Sunday, December 2 marks the beginning of Advent for the Christian church. It is intended to create a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing for each Christian – but for what? A longing for a baby lying in a feeding trough in a cave? A longing for angels? A longing for shepherds? For a star? Or wise men?
Or if we want to be more secular… Is it a longing for carols? For holiday decorations? For lights? A longing for giving presents? Or perhaps family times?
What is the Advent season all about? Amber, Chadd and I were watching a holiday special on TV last night, something about the best holiday commercials ever. The hosts bantered about the real meaning of the season. Their conclusion was that it is about spending time with the people you care about. I’ll agree that is important, but that is ABSOLUTELY NOT what Advent is about.
“Advent” means “coming”. I’ve often thought of “the coming” as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child to earth some 2,000 years ago. God has recently shown me that it is so much more than that. It should be the spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing for salvation, for deliverance from evil that Jesus came to give. The entire Christmas story and the Advent season is to be about retelling the story of redemption through God’s grace in the Incarnation. It is about “God With Us” to buy us back from our sin and selfishness. It is about participating in the purpose of Christ’s Advent.
As we walk through the season, here are some thoughts that might help us.
The Advent Wreath is circular, representing God Himself. He has no beginning and no end. The greenery represents life, the life God offers to us that comes from Him and Him alone.
The flames of the candles represent the light of Christ coming into a dark, sinful world. It is that light which Christ places in us that makes us the light of the world, pointing people to Jesus.
The Candles represent various aspects of our waiting experience. As the light increases with the lighting of each candle, the darkness decreases and we can both see Christ more clearly and live like Christ more effectively as His light shines through us.
The first Sunday of Advent the Hope Candle will be lit.
The Old Testament pointed Jewish people toward Christ. Prophecy after prophecy told of a Messiah who would save them. Centuries elapsed as power hungry kings abused them, self centered prophets led them astray, and half hearted religious leaders lulled them into apathy. It was tempting to give up hope. But all along ordinary people longed for God to deliver on His promises to raise up a new king, a different kind of king who would save them. They yearned for a day when God’s true, powerful, dynamic Presence would be in their midst once again.
That Presence would be Jesus.
This candle reminds us of the hope the Jewish people held on to generation after generation until finally Jesus came. Hope did not disappoint those honestly seeking God.
There is still a longing among those who honestly seek God. It is not a longing for Jesus’ birth. True believers have experienced that. Rather, it is a longing for God’s kingdom to come in all its fullness when Jesus returns. But that hope comes with a cost: persevering obedience. Hope only comes as we keep putting one foot in front of the other with our eyes on Christ.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)
That hope, that longing which persists in the believer’s heart cannot be satisfied here. It is a longing, an ache to be in perfect relationship with God. No matter how deeply we develop our relationship with God through Jesus, no matter how much we read the Bible and pray, no matter how effectively we serve Him by serving others, no matter how connectedly we worship Him… there will always be the longing that causes us to look forward in hope. Because it is a longing for heaven.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:22-26 (NIV)
And that hope will not disappoint us. No matter how long we must persevere.
As this Advent season begins, choose Hope! Light the candle, allow Jesus’ light to flood your soul, lay your life into His hands and your longing into His care. AND CHOOSE HOPE!
The Hope candle tells us to look forward to the day we will see Jesus and be with Him in perfection forever. We can because Christ is our hope, the One who came to be “With us” at His advent, birthing the work that would save us by His life and death.