Pastoral Letter 45

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

Grace and peace to you all.

We have farewelled the year 2020, which was full of unforeseen events. A year of natural disasters, of bushfires, storms, earthquakes and hurricanes, wars, explosions, mass killings and deaths. But most of all in 2020, the whole world faced the terrible pandemic. More than 80 million cases, 50 million recovering and 2 million deaths. Adding up all this, we can conclude that the year 2020 could be the worst year in our lifetime, though we had good things happening, some joyous events in the family and the church. As I said last week, twelve months ago, we were looking forward to a great year, full of good surprises and good things to happen for us, for our families, country, friends and church as well. But sadly, many plans were disrupted, changed and cancelled, including, gatherings, celebrations, weddings, trips, banquets, and church programs.

With uncertainty about the new cases, our church doors will be kept closed with no worship service held. We hope that there will be some positive changes in the next few days so we can open our doors for services. We will keep you posted.

Regardless of what’s happening around us, let’s thank God for being with us, keeping us safe and providing His blessings. Also, let us continue to pray, seeking God’s blessing and hoping that He will get us out from this dark tunnel soon and to go back to our normal life and continue our service and programs and “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.

We still have some Christmas candles and candle holder gifts with an attached Christmas message card 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 gotten 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, have a small roll of bread, a cup of wine/juice to share Holy Communion with others 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. We hope to feel God’s presence with us.

2. Pray for the world as it struggles fighting the 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

A Light in the Darkness

Isaiah 60:1-9

What would you feel if you lived above the Arctic Circle, where for 65 days the sun does not shine?

In Barrow, Alaska the sun sets in the afternoon on November 18 and it doesn’t rise again until January 24. 65 days of darkness. This happens because the earth is tilted in such a way that the sun never shows itself for over two months. But when the sun does rise for a moment on January 24, the whole town comes out to celebrate, because finally, there is light again.

Is the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people who live in the darkness of Arctic Circle, when he writes in verse one of our Old Testament lesson for this morning: “Arise, shine, for your light has come!”?

The word of God spoken by the prophet Isaiah is about a different kind of darkness and light. A special light which begins to shine through the darkness, resulting in a spectacular and joyful experience. God’s light has come to us through the Son who is the Sun that shines forever.

Tuesday is the last day of the Christmas season. In the Christian calendar, the celebration of the birth of Christ goes on for two weeks after Christmas. Wednesday is the official beginning of the Epiphany season of the church year. What does the word “epiphany” mean? An “epiphany” is when something reveals itself, like the sun that after 65 days of darkness finally reveals its glory for everyone to see. That’s an epiphany. In the church calendar, the Epiphany season is when the Son of God reveals His glory for everyone to see. It is a time when the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ is revealed to us.

We can sum up the festival of Epiphany with one phrase: A Light in the Darkness. “Arise,” God says to us, “Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” The Bible pictures us and the world as a group of people living in darkness, people who have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the sun to rise: God says, “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.”

God pictures our world as a very dark place; spiritually dark. This is ironic, because according to the creation story, that we read in the book of Genesis, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep … . And God said. “Let there be light”. And we know how the story goes on. So since then, the light was there, and God separated the light from the dark; day and night. The light of sun was and always has been.

The reference here is to another kind of darkness, spiritual darkness. We can see evidence of this spiritual darkness by looking around us. Religious extremists kill people, saying that they are trying to “cleanse their religion.” Corrupt governments rob their people and let them live in poverty. Dictators and oppressors lay their iron fists on their compatriots and pressure them with hardship. Evil people abuse others. Wicked people and nations commit crimes, genocides, kill and oppress. We can go on and on and give many other examples. All these are evidence of spiritual darkness. If we look around us, watch people, listen to them talk and see what they do, it will become very clear to us that our world is spiritually a very dark place.

But the most frightening place to look is within us. If we look within us for something good, but the more closely we look within ourselves, the clearer it becomes that there is nothing there but selfishness, hatred, materialism and sin.

We live in darkness, but the Lord rises upon us and His glory appears over us. The birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ, is described in the Bible as the rising of the sun on a very dark place. The sun rises and the darkness disappears. When Jesus rises in our lives His forgiveness and grace shines in our life and the darkness disappears.

Jesus Christ was born to make everything right between us and God; our sins to be forgiven by His death on the cross. Jesus has died for all of our sins on the cross and for everything to become good between us and God. We go from darkness to light.

This is Epiphany and this is what happened to the wise men from the East. They came from a place where no one knew about Christ. No one knew about the true God who was sending a Saviour. But when they saw His star, they knew that the Messiah had come. They saw the star in the East and came to worship the King. And so, these men left their land of spiritual darkness because they wanted to see and worship Christ, the true Light of the dark world. They made the long trip to Jerusalem, and they were probably surprised to see that this city was just as spiritually dark as the land they had come from.

Finally, they found the Messiah. Isaiah talks about the wise men in verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Later in verse 6 it says, “… all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” There, in the form of a little child, the wise men saw the light of the world. There they saw the glory of God, and this is what filled them with a spirit of wonder and worship. They had gone from darkness to light, and they rejoiced, and gave this child who was their God their gifts from afar.

For some, Epiphany is “Gentile Christmas,” because Christ is a light, not just for a select group of people like the Jews, but for all people, all over the world. Epiphany is when anyone living in the darkness of sin, people like us and those wise men from the East – anyone can come and see the glory of God, as he reveals it through the person of Jesus Christ. Just as the sun rises on every nation, on all kinds of people, no matter who they are or what their background is, so it is with Christ. His grace, His forgiveness, His salvation, rises and shines on the Jews in Bethlehem, but also on the wise men from the East. His grace and forgiveness rises and shines on every person on this earth – every person is invited to believe in this child, to worship him, to find their salvation in him. No matter who we are, we too, can go from darkness to light.

And no matter how dark the world becomes; the light of Jesus Christ will never stop shining for us. Once the grace and mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ rises in our life, it will never stop shining. With Christ, it will always be daylight or day not night. There will be no more 65 days, when the sun (Son) will not shine, as it happens in Barrow, Alaska, when the sun sets in the afternoon on November 18 and it doesn’t rise again until January 24. But Christ, our Lord shows Himself all the time, 24 hours a day, 28-31 days a month, 12 months a year. He is the Light, and He shines turning the dark into light. No matter how dark the world gets around us, Christ’s love will always shine in our life. May this Epiphany season be for us a time when we see more clearly the glory of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

Amen!