I live out in the woods. My neighborhood is quiet and at night it’s pretty dark. In winter, however, my husband and I often step out onto our front porch before we turn all the lights out for the night and look up. When the moon is full, it literally lights up the sky. On nights when there is no moon but the air is cold, the stars twinkle brightly. The sky, even at night, pushes the darkness away while at the same time proclaiming God’s majesty and faithfulness.
This focus on light is just what we need in today’s dark world. Jesus made this bold assertion:
“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” — John 8:12
In this dark world we crave the light. We want to experience the hope and joy that the idea and actuality of light bring. During the season of Advent, when the church celebrates the anticipated coming of the Lord Jesus into the world, we focus on the light that was given in the person of Jesus Christ, our Messiah.
What IS Advent? Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.” As followers of Christ, we are a people living between two advents: the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem and His future triumphant return as the King of Kings. During the Advent season believers remember that Jesus Christ came as the light of the world. We also remember the life Jesus was born to live, the salvation He brings, and the ongoing kingdom work he invites us to join.
In Biblical times, God gave feasts to His people – feasts to remember, feasts to celebrate, special days in which to repent and other days in which to worship. In the same way the Christian church over the ages has incorporated seasons for contemplation and celebration into its annual calendar. Advent is one of those seasons.
Each fall, beginning four Sundays before Christmas day, Christians around the world celebrate a season of anticipating Jesus’ birth. Then, the period between Christmas Day and January 5 is known as Christmastide or the “twelve days of Christmas.” January 6 is often known as the Day of Epiphany and commemorates the arrival of the wise men. It reminds us that Christ’s birth is good news for all of creation.
Why do we use a wreath and candles? There are many stories of the origins of this tradition. One I love to think about happened in the early 1800’s when a man named Johann Wichern, a minister in Germany, created an Advent wreath from an old cart wheel. He placed 24 candles in its rungs, creating a way for the children in his church to count down the days until Christmas.
But you don’t necessarily need a wreath to practice contemplation and celebration in December. Contemplation is the practice of slowing down, repenting of sin, and resting in God’s faithfulness. This December let’s be intentional to pause from the busyness of the season, to catch up on reading, to make space for prayer, and to rest in God’s presence. Let’s intentionally contemplate.
Celebration is the practice of actively remembering and enjoying God in our lives. The discipline of celebration cultivates joy as we acknowledge and rejoice in the beauty, goodness and truth that comes from God. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” This transformation that Jesus has brought about in our hearts is worthy of celebration!
Whatever way you choose to celebrate Advent this year, I encourage you to take time to both contemplate and celebrate. God sent his one and only Son into our world, born as a baby in a manger in a little town of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago to bring us into the light. May our Christmas celebrations be full of rejoicing as we remember His first advent into our world and anticipate his return!