Gather around the Advent wreath for quiet time during the busy holiday season. Each week, light the appropriate candle(s) and prepare for Jesus’ coming with a devotion about the hope, love, joy, and peace that Christ brings at Christmas and throughout the year.
Hope: Week 1
We went shopping at a local mall on a Saturday afternoon in September. As we rode the escalator to the second floor, my wife looked beyond me and said, “Don’t turn around!” I knew what she meant: “Turn around, but you won’t like what you see!” What terrible sight was about to greet us on the second floor? A fully decorated Christmas tree with lights, garland, and ornaments! Did I mention that it was September?
Our US culture observes its secular version of Christmas long before Christmas Day. The day after Thanksgiving used to be the start of the secular Christmas season. Now the starting date seems to be the day after Halloween—or even earlier! Impatient Americans don’t wait to celebrate the holidays. We exhaust them long before they arrive on the calendar!
How very different is the Christian’s Christmas celebration! Christmas Eve and Day don’t end the celebration but begin it. We spend the weeks leading up to Christmas not in celebration but in hopeful anticipation. We light the first candle of the Advent wreath as we take our place in the sandals of Old Testament believers who looked up to the heavens, waiting and watching and hoping for the Lord to keep his promise to send the Messiah.
God promised to send his Son to undo the damage of sin caused by Adam and Eve and each one of their descendants. That includes you. Jesus would have had every right to come into this world with his wrath and anger aimed squarely at us. He would have had every right to fill us with fear instead of hope. Instead, God’s promised Messiah came with grace and humility aimed solely at saving us. His mission from cradle to cross would remove the guilt of sin and restore the relationship between God and humankind.
Old Testament believers waited and hoped for God to send the Messiah as he promised. New Testament believers now wait and hope for Christ to return in glory and bring us to the glories that he won for us. Despite many attempts to predict that day, we cannot know when it will be. And so we patiently wait and hope. We hope in Christ, knowing that he who kept his promise by his first advent will come again in his good time for his final advent. With hopeful anticipation we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Watch students from Martin Luther College sing the suggested hymn, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?”
Love: Week 2
The looks on the faces of my catechism students revealed their confusion. I had said, “You don’t have to like someone to love someone.” You can guess why they were confused even if you weren’t in the room for the conversation. For many people, the word love simply means a stronger form of liking someone or something. I like everything on the menu at my restaurant of choice, but I really love this dish! I like all the players on my favorite team, but I really love the team’s leading all-star!
The biblical concept of love is much stronger than that. Biblical love put into practice will speak and act in a way that serves in the best interest of our neighbors. We get a sense of what that looks like from excerpts of John the Baptist’s firm and fiery Advent preaching. When people heeded his call to repentance and asked what they should do, part of his answer was vocation-specific ways of showing love to one’s neighbor (see Luke 3:10-14).
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, love is often in short supply. The busyness of the season— pageants and practices, concerts and rehearsals, parties and presents and preparations—overwhelms our schedule. But have these pre-Christmas externals also moved more important priorities further down our list? Does our patience with others grow thin? Is our time in God’s house and in his Word suffocated by the hustle and bustle that overtake our December days? Does our love for God and our neighbor become noticeably weak at a time when we are about to celebrate his great love for us set into motion?
No wonder Advent presents us with John the Baptist’s bold call to repent! The Lord and his prophet have our best interest in mind. That is why God’s Word calls us to repent of anything and everything that compromises our love for him and for one another. That is also why Jesus Christ came into this world as the one who perfectly loved the Father’s plan of salvation and perfectly loved us to death, even death on a cross.
The love we have received from our Savior is powerful. It changes hearts from pride to repentance, from unbelief to faith, from selfishness to generous and grateful love for God and neighbor. He who first loved us fills us with a love that finds new and sincere ways to reflect his saving love to the souls that cross our paths each day from now to Christmas and until his triumphant return.
Watch students from Martin Luther College sing the suggested hymn, “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry.”
Joy: Week 3
Why is the third candle pink? That is probably the most asked question about the tradition of the Advent wreath. The story is a bit complicated, so we will focus only on the basics of these devotionally symbolic colors.
In recent decades, blue, a symbol of hope, has become a more common color for Advent. Purple previously was, and in many churches still is, Advent’s predominant color.Repentance, traditionally symbolized by purple, is one of Advent’s several themes. Think of John the Baptist’s repentance message heard in worship on the second Sunday of the season: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2).
On the Third Sunday in Advent, several of the Bible readings and commonly sung hymns exude a joyful tone. Repentance-purple doesn’t seem like the right color. The color pink, a symbol of joy, captures the joyful expectation or anticipation proclaimed on the third Sunday of this season.
Sometimes anticipation makes us impatient. Sometimes it makes us anxious. But anticipation also can bring us joy. That’s not hard to imagine when Christmas is just a handful of days away. Think of a child’s excitement as Mom and Dad help their son or daughter count down the days until Christmas on their family wall calendar. Think of the joy children have decorating the tree with family, trying to guess what’s in the presents that begin to appear under it, wondering if their most hoped-for gift will be inside one of those colorfully wrapped boxes.
How much greater joy is there in the hearts of believers who know, with childlike faith, that the greatest Christmas gift they could ever receive will be unwrapped in a matter of days! What joy to know that our sins will soon be taken up by the holy and innocent Christ Child! What joy to know that our rescue from guilt and the grave is coming not in a beautifully wrapped box but in a miraculously sent child named Jesus! What joy to know that our greatest need will be satisfied by the greatest gift God could give to humankind: his own dear Son from eternity, who became one of us and one with us in time.
The anticipation of these days before Christmas brings joy to children of God of all ages! Rejoice that a Savior came for you once and will come for you again!
Peace: Week 4
What is the worst part of a vacation? Preparing for it! Taking care of all the tasks that need to be done before a family getaway is downright chaotic and stressful! Are the suitcases properly packed? Do the kids have everything they need? Did you line up someone to take care of the pets and check on the house? Is there anything you have forgotten? The stress of vacation preparation sometimes makes you wonder if the trip is worth the hassle!
But then you finally leave. At some point, peace and calm begin to settle in your mind and slow down your once-racing pulse. Maybe that moment comes when you pull out of the driveway. Maybe it’s when everyone takes a seat on the plane. The preparation is done. Now you can breathe deeply, relax, and feel at peace during the vacation days before you.
On the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Christians are on the verge of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Our busy Advent preparations will soon give way to the peace that the Christ Child came to bring his people.
The peace that flows from Jesus’ birth is so much greater than any earthly comparison we could make. That’s because this peace is not simply a relaxed feeling. This peace is the cessation of war! Your sins and my sins and the sins of the whole human race led to a holy war between God and humankind. And God’s justice demands that those who rebel against him be eternally sentenced for their war crimes. But God’s love fulfilled those demands in his perfect Son, the one whom Isaiah calls the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The perfect Son of God endured the perfect justice of his Father for our sin, taking our punishment on himself and restoring us to a peaceful relationship with his Father.
For earthly families broken by sin and hurt by tension, the Prince of Peace comes as a child who was born to be our brother. Through our faith in that child, his heavenly Father has become our Father who welcomes us into his family of peace and forgiveness.
All four candles surrounding the Advent wreath are now lit. Turn off the lights in your home, sit in the soft glow of the candlelight, and enjoy a moment of peaceful ambiance. But remember that the peace Jesus came to bring is so much more than ambiance. His peace comes from blood-bought forgiveness. His peace is eternal, and we will bask in its glow forever.
Watch students from Martin Luther College sing the suggested hymn, “The Advent of Our King.”
Christ: Christmas devotion
Perhaps you have seen the symbol etched into a stained-glass window, embroidered on a banner, printed on the front cover of the hymnal, or embedded into the white candle of the Advent wreath. The symbol looks like the letter X with the letter P placed over it. But the letters are not English; they are Greek. The letter that looks like X is equivalent to ch, and the letter that looks like P is equivalent to r. These Greek letters chi and rho are an abbreviation for Christ. In Christian art, the letters are often adjusted so that the two are merged together, appearing to be a single letter. The logo on the cover of Christian Worship: Hymnal provides an example of such a stylized Chi-Rho.
On Christmas Eve and Day, the symbols of Christ surround us—manger scenes and Christmas trees, Chi-Rhos and candles. Perhaps you attend an evening candlelight service in which the light from the Christ candle, the center candle of the Advent wreath, is used to light other candles that in turn light all the candles held by worshipers. With building lights dimmed, the light from the candles fills the room with a heavenly glow.
But the glow produced from the Christ candle is a pale comparison to the brilliant glory of the angels who filled the night sky to announce Jesus’ birth! Any symbolism we employ at Christmas is only a dim reflection of the first Christmas and an imperfect representation of the miracle that the angel messenger announced: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both words mean “Anointed One.” This special name for this special child tells us that there is more than what meets the eye in Bethlehem’s manger. This child is anointed and appointed to be the King of kings and Lord of lords. The innocent baby wrapped in strips of cloth is also the almighty God wrapped in human flesh. God has become one of us and one with us! The One who created heaven and earth is now cradled in a manger. What an amazing heaven-sent miracle from the heart of God the Father.
Even greater than this miracle is the heavenly rescue that the Christ Child will accomplish. Jesus Christ’s mission would take him from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross as the perfect payment for our sins and the sins of the whole world. And after the darkness of his death, the bright light of Easter morning would announce to all that the mission that began in Bethlehem’s manger was fulfilled by Calvary’s cross. The miracle of Christmas was just the beginning of the miracle of our salvation!
Rejoice! Today your Savior has been born! He is the Messiah—Christ, the Lord!
Watch students from Martin Luther College sing the suggested hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”
Find these devotions online in flipbook form at forwardinchrist.net/advent-2023.
Author: Johnold Strey
Volume: 110, Number 12
Issue: December 2023