the church of holy magnification

We are on the verge of Christmas. In just three days we gather to celebrate on the eve of the holy birth. If we are not careful we may get ahead of ourselves. But the text will not allow us to get to Christmas yet. It sets us in Mary’s first trimester. Luke picks up the story at the moment angel Gabriel announces that Mary will conceive and bear a child. Then Luke writes: “In those days.” In those days immediately after the conception of the Messiah. It is early - very early - in her pregnancy when Mary visits her elderly cousin Elizabeth in the Judean hill country. The first evidence that the angel’s announcement is not in error comes when Elizabeth - now in her six month - senses unborn John leaping in her womb when Mary, not showing yet, arrives. Elizabeth, overflowing with the Holy Spirit, shouts out blessings, amazed at her impossibly good fortune. Our nativity scene needs a second building. In addition to a stable we need a Judean peasant’s home, where Mary spends three months with cousin Elizabeth, pondering what is happening to her, preparing for the birth of the Messiah. That is what we do here this morning. We ponder what is happening to us as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. There is not much time. But there is enough time.


on not singing carols yet

The other day I was mentioning how much I treasure the season of Advent. I especially appreciate the counter-cultural move of refraining from singing Christmas carols until the season of Christmas (the twelve days that begin with Christmas itself). At University Hill Congregation we begin singing carols on Christmas Eve. Before that we do not sing for joy at the birth of the Messiah. Before that we sing in longing, we sing in expectancy, we sing in preparation. In this way Advent reminds me of so much of life these days - longing, expectancy, preparation for the world and the lives God intends and promises. When I mentioned my delight in marking time during Advent a student at the theological school asked: "What do you say to those who want to sing Christmas carols during Advent."


on to pomalidomide

Last week I was in to see my hematologist for my fall appointment. I have been enjoying being free of chemotherapy and steroids since concluding treatment with Velcade in mid-February. During that time my free light chain count has remained quite stable. In the past month the free light chains have begun to rise once again. My doctor advised applying for the compassionate access program provided by Celgene for the recently approved (in Canada) chemotherapeutic drug pomalidomide (trade name Pomalyst). While it is approved for use in Canada it is not yet funded by our health insurance. As I have received the other available treatments (autologous stem cell transplant, lenalidomide and velcade) I am eligible to receive pomalidomide through the passionate access program of its manufacturer. The application was submitted this past Friday and approved yesterday.


longing for grace

Advent is, first and foremost, the great season of longing. Listen to the first words that the church will hear in this year’s lectionary cycle as the Christian Year begins: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). Then, a few Sundays later, listen as earth’s longing cry is answered at the Jordan river: “And just as <Jesus> was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10).

Advent is the season when we proclaim the surprising news that the future is not closed, that there is a way out of the quagmire, that earth’s great grief can yet be healed. The Christian Year opens on a world and a people whose prospects are bleak. Before we can sing of hope, peace, joy and love we first name the terrible cycles of despair, conflict, grief and hatred that hold us captive. Jumping too quickly and easily to the promises of God can weaken their power, reducing them to greeting card clich├ęs. If grace is to be named and known as amazing it must surely come in response to the honest, hard truth about the troubles that confront the soul, the neighbourhood and the planet.


salt of the earth: a christian season's calendar 2014-2015

Good news - the 2014/2015 edition of Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar is now available. This unique venture had its beginnings in 1999 as we at University Hill Congregation imagined a calendar that begins with Advent and turns with the Christian seasons (the story of the calendar's beginnings can be found here). The calendar continues to grow year after year by word of mouth.

You can find the calendar at the Christian Seasons Calendar website where you can view sample pages, read reviews and order online. Single copies of the calendar cost $15.95 (plus shipping and applicable taxes). There is a 20% discount on orders of ten or more and a 40% discount on orders of twenty five or more. Many people purchase in bulk and then give the calendars as gifts or make them available in congregations at a reduced rate.

We are grateful for your assistance in spreading the word about Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar 2014/2015 to friends and colleagues, near and far.


in the wounded places

When not preaching at University Hill Congregation I take on the role of worship elder, leading congregational prayers. On Sunday the prayers of approach and confession followed the singing of "O God Beyond All Praising". Following the confession we sang "Jesu, Tawa Pano" and then responded to the declaration of grace with "Gloria". Here are those prayers ...

Prayers of Approach & Confession

Great God of heaven and earth,
Maker of the stars and the sun
You are beyond all praising,
              beyond all knowing, 
              beyond all telling.
You are beyond us.
You are holy. 

you are there

On Sunday at University Hill Congregation our guest preacher, Peter Short, entitled his sermon on the story of the Transfiguration "The Seeing Place." In it he noted that on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples see through Jesus' ministry to the presence of God. After the sermon the congregation sang the hymn "In the Quiet Curve of Evening" with its refrain "You are there, You are there, You are there." As worship elder my task included offering the prayers of the people that followed ...

You are there. 
This is what we have heard of You. 
The ancestors have entrusted the precious message to each passing generation.
Now the sacred message is ours to live and to tell:
You are there. 
You are there in the quiet curve of evening and in the noisy din of noonday.
You are there in the melting down of endings and in the labour pains of newness.
You are there.