Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Observing Advent is my favorite ways to build anticipation for celebrating an Earth-shattering moment. This moment when God Himself took on flesh and began to fulfill each promise and thereby prove the hope of His people. This moment when God scandalously came as a baby and verified the faith of generations. This moment when majesty and humility collided in startling beauty and outrageous joy. This moment when all of the heavens rejoiced for the coming peace between God and man. This moment when Jesus came to Earth. In the coming weeks, I endeavor to help cultivate anticipation of Christmas by giving you scripture, hymns, crafts and prayers to help you worship at home. I will be following the typical protestant order as we celebrate Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace and Christ. We love to decorate our wreath and light the candles as we talk and I would encourage you to do the same.
The wreaths typically consist of three purple candles (Hope, Faith and Peace), one pink candle (Joy) and one white center candle (Christ). If you celebrate with dinner, as we do, the wreath makes for a beautiful centerpiece. Lighting the candle is fun and ceremonious. It can also be an amazingly unifying moment between parents as we hand the lighter or matches to our children.
Please bear with me this week, I don’t like hope, it feels foolish. Not a great start to a blog about it, right? Hope is one of the hardest things for me to cultivate. Hope is the first spark of endurance, it is the finger nails on the cliff of trust, it is desperate and it is raw. Hope is what David speaks of when he says “I lift my eyes to the hills from where my help comes, my help comes from the Lord.” It is the moment when our chins are to our chest in defeat, our limbs weak with fatigue, our hearts heavy with sorrow, and a small voice says “But wait!” And one last time our eyes lift to hills, longing to see that our help is indeed coming. Hope fulfilled is beautiful and so full of joy that I struggle to express all it can mean for our souls. But the beginning of hope is often pain.
That is what this Hope candle is reminding us. This moment when Jesus was born was the fulfilled hope, the end to pain, for countless generations. Sin had ravaged mankind to the point where the only thing that brought hope were the stories passed down from father to son about a Messiah on his way. From the time of Adam every human being has suffered the result of sin. That is to say that, because of sin, everyone is separated from God. As human beings, we were created to abide with God. At this point in time, only through painstaking sacrifices and multiple offerings could anyone’s slate be wiped clean.
Yet, it was never enough because sin was an ever-present reality. Just as the slate was wiped clean by these sacrifices, new sins were added to it. It may have seemed futile and painful. 500 years had passed without one word from a prophet. The people toiled away year after year waiting and hoping. In this darkness and silence Jesus gloriously arrived proving that all hope was not in vain.
I always find it so fitting that we start Advent with the hope candle and that, when our candles have burned down, the hope candle is the most used. It is an ironic dance I do with God; despising hope and needing it so desperately. In truth, hope is hard for me because of sin. I simultaneously despise and desperately need it because hope calls me to repentance. My heart very seldom loves repentance. Yet, it focuses my heart back on the One who brings life and is therefore essential. This is something we all need — to center our hearts on the One who creates, sustains and fulfills hope.
I have often put my hope in the wrong things. Perhaps you’re like me in that. And, it’s not necessarily bad things, it’s just not the right thing. Hope is ultimately worship. The object of hope should always be God, because He is the only One worthy of worship. I confess that my sinful heart strays back to the same things in a futile attempt to anchor my heart to hope. Things like a happy marriage, an over-abundance of children, and security (whether relationally, financially or emotionally). These are not bad things, but when placed above Jesus they are idols nonetheless. I often declare in my heart that “If Billy and I were happier, it wouldn’t be so hard to get everything done.” or “If only we could have more children, I would know I’m a good mom.”
Or “If we had a little more in savings, then I would feel secure enough to relax.” Is it apparent where my heart takes a gift from God and twists it into an idol? Consider my last heart statement. Being financially responsible is a good goal, but when I try to make money the thing that makes me feel secure and content, I have made it into an idol. Money will never be able to make me secure and it was never meant to. Jesus is the one who offers security and contentedness. He is a jealous God, not just because He wants us, but also because He is better! Jesus is a better comfort than money; better security than money; and certainly, of greater worth than money.
We don’t know how each situation in life will be resolved, this last year is a great example of that. We have not been promised husbands, wives, happy marriages, faithful friends, obedient children, healthy animals, drivable cars, edible food, or any other comfort or desire. We were promised God Himself. It is not bad to want or enjoy those other things; we are even called to many of them in honor of God. Do not miss the difference, however, in desiring things to express an identity we already have in Jesus as opposed to desiring things in order to gain an identity. Our identity, security, comfort and any other thing of value is already purchased in full through the blood of Jesus. We lack nothing. Even the ability to hope.
As we consider this hope candle let us examine our hearts for idols and set our affections and hope on the only sure thing, Jesus. Because of Jesus, at any moment, we can pause our story and declare in our hearts and with our mouths that this will finish well. We may not know the trouble we are to walk through, but we undoubtedly know the end of this story. The end of the story is that we are with God. That is hope! Not that life will necessarily get better or be comfortable or even be safe; but that we have and will always have Jesus. Hope is essential when considering the birth of Christ because He is the only one who could rescue the end of the story. Oh, Beloved Child of God, come to the table with your pain and your idols and hear God declare peace and hope over you.
Scripture reading: Isaiah 9:6-7. Luke 2:22-38
Thing Remembered: The Messiah was promised
Discussion Questions: What does the scripture say about the coming child? Who do you think these verses are about? What does it mean to hope? Why was the coming of the Messiah a hopeful thing? Why was a Messiah needed? What does the word Emmanuel mean? What do the words captive and ransom mean? What does it mean to reign?
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.
Children’s craft: play dough and birthday candle advent wreath.
Adult craft: create your own Advent wreath. (Might I suggest a craft store in the holiday section for all of the candle, candle holder and decorative needs. I know adult crafting can be bothersome but creating something new is a genuinely enjoyable way to reflect the creativity of our Father.
Closing Prayer: O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, glorify Thyself through this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen