“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)
Christians know about Lent. Heck, even many, if not most, non Christians know about Lent. The season of examination and preparation before Holy Week and Easter are highly regarded, especially among our high church friends, and often our non Christian friends and family get fed up with hearing about what we’re gonna “give up for Lent.”
But what about Advent? To me Advent has always been more special than Lent, probably because I grew up with it. Some of my earliest memories involve me sitting as a child staring at the candles on the Advent Wreath as my folks read a devotion each night. I also remember that when I got older my sister Stef and I would argue about was going to get to the light the candles or snuff the candles out. My folks had to institute a rotation! I think back on that, about gathering around the Advent Wreath with my parents and my sister with candles lit and the lights from the Christmas tree in the background and the snow on the ground outside…I think about those times and it just makes me warm inside!
Of course, let’s be honest. When I was a little kid Advent was mostly a countdown to Christmas, which was also a countdown to Christmas break at school and opening presents on Christmas morning! That meant as much to me, if not more than any spiritual aspect of it. When I was a teenager it was a bother sometimes. When I got into college I liked it, but I often worked late at a local retail store supervising the toy department, and by the time I walked in the door in the wee hours of the morning everyone else was in bed and I missed out.
If you’re not familiar with Advent, here’s a quick rundown. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” In the Western Churches (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. A quick glance at Wikipedia tells us that Advent was certainly around as early as 480 C.E., but we really can’t speculate on the exact origins. Some say it was instituted by the Apostle Peter himself, but I kind of doubt that.
At any rate, Advent is a season of waiting. We wait and countdown to the yearly celebration of Christ’s birth, but in a sense we also remind ourselves that we are ultimately waiting for his return and his final reconciliation with all creation. During these four weeks Christians traditionally focus on themes of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. These four themes are generally represented by four candles inserted in a circular wreath. Three candles are purple and one is pink. Some Protestant churches will use blue candles. Each Sunday a new candle is lit until all four are lit the Sunday before Christmas. Weekly and daily devotions help Christians focus on these and other themes of the Christmas season.
With that said, what does Advent mean to me today, here on the night of November 29, 2015? This year I’m thinking a lot about light, specifically light in the darkness. Our world seems like such a dark place these days. The news events of recent weeks show just how desperate, broken, and dark it really is. If we’re not careful, that darkness can seem overwhelming and never ending.
Darkness has nothing on light though, and it’s really hit me this year. As I sit in this darkened room and light just one candle on the Advent wreath, that flame sends light into all corners of the room. Each week as I light another candle, that light will stretch further and further into that darkness.
Jesus himself is that light. He says so himself when he heals a man born blind (John 9:5). That light is for everyone, and sometimes I think we as Christians forget that. How can our holy God be a light for prostitutes, prisoners, and SINNERS? We try so hard to disassociate ourselves from people we easily label as SINNERS that we forget that those are the people with whom Jesus associated with, much to the chagrin of the religious elite of his day. How easy it is to move through our lives passing judgement on our brothers and sisters while being ignorant of our own faults, our own shortcomings, our own dark places in our lives and souls that desperately need the Light of the World.
Those dark places are often where fear and prejudice hide. Those are the places that make us want to turn away refugees and immigrants because they speak a foreign language or practice a different religion. Those dark places are where we judge the unwed mother. Those dark places are where we allow ourselves to see homeless people as lazy or think they’re just trying to get a handout without giving any thought as to the circumstances in their lives. Those dark places are where we go when we just pass a brother or sister on the street in distress without stopping to help.
Those dark places, and many more like them, are in dire need of the light of Christ, and each one of us harbors those places, whether we like it or not.
Will you take some time during this season to ask God to shine his light into those places in your life? Will you take some time and consider “the least of these?” Will you be open to letting God use YOU to be a light to someone else?
In closing I’d like to leave you with a song that I heard for the first time at Church today. It’s a song called “Star Child” and I loved the words. The first verse goes like this:
“Star child, earth child, go-between of God, love child, Christ Child, Heaven’s lightning rod: This Year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive.”
Those words are very beautiful and evocative of the spirit of the season. The second verse, however, hammered me right in the heart and moved me to tears:
“Street child, beat child, no place left to go, hurt child, used child, no one wants to know: This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive.”
We didn’t sing that verse, and that makes me sad. Thinking about people in desperate situations whether they be refugees or people in our own country that are victims of abuse and violence is very important. God is always on the side of these people. Thinking about it might take some of the gloss off your holiday season, but I think it’s worth it to remember that there are so many people who need the light that Christ, through us, can provide.