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.

No Fear

I have been thinking lately about the fruit of the spirit. In particular, I have been thinking about peace. The Holy Spirit produces peace within us and we get to experience it at all times. It is not reliant on circumstances or our emotional state. It is simply available for us to receive as we align ourselves with God by yielding to the Holy Spirit.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Many times in my life, I have had people tell me they feel peace around me. I have received this encouragement from people in all walks of life. This peace is not something I have created or cultivated or searched for. It is something that I have learned to receive and live in.

Peace is something we can receive in any moment as we acknowledge and surrender our fears to God.

There is a difference between caution and fear. Caution is when I heed the warning sign that says don’t go on the dark rocks because you may be swept out to sea by a wave. Fear is when you look down every minute to make sure the rock you are standing on isn’t as dark as the ones by the water. Caution informs a decision, whereas fear makes a decision.

Fear paralyzes you. It changes the way you think. It irrationally causes you to self protect. It ignores what is true or logical, and becomes the basis for your decisions. It grabs hold of your emotions, body and mind.

When I lived in Waterloo, I lived in a house with a few guys. We came up with a phrase: fight, flight, or Jesus. Our bodies have a survival mechanism called a “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. Intended for life and death situations, our bodies can overreact to common non-life-threatening stressors in this way as well. When stress (or fear) hits, our body naturally goes into a crisis mode and the crisis centre takes over with fight or flight. Jesus is what we referred to as the other option. We are able to surrender our fear and place our trust in God. We are able to come under the perfect love of God.

Martyrs are an example of this response (ie. Stephen in Acts 7), as is Moses interacting with Pharaoh, and Jesus being arrested (John 18). We are called to a different response than fear. Peace can come as we hand over the fear and the stress and receive the peace offered to us.


I went on a last-minute hiking trip this summer with my friend Mat to Pollets Cove. It was a 5 hour drive to the start of the trail. We arrived just under 2 hours before sunset to the trail that should take way longer than that to complete. We set out anyways and arrived at the end of the trail just after the sunset. Having never been there before, we quickly scouted out a place to set up camp with only the light of dusk to guide us. We set up the tent on a windy cliff top and climbed in the tent as it was raining. While searching for our flashlights, we found some sticky substance in the tent. Our flashlights illuminated a tent covered in marshmallows! An open bag had been left in the tent when it was packed up. We were 10km from the closest people, with no cell reception in an area known for bears, wolves, coyotes and mixed breeds. The wind howled around us and suddenly the fly on our tent blew off as we attempted sleep. My friend was hit with fear (which is understandable given the circumstances). He sat straight up and whispered, “Do you hear that? I think there is an animal out there.” He started praying and quietly said, “JOEL PRAY!” As we prayed he began acknowledging and surrendering his fears to God. We asked for God’s protection and for the tent to stay upright. It took some time, but eventually we found peace and fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up to see that our tent pegs had been ripped out of the ground but the tent poles had somehow dug themselves into the ground to keep the tent upright. The fly stayed attached on one side and didn’t blow away. We were safe, and our prayers had been answered.




Circumstances like this can trigger fears that are dormant in us. The invitation of God is the removal of these fears. Fear is not supposed to dwell in the same house as the love we have found. Perfect love cleans house. It casts out the fear. This perfect love is found only in God. It is the love that Stephen finds as he is addressing the crowds and while being stoned. A removal of fear does not promise the removal of circumstances or pain, but it places the onus for protection away from us and into the hands of God. It brings peace because we can trust that God is good and what he has for us is good. He knows what we need and is trustworthy with everything we hand over to him.

This is the peace we have to offer the world. It is not an invitation to simply manage fear so we can coexist with others. It is an invitation to encounter a perfect love and share it with others. The world experiences the presence of God in us when they spend time with us. They will find their fears disappear in the moments they are with us. But we are not the saviour of their lives. We get to live in the perfect love of our heavenly father at all times. When those who do not know Jesus experience his love in us it is for but a moment. It is a moment of opportunity, an opportunity to be free of fear. The more we encounter the love of God, the more we give access to him in place of fear, the less we are affected by circumstances, even momentarily. The more mature disciples we become, the more steadfast we become, planted securely in the love of the father. God is so faithful and gracious in moments when we still encounter fear and stress. He welcomes us to hand him our fears, and trust in his love.

There is no fear
There is no fear in Your love
With open hearts God
We are ready to run
Into Your presence
There is no fear in Your love
(“No Fear In Your Love” by Jeremy Riddle)

I often find myself singing this chorus. It spurs me on to encounter the love of God. It helps me invite God to expose any fears that are still present and helps me release them to God. It reminds me there is no reason to fear, and to run into his presence completely exposed. It reminds me the only place fear remains is where I haven’t allowed the presence of God access to. His invitation is for all of me. He desires my heart to be wide open to receive the fullness of his perfect love. He desires this for all of us. Listen to the song and respond to the invitation of God to run into his presence, and encounter his perfect love. Hand over your fears to him and encounter peace in the place of fear.

Learning through Stories

Most people love stories. A good story draws us in and changes us. A well-told story allows us to place ourselves in it and experience it. We get drawn into the lives of the characters and feel the emotions and experiences with them.

While I was living in Abbotsford, I was renting a basement apartment from an awesome family. As we drove together one day to the son’s hockey game, the father told me a story about a friend. This friend was on a camping trip with his family. It was time to leave and they needed to pack up but they were caught in a downpour. This friend decided to speak to the rain to stop and the clouds to part in Jesus’ name. Since I am writing about it, I assume you know what happened next. The sun came out, the rain stopped, and the family spent an afternoon in the lake before packing up a dry tent and hitting the road.

This story stayed in my mind for a while. I wondered,why would Jesus give us authority to do this? Does this bring God glory? It happened. I was encouraged by it, and it had great impact on others who heard it. Yes, I’d say it brought God glory.

A few weeks after hearing this story, my friend Mat came to visit from Halifax. We decided to snowshoe up Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. We borrowed snowshoes from a friend and headed to Vancouver. We had not seen the sun for days, and the weather forecast called for clouds and snow on the mountain. There was no sign of it breaking.

Photo taken by Mat Wilton

As we began our trek up the mountain, I was reminded of the story I heard a few weeks before. Mat and I started talking about it and thinking, it would be awesome if we could actually get a view of Vancouver from the top. (At this point we were engulfed in clouds.) So, we decided to take authority in Jesus’ name and tell the clouds to part and the sun to shine through as we summit. We passed a man feeding some ravens as we trekked up and told him what we had asked God for.

As we came to the summit, the clouds began to part, the sun came through and the city of Vancouver became clear! The sun beamed overhead. It was one of those mountain top moments where you understand God more clearly and intimately. An understanding of the authority we have been given snapped into place. We praised God and rejoiced in the beauty surrounding us.


Photo taken by Mat Wilton

On our way back, we stopped and talked with the man we passed who was still hanging out with some ravens. His response to us was awesome. He said, “I believed you guys when you told me it was going to clear.” I think he had more faith than we did. I love that he was part of our experience.

This story occurred after months of learning about the authority we have in Jesus. In the fall, I experienced some great training on authority which challenged how I pray and interact with God. My eyes were opened to a biblical model of prayer that instead of asking for authority, invites us to use the authority Jesus has already given us permission to use.

One of the things I love about God is the way he reveals himself to us. In my story, God used the teaching of others, stories in scripture like Acts 3 where Peter and John encounter a lame man and in Jesus’ name tell him to get up and walk, and a story from a friend. He then provided an opportunity in my own life to change how I live life with him. My goal was not to create an awesome story that I could share with others. It was the result of desiring to walk in expectation and obedience to God.

The extraordinary becomes ordinary and the supernatural becomes natural with God. God makes the experience super and extra! Although we will forever be in awe of God, the supernatural and extraordinary will become normal as we walk out obedience to God. These stories of faith encourage us to further open ourselves to God’s invitation. We learn from these stories what obedience looks like and who God is. As we find new ways to say yes to God, our faith is perfected. Instead of chasing a story to share, let us walk in faithful obedience, responding to the invitations of God.

God is always sharing more of himself with us. In season, God is wanting to renew our minds to live and think like we were created to. Let us be attentive to the teachings, stories, thoughts, and words spoken that can renew our minds and draw us closer to the living God.

The Story of God


I remember when I first made the decision to follow Jesus. It was the summer before high school. I had grown up in the church, but in this moment, God made himself real to me. The creator of the universe showed his love to me as a good Father.

At the moment I turned to Jesus, I fell in love with the stories in the Old Testament. It took me about a week to plow through Genesis and Exodus. I finished the rest of the Old Testament in just a couple of months after that. I have always been in awe of God as I read the stories of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Daniel and others. So much can be learned about who God is as we read how these individuals entered into the story of God in history or “His Story”.

I love stories and I learn best through narratives. Details, dates and names often allude me, but I always remember someone’s story. I have learned so much about who God is through the stories of the Old and New Testaments. I think it is so important to know the scriptures, to know how God has walked with his people from creation to the anticipation of heaven. I strongly believe that scripture is to be our grid. I believe that who God says he is and what he calls us to withstands time.

That being said, I think we can learn from the story of God in the lives of people around us as well. God is still very active today! The narrative of our lives, like the life of Paul or Peter, should be pointing to the nature and presence of God. When we experience hardship, should we not see evidence of God as we do in the story of Daniel in the lion’s den? Are we expecting to discover God at work in our stories?

Stories are incredible. They can make the nature of God real and understandable. If we are walking out life with God, someone could do a bible-study-like exploration of our life. They could look and see the nature of God being displayed and how we are being renewed and transformed into the image of God. Others could be filled with hope and learn about God through our stories.

God is not dead. He is surely alive. We sing this. We believe it is true. But, there is a lie thrown at us that says God will not show up, we are on our own and there is no redemption, no restoration. Our stories can strike that lie down. Hearing someone’s story tells us that God is just as active today. He is surely alive! Are we looking for examples of him being alive? Are we looking for evidence and encouragement through the life and stories of those around us?

When we hear of someone’s journey to hope, do we in turn find hope? When we hear of someone’s story of discovering peace, do we in turn find peace? When we hear of someone discovering God as their Father, is our way of relating with God the Father changed? Is the nature of God the same throughout history? I will likely not be thrown into a burning furnace, but my trust and belief in God’s protection, as I walk in obedience, is profoundly increased as I read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3.

“And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)

Testimony is powerful! In the face of our accuser, the one speaking lies and trying to condemn us, we overcome through Jesus and our testimony, our testimony of God in us! I have never understood the expression “it’s just a story”. A story is a powerful medium that can bring life.

Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “I see how God has been at work in your life and it is beautiful”? It is so encouraging! It reminds us that God is present. When someone shares what they are learning through your life it can strengthen us to keep going. It can silence the accuser and remind us that God is at work.

The next time someone shares from their life, do not look at it as just another story. Look at how it fits into God’s ongoing story.