The First Candle (Hope)
Last Sunday the first Advent candle was lit, signifying hope. I was embarking on my Advent adjustment and was feeling hopeful I would relax, simplify and wind down my Christmas expectations. I wanted to experience the anticipation of the coming Christ child. It was all about me and how I felt.
I got off to a great start. We dug out the Christmas tree and assembled the twelve foot pre-lit, fake fir. Rich optimistically plugged in the lights. One string across the bottom came to life. That's it. Now, I'm giving myself credit because I stood by calmly and did not have a psychotic breakdown. I simply suggested we go buy more lights and string them over the existing lights. Bingo. Normally this set-back would have sent me into a tail-spin, after which we still would have had to go to the store for more lights. I felt hopeful that I would start to feel Christmas.
As the week has progressed (it's only Wednesday) I've experienced the onset of a couple of panic attacks regarding gift giving (lack of ideas for grandchildren) and the continuation of a tradition I don't really want to continue. I managed to get a grip, threaten the grandchildren with pajamas and underwear if they didn't make an effort to come up with gift ideas and was advised by a dear friend to bag the tradition. I felt better.
Last night reality hit. Tragedy struck a family we know. Pain I can't imagine. They are a Christian family and love Jesus. But hope? How do they feel the hope of Advent as they wander the halls of grief?
Then, as if God turned on a movie projector in my head, I saw all the people who recently lost family members, homes, pets and all their belongings to fire, flood, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, on and on.... I saw people on the streets and in prison; families in poverty; hungry children; wars and cruelty and young men coming home in caskets. Stop, Lord! I want nice Christmas feelings not hard feelings and situations beyond my understanding.
The first candle of Advent. Hope. What does that really mean? What does this one candle mean in the middle of such suffering? Only God knows the answers, feels our pain, holds the hurting in the palm of His hand. He sent His Son, the baby we celebrate—Jesus Christ, the Hope of our world, "...this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast..." Hebrews 6:19 (NAS).
So, its not all about me. God gave me a candle and said, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV).
I see Advent differently now. Yes, I will celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus but with a deeper understanding of His presence within me. He has given me a light that will never go out, never need replacing. He wants me to shine His light in both celebrations and the dark corners of life. Whatever He needs, wherever I am.
When I re-light the candle of Hope next Sunday, I will feel differently, it won't be all about me.