Sitting around the table, our family was quiet. My oldest son rose with match in hand and leaned in to light a purple candle. With this simple action, Advent began.
“The prophecy candle,” he said. “We have hope.”
In the midst of so much holiday chaos, we sat motionless, together, staring at the tiny flame rising up from our homemade Advent wreath. Even our youngest did not move. And, in the glow of this dim light, I reflected on the meaning of hope and the purpose of observing Advent.
The people of Israel experienced waiting. In need of a Savior, they wandered figuratively and literally for so many years. With no more than a promise offered, they found themselves wondering when hope would come, when help would come. Advent is a time for us to remember and join with all God’s people in this waiting. We look ahead with longing for the Savior that has been promised and we anticipate his coming again.
And when that promise of a Savior was finally fulfilled, it was unrecognizable to most. Jesus was not the type of Savior that Israel expected. Expecting a person of power, an earthly king, they were delivered a baby born in a difficult place, to parents who scarcely understood the life they were called to live. Our Savior left the splendor of heaven to suffer in our place, paying the debt for our sins.
And with the news of our Savior’s humble birth and extraordinary mission comes great hope, but it is hope forged in waiting. As parents, we know what it is to wait. We know what it means to look at our families and hold our breath, hoping for the good we expect to come to fruition. Yes, we fully understand that there are times when we find ourselves standing-stock-still and squinting with a deep desire to see the fulfillment of the promises God has freely given to us. Promises that offer a future and a hope. Healing words that tell us that the struggle is not in vain. And so we wait and hope in the knowledge that Christ has conquered all things to draw us near.
As we walk through Advent, we are reminded that the most unbelievable stories can unfold before us and that we too are a part of God's unfolding story. When we take time during Advent to silence ourselves for a second, we can be reminded that there is reason to hope, to persevere, because God will do what he has always done. His Word is good and he will see this through. There is no material need, no medical situation, no indescribable struggle that is outside of his reach. And there is no joy, no reconciliation, no moment of beauty and love that does not have his hands upon it. The God who spoke the universe into being stooped to earth to draw us near. He sits alongside us in the gritty day-to-day and in the celebration of all that is good. Compassion and hope flow freely from God, this is our message for the holiday season.
As individuals, families, and congregations light the first candle of the Advent season, we draw nearer and nearer to the origin of true hope. And in this, we can see that the prophecy was true, that unlikely places can hold miracles, that this truth was for all, and that we have reason to rejoice. As Colossians 1:27 says, "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
In the most impossible of scenarios, God drew near. He found a way to come to his beloved people and enfold them in arms eternal. It was not what we expected. It was exactly what we needed. And on this day, all of this remains. We have hope because we are loved, because we are offered salvation, because our needs are met in the one gift that surpasses all others.
It is Advent. And we have hope.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster