Advent Sermon 4

It was one of those moments when faith meets faith. Such moments move us to search for the mighty or the magnificent. When we think of them, we may think of the heroines of the faith doing heroic acts, or look for champions performing dauntless deeds.

But today, if we look for the magnificent moments of faith only in the mighty, the proud and the powerful, we shall miss seeing one of scripture’s great acts of faith completely.

It comes in a simple visit between two family members, both of whom are expecting a child. Both have had some strange events surround their pregnancy and both probably needed some reassuring – especially the younger of the two, who was new to the responsibilities of life, not to mention this matter of life giving, barely 16.

Luke discovered that after Mary’s visit from the angel — a visit that irreversibly changed her life — Mary decided that she needed some help sorting everything out.

And who wouldn’t? After all, it is not every day that an angel shows up on one’s doorstep to announce not only that you’re pregnant but that the baby is somehow, some way, God’s child.

It is not every day that one has to break this kind of news to the family or, worse yet, the man to whom she is about to be married.

Then came the days of waiting while Joseph wrestles with what to do. Does he believe or not? Can this be true or is the woman he is about to spend the rest of his life with, to put it gently, a little unstable? It is a lot for anyone to go through alone, the waiting and wondering.

So Mary turns to the only one she can think of, someone who, as the angel told her, has just had a similar experience. More than a generation separates the two, as does some distance, but Mary knows that if she is going to make any sense of this at all, she is going to have to turn to her friend and cousin Elizabeth. She is older, wiser, and may be able to help her get a handle on just exactly what is happening.

So, Luke relates the story, “as soon as the angel left her, with little delay Mary got ready and hurried off to the hillside town in Judea where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived.”

It was a moment when Mary needed some support. She needed to hear from someone older and more discerning, that not only what was happening was God’s will, but that Mary would be up to the task. To put it simply: while Mary believed in God’s promise, she needed another human being to believe in her. She needed someone to comfort her and say, “Mary, you have done the right thing and because you have — believe it or not — you’ll be up to anything you have to face.”

Is it any wonder that down through the centuries Mary became the favorite among the common people? She struggled to believe, just like they struggled to believe; she struggled to trust, just like they struggled to trust; and she needed to be reassured the same way that they did.

Aren’t we there, too? Looking, struggling, seeking, yearning for some confirmation that there really is something to this business of faith. And that God, is not “just something humans made up to make them feel better.”

Mary goes looking for Elizabeth, hoping to hear someone else tell her that what she is doing makes sense. And with the discernment of decades rightly lived, Elizabeth tells Mary that what she is doing is not only right and proper but it will be a joyous blessing for her and for generations still to come.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, faith is meeting faith and it is to our benefit. For Mary is, I think, nothing less than a vital connection between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you and me.

In conceiving the child, Mary is a sign that God is in this life with us, down to the smallest, most basic, experience. She is the sign that this religion of ours is not about esoteric theological propositions or secret rituals.

It is about life — birthing and growing and loving and dying. Mary tells us that God is a part of all of that and so keeps us in touch, connected.

If Jesus was going to share our humanity, then He would have to have a mother. In the same way that every one of us came to be here this morning, Jesus needed to have a mother. Jesus needed a mother in the same way that all of us needed a mother: to love Him, comfort Him, care for and about Him until the day He died. Mary did that. She was His first follower, His biggest fan, and was there for Him to the end. And for all this, Elizabeth says with great insight and foresight, she would be called blessed.

That the Son of God had a mother is a reminder, that God’s work gets done when otherwise ordinary people hear the voice of God and decide to say “yes.” Mary is a reminder that faith means following dreams — dreams that begin with God – with courage and expectation.

We live in expectation of a better life, a better world, where people like Mary and Elizabeth, like you and me, gather and where, once again, faith meets faith, to the glory of God and for the good of all God’s children.

Let us be like Mary, and accept and respond to God’s call and wait patiently with faith, to see how God’s plan for us, unfolds.

When we are unsure let us turn to the lives of others both here and in scripture and history and allow our faith to meet their faith and that union bring us hope!

When we are unsure of what all this that God is doing in our lives let us meet faith with faith and reach out to each other. We all need encouragement, and we can all be encouragers…

As we saw with Mary and Elizabeth, serving God is not limited to any particular age group, Mary was reported to be 15 or 16 and Elizabeth past child bearing age.

God can use you regardless of your age…

Or to any social standing or authority within the community.

Mary was a young child with no social standing. Elizabeth was barren and old with no social standing. God can use you in your weakness, brokenness, marginalized state

Neither were in a position of power to serve God, but their faith made them usable to God. You don’t need anything other than willingness to step out in faith … to serve God.

Sometimes the biggest things we do in faith are the things least obvious to the world.

As with Mary and Elizabeth, serving God is not something the needs to be publicized, most of the time what God calls us to do, goes unnoticed in the background.

God does amazing things through people’s faith. Mary’s visit with Elizabeth would have missed such blessing if she hadn’t had the faith she did. God, time and again does great things through his saints as they step out in faith.

Recognize that again today. And rejoice in how God works through faith. And believe then all the more in God and his good promises and his ability to do the impossible.

Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains…. Elizabeth’s and Mary’s faith moved heaven and earth……. Pray for a growth in faith. Feed your faith with the truth of the Word. Nourish it with the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Believe that he will work through these God-given means. And then rejoice that God has done something for you even more impossible than a virgin birth. He has been born in you and he lives in you and he reigns in you.

Jesus is and he was and he is to come!

He has chosen us to give him life in the world. Let our faith unite to allow the miracle of God coming into the world to be as real today as it was the day that Mary met Elizabeth in Nazareth.

This is one of those moments when faith meets faith…. And as our faith unites, the Kingdom is manifest on earth as it is in heaven.


Sermon · Sunday Services

Advent Sermon 2

Our first lesson of scripture is from the book of Malachi.

The name Malachi means “my messenger”; and God sent the prophet to bring a message to the people. The temple had just been rebuilt, and the people were trying to get back into a routine of pure and pleasing worship of God. But it wasn’t easy. Like today, there wasn’t much social and political stability. So much had been lost during the years away. There was quite a lot to do, and not much time left for things like prayer, worship and sacrifice. Priests had been offering blemished animals for sacrifice and the people had not been providing tithes enough for maintaining the building or the priests’ salaries.

The people in the times of Malachi and today have been asking questions about the nature of God. How could God be both omnipotent and benevolent when evil continues to thrive in the world? Where is the God of justice when the righteous people are treated unfairly and the wicked go unpunished? So, the prophet Malachi points to the future as the place when God’s justice will prevail, encouraging us to be steadfast in our faith until the day of Christ’s second coming so that we can stand when he appears.

In the gospel of St Luke, we find Zechariah’s song. God has raised up a horn of salvation for us. A horn (as in the horn of an animal) indicates strength. Jesus, the Messiah from the house of David has the power to save. He is the only one who liberates us from all oppression and bondage as well as deliverance from sin. Over the years we have watched disasters unfold on TV or read in news articles – such as planes going down, earthquakes, tsunamis, rape of women and children, terrorist attacks, xenophobic attacks, lack of access to food water and sanitation for humanity and so on. Blame it on the government, or even better blame it on the omnipresent and benevolent God!

And while it’s always tempting to look outside ourselves to look for a reason or for someone to blame when terrible things happen, we need to hear and heed the call to look inward just as much as we look outward especially during the Advent season. The Advent season is so much about looking inward and examining our own hearts as we prepare for Christ’s second coming. But it’s not easy to do an introspection. It’s so much easier to look for someone else to blame. It’s difficult to focus on straightening our own lives, working to change all the old bad habits into better ones and trying to become the kind, loving and generous hearted people that God calls us to be

John’s baptism represented a change of heart, which includes sorrow for sin and determination to lead a holy life. Christ would deliver the repentant person from sin’s penalty by dying on the cross. A voice of one calling in the desert “Prepare the way for the Lord”. Before a king made a journey to a distant country, the roads he would travel were improved. Similarly, preparation for the second coming of the Messiah is made in a moral and spiritual way by John’s ministry which focuses on repentance, forgiveness of sin and the need of a Saviour.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I came across the word ‘’joy’’ several times. It reminded me of the verse in the book of Nehemiah 8:10 which says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength’’. His joy is us. ‘’For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross’’ Hebrews 12:2. The only reason Jesus endured the cross is because of the joy of reconciliation with you and me. The joy of having once again an unbroken relationship with us. The joy of an unbroken fellowship with us. He has found his pearl of great price and our value in his eyes made him able to endure anything, even the cross to have us close to him.

His joy is the fruit of loving righteousness and hating wickedness. “You have loved righteousness and hated inequity, therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with oil of gladness above your fellows” Hebrews 1:9. His joy came from his desire to please the Father and from abiding in Him. His joy was the fruit of obedience and delight in God’s thoughts and ways of unbroken communion and intimacy with him through abiding in him.

His joy came from watching the Father at work; and how wise and amazing He was at what He did. ‘’As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

Indeed, the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is because of this joy that he is coming back for us……………He wants to spend eternity with us. How amazing, loving and awesome is our God! So, we need to prepare ourselves for his second coming and be able to say ‘’It is well with my soul” when he appears again.

Despite all the horrific things that are happening, God calls us to bring hope to His people. The season is still Advent, Christ is still coming. We are still waiting, and John is still calling us to prepare ourselves for the good news that Christ the Saviour to save the crooked and broken world.

My prayer is that we may cling to hope, love, joy and peace; and fight against the tides of human nature so that in the day of Christ we may stand pure, refined and blameless before him.


Sermon · Sunday Services

A series on the meaning of Christmas – Advent sermon 1

The Preachers of St Mary’s Anglican Church decided together to share our sermons on the blog, to share our message about the real meaning of Christmas. Today we share the first sermon, that was preached on 2 December 2018.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

When I was a child one of the signs I always looked forward to was my Advent calendar. Every year about this time my sister, brother and I were given a new Advent calendar. It was usually a beautiful picture that had a bunch of little numbered doors, one for each day of Advent. Each day we would open a little door on the calendar. Behind the door was a chocolate. Each door we opened was a sign Christmas was getting closer. We were counting down the days. That’s what Advent was about for us back then.

I liked Advent. I liked the way the house looked, the music my parents played, the bowls of snacks set out for guests. Advent was a time of expectation, anticipation, and excitement. Yes, it meant Jesus would be born in Bethlehem but it also meant grandparents, presents, and Santa Clause. I looked forward to the future one day at a time.

Then something happened. Somewhere along the way life got really real and Advent changed. Advent was no longer just the season before Christmas, a countdown. Instead it began to describe the reality of life and the world. The gospel texts about the destruction of the temple, war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and betrayals as written in the previous verses (Luke 21:1-19) took on new and often very personal meanings.

Advent became a season of change, letting go, and looking to a future that was not yet clear or known. I’m not exactly sure when it began or how it happened but I know it did. All the signs were there.

  • It might have been the day my niece died, a world ended, and lives were lost, hers mine, our family. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been reading the headlines and feeling like my prayers are unable to keep up with the pain and the needs of the world. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been one too many pictures of another suicide bombing “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been waking up with the world each morning of the past week and wondering,
    • What’s next?
    • Where will it happen?
    • When will it take place?
    • “There will be signs,” Jesus said.

It might have been any one of these, all of them, or a thousand other things just like them. These are just a few of my Advent stories, stories about how my life has been changed and the world as I had known it ended.

What are your Advent stories? I’ll bet you have them. I’ll bet you could tell stories about the day your life was changed and your world ended. I’ll bet you have lived through seasons of change, letting go, and stepping into an uncertain future, maybe even a future you did not want.

I sometimes wish Advent was as simple and easy as opening a little door on the calendar, eating a piece of chocolate, and knowing that Christmas is one day closer. But it’s not. You and I both know the world is not that simple and life is not that easy. Maybe that’s why every year on this day, the First Sunday of Advent, we always hear a gospel text that seems to describe the end of the world and the signs that will accompany that ending.

This is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples. This is your story and my story. We experience it in our lives. We see it in our world. And today the Church declares it to be the good news of Christ.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said. More than ever our world needs to see the signs. The longer I live, the more I see and experience, the more I realize how necessary those signs are. I want to be reminded that the signs are there.

Every Advent story is accompanied by signs. Jesus says if we look we’ll see the signs everywhere; in the sun, the moon, the stars; in the distress among earth’s nations; and in the roaring of the sea and its waves. I can see them today in the pictures of refugees and in the world’s violence. I’ve no doubt you’ve seen the signs too, in your life and in the world. They’re everywhere and they are not hard to spot. They are, however, too easily and quickly misunderstood and misused.

“There will be signs” are words of hope and reassurance but far too often they are heard as words of warning and threat. And when they are, the signs are used to predict a future of impending doom and loss. They become indicators that the world will end and you better shape up or God is going to get you. Our misunderstanding of the signs pushes us further into the darkness and deeper into our fear. Our misuse of the signs blinds us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” are not Jesus’ words of warning and threats. Jesus does not ask us to predict the future. He never says these are the signs that the end of the world has come.

Instead, he says that when we see the signs we are to stand up, raise our heads, and know that help is on the way; our redemption, our healing, our Savior have drawn near.

The signs are not a reason to hang our head in despair or shrink from life. That we can see the signs in our lives and world means that the circumstances we face and the events that happen contain and reveal the promise of Christ’s coming. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God has not abandoned us, that God notices us, that God cares, comes to, and participates in our life’s circumstances.

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree teaches us how to read the signs. The Advent signs are as ordinary and common as a fig tree sprouting leaves. We see the leaves and we know something is happening. Summer is already near. It’s a new season, with new life, new growth, new fruit. That is the promise and good news of the Advent signs. And yet that promise, that good news, is fulfilled not apart from but in and through the reality of our life’s circumstances and our world’s events, no matter how difficult or tragic they may be.

So, what if we looked on our lives and our world and we began to read and understand the signs in our Advent stories as sprouting leaves?

What would we see?

What would it mean?

It would mean that the kingdom of God is near. It would mean we are entering a new season. We would see new life and new growth. We would produce new fruit. We could open the doors of our life with new courage and confidence. We could look on the world with a new sense of compassion and hope. We would be strengthened to do the work God has given us to do.

Yes, the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult, and painful. But we never face those seasons without the signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the one who is coming.

How to we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ? We can use today’s Psalm as an example of humble attitude before God. Jesus calls us to pray and Psalm 25 is a good example of a prayer that call us to penitence, a prayer asking for guidance and a prayer for protection, all very much needed in our day.

And in today’s text in Luke, we are called to live lives of vigilance, to live each day as if Jesus may return today.

What would you do differently if you knew Jesus would definitely return today?

Would you be kinder to the people you meet?

Would you be careful not to lose your temper?

Would you go out of your way to help a stranger?

Would you read your Bible more and pray more?

How would your life be different?

This text asks us to question how prepared we are for the return of Jesus, to take stock of our lives, really look at the areas that need work and think about how we could live differently. This text is a call to action, to be expectant, to be prepared.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

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From The Rector's Desk

From The Rector’s Desk 22 December 2019

As we journey with the coming of Christ, into our lives and into our world, we are struck with a sense that it is merely us recognizing Christ in His world and in His creation, us. We are one with God by design and separated from Him only by our own blindness and inability to walk in His ways (Lameness). It is not surprising that so many of Jesus’ miracles were restoring sight and getting people walking. Recognition of Christ achieves these two things. So let us today reflect upon finding Christ within us.

We are trained to find Christ in the liturgy, in the Bible, the sermon and in others, but “Thy Kingdom come” means that we have to find Him within ourselves.

Take time to seek Christ within. Within your past? Where has Jesus been at work in your life, (known to you and never before acknowledged). What is Jesus doing in your life today? – How are you reflecting His image in your lifestyle, your attitudes, and your actions? And where is Christ in your future? – What are your hopes and dreams and how do they reflect Christ in you?

As we grapple with “Thy Kingdom com on earth as it is in heaven;” what are our expectations of both Heaven and earth? In a sense – our vision of heaven is our ideal of Christ, what we define God to be in all His perfection. Our idea of “Thy Kingdom on earth” is our ability to live out God’s values in the here and now, and our picture of hell, is “the world with it’s back turned on Christ our Saviour.”

Advent is the reminder that “the Kingdom of God is near,” that we are able to walk in His Truth and do His will, if we will only humble ourselves and seek first the Kingdom.

The Advent of Christ mus be a personal acknowledgement what God has done for us, we live in gratitude, when we recognize God’s hand in our present, we live in humility and when we trust God with our future, we live in Hope.

When our lives are filled with gratitude, we can understand and share mercy, when our lives are filled with humility, we can serve others and when our lives are filled with Hope, we can truly bring light into darkness.

This Advent, follow the stars that lead to Jesus the Christ. This Advent, listen to the voice of the (Angels) messengers of God, the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless. Listen to creation groan, listen to the cries of the discouraged and the lonely and the heartbroken and hear that God has (in the words of Richard Rohr) a bias for the poor. But God does not want us to pity others, He wants us to hear them! And then work for justice and reconciliation. God wants us to hear Him and to return to Him and live out His Kingdom values in the world.

This Advent:

May your wisdom and privilege (symbolized by the wise men) kneel at the feet of Jesus and offer Him your gift of your whole life! May your toil and labour (symbolized by the shepherds) kneel at the feet of Jesus and offer Him your service, may your weakness, and ignorance and compliance (symbolized by the animals), sit at the feet of Jesus, to be used by Him and, may your song and speech and your actions be messengers of God (symbolized by the Angels). Proclaiming in thought, word and deed, how great is our God and how wonderful His love for us.

May our God accept you into His story and there give you the life that He has promised. A blessed and purposeful and joyous life, lived in the Name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord is KING! He Reigns!

Yours in Christ

Fr. Andrew Manning

From The Rector's Desk

From The Rector’s Desk 14 December 2018

I must begin by paying tribute to Fr. Roger Sparks, former Rector of St Mary’s, who passed away this week. May he rest in peace and rise in glory. We are grateful to God for all whose lives were positively impacted upon by him and we continue to pray for Cecelia in her time of mourning the loss of her husband.

As we continue our Advent journey, I am reminded of our need for renewal. I have often used an illustration in which I have a bucket filled with sand and a number of rocks that I am trying to put into the bucket. Needless to say the point is obvious, that you must remove the sand before you can put the rocks in. Emptying ourselves is a critical step in any renewal. These last 2 weeks, I have emptied much, and my soul is beginning to have room again. Our lives become cluttered with so much that we need to stop and empty. We can learn a lesson from our computers, which need to “defrag”. Every bit of information that you type into your computer is saved on it’s hard drive. Every experience of your life, every conversation, every event is saved in your subconscious. So life clutters up your head and even if you delete files, off your computer or move on from events or situations or circumstances – they are still saved deep in the recesses of your soul. Cleaning out these stored files is essential. Emptying ourselves in the act of corporate penitence, is much like deleting files off your computer and if you are sincere, you can even “empty the trash” as you have to do on your computer. But it is only in a personal one on one time  with God, it is only through meditation and contemplation (Prayer) – that you can “defrag” and wipe the slate completely clean.

This Advent, may you take the time and effort to receive forgiveness, to truly open your heart to God and allow renewal. You cannot just add this Christmas to the past year and carry on. You must be transformed by the renewal of your minds. I urge you to seek God afresh and be set free from the past, allowing the newness of God to wash over you and fill you with love and peace and joy,

Thy Kingdom come, They Will be done, Oh Lord.

Let it be to me as you have said (Mary’s response to the Angel – Luke 1:38b)

Be assured of my prayers.


Fr. Andrew Manning