A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 December 2010, Fourth Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25.
Every year we celebrate Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Every year we observe the season of Advent by lighting the candles. Advent is a time of the Church year that reminds us to prepare for the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of our life and of our world.
The drama is very creative. Our youngsters tried to translate the biblical account on God’s salvation story through Jesus into the contemporary context of Hong Kong. It is refreshing and helps us to relate the birth of Jesus and his salvation to the world today.
In the biblical account of Matthew 2:1-12, King Herod was the king of the colonized Jews. He represented the imperial power of the Roman Empire. In the drama performed by our youths, Li Ka Shing is a representation of the influential people and corporations with both great economic and political power in the contemporary world of capitalism. They will destroy everyone and everything that will threaten their power and interest.
Both King Herod and Li Ka Shing, are a representation of greed and domination, greed for power and wealth.
For King Herod of the imperial rule and the tycoons of the commercial world today, they are both concerned with their own expansion of power and success.
According to the bible, the birth of Jesus was to save the people from their sins. How can we imagine a poor, vulnerable and weak person can save other people? He may not even save himself!
Jesus Christ, messiah/savior of the Jews, promised by God, came to the world, not with power and high status, but in the form of a vulnerable child. He faced a lot of trial and threats. His life was at risk when he was conceived and born. Paradoxically, the vulnerability of this savior was strong and powerful enough to threaten King Herod. This threat had led to King Herod’s decision to kill this baby boy.
This savior is called ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God is with us’. That is the promise of God and the presence of God that make things different.
God of Emmanuel can transform the powerless to powerful, the weak to strong, the poor to rich. This subversive salvation is possible because God is right there with the persecuted, the poor, vulnerable and the weak.
The biblical narrative and our young people’s drama have led me to think of a second-hand bookshop called “Book Attic”. The owner of this bookshop, Jennifer Li approached me recently. She is looking for a space to keep her second hand bookshop which is currently located in Wan Chai. She has to move out from the current venue because owner has to take back for redevelopment. She cannot afford the high rent for her bookshop. She complains that the property owners and developers are greedy creatures that consumed most of her income generated from the shop. Although encountering great difficulty and at the risk of closing down her bookstore, she does not give up. She has a clear vision to promote an environmental friendly world by selling high quality second hand books. She is a book lover and wishes to share this passion with others. She wishes also to help others to grow their mind through reading books rich in literary and culture. She organizes regular book lovers gathering, children story time, and book and poetry club. She impresses me also with her compassionate heart for people in needs. She has employed physically challenged university students and young people working part time for her bookshop. She tries to spend the penny that she earns to support people in needs. She is therefore unable to earn any income for herself so far although she shared that she wishes to earn her own bread and butter out of her shop in the long run.
This Book Attic run by Jennifer is small with little resources. But it carries a strong vision and spirit to affirm life and culture. She has also demonstrated great respect to the wisdom of this universe by promoting a culture of reading.
The shop can be easily destroyed indeed by property owners and developers when the rent increased rapidly beyond her reach. The situation is even worse for many small shops of this kind after the urban renewal scheme.
Forced to move out from the current location, she received a lot of encouraging support from her club members and even the mass media.
Our church council has also agreed to accommodate the bookshop for 4 months from Feb to June next year in the building at Jordan No2. The Book Attic will use the space currently occupied by the Refugee Advice Center. RAC will move to another bigger office in Tsimshashui by the end of January next year. The timing is just right.
We hope their temporary accommodation in our space can give them more time to find a suitable and affordable space in the long run.
We see how God could prepare the necessary resources for the little and the less resourceful to fulfill good works for the people in the community. The presence of this kind of small shop and individuals with hearts for people and God’s Creation, is a strong reveal of God’s loving and caring presence to the world. Through the support of this kind of shops and people with hearts, God redeems the people from a world of greed, a dire desire for money making and accumulation of wealth at the expense of other people’s survival and rights for a diversified life style.
God has been involving in human history. God’s salvation story through Jesus Christ goes on and on in different generations.
In the life of Jesus, the Lord reveals to us clearly that God’s salvation does not start with the powerful, but with the little, the persecuted and the have-not. God is always there to side with the powerless who would be saved and at the same time would save others.
God’s salvation never comes from the power of domination, exploitation and manipulation. Therefore, our encounter with God is not through the rich, the powerful. Quite the contrary, our encounter with God is through the vulnerable, the persecuted, the little and the weak.
The basis of the Lord’s salvation is love.
Today, Yana lighted the advent candle of love for the world. Love is the essence of God. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:15-16)
The name of the savior is “Emmanuel”, meaning ‘God with us’. The phrase “God with us” was a powerful message of hope to the Hebrew people in exile and to the early Christian community.
God of Emmanuel brings to us peace and love. When we are with God and God with us, we would be much empowered. God with us represents God’s greatest love for us all. Love of God is powerful to transforming the world from greed to generosity, from domination to sharing, from despair to hope, from grief to joy, from fear to peace.
When God is with us, we would be strengthened to engage deeply a life of loving God and one another. May the promise of God bring hope, peace, joy and love fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ, redeemer of the world. Amen.