Representing Advent and Christmas

I am by no means an artist. In fact it’s only in the past number of months that I’ve begun putting pencil to paper – that I’ve begun taking baby steps in trying to understand how to use shading, lines and different pencils (2B 4b HB 6H) in service of an idea or image. And aside from being a total novice, I don’t exactly have a lot of time on my hands for drawing. Though I do find it a soul-nourishing way to make myself slow down for a moment, to reflect on life and its meaning.

Earlier this Fall the Presbyterian Record opened its annual art competition for the December issue of the magazine. I took the competition (and the reality of a deadline!) as a source of motivation to create something. It was an opportunity to think about how I would represent some aspect of Christmas. The end result is the pencil drawing, below, which I have also put through a “sepia” filter in iPhoto.

pensive smallerLike many within the church I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Christmas. On the one hand I have beautiful childhood memories of Christmas – of trees and lights and family celebrations. And even today I have a kind of delight  in aspects of the season. And yet beneath these positive aspects of memory and celebration is a deep frustration with the way Christmas (Advent is essentially bypassed!) has become a saccharine and tinsel-strewn affair of little or no substance. Worse, perhaps, the church often caters to this indulgent and superficial approach to the season, which means that our representation and celebration of Christmas is not as rich as it could and should be.

In submitting my own drawing to The Record, I had no sense this was a great piece of art or that it had any chance of making the cover of the magazine. It’s not, and it didn’t! The piece absolutely belongs in the small little corner they found for it toward the back pages. Continue reading


holy laughter –

Their laughter is not self-conscious. Their laughter is not artificial or forced. Their laughter is full and real. Their laughter comes from someplace deep inside. Their laughter flows as laughter does in our moments of real happiness, or those moments when we discover the wonderful incongruities of life, or when we find that the impossible has become possible.


The laughter of Elizabeth and Mary is first of all their delight simply at seeing one another. Mary has come to visit her relative Elizabeth. Mary is the younger one – Elizabeth like an Aunt to her. It has probably been some time since they saw each other – too long – and now when they embrace they laugh with joy at the pleasure of being together. Of course we know, especially at this season perhaps, that it’s not always a joy to see relative. “Do we really have to visit them again this year?” But there are also always relatives and friends who we can’t wait to see, who we want to spend time with. And with them there is joy and laughter in catching up after a too-long absence.

Perhaps Elizabeth and Mary don’t laugh only on account of their joyful reunion. Perhaps they laugh also in their shared pregnancy. As they approach one another, their pregnancies become obvious to each other – and they are glad and cheerful at their shared expectation of a child. Elizabeth had thought she was too old to have a child, but here it is a reality. And Mary’s pregnancy is beyond her comprehension, but there is her belling getting larger by the day. The laugh together at the impossible possibility of these pregnancies. Continue reading

learning extravagance

My sermon from this past Sunday, on John 12:1-8 – Mary’s annointing of Jesus.


Growing up as a kid, one of my favourite novels was entitled Journey through the Night. It was a novel published in four volumes, written originally in Dutch by author Anne De Vries – we share a family name but he’s no relation to my family. 

Journey through the Night deals with events of the second world war in the Netherlands, in Holland. Specifically, it tells the story of a particular Dutch family that sees their homeland invaded and occupied by the Nazis. The main character in the story is eldest son of the family, Jan De Boer, who becomes actively involved in the resistance movement against the Nazis. The novel follows the family through their acts of resistance, through the dark night of war and occupation, and as they try to hide their resistance activities. For me this story was particularly compelling since it spoke of the country from which my parents and grandparents had immigrated – the novel spoke of experiences that directly touched the lives of my parents their immediate families.

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A Twofold ‘Yes’

A sermon preached yesterday – March 15th – in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.



After a two week hiatus we come back today to the Apostles’ Creed – we continue our series of reflections on the faith we confess. Through this series we have been reminded that the Apostles’ Creed is more than just a statement of right belief. The creed is also a statement of our fundamental human trust. Every human life is built on trust. And the creed helps us as a community of faith to give voice to our most basic trust God – in the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


This morning we are back into the second section of the creed – in which we give expression to our fundamental trust in Jesus – in this particular person – our faith in the one who is God’s Son, who is Lord, who is the anointed one.


And today we come to additional words that are used to describe Jesus. Here they are:

conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary


What are we to make of these two statements? What do they mean? What is the creed helping us to say when we stand together with one voice and declare that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit – that he was born of the Virgin Mary.


Well it may seem strange to hear it, but this morning I would say that these two statements of the creed can best be understood by thinking about the word ‘Yes’.

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