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"Advent Talks" – What's in your Christmas cart?

Retired Bishop Bill Hockin
Retired Bishop Bill Hockin at a recent "Advent Talks" presentation. (McKnight photo)

By Gisele McKnight

Bishop Bill Hockin and the Fredericton Christian Forum have presented “Advent Talks” in Fredericton for 16 seasons. This year’s is a little different. Bishop Bill is not one of the speakers, having had knee surgery in the fall.

He arranged for three well-regarded speakers to replace him: Dr. Barry Craig, Carolyn Westin and Bishop David Edwards. You have one last chance to take advantage of this special series — Monday, Dec. 12 at 12:10 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza in Fredericton, when the bishop will be speaking.

This year’s theme is “Add God to your Christmas Cart,” and the bishop’s presentation is entitled “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Dr. Barry Craig kicked off the Advent season with his talk on Nov. 28. Barry is the former academic vice-president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton and the new principal of Huron University College, a part of Western University in London, Ont. He is also an Anglican priest, originally from Woodstock.

Barry is not new to the Advent Talks series, having taken a speaking turn each year for many seasons. This year his presentation was entitled The Day God Moved in Next Door and centred on the fear that has engulfed our world, and its remedy.

In November he found himself in New York City on election day in the United States.

“There was an atmosphere of fear,” he said, both before and after the results were known. “The election was won by encouraging fear and anxiety.”

Crime is down, there has been no war on U.S. soil for 150 years and there has been a 10-year gain in life expectancy in one generation. “It’s unprecedented prosperity, yet this giant nation is in the grip of fear,” he said.

And people look for comfort and strength in the things they have always turned to: power, money, violence, and the military.

Scripture has a remedy for fear, in Isaiah 41:10 (So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.); Matthew 28:20 (…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age), and 2 Timothy 1:7 (For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.), to name a few.

Barry told the crowd of his daughter and her generation’s desire to be responsible, outward-looking citizens with a desire to help the world be a better place, which inspired his plan at Huron University College. Soon, community service will be a mandatory part of every student’s degree program.

“There’s a hunger and an appetite for this,” he said, referring to the 1,400 students at Huron.

“We know who and what is knocking at the door of their hearts,” he said. “This is hope overcoming fear. God has not gotten bored and walked away. It’s not gone to hell in a handbasket. God is with us always.”

On Dec. 5, Carolyn Westin, a Christian counsellor and director of Hopewell Counselling in Saint John, presented “The Gift of the Significant Life.” She used the birth story in Luke 2 as the scripture, which begins with “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”

“The Romans were famous for statistics and data,” she said, adding they wanted an accurate accounting of their citizens. “We can feel like we’re unknown entities, but we are not unknown entities being mined for information by a foreign kingdom. We are known by our heavenly father.”

Shepherds play a big role in the Christmas story. They were important to the story, and in our Christmas plays, “we see them as sweet little children in housecoats.”

But in the time of Jesus, they were despised outcasts and second-class citizens. Even so, it was to them, not the religious leaders of the day, that God chose to announce the birth of his son.

She wondered if the spectacle the shepherds witnessed was something like the Northern Lights.

“It blazed. It was God’s glory pouring out. He ‘wasted’ his glory on the shepherds. That means they are valued. It meant he valued them.”

Those outcasts, those second-class citizens and the role they played that night set the stage for the ministry of Jesus. “The shepherds were worth it. You are worth it.”

She offered this gift of truth from the father to all this season: we are known, we are seen, we are valued, we are significant.

“Hold this gift of mystery and allow it to take deeper root in your life,” she said.

Bishop Bill’s latest book, Gospel Therapy, will be for sale at the event. Advent Talks is always well-attended. Come early for a good seat.

All the talks will be available for audio download from billhockin.ca.

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Gisele McKnight is the communications officer for the Diocese of Fredericton.

Diocesan Communications
6 December 2016