Today is the first Sunday in advent. Advent is the season of waiting, preparation and anticipation in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Today we lit the first candle on the advent wreath. Some refer to the candles as hope, love, joy, and peace. Others call them the prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherd’s and angel’s candles. The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means arrival or coming. The lighting of the candles marks the time of the coming of the Christ child. The first advent wreaths were made of evergreens, twisted together to symbolize continuous life across all four seasons, from the death of winter to new life in the spring. The symbolism here points to the newness of life and the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most wreaths are circular in nature, pointing to the unending love of Christ. Sometimes berries, seeds and occasionally holly leaves are added as well. Holly leaves are prickly and are used to represent the thorns of the crown placed on Jesus head.
Often on the first Sunday of advent churches use the text from the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Behold the days are coming says the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt...a covenant they broke, though I was their husband says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my law within them, and I will write it in their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will they teach one another, or say to each other, know the Lord, for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
Behold the days are coming. There is great anticipation in those words. We can ask, what days? No doubt the people of Israel and Judah asked. They asked for centuries because Isaiah was written some 600 years before Christ was born. That is a lot of anticipation, generations in fact. But we know God kept His promise. We are reminded every week as we prepare for communion. “Then He took a cup and after giving thanks He gave it to them saying, drink from it all of you for this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:27-28. We know because Luke wrote about Jesus birth... “and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.” Luke 2:7. God made a way for us to return to Him, and that way came from Jesus whose birth we are preparing to celebrate.
With the advent season comes the singing of different songs, songs like ‘Prepare the royal highway’, ‘Come thou long expected Jesus', ‘Oh come oh come Emmanuel’ and ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’. The church is decorated for Christmas and everything feels new, hopeful even. We could use some hope right about now. Over and over again I hear people say how glad they will be to have 2020 gone, but we have no guarantees. We are no different that the people of Isaiah's day. They were waiting for better days as well. They were waiting in hope that life would get better. They were waiting for God to rend the heavens and come down. It is easy to lose that hope when life turns upside down. But life has been turning upside down for God's people since the beginning. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the One who made the promises is trustworthy.” Hebrews 10:23. Once God makes His promise, He will fulfill it. However, it might not happen in our timeline, in our plans. It might not even happen in our lifetime! Paul has much to say about hope as well. “May the God of hope fill, you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Over the centuries God's people have hoped for many things. The good news is, when we have doubts, we only need to look at scripture and see how faithful God is in keeping His promises. And when we start to lose hope, God will fill us back up.
Normally this is the time of year everybody races around, writing cards, baking, shopping, going to parties and much more. But advent is really a time of waiting, a time of slowing down. Perhaps this is a good year to spend less time rushing around and more time thinking about the One who is at the center of everything in the first place.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W