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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Epiphany: Celebrating the Manifestation of Christ

Dear BLCF Friends, 

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church and BLCF Café continue to remain closed effective March 16, 2020 and until further notice. Today we would like to share with you an Epiphany Lesson in a virtual format. We pray after the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine and following determination of Health Canada and other Health Authorities the danger of a pandemic has subsided, the Board of BLCF will be able to reopen worship and outreach activities without concern of infection to the vulnerable within our community. In the meantime, please enjoy the following lesson, stay safe, and keep the faith. – Pastor Steve

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Epiphany: Celebrating the Manifestation of Christ’

© January 3, 2021, by Steve Mickelson

Based on Lessons Shared at BLCF on January 1, 2020, December 29, 2013, and December 28, 2014

BLCF Bulletin December 28, 2014

BLCF Bulletin December 29, 2013 

Welcome and blessings of the New Year to all on this, the first Sunday of 2021, the Sunday closest to January 6, which is the day that many churches observe the Epiphany, marking the manifestation of the Christ or Messiah, who is our Lord Jesus.

When I talk about Epiphany, we should not confuse it with the secular use of epiphany, such as the 'Eureka!' moment experienced by the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes, when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose and he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged, known today as the Archimedes' principle. By contrast, the Epiphany which is the subject of today’s lesson is spelled with a capital “E”, a term Christians use to describe when the supernatural powers of Jesus, the Son of God, became manifested, or expressed to all. We find a little more background on Epiphany 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. 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.                                                       


 Author Johann Roten posted the the following about Epiphany in the East and West, posted on the University of Dayton Web site:

Epiphany

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. 

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." 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." 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.  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    


Depending upon which scholar that you talk with, the passage in the Bible that describes the event of Epiphany of our Lord could be any or all of three different events in the earthy walk of our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

 1) The first is the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi to visit the newborn Jesus at Bethlehem.

 2) The second is the Miracle performed by Jesus to convert water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

 3) While the third is the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John. 

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. 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 the Christ Child as we see in Matthew 2:1-12 (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, 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 

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, Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV):                                                                                

The Future Glory of Israel

60 Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.

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 which we find in 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, his brothers, his sisters 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 

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. Our third Scripture verse for today describes how the spirit of God came upon our Lord, after he was baptized in the River, Jordan, which is found in 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

Epiphany  marks three events and aspects of the walk on earth by Jesus: his birth as prophesized 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 Divine 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 who chose to refer to himself, more modestly, as the son of man. 

The birth of Christ in such humble circumstances, as in a stable, with a manger as a crib, first announced by angels to shepherds, 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 Savior 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 on the cross, 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 Divine 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.

 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 

 Have a blessed and safe New Year 2021, filled with hope in God's love, grace, and fellowship.

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Best Christmas Gift Ever!

Dear BLCF Friends,

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church and BLCF Café continue to remain closed effective March 16, 2020 and until further notice. Today we would like to share with you an Christmas Lesson in a virtual format. We pray after the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine and following determination of Health Canada and other Health Authorities the danger of a pandemic has subsided, the Board of BLCF will be able to reopen worship and outreach activities without concern of infection to the vulnerable within our community. In the meantime, please enjoy the following lesson, stay safe, and keep the faith. – Pastor Steve

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘The Best Christmas Gift Ever!'

© December 25, 2020, by Steve Mickelson

Based on the Message Shared by Steve Mickelson at BLCF Church on December 30, 2018

blcf bulletin december 30, 2018

Announcements & Call to Worship; Prayer                                                            

Opening Hymn # 115: Go Tell It on the Mountain 

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

Responsive Reading #615: Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2) 

Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘The Best Christmas Gift Ever!'

 Let us pray… 

Welcome to Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church’s Sunday Praise and Worship Service for Christmas Day 2020. As often happens towards the end of a year, we reflect upon the past year and anticipate what the future year may bring us. Looking back over these events, it is not unusual to reflect on both the joys and challenges of the previous year but to contrast them with those of previous years. The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic has brought upon the whole world challenges of anxiety, fear, and despair on a global scale beyond any experienced within living memory. Christmas Day marks the day that believers in the Resurrected Christ, celebrate the birth of our Lord on what we might consider that first Christmas Day, a little over 2,000 years ago. 

Though the birth of Jesus was not marked by a mass per se, visitors did come to the Lord’s birthplace to worship the Christ Child, some bringing gifts to celebrate the newborn King of kings. And annually, the birthday of Jesus is celebrated with worship, song, visitation, sharing gifts, and fellowship with others. Before COVID-19, from January 2008 until mid-March 2020, we at BLCF celebrated Christmas on Wednesday at the BLCF Cafe and on Sunday as far back as 1938 at BLCF Church. Looking back on past Christmases, I recalled one particular Christmas that resonates with our lesson today, ‘The Best Christmas Gift Ever!.’


It was Christmas 1959. I was just eight years old. I remember the Mickelson family living in San Antonio, Texas celebrating Christmas had its challenges. My younger sister, Rhona had suffered a traumatic spinal injury two years previously leaving her paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Though dad had a job in the US Air Force, stationed at a local base, many of the medical treatments and medications for Rhona were neither covered nor available to military dependents. The costs to the family meant that there were not a lot of surplus funds in the family budget to pay for decorations or gifts at Christmas. Still, the family made due. To help pay the bills, Dad took additional work after his daytime job, working as a public information officer with the Air Force during the day, he would work delivering newspapers and later as a journalist by night. Somehow, dad managed to get by with little sleep or no sleep for six days of the week.

 


When Christmas Eve came around, our mom and dad would go to the local farmer’s market late in the evening, just as the stalls selling Christmas trees were closing on. Mom would negotiate the best price on a tree, which had little or no value as it would otherwise be destined to go to the dumpster at the closing time. This is when it seemed like some Christmas magic would take place in the Mickelson home. My sisters and I would have gone to bed, and my parents would get to work decorating the tree with lights, ornaments, and popcorn on a string. Stocking would be hung, filled with mandarin oranges, apples, new socks, and some candy canes or chocolates.

 


Since we had financial constraints, mom initiated a Secret Santa gift exchange. Sometime in early December, family members would put their name on a piece of paper, which would be folded and placed in a bowl. We would each draw a name from the bowl, selecting whom we would buy a gift as a Secret Santa. Mom had saved up for the entire year to provide each of us with $5.00 to spend on a gift for the selected family member. In that particular year, I had drawn my name from the bowl, which normally meant drawing another name and placing my name back in the bowl. However, I told my parents that since I had drawn my name I insisted that I should be allowed to buy a Christmas present for myself. I was surprised when they agreed to my request.



That Saturday we embarked to the Las Palmas Shopping Plaza. I made a beeline to Neisner’s Store with a $5.00 bill in my wallet to purchase a gift for myself.  I ended up buying myself a Lone Ranger cap gun with a holster. The set considered by many today as politically incorrect was at the time the rage among young boys at the time. 

When we arrived home, I wrapped my present, so it could be placed under the tree on Christmas Eve. But as Christmas Day approached, I was saddened by the fact that unlike the rest of the family, I knew what was my Secret Santa gift. There was no mystery or surprise in my gift which removed any joy of anticipation for me. Christmas morning arrived and the family opened their only gift from a Secret Santa, with much excitement and anticipation, except for me, there was no mystery or Secret Santa as I already knew what was under the tree. That Christmas Day I learned some valuable lessons about the sharing of gifts on Christmas Day, particularly the joy of giving over receiving and the excitement of anticipating the arrival of a Christmas gift given in a loving, selfless manner. Our lesson today contains some parallels to my life lesson. While the Jews had anticipated the arrival of s Messiah sent by God, no one knew the day or time the Christ would arrive. Even the mother of the Messiah was initially unaware that she was chosen by God to give birth to him, Luke 1:26-35 (ESV):

Birth of Jesus Foretold

 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[c] 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God. Footnotes: a. Luke 1:27 That is, legally pledged to be married b.Luke 1:28 Some manuscripts add Blessed are you among women! C. Luke 1:34 Greek since I do not know a man e. Luke 1:35 Some manuscripts add of you

Not only was Mary unaware of her selection to be the mother of Christ, but she was also surprised that she would conceive her child as a virgin. Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, had similar concerns to the news of her pregnancy, but his fears were allayed by the visit of an angel, Matthew 1:18-24 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,     and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,

Footnotes: a. Matthew 1:18 Some manuscripts of the Christ b. Matthew 1:18 That is, legally pledged to be married

While it seems that Mary and Joseph may have been aware of the arrival of a Christ or Messiah for the People of Israel, it appears that neither knew until the angels visited them, that God would choose a woman betrothed to a carpenter as parents to raise His Christ child. The lord had to send His angels them the important place they would have in fulfilling His plan.

We know that there were also Magi or Wise Men, though not Jews, they were aware that God had placed signs in the heavens, so they followed a star to Bethlehem, where the Christ was to be born, Matthew 2:1-15 (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.

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 716 b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9 We see that the Wise Men, the chief priests, scribes, and King Herod were aware of the prophecy of God sending a Christ, the Wise Men sought him in the palace of the king in Jerusalem and Herod was uncertain as to where to find the Messiah. The chief priests and scribes told Herod that the Scriptures indicated that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. King Herod plotted to kill the Christ child, asking the Wise Men to return to him with the location of the baby’s birth. But warned in a dream, the Wise Men returned to their homeland in another way, not telling Herod about the child. Joseph was warned in a dream as well, by an angel of the Lord of Herod’s plan, and fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt until receiving word of the king's death. As we read through the New Testament, we see that many of the Jews, including the disciples, had not anticipated the reason why God sent His only Son, Jesus nor in what manner Jesus would eventually redeem humanity for the sins that they had committed, which was the judgment of death, John 3:16-17 (ESV):

For God So Loved the World


 
16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Footnotes: a. John 3:16 Or For this is how God loved the world 

The first Christmas marks the arrival of a much anticipated Messiah, but the manner of how, when, and where God executed His plan and promise of salvation through His only Son, revealed events that were unexpected, filled with mystery, wonder, and joy. This is the message of Christmas: to be blessed with His most precious gift to all who have faith. May you all have a blessed Christmas and a safe and happy 2021. 

 Let us pray…


Closing Hymn #410: O What a Wonderful, Wonderful Day
 

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.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ – Fourth Advent Sunday: Love

Dear BLCF Friends, 

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church and BLCF Café continue to remain closed effective March 16, 2020 and until further notice. Today we would like to share with you an Advent Lesson in a virtual format. We pray after the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine and following determination of Health Canada and other Health Authorities the danger of a pandemic has subsided, the Board of BLCF will be able to reopen worship and outreach activities without concern of infection to the vulnerable within our community. In the meantime, please enjoy the following lesson, stay safe, and keep the faith. – Pastor Steve

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ

– Fourth Advent Sunday: Love’

© December 20, 2020, by Steve Mickelson

Based on Messages Shared at BLCF on December 20, 2015 and December 23, 2018

BLCF Bulletin December 23, 2018

BLCF Bulletin December 20, 2015

Call to Worship; Prayer                                                               

Lighting Fourth Advent Candle (Love) - Luke 2:10-11, John 3:16-21, and Luke 2:10-11 (ESV):

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

John 3:16-21 (ESV): For God So Loved the World

16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Footnotes: a. John 3:16 Or For this is how God loved the world

 

Hymn #113: Angels We Have Heard on High; Christmas Hymns 

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

Responsive Reading #627: (The Saviors Advent – Luke 2) 

Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ – Fourth Advent Sunday 2018: Love

 

Let us pray… 

Welcome to BLCF Church, for our Sunday Praise and Worship Service. Over the last several weeks, we have observed the Advent or coming of the birth of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, by lighting on each of the four Sunday’s a candle, part of the Advent wreath. The candles represent the aspects of God’s plan to bring to humanity: hope, peace, love, and joy, through our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Today’s candle called the ‘Candle of Love’, also known as the ‘Angel’s Candle’. The significance of the ‘Peace Candle’ is how important love is to the faith walk of the Christian believer. We may get an understanding of love from the first of today’s Scripture Verses found inside today’s Bulletin. Jesus indicated that love is a key aspect of the ‘great commandment’ in the Law given to us from the Lord, Matthew 22:35-39 (ESV):

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Love is not only a key aspect of our relationship with the Lord and our neighbor, but it is also the most important gift given to us by the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV): 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. We see the importance of love as both a Commandment and Gift of the Spirit. What is meant by love? For an answer, let us see what we may find in our Wikibits Sources:

How to Define Love

 

 “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?” — Albert Einstein Love is difficult to define. How do you avoid confusing it with infatuation or lust? Philosophers and psychologists both have attempted to define love, or at least its difference from infatuation and lust. If you are looking to find love, the following observations may be helpful. 

Love is much more than a risk but is a risk that one can take and grasp and fall into a dark abyss or dig oneself a hole and only crawl back when you overcome your emotions. How can one truly define what love is? Not even an experienced person can truly grasp or explain love to its truest and deepest meaning. Its concepts are just a never-ending story of an open book of experiences. But love does lie in one's heart, where memories are but shadows lingering in your soul. 

Look at how the ancient Greeks broke down love into four categories. Think of which category of love you feel for the people you are close to.
  1. Agape is unconditional love. It is love by "choice" even if you are not pleased. A good example is "God loves us with our faults".
  2. Philia is charity or brotherly love, guided by our likes or our healthy or unhealthy needs and desires. This is why Philadelphia is called the "City of Brotherly Love".
  3. Storge is the word for family love and the physical show of "affection", the need for physical touch. Sometimes it's the love between exceptional friends (the movie Grumpy Old Men for example).
  4. Eros is the physical "sexual" desire, intercourse. It is the root word of erotic, and eroticism.
http://www.wikihow.com/Define-Love 

The Bible adds to our understanding of love, by telling us that love is not only an expression of true Christian faith but describes a characteristic of God, God is love in1 John 4:7-21 (ESV):

God Is Love

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Footnotes: a. 1 John 4:20 Some manuscripts how can he

We see in this passage, that God is love; that God loves us; and through Jesus, God’s love becomes perfected in us. If we abide in God, we receive His Holy Spirit so that God abides in us. If you look at the back of today’s Bulletin, at the bottom of the page, you see a clarification of what is stated in 1 John 4:10, that because God first loved us, Jesus provided an atoning sacrifice to appease or turn away God’s wrath against sinners. We see that Jesus came because God loved us, not to remove or God’s Law, but to remove the judgment for our sin, which is the punishment for violating the Law. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, and confess that sin, we receive salvation from God’s judgement, as well as the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit: kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, which are bound together in perfect harmony through love, Colossians 3:12-15 (ESV):

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 

This Christmas, let us upon the love through Christ. God is love and Jesus came because of His love. To the faithful, the Holy Spirit comes to us bringing to each believer the love of God. Let us be thankful that through the Resurrected Christ, the love from God binds us together in His grace as a single unified body of believers, so that we may bear witness of His love to a dark and sinful world. 

Let us pray…

Lighting of the Christ Candle: Hymn #115: Go, Tell It on the Mountain 

Closing Hymn #103: O Come, All Ye Faithful                                                          

Benediction – (Ephesians 6:24): Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ – Third Advent Sunday: Joy

Dear BLCF Friends, 

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church and BLCF Café continue to remain closed effective March 16, 2020 and until further notice. Today we would like to share with you an Advent Lesson in a virtual format. We pray after the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine and following determination of Health Canada and other Health Authorities the danger of a pandemic has subsided, the Board of BLCF will be able to reopen worship and outreach activities without concern of infection to the vulnerable within our community. In the meantime, please enjoy the following lesson, stay safe, and keep the faith. – Pastor Steve

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ – Third Advent Sunday: Joy

© December 13, 2020, by Steve Mickelson

Based Messages Shared at BLCF on December 13, 2015 and December 15, 2019

BLCF Bulletin December 13, 2015

Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer
                                                                                
Opening Hymn: Hymn #100: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Lighting Third Advent Candle (Joy) - Hebrews 12:1-2 (Bottom of page) 
                                               
After Lighting the Advent Candle #3 - Hymn #25: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee                                 
Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers                                                                                
Responsive Reading #631: Incarnate Christ (John 1)                                                                                  
  Message by Steve Mickelson:  ‘Anticipating the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ – Third Advent Sunday: Joy

Let us pray… 

Welcome to BLCF Church, on this, the Third Sunday celebrating the advent of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is the third of the four Advent Sundays, where we light a candle on each of the four Sundays, with each candle representing: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in Christ, respectively. Today’s candle is lit to celebrate the joy of the Savior’s birth. The candle is therefore referred to as the ‘Joy Candle’, known also as the ‘Shepherd’s Candle.’ Lighting The Third Advent Candle (Joy) - Hebrews 12:1-2 (below):  

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. After Lighting the Advent Candle #3 - Hymn #25: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore The joy and the shepherds are both found in the first of today’s Scripture verses, Luke 2:7-20 (ESV): 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.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Footnotes: a. Luke 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men In this Scripture passage, we have an angel suddenly coming upon and startling the shepherds, who are watching their flock on that special night. The angel instructs the shepherds not to be afraid, and to replace their fear and trepidation with joy and praise, (Luke 7:9-10):

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 

What is not told directly in this narrative is that Mary treasured up all of the evening’s events, while pondering them in her heart. Remember Mary has just gone through childbirth in a stable, probably not the place where she had expected to give birth to the Son of God. Since Jesus was born as a son of man, it is likely that the Christ Child, though conceived supernaturally, was delivered in the same manner as all children. Mary likely suffered the pain of the contractions of childbirth which God promised to Eve and her descendants, following the sin in the garden, Genesis 3:16a (ESV): 

  1To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

I was fortunate to be present with Sophie at the birth of all of our four children. I remember the pain of the contractions she suffered, with each birth. However, once the baby was delivered, her pain was forgotten and replaced with the happiness and joy that our child gave her. After the first birth, the joy continued so a few years later, Sophie and I considered having another child. The joy that each child gave Sophie exceeded the extreme pain. Jesus is the alpha and omega, that is being at the beginning of creation, and the end of time was aware of what was expected of him, in order to bring forgiveness and sanctification to all sinners, for all generations. However, Jesus did not dwell on the pain and suffering he would endure on the day he would be crucified. Instead, the Lord rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, celebrating that his crucifixion would bring a conviction and understanding to those who believe. Such is the will of his Father in heaven, Luke 10:21-24 (ESV):

Jesus Rejoices in the Father's Will

21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a] 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Footnotes: a. Luke 10:21 Or for so it pleased you well 

 Any sorrow Mary experienced in childbirth was displaced with the joy, once her baby was born. We see in our third Scripture, that Jesus references the transformative results that take place among his disciples, after his impending death on the cross. He tells them that they will experience sorrow and anguish not unlike what a woman would experience in childbirth. But once the process is complete, their sorrow will turn to joy that cannot be taken from them, John 16:16-24 (ESV):

Your Sorrow Will Turn into Joy

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 

We see that Jesus describes his own death on the cross will be a paradox: while his disciples are experiencing sorrow and lament at the death; at the same time, the world will rejoice. But like the woman the disciples’ sorrow will turn to joy after the child is born. This passage, Jesus talks about his death, which will bring the joy of salvation to the world. While his death will cause the disciples to lament, their sorrow will change to joy, after his resurrection. And after the Day of Pentecost, the Lord will send believers a companion in the Holy Spirit, so that they, too, may experience the same joy in the Spirit that Jesus described previously, in Luke 10. In conclusion, the passage in John 16, talks of the pain of childbirth that will result in the salvation of sinners everywhere. Those who believe and confess their sins will experience the fullness of joy from being born again in the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray… 

Closing Hymn #120: Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come

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.