“Christmas Carols & Their Stories”
Introduction to the Service
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. So, this morning, as we continue to celebrate the birth of Christ, and as we share the Scriptures of Epiphany, we will sing and reflect on some of these carols. We begin with a psalm setting of Psalm 72.
The Story of “I saw three ships”
The first carol for today is “I Saw Three Ships.” Probably most of us … Read more »
Children’s Message: “In-person Visits”
Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all of you! I wish that we could be together in-person as we continue to celebrate Christmas today, but I’m glad that we’re at least together online.
I wonder… have you ever been far away from someone you loved at a special time like Christmas? Many of us had that experience this year because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, didn’t we? Maybe you sent Christmas cards to the people you couldn’t be with in-person this year, which is nice. Or maybe you talked on the phone, which is better.
Every year when my family members are far away at Christmas (which is pretty normal for me) I phone my parents and talk to everybody who is gathered at their house. But this year, everyone is in their own homes with no gatherings at all, so we had a Zoom video call on Christmas Day so that we could all connect from the different places where we live. It was really 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.
Last year at Christmas, Nick … 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 »
Please enjoy our Online Christmas Pageant – “A Pandemic Christmas.”
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“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 »
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
“A Letter of Joy”
During this Season of Advent, I’m focussing my preaching on the Epistle readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. I’m looking for messages of encouragement to us in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. And on this third Sunday of Advent, I’m looking for the gift of joy that comes to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Epistle for today comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian congregation around the year 50 CE. The passage is from the last chapter, as Paul draws his letter to a close with some final instructions.
At first, the section may seem like a rather random bunch of aphorisms that Paul didn’t want to forget to include before he finished the letter: “Rejoice always… Do not quench the Spirit… Abstain from every form of evil.” And it may make us wonder why it’s one of the readings during this special season of the year.
Matt Gaventa, commenting on the passage puts it this way: “Few, if any, among the listeners who wander in on the Third Sunday of Advent will find in this disjointed list something that feels ‘Christmas-y’.”
Scholars who read the text in the original Greek … Read more »
2 Peter 3:8-15a
“A Letter of Peace”
During this Season of Advent, I decided to focus my preaching on the Epistle readings that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday. We’re looking at these snippets of letters to the early Christian communities, with our ears open for words of encouragement that may strengthen us in this challenging time of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic.
Today’s Epistle reading comes from the third chapter of the 2nd letter of the Apostle Peter. Since I didn’t know the letter well, I went back to the 1st chapter to find out who Peter was writing to, and I found this salutation:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
So, unlike some of the letters in the New Testament that are addressed to a particular congregation and dealing with their unique issues and concerns, this one is written to all people of faith who have come to believe in Jesus the Lord. It’s what is called … Read more »
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
“A Letter of Hope”
In the Season of Advent, I typically preach on the Gospel texts in the Revised Common Lectionary, and sometimes on the prophets. You’ve heard sermons about John the Baptist and Mary. You’ve heard sermons about waiting, and watching, and preparing for the Messiah to come and to come again to make the world right.
But this year, I’m going to preach on the Epistles instead – the snippets of letters written to the early Christian communities that brought them hope and encouragement in the context of their struggle, persecution, and desire to be faithful until the coming of the Lord.
Like the early Christian congregations that first received the letters, we know about Jesus and his love. Like them, we live in the in-between time after Christ’s incarnation and before his coming again to complete the Reign of God.
This year, perhaps more than many others, we are struggling. While we may not face the same danger and persecution that Christians did in the first century, we are suffering more than we are used to, and we are not as distracted by the usual frivolity of the season – by parties and social gatherings and concerts and family … Read more »
Thanks to the Rev. Bob Wilson for leading worship at First Church today!
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“Taking a Risk”
The wretched slave cowers under the shadow of his master towering above him, and the master’s booming voice echoes around the slave… “You wicked and lazy slave! You ought to have invested my money with the bankers! Instead, all you did was bury it in the ground!”
“B,b,b,but, I was frightened. I was scared that I would lose it and you would punish me.” “Well,” said the master’s authoritative voice, “That’s what’s going to happen now. Give me my one talent back, and I’ll give it to someone with a bit more faith – someone who won’t just bury my gifts in the ground.”
As we just heard, there were three slaves in the story that Jesus told, and the master gave them all a bit of money – five talents for the 1st slave, two talents for the 2nd slave, and one talent for the 3rd slave. Actually, he gave them a lot of money. A talent does not refer in this case to something that you’re good at or skilled at doing. A talent was a large sum of money. One talent was approximately how much money a labourer in Jesus’ day would have earned in about … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“Grieving with Hope”
The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest piece of Christian writing in the Bible. Scholars figure that it was probably written around the year 50CE, about 6-8 months after the apostle had founded the Christian community in Thessalonica, and about 4 months after he had been forcibly removed from the city.
So you can imagine… this is a group of brand new Christians, having heard about Jesus and begun following his way just a short time ago. They had a brief time of learning from Paul while he lived in their city, working as a labourer and introducing the gospel. Later, they had a visit from Paul’s young co-worker, Timothy, who visited them and went back to Paul with an encouraging report.
But this faith is completely new to them, and I can imagine that questions arose in their minds and hearts on a regular basis. Thessalonica was a large city on the Aegean Sea, the largest city in the Roman province of Macedonia, and an important centre for trade. About 100,000 people from all walks of life lived there, and the folks who heard Paul’s preaching and formed a Christian community there were … Read more »
Enjoy singing along with us and with all the saints in every time and place as we praise God together joyfully! Here is our “Half an Hour of Hymns,” recorded at First Presbyterian in Regina on Sunday, November 1, 2020.
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“Blessed Are You”
What are sermons for? That’s a good question for preachers to ask ourselves once in a while, and a good question for those who listen as well. One good answer is that sermons aim to open up, explain, and interpret the Scriptures for our community today – helping Christians to be attentive to what God might say to us. But very often, both preachers and listeners default to looking in the Bible just for what God wants us to do or how Jesus teaches us to live.
In recent weeks, the topic of commandments has come up a few times. And whether it’s the Big Ten from the laws of Moses or the greatest commandments that Jesus identifies, we get focussed (especially when teaching our children or grandchildren) on what we must do. What must we do to have a good life? What must we do to be saved? What must we do to gain God’s blessing?
One commentary explains that “In the biggest picture, theistic religion – both in the ancient world and in our own – is often centrally concerned with blessing: how to get it, how to keep it, what to do in order to inherit … Read more »
“Reforming Towards Love”
The last Sunday in October is often marked in Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other Reformed Churches as Reformation Sunday. It’s the closest Sunday to that historic date of October 31st in 1517 when a German professor of theology named Martin Luther challenged the status quo of current Christian theology by nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, thus beginning the 16th Century Reformation of the Church.
In some contexts, Reformation Sunday is celebrated like a victory in which right thinking triumphed over wrong, and the church moved in new, more enlightened, directions. Of course, we must remember that while the 16th century movement brought needed change to our understanding of God’s grace and led to new opportunities for all Christians to read the Bible themselves and to interpret it together in community, it also led to brokenness and division in the church.
Change is difficult, and the church at that time was not successful in reforming together. The conflict over theology and church practice led not only to arguments, but to bloodshed. And the divisions made at that time still keep us separated today, even if most of the divisive issues have now been resolved.
For … Read more »
The following videos were livestreamed during the “Ride for Refuge” at First Presbyterian Church in Regina on October 3, 2020. The Moderator, the Rev. Amanda Currie, encouraged folks from First Church and across the country to “Walk, Pray, and Give with the Moderator” in support of Presbyterian World Service and Development. Thanks to everyone who walked, prayed, and rode for this vital mission of our church!
… Read more »
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
“Everything to God!”
In a season of elections and political debates, today’s Gospel story seems very fitting. Jesus is approached by two opposing groups who scheme together to try to trick him into saying something that he shouldn’t.
Commentators note that the Pharisees and the Herodians are a strange pairing because they would have been on opposite sides of the political spectrum and, in particular, the tax question. The Herodians were supporters of Herod Antipas (King Herod’s son) and Rome’s puppet ruler and collaborator with the empire. The Pharisees were against the Roman occupation, so they had little in common with Herodians – except their mutual opposition to Jesus and the trouble he was stirring up among the people.
The Pharisees and Herodians first soak Jesus in flattery, and then ask him a trick question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If Jesus says, “Do not pay taxes to the emperor,” the Romans will get him for treason. If he says, “Yes, we should pay taxes to the emperor,” his own followers in that occupied country will call him a traitor.
It makes me think of other questions asked of our political hopefuls in the course … Read more »
“Giving Thanks in Ordinary Times”
I did something a little unusual with the scripture readings this morning. As most of you know, we often follow the Revised Common Lectionary’s 3-year cycle of readings for Sundays. But today we had a choice of readings. Today I could have chosen the readings for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, or I could have chosen the special readings for Thanksgiving Sunday.
But instead of choosing one set or the other, I mixed them up a little. I chose Philippians 4 from the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, and matched it up with two of the readings for Thanksgiving – Deuteronomy 8 about being sure not to forget God when things are good, and Luke 17 about the ten lepers getting healed and the one who goes back to say thank you to Jesus.
The Deuteronomy reading makes a lot of sense for Thanksgiving Sunday. The message is: “When everything is wonderful in your life, when you’ve got everything you need, when you sit down to a wonderful meal of turkey and potatoes and vegetables and pie, surrounded by good friends and dear family, don’t forget about God…
“When the harvest is plentiful, when you move into … Read more »