A Sweet Anticipation of Christmas

We are approaching the end of November and you know what that means! I am not thinking of American Thanksgiving or Black Friday sales. I am thinking about advent. In my earlier years, advent meant one thing to me and that was a calendar with chocolate behind each date.

I would stare at that cardboard calendar with its cartoonish picture of a manger complete with cows, sheep, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus — all illuminated by a giant star. Every passing day was rewarded with another dose of that poor quality chocolate, which to an eight year old seemed like it was hand-crafted by a swiss confectionary. What I remember about advent was that it was sweet and rewarding.

I once heard a story about someone who saw a nativity scene in front of a church and remarked “Why are Christians trying to make Christmas about Jesus rather than Santa?” This is a legitimate question if the origin of the Christmas holiday has vanish from the public consciousness. 

Advent means “coming or arrival” and Christians around the world use the month leading up to December 25th to celebrate the arrival of Jesus over 2000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem in Israel. December 25th would not have been the actual day that Jesus was born on, but it is used to signify and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The very name ‘Christmas’ is made up of ‘Christ’, which was a term used for Jesus and means anointed one, and ‘mas’ which refers to the celebration of the meaning of the death of Jesus which is called the Eucharist or Lord’s supper today. The meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of God’s special blessed one who died so that people could live at peace with God.

It is no wonder that Christmas is known as a time of peace, good cheer, and joy. We even give gifts to one another to celebrate, which is something I enjoy very much and even more so as I give gifts to my little boy and watch him open them with excitement.

In these precious moments, I admit I am not necessarily thinking of a baby born 2000 years ago, but the act of giving gifts and creating a joyful experience is all about celebrating that event and its ongoing effect in my life and in the world.

As I reflect on my 8 year old self, enjoying the sweetness of a chocolate advent calendar, I realize that I had one thing right: advent is about eager expectation of something good.

Whatever your belief about the days leading up to Christmas, I pray it will be a time of joy and celebration, even during a time when all of this is going to be very different from what we have known in the past. I will leave you with these words of Jesus. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.” (john 14:27)

Who Steals a Truck on Easter Sunday?

My wife and I are new to Williams Lake. I have just started a pastoral position with the Cariboo Presbyterian Church, which meets in houses all across the Cariboo. I drive all over the Cariboo in the church truck to visit and lead worship in these house churches. My travel has stopped now with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and we have switched to online services. We are also celebrating Easter for the first time with this church and I am reminded once again of how the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus continues to be evident in new ways.

It was Easter Sunday morning, after a video call with other members of our church, that I looked out my kitchen window and discovered that my truck was not parked where I had left it. Someone had stolen my truck early on Easter Sunday morning.

Here is a difficult truth that I am still learning; there are no guarantees that life will go the way you expect. I expected Easter to be a time for sharing warm greetings and maybe even some candy. For Christians, the Easter holiday commemorates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus over two thousand years ago. This moment is the central core of Christian belief and hope. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:23-26a) The early followers of Jesus were expecting Jesus to be a great leader that would overthrow the Romans and lead Israel back to being a ruling power, but those hopes were dashed when Jesus was nailed to a cross between two thieves. The expectations we might have for a good and happy life can meet a swift end when our life makes a sudden change for the worse.

Easter is not just the celebration of disaster though. Jesus had told his followers that he would die, but that would not be the end. He indicated that he would be buried for three days but then be raised again (John 2:19). Easter is also about “resting in the earth” in the sense of Jesus’ burial. In the hours and days after Jesus’ burial, his followers were left with the conflict between the reality of Jesus being dead and his words that he would be raised from the dead. I felt this as I was waiting to hear what had happened to my truck. I knew it was gone, but was unsure what the future would hold.

Here is the miracle of Easter, that which was fuzzy and inconceivable to those followers of Jesus became crystal clear on the morning of the third day. God had physically raised Jesus from the dead and God continues his resurrection work even today. My truck was found by the RCMP the same day, with no damage, not far from where it was taken. I did not have much hope that it would be recovered, much less that it would not be damaged.

How are you dealing with a burial moment in your life? Is your spiritual life, your health, marriage, or finances in the tomb? God cares about even the small things in our lives and is still bringing the dead to life. This is the hope of Easter and it can be your hope too!