Do you have an Advent wreath at home? Most churches have an Advent wreath and light a candle each week for the four Sundays leading to Christmas. A fifth candle, a white one in the middle, is for Christ. Those Sunday candles could be blue or purple, and each week has a theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The candle for the Sunday of Joy could be pink (it’s more festive).
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. Pretty important themes, not only in the Christmas story, but in the life of Jesus. And in our lives, too. In fact, the Advent wreath should remind us all year long of how those things are uniquely and intimately connected. So let’s wonder about them, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and each week I’ve got a few thoughts I’d like to share about each one.
Let’s begin, though, by acknowledging that what these words mean in the context of Jesus may not be what we think they mean in day to day use. Take hope, for example. We can hope that our team wins the game or that this year’s Christmas party will be as good as last year. We hope that it doesn’t snow, if you’re driving somewhere, or that it does, if you’re a skier or snowmobiler. We hope the plane’s on time or the food’s good or our health’s good. Regardless of the scale, from the insignificant to the deeply meaningful, this is about desire. It’s wishful thinking, speculation about a desired outcome, the probability of which might range from long-shot to possibility. At best, we use the word “hope” to mean optimism, confidence in the possibility that’s ahead.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Acknowledging possibility and living into opportunity is a good thing.
But that’s not the hope of Jesus. This hope isn’t about optimism, but certainty, not wishful thinking but knowing. God is with us. God loves us and God’s love and grace is for all, truly, unconditionally, for all, and so we come from God and return to God. Call God God, love, spirit, higher power, network of life, the oneness in which we all have our being, whatever you will, God is with us. In that sure and certain hope, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Maybe it’s like that candle we light. The flame itself is a beautiful thing, but more importantly, in its light, we see. The world is illuminated and we see the possibilities, opportunities and desires in which we live. Hope lights the path that allows us to see where we’re going, but we’re the ones who need to choose the direction, take the step and do the travelling. Hope connects us to the world in a real way, not in wishes, hopes and dreams, but in the true and very real living out of them.
It may feel, sometimes, like the darkness is overwhelming the light, and seeing our way forward is a challenge. That’s when it’s important to remember that hope is only the first candle, linked to the others and to Jesus and that hope is more than a solitary light. That light is in all of us and even in the shortest, darkest days of winter, it will shine again tomorrow.