We know that Christmas is centered around the birth of Jesus, the Christ child, but what is it about the Christmas season that is so different from the rest of the year? Kindness seems to emerge, benevolence is more prevalent, evil thoughts take a pause, differences are often suspended, and “Merry Christmas” greetings broadcast in the market square are jubilant as if to say “God Bless You.”
It is a centuries old quest to somehow bottle the grandeur, supernatural attributes, and ambience of Christmas and spread it over the rest of the year. The lyrics of “Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” capture this idea, but the underpinning landscape runs much deeper. So let’s look at Advent, which embodies the divine mysteries of this hallowed and coveted time of year.
Embodied in the ancient Christian liturgical calendar, Advent comes from the Latin word adventis, which means coming or arrival. The Bible does not say anything specifically about observing Advent, but Christian history chronicles Advent all the way back to 480 A.D. Advent and Lent, both celebrated during the liturgical year, have two common themes: penitential (sorrowful and atonement) and pilgrimage (journey to a holy place). While Advent looks forward to the coming Messiah’s birth, Lent prepares for His Resurrection.
In the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, churches that observe ancient liturgy light candles each week of Advent, all of which have significant meaning.
Week one represents HOPE! There is a sense of great excitement, hope, and anticipation of the coming of the Savior. The first candle is referred to as the Prophecy Candle and signifies the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about a coming Messiah.
Week two represents PEACE! One of the names of Jesus is “Prince of Peace.” To honor this, we intentionally seek to find the good in our fellow men rather than focusing on their faults. Somehow, differences are set aside during Advent. This second candle is referred to as the Bethlehem Candle.
Week three represents JOY! “Joy to the World” is one of the classic carols we sing, reflecting joy in the salvation of mankind and in the fact that the one who liberates us from sin is coming soon. Referred to as the Shepherds Candle, this third candle is rose pink and signifies the halfway point in our pilgrimage to discovering the Messiah. This Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin means “rejoice.”
Week four represents LOVE! God’s unconditional love for mankind was manifested in giving us HIS only begotten son who would reconcile God with man. Known as the Angel’s Candle, this fourth week in Advent reminds us to find love in our hearts for our fellow man, giving generously to show that unconditional love to others, even through something as simple as giving the hard-working waitress an astonishing Christmas tip.
In 1999, my wife, son, and I were blessed to go on a pilgrimage to Israel during Advent and the Jewish religious holiday of Hanukkah. One of the grand and whimsical moments of the trip happened at the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. As we were descending the stone-hewn stairs under the altar of the Church of the Nativity (a Coptic church), we heard the thunderous and jubilant voices of a tour group of pilgrims from Chicago singing, “Oh Come, Let Us Adore Him.” With candles lit in the nativity crib, we joined them in singing this worshipful hymn. It was as if we were arriving with the shepherds, paying homage to the newborn King. Unforgettable!
Children serve as our role models during Advent, demonstrating great anticipation of Christmas Day with a guileless heart. In the New Testament (Matthew 18:4), we are admonished to become humble like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah sets the tone of Advent (Isaiah 11:6), also incorporating children: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
As we approach Christmas Day during Advent, may we take on the humility of a child, looking with excitement to the Hope of HIS coming, the Peace on Earth He brings, and the Joy He puts in our hearts, all while allowing his unconditional Love to flow from us to others.
Discovering Advent is discovering the supernatural attributes of Christmas.
Merry Christmas and may God bless you and your family.
John spent nearly 15 years as Executive Vice President in the family business, Giles Enterprises, and has served in various leadership and advisory roles in the State of Alabama. Today, John and his wife Deborah quietly reside at Agnus Dei Farm, enjoying visits from their children and 12 grandchildren.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News.
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