Eyes on Advent

As we enter this Advent season, we have paired daily Scripture passages from the Canadian Anglican Lectionary with meditations written by our Spiritual Formation and Prayer Director Ruth Brown and six other InterVarsity staff. Reflecting on their own lives and experiences, these current-day writers guide us into the ancient stories of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. In this particularly dark and restricted season, may your own pondering, wrestling and listening lead you closer to God. May you experience the coming of Jesus with unexpected light and hope.


First Week of Advent: Through the Eyes of Jesus


Sunday, Nov 29, 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; John 1:1-18


“God will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Cor. 1:8-9 (NRSV)


On this first day of Advent 2020, we are invited into the fellowship of Jesus. Since March, we have been living in the various forms of lockdown because of COVID-19. Now nearly nine months later we wonder will this never end? How long will life be lived in confinement?


Ponder: Imagine Jesus, the creator and sustainer of the universe, agreeing to live the last nine months in the tiny womb of teenage Mary. Talk with Jesus about what is difficult for you in this pandemic and ask for his help. How did Jesus manage his extreme quarantine? What ideas come to your mind? How can you practice these?


Monday, Nov. 30, 2020

Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8


Isaiah, God’s prophet, called the people to a quiet faith in a coming king rather than making desperate alliances against Assyria out of fear. The letter of Paul to the church of the Thessalonians encourages them to live close to Jesus in the realities of their culture. The experiences and teachings of Jesus in the Luke’s gospel in the days leading up to his crucifixion guide us in uncertain times when we do not know what is ahead. I wondered why we are looking at these readings during Advent and do not have an answer. I do know that all of heaven was waiting with joyful anticipation for the birth of Jesus into this dark world, although for Jesus himself, this was a very costly YES.


Ponder: As we join with many across the country following these historic readings, continue to ask the Spirit of Jesus to guide your thoughts and prayers. May the shaping experience of Jesus’s confinement in Mary’s womb strengthen you to hope with patience through your real life experiences during this pandemic. May these daily prayers with God’s word be transforming us as we grow with Jesus.


Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020

Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 20:9-18


Bring what feels difficult and limiting today to Jesus and ask for his help.


Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020

Isaiah 2:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20; Luke 20:19-26


Centering Prayer Practice: This time-tested discipline calms our hearts and minds when we cannot see our way ahead. Imagine you are in the womb with Jesus.


Find a quiet corner where you will not be disturbed for 5-20 minutes (sometimes the bathroom is the only place!). Choose a word or phrase to focus your thoughts and symbolize your welcome to the Spirit of God to shape you within (examples: Jesus; Peace; Be still; Emmanuel . . .). Gently, in rhythm with your breath, repeat this word or phrase slowly. When your mind wanders, simply notice the thoughts, release them to God and return to your prayer word – no judgement or condemnation; simply surrender.


After the allotted time, gently return your attention back to your surroundings. You might close your time with the Lord’s Prayer. I use a soft timer that calls me back. This method of prayer has been known to reduce blood pressure and shape our brain waves to be able to release worries and anxieties. In a time when outward distractions are limited, God may be calling us to practice enjoyment of the silence and stillness of his presence. May we find God’s presence surprisingly satisfying in the days ahead.


Thursday, Dec. 3. 2020

Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40


Enter God’s silence with Jesus in the womb, trusting that we are being transformed.


Friday, Dec. 4, 2020

Isaiah 3:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4


Joy in Limitations

By Ruth Brown, Director, Spiritual Formation and Prayer


When I married David Brown on June 16, 2017, we had known and loved each other for 14 years. But it wasn’t until David was diagnosed with throat cancer that we knew God was leading us to marry. During the 14 months that followed, our lives became increasingly limited with his medical treatments, tests, and care.

David and Ruth Brown.

Learning to live fully in the present moment became so important. When David died on Aug 10, 2018, surrounded by the love of his family, I was aware that God was lifting our eyes to a much bigger horizon than five or 10-year goals.


I had asked David to send me a sign that he was in heaven and that it was really good. The Sunday after his death, I attended our church for the first time in ages. Our Korean organist usually played a classical piece at the end of the service while people to walked out. That Sunday she played the old hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” and no one moved. Gradually folks started singing the words: “My sin, Oh the bliss of this glorious thought; My sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord it is well with my soul!”


Instead of the far horizons for most married couples, we knew our time together was short and we made the most of each day. Yes, we argued and fought but quickly forgave and moved on to laughter and tenderness. I began doing Zoom work calls long before COVID and was grateful for a job that could be done from home, near to David.


The reality of eternity broke open my very limited horizons. I could see David, so free, so joyful, so content in the welcome embrace of God. It was surprisingly the most joyful moment of my life so far and I know a little of what Jesus felt when we read “for the joy set before him he endured . . .” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus endured much while on earth, including nine months in the womb of Mary and then to be born in a stable and flee into Egypt.


Ponder: May the darkness of this advent season not swallow you with despair but lead you to the heart of Jesus who knows how to wait for the joy set before him and us. Why were the angels so excited with Jesus’ birth? Ask God for his joy in this mystery and in the mystery of your life.


Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020

Isaiah 4:2-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Luke 21:5-19


Rest in the presence of Jesus.


Second Week of Advent: Through the Eyes of Mary


Sunday, Dec 6, 2020 Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Luke 1:26-38


Maternal Reflection: Saying Yes

By Kim Nguyen-Stone, Campus Minister, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC

Around this time last year, I was spending four days in silence at Rivendell Retreat Centre on Bowen Island, BC. A question had been on my heart that week: Should Dave and I have another child? For most of my life, I had assumed that I’d adhere to the Nguyen family tradition: one son and one daughter — an “achievement unlocked” once Dave and I had John and Raphie. Although our two little ones kept us busy, I wasn’t sure if I was done having kids.
Kim and Dave (who also serves with InterVarsity) with John and Raphie.
However, the possibility of expanding our family was intimidating. I was in full-time campus ministry, striving to balance caring for students with raising small children. My to-do list was never-ending, and though I had good community around me, I had a hard time asking for help. As a neurotic perfectionist, I felt like I was failing spectacularly in every aspect of my life. I was burning out. I could barely keep my houseplants alive. And I was constantly losing my temper with my kids. How could I possibly add another kid to my life? A word to the wise: Advent is a completely biased time to discern whether or not to have a baby!
John and Baby Moses
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, he tells her twice that she is favoured by God, and that the Lord is with her (Luke 1:28-30). Luke doesn’t explain why this young girl is favoured — but it’s clear that God chooses to be close to her, bestowing upon her the incredible honour of bearing the Messiah. We often focus on Mary’s obedient response as the Lord’s servant. But what’s also remarkable is God’s intimate love for Mary: he showers her with words of blessing, reveals his extraordinary rescue plan to her, and selects her to be the first human to have a palpable relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


During my retreat, God’s love was the overwhelming response to my questions, fears, and doubts. When I brought up all the ways in which I felt inadequate, God assured me he was simply delighted to be with me in every sphere of my life. I was able to confess my anger towards my children (the guilt of which had become a significant barrier for me to say yes to a third child), and God gave me freedom through forgiveness. He reminded me of his past faithfulness and future promises, in abundant and deeply personal ways.


So, when God invited me to consider bearing another child — I was able to say yes. Not because of my own giftedness or goodness, but because it’s a joy to say yes to someone who loves you so completely.


Ponder: How are you experiencing God’s love today?
In what ways do you desire God to reveal his love to you?


Monday, Dec. 7, 2020

Isaiah 5:8-12, 18-23; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Luke 21:20-28


Ponder: How is Jesus growing inside of you today? Are you willing?


Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020

Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38


Ponder: Does God have an invitation for you at this time? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any barriers that might be preventing you from receiving God’s invitation as an act of love. Spend some time meditating on how God wants to remove those barriers and draw you close to himself.


Wednesday, Dec. 9. 2020

Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11


Ponder: Rest quietly as God continues to grow the life of Jesus in you.


Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020

Isaiah 7:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-7


Peace in Impossible Circumstances

By Sevda Lindo, Campus Minister, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON

This past January I gave birth to our daughter, Alithea-Sevinj. As I consider what it was like for Mary to give birth to Jesus in a stable, I remember my own experiences of childbirth. Giving birth is hard. It is especially hard when you are not near family.


Our sons, Timothy and Nathan, were born when we were in Calgary and we did not have our own place. My mother was in Azerbaijan and could not help care for me or look after the baby. We had to depend on friends for a place to stay. Mary too had nowhere to settle and no mother to take care of her.


Sevda and Matt (who also serves with InterVarsity) and their children, Timothy, Nathan and Alithea-Sevinj.

As I think about Mary, she had a very clear word from God that He was giving her this child. She knew from the beginning that she had to depend on Him and on His timing. God entrusted his only son to the care of this teenage girl and her husband, Joseph, and where Jesus was to be born was not a problem. So often Matt and I realize only God can give us the strength and love we need to raise our children, and we need to trust our circumstances to God’s care.


This year, 2020, has felt so challenging and difficult with COVID, being crammed into a small apartment with school out and a baby present. Daily, our apartment is full of the strong smell of marijuana and cigarettes from the downstairs neighbours. The war again between Azerbaijan and Armenia stirs up fear as my parents’ city was bombed and all my relatives lived in the shadow of atrocious conflict.


Mary knew that her baby was promised and was somehow going to change the world. She seemed to be able to make peace with her surroundings knowing that God was with her and was using their daily circumstances for a bigger picture. Jesus grew up to bring love and hope in the middle of impossible situations. He faced death not from COVID or war but from the hatred of others, dying on a cross. God’s gift to the world through Mary keeps on giving us a way through.


If Jesus had not been born and given us hope I could not have survived this year. Mary, Joseph and Jesus knew what it was to live in the shadow of death. Jesus’s early childhood was spent fleeing those who wanted to kill him.


I am learning from Mary to be grateful. My children are sweet; we are able to play together, enjoy good food, pray and laugh. I am also grateful for my husband, Matt, for this home, our health, our rich heritage from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Jamaica and Canada, our ministry with students. It doesn’t change all the things I wish were different, but like Mary, I know God’s promise is rock solid and his presence is with us to the end.


Ponder: What in your life is difficult right now? How is Jesus with you right there?


Friday, Dec. 11, 2020

Isaiah 7:10-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30


How does Mary’s story reflect your own? What impossible situations may God be helping you to face this Advent?


Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020

Isaiah 8:1-15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18; Luke 22:31-38


Ponder: Rest with Jesus and Mary on your road toward Christmas.


Third Week of Advent: Through the Eyes of Joseph


Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020

Isaiah 1:1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Matthew 1:18-25


A Father, a Son, and a Whole Lot of Spirit

By Dave Birrell, Campus Minister, University of Winnipeg, MB

“Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa…”


Rich Mullins My Deliverer


Shanlee and I adopted Bereket – our one and only son – from Ethiopia in 2009, when he was three years old. This past January and February (pre-worldwide COVID!), the three of us returned to Ethiopia in order to connect with Bereket’s birth family. For Shanlee and I, this was our first opportunity to meet our “Ethiopian family” in person.


Bereket’s Ethiopian father, Batisa, Bereket, Bereket’s brother Biniyam, Shanlee, and Dave.

I was excited but also quite nervous. We all were. It is not very often that you get on a plane, fly half way around the world to Ethiopia with your wife and your child to meet your son’s father for the very first time. Many prayers were prayed, many requests to Holy Spirit to be present in this once in a lifetime experience (that we hope to do again as soon as possible)!


I have very little in common with Joseph, husband of Mary, father of Jesus. My son, Bereket – as much as I love him – is not Jesus. But Joseph and I do have something in common: non-traditional paths to fatherhood. And Bereket has something in common with Jesus – both adopted, both having two fathers. Of course, while there are obviously millions of parents that grow their family through adoption, there is no one who has ever had Joseph’s experience. I would love to sit down to chat and swap stories some day with Jesus’s “down-to-earth” dad (dad joke alert!). He experienced something most adoptive fathers never do. He witnessed the birth of his adoptive child. I am envious of that, but I understand this: the newborn is not his and entirely his all at the same time.


Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. Even so, when he was born into humanity he was adopted by Joseph into a family. By Joseph’s faith and willing spirit, rather than blood or biology, Jesus belonged. Adoption turns traditional family on its head, as it adds in new arm and legs and new attachments in order to create a beautiful new posture and power of family dynamics. Adoption takes us from a state of non-belongingness, and by the power of love brings us into belonging.


In her book AdoptedThe Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World, (Erdmans, 2017), Kelly Nikondeha shares her beautiful thoughts on adoption:


This is how adoption works – like a sacrament, that visible sign of an inner grace. It’s a thin place where we see that we are different and yet not entirely foreign to one another. We are relatives not by blood, but by mystery. All that divides us as nations, ethnicities, and religious traditions is like a vapor quickly extinguished in light of adoption into God’s family.


At Urbana 15, Christena Cleveland struck me deeply when she asked the audience to consider into what family Jesus was inviting us. She asked profound questions (which are also found in Nikondeha’s Adopted ): Who is part of your “us “? Including them in our us, we begin to treat them differently because they would be like family. Jesus redefines our us. But we still need to ask – and answer – “Who is part of your family, and how will the world know?”


When our family arrived in Ethiopia, God surprised and delighted us many times over. Surrounded by extended family and villagers who live all around grandmother’s farm, we felt greatly loved. We also felt a strong sense of responsibility. God had gifted Bereket to our family, but God also showed us how much he is fully loved and remembered continually by his Ethiopian family as well. Part of being a good dad to Bereket is being aware of the responsibility I have to honour and respect his Ethiopian father and the rest of his Ethiopian family.


Jesus and Bereket. The adopted ones. They help form bonds across separate families to make them one. This truth remains: there is room enough for all at the family table. And Joseph and I, proud fathers to our sons, are eternally grateful for that.


Ponder: This Advent week spend time praying for family – however you define it or experience it.


Monday, Dec. 14, 2020

Isaiah 8:16-9:1; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53


As you imagine life for Joseph during this week of Advent, ask God to give you eyes to see ways to increase your family or simply increase your love of family.


Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-7; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Luke 22:54-69


What in your life may feel similar to Joseph’s life? Ask for God’s grace to face what seems difficult.


Wednesday, Dec 16, 2020

Isaiah 9:8-17; 2 Peter 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8


As you deal with potential isolation instead of the usual celebration gatherings, ask God to help you be real with your emotions and also with the stress you are facing.


Thursday, Dec. 17. 2020

Isaiah 9:18-10:4; 2 Peter 2:10b-16; Matthew 3:1-12


Sleep in Heavenly Peace

By Dave Birrell, Campus Minister, University of Winnipeg, MB

What do we know of Joseph? He was a good and faithful man. He worked with his hands. He most likely knew the Torah backwards and forwards. And he, thankfully, was a good sleeper, which meant he could dream of God. Or rather, an angel of the Lord could visit him in his dreams.


Today a friend introduced me to a Ghomala’ (Cameroon) greeting. Instead of saying hello or good morning, their standard opening is “O ti la?” which means “Have you slept?” Michel Kenmogne, Wycliffe Executive Director, explains that this is a true question inviting a response. “It always assumes that sleeping is a true experience of rest, resulting from a state of peace and wholeness. A person can’t sleep normally when they are disturbed by something that has gone wrong in their business or family or community.”

It’s a wonder Joseph could sleep at all; with all the heavy and difficult things his heart and mind must have been processing. His betrothed and beloved, Mary, was with child. Let’s examine the possibilities here. People around him – family, friends, neighbours – may have imagined he was involved. Joseph himself must have thought that Mary was sexually active or had been sexually assaulted. Regardless, either scenario would be devastating to this righteous man.


Miraculously, God entered the picture and lovingly cared for Joseph. In the dream, the angel of the Lord tells him emphatically: “what Mary has conceived is through the Holy Spirit.” Mary and Jesus will need Joseph’s protection, and to give it will be his hard and most important vocation.

Sister Wendy Beckett writes about this particular artwork depicting Joseph’s dream in her book Nativity. (Harper 1998):


“This wonderful image shows the angel shooting toward Joseph like a projectile from heaven: a spiritual rocket is about to land on his anxious slumbers, and his rational world will deconstruct. The angel is all tense dynamite, while Joseph suffers in a nightmarish sleep: the impact is with us still. This “dream” would overturn all his certainties and make possible the survival of mother and son. It is a reassuring dream, emotionally, but the repercussions are immense.”


Ponder: How have you been sleeping these days? Do you wrestle with getting enough rest – or perhaps too much – in any given day? May God grant proper, healthy amounts of sleep to those God loves. Sleep in heavenly peace Joseph. You have many sleepless nights waiting for you once a newborn baby enters the picture.


Joseph’s Dream – Anonymous 10th Century


Friday, Dec. 18. 2020

Isaiah 10:5-19; 2 Peter 2:17-22; Matthew 11:2-15


Where, if at all, has God broken through with words, images, songs, or scripture into the heaviness of these crazy days? Spend some time with these as you ask Jesus to help you remember.


Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020

Isaiah 10:20 – 27; Jude 17-25; Matthew 25:14-30


Have you had helpful dreams or perhaps the soothing presence of dear people around you who speak truth and hope into your life? Ponder these with God and Joseph and Dave.


Fourth Week of Advent: Through Eyes of Shepherds


Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4; 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 2:8-1


Chickens, Shepherds and The One

By Anne Douglas, Director Circle Square Ranch Big Clear Lake, ON

Each night when I put my chickens to bed, I count them. My chickens range free during the day and I like to boast that they have the best life of any chickens: they scratch around in the leaves on the forest floor, eating juicy bugs; they take dirt baths in my garden, wallowing like heiresses having a spa day; and they perch on branches in the thick cedars on our property. Currently they’re into eating the leftover tomatoes and kale in my garden, which is just fine with me – they’re doing the fall clean up, tillage and fertilizing.


At the end of the day, they put themselves to bed and I come and check them, say good-night and close the door to the coop so nocturnal predators can’t get them. And each night, I count them. Once in a while, I’m one short and I search the nesting boxes with a pounding heart. If I still can’t find the missing one,I search outside the coop for errant roosting in tree branches. We used to have one that would perch high in a tree at night and I’d have my husband Andrew and the kids shake the tree and toss up sticks trying to scare her into flying down so we could put her in the coop. Each of my 32 chickens has a name and a personality and is precious to me. If I lost one, I would be heartbroken.

When I think of the shepherds seeking Jesus at Christmas, I also think of Jesus’ story in Matthew 18:12-14. In that story, the shepherd leaves the 99 and searches out the one he has lost. Shepherds know how to value each life. They know how to seek and search. Many of us in InterVarsity have shepherds’ hearts. We share the Father’s desire that none should perish. We long for those in our flocks on campus, at camp and in workplaces to belong, know they are loved, to find lasting hope and peace and joy in Jesus, to be faithful to Him for a lifetime.


When those shepherds followed the star to the stable, they were doing what they did best – they were seeking and searching and passionately caring. I wonder if Holy Spirit led those shepherds there first because He knew that they would get it. They understood that each one has a name and even the least of these needs to be seen, known and nurtured. The shepherds understood the quest. They realized that finding the one makes it worth leaving everything else behind. And they found the one… not just any one, but The One.


I think God has a special place in His heart for shepherds. But our place in his heart isn’t because we’re the keeners in the Kingdom doing all the care and work. It’s because we understand His heart for the lost and found.


So come, all you who identify as shepherds, and gather round the manger this season. Know that He has a soft spot for you. Know that He is worth setting everything else down, leaving it behind, and just searching for Him this season. And know that you are precious to him not because of your pastoral work in the Kingdom, but because you are a sheep and He would leave the others to find you. Be found by Him and find Him this Christmas season.


Ponder: What can you put aside for the rest of the Advent season in favour of making more time to behold Jesus?


Monday, Dec. 21, 2020

Isaiah 28:9-22; Rev 21:9-21; Luke 1:26-38


Ponder: How have you felt lost this year? How have you felt found by Him? What is Holy Spirit whispering to you about these things? Take a few minutes to write down what you feel Him saying.


Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020

Isaiah 29:13-24; Revelations 21:22-22:5; Luke 1:15-56


Ponder: Hear God’s invitation to make space for Jesus in your heart and life this Christmas. Notice how God may be sending his messengers of good news to you in the midst of the limitations of this pandemic.


Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

Isaiah 33:17-22; Revelation 22:6-11, 18-20; Luke 2:8-20


Lessons Etched in Grit and Glory

By Elisa Dorman Program Director Circle Square Ranch Big Clear Lake, ON

I remember being surprised when I moved out of the city and friends in my new rural community would walk around wearing jeans with swaths of dirt on them. Sawdust poofed from the sleeves of ripped hoodies and no one batted an eye.


Despite my initial surprise, it didn’t take long before I became one of the worst of them all. I stopped hesitating to kneel on the barn floor or full-hand grab a horse’s muddy, poopy leg. I had to buy a scrub brush for post-gardening showers. As per custom in our community, I designated a couple outfits as undefiled “city clothes” – reserved for visits to friends or church (or these days, the grocery store).

When I think of the shepherds in Jesus’ day, I wonder if they even had city clothes. They did the humble, muddy, poopy, bloody, sweaty work of tending animals. Their work was important, but their lives were probably simple and gritty. I imagine they were accustomed to contemplating their lowliness juxtaposed to the fog of galaxies in the night sky while they fought off sleep to keep their weathered eyes on their flock.


And I imagine that one night – suddenly – the sound of up-close, jolting horns blared in the night and then polished harmonies sounded from extravagant beings dazzling with radiant light. The angels’ voices projected with an unburdened and elegant freedom. Beaming, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those in whom His favor rests.” Heaven’s most glorious pronouncement of the arrival of a paramount king echoed in a common field to a sleepy crew of herdsmen who didn’t even own city clothes.


At the same time, not far off, there was another collide of holy splendor and humble humanity, as the Almighty God submitted himself to the effluvium of birth. The shepherds’ encounter was a foretaste of the revelation of the humility of Jesus. It demonstrates that God is eager to surprise the humble with His extravagance, honour people with dirty wool stuck on their cloaks and encounter folks with grime on their hoodies.


Perhaps you identify with lowliness on some level, even if you are the kind of lowly folk who have, by God’s grace, embraced toothpaste and deodorant. Or, perhaps you are simply struck by the character of our God – One who is so perfectly extravagant and yet so involved with our finite, un-shiny, earthly existence.


The famous Luke 2 shepherds’ angelic visitation was a foretaste of God’s character. We, too, can pray our lives will point to Jesus as we both seek to live humbly and long to surprise the outcast with the joy the Good News.


Ponder: Do you ever doubt that God is interested in meeting with you because you aren’t feeling put together? Take a minute to ask him about that.


Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020

Isaiah 35:1-10; Revelations 22:12-17, 21; Luke 1:57-80


Ponder: How can you live your life in ways that demonstrate God’s love for the outcast?


Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020

Zechariah 2:10-13; 1 John 4:7-16; John 3:31-36


Ponder: In this year of limitations, what new perspective do you have of Christmas?


Boxing Day, Saturday, 26, 2020

Isaiah 12:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-12; Luke 2:22-40


Ponder: The world is a precarious place for a baby. Why would God choose this way to come and be among us?


After Advent: Through the Eyes of Wise Men


Sunday after Christmas, Dec 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:1-12


The Precarious Journey of Ancient Academics

By Tony Lai, Campus Minister, International Students, University of Toronto, ON

In our 21st century world, post-doctoral researchers live transient and precarious lives. Wandering from country to country from short-term contract to the next contract, your next job hangs in the balance based on how successful you are in your current research. International Graduate and PhD students travel to a new place in hope of advancing their careers with international status, education, i.e. getting ahead in the highly competitive academic world.


Lurking in the shadows is the fact that the attrition rate for completing PhDs is over 50 per cent. Yet you pursue your dreams, you endure doubts that you are on the right path, and keep moving forward negotiating the difficult path of academic politics and power struggles. Add the stressor that for internationals, travel is both thrilling and daunting. There are new experiences but you’re not sure what to expect, what to pack, what you’ll need, and even where you’ll sleep the first night.


The story of the visit of the Magi, (in Matthew’s Gospel), contains many of these elements. These Magi were probably not tenured professors, but at least real academics. They left behind their former places of work to go and test their research hypotheses. If they were Persians, (as some scholars suggest), then they were from the Parthian/Persian Empire, which had invaded Israel in the recent past only to be expelled by the Romans.


The Magi clearly frightened King Herod with their visit and questions. If I’m honest, this would have made any of us a little anxious, especially if you already knew that Herod had gotten his position as Jewish King from manipulating the Romans to give him the job. Plus, they had helped him drive you, the Persians, out of Israel!


The Magi’s precarious position and vulnerability was exposed in asking the right question in the wrong place. They made some assumptions and stopped in Jerusalem, only nine kilometres short of their destination. Of course, Herod’s palace was the most logical and common sense place to go to find the newborn king. But it put everyone at risk and, tragically, some innocents in Bethlehem would die as a result.


Ponder: As we head into unknown territory of 2021, does the journey/future give us anxiety and how do you deal with it? Where are you asking your questions? Are we willing to endure, patiently following God’s story?


Monday, Dec. 28, 2020

Isaiah 62:6-7, 10-12; Hebrews 2: 10-18; Matthew 1:18-25


Ponder: what does the birth of Jesus mean for you and your life going into 2021?


Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020

Isaiah 12:1-20; Revelation 1:1-8; John 7:37-52


Conviction Fuels a Great Journey

By Tony Lai, Campus Minister, International Students, University of Toronto, ON

If you are going to undertake a difficult journey at a high cost of time and energy, you must have the conviction that it is worth doing. Internationals choosing to study abroad, in their second language, are searching for something valuable, both in the international education marketplace, but also because the experience in and of itself has value, purpose and meaning.


However, some come and leave quickly discovering that their conviction was not correct. Many Chinese scholars, in private conversation, have told me of their quest for a solution to a perceived moral crisis back home. They saw a lack of concern; People were only worried about themselves! There was no good citizen, no good neighbour! There was no academic pursuit of truth, and in their students, they saw only the need for a paper qualification for a good job, or to make good money.


The magi undertook a long journey of up to two thousand kilometres, (though some have argued, they came from China). ‘What difference would this trip make to anyone, anyhow?’ ‘Was there any value in making it?’

Ironically, we can see that it was a surprisingly special journey to be the first Gentiles, the first non-Jews (other than the Angelic Host), to recognize and worship Jesus as a true king, perhaps even as Messiah. In contrast, the Jewish academics, from the Old Testament passages, knew the answer to Herod’s question where the Christ was to be born, and instead they betrayed the true king of the Jews to the pseudo-king of the Jews.


Ponder: How far are you willing to go, find out, and test Jesus’ truth in 2021? Is your goal the person of Jesus Christ? Or are the benefits really your goal? Do you honestly lean more to the Magi, stopping short on the journey asking the right questions in the wrong place? Or the Jewish priestly academy’s comfortable betrayal to the false?


Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9; Revelations 1:9-20; John 7:53-8:11


Ponder: What are you searching for to give meaning to your life in 2021?


New Year’s Eve, Thursday, Dec 31, 2020

Isaiah 26:1-9; 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2; John 8:12-19


Ponder: Looking back over 2020 with Jesus ask him to bring to your mind moments of his presence in unexpected places. Give thanks for them.


New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2021

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21


Friday, Jan. 2, 2021

1 Kings 19:1-8; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:1-14


Surrendering Costly Gifts

By Tony Lai, Campus Minister, International Students, University of Toronto, ON

Until recently, international English language school students composed a large and significant population in Toronto. Their reasons for being here are varied; for some it is to complete a pre-entry to university English course. For others it is a gap year in their highly competitive, demanding undergraduate programs in their home countries. But for some, it is the culmination of saving every penny of their wages over the last four to five years to spend this year in Toronto.


Instead of investing it, the money is spent on something very precious, which is quite alien to our Western minds. Rather than simply a prodigal son fling, it is the precious experience of a last freedom before getting married.

The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the Magi brought with them were unusual, to say the least. Understanding their significance has generally focused on the possible spiritual symbolism related to Jesus’ status; i.e. gold (a tribute) as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of worship of God, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death or humanity. But there are other ways of seeing their value and meaning.


The surrender of such wealth to such lowly people as a carpenter and his wife and baby is amazing, when we know that the least valuable item was in fact the gold. A recent estimate projected a total value of several million dollars. This is a capital investment, with no easy way of seeing a return! What did the Magi know about these people? Could they even entrust this huge amount of money to them? Yet without these gifts how could Joseph, Mary and their baby escape to Egypt and survive until Herod’s death?


Ponder: Are you surprised or even amazed where this value is placed? Where are you placing value and investing? Do you need to see results? Are you willing to follow God’s lead into 2021?


Saturday, Jan. 3. 2021

1 Kings 19:9-18; Ephesians 4:17-32; John 6:15-27


Ponder: Consider the joy of the heavenly hosts that Jesus has entered our world. This is the bedrock of our hope for 2021. Rejoice with all the angels that Jesus has come to live among us forever. As you look ahead into 2021 look for Jesus in every step.

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