This was my midweek message for the church today. Thanks to Laura Jean for inspiration.
One of my favorite Advent traditions – one that helps us to wait, patiently and expectantly – is the Advent Wreath. The wreath in our sanctuary is lovely: tall candles draped in greens, with the words hope, peace, joy, love surrounding the light. I look forward to a new candle being lit each week.
We haven’t gotten out our Christmas decorations at home yet, but we have a wreath we light at dinner each night, too. I like the way this tradition spans both home and church; we mark the weeks on Sunday mornings and the days at home. (This is a tradition I remember from my own childhood; my family likes to recount a story about the Christmas Eve that the Advent wreath candles caught the dining room table on fire while my mother was putting my sister and me to bed. Luckily, the house was filled with family and friends, who quickly put the fire out. The story has lived on much longer than the seared tablecloth, but we are still very careful to make sure the candles don’t burn too low…)
It occurs to me that the Advent wreath is one of the few symbols and traditions still held by the church alone. Department stores don’t usually include Advent candles in their decorations. You don’t see giant inflatable Advent wreaths in neighborhood yards. Without the marking of time in the context of worshipful waiting, the Advent wreath loses its meaning and becomes simply a collection of candles – lovely to look at but missing the hope-filled expectation of the one who is to come.
The Advent wreath is also different from those Christmas-countdown clocks that declare there are only so many shopping days left until Christmas, or promise that if we order now, we can still have that perfect gift shipped by December 24. Because while the rest of the world counts down – telling us we’re running out of time – the Advent wreath counts up, brightening the light in the deepening December darkness. The Advent wreath reminds us that we are not running out of time; we are moving toward the fullness of time. We are moving toward the time when the vision of God’s reign will come to pass, when the dark night will lighten with the dawn. We are marking the time to that Bethlehem night when God comes to earth and angels sing. Each candle makes the way a little brighter.