advent

Sermon: "There's Something About Joseph,"

Sermon: "There's Something About Joseph,"

Where we may find ourselves with less of a clear identity, a clearly defined role as men, God is casting us in a whole new one. To say “yes” to God, so often means letting go of who we thought we were to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean we have to stop being men. But it means that rather than judging ourselves on the jobs we have, or the gender roles we play. Rather than judging ourselves on our productivity, or how our culture defined us in the past or defines us in the present.

Sermon: "Fellow Prisoners," December 11, 2016

Sermon: "Fellow Prisoners," December 11, 2016

Think about it, and you’ll spot yourself through the bars in the prison window. Somewhere. Think about it, and you’ll know what that old hymn means when is says “O Come O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” Because we are all prisoners of one kind or another. Prisoners of our own brokenness, prisoners of the world’s brokenness. Captive. With no obvious way out. No way home.

Sermon: "Burning Away the Chaff," December 4, 2016

Sermon: "Burning Away the Chaff," December 4, 2016

John tells those of us who are preparing for the coming of Christ that this is no easy path of instant joy. John is here to hold up a mirror to us. To show us that we, like the Pharisees and Saducees, can become so complacent, so accustomed to our yearly rituals and traditions, that we slide into them every single year with ease or hesitation. We go through the motions, rest on our laurels jump through the hoops.

Advent and Christmas in Courtenay

We invite you to join us on the journey of watching, waiting, and mystery in this year's Advent and Christmas seasons. No matter who you are, where you are in life, or the journey of faith, there's a place for you at St. George's. Come as you are, and join us as we wait and watch in joyous anticipation for Emmanuel—God with us—who is already at work in making all things new.

Advent and Christmas Services

  • November 27th: 1st Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am - Annual Soup and Bun lunch to follow
  • December 4th: 2nd Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am
  • December 5th: UCW Women’s Vesper’s Service 6:00pm
  • December 11th: 3rd Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am, Community Carol Service 4:00pm
  • December 18th: Fourth Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am
  • December 24th: Christmas Eve Family Candlelight Service 6:30pm
  • December 25th: Christmas Day Carols and Communion 10:30am
  • January 1st: First Sunday After Christmas Worship (with Carols) 10:30am

Advent Worship - Nov. 27, Dec. 4, 11, and 18 at 10:30am

The season of Advent, beginning with the four Sundays before Christmas, marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. In these services we await the coming of Christmas, yes. But we are also waiting for God’s healing, God’s mercy, and God’s justice, waiting and hoping for a creation renewed, redeemed, and restored for good. Children's church and childcare with stories, songs and crafts is provided.

Christmas Eve Service - December 24th at 6:30pm

Join us Christmas Eve for an informal family service, where we'll listen to the Christmas story with new ears so we might see the world again with new eyes. There will be plenty of carols, an ad-hoc pageant which all children will be invited to join in to, complete with candlelight singing.

Christmas Day Service - December 25th at 10:30am

Join us Christmas morning as we mark the day with a more intimate, contemplative service. There will be many carols and we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Childcare won't be provided, but children are absolutely welcome to attend and participate.

The First Sunday of Christmas Epiphany Sunday (the Magi Visit) - January 1st 10:30am

Join us for the first Sunday after Christmas, where we'll celebrate the season with carols and other festivities. Children's church and childcare with stories, songs and crafts is provided.

About the season(s)

The season of Advent, beginning with the four Sundays before Christmas, marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. We spend much of our lives waiting. Yet, as the people of Jesus, we find ourselves waiting for the coming of God in our lives, in our communities and in our world. We await God’s healing, God’s mercy, and God’s justice, waiting and hoping for a creation renewed, redeemed, and restored for good.

Christmas itself not only marks the birth of Jesus, and the coming of God in our midst. It also marks the beginning of our own continual rebirth. In Advent and Christmas, we are offered the gifts of Peace, Joy, Hope, and Love to guide us on our path as children of God, being re-made and growing in to God’s image each day, and experiencing the divine life here and now.

Sermon: "Great Expectations," December 13th 2015

"The Visitation," by Brother Eric, Taize Community 1960.

"The Visitation," by Brother Eric, Taize Community 1960.

Third Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:26-45

"Great Expectations"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

Today’s passage comes to us in two parts. The first is relatively well-known. One that is relatively well-known, as far as biblical passages go. And the other not so well known, as far as biblical passages go. The first focuses on Mary, the soon-to-be Mother of Jesus. The other on Elizabeth, a relative of Mary. Together, however, these passages show us something about God at work in hidden, yet powerful ways.

The first, the well-known passage is known as the “Annunciation.” An angel named Gabriel visits Mary, who is engaged to a man named Joseph, and living in a town called Nazareth, in a place called Galilee. The angel startles Mary with his presence (fair enough), then gives her startling news. That she is going to be pregnant, and the baby she’s going to give birth to will be named Jesus. This baby will not be like other babies. And this child will be “great,” says the angel, “and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This baby will usher in a new age of hope for her people. And the entire world.

Mary is confused as to how she’ll be having this baby. Seeing as how she’s a virgin. But Gabriel has an easy explanation: the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. The child will be holy, the son of God. Mary is favoured. And she is chosen by God for an incredible task—to bear God in to the world. And Mary says “here I am, servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary is chosen to bear God into the world. And she says “yes.” Here I am.

Like I said, this story is familiar, as far as biblical texts go. It’s the subject of countless beautiful renaissance paintings. And it’s the passage where the Christian church has formulated what’s called the doctrine of the virgin birth. That Jesus was, in the words of the Apostle’s Creed “conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.” It’s a core teaching of the faith. And it’s one that has faced it’s share of challenges in the modern era of science and rational inquiry. “Can virgins conceive babies?” Seems to be the question that the controversy revolves around.

As much as I like controversy, I wonder if sometimes we’re concentrating on the wrong one. The “can virgins have babies” one. Because I think the real controversy in this passage is not the question of how but the question of who that is controversial here. Because she really is a nobody. She’s from Nazareth, which really is the neighborhood that everybody else looks down on. Think the downtown east side. Think an isolated reserve in Northern Ontario. Think Maple Pool. She’s poor as poor can be. And she’s likely between ten and twelve years of age—the age women in her culture are married. Her society probably frowns upon unwed pregnant teenage mothers even more than our own. She hasn’t earned it. Hasn’t done anything to deserve it. You might remember the movie “There’s Something About Mary.” Here there’s really nothing about Mary. And yet, she’s the one chosen to bear Christ, to bring God in to the world. God sees in Mary something nobody else sees. God has great expectations.

            God has great expectations for Mary, God sees what nobody else sees. And yet, the blessedness of Mary is not the whole point of this scene. Yes, in the Christian tradition Mary is the uniquely special person who brought Christ in to the world. But in the tradition she’s also seen as the example of what a follower of Jesus looks like. It’s that God sees in us something that nobody else sees. The Eastern Orthodox Christian Church refers to Mary as Theotokos, meaning the “God bearer.” The point is that if God chooses someone like Mary, a nobody like Mary with nothing extraordinary about her, God can do the same with us. Everyone has the potential to bear Christ in to the world. Christ is in utero in all of us, waiting to be born in to the world. God has great expectations for us all.

But I’m not sure we see that. Even among those of us who follow Jesus. I’ve told a few people this story. But I’ll hangout and eat with people at eat with them in the soup kitchen. Part of the deal, at least on some of the days is at the door you receive a ticket so we can keep track of the number of people who are served. I always come from the door on the side instead of the front door, so I don’t get a ticket. And this one day I got in the line with everyone else. And when it was my time to be served, I said I wanted the cream of mushroom and a tuna sandwich. And the woman serving looked at me, gave me a bit of a sour look and said “where’s your ticket?” And me, being cheeky replied “Oh I never get one.” And she gives me this look like I was trying to steal her wallet. “No ticket,” she says, “no soup.” And of course, the other woman working with her leans in and gently whispers “he’s the pastor at St. George’s.” The woman’s face turns red, the scowl immediately melts away. “Oh I’m so sorry,” she says. I’m sure I could have got an extra sandwich out of the deal.

            It was kind of funny. The pastor, hidden among the crowd. But if you think about it, you’ll realize that it shouldn’t have mattered if I was the pastor or not. I think sometimes we get can get so caught up in serving and doing, even if it’s the right time, that we forget. Because every person who lines up at that soup kitchen is carrying the potential of Christ within them, even if it doesn’t seem so obvious.

This is one of the reasons why Christians believe that every life is precious and of infinite worth. This is why followers of Jesus oppose the death penalty. This is why followers of Jesus are weary of waging war. This is why followers of Jesus around the country have said “yes” to the sheltering of refugees. This is why we partner with other churches around the valley to provide meals to people who can’t afford their own out of our fellowship hall five days a week. Not because of some high-minded liberal ideals of equity or fairness, as helpful as they may be. Not because we are “helping the less fortunate.” Or that we believe ourselves to be social service providers. We give up on no one. Because we believe that Christ is within all of us, hidden in utero. Waiting to be born, no matter how rough or un-Christlike our lives may be. As we say every Sunday Jesus Christ is the host at the table and the unseen guest in our midst. This is why we do a lot of what we do.

That’s the first well known part of the passage. But I love the second, lesser known part, too. After Mary hears the news from the angel, she runs from home over hills and valleys. And she ends up at her relative Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth is six months pregnant with a baby in her. The baby is John the Baptist, who points to Jesus’ arrival <show slide>. Mary bursts in to the front door. And as soon as Elizabeth hears the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby does a back flip in her womb. She’s filled with the Holy Spirit, it says. And she rejoices. Elizabeth somehow is able to see how God sees. The Holy Spirit taps her on the shoulder, and points out that it’s Christ who’s entered the room. Hidden within this preteen girl.

            I am not the type for person for whom God is always obvious—like Elizabeth—but I truly believe that God is trying to tell us things all the time. Like with Elizabeth, the Spirit is always trying to tap us on the shoulder and get our attention. Especially through the people we meet. It might not be so obvious. But one of the ways we can better listen for the Spirit is to live with great expectations. To recognize that Christ is waiting to be born in all whom we meet. Though he may be hidden. No matter who they are. Every life, from the most nervous pre-teen to most deeply addicted and the down and out has Christ waiting within them. Waiting to be born.

Advent is the season of waiting. We celebrate Advent, and don’t burst right in to Christmas because Christ does not make himself known to us so obviously. But he comes to us hidden. Deep inside of us no matter who we are, ready to be born, if Mary, we simply say “yes, according to your word.” But Christ is also hidden in the least expected people. If only we, like Elizabeth, are able to hear the Spirit’s prodding. And rejoice.

Brothers and sisters. God has great expectations for you, and for us all. May you, like Mary, prepare yourself this season to bring Christ in to the world. And may you, like Elizabeth, recognize him, and rejoice, when he walks through your door.

Sermon: "Preparing the Way," December 6th, 2015

Second Sunday in Advent
Luke 3:1-19

"Preparing the Way"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

John the Baptist. It seems kind of strange that John pops up here in the middle of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Not only is it kind of out of order in the story, it doesn’t really seem to be very festive with John throwing around words like “repentance,” and “forgiveness.” Now here’s a guy you’d want at the office Christmas party. Better hide your eggnog.

But there’s a method to the madness of putting John here in Advent. Because Advent is the season of spiritual preparation. Preparation for the coming of Christ. And this morning’s passage is all about preparation. John the Baptist bursts out on to the scene, crying out from the wilderness. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he shouts. John invokes ancient words. From the fortieth chapter of the prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament. Prepare the way of the Lord. “Make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

And in Luke, we are, of course, preparing for Jesus to enter the stage for the first time in his adult life. For John it’s Jesus’ entry on to the stage that will fulfill this ancient promise. In him all the world will see and experience salvation—human life redeemed, healed and restored to the way that it has always meant to be. And John is the great preparer: he himself is setting the stage for Jesus, and he exhorts everyone who gathers around him to do the same. To “prepare the way of the Lord.” Not only is this promised One coming, the infrastructure needs to be put in place for his arrival. John uses the language of building a highway. I like to think of it as the construction of a heavenly landing strip. God in Christ is getting ready to land, and John calls the people to get to get their shovels in the ground so they will be ready. Prepare the way for God in your own lives. So Christ has a place to touch down. So they can receive him when he shows up.

And it’s interesting. John is popular, huge crowds gather around to hear. Sometimes we imagine religious gatherings as the righteous people who have everything figured out. But John even calls them a brood of vipers (there’s a church growth technique I’ve never really tried—imagine if you saw “severe scolding” as the first thing in the order of worship instead of “greeting and welcome”) as if they have finally come slithering out from the rocks they have been hiding under. When people show up he basically says “it’s about time you got your lives in order. Start bearing fruit, or you’ll be completely unprepared for when he comes.” The people who show up to hear John are actually the least prepared for Christ to come. They don’t have the spiritual infrastructure in pace.

            The first group that shows up is just a random crowd. An undifferentiated mass. I imagine it’s like the crowd that shows up in Courtenay for the lighting of the Christmas tree—people of all walks of life, shapes, and sizes. And John tells them that if they have two coats to give it away to someone who has none. Same with food. These folks are unprepared for Christ, because they have more than enough. And have trouble sharing it.

The second group that shows up are tax collectors. They work for the Romans, the occupying empire. They are in the finance industry and represent the status quo. And they have quotas to fill. These are people who are unprepared for Christ because their lives are driven by ambition. The need for “more, more, more.”

            And the third group that shows up are soldiers. People who represent the empire, the status quo. People charged with keeping order, keeping society running smoothly. But they don’t make as much money as they would like to. And often they use their own authority and positions to their advantage. They are unprepared because they are too busy keeping up with the Joneses, to be ready for Christ to come.

            It’s interesting. Because these folks and the things that John condemns in them are not normally on the high sin list when it comes to fire and brimstone preaching. Doesn’t start with sex. Or someone’s particular stances on matters of doctrine. No, the biggest obstacle to God touching down in their own lives in the world… the thing that gets in the way the most…  is their relationship with money. Stuff. Resources. How they get it and what they do with it. And because of that they are unprepared, for Christ to touch down.

It makes you wonder, it makes you think about how we prepare for Christ’s coming in the season leading up to Christmas. As a culture, we generally prepare for this most significant holiday by spending what we have, or by going in to debt.  In 2013, the average Canadian donated about $531 to charitable causes in the whole year.[1] In that same year, shoppers planned to spend over $1800 on average—just on stuff related to Christmas. Between presents, food, travel, decorations and all the other stuff that comes with it.[2] Certainly a lot of that is giving gifts. But if we’re honest with ourselves, they are mostly to our friends and families. Jesus says that where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. And our hearts in this season generally ain’t with Jesus. Even those of use who put him at the center of our lives.

It’s easy to take potshots at the commercialization of Christmas, I know. For many of us, me included, this can be, and usually is, a time of fun, celebration, and a loving experience with family. But John says that “preparing the way of the Lord” is so much more than that. It’s preparing the way for God’s salvation to touch down in the world. Something that changes our lives, and the world for the better. For that we so often seem unprepared. John doesn’t mince words about it. He tells the truth to those of us who gather around, harsh as he may be (I’d love to name a church plant “Brood of Vipers United Church” though, it’s got a ring to it). And it stings.  Like the folks who gather around John we may find ourselves asking “well what do you want us to do about it?”

But what I love about John is that he doesn’t just tell us the truth and leave us there feeling guilty. His judgment brings good news. He’s kind of like Jesus in that way, even.  “How do we prepare the way?” They ask. And John tells them. Their relationship with money and stuff can be an obstacle to God touching down in their lives, rather than making a path to the abundant life that Jesus promises them.

But  John gives them practices, gives us practices, so we can prepare for God to touch down in our own lives.

            If you have two coats, more than enough, John says. Start giving stuff away. Prepare the way of the Lord by practice generosity.

If, like the tax collector, you find you’re driven by ambition, know when enough is enough. Prepare the way of the Lord by practice self-restraint. Start taking only what you need.

If, like the soldiers, you are always keeping up with the Joneses. Be satisfied with your wages. Prepare the way of the Lord by practicing gratitude.

Generosity. Self-restraint. Gratitude. These are all practices that when we do them, we are somehow mysteriously preparing the way of the Lord to enter in to our lives and change us for the better. It’s not that if we do these things God will love us, no. John says that what he’s offering is not salvation—I baptize you with water, the one who is coming will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. Somehow in opening ourselves, laying the infrastructure in our lives for the Holy Spirit. And when we do, we’ll notice that the crookedness in us is somehow being straightened. The roughness in us is being smoothed out. Because God will find a place to touch down. And everyone around will see God at work in us.

            I mean, could you imagine if the people of Jesus started, small step by small step, preparing for Christ’s birth, by say, giving away in Advent as much as we spend on gifts? I mean, it would probably be harder. But how do you think it might change our lives? How would it change your life, to treat this as a season of preparation by changing your relationship with money to prepare God’s way? I mean, imagine how that might change our world, at least a little corner of it, if we started to treat this season as preparation for the coming of Christ in to our lives? I have no doubt that we would get a glimpse of the salvation of God. Life in full. And it could have the potential to change who we are. The world would see it in us. And would be touched by it, too. Because they’d see God touch down.

            Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christian life, the Way of Jesus Christ, is the way of preparation. For laying the foundations for God’s way in the world. In preparing ourselves for Christmas, we are preparing ourselves to receive Christ anew when he finally shows up. By learning to let go of the things in our lives In our lives that get in his way.

            In this Advent season, may you prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his path. And in you, through you, may all those meet you come to see the salvation of our God. Here and now.

AMEN.

 

[1] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015001-eng.htm

[2] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/canadians-to-spend-more-shop-online-this-holiday-season/article15290922/

Advent and Christmas in Courtenay

We invite you to join us on the journey of watching, waiting, and mystery in this year's Advent and Christmas seasons. No matter who you are, where you are in life, or the journey of faith, there's a place for you at St. George's. Come as you are, and join us as we wait and watch in joyous anticipation for Emmanuel—God with us—who is already at work in making all things new.

Advent and Christmas Services and Concerts

  • November 29th: 1st Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am - Annual Soup and Bun lunch to follow
  • December 4th: North Island Choral Concert "Magificats" 7:30pm
  • December 5th: North Island Choral Matinee "Magificats" 2:00pm
  • December 6th: 2nd Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am
  • December 7th: UCW Women’s Vesper’s Service 6:00pm
  • December 12th: Blue Christmas/Celebrate a Life (At Comox United Church) 1:00pm
  • December 13th: 3rd Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am
  • December 19th: Carols and Lessons service (At Comox United Church) 7:00pm
  • December 20th: Fourth Sunday in Advent Worship 10:30am
    Celebration Singers Afternoon Concert 2:30pm
  • December 21st: Celebration Singers Concert 7:30pm
  • December 24th: Christmas Eve Family Candlelight Service 6:30pm
  • December 25th: Christmas Day Service 10:30am
  • December 27th: First Sunday After Christmas Worship (with Carols) 10:30am
  • January 3rd: Worship Celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord (the Visit of the Magi)

Advent Worship - Nov. 29, Dec. 6, 13, and 20 at 10:30am

The season of Advent, beginning with the four Sundays before Christmas, marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. In these services we await the coming of Christmas, yes. But we are also waiting for God’s healing, God’s mercy, and God’s justice, waiting and hoping for a creation renewed, redeemed, and restored for good. Children's church and childcare with stories, songs and crafts is provided.

Christmas Eve Service - December 24th at 6:30pm

Join us Christmas Eve for an informal family service, where we'll listen to the Christmas story with new ears so we might see the world again with new eyes. There will be plenty of carols, an ad-hoc pageant which all children will be invited to join in to, complete with candlelight singing.

Christmas Day Service - December 25th at 10:30am

Join us Christmas morning as we mark the day with a more intimate, contemplative service. There will be many carols, including lesser-known ones. And we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Children are welcome, but no childcare is provided.

The First Sunday of Christmas - December 27th 10:30am

Join us for the first Sunday after Christmas, where we'll celebrate the season with carols and other festivities. Children's church and childcare with stories, songs and crafts is provided.

Epiphany Sunday (the Magi Visit) - January 3rd 10:30am

Join us as we wrap up the Christmas season and begin another with the visit of the Magi. Seasonal carols accompany the season of mystery and celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Children's church and childcare with stories, songs and crafts is provided.

About the season(s)

The season of Advent, beginning with the four Sundays before Christmas, marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. We spend much of our lives waiting. Yet, as the people of Jesus, we find ourselves waiting for the coming of God in our lives, in our communities and in our world. We await God’s healing, God’s mercy, and God’s justice, waiting and hoping for a creation renewed, redeemed, and restored for good.

Christmas itself not only marks the birth of Jesus, and the coming of God in our midst. It also marks the beginning of our own continual rebirth. In Advent and Christmas, we are offered the gifts of Peace, Joy, Hope, and Love to guide us on our path as children of God, being re-made and growing in to God’s image each day, and experiencing the divine life here and now.

 

Sermon: "Broken Branches," Dec. 21, 2014

What a way to begin a story. Mark’s gospel begins in the thick of things with John the Baptist at the side of the river Jordan shouting “repent!” Luke’s gospel begins with a dedication to a faithful reader. John’s gospel begins cosmically, way back at the beginning of time with “in the beginning was the Word.” And Matthew’s gospel begins… with a list. A long, tediously precise list of names. Beginning with Abraham, the father of all nations. Through King David, Israel’s most celebrated King. On through the Babylonian exile. Name after name after name all the way down to Jesus. It might be the least exciting way to show someone your family tree.