The First Sunday of Advent
December 3rd, 2017
The Rt. Rev. David J. H. Lai
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
I bring you warm greetings from the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan, and from the National Council of Churches of Taiwan, the NCCT.
Our group of 34 people come from all the different churches in the NCCT.
We have Bishop Chung and Rev. Bao from the RC Church, and we have representatives from the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as a number of different Christian organizations.
Since 1966, our churches and organizations have cooperated together in unity and in ministry, witnessing and standing together for issues of interest to the faith and values we share. In particular, we have served together those in need and living at the edges of society.
Taiwan is a society where only 5-6% of the population are Christians, so our unity is very important.
The American Episcopal Church helped to establish the Taiwan Episcopal Church in 1954, and we are still part of Province VIII.
Your bishop, Bishop Pierre Whalon is my good friend and he encouraged us to come here to worship today on our visit to Rome.
Taiwan has only 19 international diplomatic allies in total, and the only one of those in Europe is the Vatican, the Holy See.
So we are very blessed to be here in Rome to visit Pope Francis on Thursday, followed by visits to Assisi and Milan.
Today is Advent Sunday, the start of the new church year.
Actually in Taiwan, we look forward to the New Year season starting today with Advent, the new church year, and then the western New Year on January 1, and finally the Lunar New Year, known as Chinese New Year, which could be anytime in January or February, depending on the moon.
So we have 3 big New Year celebrations in Taiwan!
When I was a child, we so much looked forward to Chinese New Year, to receiving red envelopes full of money from our parents and relatives.
We looked forward to wearing brand new clothes, but in all honesty, we did not enjoy taking part in all the cleaning that had to be done in our homes beforehand! We loved watching the very lively lion and dragon dances.
In western society, dragons are often seen as symbols of the underworld, and are killed by heroes like St. George; but in Chinese society, dragons are the ultimate symbols of power and royalty.
Only the emperor could wear a dragon on his gown.
We also loved lighting firecrackers to scare away evil spirits and to bring good fortune.
In Taiwan’s Buddhist and folk religion culture, so many people go to the temple at Chinese New Year to pray for blessings.
In Chinese tradition, there are 5 important blessings, namely, long life, wealth, good health, love of virtue and a peaceful death in old age.
Every Chinese New Year, I remind our church members that our blessings come from Almighty God, not from human beings or idols.
We need to present ourselves to Almighty God in humility, and through prayer and ask for His blessings.
When we read today’s Bible readings, and hear of all the natural disasters taking place, we are reminded again of the absolute power of Almighty God.
And so we can come again to Him in prayer and ask for His mercy, His comfort and His blessings.
We are called today to keep awake, to be alert, and to ready for the coming of the Lord.
In today’s Collect, we pray to Almighty God to give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.
When we meet Pope Francis on Thursday, we will share with him how we fully share his conviction that his message of peace and serving one another in love is what the world at this time needs to hear.
Without love, peace is not real peace; and without love, the world descends into chaos.
As faithful disciples of Jesus, we shall spread his Gospel of Love, Peace, and Joy throughout the world!
Our firm hope and wish is that we continue to journey together and in a spirit of brotherly love, enabling us to foster our collaboration in different areas, in particular in areas of evangelization and service of humanity.
We plan to present Pope Francis with an Artillery Shell Cross as a sign of our resolve, and I also want to present one today to your rector, Rev. Austin Rios.
This Cross is made of one of 470,000 artillery shells fired at the island of Kinmen, one of the outlying islands governed by Taiwan, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958.
We have a vision and a plan to transform those objects of violence, destruction and death into Artillery Shell Crosses, as symbols of peace, love and mercy.
One of these Crosses will be given to all who are peacemakers in the world, and to all who act in love to serve the poor, the needy and the disadvantaged.
May Almighty God bless you all, also give us peace and joy.