Last night we joined my parents in the “Hanging of the Greens” service at Memorial Baptist Church in Pulaski, Virginia. The kids and I sang Marty Haugen’s version of the Annunciation and Magnificat (from “Holden Evening Prayer”), and I contributed short meditations about three symbols common to this time of year. Once we’re to Christmas, I’ll share what I wrote about poinsettias and bells. But I’ll start with my Advent reflection on the symbolic importance of lighting candles.
These are dark days. Dawn comes later and later; dusk, earlier and earlier.
But as the night grows longer, the light in this sanctuary will grow stronger. Until, in the very deepest darkness of winter, the child who is the light of the world will come to us again.
Over the next five weeks, we will light candles, to remind ourselves that Jesus’s coming means hope for those who despair, peace for those in conflict, joy for those who sorrow, and love for those who are despised. These candles remind us that “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4).
That light still shines in the darkness… but the darkness still does not comprehend. For Advent is not only about Jesus’s coming; it’s about his second coming.
And so Advent is also about waiting.
Few people understood waiting as well as a priest named Zechariah. Like the people he served at the temple in Jerusalem, he had waited his whole life to hear from God, whose prophets had spoken of a Savior centuries before… and then gone silent. Then when God’s angel did speak to him, Zechariah couldn’t believe that his long wait for a child was about to end, and he was struck mute.
When his son was born, a voice that been silenced for months named the boy John. Full of the Holy Spirit, it sang out: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” And Zechariah looked into the eyes of his son and saw John’s future before him: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:68, 76, 79).
As we wait, sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, may these candles remind you that God has given us a light. And may he guide your feet into the way of peace, until our Lord comes again. Amen.