Pastoral Letter 44

Dear Members of St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, Friends and Adherents,

As we come to the end of the year and the last Sunday of the year, once again I say: Grace and peace to you all.

With God’s grace we have reached this point and we are getting ready to farewell the year 2020, which was full of unanticipated and unforeseen events. Twelve months ago, we were looking forward to a great year, full of surprises and good things to happen for us, for our families, country, friends and church as well. Unfortunately, we did not have a good start in the beginning of the year and things kept happening one after the other, the world pandemic being the worst; and we are still struggling to get out of it and hopefully soon.

In the last couple of weeks, with the uncertainties about the new cases, we can say that as a country and in particular as the people of NSW, we should be happy that our government has handled the new cases well. We are grateful that the cooperation of people is outstanding in handling the situation. But considering the current situation, we have decided to close our church doors once again, with the hope that there will be some positive changes in next few weeks.

Regardless what’s happening around us, God has been gracious, loving and caring; and thanks to God, we are well and safe and handling the crisis with diligence and looking forward to concluding the year with hope and trusting in our faithful God, who has always been with us, guided us and walked with us on the difficult path of life. Without Him and His loving care and protection, we couldn’t have done anything and keep going and moving forward.

So, as the year comes to its end and we hope and pray that God willing at the start of the year things start getting better and better. That’s why the cover page of this week’s Order of Service says: “Hope 2021 Will Be Better”. Yes, we hope and trust that it will be and give us more reasons to praise the Lord and give Him thanks.

I hope by now you have received or picked the prepared Christmas candles and candle holder gifts with an attached Christmas message card which were left on the table in the foyer, as well some calendars for those who didn’t get one on the Carols Service day. If you have not got one and have a key, please come and take yours. The candle and the candle holder are small things that don’t have any big monetary value, but for us it symbolises Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who came to his dark world to bring His Light, because He is the Light of the world and our only HOPE.

Please again join the other members tomorrow morning in worship, following the Order of Service. Light a candle, if you wish, the candle you received, and give a little more time for your personal prayers and pray for others. Especially remember those who are in pain, suffering, isolated, vulnerable, lonely and under constraints. If you have any prayer points, please let me know and I will include them in the next week’s letter.

Here are some prayer points for this week:

1. Pray for the New Year and ask God to be with us as we move into an unchartered time, which could be full of challenges, but hoping to feel God’s presence with us.

2. Pray for the world as it struggles fighting the widely spread pandemic.

3. Pray for the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the refugees, the depressed and the vulnerable.

4. Pray for world peace and ask for God’s blessings.

Krikor

God’s Promise, Fulfilled

Luke 22:22-40

Usually during the Advent and Christmas Seasons, we hear many Biblical messengers to encourage and direct us on our walk of faith. The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel and to us, to give God’s promise of deliverance and salvation. We also hear from the angel, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. These all are part and parcel of the Christmas story, with the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

In Today’s Gospel Reading we see Mary and Joseph again, and then meet two aged prophets, Simeon and Anna. By their examples, these four Biblical characters as well proclaim the gospel message and share with us a simple but profound lesson on nurturing our faith and our relationship with God.

The story of today’s lesson occurs in the holy Temple of Jerusalem, which symbolises God’s presence.

The Temple

The location of the first scene in the story of Jesus’ birth was a stable. The second scene is located in the temple. In verse 21, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple in order to have Him circumcised. Later (in verse 22 ff) they bring Jesus to the temple to be redeemed. The redemption was an offering given because Jesus was Mary and Joseph’s first-born son, who was automatically dedicated to the Lord. The couple also came to the temple to offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification. This was an offering that was required thirty days after the birth of a child.

In one sense these are rather ordinary scenes. There are neither angels nor stars, at this time. Yet, these few verses do allow us to have a glimpse at the depth of Mary and Joseph’s faith. They were deeply involved in the religious life and rituals of their Jewish faith. They brought Jesus up in the context of the temple and synagogues. Worship, sacrifice, prayer, study, discussion and fellowship were all a part of Jesus’ life. These factors shaped Him and moulded Jesus’ relationship with God.

We could presume that the religious practices of Mary and Joseph really didn’t matter. Jesus would have been God’s Son and the Messiah without their influence. Still, it was important for Jesus to be raised in a family of faith. These verses underscore how important our congregation and the fellowship of believers are for raising our children in the faith and for our own personal journeys of faith.

Simeon and Anna

We first meet Simeon, who is described as a righteous and devout man, looking forward to the consolation of Israel. Later we meet Anna who is a prophetess of great age who never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

Here are two people that are skipped over a lot of times when we tell the Christmas story. But they are probably some of the most important people because they tell us how we can see Jesus and how we should respond when we do. Both of these people reacted the same way, slightly different, but they both had things in common.

1. Devout

It’s not a term we use a lot, but it’s a good word. It means someone who is faithful. That’s the reason we usually use this term with religion, someone who is devout is usually thought to be someone who is faithful to God.

Both of these people were faithful to God. You have Simeon. He’s described as a good, Godly man waiting for the time when God would take away Israel’s sorrow. He was waiting for the Messiah.

Simeon waited, not in an impatient way, but faithfully. He believed what the Holy Spirit told him and he waited in a devout way for Christ.

Then there’s Anna. All we know about Anna, she was married for a few years, then she was a widow for 84 years. She was probably around 100 years old.

Now there’s a reason Luke mentions she was a widow for so long. Back then, it was bad to be a widow. Women didn’t usually work, so widows were usually poor. And women did not own property, so unless she had other family, she had no place to live. A lot of times widows were exploited by the law and all they had was taken away from them. So, if a woman became a widow early in life, like Anna, they would have remarried, and fast, but she didn’t, according to the passage, she was a widow.

In that culture, a woman like Anna would have been considered pious and faithful because she was faithful to her husband even in death, she remained faithful to her husband rather than get married simply to not worry about money. So, she was considered a faithful person.

They were faithful to God, more faithful than others who were simply happy to do the religious requirement, do the routine, the bare minimum of faith.

2. Recognise

Notice that no one at any time says: “Here’s Jesus. Here’s the Messiah.” It’s just another baby being prayed for at the Temple, something that would have happened all the time. There was nothing special about Mary or Joseph that would have made them stick out. But both Simeon and Anna, they right away recognize Jesus.

Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit to the Temple, God told him to go to the Temple, but it doesn’t say he was told why or who to look for. Simeon just sees the Baby and knows. He knows so well that he just walks up to them.

He was so sure it was Jesus he just walked up. That was it.

After they recognized Jesus, they did the natural thing to seeing Him. They worshipped Him.

3. Worship

This prayer that Simeon says, many believe he actually sang it, and it is considered important because it is the last song in the Christmas story, the fifth including the one in Isaiah (Old Testament).

Isaiah’s Song, Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, Angels Song and Simeon’s Song.

Simeon worshiped Jesus because he recognized who the Baby was. It says Anna did the same, we just don’t know what she said. It simply says she thanked God.

They gave Christ His due, they worshipped Him. And part of that worship was telling everyone about Him.

4. Telling Everyone

In Simeon’s song, you can see in verse 32, he recognized that the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of God’s people, was not just for God’s people. He was to save the world.

Anna thanked God and right away went out and told people about Jesus. She speaks to those who are waiting for God.

They both told people about Jesus. They let the world know Salvation had come to them.

This reaction Simeon and Anna shared, it’s the right one. They were faithfully and devoutly waiting for God, getting to know Him so when He did show up, they were able to recognize Him. When they recognized who He was they worshipped Him and then told everyone about Him.

Simeon and Anna deliver a different, but important, message to us. They deliver a message of salvation and a message of hope.

At the beginning of this New Year, it might be advantageous for us to stop and review how we nurture our faith. In what ways do we open ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Briefly reading a daily devotional and pausing for prayer can be life transforming. Participating in a small group and discussing the Scripture and our faith can lead us into a deeper understanding of God’s grace and of what it means to be a Christian.

How do we want to grow in 2021 and how are we going to do it?

4. Waiting

Both Simeon and Anna had been waiting for the arrival of the Messiah for a very long time. They understood that waiting was a part of the life of faith.

We struggle with the concept of waiting. We have been described as “People of the instant now.” When we want something, we get it. We are more likely to charge something than we are to save for it. This lifestyle doesn’t work in a life of faith.

Waiting doesn’t mean that we sit back and fiddle our thumbs. As parents of faith, we pray and actively wait for our children to grow up to be people of faith who generously share God’s love and grace. While we wait for God’s kingdom, we use our talents and abilities to serve others and meet their needs. We wait with expectation by participating in fellowship opportunities and small groups where we can encourage each other in our faith. As we begin the New Year as a congregation we hope to continue to worship, pray, study the Word, have fellowship and serve our community and others.

The Lord has moved lovingly and graciously in our lives. God’s constant presence is a reality in which we live everyday of our lives. To nurture that relationship that is already ours and to live it to the fullest is the invitation that we have as we begin this New Year.

We are almost at the end of the year 2020, a year full of surprises, tests and turns. The highlights of the year, I am afraid to say are sad things, challenges and pain. We started the year with bushfires, we lost lives and thousands of acres of bushland and natural habitat. Then came the storms and floods. And barely recovering from those natural disasters, the world was hit with a pandemic. Then the big devastating explosion of Beirut and the heartbreaking Armenia and Artsakh war, which resulted in many deaths, displaced people, loss of lands and homes. Needless to say, the hardships, hunger, floods, and economic crises. In other parts of the world.

As we look back, probably we will see that we have had some good and happy days, but mostly the year has been a painful year. Regardless of all these, we are sure that God was with us, walked with us, helped us, guided us and stretched out His helping hand. We hope for a much better year, as we emerge out of the dark days of pandemic with hope, as the COVID-19 vaccine is being developed and is being put into use.

Let us remember that God has made promises and He will fulfill them. With His help we are sure that we will be able to move forward and hope for much better days.

Let us remember that God is our God, our help in all ages past and ages to come.

That’s the promise of God to us at this time of the year.

Amen!

I wish you all well and hope that the New Year will be full of joy, happiness, blessings and good days.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!