The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday December 6, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



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.

When I open my Bible to the beginning of the gospel of Mark, the first thing I read is the title, “The Proclamation of John the Baptist,” followed by this opening sentence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1)

As opening sentences go, it’s not the best one I have ever read, it’s not even in the top 10.  It’s actually a little confusing given that I’ve just been told I am about to read the proclamation of John the Baptist only to then have read several more sentences before John is even mentioned.

But that’s not Mark’s fault. He couldn’t have known that a future editor would see the need to add the title about John and turn the title he had written into a first sentence.

Mark is writing “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that’s the title.  The next few sentences are the introduction:


As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”


For Mark, the story of the good news of Jesus Christ begins with Isaiah’s prophecy that a messenger will be sent to prepare the way. A messenger who will cry out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (3)

This prophecy should seem at least vaguely familiar to all of us because the lectionary had us read a longer section of it as our first reading.  In that first passage from Isaiah, not only is a path to be made straight, but the mountains are to be made low and the valleys raised so that God’s glory can be revealed to all the people.

Mark Allan Powell says that God in this text reminds him of Diana Ross singing, “Ain’t no mountain high enough.”[1] If you’re familiar with the song you’ll know that Ross sings about her love with a passion and a conviction that requires her to use every cell in her body.

By comparing God to Diana Ross in this way, Powell shows us a God who is so in love and so desperate to get to her people that she will not let anything stand in her way. “Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough, Ain’t no river wide enough, To keep me from you.”

I will never be able hear that song without thinking of this interpretation. And I’ve added it to my Advent playlist.

The good news in the gospel of Mark begins with a God who is so desperately in love with us that nothing will stand in her way. Nothing will keep her from getting to us – not the highest mountain, not the lowest valley, not the widest river. This is the story Mark wants to share with us.

God is coming, whether we want her to or not. Whether we are ready for her or not. There is nothing we can do to stop her.

So, what should we do?


Get ready.

Anticipate God’s arrival.

This is what both of our readings are pointing to this evening – the need to prepare for God’s arrival, not because there is anything we can do that would either encourage or prevent God from coming – God is coming. We prepare because the preparation is beneficial. It is good to be ready when God arrives.

Advent is a funny season. It’s my favourite season, but it is also rather bizarre that we spend so much time preparing for an event that already happened.  The story we will remember and celebrate on Christmas Eve already happened.   It’s old news.

But it’s also good news and, in some ways, new news.  It seems to me that every year during Advent as I prepare to remember something that already happened a long time ago, God also finds a new way to break through and be born all over again.  I can’t explain it, I definitely don’t understand it, but it is true.

I usually learn something new in the preparation as well. It doesn’t matter that I know how the story ends, Advent always has something new to teach me.

I’m not going to do this conversation justice here, but yesterday as part of our Advent retreat, several folks pointed out that it’s not always helpful to think of time as a linear thing with a singular starting point and ending point. Time is often circular. Our liturgical calendar is circular, as soon as we end we begin again.

Every day is Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter and Ordinary Time and also we suspend our disbelief to lean into these particular seasons and stories and ideas at particular times because the church has learned throughout its history that there is a deep wisdom in doing so.

This spring, summer and fall have felt in many ways like a perpetual Advent as we wait, not for just for Jesus, but for a vaccine, for an end to this pandemic, for an end to so much sickness, suffering and death.

Advent waiting has a particular heaviness to it this year.  One of the key features of traditional Advent waiting is that we can rest safe in the knowledge that we are waiting for a fixed period of time and that Jesus will be born on December 25th.  That is still true this year, but this year we are also in a season of waiting that lacks a clear horizon, a clear end date.  We do not know when this pandemic will end. We don’t know how much longer we are going to have to wait.

What might we learn, what might be illuminated if we fully embrace Advent in 2020?

We won’t know, unless we try.

But we also need to feel the freedom to be discerning in how we practice Advent. Some of you have decided that there has been enough Advent waiting this year and you now need an extra dose of cheer so in your home there are lights and decorations and Christmas carols on repeat.

Which is great.  There is a defiance and a willingness to take your mental health seriously in that decision which I really appreciate.

And as a community we will hold tight to many of our traditions, even as we innovate to take into account our current reality.  We will have a Christmas Eve service in this livestream format, and we will invite you all to eat treats and sip sherry together after the service, but we’ll use Zoom to gather.

And as a community, we’ve also decided that despite being in a season of waiting, there is something that we have all waited for long enough and there is no need to wait for any longer –


We have not celebrated Eucharist together as a community since March. That’s longer than the liturgical seasons of Lent and Advent combined.

That’s too long.

And so our wait will end next week on the third Sunday of Advent.

If you’re wondering what took so long, there were a host of factors at play that for tonight I will simply summarize this way – this was a decision not entered into lightly and was not one that Jamie or I could simply make on our own. It took time. If you want to hear a bit more about how this process unfolded,  we released a podcast[2] about it last week and there are also a series of other articles and resources available on our website.[3]

If you’re wondering HOW we’re going to be able to do this in in the middle of a global pandemic in a city that is currently in Code Red, the short answer is right where you currently are, in your own home, participating in this online gathering.

Next week’s liturgy will include the eucharist.  It’s Jamie’s turn to preside so as part of the service he will stand at the table for the first time in a very long time and the rest of us will gather in our own homes and together we will speak the words of the prayers, bread and wine will be blessed, and we will all be invited to consume “the body of Christ, broken for each one of us.”

You’ve likely never done this before. I’ve only done it once before as part of an online conference, but I did learn a few things in that process that I want to share with you to help you prepare.

First, just as my experience of Christmas is always deeper and richer when I fully engage in Advent, my experience of participating in an online eucharist was deeper and richer because of how I prepared for it.

It was deeper and richer because I took time to prepare, to think about my surroundings, to think about the elements I was going to use.

I set up my computer on the same plastic table I’ve been using almost non-stop since this pandemic began for Zoom calls and livestreams, but I also found a runner that my grandmother had embroidered and covered the table with that.

I used the same kind of bread we use here at saint benedict’s table and poured wine into a pottery cup similar to the ones we use here as well.

I also used incense. Lots of it.

I took a picture of my set up and texted friends who were also participating. They did the same. We told each other we were so happy to be able to do this together. We reminded each other that we were not alone.

It was not the same as a eucharist service with all of you in this building, but it was good, and Jesus was present and, just like with Advent, the experience was enhanced because I took the time to prepare.

A I mentioned earlier, we’ve put together a page of resources for you. One of those resources is the bread recipe that we typically use here.

If it appeals to you, I’d encourage you to take a look and try your hand at baking some this week as part of your own preparation.

But you don’t have to.  You don’t even have to participate in the eucharistic portion of the service if you don’t want to.  As we have regularly said here at saint ben’s, all are welcome, but no one should feel obligated.

You are all welcome, but you are certainly not obligated to participate.

If you do choose to participate, I strongly encourage you to engage in some thoughtful preparation this week. I encourage you to prepare, but I can’t tell you exactly what that should look like, just like I will never tell you that you should not have your Christmas tree up before December 25th. These things always require some personal discernment and an understanding of your own context.

I shared the example of my participation in an online eucharist as precisely that, one example. The takeaway is not that you also need to find a runner your grandmother embroidered or use the saint ben’s bread recipe in order to participate.

The takeaway should be that there is a benefit in thoughtfully preparing.

Perhaps the idea of preparing bread using the saint ben’s recipe is energizing to you. If it is, please do so.

But perhaps that fills you with a sense of obligation or panic. Groceries are hard enough to get right now and you don’t have those ingredients in your house.

But you do have some crackers. Would those crackers be OK?

Absolutely. Use the crackers.

Perhaps you need to eat gluten free. Well then our bread recipe definitely won’t be helpful for you.  Find something that you can eat.

And here is one final thing I want to encourage you all to consider doing.  We will not be the first people to celebrate the eucharist in this way but it is a fairly new practice, particularly in the Anglican church, and people are going to be interested in our experience.

In fact, we have a unique opportunity to share what we are learning through this practice for the benefit of the broader church.   Early this week we’ll be posting a series of reflection questions that you are invited, but again not obligated, to engage with. They will appear on the same page as the other online eucharist resources. Those questions will invite you to think about your own experience and understanding of the eucharist right now before we begin and then to reflect on your experience of this online practice over the next few months.

You may want to engage with those questions on your own as part of your personal spiritual practice or, if you feel comfortable, we’d love to have you share some of those reflections with us and the broader church.

God is coming, there is nothing we can do to stop her. God is already here – whether we notice her presence or not.

Nothing, not the highest mountain, not the lowest valley, not a global pandemic that keeps us physically separate from one another, absolutely nothing will stop God from coming.

That is how much God loves us.

In the last verse of our reading from Isaiah we are told that Christ when he comes will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.” (11)

He will gather us, and he will feed us.

So let us anticipate his arrival and prepare the way.

In the strong name of our triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.