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.
Asbury celebrates the four Sundays before Christmas by lighting one candle for each Sunday that signifies our life together in Christ. There is no prescribed meaning to the candles although a popular notion are peace, hope, love and joy. This year on the first Sunday of Advent (the Sunday following Thanksgiving), we lit a candle signifying peace. On the second Sunday we lit the same candle as the first Sunday and then we lit a second candle signifying hope and so on. We will light a fifth candle on Christmas Eve that we call the Christ Candle.
But there is much more to this ritual than lighting candles that mean words which are themselves ambiguous. For example, what does it mean to have peace? When we talk about the peace of Christ or when we say that rebirth is often accompanied by a peace that is beyond understanding what does this mean? Even more important, how does this affect what we do the rest of the week? We usually read a short explanation or reflection each Sunday to help answer these questions. It is important to keep this simple ritual meaningful. Otherwise, there is little reason to do it and sooner or later a bright youngster will ask the obvious question, “Why bother?”
We bother because this simple ritual has so much meaning. So much so that it is worth living with the ambiguity. In fact, it may be the ambiguity that makes this ritual so rich. By making statements of faith about what it means to have peace, hope, love and joy we are able to come together around what it means to be Christian. What it means to follow Christ in a world where Christian too often means hypocrite. A label that Christ Himself used to describe persons in power who had a problem with Him. How we live out lives that embody peace, hope, love and joy matters a great deal. What they mean to us has eternal impact.
Matt Rawle offers food for thought on the topic of peace in particular questioning whether our usual definition of peace as tranquility or calm really fits. For example, when we say that Jesus is the Prince of Peace as we read in Isaiah 9:6 are we saying that there is no conflict? Jesus faced a lot of conflict and as Christians we do as well. Matt suggests that we might think of peace as the opposite of fear? The angel announcing Jesus birth to the shepherds said not to fear for the good news sang out by the angelic chorus was that peace was being brought to them and to us (Luke 2:8-15). Might we light a candle that signifies peace and its light calm our fears of what it means to follow Christ? *
This year on the second Sunday of Advent the candle that we lit signified hope. Hope keeps us moving toward God’s light. Hope is our destination and so we live with purpose instead of wandering as though we are lost.** The third Sunday our candle stood for the love that we are to have for God and one another. While our word was love our meaning was about transformation that requires that we let go of our obsession over material things and consider what God wants. It takes some pretty serious transformation for us humans to move from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. This is love on a whole new level.
The candle that we lit the Sunday before Christmas Eve is a symbol of our joy. When we sing Joy to the World we, like the angels singing to the shepherds, are announcing that God is with us. And because God is with us we are blessed. Everyone of us. Merry Christmas. May your Christmas Eve worship bring you great joy and a renewed passion for peace, hope, love and joy.
* Rawle, Matt. The Redemption of Scrooge. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2016.
** McFey, Marcia. God Bless Us Every One: The Redemption of Scrooge. © 2016 WorshipDesignStudio.com.