Many Christian churches celebrate the Advent season by lighting an additional candle on their evergreen wreath on the four Sundays before Christmas. At my church, this little ceremony is part of the worship service. Families are invited to come forward, read a prescribed text, and light the candle(s). It’s a great way to include people in the service, especially children… who tend to enjoy playing with fire. We haven’t had one get away yet. Whew. 😉
Advent simply means “coming.” By celebrating Advent, we keep Christmas from sneaking up on us! But it also keeps us focused on preparing our hearts and minds for the celebrations to come. I’ve found different traditions will call the candles by different names or put them in a different order. I don’t think it really matters, since the purpose all around is to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. So here is one order…
On the first Sunday, we light the ‘hope’ candle and speak of how Jesus’ birth was like a tiny candle pushing back darkness. 1 Peter 1:5 says, “Celebrate with praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us his extravagant mercy. For his fountain of mercy has given us a new life — we are reborn to experience a living, energetic hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (The Passion Translation)
On the second Sunday, we light the ‘peace’ candle as we remember the angels’ proclamation of peace and goodwill toward men through Jesus’ birth. John 16:33 says, “And everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (The Passion Translation)
On the third Sunday, we light the ‘love’ candle to remind us of the greatest love of all, the sacrificial love Jesus came to Earth to shower upon us. John 15:13 says, “For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends.” (The Passion Translation)
On the fourth Sunday, we light the ‘joy’ candle. How can we not respond to all that hope, peace, and love with joy? Acts 2:28 says, “You direct me on a path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending, and I know true joy and contentment.” (The Voice)
An article in Christianity Today tells us that, in early years, Advent was a preparation for new converts to be baptized at Epiphany rather than preparation for Christmas. And in the 6th century when the focus shifted to the coming of Jesus, they meant the second coming, not the coming of the Baby in the manger! It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the focus of Advent shifted yet again to become our heart’s preparation for celebrating Christmas.
I’m particularly fascinated by the thoughts of Advent preparing us for Jesus’ return to Earth to set everything right. Tied firmly in with that is this passage in Romans 8:18-25, “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” (Common English Bible)
Did you catch that?
Not only are we (humans) waiting for Christ’s return, but so is creation. Jesus’ second coming will set creation free from slavery to decay!
Let that sink in.
What will creation be like when Jesus takes the throne on Earth? There’s a lot I don’t understand about the times to come, but this is a picture that fills me with joy (and hope, peace, and love): nature living up to the potential it was created for in the Garden of Eden.
Right now, creation waits Jesus’ coming, breathless with anticipation. Do you?