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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Joy

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

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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

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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