Summary: The basics of Advent.
Hope Sunday – December 1, 2002
First Sunday of Advent
By John L. Weeks
Pastor, Southeastern Christian Fellowship
Welcome to Advent. This is a time of great expectation and anticipation. There are a lot of ideas behind the symbolism of Advent and quite honestly, I cannot even begin to sort it all out for you but, here are some of the basics that I thought were interesting.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word, “advenire”, conjugated as “adventus” which is a combination word of “ad” meaning, “to” or “toward” and “venire”, “come” which is conjugated as ventus, which means more specifically, “coming”. Combining them gets us literally, “toward the coming.” The Latin definition is, “(a thing) about to happen.” Expectation would be an appropriate synonym here.
Funk & Wagnall’s defines the lower case version of advent as, “a coming or arrival, as of any important event or person.” So you can see that the definition has not changed significantly since it was taken from the original Latin.
The idea and concepts of Advent actually pre-dates Christianity. It was a ritual celebrated by the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe to keep their spirits up while waiting through the harsh winters. They were looking forward to spring, so they took evergreen branches, arranged them in a circle and lighted candles around it.
The symbolism here is fairly clear - The circle symbolizing the circular nature of the seasons. The evergreen symbolizing the continuity of life. The light from the candles symbolizing the light of hope. Of course, their hope is based on facts of nature and not the facts of God.
God, as he always does, uses this structure to give us a lesson in His nature.
The circle of the Advent wreath is symbolic of Christ’s perfection. The evergreen is symbolic of eternal life and the light from the candles is symbolic of the light of Christ. Each of the candles has meaning but it depends on which tradition your choose to follow. I searched many different denominational websites that had any information on Advent and the themes are pretty close but the most common symbolism and what we will focus on throughout Advent here is this:
This is the first candle is the candle of Hope. Next Sunday, we will light the candle of Peace. After that come Love and Joy and lastly the Christ candle on Christmas Eve as the fulfillment of what is promised in the first four candles.
The color of the candles varies, too, depending on the tradition. The purple, pink and white combination is probably the most common. Typically, the Joy candle is the pink when the others are purple and the Christ candle is white to symbolize His purity. In most traditions, the meaning is as we have it but the order of the third and fourth candles is inverted. Nothing that I read anywhere seemed to indicate that the order of the candles or topics was terribly important.
Now that you all know far more about what Advent means than you ever wanted to know, let’s talk about Hope, after all, isn’t that what today is all about?
HOPE A gift of the Holy Spirit that, with faith and love, is an essential characteristic of the Christian. Hope works hand in hand with Faith, which is the cornerstone of our belief. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hope is what motivates us. It keeps us going. It is what we live for.
I have visited Japan twice in the past three years….
Country of contrasts – great beauty contrasted with great sadness.
Culture of materialism, self-satisfaction, rigid order, sexism.
Explain a typical workday.
Lifelessness in their eyes.
Christ is not a part of their culture. Their culture lacks hope. Their culture is motivated by achievement. Yet their achievements only motivate them to achieve more and more. It’s an endless cycle with no end, no great reward. They have nothing above them to look forward to. They have no hope.
Not everyone in our society is a Christian – far from it – but Jesus plays a huge part in our society. We have more Christians here than anywhere and it is His indwelling Spirit in us that transcends those that have not found the source of our hope. If we lead, they will follow. People need to see Christ’s light shining through us to give them a sense of hope. Christ can have an effect on people even when they have not accepted Christ. It is our hope that by allowing ourselves to be used by God in such a way, that those who do not know Christ will develop a desire to know Him because of what they see in us.