Merry Christmas! It’s not too early to say that, is it? This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. Truthfully, the liturgy of Advent has never been a big deal for me. I think I have missed out. Advent can help us get beyond all the peripheries of the Christmas Season and focus on remembering Jesus’ birth. The word Advent literally means “coming.” The purpose of advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christmas, to prepare us for the coming of Christ. So for the next few weeks, I’m planning to blog about each candle of Advent.
The first candle represents hope! It has also been called the Prophecy Candle because it looks back to the Old Testament promises of a coming Messiah.
One of the most familiar prophecies was spoken by Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). This was written during a time of uncertainty for the children of Israel. Into this hopeless world, a child would be born.
We now know who that child is — Jesus, the hope to the world. Here are 4 reasons this child is our hope!
- He is our HOPE for GUIDANCE. This child is named “Wonderful Counselor.” The Bible says that we’ve all lost our way (Isaiah 53:6). We need God’s direction. Jesus is not any counselor; he is a Wonderful Jesus wants the best for you. He promised that he came to give us life more abundantly (John 10:10). Where do we get his counsel? Three places: through His Word; following His Spirit; and listening to His people. At Christmas time it’s so easy to fall in with our culture and believe that bigger is better. We can easily fall into the trap that more-of-everything communicates our love more fully. We need God’s direction and wisdom to reject our culture and pursue advent with a true heart of worship.
- He is our HOPE for STRENGTH. Jesus is also our “Mighty God.” This refers to his power. The word “mighty” means “victorious or conqueror.” The Bible says that we find our strength in Jesus (Philippian 4:13). Ironically, the key to God’s strength is admitting our weaknesses. Pride and selfishness repulse God. It is only as we humble ourselves that he lifts us up (James 4:61-10). We might think we need His strength to pull off the perfect Christmas celebration, after all, who more than the pastor and his family knows the chaos that the Christmas season can bring to our calendars?!? It’s a herculean task. But scripture tells us we need his strength to remain humble and continue to put others first, even as the seasonal demands on our time increase.
- He is our HOPE for LOVE. Isaiah also said he is the “Everlasting Father.” This is a puzzling title. How can a son be a Father? This is an expression of the Trinity. Jesus said that if you’ve seen the Father, you’ve seen him, for they are one (John 14:9-11). The Father is about a relationship with his children. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalms 103:13). Augustine said, “He loves each one of us, as if there were only one of us.” It’s easy to think we must be lovable before God will love us. God’s word says different. He loves us before, during, and after we lose our temper at the tangled Christmas lights or forget that we promised to visit someone for the season, don’t make it home in time for dinner, miss another school Christmas program, or any other way we feel we don’t measure up at Christmas time. We need not compare or seek to measure up. His love is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
- He is our HOPE for COMFORT. Finally, Jesus is the “Prince of Peace.” One recent survey indicated that 45% of Americans would prefer just to skip Christmas because of all the stress. In Jesus, we find real peace. Romans 15:13, Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” The added pressures of the season pile on for everyone but we can be peacemakers for our co-workers and friends, our congregations and even our families. Let’s be the ones who can say with the traditional words, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
BEFORE YOU GO…
When you read the word hope in the Bible, it doesn’t mean wishful thinking. It’s not “I really wish something will happen!” Instead, Christian hope is based upon God and his promises. Because of that, it’s a hope that can have absolute assurance! The Psalmist asked, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 43:5) I’m praying this Christmas season will be filled with hope for each of us and that we can spread it to those we love like the spreading glow of a candle.