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'Tis the Season to Celebrate Advent

With an increasingly disproportionate emphasis on Black Friday, Thanksgiving has been reduced to a warm-up act for Christmas and Christmas has become more about the created stuff than a celebration of the incarnation of the Creator. Unless we pause to give thanks to God during the holiday season, it’s difficult to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.

This is where the season of Advent is helpful; it allows us to pause and remember why we celebrate Christmas. The word advent comes from a Latin term that means “coming.” Christians celebrate Advent for the four weeks prior to Christmas to pause and consider the meaning of the coming of the child in the manger.

As a kid, I never fully understood the real reason why we celebrated Advent. For me, Advent was marked by two things; Advent Calendars (where you open up a new window for each day as you countdown to Christmas) and the Advent wreaths with the candles. When used right, both are helpful to explain the real meaning of Christmas.

What I appreciate about Advent calendars is how they can build our anticipation for the birth of Christ. When our girls were young we had a 25-piece nativity calendar set we used to countdown to Christmas. Each day a different piece would be set out until on Christmas morning baby Jesus was placed in the manger. Each day there was anticipation for the next piece. It reminded us of the generations of people who waited, anticipating the birth of the Messiah. Anticipation is an important part of the Christmas message.

Similarly, the Advent wreath with its candles also helps us anticipate Christmas. On each of the four Sundays prior to Christmas a different candle is lit; each candle has a word associated with it: hope, love, joy and peace. These words remind us of why we celebrate Christmas.

It begins with hope. Apart from Christ we lack a hope that transcends this life; a hope promising us eternal life. When Christ was born as a man it was for him to die for our sins so that we might have hope eternal. Jesus fulfilled the words of Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13) The Christian celebrates Christ’s birth because of the present and future hope received through Him.

From hope we move to love. Love is a familiar word whose definition is often diluted. It is best defined by how God loves us, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8) And as Jesus declares, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We celebrate Christmas remembering God’s love for us.

The next word is also a familiar Christmas word, joy. At Christ’s birth the angel declares, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy.” (Luke 2:10) What was the good news that would fill them with joy? “Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The candle lit on the third Sunday shifts from a purple to a pink candle. Pink represents joy or rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season away from repentance toward celebration.

With the fourth candle, we remember the peace that Christ brings us. This is the peace that Jesus promised to his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) We celebrate Christmas remembering the peace with God that is ours in Christ.

Hope, love, joy, peace – these are the words of Christmas. Only one more candle needs to be lit – the white Christ candle that is lit Christmas Day remembering the pure gift of life given to all who believe. I pray that this Christmas you will pause to consider the hope that Christ was born to bring you and died to give you.

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