By Sue Reeve
Each week of Advent, a new candle is lit, joining previous week’s candles on an Advent wreath I put together using a fresh evergreen wreath. It is simply decorated with pinecones, baby’s-breath, red berries, and ceramic pieces of the holy family I borrowed from one of our Nativity sets. On Christmas Eve, the youngest member of the family lights the tall candle, which signifies Jesus.
In my non-liturgical faith tradition, little emphasis was placed on Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I was introduced to the significance of this season several years ago through a meaningful advent devotional. Celebrating the season of Advent has added a deeper dimension to my Christian faith and a greater appreciation for Immanuel, the God who came to be with us!
There are variations of the order in which each week of Advent is symbolized. The ones I have used are:
Week One, Symbolizes HOPE:
The first week of Advent reminds us of the long-hoped-for Messiah, the arrival of Immanuel, through the mystery of theIncarnation. Concerning the Incarnation, Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) said,
The nativity mystery “conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary,” means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus, his “climbing down of God” is: Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.
Week Two, Symbolizes PEACE:
Hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus, the prophet, Isaiah, penned these words about the promised Messiah:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)
More than 250,000 nights later a band of angels announced the birth of that Messiah—a baby named Jesus—to a group of shepherds, declaring:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2: 14 ESV)
Thirty-three years later the promise of peace, who came as a babe born in a lowly manger, would die a violent death on a wooden cross.
Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples, men he loved and who loved him. Scripture records that Jesus warned difficult days would come. They would suffer horribly—perhaps to the point of martyrdom—because of their alignment with him. Then, he said,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27 ESV)
The world in which we live needs peace—lots and lots of peace in lots and lots of places. I wish I had some grand idea for promoting world peace, but this second week of Advent, I commit myself to becoming conformed more and more into the character of Jesus so that I will more accurately reflect his peace in the corner of the world in which I’ve been placed.
Week Three, Symbolizes JOY:
Often, the candle representing joy on the Advent wreath is pink. Called the “Bethlehem Candle,” it is pink because rose is the liturgical color representing joy.
The night Jesus was born, Luke reports an angel appeared to a group of shepherds who were simply doing what shepherds do on a chilly winter night. They were taking care of their sheep. The angelic appearance terrified the shepherds. But then,
… the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 ESV)
Fear is generally known as a negative emotionin reaction to an unsafe situation. Joy, however, is a positive emotion, which chases away fear and creates a sense of safety. Perhaps it was the message of joy that gave those shepherds courage to travel as quickly as they could to Bethlehem for a glimpse of the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah.
According to Galatians 5:22-23, joy is a “fruit of the Spirit.” In my spiritual formation journey, I have learned my cooperation with the work of the Spirit in me enables spiritual fruit, such as joy, to grow despite negative emotions and circumstances that sabotage quickly and easily.
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest, writer, theologian, and professor at prestigious universities such as Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale said,
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and
keep choosing it every day.
Week Four Symbolizes LOVE:
If I were asked to describe God in only one word, I would choose LOVE.
My favorite name for Jesus is Immanuel—God with Us. One of the things I appreciate most about the Gospels is that through the stories and words of Jesus, I see—in a way my humanity can comprehend—God’s love illustrated through examples of how Jesus behaved in his humanity.
A spiritual understanding of divine love is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey.
I appreciate the profound simplicity of words written by Christina Rosetti (1830-1864) in which she personifies love as the baby Jesus.
Love Came Down at Christmas
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
No ordinary baby—this baby of whom angels sang—this baby whom shepherds and wisemen worshipped.
This baby was the Incarnation of God.
Love coming down at Christmas taking on human body and human nature.
Love that came down at Christmas would travel through infancy, childhood, the teens, and young adulthood.
Then, in only three short years of ministry, Love that came down would illustrate what God’s most profound love looks like.
In his death and resurrection, Love who came down at Christmas built a bridge between God and humankind.
Often, during this final week of Advent, we are immersed in hectic last-minute details. This Advent season, I hope you will join me and take a moment out of the busyness to reflect on the amazing gift of the Incarnation —LOVE that came down at Christmas.
While in my non-liturgical faith tradition, I did not experience the meaningful practice of Advent, I was taught from my youngest recollections that Jesus loves me, and I was encouraged to learn to love Jesus. Adding Advent to our family’s Christmas traditions has only intensified my already deep love for Immanuel!
Happy Christmas to you from the Sherpa family!
Dr. Debbie Gill
Addendum: Ee Ling Furuhashi (Sherpa Cohort 3) provided an excellent link for Advent (and Lent) resources through Biola University’s Center for Christianity Culture and the Arts (CCCA). Each day, there is a Scripture, a devotional, an artwork (for the practice of visio divina), a poem, and an accompanying piece of music to engage all your senses as we anticipate the coming again of Jesus into our hearts and our world. Here you will find the link