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Immanuel (God with us)

The mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God still continues to bring wonder and awe to those presented with the facts of the gospel message – for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to dwell among mankind in order to save us from our sins by dying on the cross (Jn. 3:16). Yet what does it really mean for God to be in our midst? Well, for one, it would not be like the satirical, almost blasphemous, 1995 song by Joan Osborne titled “What if God was one of us?” It would not even be like the storyline of the comedy movie “Bruce Almighty” where God bestows an unsuspecting human with His powers for a day, leading only to sheer disaster and calamity when things go awry.

The Bible tells us that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel– which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matt. 1:23) which the apostle Matthew recorded in relation to angel Gabriel’s pronouncement to the virgin Mary of Jesus’ impending miraculous birth. This was just one of over 300 messianic prophecies to be fulfilled by Jesus found in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 7:14), written hundreds of year before His birth. Mathematicians calculate that the probability of one person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies would be 1 in 1017, and it would be 1 in 10157 for 1 person fulfilling 48 such prophecies, let alone one person fulfilling 300+ prophecies! Only Jesus, the true son of God, could accomplish this, and it is the magnificent detail of these prophecies that mark the Bible as the reliable and inspired Word of God.

For Jesus to be incarnate meant that He had to leave His glory in heaven and take on the form of a human, obeying His Father’s will to die on the cross. This is our God, the Servant-King, and because of His ultimate sacrifice, God exalted Him to that highest place, that every knee shall bow to and every tongue confess the lordship of Jesus in our lives and in the world (Phil. 2:5-11). That the highest power and authority, the Creator of heaven and earth, would stoop to our lowly human level, for the sake of His Father, but also for the sake of us humankind – what amazing love!

Another apostle John puts it this way, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked atand our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life … We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 Jn. 1:1-4) Jesus chose to dwell among man, to reconcile us to a relationship with God, that we might have fellowship (or union) with God, restoring the original order set out when God created Adam and Eve, and one day culminating in the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. May we experience God’s abiding presence, complete joy and deepest love this year-end and in the year to come.

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Lessons & Carols

Every year, our church has a special Sunday service in December called “Lessons and Carols.” Ever wondered why we have this in our church calendar or what is the meaning behind the service?
In 1880, Edward Benson, at that time Bishop of Truro in Cornwall but later Archbishop of Canterbury, created, formalised and performed the service of carols with Nine Lessons. The service took place at 10pm on Christmas Eve in a large wooden structure being used as a temporary cathedral as the main Truro Cathedral was being rebuilt. Over 400 people attended this first service. Since then, the service has subsequently been in continuous use (with modifications) in Truro since 1880. The original liturgy has since been adapted and used by other churches all over the world, occurring most often in Anglican churches. However, numerous Christian denominations have adopted this service, or a variation of this service, as part of their Christmas celebrations.
One of the most famous versions today is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, featuring carols sung by the famous Choir of King’s College, and broadcast live annually over BBC Radio (and all over the world) at 3pm (UK time) on Christmas Eve. The service was first performed at King’s College in 1918 as a way of the college celebrating the end of WWI. The new college dean, Eric Milner-White, who had been an Army Chaplain in WWI, wanted a different and more positive way of celebrating Christmas for the choir and people in the college.
A service of Nine Lessons and Carols typically has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. The opening verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ is usually sung by a single boy chorister or by the whole choir. The service has a profound dignity and simplicity. Each lesson follows the same format: the passage of Scripture is read by a reader, followed by the singing of a carol reflecting on that passage of Scripture. The service traditionally involves nine readers, representing various age groups, societies, or roles within the church. When the service includes a sermon or meditation, it usually follows the ninth lesson, though some place it after the eighth. The service concludes with a prayer and a blessing. The recessional and postlude that follows often ends on a triumphant and joyful tone.
As we worship God in our Lessons and Carols service today, let us truly reflect on the Christmas story of salvation told in these moving passages of Scripture, God sent His Son into this world to live a sinless, perfect life, to pay the penalty for our sins, and to purchase a place for us in heaven, so that whoever believes, repents and calls on His name, the name of Jesus Christ, will be saved (Acts 4:12).

As we reflect on the topic of raising the next generation, it is worth to consider this verse in Deut 4.9:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

What does passing the faith on to future generations encompass? God reminds us in His Word that firstly, it begins with ourselves. We are to be careful, or to give heed to ourselves, and to watch ourselves closely, or to keep our souls diligently. Why is this important? Our life is our best witness to the generations after us, not our achievements, not our words or teachings, but the way we live our lives.

Secondly, we are reminded not to forget the things we have experienced, or let them fade (or slip, depart) from our hearts, not just when we are young, or when those God-moments happen, but for as long as we live. In the immediate context, God was reminding the Israelites through Moses not to forget what He had done for them by freeing them from slavery and bondage to Egypt and Pharaoh, and the eventual leading to the Promised Land. The same applies for us. Do we remember when we received Jesus as our Saviour and Lord? Do we remind ourselves (and our children) of all that He has done to save us? Do we keep it at the forefront as our motivation for obedience and service to the Lord?

Lastly, we are exhorted to teach God’s laws and what He has done to our children and their children. This does not just apply to Christian parents, but to the whole body of Christ, that God has placed us and younger generations together in. As teachers, as leaders, as a church community, we all have a role and responsibility to live godly and exemplary lives and to teach others to do so, for the sake of Christ and God’s glory. May God help us to connect to His Word, commit to Him and be His people, shining His light and love wherever we go.

Grace & truth

Much has been debated recently regarding Singapore’s Penal Code, in particular Section 377A, following the recent decision by the Indian Supreme Court to rule in favour of decriminalising homosexuality. Several individuals (including prominent public figures) and groups have weighed in on both sides in print and online media platforms, and some have even been aggressively garnering support for online petitions either to support or repeal. What follows is a personal reflection on this pertinent and controversial topic, and by no means reflects our church’s official position. The intention here is also not to debate on a theological level, as if to prove or defend my position on 377A or homosexuality. Instead, my hope is that it will encourage reflection of our own personal response, suggesting a more balanced approach towards this and related issues.

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Crazy rich Christians

“Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Brothers adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel has taken the world by storm since its premiere in mid-August. In 3 weeks, the film has become the most successful Hollywood studio romantic comedy in nearly a decade at the U.S. box office, topping the charts for the third weekend in a row, already raking in an estimated total of USD 1 million. Amidst its many themes are the extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous in Asia, the importance of traditional family values, pedigree, connections and being part of the “in” crowd. One major theme is that of “inheritance” (or “old money”), in which the male protagonist is essentially modern day royalty, primed from a young age to take over his father’s legacy – his business empire, wealth and assets, and family name. Watching and reading interviews done with the author, it is apparent that much of his novels were based on personal experience as well.
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