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What is Advent?
The word Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, meaning coming. The season of Advent, for the Christian, celebrates the anticipation of the coming Christ. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus and reminds us of our continued waiting for his second coming.
Some church denominations have special readings, prayers, and candle lighting on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas culminating on Christmas Eve, where a special celebration of songs of praises are sung to honor the birth of our Savior.
Whether your church formally celebrates Advent or not, the Christmas season is a time of awe and reflection. We celebrate Jesus’ birth and life in his first coming. Our long-awaited Savior finally arrived, giving a dark world hope and life. But this season also reminds us of the expectant return of our Savior and King, who promises to return to end all suffering, sin, and death!
Though Christmas as a holiday, with Christmas trees, gifts, and turkey dinners, was a man-made invention, Jesus truly came to earth as a human baby, to live a human life so that he could experience what it is to be human and bear our shame and guilt on the cross. This is something to celebrate and honor! And the commercialism of Christmas can fade away in the background as we prepare our hearts for our coming Savior.
The Meaning of the Advent Candles
Part of the Advent tradition is the lighting of four candles set in a wreath, one each Sunday leading up to Christmas. There are different traditions regarding the names and meanings of each candle, and what order to light them in, but in the end, what names and meanings you give to each candle, and what order you light them in doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are taking the time to reflect on the Great Gift God has given us and honoring him.
This is the Advent tradition that I’m most familiar.
The four candles represent: hope, faith (or love), joy, and peace and they are lit in that order. The circle of the wreath represents eternity, and the green represents life. Together they represent eternal life, God’s promise of eternal life to those who believe in his Son.
The first candle, hope – also sometimes called the Prophecy Candle – represents Isaiah and his prophecy of the coming Messiah, giving the world hope.
Isaiah was a prophet of God who foretold of Jesus coming, in great detail, over 700 years before Jesus’ birth.
The Jews longed for their Messiah and continue to wait in anticipation for him. The Messiah was promised to them all the way back in the time of Adam (Genesis 3:15). But Christians celebrate the arrival of the Messiah, and now anticipate his second coming.
Isaiah 9:6 says,
‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’NIV
The second candle, faith or love – also sometimes called the Bethlehem Candle – reminds us of the faith of Mary and Joseph as they obeyed God’s commands and travelled to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of a Savior.
Mary and Joseph both obeyed the words of the Lord in faith. Travelling to Bethlehem also fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Micah 5:2, which foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, a poor village outside of Jerusalem.
Luke 1:46-55 is titled Mary’s Song. Here is an excerpt:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.’Luke 1:46-48 (NIV)
Pregnancy before marriage – and pregnancy by immaculate conception – was something that could have ended in stoning or being outcast for Mary. But Mary praised God for choosing her. She had complete faith in God, even when the circumstances did not look good, and she trusted that God had a plan.
The third candle, joy – also called the Shepherd’s Candle – reminds us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus. We might think that only Christians rejoice at the arrival of Jesus, but the whole world has been groaning in anticipation for the release from bondage of sin and death.
Romans 8:22 says,
‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’NIV
The earth and its inhabitants have been subjected to a curse since the fall of man. We have been longing for our release, and the arrival of the only One who could release us, was born in a stable in Bethlehem.
Kings, shepherds, and the angels themselves, marked his birth by worshiping him and giving him gifts. But this was not even close to what the King of Kings deserved. And one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The fourth candle, peace – also called the Angel’s Candle – reminds us of the angels’ message of “Peace on earth and good will toward men.”
There are two kinds of peace that was made possible when Jesus came to earth.
First, Jesus is our peace. He has made peace with God on our behalf by paying the penalty for our sins. There is hope for humanity to be at peace with God once again, and all we must do is accept Jesus as our atoning sacrifice.
Second, when we accept Jesus as our Savior and follow him in obedience, we will experience God’s peace. God intended for life to be perfect – without sin, suffering, and death. When we live according to God’s ways, as he intended us to live, we will experience a life of peace even in the midst of suffering, and perfect peace in eternity.
Isaiah 53:5 says,
‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.’NIV
Many churches also include a fifth candle, purity – also called the Christ Candle – representing Christ our sinless and pure Savior. This candle, set at the center of the wreath, is lit on Christmas Eve and is followed by celebration and worship.
How Can You Spiritually Prepare for Christmas?
As I mentioned, if you are a Christian, remembering what Jesus has done for us is important. We want to remember his sacrifice, of not only dying on a cross, but living a human life. God stooped down to become flesh, to suffer as we suffer, to live a human life because he loved us.
It’s not about the rituals or traditions, repeated year after year, that draw us closer to our Savior. It’s in taking time to reflect upon what our salvation really means, in taking time to honor our Lord and King, and setting time aside to worship him.
A saying people like to use at Christmas time is: “The Reason for the Season”, but I much prefer saying HE is our REASON for EVERYTHING.
There are several ways in which you can incorporate the Christmas Advent tradition into your personal, or family, devotional time. But more than anything else, don’t let this Christmas season go by without reading the Bible – God’s Word.
Many of these traditions are extra, yet helpful in focusing our hearts and minds on Christ this season, but the Bible is not extra. We need to read it every day, and though you may know the Nativity story inside out, allow God to speak to you through it in a new and fresh way this season.
Here are my suggestions for preparing your hearts this Christmas season:
1. Use a Bible reading plan to help guide you through the Christmas story and God’s plan of salvation.
2. Light your Advent Candles each Sunday, including a Christmas hymn, scripture reading, and prayer.
3. Find ways to demonstrate God’s love to those in need. Take some time away from the hustle and bustle, and share of your time and money, or even kind words and encouragement, with those who need it. God gave so generously to us. We ought to give generously to others in return.
4. Make a list of people you need to pray for: for salvation, healing, comfort, and help, and pray fervently for those people during the Advent season. See how God works through your prayer.
5. Pray for and invite your unsaved family and friends to your Advent and Christmas Eve services at church. This can often be a wonderful experience for people who have never experienced church, and it’s a good opportunity to visit on a day when the services are special.
Christmas Reading Plans:
I have created two reading plans if you don’t have one of your own.
One is a Daily Reading Plan for every day leading up to Christmas.
The other is an Advent Candle Lighting Plan for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and includes a reading, a song suggestion, and a prayer.
If you don’t know the songs I’ve suggested, feel free to choose your own. If you prefer not to sing solo, I suggest watching a YouTube video and singing along with it. Lifting our voices up to the Lord – making a joyful noise – not only blesses God, but it lifts our spirits too!
May you experience God’s love and peace this Christmas season!
If you would like to participate in Advent Candle Lighting this season and don’t yet have a set, I suggest this one:
or as my children and I like to do, make your own!