On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2b
Like the period of history before Jesus’ birth, the current season of history on our world’s timeline is not generally jolly. Darkness prevails. As the Jewish people then pined for their promised Messiah, Christ-followers today long for light and truth and peace. We live in a season of spiritual depravation so grave many have lost the sensation of thirst for the one thing, the only thing, that can satisfy the soul – repentance and re-connection to God.
Enter “Adventus.” It’s a fancy nancy word, as children who enjoy the “Fancy Nancy” books would say. The word is Latin, and it means the “coming” or “arrival” particularly of someone or something of extreme significance.
The Christian season of Advent, a traditional time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth, takes its name from that Latin word. Advent helps us prepare spiritually, through repentance and anticipation, to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It also reminds us to celebrate God’s presence with us through the Holy Spirit and to joyfully anticipate the return of Jesus Christ.
During the four weeks before Christmas, and on Christmas day, churches that encourage the practice of Advent light an Advent wreath in their services. Some Christians do the same in their homes. Four candles sit on the outside of the wreath – one pink, three purple. A taller one, the white Christmas candle, rises from the center.
Each candle represents something different; those around the perimeter symbolize hope, love, joy and peace. At the center the white candle reminds of the purity of Jesus Christ and the promise of forgiveness and cleansed hearts, freely offered to repentant sinners.
We need each of those reminders of God’s gifts year-round, but especially at Christmas, when we’re far more likely to reach for the latest sales flyers or an online shopping catalogue than we are to light a candle and mindfully observe an ancient custom.
December has yet to arrive, and already my calendar is marked with far too many spiritually insignificant seasonal events. Though they can bring opportunities for subsequent spiritual reflection, more often they simply leave me depleted and longing for something deeper.
Perhaps it’s my age, but each year, I find I need to clutch closer to my heart all that reminds me of the holiness of this season. I have an Advent wreath form in my basement. I’ve neglected it for years; forgotten to clothe the bare wires with fragrant evergreen and flame-ready wax. But I’m going to unearth it again this year. Carve out some moments each week to sit alone, or with the Preacher, near the flickering licks of bright warmth. Still my soul so I can hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice above those clamoring for my attention with their discordant tunes of “Buy, buy and do, do.”
If you feel the same, may I recommend an intentional personal observance of Advent? Tis the season …to be prepared. Start this Sunday by reflecting on hope.