The days of December leading up to Christmas are traditionally known as Advent. Advent means ‘coming,’ and the season is used to prepare for the coming of Christmas, where we remember the coming of Jesus. During Advent Christians remember the coming of Jesus as a baby, but also look forward to the return of Jesus at the end of history.
The Advent wreath is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent. It is a circular candle holder that typically holds five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday until all of the candles, including the fifth candle, are lit on Christmas Day. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Most Advent wreaths use three colours of candles – purple, pink, and white. However, really, any candles will do!
800 years before Jesus was born, when God’s people (Israel) were divided, threatened, and losing their way, God spoke to them through a prophet named Isaiah. God promised that he would save his people and restore their kingdom through a leader who was to come:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah spoke of a child to be born, who would grow up to be a King, and who would establish an eternal kingdom that was peaceful and just. Christians believe that Jesus is this child that God promised - the child who would grow up to be deliverer, and King. The Magi (what we might call astronomers!) recognised Jesus’ birth as the fulfilment of this prophecy.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
What is it like to receive something that you’ve hoped or waited for for a long time?
How do you recognise it when it comes? (is it always what you expect?)
In the birth of Jesus we see the beginning of the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus’ work is finished, but the results of that work are still unfolding, and much that we hope for still remains in the future for us. That’s why in the season of Advent we have this ‘double-horizon.’ We look forward to Christmas and remember all that Jesus has ALREADY brought us, AND we remember that we still WAIT for more.
It’s ‘now’, and ‘not yet.’
Can we trust that God is in control when things feel out of control?
Can we live with God’s peace in our hearts all the while longing for a world at peace?
Can we find joy in the good things we have and still allow space for sorrow for things lost, denied or broken?
Can we uphold goodness and justice while practicing forgiveness and radical love?
The language of those first verses of Isaiah always strikes me. The government will be on his shoulders, and yet he is only a child. Hope so sure, and yet so fragile.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne
We are waiting, we are waiting
We are waiting for You.
What does it mean for Jesus to be King?
What kind of a King is Jesus?
What are you waiting for? What do you hope for?
Do you see God as faithful? Why/why not?
What are you asking God for?
Which one of these titles stands out most to you today (and why?):
Prince of Peace
Where do you need some of God’s peace, justice, righteousness, or caring shepherding in your life?
Say a prayer asking God for his help.
Light the Candle. As you light the candle one of you might like to say these words:
“Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. As we look at the light of this candle, we celebrate the hope we have in Jesus.”
Hannah Craven is an Anglican minister in a church in North Carlton - on the fringe of Melbourne city. Wife to Tom & mother to Liam & Amber.