I came to think of Christmas as a pagan festival (Winter solstice) which was co-opted by the early church oligarchy as a means of consolidating their power base. There is plenty of evidence to support this conclusion, including a general acknowledgement by most Christian historians that they have no real idea of the day, or even the season of Jesus' birth.
Then I discovered the liturgical tradition of Advent. Far from embracing the excesses of the season, Advent reminds me of the need to pause and reflect on my personal need for a Savior... or in other words to recognize my inadequacy to get close to God on my own, my inability to find that "way to be good again", my desperate longing for redemption, and for my life to have meaning!
The bustle of "the Holiday Season" pales completely in comparison to this primal emotional need.
Once we recognize the brokenness in our own lives, this need becomes unavoidable. This is what makes Advent different form Easter. Having a Savior without first feeling a desperate need for one is comforting, but not personally significant. It is much like a child that enjoys the security of being with her Grandparents, but not truly comprehending the depth of their love or their sacrifices for her.
To me, Advent is all about longing. And waiting. And praying. It is also about being expectant, holding on to faith that God will do great things, that he will deliver on his promises, and that he really does love me and wants to spend time with me. So much so, that he is willing to build a bridge with his own body in order for me to reach him. By immersing myself in this season, I can begin to get a glimpse of the depth of his love and his sacrifice for me.
The 5 Candles of Advent are traditionally lit sequentially every Sunday starting 4 weeks before Christmas. The order varies in different traditions, but the meaning seems to be consistent.
- Hope (or Prophecy Candle)
- Joy (or Angel's Candle)
- Peace (or Shepherd's Candle)
- Love (or Bethlehem Candle)
- Christ - Emmanuel (God with us!) - lit on Christmas Eve