LORD, I HAVE HEARD OF YOUR FAME; I STAND IN AWE OF YOUR DEEDS, O LORD. RENEW THEM IN OUR DAY, IN OUR TIME MAKE THEM KNOWN; IN WRATH REMEMBER MERCY.
(Habakkuk 3: 2)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP!
OPENING HYMN (CH-133): – BRAKE FORTH, O LIVING LIGHT OF GOD, upon the world’s dark hour! Show us the way the Master trod; Reveal His saving power.
Remove the veil of ancient words, their message long obscure; Restore to us in Thy truth, O Lord, and make its meaning sure.
O let Thy Word be light anew to every nation’s life; Unite us in Thy will, O Lord, and end all sinful strife.
O may one Lord, one Faith, one Word, one Spirit lead us still; And one great Church go forth in might to work God’s perfect will.
LET US PRAY:
GOD OUR FATHER, Your love is at work in all that You have made. Your might is beyond measure, Your wisdom beyond knowledge, and Your love beyond all telling. You have put eternity into our hearts, and made us hunger and thirst for Your Word to us. For all that You offer us through Christ, for our baptism and growing in faith, for the nourishment of Word and Sacrament, for the fellowship with others in the Church, living in this place and across the world, we thank You. Give us Your Grace, we pray, to receive Your Word and Your gifts joyfully and to use them generously to Your praise and to Your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – PSALM 100. For giving thanks.
SHOUT FOR JOY TO THE LORD, ALL THE EARTH. WORSHIP THE LORD WITH GLADNESS; COME BEFORE HIM WITH JOYFUL SONGS. KNOW THAT THE LORD IS GOD. IT IS HE WHO MADE US, AND WE ARE HIS; WE ARE HIS PEOPLE, THE SHEEP OF HIS PASTURE. ENTER HIS GATES WITH THANKGIVING AND HIS COURTS WITH PRAISE; GIVE THANKS TO HIM AND PRAISE HIS NAME. FOR THE LORD IS GOOD AND HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER; HIS FAITHFULNESS CONTINUES THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – EPHESIANS 1: 18 – 23.
I PRAY…THAT THE EYES OF YOUR HEART MAY BE ENLIGHTENED IN ORDER THAT YOU MAY KNOW THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU, THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, AND HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US WHO BELIEVE. THAT POWER IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS STRENGTH, WHICH HE EXERTED IN CHRIST WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD AND SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION, AND EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN, NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME. AND GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET AND APPOINTED HIM TO BE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING FOR THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY.
Some people suggested not long ago that we all should be prepared for a “Digital Christmas” because of Coronavirus Pandemic. It amazes me how all kinds of bombastic declarations increasingly abound in the media nowadays, but at the same time I’m upset by the total lack of respect of such a public statement. By its Christ-centeredness, Christmas is a deeply spiritual celebration, and not just “digitally-created” effects of scenes, colours, or music. Christians firmly believe that in Jesus, God became real and accessible for the seeking human soul through faith, hope and love; and that cannot be “digitalized”.
On the Sunday before Advent, Christians celebrate Christ the King – not at our fingertips – but being born into believing human hearts.
- – BECAUSE OF CHRIST, WE ARE A PEOPLE OF HOPE: – I pray… that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance … and His incomparably great power for us who believe. The Apostle speaks of the eyes of our heart, seeing God by faith, and he prays for spiritual growth as foundational to the hope that stands before us, as we come to know Jesus Christ and walk with Him in our personal faith. There is a distinction between knowing about and the hope of our calling to know God. We anticipate and joyfully celebrate what God is doing now … and what God will do through the birth of the Saviour into our lives.
- – BECAUSE OF CHRIST, WE ARE A PEOPLE OF POWER. It is difficult to overstate the phrase about God’s INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US WHO BELIEVE in Him. We might try “Super Mega Power”, but even that does not quite describe it. This is the POWER, Paul says, that God used in raising Christ from the dead, and bringing us to the reality, pointed by the affirmation that Christ is “seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”.
One of the great issues in our world today is the sense that people feel powerless. We have not even begun to understand what the real intent of faith for our lives and for our church is all about, until we come together as a Spiritual House of God’s Power in all its fullness. We are called to be salt and light, to give witness to God’s mighty power that is able to bring faith, hope, love, and SALVATION to those who believe in Him. But this can happen only when we are in touch and energized by the Power of God, and becoming His workers for the change of the world around us. In some ways, Paul points to the fact that this Divine Power of God, that can work within us, is not something ordinary. It continually requires prayers from Christians, that we might have the spiritual power and knowledge that takes us to be the POWERFUL CHURCH OF GOD.
- – BECAUSE OF CHRIST, WE ARE A PEOPLE OF VICTORY: – far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church… (verses 21-22), as Christ the King. These thoughts take us to one of the central messages of the Scriptures, that we live under the promise of the Resurrection, the Power of God within the community of faith, and the affirmation that ALL THINGS have been put under the feet of Christ. It is the certainty of God’s VICTORY in the long term, that powers our life of faith in the short term.
- – BECAUSE OF CHRIST, WE ARE A PEOPLE OF FULLNESS: – which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way (v. 23). This means that Jesus brings fullness: completeness and full maturity to our lives as God intended them to be. This is not a “Jesus and me” kind of individualistic fulfilment of getting a happy and comfortable life from God only here and now. The New Testament vision of a healthy Church is where people may discover the fullness of Christ, and being bound together forever as the Body of Christ, with Christ as the HEAD. It is something that people know by experiencing in our life together our openness to God, to each other, and to the cries and needs of our broken world. I think, that one of the reasons why we don’t experience the Fullness of Christ in the church these days is that we have a too low view of the Church, being seen by too many people as just another social grouping. We will really gain the Power of God when we regain that very high sense of the Church as the Body of Christ and ourselves as intimately woven together into a fabric of faithful community. In Jesus Christ we have all what is needed: faith, hope, love, power, victory, fullness; One who comes to us , as the CHRISTMAS CHILD from Bethlehem, in His KINGSHIP, and FULL OF HIS GLORY.
To those who have learned to love and trust Jesus, the prospect of meeting Him spiritually and personally anew in the forthcoming Christmas is the hope in God’s AMAZING GRACE that keeps us going, no matter what life may throw at us, knowing that GRACE is always sufficient for us. Jesus did not just talk about GRACE; He lived it. When He healed a blind man or a man with a withered hand, or a woman with a blood disease, or a demon-possessed boy, He was demonstrating God’s disposition towards people. When He spoke in public to a woman of questionable character, touched lepers, and mixed with publicans and sinners. In the midst of His greatest Act of Grace, while He was suffering on the Cross, He paused to pardon the criminal crucified beside Him, as grace upon grace. The biblical definition of Grace is – THE UNMERITED FAVOUR OF GOD. Some theologians teach that, Grace is God’s loving disposition toward all of us all the time. But this is what I love the most: GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US MORE … AND THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US LESS.
Towards the end of the 1980’s, when Ceausescu was still firmly in control in Romania, I had to go down to Bucharest for some church-matters. Having some time before taking the exhaustingly long overnight train journey back home, I went to see the famous Palace of Communism, planned to host the Romanian Parliament, and a nuclear-resistant residence for the Ceausescu family. I walked through the streets to see the building site where thousands of “voluntary” workers died in all sorts of accidents, but the heavily armed, and far from friendly soldiers kept me away. Not long after the “revolution” that took place three days before Christmas 1989, I returned to Bucharest to apply for a British visa, and I decided to go and see the completed infamous palace taken over by the newly elected, “democratic” Parliament. To my amusement, it was opened to the public, and believe it or not, a Christian Meeting was in progress in it: thousands of people confidently celebrated God’s Salvation by singing Amazing Grace in a palace built to host an “atheist-communist king”. God’s ways – indeed – are not our ways… There are many buildings housing the centres of human power and prestige on earth with restricted entrances. As Christians, we have an eternal invitation into an unknown region with a well-known Inhabitant, to enter and worship our Almighty Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord, both now and evermore.
In the well-known PSALM 100, – a psalm for giving thanks – we are given the ways how to celebrate God as KING over all the earth. The Psalm contains four commands: Shout, Serve, Know, and Enter.
Verse 1: God’s entire Creation should Shout for joy, bringing homage to the Almighty Creator. All living should be joyfully thankful.
Verse 2: Worship is more than the singing of songs; even birds can do that. The whole life must be offered as grateful service to God.
Verse 3: Knowing God must bring people to the acknowledgement of our Creator-God as the Provider of all that we need, like the Shepherd, who looks over and takes care of His sheep.
Verse 4 and 5: Worship is about drawing near and entering into God’s presence, and not about speaking to God from a safe distance. All this is possible because HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.
The Epistle to the Hebrews develops the theme of entering the kingly presence of God: – we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His Body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God. Therefore, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…(Hebrews 10:19-22a).
LET US PRAY:
ALMIGHTY LORD GOD, You care for all Your children. Like a Shepherd, You know each one and hear each prayer, You know each house and see each need. Bless us as we worship and thank You, and receive us into Your Kingdom of Light opened to us by Your Son Jesus Christ. Bless Your Church here and everywhere. Confirm Your people in the faith of the Gospel, inspire them with love for Your house, zeal in Your service, and joy in the well-being of Your Kingdom. We pray for the created world: for those who rebuild where things have been destroyed; for those who fight hunger, poverty and disease, especially for those who have the wisdom and power to bring change for better and renewed hope in these difficult times of Covid-19 Pandemic. We pray for people in need: those for whom life is a bitter struggle; those whose lives are clouded by death or loss, by pain or disability, by discouragement or fear, by shame or rejection. We pray for those in the circle of friendship and love around us: children and parents; sisters and brothers; friends and neighbours; and for those in our thoughts today, as we name them quietly before You in our hearts … in Your mercy, hear our prayer. Grant us grace in our day to live faithfully and lovingly, to the glory of Your name and for the well-being of Your Church and of all those with whom we share life on earth until we return our lives to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, One, Eternal God. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-679)
LORD, IT BELONGS NOT TO MY CARE whether I die or live; to love and serve Thee is my share, and this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad, that I may long obey; if short, yet why should I be sad to welcome endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms than He went through before; He that into God’s Kingdom comes must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet Thy blessed face to see; for, if Thy work on earth be sweet, what will Thy glory be?
My knowledge of that life is small, the eye of faith is dim; but ‘tis enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with Him.
MAY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. (2 Corinthians 13: 14)
Sandor, your Minister.