Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd - He is the One we celebrate today. For the past four weeks, we have anticipated His arrival, and today, we celebrate Him!
He came to fulfil our hope, giving His life to pay a debt that we could never pay ourselves. He made it possible for us to have a restored relationship with God, the One Who created us. He also gave us the confident expectation that, one day, all that is wrong with the world will be made right, and we will live with Him forever.
He brought peace into a turbulent world. Those who allow His peace to permeate their lives enjoy peace in their hearts, even if their circumstances are far from peaceful. God’s peace restores relationships among one another, regardless of gender or ethnicity. We also look toward the day He returns, to make an end to all war, and bring His perfect peace.
He gave us joy. We have been forgiven by the very One Who was wronged by our sin - why wouldn’t we rejoice?! We also rejoice that the Almighty God, creator of the universe, cared enough about lowly man that He sent His Son for us. He gives us joy even when we walk through unhappy times; and, as we look forward, we anticipate ever-increasing joy.
He showed us love. Jesus’s great love for us motivated His arrival and life on this earth, and Scripture records many times where He demonstrated love to those He encountered. He bore our sin because of His great love for us. As we look to His return, we anticipate living under His loving care forever.
Today, as we light the Christ candle, we celebrate the One Who brought hope, peace, joy, and love into our lives, and continue to look forward to His second Advent, when He restores original, sinless perfection.
Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.
Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.
Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.
Joy is one of the most common terms associated with our culture’s current Christmas celebrations. More than a seasonal emotion, though, joy is God’s gift to His people as we live in this fallen world. It goes far deeper than simple, momentary, transient feelings of happiness.
God’s commands to the children of Israel included joy as an act of worship. As they celebrated the various feasts throughout the year, they were to “rejoice before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:11). Joy permeated their songs, which we have recorded in the book of Psalms. Even the prophets, who often delivered news of God’s judgment, pointed to a coming time of rejoicing. These commands to rejoice were not given in a vacuum; remembering Who God is and what He had done should motivate them to express this joy in shouts of praise. Isaiah described it as putting on “the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
God doesn’t stop there, though; what He commands and motivates, He also provides. His arrival, two thousand years ago, brought an overflowing joy to the angels and shepherds. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus told us to rejoice if we were treated poorly for righteousness’ sake, because our reward was yet to come. He also told His disciples that they should rejoice that their names were written in heaven more than for any earthly blessing. Paul continued this eternal perspective, encouraging the Roman church to rejoice in their salvation (Romans 5:11), and telling the church in Philippi – from prison – that they should rejoice in whatever circumstances come their way (Philippians 4:4-7). James took it a step further, telling his readers to consider it joy when they go through various trials (James 1:2-4).
Today, as we light the candle of joy, we rejoice that our Savior provides us with a reason to rejoice; and we look forward to the day when He returns to make our joy complete.
Peace is an inherent desire of the human heart. We do not like to be upset, or in constant conflict; we long for peace. While we tend to define peace as simply the absence of conflict, true peace goes much deeper than that.
The promise of peace – true peace, shalom – is woven throughout Scripture. When God’s originally-created peace was shattered in the garden, He promised one day to restore that peace. One of the most common commands in the Old Testament is “fear not,” which usually preceded a promise from God to be with His people, even though the situation they faced was far from peaceful. Israel experienced periods of relative peace as they obeyed God and faithfully served Him.
When Jesus came to earth, He brought a message of peace. In announcing His birth, the angels proclaimed “Peace, goodwill to men” (Luke 2:14). In His ministry, Jesus showed His ability to bring peace to the natural world, calming a storm with the words “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). And, when Jesus tells His disciples about the Holy Spirit, He said “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
Christ-followers since that day can testify to the abiding peace of God even in the midst of difficult circumstances. And, while we know that “wars, and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) will increase, we also look, with longing hearts, to that day when Jesus returns to make an end of all war (Isaiah 2:4), and restore His shalom once again.
Today, as we light the candle of peace, we celebrate the gift of peace, and look forward to the peace yet to come.
Hope, for the Christ-follower, has always been a treasured and unique aspect of our faith. From the fall of man recorded in Genesis 3, man looked forward with expectant hope for the one who would crush the head of the deceiver. While in bondage in Egypt, Israel hoped for the day when God would free them from their bonds. Then, as they wandered through the wilderness, those who were to enter the Promised Land had a hope that the God Who led them through the wilderness would lead them into the land of milk and honey.
While this hope was revealed to – and coming through – the line of Abraham, God foreshadowed that this hope was not just for the Jews. Rahab and Ruth, both members of nations defeated by Israel, were grafted into the line of hope. As Israel conquered and ruled the Promised Land, their need for judges and desire for kings had, at its heart, a desperate need for this hope of a Savior. As Israel was led into captivity, their hope was for a Messiah who would vanquish their captors.
We know how this hope unfolded; God sent His Son to this earth to free His people, not from their human captors, but from an even stronger bondage – sin. The hope that began with man’s fall had come to pass; God had kept His word! As we live in the light of this fulfilled hope, we have a new hope, also based on the promises of God. The object of our hope is the same – Jesus Christ, who will return, not as a baby, but in full glory.
Today, we light the candle of hope, praising God for the hope He has given us, both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled.
Last year, I wrote 5 Advent readings for our church, which we read in our services just before we lit each candle. Each candle (before Christmas) points to an aspect of the prophesied Redeemer:
The center candle, which we light on the Sunday on/after Christmas, represents Christ, the greatest gift.
Over the next 5 Saturdays, I’ll be sharing each of these. My prayer is that they encourage you and focus your heart as we remember that, not only was a Redeemer promised, He was given; and, when He returns, He will bring each of these aspects to their perfect completion on this earth!
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.