“Just the Beginning”
I did something this Fall that I haven’t done in 35 years. I sang in the choir for a presentation of Handel’s Messiah, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my year. I enjoyed the challenge of singing in a really professional choir and needing to really practice to get all the minute details right to make for a really beautiful performance.
But the other thing I enjoyed about the experience was the opportunity to ponder the biblical texts of this Advent and Christmas season (and the Easter season too) and how Handel interpreted them and proclaimed them in his “Messiah.” (Back when I was in grade 8 and singing “Messiah” I wasn’t quite so focused on the theology of what we were singing.)
Just in case you’re not too familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you should know that the lyrics of every movement are straight from Scripture. Selecting almost exclusively prophetic texts, combined with verses from the Gospels, Handel tells and interprets the story of Jesus, the Messiah. Two main messages are clear: the incarnation of God, God coming to us in the Christ Child; and the salvation of us all accomplished through the death and … Read more »
“Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.” When I hear those words on Christmas Eve, I immediately think of Jesus. Christ is the one whose birth we celebrate tonight, the Saviour who came to us from God more than 2000 years ago. He was born to a poor family, in a difficult time, suddenly, while they were travelling far from home.
But the words of the Prophet Isaiah were not spoken in reference to Jesus – at least, not at first. Isaiah lived about 800 years before the time of Jesus, and he was speaking to King Ahaz of Judah with a message of hope and joy. As is often the case, learning about the original context can help us to appreciate the message of this Scripture as it relates to Jesus so many centuries later, and to our lives in this time.
King Ahaz was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps you know what that feels like – when you feel like you have no control over what is happening in your life, when it seems like you have to choose between two terrible possibilities, and you don’t know what to … Read more »
“In a Manger”
This Christmas I’ve been thinking a lot about food. I know that I’m not the only one. After all, we’re having a Christmas without parties, without concerts, without extended family gatherings, and without candles and carols in the church on Christmas Eve. Of the various things that we do at Christmas, the food seems like one of the few things that is left to make this a Merry Covid Christmas.
I don’t know about you… but at our house we’ve got gingerbread cookies, shortbread, and chocolates. Tomorrow we’ll roast a turkey with stuffing, and cook potatoes and sweet potatoes and lots of colourful vegetables. There will be cranberry sauce and gravy, and plenty of good wine. Dessert will be Christmas pudding that Nick made from my mother’s recipe, and we’ll be eating leftovers for days.
Of course, I’m a Christian minister, so I know that the real meaning of Christmas isn’t fulfilled in big holiday dinners, just as it isn’t fulfilled in parties or gatherings or presents or ornaments and lights. But as much as this Christmas may feel like we are fasting from so many things that bring us joy and comfort, I believe that God desires … Read more »
“Near to Us”
I am so glad that all of you decided to come to worship this Christmas Eve. I’m happy about it for several reasons.
One is that it feels good to have a pretty full church on Christmas Eve. Your presence adds to the festive spirit of the night, your voices fill out the singing of carols, and your candles will light up this sanctuary with beauty in a few minutes.
I’m also glad you came tonight because many First Church folk worked hard to make this a special night, and your presence makes those efforts worthwhile. They planned and practised the music. They decorated the sanctuary to convey both meaning and beauty. They printed bulletins, and prepared slides, and arranged all the volunteers to read, and greet, and welcome all our members and visitors and new friends.
For those of you who hesitated to come, I’m glad you did, because I expect that the family or friends who invited you tonight are really happy that you’re here. And, if you just came because of the general, open invitation, and you don’t know anyone here yet, let me say that I am glad that you are … Read more »
“A Royal Birth Announcement”
Tonight, I would like to focus on our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. We hear it every Christmas when it is matched up with the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, and we usually read without further comment because the preaching is all about the Gospel. 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 Jesus. He is the one whose birth we celebrate tonight. He is the child who has been born for us, and who has become the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”
But these words were not written to celebrate Jesus’ birth. In the eighth century BCE, these words were uttered about the birth of another specific king in Judah, probably the good King Hezekiah who ruled Judah from 715-687 BCE. The poem gives voice to profound hope for the reign of this descendant of King David, at a time when Judah faced the harsh realities of … Read more »
John 14:15-18, 25-27
“As far as it depends on you…”
This sermon was prepared by the Rev. Amanda Currie with input from the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth who were reflecting on the theme of peace during their weekend retreat at First Presbyterian Church November 3-5, 2017.
This weekend First Church was pleased to host the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth event which was all about PEACE. And we are pleased this morning to have the SPY youth participating in worship leadership on this Remembrance Sunday.
When we began to discuss PEACE this weekend, we came up with the following definitions of PEACE…
What is Peace?
- A state in which there is no war or fighting
- A quiet and calm state
- A state in which a person is not bothered by thoughts or feelings of doubt, guilt, or worry.
- A feeling of being safe, protected, and relaxed
- A sense of purpose and direction in life
- Being alone, but not lonely
- An end to violence and conflict
- Understanding and respect between people
- Very difficult to achieve
Unfortunately, peace is not something that we notice happening in our world very much. If we watch the news, we are much more aware of war and conflict and violence, and rarely … Read more »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
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 … Read more »
1 Peter 1:3-9
“The Fruit of the Spirit is JOY”
In Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church, he tells one of the first communities of Christians not to gratify the desires of the flesh, but to “live by the Spirit” and “be guided by the Spirit.”
I think what he’s talking about is how we make decisions. I think he’s talking about little decisions and big decisions… decisions about what to do on a particular day, and decisions about what to do with our wholes lives… decisions about relationships and decisions about behaviours.
Paul explains that we can either let our flesh guide our decisions, or we can let the Spirit guide our decisions. We can go for whatever will produce immediate pleasure, or we can let God guide us to what is right and good.
Paul says that “the works of the flesh are obvious.” These are the negative things that will show up in our lives if our decisions are directed by our flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” And he warns them, as he has done before, that “those who do such things will … Read more »
“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 … Read more »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
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 … Read more »
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Today’s Gospel reading is about the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The author of Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum in order to fulfil the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles —
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
Later, John’s Gospel will have Jesus identify himself as “the light of the world.” And here, Matthew describes the work that Jesus is about to begin in Galilee as like a light shining into darkness, as like the sun rising for those who are in danger of death.
Jesus begins his proclamation of the reign of God, and it’s like a light has been switched on. The things Jesus says, and the way Jesus acts, and the person Jesus is in the world, help the people he encounters to start seeing things differently. He both pronounces God’s high expectations of each of … Read more »
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.
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 … Read more »