Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Does your church celebrate with weekly readings and the lighting of candles? Is Advent part of your family traditions – a daily devotional time with your family around your own advent wreath?
Last year, in lieu of a large Christmas drop-in party [because of Covid, you know], we offered to organize a few small groups with just a few neighbors on the four Sunday evenings leading up to Christmas to celebrate Advent together. To facilitate, I wrote a devotional reading to use. It turned out to be a wonderful time together, sharing our experiences and thoughts of Christmas and talking about the deeper meaning of Christ’s birth.
I thought I’d share these with you, for anyone who would like to use them in their own home or small group setting. I’ll share one each Sunday between now and Christmas. Each week includes a devotional read, some discussion questions, and a recommended music video to conclude your time together. I hope you enjoy them.
The first week, we also included the following introduction to Advent, which I gathered from several different websites.
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Recall that the building blocks of Advent — its images, stories, memories, promises, songs, and hopes — are already present in the Bible. The rich images of the prophets Isaiah and Amos are there. The stories of John, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, and John the Baptist are found in the Scriptures. There are Israel’s memories of exile and the hope for a day when God would restore hope, justice, and rulers in the line of David. There you find the songs: Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song, and the psalms of lament, anguish, and hope. The vision of a new heaven and a new earth is there. Jesus’ call to be alert because we don’t know the day or the hour when the Son of Man will come is there. Paul’s and Peter’s words to believers awaiting the return of the risen Lord (the second coming) are there. All of this was there by the end of the first century. It was only a matter of time until the churches in various places began to find ways to weave these elements into their worship and into the ways they kept time together. [Copied]
Meaning of the Advent Wreath
The versions of what each advent symbol means are varied, depending on the different denominational traditions. You can find a variety of descriptions. These are some of the explanations.
The Advent wreath, typically a circular garland of evergreen branches, is a symbol of eternity and unending love. Greenery represents life and the gift of life. God creates and redeems out of His grace and love; the wreath is a picture of God in all His creative activities on our behalf.
Purple has traditionally been the primary color of Advent. This hue symbolizes repentance and fasting, the spiritual discipline of denying oneself to show devotion to God and prepare our hearts for His arrival. Purple is also the color of royalty and the sovereignty of Christ, who is known as the “King of Kings.” So, purple in this application demonstrates the anticipation of and reception of the coming King celebrated during Advent. The dark purple also represents the darkness of the world before the arrival of the Messiah. Pink represents joy and rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season of Advent away from repentance and toward celebration. It also symbolizes the great love God has for His creation in sending a Savior.
White is the Advent candle color representing purity, light, regeneration, and godliness. White is also a symbol of victory. The white candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Jesus Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. He is the light that comes into a dark and dying world. He is often depicted in the Bible wearing radiant, intensely white robes, like snow or pure wool, and shining with the brightest of light. The candles burning together, with the Christ candle in the center, symbolize God’s act of sending light into our world of darkness.
While some denominations give specific meaning to each candle and weekly topic, there are many acceptable ways to celebrate Advent that can be adapted from scripture. For our devotional times, we will focus on these topics and the corresponding names of Jesus.
Jesus is the Light of the world.
Jesus is the Prince of peace.
Jesus is Emmanuel.
Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Advent Week 1 – Promise: HOPE
Jesus is the Light of the world
** Light one purple candle.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In our English language, this phrase dates back to the 1800s, but its meaning has likely been around for much longer. In fact, we could say it is one way to sum up the words written by the prophet Isaiah.
Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, God gave Isaiah the promise of a Savior. The promise came in the midst of darkness, and as promises tend to be, it was a source of hope for God’s people. It was a promise of light. Israel was in spiritual decline and morally bankrupt, having rejected God and turned to idolatry. The Assyrian empire was literally at their door and would soon conquer the northern tribes. Isaiah’s prophecies contain warning after warning of the coming judgment.
Yet, Isaiah’s words also include the promise that God’s grace would prevail even as the nations would be judged. A Savior would come – a Savior that would make a way for the people to be restored back into a relationship with God, and for the world to come under the rightful rule and kingship of its Creator. He would be the ultimate proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” for He would be the Light of the world.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. … For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
Who is this One whose advent was spoken of by the prophets and anticipated as the fulfillment of God’s promises?
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
His name is Jesus.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
Jesus’ first coming fulfilled God’s promise to save His people spiritually. This first advent led not to the earthly throne the Jews visualized, but to a cross. Jesus came first, not to save us from our enemies, but from our sins. God always keeps His promises. Jesus did come. Jesus did rescue. Jesus does rule, but for now, He rules on the thrones of our hearts as we celebrate His first advent.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
While we celebrate His first advent, we anticipate Jesus’ second advent, which will be the final fulfillment of the promises given to Isaiah. Listen as Isaiah describes this exciting time yet to come.
Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
This week, Advent reminds us of the PROMISE of a Savior, a promise which carried the hopes of the Old Testament saints as they looked forward to Jesus’ coming. We look back on the promise fulfilled at Calvary. Yet, like those Old Testament saints, we anticipate with hope God’s promise of a second coming of Jesus, when the world will be filled with His light as He takes His proper place on the throne in Jerusalem. Truly, He is the Light of the world.
God’s promises never fail. Jesus came to purchase our salvation and forgiveness on the cross, and it is this fulfilled promise that guarantees our hope for the future. In the darkest of times, the promised light of Jesus shines the brightest.
- What hope do you think Isaiah’s words gave to the people of Israel, as they anticipated the hostile nation of Assyria coming to take them captive? How hard would it be to believe God’s promise when the physical rescue didn’t happen?
- What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Light of the world? Why does this give you hope?
- How does it make you feel to know that these promises have a future fulfillment, and that Jesus will one day rule over the world’s governments?
- What other promises of God give you hope? How do these promises help you worship Jesus this Christmas?