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Joy to Elmwood!

Tom and I were invited to the Christian Family Centre's Christmas banquet tonight by the congregation's Brazilian pastor, Elton DaSilva and his wife Ana. I've come away impressed by a number of things.

The congregation is warm, welcoming and very much like a family. It was cool to see everyone gathered together, standing in the foyer singing Christmas carols.

What was particularly moving was to see the Batende family* in attendance. Six siblings, refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who watched their parents massacred in the middle of the night, are celebrating their first Christmas in Canada. Christian Family Centre is not their home church but they live in the neighbourhood and someone made the effort to include them.

The interior of the church is beautiful--far beyond what I would expect from a small congregation. It appears to be a work in progress, but what has been finished so far is very high class. I'm guessing the congregation has a few carpentry wizards.

The Christmas decor for the banquet was stunning: green garlands, wreaths and miniature Christmas trees, tiny lights, silver trim and white poinsettas and topiary. The round tables had square red cloths covering larger white cloths and in the centre of each was a small Christmas tree in a square metal pail, covered with silver-coloured ornaments. How festive!

The food was top-notch. This little church, in order that all may attend, hired a caterer to provide and serve the food. Did I say the place has class? They also hired people to care for the children who, I presume, were also fed a good meal.

Besides a feast for our bodies, we were given a feast for our souls and spirits. The cutest little boy, four years old in pin-striped suit, white shirt and red tie, along with his slightly older sister who hid behind a music stand, sang to us. The little boy was such a darling as he held the (comparatively) large mike in front of his face.

A man, identified as Dan, played phenomenal sax that would put any professional jazz musician to shame. Oh wait! I think they said he is the pastor of music at a different church. Dan was full of joy and energy as he played, moving his sax back and forth, making some strange flourishes with his right hand and filling the room with exuberance. His final song, "All I want for Christmas is You," he played directly to his wife who was sitting at one of the front tables. What I particularly enjoyed (other than Dan's incredible musicianship) was one little old lady on the other side of the room. I'd guess her to be about 85-95 and as Dan played "Let it snow!" she danced, sitting in her chair, every possible part of her moving with enthusiasm to the beat (I especially remember the elbows). At the back of the room, two young women also danced with joy.

We saw a couple of videos. One was the youth of the church, renacting the visitation of the magi. They presented their gifts to Mary, but when they heard her call the baby "Jesus," they grabbed the gifts back and said they were looking for Barak Obama. The video ended with a commentary about who do we look to save us.

In the other video, the innkeeper stood, talking to us about the couple who had come looking for a place to stay. Full of humour and references to current times, the vignette showed a shepherd in jeans who had been brought to the barn by a star. He left, wishing the innkeeper a Merry Census. A wiseman arrived in a business suit. I wish I could remember more. It was a unique and fresh way to present a story that everyone has heard gazillions of time.

Three girls from the youth group acted out what it might have been like had the wives of the wisemen gathered together for lunch. They spoke in upper crust English accents and complained about things like a husband not wanting to move up to a single-hump camel, but choosing to stick with the cheaper two-humped model; about a great bargain at the myrrh market and diversifying investments by trading some sheep for gold.

And then the message. Russ (I didn't hear his last name) used Joseph as an example for us to follow, with three points:

1. We need to learn to listen to God speaking to us. Many of us don't think God wants to speak to us so, when he does, we miss him. How did Joseph know it was God speaking to him and not just something he ate that created the dream?

2. We must believe that God is up to doing the impossible. Imagine yourself in Joseph's shoes. His fiancée is pregnant and he didn't do it. He's supposed to believe it was God? He could have walked away, but had he, he would have missed out on what God was doing. God likes to stretch us. Our hearts are like a balloon that holds only so much. God uses pain to stretch our lives so our capacity increases not only to feel pain but also for love, peace and joy. Everytime God does the impossible, there is always a logical explanation that could be used to dismiss it as ordinary. Joseph chose to believe the impossible.

3. Joseph chose to take a big risk. Again, if he hadn't, he would have missed out. What risk is God asking you to take or believe?

Joy. The evening was full of it. Pastor Elton DaSilva invited the many visitors to church tomorrow morning. The sermon topic? Joy. God is full of it and so are his people.

Special mention needs to go to Ana DaSilva who wrote and produced the vignette and videos, decorated the church and seemed to be the driving force behind the evening. Thank you, Ana!

*"Family marks first Canadian Christmas," by Thomas V. Chan in Christian Week, Manitoba Edition, December 1, 2008.


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