Advent is the time of year when the church prepares for the celebration of the birth of Christ so long ago and anticipates his return. To help people in their worship, churches often light candles on an Advent wreath to represent themes of this season. The Advent candle lighting readings presented here focus on four things that God gives to us through his Son’s birth: hope, peace, love, and joy. The season of Advent ends on Christmas Eve with the lighting of the Christ candle to celebrate this child, this gift, this salvation that God promised and delivered to his beloved creation.
Week One: Hope (from the book of Luke)
Reader 1: What is hope? Modern culture tells us it is a “maybe,” a kind of unsure optimism. But in Scripture, hope is an indication of certainty. “Hope” means “a strong and confident expectation.”
The Israelites were hoping for a savior, their messiah. God had promised a messiah and they believed it. They didn’t know when or who, but they were waiting.
Zechariah was a Levite in the nation of Israel. He worked in the temple and was a God-fearing man. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were childless in a culture where children were considered to be a sign of God’s blessing. Zechariah had prayed and prayed to God, asking for a child, but God had not sent one. As Zechariah stood in the Holy of Holies that day, preparing to offer the sacrifices for the people, an angel appeared to him with a message from God:
Reader 2: Fear not, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You are to name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord his God. He is never to take wine or fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go before the Lord to make ready a people.
Reader 1: But when Zechariah heard Gabriel’s words, his first reaction was not hope. It was doubt. He asked the angel, “But how can this be? I am an old man!” The angel responded,
Reader 2: I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
Reader 1: Elizabeth did become pregnant, and Zechariah found himself wholeheartedly living in hope, in confident expectation that God would give him a son and that the long-awaited Messiah was soon to follow.
Today we too can live with Zechariah’s hope. We can live with the certainty and the confident expectation that Christ not only came to this world as a baby so long ago, but he will return and everything that God has promised will come true. What hope!
Week Two: Peace
(from the book of Genesis)
Reader 1: Picture a man named Abraham. He was 75 years old and married to Sarah, who was also well along in years. They had been married for a lifetime, yet they had no children. God came to Abraham in his old age and said,
Reader 2: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Reader 1: Let’s be clear: God was asking a lot of Abraham. “Leave everything you know and go to a place I will show you. Put your trust in me and I will bring you to a place that will someday be known as Canaan. I will make you a great nation! You don’t have any children yet, but just trust me, you will.”
Yes, God asked a lot of Abraham. But God promised Abraham even more. He promised descendants, blessings, and protection on the journey. God asked a lot, promised a lot, and Abraham had faith. As he embarked on this journey he put his trust in God. And God gave him peace. The peace that filled Abraham as he embarked on a very unknown, dangerous, and difficult journey is the same peace that God offers to us today in the midst of our unknown, dangerous, and difficult journey. God asks a lot, but he promises so much more. What peace!
Week Three: Love (from 2 Samuel)
Reader 1: David was 30 years old when he became king of Israel, and he reigned for forty years. Now, David wasn’t perfect, but he put his trust in God and served him well. And God blessed King David, and Israel flourished during his reign. After God had given him success against his enemies, a palace was built for this great King of Israel. When the palace was finished and David was settled in his new home, he called for Nathan the prophet and said,
Reader 2: It is not right that I am living in a palace of cedar, while the house of God remains in a tent.
Reader 1: David wanted to build a temple for God to take the place of the tent that had served as God’s home for many years. That night God came to Nathan with a word for David. God would have a temple as David wanted, but it would not be built by David. But that wasn’t all that God wanted David to hear that night. God wanted David to hear these words:
Reader 2: This is what the Lord Almighty says; I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, and I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own. The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you; when your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you. I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Imagine: becoming human was not a twist of fate, or a punishment from a higher being; it was a choice. God chose to give up everything—to become nothing.
Reader 1: God made a covenant of love with David that day: a covenant in which God promised never to take his love away from David or from his offspring. The line of David would remain on the throne of Israel forever. You see, from the line of King David would come the King of all kings. This King would save God’s people, not just for a time, but forever. God’s love is so much more than our own, and we celebrate that today as we remember how he sent his Son, a King in heaven, to earth to be with us. What love!
Week Four: Joy (from Exodus)
Reader 1: In the Old Testament, the word “joy” is nearly always associated with an act of God, and even more specifically, with an act of God delivering his people. The people of Israel found themselves in need of God’s deliverance on more than one occasion. When they were enslaved in Egypt, God set them free. As they traveled to the promised land, God proved to the Israelites over and over again that he was far stronger and more powerful than the enemy nations who opposed them. When the nation of Israel was carried off into captivity by the Babylonians, again they cried out to God to rescue them, and God delivered them and brought them back to Jerusalem.
Each time they were rescued, the Israelites were joyful and rejoiced in God’s love for them. But each time they soon forgot God’s deliverance and turned away from God.
In a cold and dirty stable in the small, unimportant town of Bethlehem, God again delivered his people. This time, however, it was not just for a time, not just until the next warring nation came across the river. This time it was forever, for eternity. God sent his Son to deliver his people not just from enemies who threatened them, but from their sin that separated them from himself.
We can imagine the joy on the faces of the shepherds as they made their way to the stable. We can almost see the joy on the faces of the wise men who traveled great distances to find this new king. And we can feel the radiant joy of Simeon and Anna in the temple as they came face to face with the Savior of the world.
God sent himself to us to bring us life and never-ending joy. Today, as we celebrate Advent and think of joy, let’s not forget. Let’s remember and live each day in the knowledge and understanding of what God has done for us. We are delivered! How can we not be joyful?
Christmas Day: The Christ Child
Reader 1: Emmanuel, God with us, a promise kept, a child. By definition, a baby is dependent on adults for everything—food, shelter, protection, and love. A baby is unable to use logic and reason. It needs constant attention. But the baby Jesus—this child created the world. This child existed before anything or anyone. This child was God. Imagine: he’s the creator of the world and suddenly he feels cold and hungry. Imagine: becoming human was not a twist of fate, or a punishment from a higher being; it was a choice. God chose to give up everything—to become nothing.
This child was a King. A King in a dirty stable, wrapped in rags—but a King with a plan.
This child would bring hope. Not just a wish, but the confidence that God would defeat Satan, that good would win over evil.
This child would bring peace, even in the midst of great suffering and trials—a peace that assures his followers that he is in control even when it feels like nobody is.
This child would bring love—a love that would never be taken away, a love that is beyond our understanding.
And this child would bring joy, for he would deliver us.