We mark the weeks of Advent by lighting candles placed in a wreath, one each week, until all are lit and Christmas is here. The candles collectively represent the growing light of Christ in the world. Individually we give them each a word, something found in Christ that they represent for us. The first week is hope, the second is peace, the third is joy, and the fourth is love. I want to take a moment to reflect on each of these as we enter the season of Advent.
Often when we or someone else expresses hope there is not certainty that what is hoped for will come to pass. This is the reality of most hopes in our world and thus the lack of certainty can temper our hope. This understanding of hope however should not and does not apply to our hope as Christians. As Christians our hope is for a world renewed, for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for a final end to sin and death in the world and thus an end to the pain and suffering they cause. If we allow this hope to be informed by the world around us we might not have certainty in its outcome, but its foundation is not of the world, but rather of God. The foundation of our hope lies in Christ, the one for whom we wait, the one who has already defeated sin and death in his death and resurrection. As the song goes, “on Christ the solid rock I stand,” and so too does our hope.
It seems like conflict is ever present in our society and world, from the combative election cycle to continued news coverage of killings, bombings, and wars around the globe. Then there is the conflict that we can experience in our day to day life with co-workers, neighbors, family and friends. Beyond these, there is the internal conflict that one can feel due to relationships, important decisions, personal concerns, etc. If all we take into account are the many areas of conflict in our lives and world it might seem as if peace is missing, yet on the second Sunday of Advent we light a candle symbolizing peace. Scripture tells us that Christ is our peace, having reconciled us together with God. Beyond our reconciliation with God we are promised that when God’s kingdom has come in full all conflict will end, swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. In Christ we have peace with God and the promise that there will be an everlasting peace in God’s coming kingdom.
On the third Sunday of Advent we light a pink candle to represent joy. Outside of Advent and Christmas I don’t hear as much focus on joy in the Christian life. We love to sing Joy to the World come Christmas time, but the only other well known hymn that comes to mind is Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee. Yet joy is meant to be a central part of our faith. The Shorter Catechism in the Book of Confession begins with the question, “What is the chief end of [humanity]? [Humanity’s] chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy [God] forever.” Our life in Christ is meant to be one of joy, a joy that grows out of the hope, peace, and love which we have in Christ.
There is a part of me that wants to leave the reflection on love to St. John who summed it up best when saying “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” but I will add something of my own. If I am honest in summing up the core of my experience with God it is love; not my love for God, there is much room for improvement there, but rather God’s love for me. The one thing that continuously carries me through my life of faith is God’s love for me. This love that I have been taught all my life, that I have witnessed in the words and acts of others, and that I have come to know in the depths of my being as only the Holy Spirit can confirm. Friends, if there is one thing to remember it is that you are utterly and entirely loved by God and there is nothing you need to do to earn it.
So this Advent may you experience anew the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that is ours in Jesus Christ.