- On December 19, 2021
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This Sunday is the fourth week of Advent – the Sunday of Love. As we draw closer to Christmas, my hope is that we will be able to be with our close friends and families – especially with the increased transmission of this latest Covid variant!
Total our central reading is taken from the Gospel of Luke and recounts the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. My hope is that their story of connection will resonate with you this Christmas.
The music today is a mix of Advent and Christmas Hymns … I invite you to listen especially to the last song Oh come all ye faithful: I think that it is a wonderfully uplifting rendition of this classic!!
Hymn #145: In the bleak mid-winter
Hymn # 165 Oh little town of Bethlehem
Hymn # 149 Away in a manger
Hymn # 159 Oh come, all ye Faithful
I know that this time of year is a difficult one for many people, if you would like to have a pastoral visit whether in person, by phone or over Zoom, please reach out and we will set a time to meet.
Christmas Giving Tree: As has been our custom here at Knox PC Sixteen during Advent we will focus attention on a number of the agencies that we support though our outreach and missions. Each Sunday during the Advent season we will focus on a different agency. This week we will focus on Presbyterian Sharing. Please checkout the Evangel Hall website https://presbyterian.ca/sharing/and consider making a contribution – either by placing an envelope on the tree or through your regular offering designated as missions.
If you would like to become more involved in the mission outreach of our congregation, please mention your interest to Rev. Patrick.
Presbyterians Sharing is the national church fund that supports mission and ministry in Canada and around the world. Presbyterians share in a wide range of ministries: together, we build strong congregations, serve vulnerable people, walk with Indigenous people, seek justice and share God’s love around the world. In 2021 Presbyterians Sharing supported 27 ministries and over 800 congregations as well as supported 53 mission partners working in 25 countries.
Christmas Eve Service: The Christmas Eve service of worship will be held at 7:00pm. Due to the continuing concerns related to the pandemic, Session has taken the following steps to ensure the safety of the members of the congregation who wish to attend worship:
- Members will be asked to reserve their space for worship (this will allow Session to assign seating)
- The Christmas Eve worship will not be advertised to the public. The website will indicate that the service of worship will be limited to members of the congregation due to capacity restrictions. Members of the public who contact the congregation will be informed of this decision by Rev. Gushue.
- Members of the public who arrive for worship unannounced will be requested to show proof of double vaccination – as per the public health guidelines concerning public gatherings.
Ministers Vacation: Rev. Patrick and his family will be travelling to Newfoundland to celebrate Christmas with their family. They will be leaving bright and early Christmas Day and returning the first week of January. In his absence Rev. Sean Foster from Hopedale Presbyterian Church will provide pastoral care to the congregation. His contact information is available through Brenda.
December 27, 2021:
There will be no service of worship (live or virtual)
January 2, 2022:
The service of worship will be offered through a video which will be made available through the weekly e-mail. There will be no in person service of worship.
January 9, 2022:
Live worship will resume at Knox PC Sixteen at the regular time 10:30am
Micah 5: 2-5a
2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5 and he shall be the one of peace.
Luke 1: 39 – 45
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Reflection: Connection & Community
Why did Mary visit Elizabeth?
Why did Mary visit Elizabeth? This was the question that started my reflection for this 4th Sunday of Advent. This day when the time of waiting is almost over, and we know that the birth of Jesus will be in just a few days time.
- Why did Mary visit Elizabeth?
- …and … why did Mary stay for 3 months?
- What was their relationship?
- Was Elizabeth the special aunt who had been a constant presence in the life of her young niece?
- Or was there some other connection that drew them to one another?
In this time of waiting, we have been given the very human story of two pregnant women who are visiting with one another. But why are they visiting with one another? Is there something about their visit that can provide us with a deeper understanding of the purpose of Christmas? Is there something that Luke desires that we reflect upon?
This is perhaps a good place to start: with Luke and the beginning chapters of his Gospel where he tells how the birth of Jesus came about. The first two and a half chapters of Luke’s Gospel weave together the remarkable stories of John and Jesus and of Elizabeth and Mary their mothers. The conceptions of both children are heralded by angels: John’s to his father Zechariah, Jesus’ to his mother Mary. Divine promises concerning both children evoke songs of praise to God. Both births elicit amazement from neighbors and friends. In the passages following the ones we read today … we are told that both boys were circumcised on the eighth day, marking them as part of God’s covenant with Israel. And we are told, as well, that both boys grew up prepared for their divinely appointed vocations: John to prepare a way for the Lord and Jesus to be the Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.[i]
What is really interesting is that the way that Luke describes the events surrounding the birth of Jesus sounds nothing like the story that Matthew told. In Luke’s story, there were no wise men, no star that they followed, no mention of King Herod and no reference of the slaughter of innocent children. And of course, you’ll remember that the Gospels of Mark and John do not contain stories of Jesus birth at all. Mark begins with the appearance of John the Baptism from the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord. And John begins with his Christological proclamation that… “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
When we compare the Gospels, we observe that Luke tells a different story about the birth of Jesus from the others gospel writers … an earlier story … a human story. A story that may provide for us peace and assurance as we await … with anticipation, expectation and hope … the birth of Jesus.
As we reflect upon the question of why Mary was visiting Elizabeth, it may help us to spend a few minutes with Elizabeth so that we can appreciate who this woman was and something about her life. Elizabeth, we are told was the wife of Zachariah, a priest. Now, while I am sure that there would have been a certain status that was ascribed to her because of her husband’s position, it doesn’t take much to imagine that she would have also come under scrutiny, on a daily basis, for the way that she conducted herself as part of the community in which she lived. There is a certain isolation that is part and parcel with a life in the center of a religious community.
We are also told that Elizabeth was old and barren. She had no other children and, until quite recently, we can assume that she had no expectation of becoming a mother. An old, childless women married to a priest … you can almost see her looking up toward heaven and asking, “What did I ever do to deserve this?” For, I expect that hers was a life that was lived on the margins of the community – not engaging, in quite the same way, as the other women participated in the goings on with their families and the village. This doesn’t mean that Elizabeth didn’t find a place, nor that she was not respected or cared for; however, it does speak to the life that she lived and the different perspectives she no doubt had. I like to believe that the situation of her life enabled her to develop compassion and to grow in wisdom.
So there is Elizabeth: old and pregnant, experiencing an unexpected pregnancy for which she was unprepared and married to a priest who has lost his ability to speak! For six months, we are told, she dealt with the reality of a pregnancy that she had not prepared herself for, and in which she probably received very little support.
And so we wonder, “Why did Mary visit Elizabeth?”[ii]
- Did Mary go to be encouraged or to provide encouragement?
- Did Mary go for companionship and the nurturing wisdom of the older woman?
Or to provide help and support for Elizabeth through the last months of her pregnancy?
- Did Mary go to confirm that the promises that the Angel made to her were true – so that she could share the sheer joy of it all?
Or did she go because she felt that Elizabeth was the only other woman in the world who would understand what she was going through? (pause)
I heard that this years Women’s Candlelight Service was the best one yet. And I heard this, not just from one person, but from a number of different people in a variety of different situations. Enough so that I asked, “What was it about this year’s service, that made it so meaningful to the women who participated?”
So, by way of background. This year was the 7th or 8th year that there has been a Women’s Candlelight Service here at Knox 16. The reason for the service has always been the same – to provide an opportunity for the women of the congregation and women in the wider community to take time at the beginning of the Advent Season, to slow down, to quiet themselves, and reflect upon the meaning of Christmas – before the business of the season with the cleaning and entertaining and the shopping began. It is an intentional time, where the women present have been invited to reflect upon their lives, and the lives of the people around them, in the context of Christmas.
Each year the service has followed the same basic outline. There have been short stories, or reflections, or drama followed by a time of quiet reflection and then prayers and the singing of carols. And yet, this year was received in a different way. Every year there is a time of fellowship following the service – this year those attending were greeted with a warm beverage and cookies as they entered. The same welcome, the same drinks … similar cookies! I wondered, “Could it have been this simple change in the time of fellowship that was the thing that made such a difference?” … And concluded that it had to be something more than that to have garnered such a positive reaction.
And then as I reflected upon the responses an understanding became clearer. The significant change that occurred this year is that the women present were invited to share their reflections with each other. Something simple, almost unnoticeable, what was different this year is that the women present shared their stories, what was happening in their lives, with one another. What was different this year was the experience of a deeper level of connection and community.
Perhaps the fact that we are still moored in the uncertainty of the pandemic as well as the worry that is present in looking into an uncertain future played a part in the desire for connection. I am sure that it did; however, I believe that what also happened by entering into conversations of support was that those who attended experienced a peace … an assurance that everything would work out. (pause)
I wonder … is this the message, the simple, yet profound truth, that Luke wanted us to notice in the telling of his story? At one level Luke was communicating the special and important relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus: John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the recognition of the Jesus. And yet on another level, Luke showed us the relationship between two women who shared a special knowledge and a special relationship.
Could Luke be saying that simply being present with one another through the ups and downs and the joys and sorrows of life is enough?
Or is Luke pointing us to the reality that God has chosen to be with us in the middle of it all.
I expect that for the people who were waiting for the Messiah – for Emmanuel – which means, God with us … knowing that God was present, was more than enough.
My prayer is that as we contemplate this story, the relationship of these two women and the importance of the women in our lives that we experience peace and assurance as we wait … with anticipation, expectation, and hope … for the birth of Jesus. Amen