The following sermon was preached on November 27, 2022 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by lasse bergqvist on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Happy new year everyone! Today is the first Sunday of Advent and also the first Sunday of the new liturgical year.

I heard a story this week about a man who, when he was in college, got a Christmas tree to decorate with his roommate.  They set up the tree, plugged in the lights and… it was pretty underwhelming. So they went out and bought more lights and still… not great.

But they were college students on a limited budget and they couldn’t afford more lights so instead they just shrugged in disappointment and went about their day.

And then that night, when they returned to their dorm room and turned on the tree they were shocked to realize how bright it was. How well lit it was. How… beautiful it was.

The lights on the tree didn’t show that well in broad daylight, but when the room was dark, the tree shone as brightly as they had hoped when they first began setting it up.

Advent can have that same kind of an effect if you choose to practice it.  By focusing on the themes and practices of Advent, the noise and the distractions of the world can fade into the background letting the things that Advent has to teach you shine bright.

Advent is my favourite liturgical season and most years I celebrate it in a particular way and encourage others to consider the benefits of being intentional in their celebration of the season as well. There’s a post on the church website with more information if you’re stuck for ideas.[1]

Most years my celebration of Advent looks like resisting the temptation to rush into Christmas – the tree, the carols, and all of those things can wait until it’s really Christmas. They can wait until December 24th and then they can be enjoyed with full force for the entire 12 days of Christmas.

It has been a helpful and a hopeful practice.

But this year, most of my decorations are up already because a search for some of my resource books and materials to prepare our upcoming liturgies caused me to unpack most of my decorations as well and it just seemed silly to pack them all back up again.

My house looks like it’s already Christmas and not Advent, and that’s OK this year. I will still keep practices like daily candle lighting, prayer and contemplative time and the Christmas playlist won’t come out until the 24th.

Oh and I definitely have all the characters in my nativity scene spread out throughout my house and have hidden baby Jesus.  Let’s all hope I remember on Christmas Eve which cupboard I popped him into.

Keep the season however makes the most sense for you, engage with curiousity and challenge yourself, but don’t get stuck thinking you have to conform to someone else’s ideas of the right way to practice Advent. Figure out what makes sense for you – which may mean returning to a treasured regular practice or trying something new.

Whatever you do, I would encourage you to think of Advent as a different season than Christmas in some way. By lighting Advent candles, getting an Advent devotional or just thinking about what it means to wait and to prepare for the return of the King, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

In the Anglican church, and many other denominations as well, we use a cycle of readings called the lectionary. The lectionary is a three year cycle of readings that allows us to cover large portions of the Bible every year.   It’s a three year cycle, but there are four gospels, four books that focus on the story of Jesus’ life on earth, so we don’t read only one gospel every year – over the course of the next year you will hear readings from all four gospels -but each year there is one that gets highlighted and this year it is Matthew’s time to shine.

Each gospel was written by a different person and the writer’s personality comes through in their work.

We’re not actually positive who wrote this gospel, but to keep things simple, we usually call the author Matthew.

It’s just a lot easier for me to say, “Matthew says,” then “the unknown and disputed author of the gospel known as Matthew says.”

Each gospel was written by a different person with a distinct personality. Each gospel was also written with a distinct message to a distinct audience.

Most scholars think that the gospel of Matthew was written in a time period where there were people who were following Jesus, but there wasn’t yet a clear distinction between what it meant to be Jewish and what it meant to be Christian.

There were Jewish people who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah who chose to remain Jewish. There were Jewish people who did believe that Jesus was the Messiah and so I suppose you could call them Christians, but they were also still very much Jewish.  And then there were Gentile people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but they definitely weren’t Jewish.

And all of these people had to figure out how to get along.

Mathew’s focus, however, is not on trying to ensure that these three groups of people get along.  He’s not even writing to all three groups. He focusses on Jewish people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. His focus is on helping these people understand that they are not betraying their Jewish roots by believing in Jesus. His goal is to help them to see that it makes sense to be a Jew who follows Jesus.

It’s not that Matthew doesn’t think that it’s important for all of these groups to get along, he’s just smart enough to know his limits.

Matthew’s gospel focusses on the Jewishness of Jesus. He wants to show that Jesus’ life and ministry are a clear fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures. The assurance that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God-with-us,” frames the whole gospel. (1:23; 28:20)”.[2]

At the same time, Matthew is trying to walk a fine line. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us,” but the “us” isn’t only the Jewish people that are his primary audience, the “us” is everybody.  Everyone is welcome to join this newly forming Jesus movement, not just Jewish people.

Matthew’s Gospel tries to defend and define Jewish Christianity, on the one hand, and unity with Gentile Christians on the other. It validates the community’s continuity with the past promises to Israel, while at the same time justifies their new allegiance to the person of Christ and his mission.”

The lectionary will have us focusing on Matthew over the coming year, but another thing the lectionary likes to do is bounce around within the featured gospel so we’re not starting this new year at the beginning, rather today’s reading is from near the end of the gospel and it’s a text that is focussed on endings, not beginnings.

It starts, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.” (36)

If the sentence “But about that day and hour” sounds like we’re beginning in the middle of a thought, that’s because we are. Our reading comes towards the end of a longer section, a longer speech, where Jesus is talking about the future, about the second time he will come to earth.

So this year Advent, a season when we are called to prepare and remember the first time Jesus came to earth, we are also being called to remember and prepare for the fact that he will also come again a second time.

But when?  Jesus makes it clear that we can’t know when this will happen. Only God the Father knows.

As a kid, I found this verse very comforting and freeing.  I was not capable of figuring out when Jesus was going to return so there was no point in trying. It was one big thing I could simply not bother worrying about trying to predict.

But many, many, many people have felt differently and have spent a tremendous amount of time trying to predict when Jesus will return.  People have made it their life’s work and there are TV programs and countless books all focused on trying to predict when Jesus will return.

Even though only God knows. And none of those people guessing are God.

And there were also people who decided not to try and figure out when Jesus would return but rather to figure out what it will be like when that happens.

They used today’s readings and a big pinch of imagination to create a theory called the rapture, and again there are countless books, TV shows, and even a movie starring Kurt Cameron that explore this idea as if it was a gospel truth.

Which it is not.

So we can’t predict when Jesus will come and we can’t use these verses to construct a picture of what it will be like when he returns, so what can we do?

As a kid I thought it was comforting to know that I didn’t have to worry about predicting when Jesus was going to return, but I also knew that didn’t mean I got to just make a blanket fort in my bedroom and hang out until he came.

And that’s still true today, even though there are many days when I wish I really could just hang out in a blanket fort and not pay any attention to what is going on in the world.

Advent and our gospel passage remind me that I’m not supposed to rush the waiting. I am not supposed to jump straight to Christmas before the actual season of Christmas. I am supposed to stay in Advent for the entire season.

Advent and our gospel passage also remind me that I’m not supposed to just hide out in my blanket fort either.  Every day I need to get up and pay attention to what is going on and ask, “What is my next most faithful step? What am I being called to do today?”

Your wardens and vestry have been doing this kind of Advent work in an intentional way over the past year.  They can’t predict the future, but they have been alert and watchful and attentive to what is going on in the world and in the parish.

And they are asking, “What is St George’s next most faithful step?”

It just so happens, that this parish is at a point where we can see that there is a four way stop just up ahead on the path and while we don’t have to make a decision today, we are approaching the day where the next most faithful step will be a pretty big one.  Should you turn right? Or left?  Which way is God calling you to go?

Today after church we’re having an important meeting, and it’s an Advent type meeting. It’s a time to share some information that will help you be alert and pay attention to what is happening so that you can pray and prepare for the time when you’ll need to make a decision.

Part of being watchful is being hopeful. We can’t predict the future but we can still prepare for it with a hope that whatever is coming, God will be with us.  Because God is good. And God loves each one of us.

Jesus is not asking us to predict the future, in fact he is explicitly telling us that it’s not possible to do so.

But Jesus is telling us to stay awake, to pay attention to what is happening around us so that will know what our next most faithful step is. Jesus is calling us to have the faith and the hope and the courage to take that next step, and then the one after that, and the one after that.

And Jesus will be with us when we do.

Which is good news.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


[2] Collegeville Commentary