Working, as I do now, in a Catholic school, I am more aware than ever of the liturgy and rhythm of the church calendar.
The end of term (still a near memory) is always a mixed feeling of tiredness and optimism – waiting until the end of term for that elusive ‘holiday feeling’ to hit! There is always so much to be done, to be finished, before … before … always before. The meaning of Christmas, of Advent, can be so easily lost, amongst the busyness, amongst the (lovely) Secret Santa, the tinsel, the carol concerts, the wrapping and posting.
But I return to the advent wreath, the first candle of which was lit three Sundays ago (the next Sunday we were snowed in so I didn’t get to church), the second two weeks ago and the third last Sunday.
The first candle represents hope. And who doesn’t need some of that in their lives? Hope for people we know and love, hope for those whom we will never encounter or may feel we have little in common with. Our own hopes and dreams.
Jeremiah wrote about hope in chapter 29 v 11 of that book:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I believe that God does offer us hope – sometimes we can’t see how or when this will come to fruition – our job is to hold on. Simple? No. Simplistic? I hope not.
The second candle represents peace. Again, looking at the world we live in, could do with some of that, huh? Why does it seem so elusive? In a world where country fights against country, creed against creed, brother against brother (metaphorically but sadly, sometimes literally too), peace seems beyond our reach. But again, an old Testament prophet (this time Isaiah chapter 2 v 4) foresaw a time when that too would come:
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
I don’t know if peace will come in my lifetime – but I know that peace begins with me. As a wise teacher in my school once said, we are not called just to be peace lovers (for who doesn’t love peace?) but peace makers. In our communities, where we are, to actively strive for peace. Again, simple? Definitely not. But let it start with us and see where it ends.
The third candle represents joy and is often pink. As a teacher, I am particularly struck by this as it seems that the generation of youngsters I have the privilege of teaching are among the unhappiest ever (see for example, http://chototel.co.uk/blog/2017/06/21/why-are-millennials-unhappy/.) Was it always thus – or is this a particularly 21st century malaise?
Sometimes that is the hardest of all. But it can be a choice. Not to be Pollyanna and just to play the ‘glad game’ but to choose to be thankful. And to strive to keep making that choice. And to help those who cannot make that choice through no fault of their own – to just be there in whatever way we can and hold them up when they cannot hold themselves.
For that in the end is, for me, the message of Christmas. Again from Isaiah (chapter 9 v 2, 6 and 7a):
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
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 Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
It is not those who already have light who so desperately need it, it is not the hopeful that need hope, the peaceful who need peace or the joyful who need joy. For those walking in darkness and indeed for all of us, I wish hope, peace, joy and above all love this Christmas.
Be blessed xx
Picture 1: https://findingorderinchaos.com/tag/too-busy/
Picture 2: http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-Advent-Wreath-for-Your-Family/
Picture 3: https://resolvecouragehope.com/2016/09/27/there-is-always-hope/
Picture 4: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/pastors-urge-fast-july-15-for-mideast-peace
Picture 5: http://orfordvillelutheran.org/new/2017/07/31/joy-jar/
All Bible verses are from the New International Version.