Advent. The season of expectations.
When I was a little girl, the traditions of Advent filled me with all the emotions the season represents—Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Waiting for Messiah, God with us. On the first Sunday of Advent, my mother would light one candle on our wreath, a repeat of what I’d observed at church. The next Sunday, two candles. Then three. Then four. Now, we were close to everything we anticipated!
Parallel thrills jolted through my little soul. The excitement of all those presents under the tree, begging to be opened and the more awesome anticipation of watching Jesus’ story unfold once again.
Candle 1: HOPE, also called the Prophets’ Candle
I knew the Jewish people had waited and waited for their God to come to earth. Prophets had told them He would. When He did, He came to help the whole world, not just His Chosen People! That meant Jesus came to save me, and I knew what a rotten little stinker I could be.
As I grew a bit older, it came as a shock that some people didn’t believe Jesus was really God. They didn’t believe a God existed who loved them. How sad! What had happened to them that they had no faith at all? I wanted the tiny candle of hope inside of me to shine on them. Maybe it would cast enough light so they were able to see Jesus, the baby in the manger, the fulfillment of the prophecies, the Light of the world.
Candle 2: PEACE, also called the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing faith
As a shy little girl, I endured all kinds of worries. We moved a lot, as military families do, and each new school meant making new friends. Shy little girls don’t make friends easily. I worried that my younger brothers would break their necks doing something stupid (because they, apparently, didn’t know the meaning of the word, “worry”). I worried about my baby sister. She needed heart surgery.
The peace candle glowed in its place on the Advent wreath, and its light chased away my dark worries. Who was in control of the world? GOD. Not me. God saw my brothers. God knew my sister. God loved us. Everything was okay. I held tightly to my little inner candle, and peace covered me.
Candle 3: JOY, also called the Shepherds’ Candle
If I had been one of the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, boy, would I have been excited! I would’ve seen angels! Happy angels! Magnificent, happy angels! And they would’ve sung about the prophecy being fulfilled, and about peace on earth! God had come, and He turned out to arrive in the form of a little baby. Who would’ve thought it? Now all we had to do was wait for Him to grow up and become King of the world, and he’d kick the Romans out on their—
Umm. What? It’s not gonna happen that way? But He’s the King of Kings…
Well, God’s ideas and man’s ideas went off in different directions at that point. As a little girl with the advantage of living almost two thousand years after that Holy Night, I knew the story of Jesus’ life. He didn’t show up for just a few years of earth’s history. He had something much bigger in mind, like Forever. My tiny Joy candle flamed brighter in my spirit.
Candle 4: LOVE, also called the Angels’ Candle of peace
By the fourth Sunday, the Advent candles created a miniature ring of fire on our dining room table. Only the Christmas candle in the center was left unlit. I knew the Bible verse that every child learns in Sunday School. “For God so loved the world…” There it was! Proof that God loved me. And my brothers. And my sister. And the bully down the street. And…
If Jesus loved me enough to die for me, did I have enough love for others to at least be kind to them? The little Love candle in me flickered in doubt, then flamed again as I asked Jesus to help me love like He does.
The Christmas Candle: PURITY
On Christmas Eve, Mom lit the white candle in the center of the wreath. All five candles heated our dining room, and we didn’t even need electric lights. This was the night we’d been waiting for, the night when a Child of perfect purity arrived. The fulfillment of the prophets’ words, the One who covers us with peace, the reason for our joy, and God’s gift of love to the world. Christmas Day would bring all the excitement of gifts under the tree, but five candles remained far more important in my young mind.
The Christ Child was born. He came to live a perfect, pure life, so His people could live with Him forever in heaven someday. And I was one of His people. Amazing!