This is the final part of a series of Advent Sunday night candle meditations.
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.
You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
The boots of the warrior
and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
They will be fuel for the fire.
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
Last Sunday, we had an early Christmas with my sister and her family because they are visiting her husband’s side of the family for the holidays. We exchanged our gifts with each other before a big meal. Of course, we all ate appys and snacks and treats all afternoon long so by the time the lasagna was on the table, we were all stuffed and just eating because it tasted good. But before we began, we lit the last Sunday candle of our Advent wreath as a family.
Right at the beginning of the Advent season in an effort to cut down on quarrelling, each of the tinies claimed a candle – Joseph always lit Hope, Evelynn lit Peace, Anne lit Joy, and Maggie Love was in charge of the Love candle (well, she’s just 9 months old but whatever, the tinies wanted her to have a candle, too). We would pass around the Bible and the older ones read the verses aloud for us and we just talked about what it meant for us and for the world. This is the first year that all of the tinies really got it, if you know what I mean. Years past, they were present for the lighting of the candles but there was more bickering about whose turn it was to blow them out than any reverence or any real sense of the story. So we’ve pared it down and kept it simple. We just light them and we read a couple of Bible verses (the same ones that are in each of the posts for this series) and then we talk about it and someone prays. That’s it.
We asked the tinies to explain the candles on this last Sunday night..
Joseph said that we light the hope candle because Jesus is our hope, because we hoped for Jesus then and now we’re hoping for Jesus to come again.
Evelynn said that we light the peace candle because Jesus brings peace and gives peace and is peace. Hearing those words in her childish voice brought tears to my eyes as I’ve been so haunted by the refugee crisis this year: we are still yearning for peace.
Anne said that we light the joy candle because Jesus is our joy and gives us joy and we’re all so happy he came to us once and he will come again to fix everything.
And then we asked the little cousins to light the Love candle for Maggie and tell us why it’s called Love and they both laughed and talked about how Jesus brings Love to the whole world because God is love.
We let the tinies read the Bible verses and I looked down the table at my father, his once curly red hair now a close-cropped white, holding the Bible open for my son, listening to Joe read about the love of God towards us all. My parents were very young when they had me and my sister so I remember my parents at the age that I am now, of course, but I also remember them when they were in their twenties and then in their thirties when they began to follow Jesus.
I was a kid about the age of my own tinies when that happened; they reoriented their entire lives and our family story on Jesus Christ. He changed everything in them and for them. He brought that hope, that joy, that peace, that love to their lives from the inside out and I walk in the legacy they created by that choice.
I always feel very tender-hearted towards the first-generation believers, the ones who change the family narrative because it isn’t easy in a lot of ways. It’s been more than thirty years since Jesus turned everything right-side-up for my folks and I felt the weight of that choice at the table that night, watching all this little kid crew, another generation, all perched around my kitchen table by the light of candles in the darkness, telling us grown-ups all the things we already knew about Jesus.
Jesus was everything to us in those days and yet somehow I lost touch with him as I grew up. I think I confused Jesus with church or with Christians or with the Bible or some boundary markers to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.” Rediscovering Jesus later in my adulthood meant another reorientation for me, too: Jesus turned my life right-side-up, too.
“Jesus. His name felt like every question and every answer. There was a strain of something like unearthly music to His name, and part of me still believes that my desire to be like Jesus was the Spirit’s call – deep calling unto deep, as the psalmist wrote. My broken heart – cynical, jaded, frustrated, angry, wounded – somehow exhaled at the very mention of his name.” (from Out of Sorts)
I know that everyone experiences Jesus differently or has a different story of their encounters with Jesus – I have dozens myself.
That night though… gathered around the table with the two people who first introduced me to Jesus and then seeing my own children proclaim the Gospel to us all, declaring that Jesus was hope and joy and peace and love, I felt like laying down on the floor and crying because Jesus is as good as we ever hoped and it’s all true and everything was rescued on that night in Bethlehem and it will all be restored fully someday soon.
I used to think that this Christmas Eve stuff for Advent was the final stroke of midnight before New Year’s Eve turned into the New Day: a shout, a celebration, pour the champagne! Let the party begin! He’s here, he’s Emmanuel, the Incarnation has taken place among us! Turn up the music!
But since having my children, I’ve felt much more like that moment of time and space will be more like how it was when I gave birth to my last little one: pain and labour and a sifting, grief and loss and joy and strength, failure and victory, all braided together. And then that moment of birth being one of complete relief and release and joy, yes, but instead of popping champagne corks or bursting into laughter, I cried from the core of myself, like some ancient writer said I lifted up my voice and I wept, because she was finally here and we were alive and we were safe and I felt held by the God-with-us; it was the most human and most sacred thing I’d ever done in my life, it felt like a glimpse of Incarnation.
This Christmas Eve, we will light the Christ Candle, the white candle right in the middle of the wreath of our hopes, and we will read the Scriptures here, and we’ll talk about Jesus. Then we’ll let those candles burn right down because the promises have been fulfilled, Jesus Christ is born, and He is all the good news we could ever dream of hearing. Crack open your alabaster jars and spill all the expensive perfume, fling yourself down and grab the hem of his garment, sit on the beach after you’ve failed and when Jesus says, do you love me? we can all say, you know all things Jesus, you know I love you.
The light – the hope, the joy, the peace, the love – is among us now.
Life, life, life, more abundant. Welcome the King.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
All scripture references are from The New Living Translation.