could not read Babylonian, he would have no way of knowing that his account had been altered.

BLCF: Know-Christ-Know-Christmas

Unfortunately, this Noah documentary seems to be one of the numerous documentaries that crop up every Christmas and Easter, filmed with the sole intention to debunk the existence of God, his son Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, and therefore negate that the Bible is the inspired Word.

Today’s Bible lesson, Anticipating the Return of Christ , and today’s Communion observance, will give the opportunity to celebrate the promise of the birth of Jesus, fulfilling the prophecy,  the Nativity of Jesus, completing one Advent and our Lord’s return, the Advent that Christians observe.

The tough part of challenging the birth of Jesus  associated with the Magi, is  the fact that in this account Jesus’ birth is expected by Magi who come from other nations and are not of the People of Israel. Such is the case in the account described in Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV), entitled:

 The Visit of the Wise Men

BLCF: wisemen_and_star

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

BLCF: 3-wise-men-visit-jesus-and-flight-to-egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 716 b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

BLCF: King-Herod-and-Magi

King Herod, like some rulers today are so insecure of their own authority that they resort to extreme measures such as genocide to removed perceived threats. Herod’s mistake was a lack of faith in manifestation of prophecies from the mouth of only true God.

Whether listening to false prophets or defying the Word of God, there is a great danger the body and soul of those who seek in vain to change the visions that come from God, a warning expressed in Jeremiah 23:16 (ESV);

BLCF: danger-false-prophets

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.

But what motivates King Herod, as well as all the false prophets today, who seek to displace God’s visions with their own self-serving theologies? We get some idea of the answer to this question and how to keep God at the centre of our faith in 1 Peter 2:1-11 (ESV):

 A Living Stone and a Holy People

BLCF: beware-false-teachers-1-peter-2_1-11

 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”[a]

and

“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.                                                          

Footnotes: a. 1 Peter 2:7 Greek the head of the corner

BLCF: Martin-luther

The Holy Spirit helps us to recognize and to understand God’s word which is testimony of His only Son, Jesus, John 3:31-36 (ESV):

BLCF: from-above

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Let us pray…

BLCF: communion-sermons

Communion Observance: Responsive Reading #663 (1 Corinthians 11)            

 Closing Hymn #204: There’s a Quiet Understanding

 Benediction – (Romans 15:13): May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

BLCF:faith-trust-hope

Advent: God’s Prophecy Fulfilled, Marked by a Star over Bethlehem

BLCF: wisemen_and_star

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

Advent: God’s Prophecy Fulfilled, Marked by a Star over Bethlehem’ 

© December 7, 2014 by Steve Mickelson

Revised Sermon from © December 8, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF: Bulletin December 7, 2014

BLCF: o-come-emmanuel

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Responsive Reading #615 (Adoration of the Magi – from Matthew); Prayer                 

Opening Hymn #100: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel 

Choruses                                          

Scripture Verses: Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:1-15

Let us pray…

Before I begin today’s lesson, let me briefly share with those in the congregation who missed last Friday’s BLCF Café Volunteer Appreciation Potluck Supper. We had just shy of 40 volunteers at the supper. Brother Rawle James was our Master of Ceremonies, and as MC asked each volunteer to share the name of place of birth and how Christmas is celebrated back home.

BLCF_Cafe_Volunteer_Potluck_1

One of our volunteers, a former captain, now working on her post graduate degree shared that she came from China and that she had accepted Jesus as her Saviour, and currently attends a local church. This Christmas she will return home for the first time in two years, as a Christian, bringing a whole new perspective to the meaning of the Holiday.

BLCF_Cafe_Volunteer_Potluck_2

Earlier this week at the café, a former regular guest of the Cafe, dropped by to say hello. This gentleman is only a few years younger than myself, had endured a hard childhood in in Belarus, suffering frequent beatings by his parents. My friend shared with me that he first came to the Café by happenstance, as he was walking by the church saw our invitation sign on the sidewalk and for some unknown reason, (which I believe was the Holy Spirit), decided to come inside.

 

As a new guest, he admitted that he was in a bad place, because of a severe pain in his lower back, causing his mood to be tempered by the nagging ailment. He then shared that on two occasions, volunteers approached him, perceiving that he had a problem. He said in both occasions, the volunteer took several minutes to pray with him for healing, referring to the volunteers as that lady who plays the piano (Margaret) and then pointing to the other volunteer who is in charge and is always rushing around (Sophie). The prayers were answered in three days, where our friend experienced a complete healing, with no pain. Something the doctors could not provide. This guest, like our volunteer, had accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, crediting to the love and compassion that he experienced at the dinner as the catalyst to his faith decision.

BLCF_Cafe_Wide

These two faith testimonials, along with that from a single mother who was a former long term guest, which I shared a few weeks ago, was God’s Holy Spirit giving the volunteers a blessing in appreciation for the ministry of the BLCF Café. God IS good! It is wonderful how God reveals Himself right here in the heart of Toronto.

BLCF: God_reveals_Himself

Now back to today’s lesson.

Today we celebrate the both Second Advent Sunday prior to Christmas Day and Communion Sunday, where we observe Jesus’ sacrifice prior to the advent of his return.

On this day we light candle commonly called the Peace Candle, also known as the Bethlehem Candle. Bethlehem being the birth place of the Christ child was foretold in Micah, chapter 5:

          Micah 5:2 (ESV)

2 [a] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.                                                                                                                                               

Footnotes: a. Micah 5:2 Chapter 5:1 in Hebrew

BLCF: Nativity scene

You may recall from accounts from the Scriptures, which are also expressed in Christmas Hymns or Carols, and portrayed in both paintings and diorama like the Nativity Scene, several significant events occurred in the early life of our Lord Jesus Christ in the town of Bethlehem.

Having worked as a field supervisor for the last Canadian Census, I observed quite a different way to collect information for the government today than in the time of Jesus. For the census today, instead of returning to our respective place of birth, all we have to do is fill out a government survey/questionnaire either online or submit a hard copy by mail.

Most Canadians were required to complete census survey as a short form. However, roughly one in seven, including me, was given a longer form to complete. In spite of the relative ease and convenience of filling out a modern census form today, there is a greater resistance or reluctance to complete the census than in the time of Joseph and Mary. I think that perhaps the penalties given by the government of Rome at that time for refusing a decree from Caesar were far more severe than those given in Canada, today.

That is the reason why Joseph obediently brought Mary, who was due to deliver her first born, to their birthplace of Bethlehem to complete Caesar’s census, at a time that was close to her delivery date. They did not have the benefit of any legislation, such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to protect them from being subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

BLCF: marry-on-donkey-and-joseph-travel-to-bethlehem

In Luke 2:1-7, we see that due to a decree from Caesar Augustus, everyone in the known world, living under the rule of Caesar, had to go to the town of their birth to register, Luke 2:1-7 (ESV):

 The Birth of Jesus Christ

the-adoration-of-the-magi-jean-pierre-granger

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.                                      

Footnotes: a. Luke 2:2 Or This was the registration before b. Luke 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

Mary, being aware that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, was likely was unaware of God’s timing of her pregnancy and delivery of the Christ child in Bethlehem was a fulfillment of the prophecies.

Speaking of the prophecy, we have the account of the visit of the Magi, or the Wise Men, as we see in today’s second Scripture verse, Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV):

 The Visit of the Wise Men

BLCF: Three Kings

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

BLCF: three_wisemen_star

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

BLCF: Mary,Joseph,Jesus

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”                                                                                                                       

Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16  b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

What conclusions can we draw of infer from the Scripter’s account of the Magi found in Matthew 2?

The Wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, apparently outside the jurisdiction of Rome and were not participating in census registration decreed by Cesar Augustus. Arriving in the city, the Wise Men were granted an audience with the local King Herod, which indicates that the Magi had an elevated status from commoners, who would not likely be able to go into the royal court to talk to even a minor king. It troubled Herod that the Magi had observed the star of Christ and had come to worship the new born king of the Jews so greatly that he consulted the chief priests and scribes of the Jewish people and found  that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in Bethlehem of Judea.

Here Herod conspires to kill the Christ Child, who posed a possible threat to his local rule, by asking the Wise Men to let him know the location of the Christ child under the ruse of worshiping him as well. However, the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and chose instead to go home by another route.

The account of the Wise Men is only found in Matthew’s Gospel, which does not diminish its significance to Christianity.  We often refer to the number of Magi or Wise Men as three, which we infer from the three gifts given to the Christ child, the Scriptures do not specify their number. For many Christians, the account of the Magi, found in the second chapter of Matthew, is included in their respective Epiphany Observances. Epiphany is a church holiday which ranks third importance on the Christian calendar, ranking behind below Easter and Christmas, respectively. But that is a topic for another lesson.

Lighting the Second Advent Candle: Bethlehem/Peace:

BLCF: Bethlehem_candle_of_love2

At the beginning of today’s message, we described the second candle, which is lit on the second Sunday of advent along with the first candle, as the Bethlehem or Peace candle, reminding us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and reminding us that it was a King, who was born in the manger, and as we read in Isaiah 9, Christ brings light into a dark world, as the Prince of Peace. Let us read from Isaiah Chapter 9, as we light the Second Advent Candle:

Isaiah 9:2-6 (ESV)

2 [a] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon[b] his shoulder, and his name shall be called[c] Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                                                       

   Footnotes: a. Isaiah 9:2 Chapter 9:1 in Hebrew b. Isaiah 9:6 Or is upon c. Isaiah 9:6 Or is called

BLCF: animation_candle_flame free

May we thank God for the Prince of Peace, who gave the promise of salvation, forgiveness and peace in the little town of Bethlehem underneath the guiding light of a start of Christ.

Let us pray…

Communion Observance: 1 Corinthians 11:22-27 (ESV):

BLCF: communion

22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for[a] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[b] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

Footnotes: a. 1 Corinthians 11:24 Some manuscripts broken for b.1 Corinthians 11:24 Or as my memorial; also verse 25

Closing Hymn #121: O Little Town of Bethlehem

BLCF: blessed-advent

Benediction – (Romans 15:13)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

BLCF: Isaiah 9_2-6

Epiphany: A True Manifestation of Jesus

BLCF Epiphanies 2013

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Epiphany: A True Manifestation of Jesus

©December 29, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin December 29, 2013 

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Responsive Reading #667 (Humility and Exaltation – Philippians 2; Matthew 23); Prayer                 

Opening Hymn #109: Once in Royal David’s City

Today’s Scriptures: Matthew 2:1-12; John 2:1-12; Matthew 3:13-17

Let us pray…

Today is the final Sunday of 2013, and since it is the first Sunday following Christmas Day, marks the first Sunday of the Church’s Calendar year and for many churches the approach of the Epiphany or the manifestation of the Christ or Messiah, Jesus. A few weeks ago, when we lit the Bethlehem Advent Candle, we talked about how Epiphany marks one or all three events in our Lord, Jesus Christ: the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi to visit the newborn Jesus at Bethlehem; the Miracle performed by Jesus to convert water into wine at a wedding in Cana; and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John. We have a little more background from the Web site: sharefaith.com:

Epiphany Observances


Observed on January 6th, the Epiphany celebration remembers the three miracles that manifest the divinity of Christ. The name “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, and means “to show, make known, or reveal.” The celebration originated in the Eastern Church in AD 361, beginning as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added – the visit of the three Magi, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany, and its meaning is drawn from these occurrences.

 BLCF_EpiphanyCanaMiracle

 

For many Christians, the definition of Epiphany is a reminder of God the Father’s unlimited love and mercy, which He has extended to all of mankind through the revelation of His Son, and of the hope of salvation that is now manifest for all who come to him in faith.                                                        http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/definition-of-epiphany.html

And Johann Roten authored the following about Epiphany in the East and West, posted on the University of Dayton Web Site:

BLCF: Epiphany Nativity

 

The feast of the Epiphany, as we presently understand it—the adoration of the Magi—is found very early in Gaul, where it probably predates Christmas.  The Council of Saragossa in 380 decreed a three-week fast before Epiphany.  The feast existed in North Africa in the time of Augustine.  Several of Leo the Great’s sermons witness to the feast’s observance in Rome.  The principal object in the Roman liturgy is the adoration of the Magi.

However, the feast of the Epiphany most certainly originated in the East, where it is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria.  It may have been assigned its date in reference to a pagan feast.  In the Egyptian calendar, the winter solstice and the feast of the Sun-god were observed on January 6.  On the previous night, pagans of Alexandria commemorated the birth of their god Aeon, supposedly born of a virgin.  It was also believed that the waters of rivers, especially the Nile, acquired miraculous powers and even turned into wine on this night.

This may be a partial explanation, why it is difficult to circumscribe the original object of this feast in the East.  By the fourth century Epiphany could embrace the birth of Christ, His baptism, the adoration of the Magi, and the miracle at Cana.  According to some liturgists (cf. C. Mohrmann), Epiphany was an idea feast (as opposed to an event feast) from the beginning and admitted any manifestation of the divine power of Christ. As a matter of fact, in classical Greek epiphany and theophany designate the manifestation of a divinity and, later, important events in the life of a king.  Epiphany is first used in a Christian sense by St. Paul for both the first and the final comings of Christ (Titus 2:11-13).  The word epiphany was soon used to describe the miracles of Christ as manifestations of divine power.

St. John Chrysostom explains the eastern meaning of Epiphany with these words: “We give the name Epiphany to the Lord’s baptism because he was not made manifest to all when he was born, but only when he was baptized, for until that time he was unknown to the people at large.”  In similar fashion, St. Jerome, drawing upon his Palestine experience, declares that the idea of showing forth (Epiphany) belonged not to the birth in the flesh, for then he was hidden and not revealed, but rather to the baptism in the Jordan, when the heavens were opened upon Christ.

BLCF_EpiphanyJesusBaptism

According to oriental ideas it was through the divine pronouncement “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” that the Savior was first manifested to the great world of unbelievers.  The western tradition of this feast lies more along the line of what we are used to call fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).  There is no overwhelming Epiphany or divine manifestation on the path of the Magi.  The Magi were wise men who saw the star and its unusual brightness.  Steadfast in the resolution of following the divine call and fearless of danger, they traveled, inquired, explored, and let themselves be conducted by the star to the place where they were to see and worship their Savior.  But again, no divine pronouncement thundering from open skies, only a poor babe in a manger.  As St. Leo the Great put it, “When a star had conducted them to worship Jesus, they did not find him commanding devils or raising the dead or restoring sight to the blind or speech to the dumb, or employed in any divine action; but a silent babe, dependent upon a mother’s care, giving no sign of power but exhibiting a miracle of humility.”

BLCF Nativity 3Kings

 

Eastern theology has always been eschatological in thrust, eager and anxious to show the unabridged Godhead in all its splendor and majesty, beyond and in spite of its manifestation in human condition and according to human categories.  Western theology in turn develops according to a different religious sensitivity: it is more incarnational, amazed by and preoccupied with the miracle of humility, God’s being in the flesh and becoming one of us.  The spirituality of the East is a spirituality of vision, based on “ta phota” (what is visible) or illumination, the Jordan experience; the spirituality of the West is the spirituality of journey, originating in God’s call and transformative power, it is the “Magi-experience.”

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Yet, both traditions are but two different and complementary facets of the same reality, just as ear and eye are dependent on and complement each other.  In a similar way, the Feast of the Epiphany manifests the comprehensive reality of God’s encounter with humanity: it shows not only God’s self-giving presence in the miracle of humility, but also his authoritative self-disclosure at the baptism of Christ. Epiphany manifests not only God’s gratuitous and hidden presence to us, it also reminds us of our personal and active role in this encounter with God, made explicit through the acts and gestures of the Magi.

The Magi offer to Jesus as a token of homage the richest products their countries afforded – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold, as an acknowledgment of Christ’s regal power; incense, as a confession of his Godhead; and myrrh, as a testimony that he has become man for the redemption of the world.  But even more important than gold, frankincense and myrrh were the dispositions the Magi cherished in their souls: their fervent charity, signified by gold; their devotion, figured by frankincense; and their unreserved sacrifice of themselves, represented by myrrh.      

In the Middle Ages it was customary on this day (January 6) to bless homes with the newly-blessed water, and with incense.  Later the initials of the names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) were written with blessed chalk on or above the doors of homes.  CMB stands also for Christus, Manisionem, Benedocal (May Christ bless this home).  May these initials be carved on the doors to our spiritual homes, too, as a reminder, that each one of us is called upon by God’s Epiphany to the world to assume a threefold role: that of the child, the disciple and the steward. 

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 As a child we receive and cherish God’s Epiphany to us; As a disciple we follow God’s call to crib and cross; and As steward we are accountable to God and the world of what we did to his Epiphany, understood as vision and journey.

–        Johann Roten    

http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/epiphany.html

 

The first of today’s Scripture verses gives the only account of the visit of the Magi or Wise Men who came from the east, beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, as unlike Joseph and Mary, they came to Bethlehem to worship and bear gifts to the newborn king as foretold by prophecy and guided by a star, and not in response the Census mandated by the Edict of Caesar.

 

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The fact that the Magi were unaware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, indicates that the three were Gentiles, being ignorant of the prophecy known to the scribes and chief priests, only that a star will mark the location of the birth of Christ Child:

 

Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV) The Visit of the Wise Men

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16 b.Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

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The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of God, in the town of Bethlehem is an event that marks the fulfillment of God’s promise, an event foretold by the prophets, through visits by angelic messengers, and marked by a heavenly star.

The next manifestation of the Lord, takes place at a wedding considered to be either the first or second miracle performed by Jesus. If you consider the birth of the son of God to the Mary, a virgin, a miracle, then this wedding would be the second performed by the Lord:

John 2:1-12  (ESV) The Wedding at Cana

2 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers[b] and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

Footnotes: a. John 2:6 Greek two or three measures (metrētas); a metrētēs was about 10 gallons or 35 liters b.John 2:12 Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters

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The changing of water to wine by our Lord, is considered by many Biblical scholars to be symbolic how faith in Jesus Christ transforms the believer into a new creature.  And our third Scripture verse for today describes how the spirit of God came upon our Lord, after he was baptised in the River, Jordan:

Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV) The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[a] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,[b] with whom I am well pleased.”

Footnotes: a.Matthew 3:16 Some manuscripts omit to him b.Matthew 3:17 Or my Son, my (or the) Beloved

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Epiphany  marks three events and aspects of the walk on earth by Jesus: his birth as prophesised in scripture, supported by the visitation by the Magi; the power of the Lord being manifest by his transformation of water to wine; and alighting of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus after His baptism supported by words spoken to John by God.

All three Epiphany scripture verses demonstrate how our Lord manifests or expresses his power and presence: by his birth, his miracles and by way of the Holy Spirit. All three accounts take place between the birth and crucifixion of Jesus, while he walked on the earth as a man who the angels called the son of God, but referred to himself modestly as the son of man.

The birth of Christ in such humble circumstances, as in a stable, with a manger as a crib, reveals that Jesus came as child to serve all men and women, not to rule from a palace, as he Magi had mistakenly expected. This child, Jesus, grew to become the Saviour and Lord, not by power and conquest of battle and destruction, but by an act of love and surrender on the cross at Calvary. Before he died, Jesus lived and experienced the world as a man, died a human death, but was resurrected from the tomb, and then ascended into heaven in order to bring Devine forgiveness and sanctification by taking upon himself our judgment for our sins. And Jesus continued to assure that we would have Emmanuel or the presence of God with us by way of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #105: What Child Is This, Who, Laid to Rest

Benediction – (2 Corinthians 13:14):

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

 

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Advent: Guided by a Star to a King Born in Bethlehem

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Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Advent: Guided by a Star to a King Born in Bethlehem’ 

©December 8, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin December 8, 2013

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Responsive Reading #615 (Adoration of the Magi – Matthew 2r of Prayer); Prayer

Opening Hymn #100: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel                                                         

 Today’s Scriptures: Scriptures: Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:1-15

Let us pray…

Today we celebrate the Second Advent Sunday prior to Christmas Day.

On this day we light candle commonly called the Peace Candle, also known as the Bethlehem Candle. Bethlehem being the birth place of the Christ child was foretold in Micah, chapter 5:

          Micah 5:2 (ESV)

2 [a] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.                                                                                                                                               

    Footnotes: a. Micah 5:2 Chapter 5:1 in Hebrew

You may recall from accounts from the Scriptures, which are also expressed in Christmas Hymns or Carols, and portrayed in both paintings and diorama like the Nativity Scene, several significant events occurred in the early life of our Lord Jesus Christ in the town of Bethlehem.

Having worked as a field supervisor for the last Canadian Census, I have observed quite a different way to collect information for the government today than in the time of Jesus. For the census today, instead of returning to our respective place of birth, all we have to do is fill out a government survey/questionnaire either online or submit a hard copy by mail. And in Canada, most of today’s census form surveys were the short form, but roughly one in seven, including me, were given a longer form to complete. In spite of the relative ease and convenience of filling out a modern census form today, there is a greater resistance or reluctance to complete the census than in the time of Joseph and Mary. I think that perhaps the penalties given by the government of Rome at that time for refusing a decree from Caesar were far more severe than those given in Canada, today. That is why Joseph obediently brought Mary who was due to deliver her first born to Bethlehem so close to her delivery date. And unlike today, Imperial Rome had no Charter of Rights to protect its population.

In Luke 2:1-7, we see that due to a decree from Caesar Augustus, everyone in the known world under the rule of Caesar had to go to the town of their birth to register, Luke 2:1-7 (ESV):

 The Birth of Jesus Christ

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.                                       Footnotes: a. Luke 2:2 Or This was the registration before b. Luke 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

So Mary, being aware that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, was likely was unaware of God’s timing of her pregnancy and delivery of the Christ child in Bethlehem was a fulfillment of the prophecies. And speaking of the prophecy, we have the account of the visit of the Magi, or the Wise Me, as we see in today’s second Scripture verse, Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV):

 The Visit of the Wise Men

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”                                                                                                                       

           Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16  b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

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So what conclusions can we draw of infer from the Scripter’s account of the Magi found in Matthew 2?

The Wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, apparently outside the jurisdiction of Rome and were not participating in census registration decreed by Cesar Augustus. Arriving in the city, the Wise Men were granted an audience with the local King Herod, which indicates that the Magi had an elevated status from commoners, who would not likely be able to go into the royal court to talk to even a minor king. It troubled Herod that the Magi had observed the star of Christ and had come to worship the new born king of the Jews so greatly that he consulted the chief priests and scribes of the Jewish people and found  that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in Bethlehem of Judea.

Here Herod conspires to kill the Christ Child, who posed a possible threat to his local rule, by asking the Wise Men to let him know the location of the Christ child under the ruse of worshiping him as well. But the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but instead go home by another route.

And though only in the Matthew’s Gospel, do we find the story of the Wise Men, which does not diminish its significance to Christianity. For many Christians, the Matthew 2 account is included in their respective Epiphany Observances. Epiphany is a church holiday which ranks third importance on the Christian calendar, ranking behind below Easter and Christmas, respectively. So what is meant by Epiphany? For an explanation of Epiphany, and particularly how it relates to the story of the Wise Men, let us look at a posting on the subject, courtesy of the web site, sharefaith.com:

Epiphany Observances


Observed on January 6th, the Epiphany celebration remembers the three miracles that manifest the divinity of Christ. The name “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, and means “to show, make known, or reveal.” The celebration originated in the Eastern Church in AD 361, beginning as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added – the visit of the three Magi, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany, and its meaning is drawn from these occurrences.

While some Greek Orthodox Churches still observe the Epiphany celebration as the Nativity of Jesus, the majority of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches focus on the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ baptism. The significance behind the visit of the Magi is the revelation of Christ as “Lord and King.” The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to publicly recognize the divinity of Jesus, by way of their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River revealed his divinity as the Son of God. John the Baptist, according to Matthew 3:16-17, testifies of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Several Russian, Coptic, and Greek Churches also focus on the Cana wedding miracle as part of the Epiphany celebration observance.

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River revealed his divinity as the Son of God. John the Baptist, according to Matthew 3:16-17, testifies of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Several Russian, Coptic, and Greek Churches also focus on the Cana wedding miracle as part of the Epiphany celebration observance.

For the Church, the Epiphany represents a responsibility to reveal Jesus as the Divine Son and Savior sent by God the Father to atone for the sins of mankind. It is a time of healing and fellowship, where the Church comes together in the covenant of brotherhood to love one another as Christ commanded.

The Church observes a variety of Epiphany rituals and traditions. In places throughout Europe and Latin America, Christians commemorate Three Kings’ Day by offering prayers, burning herbs that have been dried and blessed, sprinkling entryways with holy water, and inscribing the initials of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) on structures in order to receive a blessing.

Many Protestant Churches observe an Epiphany celebration that extends to Ash Wednesday, with the last Sunday of the season honored as Transfiguration Sunday. The tradition of Twelfth Night, which marks the end of the Christmas season, occurs the night before Epiphany. On this night, Kings’ Cakes are baked in preparation for the coming winter season.

Many Protestants mark Epiphany by taking down Christmas trees and burning them in bonfires. The related tradition of children “raiding” the tree of candy canes and other sweets before it leaves the home is popular throughout Europe and the United States. A favored custom in Central Europe involves “star singers”. Children dress as the three kings and go caroling from door to door carrying a large star. In reward, they receive money or sweets, which often go to church charities and relief organizations.

For many Christians, the definition of Epiphany is a reminder of God the Father’s unlimited love and mercy, which He has extended to all of mankind through the revelation of His Son, and of the hope of salvation that is now manifest for all who come to him in faith.                                                        http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/definition-of-epiphany.html

Now sharefaith.com does take some liberties in the explanation of the Magi. Matthew’s gospel does not give the names of the Wise Men or directly say how many Magi visited Bethlehem, though three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh imply the number to be three. And Old Testament prophecy tells of a visitation by Kings, which is why they are also called the ‘three kings’.  But what other information is available about the Magi? And our friendly Wikipedia gives the following anecdotal accounts of the Wise Men:

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been commonly known as:

  • Melchior (also Melichior), a Persian scholar;
  • Caspar (also Gaspar, Jaspar, Jaspas, Gathaspa, and other variations), an      Indian scholar;
  • Balthazar (also Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea), an Arabian scholar.

Encyclopædia Britannica states: “according to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500, and which has been translated into Latin with the title Excerpta Latina Barbari. Another Greek document from the 8th century, of presumed Irish origin and translated into Latin with the title Collectanea et Flores, continues the tradition of three kings and their names and gives additional details.

Martyrdom traditions

Christian Scriptures record nothing about the Biblical Magi after reporting their going back to their own country. Two separate traditions have surfaced claiming that they were so moved by their encounter with Jesus that they either became Christians on their own or were quick to convert fully upon later encountering an Apostle of Jesus. The traditions claim that they were so strong in their beliefs that they willingly embraced martyrdom.                               

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi

Lighting the Second Advent Candle: Bethlehem/Peace:                                                                                                              

Inside today’s bulletin is a few paragraphs from Wikipedia giving a synopsis of the Christian practice of lighting candles on the four Advent Sundays just prior to Christmas Day. I would like to direct you to the paragraph, which reads as follows:

In Protestant churches it is more common to use four red candles (reflecting their traditional use in Christmas decorations) because rose vestments and decorations are not commonly used in Protestant churches. Blue is also a popular alternative color for both Advent vestments and Advent candles, especially in some Anglican and Lutheran churches. This is in keeping with the liturgical seasons; blue means hope and waiting, which aligns with the seasonal meaning of Advent. Other variations of the Advent wreath add a white candle in the center to symbolize Christmas, sometimes known as the “Christ candle.” It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. White is the traditional festal color in the Western church. Four red candles with one white one is probably the most common arrangement in Protestant churches in Britain.

At the beginning of today’s message, we described the second candle, which is lit on the second Sunday of advent along with the first candle, as the Bethlehem or Peace candle, reminding us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and reminding us that it was a King Who was born in the manger and as we read in Isaiah 9, Christ brings light into a dark world as the Prince of Peace. Let us read from Isaiah Chapter 9, as we light the Second Advent Candle:

Isaiah 9:2-6 (ESV)

2 [a] The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[
b] his shoulder,
and his name shall be called[
c]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                                                       

Footnotes: a. Isaiah 9:2 Chapter 9:1 in Hebrew b. Isaiah 9:6 Or is upon c. Isaiah 9:6 Or is called

May we thank God for the Prince of Peace, who gave the promise of salvation, forgiveness and peace in the little town of Bethlehem underneath the guiding light of a start of Christ.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #121: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Benediction – (Romans 15:13)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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