Advent Primer


When reflecting on the Christmas story I usually jump straight to Luke’s telling of the nativity. He does a wonderful job at painting the picture of the journey and celebration culminating in the virgin birth. Although joyous, I find that it causes me to focus on the singular event rather than the whole scope of what is occurring.

John’s gospel starts off with the telling of the birth of Jesus by going all the way back before the dawn of creation. “In the beginning” causes us to pull back from the nativity to a view of the entire timeline. Instead of seeing only months, we see thousands of years. We find ourselves looking at Jesus at the dawn of time, the Word that speaks and there is light.

Moving forward we see “the Word took on flesh”. John continues the creation story in his take on nativity. Jesus places himself in his own creation. The Message translation says “and moved into the neighbourhood”. This brings to mind imagery of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve.

“And we have seen his glory” – John 1:14

Adam and Eve witnessed the glory of God. They walked with him, and knowing no sin they were not struck down by the sight. When Jesus took on flesh he allowed us to see the glory in a fallen world. This is not just the birth of God, but the first time since the gate to Eden was shut that the glory of God could be witnessed with an unveiled face, no sacrifice needed.

This is so much bigger than a single moment! For all of history, creation was lying in wait, anxious and crying out because of the separation. The Word takes on flesh, as if it were the final day of creation, a moment of completion we were all waiting for. This celebration is so much bigger than any of us realised. The anticipation dates back further than we can fathom. This moment echoes further than any of the witnesses understood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” – John 1:1-2

I can only imagine how long the wait felt to the angels before showing up to the shepherds. This was no sudden move, but planned since the beginning. It is why John starts with “in the beginning”. Right from the beginning this plan began to rectify the fall of man by God taking on flesh and giving up the skin of God while still radiating the glory.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13

The birth of Christ in John’s gospel doesn’t just look back to the dawn of time but stretches to eternity. The birth of the King welcomes us into an inheritance of eternal life. This moment is not the start of a new story, but is the pivotal mark in the ongoing story. The celebration is not complete for John in the celebration only of a new born king or even in the living God dwelling with us.

The story of the birth of Jesus is incomplete without the acknowledgement of the larger role it plays in history. The Word taking on flesh is the moment of victory, for this world had fallen and now the glory of God has moved back into the neighbourhood. Victory is ensured and the promised inheritance has been sealed.

Yes, the moments of the cross, descent, resurrection and ascension are also required in securing the victory over death and sin. But the moment Emmanuel was born is what all creation was waiting for since sin entered this world. God with us was always the intention and sin created distance from the glory of God. But God, not wanting this separation, took on flesh for a time as a foretaste of what was and is to come. Once again men and women could join the ranks of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day.

John 1 gives us the whole storyboard instead of a single chapter. At the center is Jesus. He is at the center of it all. We are celebrating Jesus, yes the birth of Jesus, but also everything his birth stands for. He is what creation was crying out for and who we still await with joyful expectation.

In Advent we find ourselves in a season of anticipation. We place ourselves on both sides of the virgin birth. We join with all those from Adam until the birth who waited with bated breath for the glory of God to be made manifest. We also acknowledge the anticipation of our current state. We wait for the return of Jesus and the end of this age. We hope for and rejoice in the victory that is set but not yet our reality.

John shows us God has already written the story. Before the dawn of time this story has been written like a play waiting for actors to take their places on the stage. We celebrate moments along the way but Advent calls us to embrace in faith the story that is unfolding before us.

Renewed Hope


Last year as I was researching the season of Advent, I was surprised to find out the celebration wasn’t explicitly linked to Christmas until the middle ages. The church originally used this time to anticipate the second coming of Jesus. It wasn’t until centuries later the focus became more on the birth of Jesus.

What we have today is a season leading up until Christmas, focused on the already and the not yet. It is joining in the anticipation of Israel for the long expected messiah as well as the return of Jesus, when he will make all things right.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
John 14:1-3

This season, like Lent, is not about the celebration, but finding hope in what is to come. It is a time when we purposefully acknowledge this world is not where we belong, and we are waiting for Jesus to return like he said he would. Just like the promise of his birth foretold through the prophets, we know and look forward to the return he promised.

Over time, Advent for many of us has disappeared. It has become the pre-celebration of Christmas. We have Christmas parties and feasting throughout the time leading up to Christmas. It becomes about family and loved ones, being together and finding joy in this life. In many ways, this is contrary to what the season is supposed to be.

Hope can be a hard thing to hold on to. When our hope is in and for things in this life, there is a possibility of disappointment. That does not mean we should altogether do away with hoping for things in this life. God shows up in this life and not just in the next one. But our hope in the return of Jesus, and what he will bring, cannot be taken away. In fact, when we place our hope in his return, trials only increase our joy as we find our hope stands true.

Anticipation for the return of Jesus is focused on a time beyond this earth. It is built on what Jesus has already bought, but only as the first fruits of what is to come. Anticipation for the return of Jesus can be tough because there is no countdown clock. We think, How long must I wait for the promise to be fulfilled? It is like an engagement with no wedding date set.

The focused wait of Advent is meant to tune our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God. When our hope is set on things in this life, that is where our focus will be. When our hearts and minds are set on the return of Jesus, that is what we work towards, what we talk about, where our treasure is.

Advent helps reset our focus. The feast of Epiphany will follow, a season of celebrating Jesus’ presence with us. Emmanuel, God with us, came in the form of a baby to bring light into the darkness and restore us back to relationship with our maker.

I remember one of my mom’s sisters and her family would not decorate the house for Christmas until Christmas Eve. They wouldn’t mix the season of Advent with the season of Christmas. I didn’t understand this as a child. Why put off the celebration of something you love? What good does that do?

As I have grown older, I have come to know the greatest of treasures here does not compare to what we are looking forward to in Jesus’ return. He will bring an end to our pain and sorrow. The best celebration here will pale in comparison to a day in the house of the Lord. Advent reminds us that living for today is meaningless. It helps renew our hope and place it in something more deserving.

Advent should align us not to proper celebration for Christmas, but in placing our hope correctly, in something that is not temporary but everlasting. The practice of Advent produces hope in something that is not a present reality but eternal, not looking forward to the presents under the Christmas tree, or even the time around the table with friends and family.

As the rest of the world looks to the treasures in this world in this season, it may be harder to focus on what is to come, but abstinence is where we find joy in the hope. When we find opposition in our hope, it builds our character and strength.

Traditionally advent was a time of fasting and prayer. Like Lent, it was a time to abstain from the treasures of this life to find the treasure of real value. Wow! We have come a long way from this practice!

Why not give some things up this Advent season? It’s not too late to stop the Christmas movie binge, or to save those cookies for Christmas. Why not wait in this season? Why not spend some time exploring what life will be like when Jesus returns? Why not focus in this season on what is eternal? Why not share our hope with others, telling of what Jesus brought, and the hope we have in his return?

This is not a season of punishment, but reward. To find our hope realigned is in itself a treasure, one not easily stolen or dismayed.

What is Love?

Taking time to write about Advent this year is changing my life. There is such benefit to taking time to reflect on what God has done, and anticipate his return.

This post on love in the Advent series has been the hardest for me to write. It is not because I can’t see the act of love it was for Jesus to come in human form as our saviour, not because I can’t anticipate the freedom we will find as we bask in the perfect love of the Father when we go with Jesus, but because the depth of love shown is mind blowing!

“what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”
Psalm 8:4

We see often times in the Old Testament, a sentiment of “who am I that God would love me.” This is not a degrading thought. Rather, it is a realization there is nothing we could do to earn the love of God, yet he loves us just the same. The petition of “God come save us”, is not one of negotiation, for we don’t have anything to offer in exchange that he needs. Rather, it is an awareness that we are loved by God and he wants to respond to us in love. He wants to save us! It is not degrading, but an admission and revelation of how I am truly loved by God and how blessed am I!

The people of God, before Christ, had a deep longing for the way of love to once again rule. Israel had the law which pointed to a God of love, a God of compassion and mercy, which produced a longing in them for love to fully rule once again. This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus was born to rule in love. Jesus was born king over all. This was the long-awaited fulfillment of the law. It wasn’t the fulfillment many expected, and thus hard to see love was at work, as it often is for us.

There are so many times in my life I redefine what love is through my own experience or desire. It is as if I forget that the one who created everything was God. The one who defines what love is, is the same one whose nature is love. Every act of God is an act of love. I forget this sometimes.

The act of love at Christmas was something special. Jesus, who “did not consider equality with God as something to cling to”, came into the world as a baby boy. He came for those he loves, us. He came so we would have life with him. This is not the desperate act of one in need, but a selfless act from God who is love.

At Christmas we see love in the flesh. Every act of Jesus is an act of love. We can know love through the person of Jesus. He did not come just for us to see it modeled. He made a way. He was born so that he might die, be raised, and remove any separation from God who is love. He came so that we might encounter love.

It is so hard for us to understand the fullness of love as it is presented in God. We are creatures in need of so much. We have desires, good and bad, that we want to fulfill. We have insecurities and fears that influence us. God has none of this. He is fully self-sufficient. But he loves us, and sacrifices himself for us. He takes on the pain when we refuse his love and walk away from him, not because he needs us, but because he loves us. He demands our worship, because it is good for us to worship. He demands our surrender because he only offers what is best for us.

What we have to look forward to is a life free of separation from the Love of God. We can dwell in the presence of God always, know no insecurity, no fear, but be fully secure. When we know what it means to be loved by him, only then can we love like God. This is what we are anticipating in his return. For us who love God and have been called by him, that day will be one of encountering a fullness of love that pales the image of love we have seen here on earth. For now we see in part, but when Jesus returns, we will know in full our God and his love for us.

This week in advent focuses on receiving and knowing the love of God in Jesus. It gives us the opportunity to experience the love of the Father and ask him to redefine what we see as love. It allows us to look to Jesus for how to love, and respond in kind. It gives us opportunity to glimpse a future enveloped in the perfect love of God, and hunger for that today and in the future to come. Love is something that cannot be contained. True love experienced, results in true love extended. May you experience and extend the Love of the Father this day.

Unshakable Joy

I love Romans 4 where Abraham is credited as righteous because of his faith. Abraham believes in the word and promise of God and that is what counts him as righteous. We see people highlighted throughout scripture who take God at this word, not at what he has already done, but at what he will do. That is what we are doing in this season. We are taking Jesus at his word. He is coming again soon!

We are to live by faith and not by sight (just like Abraham). Our perspective, emotions, and actions are not to be based just on our circumstances. The word of God supersedes it all. We can rejoice in all situations because of the promises of God. We are not to cling to the temporary of this world, yes that even includes our bodies, but to the future that is eternal.

If God is really going to do what he says, we don’t need to wait until the fulfillment to rejoice. I love the response of Mary to the angel Gabriel. She responds to God by rejoicing. She rejoices for how God has blessed her, and for how he will be true to his promise for her people.

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55

When God speaks, things happen. There is no margin of error in what he says. When he reveals that something will happen, it will. We don’t need to wait and see. We can rejoice in what is inevitably going to occur. We can rejoice because we already know the end of the story. Our enemy can’t win. We can laugh and be merry despite any circumstance because our names are written in the book of life.


Mary gets a glimpse into the future God has in store and sees that it is good! Her response teaches us in this season. She counts the future works as accomplished, and rejoices in God’s past work. This gives us an incredible grid for our rejoicing in this season.

Take some time this week to make your own prayer like Mary. Rejoice in his choosing you. Rejoice in what is to come when Jesus returns. Rejoice in what Jesus brought in his birth. Rejoice in what he has done in generations past. Rejoice in his mercy and restoration. Rejoice in his faithfulness.

Peace Given To Us

This week we will engage with Advent through the lens of peace. A few weeks ago, my pastor highlighted that we do not have a soul, but we are a soul that has a body. I love this distinction. It is very helpful in understanding the peace that Jesus brings.

We so often think about peace as an external situation. The Hebrew word for peace, however, is shalom. This word is about completeness or wholeness. It is about a restoration to the way something was created to be. God created everything to exist in peace and harmony. It is sin that distorts this.

The peace that Israel anticipated was that of restoration to how the world was meant to be. What Jesus restored was the very soul. I love the story in Mark 2:1-12 (give the story a read) of Jesus healing the paralytic man. Jesus tells him “your sins have been forgiven” and the religious teachers begin to question his authority. Jesus in turn, to prove his authority, tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. The true peace this man received was the forgiveness of sins. The torment of the soul from the plague of sin was stopped. Wholeness, rightness, and peace comes in this statement from Jesus. His first words were not pick up your mat and walk, but rather, your sins are forgiven.

The invitation to repentance is the peace Jesus brings. He invites us to leave behind the divided way of living and step into the life we were created for. This invitation is for all of us. For this world to experience peace, this is what is needed. An end to violence and sickness is not going to be realized in this world, but we who are at peace do not contribute to this. In fact, we invite others into the peace of Christ. Wherever we go, the peace of Christ within us has influence on those around us. They experience a rightness that comes from the restoration Jesus brings.

At the same time, we are anticipating a day when we are free from this world, and our surroundings and not just our souls are at peace. When Jesus returns, we are brought out of this place and into a place that is truly at peace, where there is freedom and order, where there is no ailment for anyone or anything.

In this season of anticipation of the world to come, we are invited into knowing the gift of what Jesus brings. This gift is peace for today. Take some time to invite the peace of Christ into your life. Ask God to expose what is not right, and hand it over to him. Just like the paralytic man, Jesus wants to give us a soul at peace.

The Hope that Was and the Hope that Is

The Christmas wreath is an Advent tradition. This wreath contains 5 candles signifying Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, with the Christ candle in the middle. As we go through the Advent season this year, my writing each week will focus on those themes. For each theme, there is a fulfillment in Jesus’ coming at birth, and a fulfillment to come at his return.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

From the time of the fall, man has been in a state of yearning for life to be as God intended. Since their exile from Eden, God’s people were aware there was a plan for redemption. Over the centuries, God shared through prophets what to expect. The promise of the Messiah was the center of Hope for Israel. Throughout the turbulent history of God’s chosen people there was anticipation for one who would restore the people of God to their rightful place and bring order.

Isaiah, centuries before the birth of Jesus, received a message of hope from God. This message outlined what to expect in the Messiah: a coming king who is God, who rules over all with justice and righteousness, whose kingdom will never end. The promised king would bring peace instead of war, order, and justice. This gave hope to a people living in foreign lands, enslaved by rulers who conquered and gave no heed to the laws of God. God was coming to restore them and live among them! Forever! What good news this was. This is the kind of hope that sustains one through any suffering. There is victory at the end.

Freedom from slavery was promised, giving hope in a future. When the promise is believed, hope changes not just the future but the present. A glimpse of the future lets us know that what we are experiencing will pass. There is an end to suffering, and oh how good that future will be. Those who believed Isaiah’s prophecy were filled with hope and expectancy.

Fast forward to the hope we find today. We get to live in a world where we know the victory has been won on the cross. We know Emmanuel, and he calls us friends. He has sent his Holy Spirit and we walk through life with the living God. But we are still in a world plagued by sin. We are in a world that is deteriorating and we still are not home.

Jesus has said he is preparing a place for us. That is where our home is. That is our place of permanence. This right here is temporary. We could be gone at any moment. The pain we experience in this life will soon pass. The aches and pains in our bodies, the insults, hate and anger we experience, the hunger and thirst (physically and spiritually) in this world, will soon be at an end. Jesus is coming again in power and in complete victory.

Looking with hope to the return of Jesus means we cannot place our hope in things of this world. We need to realize how good that day will be when Jesus calls us home. We won’t hope to return here, because life with him will be far better than any moment here. This doesn’t mean we are not to find beauty and joy in this life. But what sustains us, what drives us, is not what we find in this life. We are not “working for the weekend”, but rather working to store up riches in the kingdom of God.

It is easy to become short-sighted. In a culture filled with instant gratification, we have lost the ability to hold to hope in anticipation. We have binge watching, fast food, and endless entertainment available to us attempting to fill our longing. But there is a longing to be home that hope of Jesus’ return is meant to satisfy. As we find rest in God, and set our eyes on his kingdom, that emptiness can be satisfied.

Life with God is what we were made for, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives. Yes, he gave us purpose and tasks, and those will be there until Jesus returns. But why do we yearn for things like wealth, toys, and entertainment when they will never satisfy our longing? Don’t get me wrong, these things are not evil, but they are not what our souls are really looking for.

In this life we get a taste of what heaven will be like. We can spend time in the presence of God, and have incredible experiences where we see the power of heaven realized on earth (this is kind of what the 12 experienced with Jesus). We are able to talk with God and hear him speak. But this is all just a taste of what is to come. The more we experience these things, the more we recognize what we are longing for. This season is largely about anticipating what is to come. It is about finding hope in Jesus’ return and not what the world offers.

Take some time this week renewing your hope. Take some time to be still before God. Take some time walking with Him. Take some time in worship. Taste and see what we are looking forward to. Ask yourself, what am I looking forward to in Jesus’ return? Maybe give something up (like Netflix) for the week. That’s what I am going to do. No Christmas movies for me this week.

The Anticipation Begins

Advent starts this Sunday! I love this season. It invites us to both look back at the anticipation of the coming Lord from the Old Testament and look forward to his return. As someone who has always loved the Old Testament, I love entering into the anticipation of prophets like Isaiah with expectant hope for the sovereign Lord’s dwelling among us. I also join with Paul in setting my eyes on the return of Jesus. In this season we joyfully anticipate the very soon return of Jesus.

Advent is a season I grew up celebrating. My father was raised in the Catholic Church before spending many years pastoring in other denominations (20 of those years in a Mennonite Brethren church in Nova Scotia). He loved this season. He loved taking a look at the Messianic passages of the Old Testament and tapping into the emotions of those who received the prophetic messages from God. Every Christmas he would dress up as a biblical character to share the joy-filled message of the coming, or just born, king. I loved how this drew me into the story. I experienced the anticipation of Jesus and not just the reality of Him already here with us.

Advent is a season in which we are led to anticipate and welcome the return of Jesus. The early believers readily awaited his return. After almost 2,000 years since Jesus’ ascension to heaven, we have lost some of their ready expectation. The long wait makes it really difficult to anticipate his return or even find hope in this promise.

This season is all about rediscovering this anticipation. The intent is to freshly discover Emmanuel, God with us, through the eyes of a people who cried out for his coming, who anticipated with expectant hope the coming of the King.

Jesus comes to a world that is in need of him, has been told he is coming, yet has somehow forgotten. Since the fall of creation, the coming of Jesus has been revealed. The nation of Israel was to be in ready anticipation for the coming of Jesus. Not only that, they were also to tell the world of his coming. When it finally happened the anticipation had been largely lost. There is a beautiful story at the end of Luke 2 in which a man named Simeon is told by God he would not die before seeing the coming saviour. His life was lived in anticipation, in expectant joy for the day of Jesus’ coming. As an old man, he holds Jesus in his arms and praises God!

I have a lot to learn about anticipating the second coming of Jesus. There is so much to anticipate! When Jesus returns, he is ushering in a new heaven and new earth. He is bringing completion to the restoration he began. It is a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. It is a day when we see Jesus, our saviour, riding in complete victory.

Jesus tells us he is returning soon. Soon means it will be sudden. There will not be warning. We are always to be ready and anticipating it. We are always to find hope in it, and sharing that hope with others. It will be a day when there will be no sin, no pain, no heartache. This is good news to share. Like a captured Israel who knew their need to be saved, we too are living in a world we do not belong in. This is not our home! Our kingdom is not of this earth and we are going to be welcomed home upon the return of Jesus. We are foreigners until the day of his return.

We are faced these days with a global refugee crisis. There are millions of people who have left their home and nation to seek refuge elsewhere. Likewise, as followers of Jesus we are not in our home. We are not seeking refuge here, but are anticipating the day we will be brought home by Jesus. This life, on this earth, is not what we are living for or building towards. We are waiting for the day of our last breath, or Jesus’ return. God has plans for us until then, but how wonderful that day will be! We have never actually been home, but we do know it is better than anything we could hope for. There is no chance of disappointment. There will never be a point where we would look back on this life and wish we could go back and experience something else. Each moment will be better than anything in this world.

Over the next four Sundays I am going to post blog entries looking back and forward, back at what was fulfilled in Jesus, and forward to what we are anticipating in his return.