On this first Sunday of Advent, I am reflecting on the tradition of Advent in my own life. The notion of celebrating Advent was introduced to me in my high school years. Each Sunday of Advent, candles were lit in our services to represent the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. My family participated in reading during one of these candle lightings, and we read a poem written by my grandmother. As a college student and young-married adult, I was invited to write for the Advent booklet distributed among the congregants. I continued contributing at the next church we attended as well.
Although this tradition was practiced in our church, my childhood family did not practice the candle lighting at home. I received an Advent wreath as a wedding gift and displayed it for years without actually lighting the candles. It wasn’t until my sons were old enough to understand and after I received a wooden Advent calendar cabinet from my mother that we began to celebrate each Sunday of Advent in this way.
Seventeen years later, I am now cognizant of how this tradition has shaped our family’s preparation for Christmas morning. Some years, I filled the Advent calendar cabinet with Hershey kisses and Bible readings. Later years, I included Lego mini-figurines. When the boys were young, we read a story series on Sunday evenings before lighting the candle display. I published While Bethlehem Sleeps in 2012, and we used that format for our readings.
The paint of the original wreath is chipped now, and the candle tapers are in various stages of use. Hope’s candle has dripped the lowest because it is always lit first. Even after replacing the wreath with a wrought iron holder for pillars, that first candle curls more than the others. Somehow hope always seems to work the hardest to retain its flame.
Some years were harder than others to maintain our weekly vespers. There were moans and groans, and not just from the kids. For this reason, we put faith’s action behind our anticipation of the season. Otherwise, our hope threatens to drip too low. Our flame dims. Or it waxes completely.
This year, my youngest son and I are studying Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado. When prompted to consider what we want to gain from the study, we decided the most important thing was to be faithful in completing it together. How easy it is for us to become so distracted with daily living and Christmas doings that we could let this part of our preparations slide! Because Christmas is often a time of busyness, taking time to sit and reflect requires work. We have to be faithful in our following just as much as we are hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving. By gathering together, we remember why we celebrate at this time of year. We give of ourselves so that we may receive and annually retrieve the most important Gift from the manger. We invite Him into our celebration.
After all, it is His incarnate arrival that we commemorate.
Faith found me on the red stairs of the first home I remember. I looked up at the slanted ceiling and asked Jesus into my heart. No one walked me through the process. I knew confession, asking, and believing were the keys I needed to enter His presence forever.
Have I wavered in my faith?
In Him? No.
In others? Eventually, yes. With everyone.
No one is like Him.
He is to the five-year-old me what He will be to the soon-forty-five-year-old me.
He has been my constant companion through my forty years of desert.
He will be with me when I reach the edge of the Promised Land.
Only He can walk me through it.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
The devout soul is always safe in every state, if it makes everything an occasion either of rising up, or falling down into the hands of God, and exercising faith, and trust, and resignation to Him. The pious soul, that eyes only God, that means nothing but being His alone, can have no stop put to its progress; light and darkness equally assist him: in the light he looks up to God, in the darkness he lays hold on God, and so they both do him the same good.