Christmas is my favorite season of the year. The scents, the symbols, the decorations all tend to create a festive, if not reflective time when we have yet another opportunity to cherish family, our traditions, and the faith that makes life meaningful.
Unfortunately, the commercialization and secularization of Christmas have distracted us from much of the joy we could have. Many companies started their Black Friday sales in early November. The Grinches among us still insist on saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” And don’t forget, even our favorite Hallmark Channel movies seem to suggest that this season is more about romance that always ends with a kiss.
While the world focuses on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the romance of snowflakes, the Church begins a new liturgical year with the season of Advent. Often described as a time for waiting, a time of preparing for the birth of Christ, it may seem strange to be “waiting” for something or someone who has already come.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, makes the following observation, “Nearly all that we call human history…(is) the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” One only has to watch current day commercials for the a priori evidence that Materialism is the replacement religion for many hungry souls. Yet, it is a “religion” that never satisfies. You always have to have more.
In contrast, Advent is a season of anticipation, celebration, and renewal. And while the gifts we exchange with family may be a subtle salute to the gift of the Christ child, the season of Advent stands in stark contradiction to the Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, serving as a reminder that the gift of the Savior is all we truly need.
The season of Advent encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas. Many believers use an Advent Wreath and candles to help countdown the weeks to Christmas. Traditionally one candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent; two are lit on the second Sunday and so on. Over the years, our family used an Advent Log (instead of a wreath ) for family devotions. Each night of the Advent season, we would light the appropriate candles as my wife and I read a Christmas-themed devotion.
One of our more hilarious Christmas memories involves the story of one such Advent Log.
In 1975, my wife shared with our dear friends, Dick and Pat Willits, how we used an Advent Log. Years later, Pat would recount the story of their decision to follow our example.
In 1975, Tootie told me about an Advent Log to use for family prayer time. When she said you used a log to hold the Advent candles and each day you light a candle, I pictured a log with 25 candles. So, I sent our son, Rick, out into the woods to cut down a tree that would accommodate 25 candles, one for each day of Advent.
Dick drilled 25 holes in this tree log, and we used red candles for the weekdays and Saturday and white for Sunday and Christmas Day. It was a beautiful centerpiece as each candle was lit, and the dripping wax hardened on the log. Greenery and berries adorned the display. It had a perfect arc to it. We moved away from Atlanta but continued to use that log every year, sometimes changing the candle colors.
Well, we moved back to Atlanta some 12 years later and saw Buddy and Tootie at church. As we entered the Advent season, I told Tootie I had to go home and get my Advent log out and get it ready.
Tootie said, “We burn ours every year on Christmas Day.”
I said, “You mean you go out and cut a tree down every year and drill all those holes?”
She said, “What are you talking about, all those holes? There are only four holes!” So I told her about our log and the picture she had painted in my mind all those years ago. We just had the biggest laugh over that.”
We still chuckle today over the misunderstanding. Funny how new traditions get started. Funnier still have been the looks the Willits received from guests as they tried to process the sight of a 25 candle advent log with decades worth of multi-colored wax buildup. Let’s just say, it has become a source of many a conversation.
Whether you have an advent log with four candles or twenty-five, celebrating Advent by lighting candles is more than just a sentimental tradition or liturgical ritual. In John 8:12, Jesus makes a bold claim:
“I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Recently I heard someone describe darkness as not the opposite of light, but the absence of light. The lighting of Advent candles reminds me that I must make a daily choice. To follow Jesus is to walk in the light, to live in truth, righteousness, and goodness. While not to follow Him is to walk alone in darkness, with a never-ending sense of emptiness and uncertainty.
The BuddyBlog.com urges you to light a candle this Advent, as many as you like. Even better, use the Advent season to prepare your heart to celebrate, once again, the gift of the Savior, the “light of the world…the light of life.”
And hopefully, the Light of your life.