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 »

January 20, 2008

Isaiah 49:1-7 Psalm 40:1-11 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42 I’ve always tended to think of myself as a “middle of the road” Canadian Presbyterian. I’m pretty comfortable in a church that includes a variety of perspectives on social issues, biblical interpretation, and theology. We don’t need to agree on absolutely everything, but we can find unity in some core convictions and work together towards some common goals. And I’m pretty comfortable as a Presbyterian within the larger church community. I value our Reformed tradition with its distinctives and strengths, but I don’t need to convince Anglicans or Roman Catholics to become Presbyterians. I don’t think the Pentecostals would be better off if they joined our church, and I don’t go around saying the Presbyterians who went into Church Union 83 years ago would be much better off if they had stuck with us. In fact, when I’ve taken part in interfaith events, (like the prayers for peace that we shared a few weeks ago on New Year’s Eve down at St. Paul’s Cathedral), I’ve been aware of the fact that we have a great deal in common with other people of faith… whether they are Jewish, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Buddhist, or something else. But as I was working through some ideas for this morning’s sermon, I shared a few of them with my husband, and he said, “You really are an evangelical, aren’t you?” In mainline Christian churches, “evangelical” has sometimes been used almost as a bad word. … Read more »

Christmas Memorial Sermon – December 10, 2008

The following sermon was preached at the annual Christmas Memorial Service for St. John’s Columbarium on December 10, 2008. The service took place at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, SK. Matthew 1:18-23Psalm 91John 1:1-5, 14, 18 Many years ago, before the time of Jesus, God’s People, Israel, were struggling with their circumstances as an occupied People, and they were struggling in their relationship with God. The Roman occupiers had control of their land. And though the Jews were allowed to live there and practice their religion, they had to pay taxes to Caesar, deal with the Roman soldiers, and cope with the fact that they were not really free. Of course, this was not the first time that God’s People had experienced being conquered by a foreign power, it was not the first time that they had been controlled and oppressed by a more powerful nation, and it was not the first time that their difficulties led many among them to doubt God’s presence and love and to turn away from God. Through the Season of Advent, in particular, the bible readings that we hear each Sunday in church remind us of other times of struggle and doubt in the history of God’s People. We are reminded that the People of Israel have always experienced troubles in their attempts to maintain their culture, their religion, and the land that God promised to them. The history of God’s People includes being conquered by a series of foreign powers, being exiled from … 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 »

January 16, 2011

The following sermon was preached at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Parish in Saskatoon. The occasion was an Ecumenical Sunday to mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-34 Before I begin, I would like to say thank you to all of you for welcoming me this morning, and thank you to Father Tony for inviting me to share my reflections on the scriptures with you. As we begin this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is good for us to worship, to pray, and to share across denominational lines, as we seek to grow together in unity and peace. As Tony mentioned, I am the minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, just down 20th Street at Spadina Crescent. I am pleased to see that there are a few members of my congregation here at St. Mary’s this morning, and I would encourage the members of St. Mary’s Parish, that you are most welcome to worship with us at St. Andrew’s later this morning at 11 a.m. If you decide to join us, you will get to hear Father Tony preaching, as well as to experience worship in the Reformed Tradition, just as we are sharing in your liturgy now. Although our worship practices have some differences, one of the things that we share is the practice of following a lectionary of Sunday scripture readings. The Roman Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary are not identical, but most Sundays we hear and … Read more »

December 11, 2011

John 1:1-14 – “The Word Made Flesh” This reflection followed a creative presentation of the Christmas story by the children of St. Andrew’s Church School. The Christmas story was told in an imaginative way – from the perspective of the inn keeper’s family and their neighbours down the street who were actively looking for God’s Messiah to come. I went to see Handel’s Messiah on Wednesday evening last week. It was presented, as usual, by the Saskatoon Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Saskatoon Chamber Singers – the continuation of a wonderful Christmas tradition both here and around the world. Although I’ve listened to Handel’s Messiah many times before, and even sung in performances of the choruses in my youth, I was struck once again by the amazing musical settings of some of the most powerful and meaningful words of scripture that are so dear to us as Christians. One of the things that stood out was how many of the texts Handel chose were from the Old Testament – from the prophets. In our children’s Christmas play this morning, these would have been the prophetic texts that the father was trying to teach to his children, and that his daughter, Esther, was exploring. These were the texts that explained that God would send a Saviour, a Messiah, and that he would come as a child. And Esther and her father were waiting and watching for these texts to be fulfilled, for God’s promises to be granted. Behold, a virgin shall … 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 »

January 15, 2012

1 Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139:1-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51 The following sermon is posted with thanks to Kathryn Matthews Huey, whose reflections on Psalm 139 (from the website of the United Church of Christ) provided significant inspiration, and from whom I borrowed several paragraphs. There is an obvious connection between the Old Testament and Gospel readings this morning. They are “call narratives” – stories about people who received a call from God. In First Samuel 3, a little boy is called to become “a trustworthy prophet of the Lord,” and John’s Gospel tells the story of Philip and Nathanael leaving everything behind to follow Jesus when they realize that he is the one “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Many of us here today (perhaps all of us) have also been called by God. We probably weren’t wakened by God’s voice calling out our name in the middle of the night, and we didn’t have Jesus literally walk up to us and say, “Come and follow me.” But we have heard God’s call in the words of the Bible, through the voices of preachers and teachers, or as an urgent sense of needing to get out of our own concerns and do something for God. Some have heard calls to particular ministries in the church. Others have sensed a call to speak up for someone who was in trouble, or to speak out for what was right and just at work or in the … 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 »

January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42 “United for Mission” The theme that stands out most strongly in this morning’s scripture readings is evangelism – the missionary call to tell others the good news of God in Jesus Christ. From the Gospel of John, we heard about John the Baptist spreading the news about Jesus, and different people hearing, turning to follow, and becoming disciples. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” said John, pointing to Jesus. And they did. They looked. They listened. And they followed Jesus with their lives. From Isaiah we heard an articulation of the mission of God’s People, Israel, a mission that Christians, as God’s people also share: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In other words, our purpose is not to get focused on ourselves, on caring for, teaching, and directing those in our own group about following God. Certainly, that is important. But we can’t get stuck there. Isaiah says, “it’s too light a thing,” it’s not enough. Most Christians would agree they feel an obligation to spread the good news about their faith in Jesus to others. Articulating what the good news is and knowing how to best tell others about it in their context is the challenge many of us … Read more »

December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 John 1:6-8, 19-28 “Testify to the Light” Have you heard about the war on Christmas? It’s the idea that Western secular society is out to stop any religious celebration of Christmas by banning the use of the word itself in the public sphere, by calling “Christmas trees” “Holiday trees,” and making sure that the carols sung in public places are appropriately secular. Some particularly right-wing Christians are calling it a “war” on Christmas, and they’re actively engaged in the fight to keep Christ in Christmas. All this controversy about Christmas is an interesting development in the last few years because religious celebrations of Christ’s birth have always been held side-by-side with secular or pagan customs. Even the choice of December 25th for Christmas was not because Christians knew the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but because it seemed appropriate to hold a Christian celebration while others were marking the Winter Solstice. Things like Christmas trees, Christmas wreaths, and Yule logs were incorporated into Christian celebrations from the Winter Solstice holiday called, “Yule.” Back in the 17th century, there was another controversy about Christmas. Puritan Christians in England wanted to purify Christianity by removing elements that they viewed as pagan because they were not biblical in origin. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting. They considered Christmas, “a popish festival with no biblical justification,” and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. … Read more »

January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139:1-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51 “Vocation” The most recent issue of the WMS magazine, “Glad Tidings” is focussed on the theme of vocation. When I asked one group earlier this week what “vocation” means, someone said, “It’s what you do.” And more specifically than that, it’s what you are called to do. The word, “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning “to call,” and our scripture readings this morning and next week also, are filled with stories of people being called by God to various ministries. Although people who become ministers like me, and maybe even people who become Christian educators like Martha and the others we commissioned this morning, quickly get used to the idea that we are called to a particular ministry in the church. Sometimes we can recall times when people noticed our gifts or our potential for a certain ministry, and even if we didn’t hear God’s voice calling to us directly like Samuel did… we certainly heard it through the voices of others in the Christian community. One of the things that was very interesting about the last issue of “Glad Tidings” was that it wasn’t a bunch of stories about ministers or missionaries being called by God. Instead, it was filled with stories of a variety of Christian women who were called to a variety of vocations – women called to different professional roles, inside and outside the church, women called to be parents, and women called to more … 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 »

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 17, 2017

John 1:6-8, 19-28 “Testify to the Light” Have you heard about the war on Christmas? It’s the idea that Western secular society is out to stop any religious celebration of Christmas by banning the use of the word itself in the public sphere, by calling “Christmas trees” “Holiday trees,” and making sure that the carols sung in public places are appropriately secular. Some particularly right-wing Christians are calling it a “war” on Christmas, and they’re actively engaged in the fight to keep Christ in Christmas. All this controversy about Christmas is an interesting development in the last few years because religious celebrations of Christ’s birth have always been held side-by-side with secular or pagan customs. Even the choice of December 25th for Christmas was not because Christians knew the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but because it seemed appropriate to hold a Christian celebration while others were marking the Winter Solstice. Things like Christmas trees, Christmas wreaths, and Yule logs were incorporated into Christian celebrations from the Winter Solstice holiday called, “Yule.” Back in the 17th century, there was another controversy about Christmas. Puritan Christians in England wanted to purify Christianity by removing elements that they viewed as pagan because they were not biblical in origin. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting. They considered Christmas, “a popish festival with no biblical justification,” and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in … Read more »

January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-20 Psalm 139 John 1:43-51 “Rare Words from God” “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” That was part of the introduction to the story about the prophet Samuel… Samuel as a young boy, when he first began to listen for God’s voice and share God’s words with the people and their leaders. I wonder if people might say something similar about the days in which we live now. I wonder if you would say that it is rare to hear God’s word today, that there are many, many words and messages being proclaimed in print, on TV, through the internet and social media, but that hearing God’s word in the midst of all of those other words is rare, indeed. The story of Samuel’s calling serves as a reminder for us that God does indeed speak. Even when we have begun to think that messages from God are rare or even impossible, God continues to call. The question is whether we are listening and able to recognize God’s voice. When Samuel figures out (with Eli’s help) that it may be God who is speaking to him in the quiet of the night, and he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I love how God begins the message he has for Samuel. God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” Interesting, huh? What God is … Read more »