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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,

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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

Of Christmas Celebrations

Hello, dear readers,

As we dive headlong into the second half of November, some of you may have Christmas party plans coming up. For us, my work Christmas party is this weekend and kicks off a series of five work and family parties (not including celebrations during Christmas Eve/Christmas/Boxing Day). Nearly every week between now and Christmas we will have the opportunity to join with friends, family, and coworkers to share food, drink, and a bit of fun.

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But, I’ve found it can be difficult, with all the schedule juggling, babysitter seeking, and budget balancing, to keep in mind why we celebrate this time of year. Even though Christmas is over a month away, we must remember that He is the reason for the season. Even if the season seems to get longer every year.

This is more a reminder for me, but I feel others may need to think about how we approach the Christmas season. I have a habit of filling December so full that I don’t have time to slow down and think about the coming of Jesus Christ, both 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and His future return some day. The church has celebrated Advent for hundreds of years to give us time to focus on Jesus, but we seem to have lost the habit. We spend more time thinking about parties, gifts, ice skating, caroling, shopping, lights, and mistletoe than about the One who came. None of these are bad, by any means, but when the celebrations become more important than the reason for celebration, we need to check ourselves.

So, this year, as you prepare for any parties, celebrations, or get-togethers, take a little time to think about that little baby Jesus. As you toast the end of another year, lift a glass to the Son of God.  Remember that those Christmas lights shine in the evening to represent the light of Christ coming into the world.

Go, celebrate heartily. Make merry and sing joyously. Just remember why we do so.

Blessings

Of Gods and Games: Destiny

I realize I’m a little late to this game. Destiny, for those not in the know, was created by the company that spawned the incredibly popular Halo series. It came out in September, 2014, but I just got around to playing it (thanks to the generosity of my sister-in-law’s boyfriend) a few weeks ago. I’ve only played for a few hours, but I’ve already noticed some story elements that seem awfully similar to a bigger story I’ve been talking about here on EpicTheology.Destiny's_Ghost

Now, if you haven’t played the game, don’t worry. The info I’m sharing comes from very early in the game, so it’s not really spoilers. It’s more about backstory, a story I think is fascinating. Let’s delve in.

In the world of Destiny, humans of the near future stumble across an entity known as The Traveler while first exploring Mars. This semi-divine being brings humanity into a glorious age of exploration, expansion, and miraculous health. However, this Traveler is opposed by The Darkness, an evil force that wages war upon The Traveler and humanity, destroying much of what we had created. Before the game begins, the Traveler lies dormant, with the people awaiting its return.

Perhaps it’s because I look for these things, but the parallels to the story of Jesus are striking. Jesus, a divine/mortal being came to earth and proclaimed the beginning of a glorious era, the Kingdom of God. He brought healing and peace, and in His Name, humankind expanded across the world.

However, the enemy of this Christ is also waging a war upon God and His Creation. Jesus was killed by those who opposed Him, and we now await His return. As we do so, we must fight against injustice, hatred, temptation, and the forces of darkness.

The important missing link here is Jesus’ resurrection, but sine Bungie has a ten-year plan for this game, it’s not beyond imagining that the Traveler might awaken/return to fight against the Darkness.

Beyond the overarching narrative, some of the smaller details seem to have parallels with the Christian belief system. For example, just before the Traveler became dormant, it sent out pieces of itself, called Ghosts, to reawaken dead soldiers with the capability to harness Light. They serve as guides and companions for the player characters throughout the game.

In a similar fashion, Jesus and the Father, after Christ’s ascension, sent the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost…), a member of the divine Trinity, to awake those who would become part of the Kingdom of God. Those who were previously dead are brought back to life and given a mission to serve and worship the giver of all life.

In Destiny, the players fight against the Darkness for the cause of Light. Christians are called to fight against the encroaching Prince of Darkness for the one who is the True Light. While I understand many have issues with violence in video games, I believe that the underlying story in Destiny is one that we can hold up as a bridge to the faith. Those who fight against the Darkness should stand bravely together.

Have any of you played Destiny? If so, let me know if you see any more similarities that I’ve missed. If you disagree with the entire concept, chime in as well. Let’s talk about the places our story and video games collide!

Blessings,

The Truth about Santa Claus

Well, my plan to write a lot over December failed miserably. It turns out that having term papers to write and finals to prepare for took a lot more of my time than I was expecting. Coupled with preparing our new family for the Christmas season led to Epic Theology taking a back seat for a few weeks. But we’re back, and hopefully on track now.

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Many devout Christians that I know struggle with the idea of Santa Claus. As new parents, they have to decide if they will raise their children with Santa Claus or without. Many feel that Santa is the symbol for the commercialization of a holiday that is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. To further propagate this de-Christianized Christmas by making the holiday about a fat man in a red suit jars with their faith. Yet, to be the only 8-year-old in class who doesn’t believe brings its own challenges. So, how do we plot a course through this maze of Christmas turmoil?

I was raised believing in Santa Claus, but he was never the main event of Christmas. I was told that St. Nick worked for Jesus, bringing presents to people on Jesus’ birthday because Christ was in heaven and didn’t need any presents. I was excited to open presents on Christmas day, but I was also excited about the children’s pageant at church or the lighting of the advent wreath at home. Even as a child, I knew that Santa, while fun and exciting, was not as important as Jesus.

But is there any real merit in the jolly old elf? I think so. Santa is a symbol for far more than Coca-Cola and shopping malls. He is a symbol of hope, joy, and generosity.

There is something incredibly magical about the hope that someone loves you enough to sneak into your house to leave you exactly the present you were wishing for. The idea that someone you have never met face-to-face has your happiness in mind, and spends all year preparing for it, gives a glimpse into how we are loved by God. He has the best gifts ready for us, and is willing to come to us to deliver them. I think we sometimes lose how amazing that truth is, but we can relearn by watching children with Santa Claus.

It is very easy to allow the joy to be sapped out of the holiday season. Gifts to buy, gifts to wrap, gifts to transport across the country, along with parties, events, games, and relatives, all add up to a lot of effort over Christmas. I know many people who allow themselves to get incredibly stressed right up to Christmas Eve, and then expect the magic of the day to take over. This is silly. We need to realize that joy, the kind that is symbolized in the jolly, round tummied Santa Claus, is a choice that we can maintain throughout the season. If all of December is a joyful event culminating in the magic of Christmas Day, imagine how much less stress would enter into our lives.

Finally, Santa reminds us each year that it truly is better to give than to receive. Watching the faces of loved ones as they open the gift that I have spent time and resources to get for them is such a blessing to me. Even the Bible affirms this truth: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35). Christmas is the time where we should be thinking not about ourselves, but about others. We bake and cook and shop to please those we love. And hopefully, we can go beyond this to help those we may not love, but need our help anyways: the homeless, the hungry, the noisy neighbours next door. Our generosity, like that of St. Nicholas, and Jesus Christ, should have no bounds.

In the end, what will we teach our son about Santa Claus? We haven’t decided yet. I am not opposed to those who decide not to join in with the myth of Santa, especially for religious reasons. But I know that Christmas magic will be palpable at our house. We aim to blend the sacred and the celebratory to give Jesus Christ a birthday that is memorable each year. Christmas is my favourite time of year, with Santa serving the Lord Jesus right beside the rest of us.

How about you? What do you teach your kids about Santa Claus? Do you think Kris Kringle can be redeemed for the faithful? Chime in!

Merry Christmas to all of our readers who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all those who do not!

Blessings

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