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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

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? 

 

Advent: All You Need Is Love

This final “week” of Advent, we look to the theme of love. I thought about writing something new, but after listening to the voiceover I wrote for our Advent bumper video at church this weekend, I decided it perfectly summed up what I wanted to say about Love this Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves you. Do you know that? I mean, beyond just saying so because you’re in church. Do you really know that the Good Lord, the one who created everything in the entire universe loves you so passionately that He would let His only Son die on a cross for you?

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Seems everyone these days is talking about love. But how many of them really know what the word means? If we really think about it, it’s far more than just nice feelings or affection, or being all giddy inside. It’s a deep, burning desire for someone else’s good. It’s so deep that it can cost you everything you’ve got, even your life.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

So, when I say that God loves you enough to send down the little baby Jesus, He knew what it was going to cost. When the High Prince of Heaven came down to earth, it was because He felt a love so deep for you that He couldn’t stay on His throne.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

We might see hate everywhere we look today, but as we light this candle, we remember that Jesus is the ultimate symbol of the Father’s love. This light shines in the darkness, holding back the one who would try to smother us in his hate. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we stand up against the enemy of our souls and take the side of Love.

Blessings

Advent: Joy to the World

The theme for week three of Advent is Joy!

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Does joy fill your life?

I don’t mean happiness. Happiness comes and goes. We are told by our culture that we should be happy. If we have the right job, the right relationships, the right possessions, we will be happy. And for some, this may be true…for a while.

I’m talking about a deep-seated contentedness. A sense of wonder at the majesty and beauty of life, even in the hard times. When we are filled with joy, it changes everything. We may have times of unhappiness, but they never seem so dark. The end is always in sight, and we know that our endurance will only make us stronger.

Joy is deep. It’s a way of living. It’s getting up in the morning and going to work not only to make money, but to make a difference. It’s pouring into your family and friends because you know that in the long run, they are worth more than any of your possessions.

So, how do we get this joy?

That’s the question.

For me, the only real source of joy is the Spirit of God, because He is the only thing that will not fade. My family, my job, my hobbies all help and bring me much happiness, but ultimately, they do not fully satisfy. God alone will outlast my day job, my friends, and even my sense of self. So, I rest in the joy of the One, True, Good God.

With God as the foundation of my joy, I can let Him seep into the rest of my life, filling even the smallest things with meaning and potential joy increase.

Knowing that part of my call as a Christian is to love those around me allows me to open up and enjoy the company of those I work with. While the daily activities of my job do not excite me, the opportunity to see and talk with my co-workers is always a bring point.

Knowing that being a father and husband is part of my holy mission in life, I connect with my wife and kids every day and find joy in their activities, antics, and foibles. We aren’t perfect, but I love them for exactly who they all are.

Writing can be exhausting, but knowing that God uses this blog to reach others allows me to enjoy the process of writing, posting, and managing EpicTheology. You, my readers, bring me joy.

In the end, I think joy is more costly than happiness. It requires us to be open to each other and the world. We have to allow everything in our lives to affect us and have meaning. We can’t just brush off the bad and focus on the happy circumstances. Happiness can be chased with cash and free time. But, like a rainbow, it will go away and ultimately disappoint. It is only when we allow the joy of God to seep deeply into our lives and live for Him that we find something better than happiness.

Purpose.

May we all spread a little joy this week.

Blessings

Advent: Peace Be With You

Peace.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

No, really. Go, make a cup of tea and come back.

Now take a deep breath. And another one.

Close you eyes for a minute (but open them again so you can keep reading).

Peace.

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Photo Credit: Zigomar

Doesn’t that feel nice?

Or are you like millions of us in the West scrambling to balance work, family, the gym, Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, Christmas partying…

I spent years growing up in church shaking hands with those around me and wishing them, “Peace be with you.” As a child, I had no idea what that really meant. It was more of a stylized way of saying “hello, nice to see you,” than actually wishing them to find a deep-seated peace. Yet, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to truly wish this kind of peace for people.

The second week of Advent is the week of Peace. Jesus Christ, before He was even born, was called the Prince of Peace. He came to give us peace in our daily lives, and will eventually bring peace to His entire Creation.

But what does that mean for us today? With tight schedules, traffic jams, rising debts and falling economies, peace seems almost like a myth sometimes, like we’re more likely to find a unicorn than real peace.

But that’s not what God promised.

This week, let’s take a few moments to really think about peace. Not just for ourselves, but for those around us. Can we offer peace to those we have been fighting with? Can we ease the troubles of our coworkers, friends, or family, and perhaps bring them a little peace? Can we just say “no” to one thing this week and instead spend time with the Author of peace?

I know I am a work-in-progress with this. Especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, when I’m scrambling to make sure rehearsals are booked, costumes are found, props are made, and all the little details are set in stone, I find peace to be a slippery fish to hold onto. But I’m trying. My wife and I try to spend some time each night slowing down and reconnecting. It’s not that we’re never busy, we just try to reconnect with He who offered us peace when we were far from Him.

This week, maybe you can try the same. Or, just start with a cup of tea. That usually helps.

Peace be with all of you.

Blessings

Advent: A New Hope

I was rehearsing a Christmas play last week. The play walks through the weekly themes of advent (hope, peace, joy, and love), while pointing the characters toward the real source of all of these Christmas fuzzies: Jesus Christ. I was sorely tempted to make a joke about our main character’s “new hope,” especially since the actor is a rather large Star Wars fan. I even thought about adding it into the script (being the playwright and director gives you that kind of power…mwahahaha), but my better judgement got in the way. But it has got me thinking about Hope and its place in our modern storytelling.

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Most stories, whether on film or in books, begin with the mundane. We have to establish what life is normally like before we throw our protagonists into chaos. We show the audience what life looks like before everything falls apart so that we know what our heroes are willing to give up to do the right thing. Then, everything falls apart.

I find this is kind of like our everyday life. Generally, things go fairly smoothly. We have our ups and downs, our trials, successes, failures, and close calls. But over all, life does not throw us more than we can handle.

Until it does.

Cancer, divorce, war. Terrorist attacks, millions of refugees, climate change. Prostitution, gangs, child trafficking.

Turn on the news. Or, look to your news feed. Chances are, if you took the time to emotionally invest in what’s going on in the world, you would quickly be overcome with how dark things are getting every day.

Even close to home, people are getting sick, or are dying. Or getting caught in a chain of events and choices that have suddenly sucked them under and they don’t know how they’ll ever surface again.

In short, life sometimes hands us circumstances that we are forced to confront or risk despair.

That is why we need stories with happy endings (like Star Wars). To remember that even in our darkest moments, dawn will break. We need to remember that God sent His Son so that our nightmares will end.

And they will.

During the Christmas season, we remember that Jesus came as a little baby; God’s perfect gift for all humanity. But we also prepare for His Second Coming, when everything that is bad and painful and overwhelming about this life will be washed away. There will be no more addictions, no more disappointments, no more fears. There will only be goodness and love.

So, next time you watch a cheesy action, adventure, or romance film where the hero saves the day at the last minute and everything turns out all right, just remember that you are part of a story like that. It may not feel that way sometimes, but let me give you a little spoiler:

In the end…good wins.

One candle down. Three to go. Spend some time thinking about hope this week, and how you can share it with someone who needs it desperately this time of year.

Blessings

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