Q: Dear Pastor,
I didn’t grow up with Advent. My new church is celebrating it. What’s it all about?
A: I’m so glad you asked! I didn’t grow up in an Advent church either and was slightly afraid of it, truth be told. Colored candles? Readings and symbols? Is this some kind of pagan ritual that begins at Thanksgiving? I assure you that Advent is one of the most significant, poignant things to experience at the holiday season. I highly recommend attending Advent services if they are available to you. It helps Christian people remember the birth of Jesus in a unique and profound way.
Advent has been celebrated as far back as fourth-century Europe - the Dark Ages when disease and hopelessness ravaged much of the world. The Catholic denomination (and later; its branches including Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist) found a way to remember Christ during the four weeks that lead up to Christmas day. Advent was created to restore hope in God and encourage faith in Christ after countless millions had died of incurable diseases like the Black Plague. Thoughtful priests took the wreath-symbol which adorned the numerous, grisly graves and made it a platform for five significant candles: three purple, one pink, and in the center... the Christ candle... of all white.
Each candle on an Advent wreath represents an emotion: hope, peace, joy and love. I adore this fact about Advent the most, since church services during Christmas holidays may easily become ritualistic and even routine; void of emotion. The human side of the miraculous birth of Christ may be eclipsed by all the liturgical glitter and pomp that is repeated year after year. Advent keeps Christmas emotional and human; beginning with the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the first purple candle in the Advent wreath is lit. This is the “hope” candle.
Advent hope-readings pierce our hearts as families gather around this initial glimmer of Christ’s birth. Congregations begin to anticipate the coming king as if he were arriving for the first time all over again. Perhaps the waning year was a disappointment; wrought with personal failures or calamities. Maybe some important people in our lives are no longer with us? As we light the hope-candle and gaze at the flame, we remember: Christ is our hope no matter what life brings. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He has a wonderful plan and a purpose for every life - through to its last breath. Better yet, he is the author of miracles and all that is good in the world. Suddenly Christmas is special again. At the strike of the match and the igniting of a simple flame, we are aligned once more with the true meaning of Christmas. It brings us a quiet, rare joy.
The accompanying Advent scriptures are read around the wreath as we remind ourselves of the author of hope. The Bible is quick to reassure us “that in his name the gentiles will hope,” (Matthew 12:21, NASB). As non-Jews, all Christians are represented in the gentile category, yet our Jesus brings the same hope of salvation and redemption to us as he did to the Jews two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians reminds us, “He on whom we have set our hope… will yet deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). It is good news to the struggling masses at holiday time. Good news at any time and for every person!
I pray you find Christ in your holiday season again. He will not be found on department store shelves, on credit card receipts, in the holiday nog or inside that fourth piece of cake. Jesus lives in our hearts and minds when we intentionally give him the room to do so. He is our only hope and he is all we really need. Join with me in keeping the main thing, the main thing. Christ is the reason for the season.
Adrienne Greene pastors two Christian churches in southeastern Indiana. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to email@example.com or P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030. For more information on Pastor Adrienne, or to purchase her book, “Ask Pastor Adrienne: 100 Best-loved Columns,” please visit www.adriennewgreene.com
Ask Pastor Adrienne: Light the hope candle!
Q: Dear Pastor,