For the first time ever, I got to put together my own Advent wreath. It's simple, the way I like things to be. Next to it sits a small statue of the Holy Family, and next to them, a wooden plaque which reads "Simplify Christmas, Celebrate Christ" sits atop a 200-year-old Bible I was gifted by a friend.
Since I put the Advent wreath together myself for the first time this year, it uses five new candles. I've been rotating which purple ones get lit to conserve them, but as of yet the pink and white candles have never been lit.
Today as I was lighting two purple candles for the Second Sunday of Advent, I felt an urge to light all the candles to see what it will look like. That urge was quickly smothered, though, by the desire to wait. Anticipation is what Advent is about, and I'll let my anticipation for seeing my wreath in its simple glory remind me of that.
In the moments during which I stood and thought about this as I watched the two tiny fires burn, I recalled that my mere weeks of waiting to light a few candles are hardly even a shadow next to the thousands of years during which mankind awaited the Messiah. I read recently that each Advent candle represents a one thousand year period in the story of the chosen people in the Old Testament -- from Adam and Eve to Abraham and to David and beyond. If you need something to give you pause next time you light an Advent candles, think about that!
This anticipation for them was not so simple as mine, as I stood waiting for weeks to pass to light a candle or two. These centuries for the people of YHWH were inundated with strife and suffering: cast out from Eden, enslaved in Egypt, exiled in Babylon. These years were wrought with murder, adultery, rape, slavery, war, and jealousy. They faced natural disasters, famines, culturally accepted violence, and racism. We must never take for granted the "darkness" referred to in the prophetic hope of Isaiah towards the Christmas we now celebrate: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Though the Scriptures tell the tales of Israel's repeated infidelity, the people of God in the Old Testament staked their identity on their covenant with God, and placed their hope in his promises. These were a people hopeful for the future of their children and their children's children, whose hope was inherited from their ancestors who took it from their ancestors. This was not a person waiting to light a candle; this was a collective people spanning thousands of years waiting for light to come into their world.
I think back on these people and wonder what their lives looked like, what they prayed for, how they prayed. The stories we hear in the Bible are often extraordinary, but sometimes they are ordinary. These were people who awoke every morning and endeavored to provide for their families and drank water and had dirty feet and sweaty faces. People with babies and children and grandchildren and grandparents and cousins and friends and neighbors. For all the times their stories were penetrated by the fire of God, their lives remained ordinary. For thousands of years. Just like ours do.
And we're waiting, too, aren't we? The centuries since Christ's Ascension are wrought with murder, adultery, rape, slavery, war, and jealousy. We face natural disasters, famines, culturally accepted violence, and racism. Advent is for us, too. Just as the people of God in ancient times forgot their covenant and replaced it with other gods and other worldly things and pagan rituals, we, too, forget our covenant with God and replace him with new gods and new things and distracting habits.
For all the times our world has been penetrated by the fire of God, our lives remain abundantly ordinary. We are tired, we're stressed, and we're ready for a Savior.
May Advent renew our hope that he is coming.