Day 1: Melissa Burke & Steve Coupland
Day 2: A Reflection by Tyler Loveman
As a child I loved trampolines. I wanted one so badly, mostly to pretend I was a Professional Wrestler without completely hurting myself. I was so happy the day my parents bought one and put it beside the swing set. That meant that the swing set became the top rope and the trampoline became the wrestling ring. If you know me, you know that this set in motion the obsession that would become a huge part of my life.
I remember being able to do back flips on the trampoline pretty easily. However, landing a front flip was much harder. When executing a back flip I can see the ground and place my feet well. However, when executing a front flip, I could not see the ground and so the tendency was to reach for it. If you reach too early you hyperextend your legs and fall. If you reach too late, you don’t land it and run the risk of kneeing yourself in the face… not great.
I explain this because during this Christmas season, I have experienced the presence of Jesus amidst the “front flip” of life. Advent holds wild and reckless expectations, filled with longing and hope of a better way. The way. Jesus. And with the birth of Jesus we have faith that the Messiah is here, with us. However, seeing the end (ground) or even the next step is hard. Maybe similar to the feeling Mary felt looking down at her dependent infant. Taking the leap of faith into the unknown is scary because we may not be able to see the ground or the landing right away. This is the place I find myself in this Christmas season. I am halfway through the front flip and all I can see is the sky and I have no idea where my feet will land. Will I land? Will I get hurt? I have faith that I will land with my feet on holy ground, because I wouldn’t have leaped in the first place if resilient faith was not present. Jesus is present in the midst of the “front flip”.
Rather than preemptively reaching for the landing, might Christ be persuading us to be in awe of the wonder and beauty that the sky brings? Christ is present in the mundane, the everyday, the common. I used to reject this idea because of the faith expression I grew up in that was relentlessly focused on “mountaintop experiences”.
I find the words of writer and liturgist Cole Aurther Riley helpful in this space “More than the grand beauties of our lives, wonder is about having the presence to pay attention to the commonplace. It could be said that to find beauty in the ordinary is a deeper exercise than climbing to the mountaintop.”
As we walk through these twelve days of Christmas, how is Christ present in the mundane? How is Christ restoring, comforting, reframing our situation in the midst of unknowing and uncertainty? I pray that you are able to be in awe of the mundane, and captured by the beauty of Christ during your “front flip”, it may be the only thing you can see right now, and what a gift it is.
Day 3: A Reflection by Sarah Flatt
Day 4: A Reflection by Ethan Brand-Papazian
I was one of those kids who grew up in a Christian household, I learned some of the very broad and well known stories in Sunday school, and I just kind of went along with it.But I didn’t really develop any sort of spiritual connection to these stories of scripture.
Last year, at the end of May, I was on a youth retreat and change conference in the Niagara Falls area ‘Veritas’, which means truth in Spanish. It was the first night of the event. The main speaker came up and gave such an inspirational and power-driven speech about how we can have a relationship with Jesus that is so much higher, greater, further, and deeper than any other relationship in our lives, where he knows what’s best for us and how we can be a disiple of him and his unfathomable work in this world.
This was the moment where I began to develop a real and deep relationship with God through prayer and, later on, scripture. Over the course of a year, I grew in the number of times I prayed, and I tried to take the stuff taught in church a little more seriously.
When I came to Elevation, I knew I had found a home for what church I belonged to. Then as I started listening to more and more scripture through a Bible app, my connection only deepened and got stronger.
In September I was baptized and now I have my own Bible to continue the journey of faith through Jesus’ lens.
I would also like to thank Brian for being my mentor. So far he has given me so much great advice on how to perceive so many different topics in the Bible, and how to be the best Christian follower I can be.
Obviously there’s still a lot of stuff I have to learn about being a disciple of Jesus, but I have faith that no matter what season of life I’m in, what challenges I face, what defeats I suffer, God will never be wrong and always be with me until the very end.
Day 5: A Reflection by Meredith Wagler
Day 6: A Reflection by Erv Wiens
How have we experienced the presence of Jesus recently?
Marian and I spent five years living and working in South Korea. Most of our work related to Jesus Village Church in Chuncheon. We preached and taught classes and loved the members of the church and their children. Following an emotional farewell in 2012, we returned to Canada. We thought often about our friends in Korea but life in Canada picked up and we became occupied with many activities here.
In May of this year one of the members of the church visited us and asked, “When are you going to come to Korea and visit us again?” We assured him that we would love to but used the excuse of the high cost of the trip and my Parkinson’s health issues. A month later we received an email assuring us that members of the church would pay for the trip and look after all our costs while there. “Just let us know when you can come!” So we set an October date and went.
Talk about experiencing the love of Jesus! The wonderful generosity of the Jesus Village Community allowed us to experience the love of Jesus in amazing ways. They not only paid for our flight, but also for ten nights in a hotel and for every meal during our ten-day stay.
How can we describe the hospitality we experienced? We were hugged and held and generously fed with all our favorite Korean food. Every lunch and dinner were feasts.
These are Sally and Minsoo. When we first came to Korea, they were parents of one infant daughter. Now they have three children in university. We called Sally our Korean daughter. Since her English was good, she often translated for Marian when she worship-led or preached.
Marian and I taught primary-school age children of church families from 2002 to 2005. However, children become adults. During this recent trip, 10 of these children returned from around the world; a lawyer from Dubai, a pharmacist from Boston, an accountant from Hongkong, a sales person from Thailand and a couple of moms living in Seoul. How did we experience the presence of Jesus? They fed us and laughed with us and wept over us. When we asked, “how come you guys all speak such good English?” They said, “Well, you taught us!”
And we experienced the presence of Jesus in their church services. They called the final service a “Homecoming Service”. After 11 years away, we were coming home to them. Their choir leader chose a song we recognized. As soon as the choir started singing, Marian skipped forward and joined the choir, as she often did when we lived there.
At the conclusion of the service, the entire congregation gathered around us and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over us.
Back in 2004, the church celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a wonderful party. They were aware that now our 60th anniversary is coming shortly. Knowing Marian’s love for ice cream, Susie, a member of our small group, made sure there was ice cream cake available for the potluck meal.
In every possible way, this wonderful community loved us with Jesus’ love. They remembered sermons we had presented. One member still uses notes Marian used for a boundary workshop in 2011. How have we experienced the love of Jesus recently? Through the incredible love of our friends in South Korea!!!
Day 7: A Reflection by Ben Prins
Day 8: A Reflection by Mark Dettweiler
Giving thanks for the blessings of this day.
When I was child, the conclusion of Advent and the beginning of Christmas was not marked so much by the lighting of the Christ candle at church, but rather by the extinguishing of the light in my father’s shop. As with most children, December 24 was a day of great anticipation for me for many reasons, but mainly because we would open all our gifts on Christmas Eve.
The excitement of Christmas Eve would build to almost unbearable levels as the hours progressed and we smelled the meal being prepared and saw the mound of gifts that had been placed under the tree…some with my name on them! My five siblings and I all knew the Christmas Eve routine…first the meal, then off to church for the Christmas Eve service that generally took less than an hour long but seemed to last forever, and finally, FINALLY, back home to open our gifts together.
But we also knew that the Christmas celebrations would not begin until my father finished work. He operated a small meat business in a shop that was located about thirty feet from our house. We could see the lights in his shop from our kitchen window and as closing time approached, we watched and waited for the lights to go out. Of course, because the shop would be closed for a few days at Christmas, there were some extra chores to complete, and – agonizingly – the lights would remain lit past the closing time. So we waited and we watched and finally the lights would go dark, and Christmas could begin!
Each year our family of eight would gather around the table and, as always, my father would bow his head and say grace before the meal. “Heavenly Father, we thank you for the blessings of this day…” I know that is exactly what he prayed on Christmas Eve, because that is how he started his prayer every single day…daily gratitude for the blessings of today, of this day.
As a child I did not give much thought to the words of our daily grace; they were just repeated over and over before each meal. But words that are repeated daily get etched deeply into our minds and maybe even our souls. As I have grown older, I have reflected on the words of my father’s daily prayer, and I believe that they were not mere words recited by rote, but they were a sincere daily acknowledgement of the reality God’s blessing.
On Christmas, the blessings are usually quite apparent – the food, the love of family, the gifts, and restful time away from daily routines of work and school. But not every day is Christmas, and not every day is wonderful or easy. Is daily thanks for blessings each day just denying the reality that often life is hard and not every day is “blessed”?
I think that Christians are often glib to the point of insensitivity in responding to difficulties by speaking of “blessings in disguise” or saying that “God works all things for good” or “consider it joy when you face trials”. It’s as if acknowledging difficulty for what it is somehow brings the sovereignty and love of God into question. But the reality is that truly bad things do happen to truly good people, and sometimes there are simply no words.
So, is giving thanks for the blessings of the day on even difficult days living in denial? To that question, I would answer a resounding “No!” And the reason we can genuinely give thanks for daily blessing is rooted in the blessing of the first Christmas day:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).“
“God with us”. No matter what the circumstance; no matter where the journey leads; in good times, and in times of great difficulty, God is with us. In Jesus, God does not watch from afar, but stands with us, weeps with us, celebrates with us. Because of Christmas, God is with us and God is faithful.
Scripture assures us that the mercies of God never come to an end, that they are new every morning. So we can be thankful for and ask with confidence for the mercies of God, even on – or especially on – days where those mercies are not apparent
It is my hope and my prayer that at Christmas we can more fully grasp the height, depth, and breath of God’s love in Jesus. And that the miracle of Christmas will bring us to a place of gratitude for the blessings of each day: Emmanuel, God with us no matter where our journey may take us.
Day 9: A Reflection by Shane Bauman
Day 10: A Reflection by Heidi Sawatzky
Something that has been on my mind recently is God’s creation. I am a big fan of the outdoors and have a love for nature. I work with Kindergarteners and one of my favourite things about that age group is their curiosity and love for nature. Getting down in the dirt to find worms, watching geese fly in a v formation, and noticing the details in things that often go unnoticed by adults. I often find myself in wonder and awe of God’s creation when I am in nature. The beauty seen while hiking a mountain in BC, the tiny details in snowflakes as they fall on mittens, the vastness of a blanket of stars we get to experience while camping, or the vibrant colours in a sunrise over my favourite lake. I experience these wonders and am reminded of our creative God and all that He has made, sometimes moved to tears at the beauty of it all.
On our service and learning Sunday in November, a group of us met for a forest walk and took a moment to have a “sit spot” (an exercise we do with my class when we visit the forest). Just a moment to sit on your own, to look and listen and notice what’s around you. At that moment, I was looking at the designs in the bark of the tree in front of me, and a thought kind of occurred to me. People are God’s creation. And it feels a little silly to write that, because obviously people are God’s creation. But, if the bark on a tree can make me pause and give thanks to God, how much more should I be thanking Him for the creation of all people? I am mesmerized by the intricacies of different plants and patterns in nature, but how often do the intricacies of people go unnoticed to me?
So now, that is on my radar: to see and appreciate and celebrate the creation of people. All people. The beauty in diversity! The fact that our brains can think and feel and have experiences that are unique and special to us. I want to look at people and notice the beauty in them. Their skills, their gifts, their passions, that make them, them. It seems like such a simple concept. But I find that if I don’t intentionally remind myself to stop and appreciate others, it’s easy to get caught up in a lifestyle that only revolves around myself.
Becoming a mom has been an eye-opening journey full of a new love and hope for our family. The experience of watching my belly grow and the anticipation of meeting our new gift with every kick and heart beat we got to hear. The wonder of my body changing and preparing for her arrival. Then she was here. She was so tiny and dependent. A gift. God’s creation on full display. And the miracle of life is on display all around us. Our neighbours. Our friends. The people we walk past everyday in the busyness of our lives. They are the beauty of creation and they are all around us.
Day 11: A Reflection by Erik Brown
Day 12: A Reflection by David Eckmier
I’ll be honest; I had to think harder and longer about how to answer this question than I thought I would. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of quality sleep I’ve had lately, or if it’s that my brain is trying to juggle many more things than usual in the lead up to Christmas… but it’s taken me a bit longer than I anticipated to figure out how to answer this question.
The past little while has been very challenging for our family. Kara has had a series of concussions over the last few years, the effects of which have proven incredibly difficult to overcome. It has been a long, difficult journey dealing with her symptoms, fighting with WSIB, attempting to juggle how we manage our home, our time, and our responsibilities, with much of the excess burden falling on me. And in all honesty, I’m very burnt out from trying to carry so much more of the load than I’m used to (or really capable of).
During this time, my successful wedding photography business all but evaporated thanks to the pandemic, and now the resulting “wedding gap” caused by people not meeting during the pandemic is continuing to prove incredibly challenging for those of us in the wedding industry for the foreseeable future.
Add in three young kids, a faith deconstruction journey, and nearly all of our close friends leaving the church we had been attending, and you had what has at times felt like a perfect storm of insanity.
But through this season of chaos, we’ve seen time and time again how God has been looking out for us. From finding a new faith community to call home within a few weeks of leaving our previous church; to providing for us financially through this entire Post Concussion Syndrome journey; to providing new friendships and like-minded people to learn and grow with; to most recently giving me the chance to step into a part time position that not only fills a need in our church community, but also helps fill in some of the financial gaps that my business is experiencing: God has faithfully made a way for us over and over.
It might not always look quite like we expected or hoped, and it certainly still has its headaches and tears along the way… but He has undoubtedly had our backs, and I’ve felt that incredible faithfulness and an overwhelming peace every step of the way.