“Joining Mary’s Song”
You know, it’s not only Catholics who like to name their daughters Mary. It was a very popular name in first-century Palestine also, when a remarkable number of Jews were naming their daughters Mary – after the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, and in defiant memory of Mariamne, who was murdered by her husband, Herod the Great.
Mary’s name suggests that her family was among those in first-century Palestine who longed for God to free them from Rome. The name Mary is unambiguously political, brave, and resistive. Jesus was born into such a family.
We can imagine that Mary’s family and others in their community were remembering the words of the prophets like Micah, and praying that their hopes would be fulfilled again in their own time.
Seven hundred years earlier, Micah expressed hope for a better future for the people of Judah who had endured much devastation (likely the invasion of Sennacherib in Judah in 702-701 BCE). The source of the hope was the suggestion of new leadership for the people. Micah furiously criticizes the Jerusalem king and the elite, and he calls for a new ruler who will bring security and peace to the people.
His words could be … Read more »
“A Letter of Love”
This morning is the final sermon in my little series on “Letters of Encouragement” during the Season of Advent. I’ve been focussing on the Epistle readings that are included each Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, looking for messages of encouragement, as well as assurances of hope, peace, joy, and love from God in Jesus Christ.
On this last Advent Sunday, the theme is LOVE, and the Epistle text comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. Similar to last week, the reading comes from the very end of the letter – final words from the Christian leader to the Christian community. And in this case, Paul closes with a liturgically-rich doxology (Those are words of praise to God). And the doxology names God as powerful, wise, and therefore worthy of praise.
The passage is a bit tricky to understand at first because it’s an incomplete sentence – a problem that is often corrected in contemporary paraphrases. But even if the grammar doesn’t make sense in English, the meaning is clear enough:
God’s wisdom and power are on display, and we are called to praise. God has revealed God’s love in Jesus Christ. This … 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 »
“Here is Your God!”
There are a lot of debates that take place at this time of year around worship-planning tables, between clergy and music leaders about which hymns and carols we will sing. Many ministers make a point of avoiding Christmas carols before Christmas Eve, arguing that Advent hymns are more appropriate, since Jesus has “not yet” been born. At the same time, musicians and choirs and congregations are often longing to sing the songs of Christmas joy, even if it’s only mid-December.
You may have noticed that our Advent Season here at First Church includes a bit of a mix of Advent carols and Christmas songs, and as we move through the month, we’re including more and more of the Christmas ones. And the reason is not that the Music Team here is very persuasive and convinced the minister to do Christmas early.
But rather, it’s because we understand that Advent isn’t only a “not yet” season; it’s also an “already” season. The SALT Lectionary Commentary describes Advent as “a season made for vividly experiencing the eschatological “already/not yet” tension at the heart of Christian life.”
It’s the idea that the Messiah has already come to us in … Read more »
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
“At Home in a Tent”
As we lit the Candle of Love this morning, we read: “For God so loved the world… that the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us.” Literally, that phrase from John’s Gospel, chapter 1, could be translated as “God tented among us.” The implications of that decision on God’s part, to come and be with us in the world are absolutely astounding! And it is because of that decision – because of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ – that we worship and celebrate at Christmas each year.
Our reading this morning from the Hebrew Scriptures may seem unusual for a Christmas service. Indeed, we are much more used to hearing readings from the prophets about a child who is expected to be born, about a king or messiah who will come and bring hope, freedom, and joy to God’s People Israel.
But today’s reading is not from one of the prophets, but it’s back in the historical books, in 2nd Samuel – a reading about King David. Yes, there is a prophet involved in the story. The prophet Nathan, who advised and guided King David, teaching him and correcting … Read more »
Luke 1:26 – 2:7
“Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things”
This morning all our scripture readings are from the Gospel of Luke… large sections of the first chapter, and a little of the second as well, where we will begin again on Christmas Eve. And today we are focussed on Mary’s story.
An angel shows up in Mary’s life and tells her that she’s going to have a child. It will be a special child from God, and God will make him a great king. Mary, amazingly, just asks a couple of clarifying questions, and then agrees to the plan. “I am your servant,” she says to God, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
When that angel messenger suddenly appears with his very strange news, I can only imagine that Mary must have been in shock. It’s not the kind of thing that happens to a young woman every day, and it was certainly the kind of news that would take some time to sink in, to consider what it meant, and to figure out how to deal with it.
And though the Gospel has Mary quickly agreeing to cooperate with what God is going to do in her life, the very next … Read more »
This morning I brought with me my little nativity scene. Nick and I bought this little nativity, or crèche, quite a few years ago at a Ten Thousand Villages store. What I liked about this particular crèche was the little figures – simple, hand-painted, and quite small so you have to get up close to see the detail and identify the various characters. Unfortunately, our Joseph is missing. I don’t know if we lost him just after we got the set, or if he was always missing. But the taller shepherd stands in for Joseph when I set up the scene.
You can have a look at our little nativity scene at the end of the service if you like and see the beautiful tiny figures. But the reason I brought it today is because the prophet Micah got me thinking about little things. The prophet wrote, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah [the least of the clans of Judah], from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
It’s the same reason why I suggested that … Read more »
“We are invited to say “YES” to God”
The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday in the 3-year lectionary cycle of readings comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a good story for the Sunday before Christmas… a good story about how Jesus was born.
Often we jump ahead in the story… as we did last Sunday with the children’s Christmas play. We remember the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the angels in the sky announcing the birth of the Christ child. Those are the parts of the story that never get left out of the Christmas pageants. But Joseph can easily become a minor character without a speaking part.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that Joseph was a pretty regular guy… a nice guy, a reasonable guy. When his fiancé got pregnant before the wedding, he dealt with it. He wasn’t going to turn it into a big to-do, but he was just going to dismiss her quietly. No one could have faulted him for that.
But that’s when God got involved in Joseph’s life and decision-making, and nudged him into doing even more than what was reasonable. With every reason to walk away, Joseph chose to … Read more »
“Angels Whisper. We Sing Out Loud.”
Note: This short reflection followed the church school Christmas presentation “Christmas Eve in Angel School.”
There sure were a lot of angels in this year’s Christmas play! Angels have always been an important part of the Christmas story. They are the ultimate messengers from God…
explaining to the young Mary what’s going to happen to her, how she’s going to have a child who will be the Messiah…
convincing Joseph to marry her and to be a father to the child who will be called Jesus…
and appearing to the scared shepherds in the fields, telling them the good news about the baby who has been born, and directing them to go and worship him.
Without the angel messengers, the story would barely hang together. Mary would be confused by the surprise pregnancy. Joseph would likely leave her. And the shepherds would miss the excitement altogether. Without the angels’ announcements, much of God’s activity would have gone unnoticed.
But like one of the angels in the play pointed out, God doesn’t let the angels appear in the sky singing glorias anymore. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s messengers aren’t busy delivering messages of good news and grace and hope … Read more »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
There are two important stories in the first chapter of Luke about Mary before the birth of her son, Jesus.
The first story is the one depicted briefly in the presentation this morning. An angel shows up in Mary’s life and tells her that she’s going to have a child. It will be a special child from God, and God will make him a great king. Mary, amazingly, just asks a couple of clarifying questions, and then agrees to the plan. “I am your servant,” she says to God, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
And the second story about Mary is the one that I just read — the one where she goes to visit her relative Elizabeth, who also happens to be miraculously pregnant.
When that angel messenger suddenly appeared with his very strange news, I can only imagine that Mary must have been in shock. It’s not the kind of thing that happens to a young woman every day, and it was certainly the kind of news that would take some time to sink in, to consider what it meant, and to figure out how to deal … Read more »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
I haven’t been experiencing a great deal of peace lately. I don’t mean that I’ve been literally participating in conflict, and I don’t mean that I’ve been troubled about my own relationship with God. But I haven’t been experiencing much peace because there has been some stress and anxiety in my work as a minister among you and within this presbytery.
I’ve been a minister for six years now, and before I became one, I never imagined that part of my work would include the job of closing churches. I thought of ministry as preaching and leading worship, as teaching and praying and providing pastoral care. I thought of ministry as reaching out and trying new things, imagining new ways of sharing the gospel in word and action with a world that is lost and confused and in need of God’s help.
The image of John the Baptist is very appealing. I can imagine myself (or the church as a whole) as the one crying out in the wilderness of our world. We cry out both warning and welcome. We warn that things must change — people must turn their hearts and their … Read more »
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 … Read more »