I grew up in a Christian home and I knew we lit candles in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but I never really delved into the meaning of Advent any deeper than that until I was an adult and it became so much more meaningful to me once I knew all the significance of it. I thought I would pass along some of the things I have learned about the season of Advent, so that those who celebrate it can reflect on the messages of Love, Joy, Peace and Hope and for those who don't, to understand why we celebrate Advent.
The word Advent itself means the beginning or the arrival of something anticipated. In the Christian tradition, obviously, we are anticipating the arrival of Christ. The rituals that are observed in the four weeks leading up to Christmas day have specific meanings. Many churches mark the beginning of the season with a Hanging of the Greens ceremony. This is a service where we decorate our church with evergreen branches and various other traditional greens to signify the everlasting life that we anticipate in the coming of Jesus.
The centerpiece of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath. It is an evergreen wreath with five candles, four colored candles (3 purple and one pink) around the outside in circular fashion and one (white) in the middle. The reason for lighting candles is to symbolize the light of the world we believe Christ to be. Each of the four candles have their own connotations and when lit become our focus of the week up until Christmas day when the center, the white candle, representing the pure Christ child, is lit.
Different churches may light the candles in variant order, but what they represent remains the same. They are: hope, peace, joy and love. It is significant to me that we focus on these aspects of our faith, too often we focus on sin, legalism and penitence. All of those things have their place in Christianity, but Advent is about the hope, joy peace and love of our Savior and to focus on these attributes leads us to a deeper understanding of why Jesus was sent to us in the first place. It is good to have this time dedicated to such positive aspects of our faith.
We are already a couple of weeks into the Advent season, but I thought it would be a good idea to look up some scriptures for each of the five weeks for us to refer to as we get closer to December 25th. I hope all of you who call Christ your Savior will take a moment to reflect on the spirits of hope, joy, peace and love that are represented by the birth and life of Jesus. Take these attributes with you in your daily lives so that when you leave a place, the people with whom you have come in contact will feel the love of Jesus that you have left behind. Allow them to wonder why you are so joyful in your life, so peaceful when everyone around seems stressed, full of hope in the future instead of depair in our circumstances. This is the best way for us to show Christ to others. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Romans 8:24-25 (New International Version)
24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Hebrews 10:23-24 (New International Version)
23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Ephesians 2:17-20 (New International Version)
17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
John 14:27 (New International Version)
27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Philippians 4:1 (New International Version)
1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
John 16:22-24 (New International Version)
22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
John 15:10-12 (New International Version)
10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
1 John 4:17-19 (New International Version)
17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us.
Luke 2:9-11 (New International Version)
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa]">[a] the Lord.
John 3:16-17 (New International Version)
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,a]">[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
ONE CANDLE IS LIT ("Come surely, Lord Jesus")
Mary Anne Parrott, 1988, © 1995 Chalice Press
(from Chalice Hymnal, no. 128)
Come surely, Lord Jesus, as dawn follows night,
our hearts long to greet you, as roses, the light.
Salvation, draw near us, our vision engage.
One candle is lit for the hope of the age.
Come quickly, shalom, teach us how to prepare
for a gift that compels us with justice to care.
Our spirits are restless till sin and war cease.
One candle is lit for the reign of God's peace.
Come, festively sing while awaiting the birth,
join angels in dancing from heaven to earth.
Wave banners of good news, lift high thankful praise.
One candle is lit for the joy of these days.
Come, wander where lion and lamb gently play,
where evil is banished and faith takes the day,
a babe in a manger to fool the world's eyes.
One candle is lit for God's loving surprise.
Come, listen, the sounds of God-with-us ring clear,
and signs of a cross in the distance appear.
The Word once made flesh, yet the Word ever near.
One candle is lit for the Christ-birthday here.