Please enjoy our Online Christmas Pageant – “A Pandemic Christmas.”
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Please enjoy our Online Christmas Pageant – “A Pandemic Christmas.”
… 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 »
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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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
“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 »
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
“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 »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
“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 »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
Psalm 72:1-7 18-19
“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 »
Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie
“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 »