Luke 2 :21-40
After a long wait… about four years since we began the refugee sponsorship process, the Saleem family received the news this week that they will be flying to Canada on January 17th 2024. I don’t know if there was singing in their house, or maybe even dancing, when they got the good news of an actual date and plane tickets. But I’m sure that their hearts were filled with joy, anticipation, and probably a little fear as well about the huge transition they are about to make and the hopeful future that lies ahead for them now. And our hearts are full as well, as we look forward to welcoming them to Regina in the New Year.
This week in our Advent Devotional Study, we reflected on the story of Simeon – the old prophet in Jerusalem who met Mary and Joseph and their new baby, Jesus, when they came up to the temple, and who recognized that this child was the promised Messiah of God. Simeon had been waiting more than a few years for this good news. He may well have been waiting most of his life.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout (he … Read more »
“The Angels’ Song”
This week, when I met with the Advent Devotional Study groups, the opening thought to ponder, given to us in the guide, was this question: “When were you last surprised amid your ordinary routine?”
And when I asked the question, I was met with silence… It took some time for folks to think back and remember some pleasant surprises or good news they had received in years past.
But it was clear that, for most of us, our daily lives are pretty ordinary. We work, we volunteer, we spend time with family or friends. Some of us have some hobbies, groups we attend, sports we play or watch. And, of course, we practice our faith.
We go to church, or we participate online. We read scripture and think about what it means for us. We pray for our own needs and for our neighbours. We give our time and our gifts for the work of the church and other good missions beyond it. Our lives are pretty ordinary.
Angie Song reminds us that “the whole Christmas narrative has ‘ordinary’ written all over it – that is, until God shows up. The story of the shepherds is no exception. It’s another ordinary … Read more »
Luke 1:5-25, 57-79
During this Season of Advent, I decided to move away from the usual Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sundays, and to focus on the prophetic voices of some of the biblical song-writers that had a special part to play in the story of Christ’s birth into the world. I need to acknowledge the influence of the Rev. Angie Song, another PCC minister who wrote this year’s Advent Devotional Study “Sing a New Song” and suggested that we look at the songs of Mary, Zechariah, the angels, Simeon, and the Psalmist through this season.
Last Sunday’s “Magnificat” song from Mary was one of the more well-known songs, and today’s is probably a bit less familiar. In fact, if I just mentioned “Zechariah’s Song” to most Christians, they might say, “Zechariah? Who was that, again?” He’s not a particularly famous person in the New Testament, given that we only have this one story from his life and ministry. But I think there is a lot that we can learn from him.
Zechariah was, of course, John the Baptist’s Dad. We know the importance of John’s role in preparing the way of Christ into the world. We remember how he preached and … Read more »
I do sometimes wish that we knew more about Mary, Jesus’ mother. We just have these few stories in Luke’s Gospel about Mary as a young woman discovering she is pregnant with the Saviour of the world. There’s the story in John’s Gospel where she encourages Jesus to get going with his ministry by using his power to turn water into wine at a wedding. And then we get a few references to Mary’s presence at the end of Jesus’ life, as she faces every parent’s worst nightmare – to see the suffering and death of her own child.
Much of the Christian tradition about Mary portrays her as a sweet, kind, and obedient young woman. It doesn’t imagine her as loud, angry, passionate, or willful, but rather as someone who (after only a few clarifying questions) responds to the Angel Gabriel by calmly saying, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
But even if Mary accepted God’s plan for her without a lot of fuss, I still think she must have been quite a strong, bold, and out-spoken woman of faith who was not afraid to shake things up. And it’s the song she sang during her … Read more »
Sermon in Two Voices: A Sign of Hope
A: First Church folk, I want to introduce you to my friend, Nicole Lindgren. Nicole is visiting us from Saskatoon this weekend, and receiving one of our congregation’s student scholarships. She recently began a Masters program at the Vancouver School of Theology in Public and Pastoral Leadership.
Besides that, Nicole has been the Director at our Synod Camp (Camp Christopher) the last couple of summers. And a while back, she was in my Youth Group at St. Andrew’s in Saskatoon.
Anyway, Nicole has been doing some preaching in Presbyterian churches lately, so I thought I’d ask her to help me out with the sermon this morning.
N: Hello everyone! I’m very happy to be here today…
Amanda, I’ve noticed that in the Season of Advent, the Lectionary always gives us a series of readings from the prophets.
A: Yes, it’s all Isaiah this year.
N: And then there’s a corresponding text from the Gospel in which the author quotes from the prophet.
A: Yes, that’s why we heard the same verse twice this morning. First from Isaiah, and then from Matthew quoting Isaiah. It might have seemed a little bit repetitive.
N: I think the writers of the Gospels … Read more »
“Welcome One Another”
This Seasons of Advent and Christmas are brimming with prophetic words of hope for the world. Last Sunday, we heard from Isaiah about the days to come when many peoples will come to the mountain of God. After hearing God’s instruction, they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks and study war no more.
Today the Prophet encourages us that a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse – a ruler on whom God’s Spirit will rest, and he will bring all the people together and they will live in peace.
Next Sunday’s prophetic text will include all of Creation rejoicing because God is coming to bring healing and wholeness and life to all. There will be singing and joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee away!
After that we’ll hear about the young woman who is with child. She will bear a son, and name him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.”
And on Christmas Eve, we will read the Prophet’s glorious announcement: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty … Read more »
“What Are We Watching For?”
Advent begins today. Happy New (Church) Year! Literally, “Advent” means “coming” and it is a time when we wait and prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our world at Christmas. At the same time, we think about how we are also waiting and preparing for Jesus to come again as he promised, and to finally make things right in our world.
The readings provided for us in the Revised Common Lectionary for this First Sunday of Advent in Year A are not so much about getting ready for a birthday party for Jesus. They are much more focused on anticipating Christ’s second coming and the end of the world as we know it. The Gospel text, in particular, is pretty dramatic – warning us to “keep awake” and “be ready” because “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
It may be helpful to know what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples that “no one knows about the day or the hour, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
At the beginning of the chapter (chapter 24) Jesus foretells the destruction of the … Read more »
“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 »
“The Joy of Salvation”
The message of the prophets on this third Sunday in Advent is about the joy of salvation. Like Israel before us, we have a reason to rejoice, because God has decided not to hold us accountable for our sins and failings, but to demonstrate grace and offer us forgiveness.
As the prophet Zephaniah wrote to the people of Israel, “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” We are called to rejoice and exult with all our hearts. We are invited to draw spiritual water from the wells of salvation, and to do so with joy and thanksgiving.
This is, of course, a message that is not reserved for Advent or Christmas. We are reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness over and over in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and Sunday after Sunday, we hear the assurance of God’s abiding love and grace for us, God’s own wandering children.
But the message of grace in today’s scriptures comes hand in hand with a challenge. The prophet John is preaching about the One coming into the world from God. He is calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to get … Read more »
“Prepare the Way”
That’s such a great Gospel reading for Saskatchewan, don’t you think? “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…” God is making a beautiful, wide-open prairie! That’s the vision of the Kingdom of God when Jesus is coming into the world!
These are the words of John the Baptist when he begins preaching out in the wilderness, calling the people to repent and to “prepare the way of the Lord” who is coming (in Jesus, as we will soon see) to save all people from our sin and sadness.
John is quoting from another prophet centuries before him, Isaiah, who proclaimed similar words to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon. It seemed to them like God had abandoned them there, but God was coming, he assured them. They should be ready to welcome God, who was going to come and bring them home.
The image of the people “preparing the way” probably came from practices associated with welcoming royalty. It was like rolling out the red carpet, making sure that the monarch would have a smooth ride in coming to visit the community.
When we talked about this in … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
“Blooming in the Darkness”
Our Christmas cactus is blooming. We’ve had it for a few years, and it does bloom occasionally. But since I’ve been working at home, I’ve really noticed it blooming over the last week, with more and more flowers appearing each day, more than I ever remember seeing before.
I’m not a gardener at all and I don’t know much about plants. Nick is the one who remembers to water our plants occasionally, with my job being mostly just to notice and appreciate them once in a while. But we all know that Christmas cacti are famous for their unusual schedule of tending to bloom at Christmas.
What they really do is that they start to grow flowers when they experience slightly cooler temperatures and longer nights: at least 13 hours of darkness will do it, and we’re well past that measure here in Regina at this time of year. So our Christmas cactus is blooming.
And I appreciate that it is a glimpse of beauty when I need it most – when it’s getting colder and darker every day, and I’m feeling discouraged because another long Saskatchewan winter is setting in.
It’s not only the darkness and … Read more »
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 »
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 »