My family did not observe Advent when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. I stumbled upon this special celebration as a young parent attending the church we chose to join as a young family. I can't say I even really "got it" in those days, either. I liked that it extended the Christmas season and gave meaning to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when everyone is excitedly preparing for the holiday season in often very materialistic ways. But mostly I think I just enjoyed the ritual aspect of stretching out, and experiencing, even savoring the story of Jesus coming to this earth as an infant and giving us a starting point for the story of our faith. I also liked lighting a candle at church each week leading up to Christmas and then at home in our own mini-recreation of the event, and reading aloud from the Advent devotional booklet the church gave out to families. It was simple, and somehow beautiful.
The word Advent means "arrival" and signifies that we are awaiting the arrival of Christ. The traditional Christian way of observing Advent originated in the Middle Ages and is based on a wreath and five candles, all of which possess symbolism and meaning. The wreath represents eternity and life everlasting, as a circle has no ends. One candle around the wreath is lighted each week (one the first week, two the second week, three the third week, four the fourth week); the first candle represents hope, the second peace, the third joy, and the fourth love; the center kindle is lighted on Christmas Eve and represents the coming of Christ. There are scripture readings for each Sunday that tell the story of Christ's arrival into the world and culminate with his birth in the reading for Christmas Eve. Whether your church observes the traditional celebration of Advent or not, it can be meaningful to recreate this observance at home, either as a family reflection or as a personal one.
Now I have come to appreciate the Advent season for the way it marks the events of our faith and gives us the opportunity to reflect on and remind ourselves of the hope that we have in Jesus who came as an infant to us. Getting back into the story of this tiny baby, looking forward to hearing once again about each event that makes up this central story of our faith, and participating in the remembrance of these events all bring to mind the hope that scripture promises "will not disappoint."
This year 2020 has been a great disappointment for many. I don't know about you, but I am keenly aware of the need for hope--my own need and others' need--as I listen to stories of how the difficult events of this year have affected people's lives. I want to have hope. I want to hope that things will get better. I want to hope that coronavirus will abate and we will be able to resume our community life once more. I want to have hope for a less contentious and more just society. I definitely hope that people's lives are not devastated from the difficult events of this year. And above all, I hope that God is with me and all of us and that God will never leave us alone.
Watch and wait for Christ's coming. Light your first candle this week in hope.