It’s here. Finally. My absolute favorite time of year! The anticipation. The celebration. The love. The joy. The light.
Advent – a “church-y” word that isn’t often used in mainstream Christmastime conversations is the beginning of the church year and comes from the Latin word for “coming,” as in the Christian faith, we anticipate the “coming” of Jesus in human form to us here on earth.
This definition alone, while good, can leave us wondering if any of this even matters. Does what happened 2,000 years really matter today? Jesus was born humbly, did some neat stuff, died a pretty awful death – but it was a long time ago. Why dwell on the past? Is it really that important?
Advent signifies the beginning of the church year and the time up until Christmas (where we began to focus on Jesus’ earthly birth and life) explores the Old Testament prophecies and promises of Jesus’ coming. Often we think of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth as just including the events and people in the early part of the Gospels but the truth (and an incredible one at that) was that the world was yearning and preparing for Jesus much, much earlier.
Did you know the recognition and celebration of Advent is multi-sensory? We get to primarily see and hear (and secondarily even smell, touch, and taste) the full anticipation of our Lord’s coming during this season. Keep reading!
Even though Advent focuses primarily on Christ’s coming, the Scripture readings in the church during this season generally look at how Christ comes to us in three different ways: through the past, the present, and the future. The readings that highlight the past show us where the Messiah, or Savior, was promised in the Old Testament to God’s people. Readings focusing on the future show us that Jesus will return to rescue his people, and readings on the present reveal how Jesus makes himself known through the Sacrament (Holy Communion and Baptism) and His Word today.
Probably the most well-known “religious” symbol of the Advent season is the Advent wreath. It consists of 5 candles – 3 blue (or purple) candles, a pink candle and a white candle in the middle. The evergreen of the wreath symbolizes life and its circular shape without a beginning or ending symbolizes God. The wreath as a whole symbolizes eternal life and the continual lighting of the candles celebrates our emergence from darkness to light as we wait for the coming of Christ – the Light of the World.
When the candles are purple they symbolize royalty (The King coming down to us) and when the candles are blue they symbolize hope (we wait with Hope for Christ). The white candle, in the center, symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas. I will talk more about the candles and their traditional meanings over the next few weeks, but here’s a quick overview…
Week 1: Hope – Prophet’s Candle
Week 2: Faith – Bethlehem’s Candle
Week 3: Joy – Shepherd’s Candle
Week 4: Peace – Angel’s Candle
These candles are traditional in the church and not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Many Europeans lit candles on wreaths during the dark days of Winter when they were longing for the light and warmth of Spring. Through time the wreath became woven into Christian tradition and the meanings that the wreath and candles have been given through time certainly are Scripturally-based and they have tremendous implications and significance in the world in which we live today.
I’ve been thinking and praying that God would prepare me and my heart for this season, and one way he’s doing that is by sharing my thoughts and experiences and where I’ve seen Him working during these four weeks of Advent.
Often, as much as many of us love Christmas, we see things like Advent, the familiar verses, the symbolism of the wreath and its candles as comfortable “traditions”that give us the warm fuzzies. We struggle with viewing it as the real, living, tangible, Word of God that it is. These aren’t just traditions – they are gifts given to us to experience and trust in the promises of HOPE, FAITH, JOY, and PEACE that can come only from our Savior – given to us just as they have been given to God’s people from the beginning of time.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Stick around the next few weeks and experience this anticipation and application of the season with me!
(Advent information adapted from previous knowledge, www.lcms.org/faqs & the back of my Advent candle box from the Vermont Christmas company 🙂 )