On this first Sunday of Advent, I am reflecting on the tradition of Advent in my own life. The notion of celebrating Advent was introduced to me in my high school years. Each Sunday of Advent, candles were lit in our services to represent the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. My family participated in reading during one of these candle lightings, and we read a poem written by my grandmother. As a college student and young-married adult, I was invited to write for the Advent booklet distributed among the congregants. I continued contributing at the next church we attended as well.
Although this tradition was practiced in our church, my childhood family did not practice the candle lighting at home. I received an Advent wreath as a wedding gift and displayed it for years without actually lighting the candles. It wasn't until my sons were old enough to understand and after I received a wooden Advent calendar cabinet from my mother that we began to celebrate each Sunday of Advent in this way.
Seventeen years later, I am now cognizant of how this tradition has shaped our family's preparation for Christmas morning. Some years, I filled the Advent calendar cabinet with Hershey kisses and Bible readings. Later years, I included Lego mini-figurines. When the boys were young, we read a story series on Sunday evenings before lighting the candle display. I published While Bethlehem Sleeps in 2012, and we used that format for our readings.
The paint of the original wreath is chipped now, and the candle tapers are in various stages of use. Hope's candle has dripped the lowest because it is always lit first. Even after replacing the wreath with a wrought iron holder for pillars, that first candle curls more than the others. Somehow hope always seems to work the hardest to retain its flame.
Some years were harder than others to maintain our weekly vespers. There were moans and groans, and not just from the kids. For this reason, we put faith's action behind our anticipation of the season. Otherwise, our hope threatens to drip too low. Our flame dims. Or it waxes completely.
This year, my youngest son and I are studying Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado. When prompted to consider what we want to gain from the study, we decided the most important thing was to be faithful in completing it together. How easy it is for us to become so distracted with daily living and Christmas doings that we could let this part of our preparations slide! Because Christmas is often a time of busyness, taking time to sit and reflect requires work. We have to be faithful in our following just as much as we are hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving. By gathering together, we remember why we celebrate at this time of year. We give of ourselves so that we may receive and annually retrieve the most important Gift from the manger. We invite Him into our celebration.
After all, it is His incarnate arrival that we commemorate.