This past week I shopped for an Advent wreath. I called 15 stores, all of which I thought were likely to have this “traditional” Christian icon pointing to the birth of our Savior the Messiah. But most store clerks responded to my query with, “What’s that?” I guess Advent wreaths have fallen out of fashion in recent years, just as many other Christian symbols are being replaced with secular and retail marketing ploys.
Details vary about the origins of Advent wreaths. Some authorities say the practice of lighting candled-bedecked greenery began as early as the 4th century, as a symbolic representation of hearts longingly waiting for the light of spring to dispel the winter darkness. By the 16th century, Christians (especially in the Germanic regions of Europe) were using Advent wreaths specifically in connection with Christmas (Advent meaning “The arrival of something long awaited,” such as the Christ child), as a visual reminder that Jesus was “the Light that has come into the world” (John 3:19). Lighting a candle for each of the four weeks preceding Christmas became a way of focusing thoughts and prayers more fully on the work of God in the world, and attuning hearts more intimately with Christ.
I have found the practice of lighting an Advent wreath in a church setting very meaningful, but in its original usage Advent wreaths were intended for the home. My new brass wreath now sits on our dining room table (surrounded by berried holly branches from a nearby ranch), waiting until after dinner when we will light the Hope candle (the designated candle for today, the first Sunday of Advent). Please enjoy with me, on my blog, readings for this Advent season.
The readings for the Hope candle include:
‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him
the Gentiles will hope. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust
in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'”
—Romans 15: 12-13
Through Jesus Christ our Savior we are heirs to the hope of eternal life
Jesus is our hope.” —Titus 3:7
My favorite verses about hope, from the book of Hebrews:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. …
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”
—Hebrews 12:1; 6:19
Hope is in short supply these days, no one needs telling that. I remember traveling to Colombia in the mid-1990s and seeing first-hand the hardships facing the Colombian people after more than 30 years of continual violence (still going on today). Armed guards everywhere (even inside country markets) hired to ward against guerrilla attack; the frightened sideways glances in the people’s eyes. Their dream was peace, but their grip on hope for that peace was slipping. I remember going home to America after that trip, and wanting to kiss the ground upon landing at LAX. Thank God, I thought then, I live in a stable country.
As we all know in today’s world, stability is fleeting. Unless our hope is based on something solid, it will crumble right along with the crushed real estate and reeling stock markets. What can we hope in? Not America. But we can hope in Christ and His promises. Not some hollow, unfounded hope, but hope that is anchored in the architect of the universe…the One who holds everything together.
Acts 7 shows us a harsh picture. Stephen, one of the fledgling Christian Church’s first deacons, caring for the needy, was also a fiery evangelist. After giving a sermon that hit a lot of people between the eyes, the mob turned violent and picked up stones to execute him. I can imagine Stephen realizing he had but minutes, maybe only moments to live, wondering if everything he believed about Jesus was really true. Could it be he was mistaken?
Just as that thought crossed his mind, he “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'”(Acts 7:55-56). Jesus, exalted in the heavens, knew two things—Stephen was about to die, and he needed hope, right there on the spot. So the Lord swept aside time, space and whatever other dimensions separate heaven and earth, and gave Stephen a glimpse of what he most needed to see. That glimpse, I am certain, carried Stephen through those next horrific moments.
God bless us, each and every one, with new-found hope in Jesus Christ this Advent.