Summary: Lights and Christmas go together like peas and carrots. This message series reflects on the candles of the Advent wreath. The message concerns the candle of love
All the Pretty Lights: The Light of Love
John 3:14 – 21
Light is life, and we come seeking life and light in this Advent season. We light candles to remind us of the light of Jesus Christ, and last week we lit the candle of hope as a symbol of Christ who is our hope. This week, we come to light another, and today we lighted the candle of love. I chose to light the love candle today. I could have chosen to light the peace candle. One of the interesting bits of information I’ve learned preparing for this series of sermons is that the Advent wreath tradition is different in different places.
I have to admit we didn’t have an Advent wreath at Chatham UMC when I was growing up. It wasn’t until just before I came to ministry that one of our pastors introduced us to the “tradition” of lighting the Advent candles, and I remind you, I came to ministry in 1991. I’m not certain how long it’s been around FUMC, Monroe, but the “tradition” didn’t really take center stage for a lot of United Methodists until the mid-1980’s.
Everyone’s tradition is a little different. In some places, all the candles are purple. In other places, they’re all blue. Some, like ours are purple with one pink candle. We’ll talk about the pink candle next week, but it’s not from our “tradition.” We light the four candles with the virtues of hope, love, joy and peace in mind. There are some who say the candles were nothing more than a countdown, like 4, 3, 2, 1, go! Church folk being what we are, like for our symbols to have meaning, so we attached meaning, but those meanings have been different. Some light one of the candles for “preparation,” while others have a candle that represents “purity.” While the order and exact wording may vary, the Advent wreath still serves to remind us of who Christ is, and who we are called to be as his disciples. We also find, by lighting today’s candle, who God is, for we light the candle of love.
Our Gospel lesson today is very familiar to us. There is an old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” We take for granted those people, places and things we encounter, or use, or see every day, and not until they are gone do we realize how much meaning they held in our lives. I know a person who lost her big toe. No big deal, you think? Try walking without your big toe. A person’s balance is thrown completely off with a big toe. She had to learn how to walk all over again, and for several weeks, walking was a very intentional process.
Such is the case with John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The words go from the page through our ears and minds almost poetically, but the power can be too easily lost because the passage is so familiar. And, we think we’re familiar with the love of Jesus as we light this candle, but are we really?
There is a lot of love around the manger on that night so long ago. We can’t look at a manger scene without thinking of Mary’s love for her child. There is nothing like a mother’s love, even if you are the mother of God. I am reminded of the words of Mark Lowery’s incredible song Mary Did You Know? Lowery paints a vivid picture of the relationship between Mary and the baby Jesus:
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am…
There is some biblical evidence to suggest, perhaps, Mary did, in fact, know. Even if she did, it couldn’t change the deep connection and affection she had for her newborn. That is a manner of love we see at the manger, and it is a good and fulfilling and meaningful love, but it is not the love represented by this candle.
We also can’t look at the manger without noting the love of Joseph. I can’t honestly say how Joseph felt about his little man lying in the manger, but I’m pretty certain I can know how he felt about Mary. Here she is having gotten pregnant, Lord only knows how, yet here is Joseph with her at the birth of this child. Yes, I know, there were angels who visited him to assure him of God’s direction and leadership, but still, ya’ gotta’ think, “What’s up with that?” But, Joseph loves Mary, and because he loves Mary, he is there. We see the love of a husband for his wife, and it is a great and honoring love, but it is not the love represented by this candle.