Week 1 - Hope

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine." - Isaiah 9:2 (NLT)

Today we light the first candle of Advent, the candle of HOPE. The season of Advent is a season of longing. It seems these days there is so much longing, so much need for hope - true hope. We are weary, the darkness surrounds us, grief overwhelms us. We watch and wait and pray. The world looks for a Savior in extravagant signs and wonders, but God offered His hope and light through the humble and unexpected. Through a baby born to a virgin in a stable - taking on our humanity in all its messiness yet still maintaining His divine deity. This is the light we have waited for to lead us. Our Savior, our light and our hope has come.  

What are you waiting for, longing for this Advent season?

Where is the darkness in your life in which  you need Jesus to shine His light and bring you hope?

Father, thank you for the hope that has come through Jesus. That He is Emmanuel, God with us - how we long for You, how we yearn for you to be with us. May this light remind us of the hope fulfilled when You came. As we gather, let us remind each other of the light and hope that lives within us because of Jesus. And may we take that light and hold out this living hope to this weary world and let us rejoice! We are now people of hope, for Emmanuel has come - the light shining in the darkness. Amen.

Week 2 - Peace

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD almighty will accomplish this."  - Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

Today we light the candle of Peace. People were longing for this Prince of Peace that Isaiah spoke of. They longed for that kingdom - a government of peace, established and upheld by justice and righteousness. And yet, the way he came was anything but peaceful. He didn't come in the way people looked for Him. Many missed his arrival. A child born to a virgin, whose simple life was disrupted and scandalized by the news she would give birth to the Messiah. A child born during the reign of a wicked king who slaughtered babies because he was threatened, afraid he would be overthrown. A child born, not in a safe, sanitary mansion, but in a humble stable among the animals and filth.  

Throughout the Christmas story, a message is given, "Do not be afraid..." We don't have to be afraid because our Prince of Peace has come. And with His presence, comes His kingdom - a government of peace, upheld by justice and righteousness.

Christ's peace is not just the absence of fighting or war, or perfectly curated circumstances. Christ's peace seeks the restoration of all things for His glory. Peace walks in the confidence that He is with us - we don't have to be afraid. We are invited and called to be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers. May we look to our Prince of Peace to show us how to offer His peace and goodwill toward all mankind. 

Where are you longing for peace in your life?

Where is God asking you to be a peacemaker? 

Jesus, thank you for being our Prince of Peace. We invite you into our anxious hearts and minds - calm us with your peace that surpasses all understanding. As we gather, let us remind one another to work and pray for this peace. Jesus, help us to be peacemakers - in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs, in our churches, in the community - help us to hold out your peace and join you in the restoration of all things for your glory. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Amen.

Week 3 - Joy

"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” - Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭7-14‬ (NKJV)

Today we light the candle of Joy. This message of good tidings of great joy was first proclaimed to shepherds. It was an ordinary day of work, in an ordinary place, that God chose to shine His glory on them and come near in an extraordinary way. And in this, we get a glimpse into the heart of God - a God who chooses to come near and proclaim Jesus's arrival to the lowly, to the outcast. This good news of great joy was for ALL people - including the lowly shepherds, especially the shepherds.  They were not among the socially elite, politically savvy, or the religious leaders. Shepherding was not a noble profession but one that Jesus himself would identify with when He spoke of being the Good Shepherd. They were humbled and undeserving but saw in that moment, with all the glory and splendor of God displayed before them, God's grace.  And with the offer of grace came overwhelming gratitude and ebullient joy. They ran immediately to see this marvelous wonder that had been revealed to them - a baby. They saw with their own eyes the message and joy fulfilled. They went on to tell everyone who would listen, what they saw and experienced that night. Shepherds, though not highly regarded, left people amazed with the message they shared with such joy. They returned to their ordinary lives, but forever changed, God's glory had shone on them, they had seen the Savior with their own eyes, as a baby, and they would never be the same. "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" 

How do you see God coming near to you this Christmas? 

How can you share the "good news of great joy" with others?

Father, we thank you for fulfilling our joy with Jesus. Thank you, that even in the darkness and doubts, we can rejoice always because You are near. Allow this joy to overflow from our lives with gratitude and grace. As we find comfort in Your presence, may this joy we share leave others in awe and wonder of who You are. And as we wait for Your second coming, help us to find joy in the places You have us, with the people who surround us, and with the work You've called us to. Let us repeat the sounding joy with the wonders of Your love to a watching world. Amen.

Week 4 - Love & Christ

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us." - (‭1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭7-12 NLT)

Today we light the candle of LOVE as well as the CHRIST candle. The greatest need and desire of mankind is to experience love. Poets write of it, musicians sing of it, artists depict it's beauty, but yet how often we fail to look to the One who didn't just create love, but who IS love. And it was because of His love that God came near. When we encounter Jesus, we experience love in it's truest essence. It is perfect love - faithful, flawless, enduring, unfailing, and unwavering. As Christ is constant, so is His love. In His love, we can bring our doubts, shame, insecurities, inconsistencies, failures, fears, and in exchange He offers His grace upon grace. He shines a light into our broken hearts, and breathes into them healing and wholeness. He bends low and whispers a new name over us - child of God, beloved, redeemed, chosen, a royal priesthood, forgiven, free. He's not asking something from us, but rather desires so much for us. Created in His image, he longs to see us walk in all the glory and splendor He created us for. But along the way, we stumbled, lost our way, and so God sent Jesus -to put on our skin, embrace our weaknesses, to walk in our humanity, to show us the better way. He came to rescue, redeem, and restore. He takes our hand, clothes us in His righteousness and presents us to His Father - no longer condemned, but blameless; no longer bound, but free, no longer ashamed, but radiant with His delight and pleasure in us. He has brought wholeness to our humanity. As His beloved, let us love others with this perfect love that has been lavished upon us - fearlessly, courageously, letting His words and wisdom be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths as we walk the way of love.

Where do I need Christ's love to bring healing and wholeness in my life this Christmas?

What holds me back from receiving His love?

Where do I need to grow in how I express this love I've experienced with others?

Throughout this Advent season we have lived, waited, and remembered the hope, peace, joy, and love of God found in you Jesus. We thank you that with the birth of Christ, Love has come down, and salvation has drawn near. We are grateful that we can give you our rags and you replace them with your riches and righteousness. Father, may we never lose the wonder of Your love. Let us speak this love and remind one another of the new name we have been given - beloved. May we allow His hope to anchor us, His peace to comfort us, His joy to radiate from us, and His love to lead us, at Christmas and always, letting the light of Jesus guide the way. Amen.