When Grief like Sea Billows Roll Through Your Holidays

I learned how to mourn when my mom lost her mind, and then her life, to dementia.

When my mother passed away last winter, I discovered the gift of grief.

In the span of a single year, my mother went from a vibrant, constant presence in my life—through phone calls, texts, and when we could, in-person visits—to a swift decline in mental and physical health.

The first sign, for me, was an unexpected call at 5 a.m. one morning. Mom had many skills but being active at 5 a.m. was not one of them. Calls at 10 a.m., lunchtime, or late in the evening were much more likely. I immediately answered, thinking something had to be urgent.

“Mom, is everything okay?” I asked, pretending I had been up for hours while clearing the cobwebs from my mind and the frog from my throat.

“Oh, I’m just calling to see how you are doing,” she said, “but I hope I’m not interrupting dinner for you guys.”

Maybe she’s just confused. Maybe she had a bad night’s sleep, I thought. I didn’t want to believe this was what my sister, Laura, had been gently warning me about. My sister and her husband had recently moved back to Illinois to live near my parents. And in recent weeks, they had told me that Mom had forgotten how to write a check. Well, that’s not that crazy. Who writes checks anymore? I had rationalized at the time.

“Mom, you do know that it’s five o’clock in the morning, right?” I offered.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. You know, I keep getting my times mixed up, with daylight savings and all,” she replied, though we were nowhere near a time change. After talking a bit more, we ended the call. When I told my sister about it, she said these sorts of incidents were becoming more common.

A few days later, I got another call from ...

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Advent for Grieving Hearts

The hope of union that helps us persevere today

The Christmas season isn’t always jolly and merry. In fact, it can be filled with heartache, sorrow, tears, and pain. I understand this intimately. Ever since June 30, 2021, my family’s holidays have been marked by tears and sadness. On that day, our 20-year-old daughter died in a tragic car accident while we traveled home from vacation together. Within seconds, our firstborn child was taken from us.

Death is our enemy. I hate death—I am tired of tears. And yet, if that June day is my greatest day of sorrow, then Revelation 21 is my greatest source of hope and comfort. It can be yours as well.

In these words, we find the assurance of the eternal victory that Jesus has secured for his people. The loving Shepherd will wipe away our tears and eradicate sin, death, and the devil forevermore. That is our future reward and the destiny of all those who are people of faith.

The scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t limited to the salvation of our souls. It includes the restoration and redemption of all that was lost at the fall of man in Genesis 3. This restoration will involve a new heaven, a new Jerusalem, and perfected bodies that are resurrected to inhabit a glorious new earth. We eagerly await a transformation of the entire universe.

The vision of what is to come, captured in Revelation 21, will be new in quality and superior in character to what we have now. Just as the text predicts this present earth’s passing away, it immediately speaks of the ushering in of a new and magnificent beginning. This new earth is the place where Christ’s kingdom will be revealed in its fullness, where God himself will reign as the sole King over it all, dwelling in peace and power with his people.

This is the ...

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What Made This ‘Epiphany’ Stand Out?

The unique revelation of Advent for all people

The story of the wise men, or “Magi” as Matthew calls them, has a special sense of mystery and joy to it and has long been celebrated by Christians on a special feast day called Epiphany. The Greek word epipháneia means “shining out” or “revealing.” Of course, the Bible is full of great epiphanies: The burning bush that caused Moses to turn aside and meet God was an epiphany; Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 of “the Lord lifted up” was an epiphany; the heavens opening at Jesus’ baptism was an epiphany. So how did this particular moment in Matthew’s gospel come to be called the Epiphany? The answer lies in the fact that it is of special importance to us who are of Gentile descent—those who were not born into the Jewish race, the original chosen people.

Sometimes, reading the Old Testament feels like overhearing someone else’s long family history, and it makes you wonder what it really has to do with you. But then suddenly you hear your own name and realize this is your story too. This is what happens in the moment that the Magi reach the Jesus child. Until now, the story of the coming Messiah has been confined to Israel, the covenant people, but here suddenly and mysteriously, three Gentiles have intuited that his birth is good news for them too and brought gifts accordingly. Here is an epiphany, a revelation, that the birth of Christ is not one small step for a local religion but a great leap for all mankind. Jesus is for all of us, Gentile and Jew alike!

I love the way that the three wise men are traditionally depicted as representing the different races, cultures, and languages of the world. I love the way the world, in all its diversity, is ...

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There Is a Light That Changes Everything

The real gift of Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us! For my kids, this means the anticipation of gifts. I think they begin making their lists on December 26 for the following year. They look forward to and talk about their coming gifts for months and months.

When the gifts finally arrive, they are met with various reactions—some more excited than others. But the one thing that never fails is this: After about an hour, my kids are off doing something completely not related to the very gifts they’d been anticipating all year long. Earthly gifts, though wonderful, aren’t ultimately satisfying. They leave us wanting. But there is one gift that is truly satisfying. One gift that keeps on giving. One gift that will never disappoint us, will sustain us, and is always available to us. That gift is Jesus, the Light of the World.

Isaiah prophesies of a baby who will save the world. This surprising announcement came to a rebellious people in a dark time. There was war and unrest. There was no peace to be found. The darkness was palpable, and it went beyond even the circumstances Israel found themselves in. The darkness they experienced was also spiritual; it’s a darkness we all experience before we know the Savior.

Jesus fulfills the Old Testament promises of the coming light from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

This was a promise of good news to Israel, as it is to us today. The Light of the World has come, and if we follow him, we will also walk in the light—we will have the light of life (1 John 1:7; John 8:12). We don’t have to fear destruction because we have been given the light and truth and will no ...

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God’s Astonishing Announcement Scheme

A different view of a glorious arrival

The birth of Christ astonishes us.

And not only the birth itself but the way in which God decided to present his Son’s birth to the world. With no big-budget marketing plan, social media campaign, or paid TV spots during the Super Bowl, the Lord chose an unsuspecting group of shepherds to introduce good news of great joy that will be for all people. Imagine how overwhelmed these poor shepherds must have been as a multitude of otherworldly angels appeared in the dark of night, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV). We are caught in the throes of wonder when we consider the scale of this spectacle that God arranged for so few people so lacking in cultural influence.

But then we remember Mary, Joseph, a manger, and some animals. A scene that would make most parents shudder if they had to contemplate a birth this simple and obscure. As we grasp to envision these things, we remember that God’s idea of his Son’s divine childbirth did not include the extravagance and excess that we insist on to illustrate influence and importance.

In God’s transcendent economy, lowliness is how he wants us to understand godliness, to understand his Son. As Philippians describes, “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (2:6–7, ESV).

God’s astonishing announcement scheme will not likely be featured in leadership books, strategic seminars, or influencer videos for how to boost your brand, gain more followers, and advance your platform. God does something far more bewildering. He sanctifies our comprehension and unravels our ...

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A Symphony of Salvation

An angelic celebration that is a foretaste of what’s to come

In Luke 2:13, we witness a party of angels parading the night sky as they sing a declaration of praise over Christ’s arrival on earth as an infant. How marvelous it must have been to hear the shouts of celebration vibrantly filling the air, an honorable demonstration for the divine made flesh. Though we can only imagine what celestial sounds filled the night sky, one familiar piece of music endeavors to offer a glimpse: the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Here, an angelic choir welcomes Christ’s presence and power, accompanied by a symphony that has been treasured for centuries—an earthly rendition of the sound of that sacred evening.

The celebration on that night over 2,000 years ago is a foretaste of what is to come: the celebration that will break out as the Lamb, white as snow, sits at the head of the table, waiting for his bride to arrive. We can see the parallels between the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, the soaring music of Handel’s Messiah, and the “voice of a great multitude” shouting praise over the consummation of Christ and his church in Revelation 19:

For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure.
(Rev. 19:6-8, ESV)

In this passage, John witnesses the heralding of the ultimate heavenly marriage and the arrival of Christ’s bride, who has adorned herself in an array of luminescent garments fit for a celestial ceremony. The intersection of Luke 2 and Revelation 19 renders images of Christ exalted first as a child ...

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Out of Darkness, Light

The light of the world came to confront our sin

At some point in our childhoods, many of us developed an aversion to the dark. I remember lying in my bed as a young boy with the LA Dodgers game playing softly on the radio, my eyes frantically searching the dark closet trying to discern what the moving shadows were and what dangers they posed. Growing up, we often conjure monsters and nightmares to explain our fear—but most of the time, it’s the darkness itself that leaves us deeply unsettled. The experience of darkness as a disorienting reality, full of the unknown, seems to be imprinted deeply on each of our souls. In Genesis 1, God separated light from darkness. This was a purposeful, creative act that was, in God’s view, good. Yet after Adam and Eve’s rebellious decision and the entry of sin into the world, darkness took on a new meaning. It wasn’t just “out there.” The darkness was in us and pushing close against us. In Jewish writings such as the Babylonian Talmud, darkness is a metaphor for unsettling disorientation, a dread coming over a person. It also means evil and sin that leave a person struggling for direction, identity, and an understanding of what’s in store. Similarly, Isaiah 9 uses the compound word tzalmavet—“deep darkness”—to describe the shadow of dark death residing in every human heart.

Isaiah 60:1–3 subtly echoes the familiar story in Genesis 1. Once again there is contrast and separation, light and darkness. But in Isaiah’s telling, the enveloping darkness will dissipate—not when the Lord, the author of creation, commands it but rather when he arrives in his fullness. Isaiah is prophesying Advent—the coming of the King—who himself is light to all ...

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From Egypt, Into Eternity

The plight of Mary and Joseph echoes through generations

When my mom was nine months pregnant with me, she and my dad had to flee their country suddenly. A war had broken out and the fighting was spilling out into the streets of the capital where they lived. Because of my dad’s line of work, he was targeted by the guerrilla fighters. Our family wasn’t safe.

I can picture my mom all those years ago, belly round with innocent life, and I wonder how she felt. I imagine she was fearful, unsure of how the situation would resolve; I imagine my parents feeling lost in the chaos, confused by the way their plans for starting a family had been upended. No one wants to become a refugee at nine months pregnant.

The story contained in Matthew 2:13–23 has become more and more vivid to me over the years as I’ve come to see its similarities to the story that my family lived through. I can picture Mary, arms wrapped around her baby. I imagine the fear, confusion, and desperation as they wonder about the implications of saying yes to what God had called them to. No one wants to become a refugee with an infant. Matthew reminds us of Hosea 11:1 in the midst of this story, full of profound prophecy: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Despite the dark and desperate circumstances, God had a perfect plan and a purpose that would not be thwarted. Although fleeing to escape from a murderous dictator may not seem like God’s love in action, we see the bigger, foundational plans as they are fulfilled. The experience of Jesus’ family fleeing to and then emerging from the land of Egypt is the fulfillment of Israel’s same experience in Exodus. Words that once described the experience of God’s corporate people now ...

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The Contrast Between Two Miraculous Mothers

How Mary and Elizabeth exalt God through their mutual joy

Often when we find ourselves in a similar season of life to those around us, we note how they are handling their situation compared to our own. It can be dating in high school, the wedding season that starts in college and continues into the following decade, and especially the era of bearing children. In our lives, competition may be the natural underbelly of this comparison, but in Luke’s account, that is thoroughly eclipsed by the focus on God’s coming kingdom.

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would miraculously bear a son and that her cousin Elizabeth had also become pregnant in her old age. When Mary visited Elizabeth, surely the two women would have noticed where their situations diverged. Elizabeth’s disgrace among her people was taken away in pregnancy; Mary’s began in pregnancy. Elizabeth’s son was given through the institution of marriage; Mary’s was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

The tension I imagine in this meeting is further compounded by the Magnificat. With Christ's imminent entry into the world, Mary’s song describes what kind of kingdom he has come to establish. It is one that will reverse societal norms. The proud will be scattered, the rich sent away empty. The humble will be lifted and the hungry filled with good things. It is clear when reading Luke that Elizabeth had been lifted up and that Mary was lifted even higher. To the contemporary, undiscerning eye, however, Elizabeth had a right to be proud and Mary had none.

How understandable it would have been for Mary to only seek shelter in their visit or for Elizabeth to only offer commiseration. Perhaps they could have fallen into the awkwardness of not acknowledging their differences while preparing ...

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Why Joseph Is Known as the Silent Saint

How to listen for God’s leading when things seem to go wrong

Joseph is known as the silent saint. Though his part in the story of Christ is not small—his is the royal line Jesus claims, his the profession Jesus adopts—he does not say a single word in any of the Gospels. This is something of a theme in the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth: Zechariah struck silent in the temple and Joseph quietly considering how to proceed, while Mary and Elizabeth burst forth in prophetic utterance, early proclamations of the gospel.

But just because Joseph does not speak should not lead us to think that he is passive. Indeed, Joseph is presented to us as a man of decisive action emerging from a rich inner life. We are told that upon learning his wife-to-be is pregnant, he does not immediately break their engagement, subjecting her to public embarrassment and possibly much worse. Despite what any wounded fiancé in the fresh pain of apparent unfaithfulness might be tempted to do, Joseph instead forms a merciful and wise plan.

The only character description we are given of Joseph is that he is “faithful to the law” (v. 19). So, without publicizing Mary’s situation to anyone (as far as we are told), he decides on a plan that is both faithful to the law and gracious to Mary. All this he comes to privately, and we can only assume painfully, and all his pain and his generosity remain beneath the surface. The silent saint has a virtue that simmers beneath the surface, where his self-control in the face of being wronged restrains him and allows him not only to forbear but also protect Mary, the source of his pain.

And as with many people who have made fraught decisions within themselves, something bubbles up for Joseph from even deeper beneath the surface: a dream, and ...

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The Suspense of Mary’s Yes

How a courageous response echoes through eternity

In Luke chapter 1, we are presented with a beautiful account of how the angel came to Mary, how she heard him, and how she responded in courage: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” The words contained here should fill every faithful reader with awe and wonder, but above all with gratitude. These few verses in Luke are one of the great hinges—or momentous turning points—of the whole Bible. They are an answer to that early tragic turning point in Genesis: the moment of Eve’s disobedience.

Eve’s choice had terrible consequences for all of us. Her yes to the serpent foreclosed and diminished our true humanity—though of course, the serpent had promised just the opposite! But if Eve turned her back on God, and turned all of us with her, then Mary turns to face him willingly, and her courageous yes to God welcomes Jesus into the world. In Jesus every person may now choose, if they wish, to receive God’s welcome. His welcome extends both to the fullness of life here on earth, even with all its limitations, and into eternal life with him.

Our God is the God of freedom and love, and he will not force himself on anyone. Instead, he waits courteously for our assent, for our yes to his love. As we read these verses, we almost hold our breaths and reenter the drama of that moment: God offers to come into the world as our savior, and Mary, at this moment, speaks for all of us. What will she say? Will she offer her whole life to be made new, to be changed forever? Or will she shy away from the burden?

We should sense an awesome hush, an agony of suspense, between verses 37 and 38, and then as we hear Mary’s response, we should feel great relief and rejoicing. ...

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