A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.Isaiah 40:3-4 (ESV)
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Do you know all the lyrics to the song? I think I might be able to get to the 5th day. Then I would need some help with the lyrics.
What are the twelve days of Christmas anyway? Where does this come from? Many people believe that the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days leading up to Christmas. After-all, Christmas starts in September for many people.
Actually, the twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day. They run from December 25 to January 5. The twelve days of Christmas mark the “season” of Christmas that is set between Advent and Epiphany (which starts on January 6).
The Season of Advent
The Church year calendar fills much of December with Advent instead of Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. Advent is not Christmas and Christmas is not Advent. They are different seasons.
But our culture gets ahead of itself and it misses the wonder of Advent. It celebrates Christmas before it’s Christmas. By the time Christmas gets here, many have grown tired, and are ready to move on. The Christmas songs are retired until the next year. Christmas trees start to come down. And it is on to the next thing before the season of Christmas is even over.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s live the moment. And let’s consider for a moment what Advent is and why it is important.
Advent is a season of preparation. It is not designed to be a season of excess, but a season of fasting and waiting. It is intended to be a time of quiet before the celebration begins. Advent is totally impractical and countercultural, which may make it the most useful response to the commercialized Christmas of excess.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is a symbol that is synonymous with Advent. The Advent wreath is a series of four candles placed around an evergreen wreath. During the first week of Advent, we light the first Advent Candle. In the second week of Advent, we light the second candle. The third and fourth are lit on the 3rd and 4th weeks. Each candle represents something different:
- First Candle: Hope
- Second Candle: Peace
- Third Candle: Joy
- Fourth Candle: Love
The theme of the wreath is anticipation. We live in the now, but not yet. We look forward to the lighting of the Christ Candle at Christmas. But we light just one candle at a time. It is an invitation of linger in the moment and appreciate the gift of each day we are given. We contemplate hope, peace, joy, and love in its time.
Candles are useful in helping us slow down. Think about where we use candles. You don’t sit down to a candlelight dinner at McDonald’s while grabbing a burger to go. A candlelight dinner is for a special occasion. You take your time and enjoy the presence of the person or people you are with. There is no rush.
For me, the Advent wreath reminds me to stop. It invites me to be still and recognize the blessings in this given moment. We are often so focused on what comes next, that we miss out on what is now. So take a moment. Light a candle. Be present now.
- Do you have an Advent wreath to use as part of your individual or family devotion time? If not, consider lighting a candle at your family dinner time as a reminder to appreciate the moment.
- What future event (worry, anxiety, longing) is causing you to miss out on the present blessings?
Lord, teach me to number my days wisely (Psalm 90:12). Help me to live in this moment you have given me. Help me to appreciate the blessings before. Help me to recognize the opportunities to serve you and to build your kingdom in this time and place. Give me the courage to slow down and to linger in your presence even when I am being pulled in so many different directions. In Jesus’s name, Amen!