December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

“Saying “YES” to God”

The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday 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. 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.

One commentator points out that “Joseph is a peripheral figure in the grand sweep of the Christian tradition. Relative to Mary and the apostles, we do not sing much about him. We rarely see him in art (and when Joseph does appear in a painting, he is rarely alone; he is typically accompanied by Mary and/or Jesus).”

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 … Read more »

December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:47-55
Matthew 11:2-11

“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 »

December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

“A New Normal”

 I didn’t want to preach about John the Baptist this morning. As you may have noticed, John the Baptist shows up every year during Advent. And he can be a little scary, as he scolds and chides and warns the people to repent and to flee from the wrath to come.

Instead of preaching about repentance, I wanted to focus on the beautiful, peaceful images from the earlier prophet, Isaiah. I didn’t want to get stuck with the image of the axe lying at the root of the trees. I wanted to talk about the new shoot growing out of the tree stump instead.

But as I explored the text in Isaiah, it kept leading me right back to John the Baptist and the one coming after him. And so, you will have a sermon today that is inspired by two prophets… Isaiah and John.

The prophet Isaiah wrote about a vision of peace. He predicted that peace would be achieved through the leadership of a righteous ruler in the line of King David. Poetically, Isaiah wrote: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

And Isaiah … Read more »

December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 24:36-44

“What’s a Christian To Do? (In Advent)”

Today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent. As you know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Whether we know it as Advent, or whether we just think of it as the lead-up to Christmas, this is one of the busiest times of the year… not just in our churches, but in almost every aspect of our lives.

While most people are rushing around buying holiday presents, decorating, baking, sending cards, hosting and attending parties, watching holiday plays and presentations, and then doing some more shopping… Christians are called during Advent and Christmas do something different from the rest of the world.

We are invited to stop, and to wait. We are invited to be quiet and reflective. We are invited to pause and to think about the wonder of the celebration that we are about to share at Christmas… about the amazing thing that happened so many years ago… how God came into the world to be WITH us in Jesus Christ.

Well, the reality is that many Christians are running around like crazy in December too, just like everyone else. In many ways, our Christmas preparations don’t … Read more »

December 16, 2018

Luke 3:7-18

“What Should We Do?”

I like how specific John the Baptist gets in his instructions for the crowds of people who came out to the wilderness to be baptized by him and change their lives around. He gets specific about what these people should do, about how they should live, about how their lives should bear fruit worthy of the repentance that they have just professed.

I can imagine that John has been preaching for a while. “Fire and brimstone” kind of preaching in which he’s been warning the people that they better repent now or it’s going to be too late.

The Messiah is coming soon. The judgement day is drawing near. He says it’s like there’s an ax lying at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. What a way to motivate your listeners to change their lives! Essentially, it’s change or die!

But when he finishes his sermon – or perhaps they even interrupt him in the middle – they call out “How?” How do we change? We understand this urgent call to change our lives and get right with God. We understand that the … Read more »

December 9, 2018

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 21:25-36

“My Prayer for the Church”

Advent is not just a season of preparing for Christmas – baking, decorating, shopping, and planning. But it is a season of preparing our hearts and our lives for Christ’s coming again. On the second Sunday of Advent each year, we are introduced to John the Baptist, the prophet crying out in the wilderness, calling the people to repent and turn back to God and God’s ways of love and peace.

This year, John’s call to conversion is paired with a similar text from the Old Testament prophet Malachi. He also is calling for change, renewal, and reform in the lives of God’s people, using the image of silver being refined by fire.

When I read the text from Malachi, the praise & worship song “Refiner’s Fire” immediately comes to mind. We’ll sing it this morning – a reasonably contemporary song, but one that I’ve been singing since I was a teenager.

The song is framed as a personal prayer to God who is addressed as the “Refiner’s Fire” who through the imposition of heat is able to purify the silver or gold (to purify our hearts and lives) so that we become the good and … Read more »

December 2, 2018

Luke 21:25-36

“Sprouting Leaves”

Have you noticed that during the Season of Advent each year, there’s always a lot of talk about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ? The word “Advent” means “coming,” and while we spend these four weeks before Christmas waiting expectantly to celebrate the birth of Jesus – the coming of Christ into our world – we also talk about the promised Second Coming.

In the midst of a world that is troubled by conflict, war, pain, hunger, homelessness, and environmental degradation, we wait and hope for Christ to come again to make everything new. We sing “Soon and Very Soon,” and we are not just encouraging our young children that these four weeks will speed by and the joy and excitement of Christmas Day will arrive before they know it. But we are singing about the hope that we have that our world will not languish in its misery for much longer, but that Jesus will return and set things right. God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, as we pray in Jesus’ words every Sunday.

But in a commentary on our Gospel text today, it was noted that “Preaching on … Read more »

December 24, 2017 (morning)

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

“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 »

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 … Read more »

December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Mark 1:1-8

“Let all around us be peace”

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet,
Peace within us, peace over us, let us around us be peace.

Advent is an appropriate season to spend time in prayer for peace. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this busy month, we might pray for moments of peace, quiet, and calm in which to experience the presence of God in our lives. And we could pray for the gift of peace for those whose schedules keep them running, or whose “to do” lists are too long to complete in these few weeks.

Remembering those who are weighed down by heavy responsibilities and stressful situations, we might pray for the gift of peace that relieves stress and reduces anxiety. We could pray for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, as well as for those who are experiencing stress-inducing circumstances.

It would be appropriate also, for us to pray for peace in the lives of those who are struggling with brokenness in their relationships – for couples who feel stuck in cycles of conflict, for parents and children who cannot see eye to eye, for siblings, cousins, friends, and colleagues who are … Read more »

December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

“While We Wait”

December can be such a busy month, can’t it? Between concerts and Christmas parties, shopping and preparing for family gatherings, many of us are run off our feet during this season.

I appreciate the fact that church meetings tend to slow down in December, but with planning for special services and high expectations at this time of year, pastors too can miss the call to slow down, wait, and reflect on the birth of Christ into our world. This morning’s Scripture readings, however, call all of us to a time of waiting and watching.

For what must we wait and watch? Well, the texts remind us of the time when God’s people were waiting for a Messiah – for a Saviour to come and bring them freedom and peace.

The prophet Isaiah expressed the deep longing – almost desperation – of his people when he cried out to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

And the psalmist likewise prayed for God’s salvation, asking God to hear the people’s prayers, and let his face shine on them, and restore them to fullness of life and safety.

Of course, when we move into the … Read more »

December 18, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Isaiah 7:10-16
Matthew 1:18-25

“God is with us”

In this Season of Advent, our Sunday morning scripture texts have been a series of readings from the prophet Isaiah and corresponding texts from the Gospels in which the early Christian evangelists quote from the prophet. And this morning was no exception.

Of course, the writers of the Gospels were making a strong effort to explain to their readers the meaning and significance of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only did they want to describe the wonders that he performed, and to recount his wise and life-transforming teaching, but they wanted to make it clear that this Jesus was the one sent from God. They wanted to show that he was the one that their people had been waiting, and hoping, and longing for, the one who would come with the power of God to save them.

And so, in our passage today, Matthew quotes Isaiah directly. It’s the passage that I always feel like singing when I hear it: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name, Emmanuel. God-with-us.”

The tendency with Christian interpretations of the prophets is to assume that when Isaiah wrote that prophecy, … Read more »

December 4, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

“A Peaceable Kingdom with Plenty of Good Fruit”

When the prophet Isaiah wrote the now-familiar messianic oracle about the coming of a righteous ruler, and described the peaceable kingdom that would result as a place where wild animals and little children eat and play together in safety, his world was not very peaceful at all.

It was around 733 BCE, and Isaiah was in Judah where King Ahaz was the ruler. When the northern kingdom of Israel and the Arameans of Damascas tried to force Judah and their king to join their rebellion against Assyria, Isaiah advised King Ahaz to refuse, which he did.

But I think Isaiah was hoping for a time of peace for Judah and Jerusalem, and the king’s next political decision didn’t make that too likely. Instead of joining the rebel alliance, Ahaz called Assyria to intervene. This they did with devastating impact, eventually leading to the destruction of Samaria and the end of the northern kingdom in 721.

Isaiah objected to this dangerous move by King Ahaz, but he remained hopeful about the future. Rather than being totally discouraged by the current king, the prophet was thinking about … Read more »

November 27, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 24:36-44

“A Foreview of the Kingdom of God”

This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of the church year that is focused on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ.

In one sense, we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But the Sunday scripture readings also emphasise the fact that we are waiting and preparing for the Kingdom of God. We are waiting for the Kingdom to arrive and to transform our world into a place where God rules, where peace and justice flourish, where there is no more poverty, war, or despair.

A week ago we celebrated “Reign of Christ” Sunday. We remembered the good news that Christ is truly the ruler of the world, and that whenever we live according to God’s laws, and whenever we seek to follow the way and will of Christ, Christ’s kingdom is present and active in our world through us.

Today, the theme of God’s kingdom continues with our reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had a vision of what the NRSV translation calls “the future house of God.” It is a vision of … Read more »

December 20, 2015

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 »

December 6, 2015

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11

“Changing Direction”

Last Sunday, following worship and fellowship here at St. Andrew’s, I went over to the park across the street and joined a crowd of maybe 300 residents of Saskatoon for a march to raise awareness about climate change. Besides the usual signs and placards of a protest or demonstration, the organizers had constructed a huge model of the planet Earth, which was held high as we marched up the Broadway Bridge to Oskayak High School where the speeches took place.

I enjoyed the walk on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, and connected with a number of friends and colleagues along the way. But it was the moving and insightful speakers that made it especially worth attending. They all came from different perspectives, and framed their messages in different language, but the main point was the same. It was a dire warning – that we and the world need to change our practices before we ruin the good Earth that God gave us.

“If we don’t change direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re heading,” is one line I’ll remember. Another striking comment came from a young woman who spoke passionately about the need for us to protect the environment … Read more »

November 29, 2015

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

“Strengthened By Love”

I like the way Ralph Milton shares the background to today’s scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians in the Lectionary Story Bible: Paul liked to tell people about his friend Jesus. He liked to tell them how much God loved them, and how to live in God’s way.

Paul and his two friends, Silvanus and Timothy, went to visit people who lived in a city with a very big name. Thessalonica. They stayed there for a long time telling people stories of Jesus and showing them how to live – how to be kind and gentle with each other.

Some of the people of Thessalonica said, “We could become a church. We could come together to pray and sing. We could do things together to help others. There are people in our city who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have a place to live. We could help them.”

Paul and his friends were very happy when the people decided to become a church. “Now you can teach each other more about God, and about how to live in God’s way,” he said. “Now Silvanus and Timothy and I can go to other places to tell people … 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 … Read more »

December 7, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Unprepared”

Someone suggested recently that if I could come up with titles for my Sunday sermons, she would appreciate that. And so, on Friday morning, just before leaving for North Battleford for our Presbytery meeting, I added one more word to the bulletin which Karen would print later that morning.

I titled the sermon for today, “Unprepared,” and I chuckled to myself because as I wrote “Unprepared” in the bulletin I was very aware of the fact that my sermon was completely unprepared as yet. I had reflected on the scriptures, made some notes, and the idea of the sermon was beginning to form in my mind, but I was still woefully unprepared.

Although ministers get used to speaking in public, I imagine that if we share a common nightmare it’s the thought of getting a total writer’s block, or of being so overwhelmed with other aspects of ministry all week, that Sunday arrives and we have nothing to say. If we take our ministry seriously, we want to do the best we can with whatever gifts we have received, and being unprepared is a terrible possibility.

I know that many of you have experienced something similar in your work … Read more »

December 22, 2013

Matthew 1:18-25

“Don’t be Afraid, Joseph.”

Yesterday I listened to a CBC podcast titled, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flock: The Trials and Triumphs of Clergy at Christmas.” Pointing out that this season, for many Christian clergy, is experienced somewhat differently than for most other people, it included stories from a number of ministers, priests, and pastors about the challenges that come from the demands and expectations of congregations at Christmas. From dealing with a drunken parishioner who kept sliding off the kneeler, to having the singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” interrupted on Christmas Eve because it was the “wrong tune,” the stories were both humorous and real.

The part that stood out to me most was the fact that these clergy felt such pressure to make Christmas in their churches perfect for everyone. A United Church minister commented that the regular church-goers were quite forgiving if everything wasn’t perfect, but those who attend a few times a year are less-so, and those who only come at Christmas have amazingly high expectations. Some of them want everything to be like it was when they used to come to church when they were children… the service should match what … Read more »