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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

Themes of Advent: Love

Tomorrow starts the fourth weekend of Advent.For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the fourth one: Love.

I’ve written about love plenty of times. For a quick summary, I believe deeply in the power of love. However, I think our modern ideas about love are far too shallow. We use the same word to describe how I feel about my wife and how I feel about cheeseburgers. Our tendency to hyperbolize (I LOVE that sweater, that concert was EPIC!) has left us with little room in our vernacular to express truly awe-inspiring experiences.

In addition, when we do think about love as an interpersonal experience, we tend to narrow it down to the heady, effervescent feelings of early romance. We talk about the magic of being “in love,” and marriages tend to dissolve once one of both of the partners stop feeling this manic infatuation with their spouse.

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This is not a fair idea of love. Advent calls us to a different concept of love.

Imagine, if you will, that your life is absolutely perfect in every way. You never suffer, you are in a wonderful relationship, and nothing goes against your will. The image you have in your mind is but a taste of the Trinity before creation. God existed in absolute perfection, and He decided to create humanity to share in this perfection with Him.

For the parents reading this, our love for our children is a faint echo of how deeply God loves us. He loves all of humanity with that love. Even when we turned our backs on Him, He continued to love us.

He loves us so much that He sent His Son into our world to die for us.

This is where we find the heart of love: sacrifice. 

Affection, care, concern, attraction, and intrigue can all be the start of relationships, but it is self-sacrifice that is at the core of love. A parent who gives us sleep to change and feed a baby shows love. A spouse who makes dinner even when he/she is exhausted shows love. A child who spends their allowance on their sibling’s Christmas present shows love.

And this week is all about love. With Christmas only a few days away, it could seem like this week is about presents and food and celebrations, but it’s really about love. It’s about giving up something that we want, whether sleep or time or objects, so that others can be better off. Our culture has given us a great opportunity to show those around us how much we love them. So, let’s do it!

This weekend, try to find new ways to show your love. Stretch yourself, go out of your comfort zone. If you are not one who verbalizes your feelings a lot, just telling someone that you love them can be incredibly powerful. If your spouse does most of the housework, pitch in and lend a hand, even at the end of a hard workday. If you haven’t seen much of your kids, get down on the ground to play with them.

Love is about showing someone that they are more important to you than you are. If we can spread this kind of love, then perhaps the world will start to change for the better. We are all loved by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Everyone is worthy of love. Let’s let the world know that.

Maybe, just maybe, love can win out over selfishness this year.

Maybe.

Blessings

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Themes of Advent: Joy

Yesterday was the start of the third week of Advent. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the third one: Joy.

Joy is probably my favourite week of Advent. I believe Hope starts us off beautifully, with that gentle glimmer of something better that is to come. Peace is like the softly falling snow that falls in December, but I often find that week to be one where I struggle to maintain peace amidst the chaos of Christmas preparation (perhaps why it’s so important). Joy, however, is where Christmas really kicks into high gear for me.

Yesterday, my family started the Joy week with gusto. Our kids sang in the church children’s performance, which is always adorable and brings smiles to everyone I know. I had a quick rehearsal in the afternoon, where I got to see the sets for our Christmas Eve performances in all their glory. Next, my family joined about 25 other people from our community to go caroling through the neighbourhood, spreading joy to those who stopped to listen (and for those who slammed the door in the faces of children…now we know who the community Grinches are).

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Finally, we wrapped the day with pizza, a cheesy kids’ Christmas movie, and camping out beneath the Christmas tree. By the end of the day, we were all filled to the brim with Joy, ready for an exciting week to come.

Your experience with the week of Joy may vary, but I’ve found that this is the week when Christmas parties are in full swing, gifts are arriving in the mail, and I end up consuming my weight in eggnog and cookies. The closer we get to “the big day,” the more we start to actually celebrate. 

Because, at it’s heart, Christmas is a celebration. For those unaware, December 25th is unlikely to be the actual birthday of Jesus, but it is the day that the Church decided to celebrate His birth. The reality of His first arrival and of His future arrival do not diminish throughout the rest of the year, but it is during the Christmas season that we purposefully celebrate these events. And the best way to celebrate such a momentous occasion is with joy!

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Later this week, I’m going to talk about traditions and celebrations, but for now, I’d like to hear about how you celebrate the coming of Jesus? What brings joy into your life as we count down the days until Christmas? Is it parties, food, and music? Or is it quite story-time, candles, and mistletoe?

This week, I urge you to seek these things out. If you haven’t already, make some time for joy-filled activities that remind you of how wonderful it is that Jesus came and is coming again.

It’s a birthday party! Let it be joyful!

Blessings

Themes of Advent: Peace

Hey folks,

Tomorrow starts the second weekend of Advent.For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the second one: Peace.

Peace at Christmas. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Maybe after the presents have been bought, the parties have been attended, the pageant costumes have been sewn, and the cookies have been baked, decorated, and packed in their cute little tins. Maybe then we can have some peace. As long as everyone likes their presents.

Does this sound like your Advent? Crazy busy with activity? Maybe it’s because you love all of it, or maybe it’s because it’s what’s expected of you. Either way, peace seems like a distant memory.

Besides, it’s cold at Christmas. It’s far more peaceful in the summer, with the barbecue fired up and a cold drink in your hand and no one asking for anything but a grilled hotdog.

Yet, in the Isaiah passage we looked at last week, the Messiah to come was to be the Prince of Peace. Should our primary cultural celebration of the Prince of Peace really be so chaotic?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I love all of the activities surrounding Christmas and Advent. I love parties and I love cookies and I love caroling. I love decorating our house and lighting the Advent wreath. I love writing to all of you about the wonder that can be found throughout December. It keeps me busy.

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However, there are times that my family and I need to take a step back from all the planning to make sure that we have enough time to really soak in the majesty of it all. It can become so easy to rush past the Christmas lights that we forget to marvel at the beauty of coloured lights in the darkness.

So, what can we do? Should we stop attending parties? Maybe. If they are causing you stress and not allowing you to build into your friends and family, then perhaps declining a couple invites will make all the difference in the world. Remember, we are to be agents of peace in this world. If we spread ourselves too thin, if we take on too much in the name of “holiday spirit,” then we cease to live out our calling.

Maybe this week, we can take a few minutes to think about ways we can first find peace in our own lives. This might be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to remember Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and why He came down to earth. From this starting point of peace, the activities we have during the day can become acts of worship and wonder rather than hectic to-do lists.

After we up our own peace quotient, the next step is to pass that peace on to others. This week, I would love to see dozens of random acts of peace. Whether that’s shoveling your neighbour’s driveway so they don’t have to worry about it, or bringing a meal to a family with a new baby, seek out someone who could use a little more peace in their lives. Simple acts can be so effective.

Now, take a deep breath. Let it out. Take another one. Think about how much God loves you, and how much He wants peace for your life. Let it out. Keep breathing, and find something peaceful to do today.

Blessings,

New Advent Devotional and Thoughts

Hey folks,

I’ve started a new Advent devotional put out by Biola University that is HEAVILY inspired by the arts. Each day includes a piece of art, a poem, and a song, alongside the devotional. My wife and I are walking through this devotional together, which has been doubly enriching for us. If you are interested in an arts-based devotional time, you can click right here:

http://ccca.biola.edu/events/2018/dec/2/advent-project-2018-online-devotional-series/

I need to say, I love Advent. It’s perhaps my favourite seasons of the entire year. The world slowly changes from the mundane to the magical. Lights appear everywhere. People start focusing on others and what brings them joy. Also, gifts. Gifts is one of my love languages, and getting to splurge on gifts for my loved ones brings me much happiness.

However, Advent is also my job. I start seriously thinking about Advent in June. We craft themes, dramas, art projects, and experiences that will build upon each other to create an advent experience that draws our congregation into greater relationship with the God who came down to earth over 2000 years ago. I have to pace myself or risk burning out on Advent before October shows up. By the time I’ve arrived at actual Advent, I’ve often lost some of the magic that I love about the season. It becomes a time of implementing what we’ve designed (which, I will admit, has its own magic) rather than about preparing my heart for the wonder of Christ’s arrival.

That’s where this devotional has been a Godsend (literally!). Each morning, I’m able to open my email, pull up the devotional, and allow someone else’s work to usher me into a place of wonder and beauty. And, already, I’ve had my Christmas world shaken!

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The first day’s devotional speaks about our tendency to think of Christmas as a time of family gathering. However, for the Trinity, it was not a time of gathering but of scattering. The Father SENT the Son to earth, away from heaven. (The writers are clear to preserve the unity of the Trinity, however, so don’t worry about heresy). It was not a time for togetherness for God. 

I have never thought of this before. The silent-night image of the star over the stable, with the angels and the shepherds and the Holy Family all reverently gazing down at the manger brings me all the soft fuzzies. However, this beautiful picture came with a cost. God’s plan to gather all of humanity meant sending His Son away. 

This adds a little bittersweetness to the story. It also adds to the seriousness of the season. We are aware that this season can be hard on many. Especially those who don’t have anyone to gather with. God knows. God’s been there. And He loved us enough to choose that option.

The writer also has thoughts as to the repercussions of this for us, but I’ll let you go, sign up, and read the devotional for yourself. It’s well worth the time. You can catch up, or just start on whatever day you’re at (after reading the devotional for Dec 2nd, where I got today’s thoughts from).

Anyways, I hope you’ll come back on Friday when we dig into the theme of the 2nd week of Advent: Peace.

Blessings,

Themes of Advent: Hope

Hey folks,

Tomorrow starts the first weekend of Advent. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the first one: Hope.

Sometimes, life is amazing. Your family is loving and without lasting conflict. Work is firing on all cylinders and progress is made all over the place. All your favourite movies are on Netflix. You can feel the blessings flowing like a gentle waterfall, and you are content.

But other times, life is hard. Borderline impossible. Health crises. Unemployment and underemployment. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken lives. This can be even tougher as the Christmas season rolls around, when the rest of the world is celebrating their “perfect lives,” and you can barely get out of bed in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or at all.

It’s like walking in darkness. A darkness so deep that it can feel like light doesn’t exist. Like everything you have is dust and life is meaningless at best.

It’s into this that God speaks:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
-Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

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A great light has come into the world, and His name is Jesus. Every time we light a candle, or string out houses with lights, or plug in the Christmas tree, we declare to the darkness, “Light has come!” When the darkness threatens to overtake us, we shine with whatever we have and remember that the darkness is not forever. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

Just as God brought hope to the nation of Israel with the promise of a Messiah, we have hope that the Messiah, the King of Kings, will return and will bring an end to all of the pain and suffering and brokenness.

For those who follow Christ, we are called to be messengers of this Hope that Jesus came to bring. In word and in action, I challenge you to bring hope to those around you this week. An encouraging note, a friendly conversation, or an unexpected gift can be exactly what someone needs to get through the day. The thought that someone cares can bring enough hope to carry someone forward.

So, during this Advent week of Hope, how are you going to celebrate and share the gift of Hope? 

 

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