Advent Reflections 2016: Lighting the Candles on the Advent Wreath

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The First Candle: Hope

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. Ps 130, 5-6

“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Advent is my favorite church season of the year. I remember the Advents of my childhood, with Advent calendars, cookie baking, the reciting of poems and singing of songs of the season, the fragrance of the greens, the excitement and giddy anticipation. And the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath, first one, then two, then three, then four. With each week, the light in the growing darkness of the days would become stronger. And even as a child, I had this strange yet comforting sensation of awe and mystery. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In many church traditions, the four candles on the Advent wreath symbolize different things; traditions vary, but the first candle is often called the candle of HOPE. We hope for Christ to return, we hope for God’s kingdom of peace and justice to be established among us, we hope for the day when suffering and crying and pain and death will be no more. We hope that the darkness we currently experience in this world will be conquered by each spark, each flame, that shines forth, no matter, how small.

And what would we be without hope? We experience darkness in so many ways. We experience how people suffer – or suffer ourselves. We witness injustice on so many levels. We deal with a society that is rigged against the weak one. We look on as this planet is destroyed for the sake of the economy and progress. We know we all will die. One could ask: so what’s the point in living?

And yet we walk on. There is something within us that presses us on. And, according to Martin Luther, this is hope. ‘Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,’ he says. The hope that better things and that healing are possible. That God has more in store for us and all of creation. Luther also allegedly said that he would still plant a little apple tree, even if he knew that world would end tomorrow. This sums up his philosophy and his faith: to defiantly hope, even though things seem hopeless. To keep the light burning, even and especially in the darkest night.

It is one thing to hope for something passively. But, as we all know, changes thus rarely happen. Hope is a verb, and thus hope at its best is a very active thing. What we hope for, we have to strive for, and to work for. If we want to see light, we have to light our candles and not keep it under a bushel basket. Advent is a time of hope and anticipation – and a time that reminds us to let the light, God’s light, so shine in the world, through our words and deeds. We may think our light is small and weak – but even a small flame brightens the night and drives fear away. Ours – and the fear of those around us.

My prayer for this week is, that we never lose hope; that we act upon our hope; that we never let the darkness of our lives and our worlds overcome the lights we carry in our hearts and souls. May it be so.