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Substance And Hope: How Advent Shaped Me

Hidden within the beauty of Advent is the substance of hope; once I understood the full meaning of this season my faith journey began to take shape.

All around us right now, in spite of all Covid 19 related obstacles, are the sights and sounds of hope. The beautiful and ancient traditions are abundant and the air is longing to be filled with joy. Familiar songs are playing, lights are glowing in the neighbors' windows, and something is stirring in our hearts. This is the season of Advent, and I am as excited as a child. Advent is that amazing sense of expectancy; it is the essence of anticipation and hope. Something wonderful is about to happen.

Even though I was not raised in a church going family, we had some traditions in our home that gave a few hints that Christmas was not just about gifts. Of course there was a Christmas tree like most people have, but we also had a small nativity set, we sang Christmas carols, and we had an Advent Wreath. I was fully grown before I understood the full meaning of Advent but it shaped my entire faith journey, for hidden within the beauty of Advent is the substance of our belief.

In an Advent Wreath, there are three purple candles and one pink set carefully around a ring of evergreens with a white candle sitting in the center. The candles represent the four Sundays of Advent, and the one in the center is the Christ candle which is lighted on Christmas Eve. Each week a new candle is lighted along with the candles from each previous week, so that each week the light from the wreath shines brighter and brighter. The way to Jesus shines more clearly each week.

Each Sunday in Advent has a different emphasis which we can talk about with our families as we sit in the candlelight. During the season of Advent families can use an advent wreath as a way to spark discussions about the truth of Christ, the reality of our faith, the substance of our hope and the eternity of God's perfect love. Advent is a time of joyful anticipation, and we can use it to learn, meditate and expand the faith we have.

Advent reminds us that there was a time in human history when the Son of God had not come to point us back to His Father. For thousands of years God's people on earth only had the law. The law is perfect since it came from God, but people are flawed. We simply can not keep the law so well that we can be present with God. There had to be a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sin, and God promised to provide this perfect One. He provided hope for His children. He gave us grace.

This year, rather than swooping into Christmas as fast as you possibly can, spend some time anticipating. Linger on each of the truths that point to Bethlehem. Embrace Advent. Recall the meaning of the four Sundays and light the candles that represent them.

The first week is all about hope. We also use this time to celebrate and remember the prophets. Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and others spoke about the coming Christ hundreds of years before His birth. Talk with your children about things they hope for. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Ask what they think God hopes for all of us, and specifically for your children. God has a plan for each of our lives. Help your children to reach for God's best life. Teach them to hope.

If your children are readers, ask them to read some of these verses aloud to you. You read some too. Invite your children to participate. Even a young child can hold on to your hand as you light the candles with a long lighter. Older children can be given the privilege of lighting or extinguishing the candles on their own. But mostly, as the candle of hope shines, ask open ended questions and begin conversations that can continue throughout the Advent season. Encourage your children to tell you what they know and what they think about Jesus. This is a time to accept your children's faith as it is developing.

Suggested readings: Numbers 24:17 (prophesy of the star), Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 61:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Micah 5:2

The first Sunday of Advent reminds me to have hope. My nature and my upbringing gave me a tendency to be a bit melancholy and morose but God calls me to have an abundant life filled with joy and worship. I use the first Sunday of Advent to remember that my nature is not necessarily lined up with God's great plan for me. He wants to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) The Sundays of Advent shape my faith and remind me to grow beyond myself and my own reasoning. I can justify pessimism or I can remember that God is in control. The voice of the prophets tell me that God speaks to all creation and that He wants to speak to me and live in my heart.

On the first Sunday of Advent, and all through the first week, I find ways to spark hope in myself and others. I give generously of encouragement and kindness to those around me and, in a new resolution, to myself. I am so very harsh in the words I say to myself. This year, my prayer is that my faith journey will lead me to be kinder to me and not criticize myself so cruelly. Dear readers, pray for me as I do for you. May your Advent bring you hope as you move toward Christmas.

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