This Advent season is a good moment to pause and listen to Mary’s proclamation. Do we sometimes think we are insignificant? Listen to Mary’s affirmation that God is deeply interested in us. Do we wonder what we should be doing with our lives? Listen to Mary’s words as she explains what God wants to do with this world of ours.
Then we need to be ready to proclaim this good news to others. Although Christmas can be a moment of joy, many people are missing someone they love, struggling to make ends meet, and afraid about the future. The invitation from Mary is to see oneself as a person connected with God—a God that seeks to use us to further a future that is different and hopeful.
Advent Church, Christmas Eve 2020.
Advent is over for another year, and so are these #AdventWord meditations, along with my photos of events in Taiwan in 2020. It has not been an easy year for the world. Many are suffering. Taiwan continues to do well in handling the pandemic, although the long run of 253 consecutive days of no local transmission ended a few days ago with one case, traced to a infected pilot who has caused much worry for the country ~ and has since been fired for his dishonesty in neither revealing his contacts nor his travel details. As it is, we are grateful that our Christmas continues as ‘normal’, which for Taiwan means work and school; we have no Christmas holiday or time off. Y’know, it’s actually good, there are so many opportunities for outreach, and many of our students and former students came to our Christmas Eve Service this evening ~ and stayed for the delicious refreshments afterwards. Tomorrow’s main event for Christmas Day will be at 7:30 am when we all gather to go to our neighbouring junior-high school to wish all the children and staff a Merry Christmas. 🎅⛄ 🎄
Thank you all for your Christmas cards and messages. I didn’t really send any Christmas cards this year ~ please accept this as my Christmas greetings for 2020. I am very grateful to you all for your support and prayers this past year, Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time!🎄🎄
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
Mary sang in praise of God: And holy is his Name. Gracious God, what is our song, Now in this time of weeping? In our night of pain and grief, Faithful voices rise toward starry skies: In you, O Holy One, we put our trust. Can we find once more your promise of mercy? A new light shines in the darkness – Together, we wait and rejoice.
The Nativity Scene here at Advent Church, Tamsui, Taipei
The wisest path is to surrender to the will of the “only wise God” when it is revealed to us. Mary was confused by her encounter with the angel Gabriel but wisely said, “Here am I” nevertheless. Indeed, having wisdom does not mean having all of the answers. Wisdom resides in actively waiting for the word of God to come to us at the appointed time. It involves trusting enough in God’s provision that we can say “yes” to God’s call.
Full of wisdom, compassion, energy and fun ~ this is our very lovable Herbert, now at the distinguished age of 78, celebrating his 10th anniversary as priest-in-charge of the Good Shepherd English Congregation, Taipei on November 22, 2020. He spoke of having saved the best till last, meaning of all the churches and ministries he’s served in over the last 50+ years, this one is the one he loves the best ~ so here’s to the next 10 years, Herb!
“Listen,” the Apostle Paul whispers, “I will tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye…” (1 Cor 15:51-52 para). I look into the night sky. I find a star gazing back at me, and I let it be the star over Bethlehem that instantaneously called humanity’s attention to the unveiling of God’s love for all people… made known through the birth of Jesus. The mystery remains true: collapses and risings fill the patterns of our common life, still, we yearn for God’s love-filled light in the darkness. It transforms us, as God never puts an end to anything that God loves.
The Mystery Photo of the Year! This is the Bishop of Wyoming, John Smylie on February 22, 2020 – he came to Taiwan for Bishop Chang’s consecration. The photo is taken in the meeting room at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei before the service started. The 2 girls are members of St. John’s Cathedral Youth Fellowship who volunteered to help welcome the international visitors. But until now (and I confirmed this with them yesterday!) neither of the girls can remember what they were talking about in this conversation, nor the reason for the wonderful expressions on their faces!
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers two definitions for the word ‘rejoice’. We mostly live in the first one: to feel joy or great delight. But it also offers another definition for rejoice that we don’t often consider. Rejoice can also mean to give joy to, to gladden. In this use, it’s a transitive verb. What that means is that the verb has a direct object. It seems to me that this is the definition Jesus embodies. He comes to be among us, born in a lowly stable, to give joy to us. To gladden our hearts. To be love incarnate, love made flesh. We are the object of his gift of joy.
This is us, rejoicing that we’ve made it to the summit of Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山: 3,418 m / 11,214 ft, July 23, 2020. And the weather was perfect!
Imagine a flat plane holding all of creation, and at the center of all things, the radiance of God, alighting on all things, beholding all things, knowing all things. We, too, are on the plane, working to keep our eyes fixed on this center, drawing closer to the Source and each other with every step. But so often – all the time! – we take our eyes from God; we become distracted, we fall back, we get bored and settle for selfish desires, innumerable idolatries, and participation in systems that draw us further from God and each other. Now is our time to TURN back to God, preparing our hearts and fixing our eyes on the Holy One.
The turn of the year is coming soon ~ this was us at Grace Church, Tainan with Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, Rev. Samuel Liao and the congregation celebrating Chinese New Year on January 26, 2020 ~ the year of the rat. On February 12, 2021, we’ll be celebrating Chinese New Year ~ and the arrival of the year of the ox. Lots of family reunions being planned, and as nobody will be traveling overseas due to the pandemic, so the scenic spots, hotels, roads and shops will be even more crowded than usual. In the photo, everyone’s turned out in their new clothes, holding their red envelopes! Yes, red is the colour for Chinese New Year!
To BLESS is the act of honoring the divine in the other. Sometimes it is as simple as yielding our place in line to someone at the grocery store. Other times it takes a more sacramental approach. When blessing others, in the everyday or in the sacramental, the blessing is sacrificial and unconditional. During trying times, we must not lose sight of what it means to give ourselves a blessing. When blessing ourselves we practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and we find the imago dei within our own identity. For this is what fills the cups that we use to bless others.
Being a blessing to others: kindergarten teachers to the rescue! When the call comes to provide some entertainment on the spur of the moment – for the international audience of bishops and VIP guests on the evening of Bishop Chang’s consecration – then here comes our really wonderful Hannah (wife of Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang and a former kindergarten teacher) leading all the men in singing a children’s action song, February 22, 2020. 💃🕺 Believe me, kindergarten teachers are just so worth their weight in gold!
Love comes easy at Christmas, in the story of the birth of a vulnerable baby Jesus. It’s a good place to start, with Jesus, but there is more to know. The Jesus of the Gospels often challenges, standing in defiance of a world which refused to know him. And Jesus also challenges us today. As his disciples, we learn all we can, keeping our hearts open to the Jesus we find in scripture but also open to the Jesus who calls us to learn to love as he did. The “Way of Love” is to LEARN to love as boldly as Jesus.
‘Learning to Love’: Advent Communion Service for the international students from Uganda and Eswatini (Swaziland) studying at Chung Chou University of Science & Technology 中州科技大學, Yuanlin 員林市, central Taiwan, led by Rev. Simon T. S. Tsou, December 7, 2020
“Do not quench the Spirit!” Paul says. The Spirit, ever present, ever mischievous, is constantly trying to catch our attention, using all those human moments – joy, nostalgia, boredom, exhaustion, wonder – to tap us on the shoulder and say, “pay attention to me!” Our response, whether it’s with excitement or annoyance, is called Prayer.
Pay attention, we’re here!
This is us, this is Taiwan!
Pray for us, pray for Taiwan!
Rev. Simon T. S. Tsou with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry @ St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, February 21, 2020
I read once that our worship must flow out of true selves and engage our spirit as we pursue truth, and yet so much about how we conduct worship often can feel as if we are putting on pretense – as if we are dressing up to play people who worship, instead of just being people who are worship-filled just as we are – messy, or tired; confused, or content. In a season that is ripe with dressing up, I wonder how we can bring our true selves and engage our spirits as we pursue the truth of incarnation in our lives.
Pray for those on the Taiwan Episcopal Church internship program, a year of learning, praying, discovering & discerning 😇 Yan-Xuan (centre) & Yu-Lin (right) are in the middle of their year, Chia-Lin (left) completed hers in the summer, and is now at Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong. They are all so very lovely! 😊
Photo taken on July 25, 2020, St. James’ Church, Taichung.