Most of us lament the over-commercialization of Christmas and the reality that the true meaning of Christmas is lost amid the noise and hype of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, parades, and “Black Friday.” Even the traditional Christmas Nativity programs at church have morphed into “spectaculars,” that look more like Hollywood than Bethlehem.
I remember years ago as a young pastor, I wanted to do something to help my church and my family keep Christ at the center of Christmas. I looked for something to help my small children, and the children in my church keep their focus on the reason we celebrate Christmas – the birth of the Messiah–Jesus. I found what I was looking for in the Advent Wreath, with its simple purple and rose-colored candles. Children love lighting candles, no one more than my youngest child. All children love the stories about the shepherds, the angels, the Magi, and the birth of a very special child in Bethlehem.
The Advent Wreath helped us keep our focus on the “coming” of the Messiah, and how His first Advent anticipates and prepares for His Second Advent. The lighting of the candles each night during the four weeks prior to Christmas provided the opportunity to repeat the stories, and focus on the central themes of Christmas: hope, love, joy and peace.
I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not celebrate Advent. In fact, I had never heard of the Advent season until I attended seminary, and even then, I did not really appreciate the value of this tradition as a teaching tool. Since introducing this tradition to our family, we have made it a central part of the Christmas season, and we treasure these experiences as much, or more than the Christmas tree and decorations.
If this is not a tradition in your family, I encourage you to try it this season. This past Sunday, December 1st was the first Sunday of Advent this year, and during this week we light the first candle in our Advent Wreath, the candle of Hope. We read passages from the prophets like Isaiah and Micah, who predicted the coming of the Messiah, and proclaimed hope for the people of God, and for the entire world. We also talk about what it means to have hope, and how God is our only source of true hope for the future.
The word “Advent” means, “anticipated coming” or “expected arrival.” My prayer for you and your family is you would discover what 1 Peter 1:3 describes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade away – kept in heaven for you…”
May the hope He brought through His first coming fill your heart with great anticipation of His second coming!