Christmas Memorial Sermon – November 28, 2007

The following sermon was preached at the annual Christmas Memorial Service for St. John’s Columbarium on November 28, 2007. The service took place at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, SK. Isaiah 9:2-7Psalm 139:1-18John 1:1-14 I have a vivid memory of a school trip to the Maritimes when I was nine years old. We were visiting a small town in Acadia, and we were billeted with local families. The room I slept in those few nights was in the basement of my billet’s home. It had a small window, but being on the edge of town there wasn’t much light outside to come in through the window at night. In the middle of the first night, I woke up because I needed to go to the bathroom. The room was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, and it took me a moment to remember where I was — that I wasn’t at home in my own bed. Once I realized where I was, I also realized that finding my way to the bathroom was not going to be easy. But I couldn’t wait till morning, so I got up and started feeling my way towards where I thought I’d find the light switch. I found a wall. I found a corner. But I didn’t find a switch. Frantically, I started searching for the door. Where was it? I was starting to feel trapped. I strained my eyes, opening them as wide as I … Read more »

Christmas Eve 2007

Luke 1:5-19Luke 1:26-38Luke 2:1-7Luke 2:8-20John 1:1-14 Writing sermons for Christmas is not the easiest part of a minister’s job. Choosing the carols and the readings for tonight’s service was straight-forward enough, but deciding what to say about them I found to be a little more difficult. It was complicated further in my mind because I’ve been reading some biblical theology lately that questions the historicity of the Christmas stories and challenges the faithful Christian reader to delve deeper into the biblical texts to discover the theological truths contained in the oh-so-familiar stories. It would be easier to just tell the stories. It would be easier to just sing the carols. And it would be nice too, especially with family and friends gathered around, and candles, and memories of Christmases gone by. But as a modern interpreter of the texts, I need to at least acknowledge that most of the story is unlikely to have been historically true. The questions might begin with angel appearances and virgin births, and then if you start studying all the historical details, you soon discover all the inaccuracies and problems with the dates of the rulers and the census. And perhaps you might also take a moment to notice that Matthew’s Gospel tells a completely different story about Jesus’ birth and that many of the details are quite contradictory to Luke’s version of the story. Still, despite all those problems with the accounts of Jesus’ birth into our world, the church believes — and I … Read more »

December 24, 2009

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 Gwen: Well, it’s Christmas Eve tonight, and just like every year, we’re celebrating… blah, blah, blah… Jesus was born… blah, blah, blah… I’m sure you’ve all heard the story a million times before. Maybe we should just skip to the Christmas prayers so we can get out of here. Amanda: Um, Gwen, is something wrong? Don’t you want to preach about the wonder of Jesus’ birth into our world? Gwen: I don’t know, Amanda… what would I say? We’ve all heard the story before about how Jesus was born, and the angels sang, and the shepherds came all excited to visit the baby. Babies are nice and all… but how can we keep getting excited about a baby that was born more than 2000 years ago? Amanda: Don’t you think Jesus’ birth has relevance for us today? Gwen: I can see how Jesus’ birth would have been exciting back then. I mean, Jesus came into a time and place when people really needed his help. His own people, the Jews, were living under Roman rule and things were really tough for them. The pax Romana was supposed to be good for everyone in the Empire, but the reality was that it was only good for the rich and the elite, and it required everyone to give allegiance to and even to worship the Emperor. The Jews, who believed in one God only had a lot of trouble with this kind … Read more »

December 24, 2010

John 1:1-18 “Incarnation” The first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel (or the Prologue to John’s Gospel, as it is often called) is typically read in Christian churches at Christmas each year. In the church where I grew up, this passage was read every Xmas Eve at the evening worship service, usually by the same person. George Lee was an elder at St. Giles, kind of a grandfather-figure to many of us kids, and George had just the right voice for reading the Prologue to John’s Gospel. It was a deep voice, and somewhat mysterious sounding. But it was more than just the sound of his voice, I think, that made his reading of those 18 verses so special to our community. It was also the way he read those poetic and powerful words. Somehow you knew, as he read, that he truly believed what he was saying.  He proclaimed that the Word had existed from the beginning with God. He witnessed to the Word coming into the world, to its becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. And he called those who listened to accept the Word made flesh, to believe in him, and to come into relationship with God as God’s children. All the scripture texts of Christmas are about the incarnation. They’re about God coming into the world as a human person – God becoming flesh and blood – experiencing the world from a human point of view – making connections with people on a human level. But this text … Read more »

December 26, 2010

Isaiah 63:7-9 As most of you know, the Revised Common Lectionary of scripture readings provides four readings for each Sunday of the year. Normally it’s one from the Hebrew Scriptures, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, and another passage from the New Testament. Here at St. Andrew’s, we often read all four texts, even though only one or two can be the focus for the sermon. But sometimes I decide to focus the whole worship on only two or three readings, and actually dispense with reading the others. And today is one of those days. What may be unusual about this morning though, is that I decided to skip the New Testament readings. The text from Hebrews was a highly theological piece about the suffering that Jesus endured and his ability to help people when they are experiencing suffering as well. And the Gospel text was from Matthew… the story about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape the angry King Herod. (That one certainly makes sense for the Sunday right after Christmas.) But this week, I was drawn to the Psalm and the reading from Isaiah that seemed to pick up a similar theme. It seemed like a wonderful thing to do during this week that is so full of gathering, and celebrating, and rejoicing. It seemed like a good thing to do for us to pause and give thanks to God, to praise God for all the good things that we experience in life. I … Read more »

December 25, 2011

Isaiah 52:7-10 Hebrews 1:1-4 John 1:1-14 Children’s Message: Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all of you! I am so glad that you are here today. It is good to see you, and to shake your hands, and to be together to praise God on this Christmas morning! I wonder… have you ever been far away from someone you loved at a special time like Christmas? Maybe you sent that person a Christmas card, which is nice. Or maybe you even got to talk on the phone, which is even better. That’s what I’ll do with my parents and sisters and brother this Christmas. I’ll talk to them on the phone. That will be good, but not quite as good as actually being there – where you can see each other, and give each other hugs, and just spend time together. This year, Nick and I are going to fly to BC. We’re leaving this afternoon to visit Nick’s parents, and we’re looking forward to being with them. I wonder if you have anyone special visiting you this year… Does anyone have any special guests with them for Christmas? (We are so glad that you are here!) Now, to those of you who are hosting guests: When did you start to get excited about your visitors? Was it just today when you got up on Christmas morning? Or was it the day your guests arrived? Or was it the day you found out they were coming? It was earlier, wasn’t … Read more »

December 24, 2012

“What Christmas Means to Me” Luke 2:1-20 John 1:1-14 Yesterday afternoon I caught a little bit of the CBC Radio One program, “Cross country checkup,” as I was driving in my car. And the question of the day, that Reg Sherren was asking Canadians across the country to respond to, was: “What does Christmas mean to you in a multicultural Canada?” When I turned it on, there was a woman talking about inviting her Jewish and Muslim friends to her annual Christmas dinners, as well as accepting invitations to their special holiday events. It sounded like a good and enriching experience to share hospitality and friendship across cultural and religious lines. Someone else talked about Christmas having been transformed from a religious observance to a secular and commercial celebration. I thought at first that she was going to complain about that change. But instead she said that this was a good thing, because now everyone (whatever their religion or culture) can participate in Christmas together – exchanging gifts, sharing special meals, having parties, bringing their kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s knee. Later, when I got home, I went online and read some of the email responses to the Cross country checkup question of the day. And there I found some wonderful reflections on Christmas traditions. Many people wrote about their particular family practices, and the cultural and religious practices they continue to honour from homelands around the world. Some shared about basically secular celebrations. A few even … Read more »

December 30, 2012

Colossians 3:12-17 Psalm 148 Luke 2:41-52 On the back of this morning’s bulletin, Rev. Hans Kouwenberg describes this first Sunday after Christmas as “low Sunday.” And compared to the full church that we experienced here the last couple of Sundays and on Christmas Eve, today does feel a little low. The crowds are gone, just like the nearly-deserted temple in Jerusalem after the big pilgrimage festival was over. But like Jesus, who would spend his life in and out of the temple and the synagogues, learning more and more about God and the will of God for human people, we will continue to gather here week by week, and learn day by day about God and God’s will for our lives. Even though the crowds have dispersed somewhat, the scriptures today “won’t let us get away with any lowering of our praise,” as Kouwenberg put it. Whether or not we have with us a well-rehearsed choir or a huge congregation, we must continue to join with the whole of creation in praising God as today’s psalm encourages us: “Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let us praise the name of the Lord, for he alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people… who are close to him.” On this first Sunday after Christmas, we continue to praise God for the wonder of the incarnation, for the amazing gift … Read more »

January 6, 2013

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 Several times over the Christmas Season, I found myself in conversations about why we celebrate Christmas when we do. One person commented, “Every day is Christmas for me. We don’t know what time of year Jesus was born, do we? So I can celebrate his birth all through the year.” I certainly couldn’t dispute that! We really have no idea when Jesus was born, either what date or season, or even exactly what year. What the Christian Church has done is to choose a birthday for Jesus. We have chosen a time of year to celebrate and give thanks for the birth of Christ, for God’s incarnation among us. The probable reason for the selection of December 25th was to coincide with pagan festivals that were being held around the time of the Winter Solstice. I can imagine the Christian leaders speculating… Perhaps if we celebrate a mass for Christ at that time, Christians will be less inclined to get caught up in those other pagan celebrations. There’s good sense in that reasoning. And yet, there are other good reasons for celebrating the incarnation at the end of December. As John’s Gospel proclaims, Jesus is the Light of the World. And so we celebrate his coming at the darkest, coldest time of the year, when the days are so short and we are longing for light. Many religious traditions do something similar. Jewish people, for example, celebrate the miracle of light with Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday … Read more »

December 24, 2013

Isaiah 9:2-7 “Lighting Up the World” On Christmas Day 1531, the Reformation theologian Martin Luther, preached from the Christmas story at the morning service and from Isaiah 9 at the afternoon service. He began the afternoon sermon by quickly recalling that the congregation had heard the Christmas story earlier in the day. He told them that they would not hear it again; rather, they would learn how to make use of it. And then Luther turned to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” Well, here at St. Andrew’s I only get one Christmas Eve service, you only get one sermon, and I thought it might be a nice change to preach from the prophet’s words. You also have heard the Christmas story before… many times over the years, probably a few times in this season, and even once tonight as Ryan and Matthew read the account from the Gospel of Luke. Most of you have likely heard the text from Isaiah 9 a few times before also. Every Christmas, it is matched up with the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, and usually read without further comment. If you’re like me, the sound of Handel’s Messiah rings in your ears as the prophet’s words are proclaimed: “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. Unto us a son is given…” And as we sing or listen to those words, we are thinking of … Read more »

December 29, 2013

Matthew 2:13-23 “Jesus and Harry Potter” Sometimes I have a hard time keeping the stories straight… First there is Luke’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem for the census, Jesus is born in a stable because there is no room in the inn, and they receive shepherds who come to visit the newborn child. Then there’s Matthew’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Bethlehem. Jesus is born in his own home town, and some time after his birth magi from the East follow a star and bring gifts to the child who is to be the newborn king. My nativity scene melds the two stories together and confuses them in my mind. So for today, since we are focusing on Matthew’s story, I need to take away the characters that come from Luke. Today, Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus are in their own house in Bethlehem. There aren’t any animals with them because they aren’t in someone else’s stable. (Remove animals.) There aren’t any shepherds either; the shepherds belong to Luke. (Remove shepherd.) (Pick up the angel.) The angel still belongs, I think. Not the angel that made the announcement to the shepherds, but the angel who kept talking to Joseph in his dreams. First the angel told Joseph not to be afraid, to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. And the angel will appear again and again… warning, guiding, and encouraging the family through the dangers … Read more »

January 5, 2014

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 “Shiny Happy People!” As I was reading commentaries on the passage from Isaiah 60 this week, a pop song from the 90’s started running through my head: “Shiny happy people.” Do you remember that lively song by the band REM? As I read and reflected on the prophet’s command to the people of Judah to “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” I couldn’t get the “Shiny happy people” song out of my head, so I gave in to it and looked up the video on YouTube. It began with an old man riding a stationary bicycle in a dreary-looking room, and then on the other side of the wall the band – dressed in bright happy colours in front of a colourful mural of similarly happy-looking people – began to play, and sing, and dance. It was carefree, full of smiles, and by the end of the song the band was surrounded by people dancing, and laughing, and having a great time. Meanwhile, the old man has gotten off his bicycle, and he stands watching the shiny happy people as they dance and sing. He doesn’t exactly look happy, but somewhat curious about what is happening before his eyes. I don’t know what the band intended to say with their video. Perhaps it was a hope that the grumpy old men of the world would lighten up and join in the party. Perhaps it was a subtle commentary on those who laugh, and dance, and … Read more »

December 24, 2014

Luke 2:1-20 Psalm 96 “What Happens in Bethlehem Doesn’t Stay in Bethlehem” You’ve heard the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? This morning I noticed someone post a tweet with the hashtag #Christmas and alternate version of that saying: “What happens in Bethlehem doesn’t stay in Bethlehem.” The story of Christ’s birth reminds us in a wonderful way that when God became flesh and entered our world as an infant, God was born in a particular place, to an ordinary family, and the news was made known to regular, working-class people who were nearby. God’s entrance was not made with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but he was born in a little town, in a stable out back of someone’s house, where very few people would notice. But we are also reminded that God’s coming into the world in this way changed the lives of those he encountered, and eventually it changed the whole world. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. In many ways, this has been a pretty normal year in and around our church. But it has also been a remarkable year. And one of the ways that it has been remarkable is the number of babies that have arrived. Quite a few young couples in our congregation have welcomed first, second, or third children, and we have had a flurry of baptisms, with a couple more to be celebrated in the next few weeks. In addition to that, two of our staff … Read more »

January 4, 2015

Matthew 2:1-12 “Hope for all the World” People today are longing to make sense out of life and to find hope for the future. In the midst of the conflict, strife, and violence of our world… In the midst of personal issues and family struggles, they are looking for meaning, for hope, and for peace. But I don’t think that this is new. If you follow humanity back hundreds, even thousands of years, you find that people have always been longing for something more, and wondering what it’s all about. We have questioned our gurus and wise ones, speculated about the gods, and struggled to make sense of our little place in this vast universe. The gospel reading today is about some men who must have had just such a longing. The scripture calls them, “wise men from the East.” They were foreigners, Gentiles. They probably came from somewhere East of the Jordan river, from Babylon or Syria maybe. The main thing that always gets pointed out about these men is that they were not Jews. They were Gentiles. They were Gentiles in the extreme. Not only did they not worship the one God of Israel, and they didn’t follow the law given to Moses and the Israelites, but one commentary describes them as, “characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview.” They were Magi, magicians, sorcerers. They watched the stars and the sky, and predicted what the future would bring. … Read more »

December 24, 2015

John 1:1-18 Isaiah 52:7-10 “Listen!” We live in a world in which messages are all around us. We are bombarded with information, and communication, often to the point of overload. When it comes to sharing the good news of great joy, our problem today is not so much the challenge of getting the word out. We have the technology. But our challenge is that the good news of God’s love may get lost in the cacophony of voices, messages, videos, and advertising competing for our attention. In the Season of Advent, Christians are invited to slow down, to spend time in prayer and reflection, to wait and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. I wonder how many of us feel like we were able to do that. How many of us feel like this month has been a reflective time of spiritual preparation? And how many of us feel like it was instead a mad rush of activities and events, expectations and demands? I wonder if tonight is the first moment when some of you have been able to sit peacefully, with your cell phone turned off and your Christmas preparations either finished (or it’s too late now to worry about them anymore). With everything that’s been going on in your life, maybe you haven’t had a chance to reflect on the message that God is bringing to our attention at this time of year. So please… sit quietly now, and listen so that you may hear. … Read more »

December 27, 2015

Luke 2:41-52 Colossians 3:12-17 “We Belong to God’s Family” It often happens when I am preparing to conduct a funeral. I am thinking about what I should say in order to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the life of one individual follower of Jesus. I am reflecting on what I know about that person’s life, and the stories I have heard from the family, and the stories that will be shared as part of the eulogy or tribute. I sometimes begin to wonder about what stories might be told and shared at the end of my life. And if there was only one story, what would it be? And what would it reveal about the meaning and purpose of my life? We are blessed to be able to share more than one story to remember and celebrate the complexity of our lives in this world, and we are blessed to have many, many stories passed on to us about the life of Jesus – the One whose way we seek to follow with our lives. But we only have one story about Jesus as a child. One story, carefully chosen… that reveals a great deal about who he was and the person he was becoming as he moved into adulthood. One story that can teach us a great deal about the way of Christ that we are called to follow. Both at funerals and at Christmas, we hear very often that “family” is the most important thing. Our … Read more »

January 3, 2016

John 1:1-18 “Light Wins” In her Christmas Message a few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth spoke about Christmas trees. She showed a picture of her great, great-grandparents’ tree – all decorated and covered with lit candles. She reflected on the fun family tradition of decorating the tree together, and the deeper meaning of the lights shining in the darkness. The queen used her Christmas broadcast to emphasize that light can triumph over darkness after a difficult year. She noted that there have been “moments of darkness” in the last year, which has been marked by extremist attacks and a migrant crisis that has overwhelmed Europe. That’s in addition to continuing conflicts and wars, deepening poverty and hunger in many places, the chaos of weather-related disasters, and a growing awareness of the ecological crisis in our world. Unless we have ignored the news completely, most of us are aware that for many, if not most, of the people of the world 2015 was a very dark and difficult year. The other day when I went to look up the Queen’s Christmas Message online, I came across a strange news story about the taping of this year’s message. When I investigated the website I was looking at, it turned out to be a completely open news site that posts anything and everything that is submitted to it, without verifying the sources or the accuracy. The story claimed that the message that went out was the second take because the Queen went way off … Read more »

December 24, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 John 1:1-14 Listen to this Sermon “Being Lights” The other day I was reading an attempt at a historical account of Jesus’ birth. It was the kind of piece in which the researcher tries to match up the events described in the Gospels with the history of the nations and kings of the era in order to “place” the birth narratives in their historical context. And similar to other scholars, this one estimated that Jesus was likely born in September of the year 5 BCE. So, for centuries, we’ve been celebrating Christmas at the wrong time of year! Oops! Well, it’s not exactly an “oops.” It’s not that anyone actually sat down and figured that Jesus was born in late December before setting our celebrations at this time of year. When the date was decided, I don’t imagine that anyone was particularly worried about determining an accurate birthday for Jesus. The point was to mark his coming into our world and its life-changing, world-transforming significance. You’ve probably heard that the earliest Christmas celebrations were held in conjunction with pagan festivals marking the Winter Solstice. The idea was to provide Christians with a festive celebration rooted in the faith so that they wouldn’t be tempted to join in the fun and frivolity of the pagan parties. Contemporary Christmas celebrations show marks of those other religious influences… Christmas trees covered with lights, Christmas wreaths, Yule logs, and more. The date for the … Read more »

December 25, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Psalm 98 Luke 2:1-7 “Christmas Carols and Their Stories” Introduction to the Service Listen This morning I thought it would be fun and different to sing some different Christmas Carols and hear their stories. Throughout the history of the church, worship has included singing… from the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs mentioned in the New Testament, and through every generation, Christians have composed Psalm settings, sung our prayers as chants, written hymns, carols, and contemporary praise songs. Sometimes we have used instruments, and sometimes not. Sometimes the words have come straight from Scripture, and sometimes it has been poetry inspired by the Bible and a reflection on our faith. The songs known as Christmas Carols are diverse too… some written specifically for corporate worship, and others sung primarily out in the community or in family homes, but carrying the Christian faith into the public realm of culture and daily life. “I Saw Three Ships” Listen The first carol for today is “I Saw Three Ships.” Probably most of us have heard or sung it, but I don’t think I’ve ever sung it in church. The tune of this carol is a traditional English folk song and the words (of which there are several versions) were written by wandering minstrels as they travelled through the country. In the original version of the carol, the Three Ships were the ones taking the supposed skulls of the wise men to Cologne Cathedral in Germany. However, since the … Read more »

December 24, 2017 (evening)

Luke 2:1-20 Psalm 96 “What Happens in Bethlehem” You’ve heard the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? One of my favourite Twitter hashtags is an alternate version of that saying: “What happens in Bethlehem doesn’t stay in Bethlehem.” The story of Christ’s birth reminds us in a wonderful way that when God became flesh and entered our world as an infant, God was born in a particular place, to an ordinary family, and the news was made known to regular, working-class people who were nearby. God’s entrance was not made with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but he was born in a little town, in a stable out back of someone’s house, where very few people would notice. But we are also reminded that God’s coming into the world in this way changed the lives of those he encountered, and eventually it changed the whole world. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. In many ways, I expect that this has been a pretty normal year in and around First Presbyterian Church. But it has also been a remarkable year, for me especially. A new minister for you has meant at least a few changes. And a new congregation, and home, and city, has meant a lot of changes for me. But it’s all very manageable change, when you think about it. We’ve all been through bigger changes than this, haven’t we? At Christmas, I can’t help but think about families experiencing the wonderful change of … Read more »