One of the traditions that I love the most is the tradition of the Advent Wreath. The four candles, one lit each Sunday, gradually get a bit brighter each week until we are finally ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas Eve.
Traditionally, each candle is associated with a word: the first candle, Hope; the second candle, Peace; the third candle, Love, and the fourth candle, Joy.
These are wonderful words, aren’t they? They give me warm fuzzies. They remind me of the Whos in Whoville, gathering in a circle around the Christmas Tree and singing, “Fahoo foris, dahoo doris, Welcome Christmas, come this way.” They remind me of Linus standing up on the stage with his blanket and reciting the story of the angels and the shepherds.
And yet, these words are more than just warm fuzzies. They are words that call us to courage. It takes courage, as the days get shorter and the temperature starts to plummet, to light candles in the name of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy.
It takes courage, in the midst of a world facing runaway climate change, to light a candle and proclaim Hope.
It takes courage, in the midst of a world at war, to light a candle and proclaim Peace.
It takes courage, in the midst of a society that has grown deeply divided, to light a candle and proclaim Love.
It takes courage, in the darkest week of the year, to light a candle and proclaim Joy.
The Scripture stories we’ve been reading this Advent are also stories of courage. The courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. The courage of Esther and Mordecai, who risked their lives to save their people from Haman’s evil plot. The courage of Isaiah to proclaim prophetic hope to a people in exile. The courage of Mary and Joseph, to follow God’s call to become parents of God’s Son, even in the most perilous of times.
Like these people of faith, we also live in uncertain times. The aftermath of a pandemic; a national healthcare crisis; inflation and economic uncertainty. Even in our own congregation, we find ourselves navigating a sense of disorientation, financial stress, and uncertainty about the future.
In the midst of all of this, God has called us to a courageous mission: to proclaim Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy to our world.
Where will we find the courage for such a mission?
By gathering together, as the Body of Christ.
By listening together for God’s voice in the words of Scripture.
By singing and praying together.
By receiving God’s promise of Grace in the sacraments.
By gathering week after week, and lighting candles on an Advent wreath: candles of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy.
In fact, what if this simple symbol of the Advent wreath is actually a symbol of our community of faith? What if we are called to be a living Advent wreath?
After all, we gather, week after week, to have our own flames of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy re-lit by the Holy Spirit.
And week after week, we are sent out to shine these little lights in the world.
And week after week, our lights get a little bit brighter, as we bear witness to the True Light, who is coming into the world: Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Yours, in Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy,