My afternoons in New England are marked by disappearing light as we move through to the darkest day of the year. I’m surprised each December when the days grow shorter. My kids and neighbors continually remark, “is the sun setting already?” as it seems to hide by 3:30 p.m. The removal of light brings about minor panic—we sense it as a loss. Advent occurs during a season of darkness, which provides opportunity to think about how the light has come.
The origins of Advent have a fuzzy start, but the establishment of Christmas Day around the fourth century created practices of anticipation and preparation. Paired with the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, candles became a symbolic reminder. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and people experienced this spiritual truth with a physical representation of a burning candle.
The Practices of Advent
The observation of Advent is widespread, as we take the weeks leading to Christmas to wait with anticipation. It’s a time of double meaning. We acknowledge Jesus’s coming in the flesh as a baby to inhabit the world (Matt. 1:23), and we look with hope to his coming again (Rev. 1:7).
God’s people sit in the blessed reality that we belong to him. We’re saved from our sins and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), yet we’re not physically in the presence of Jesus. He’s prepared the way for us but hasn’t invited us home (John 14:3). Our faith has not yet been made sight. J. C. Ryle summarizes it well, “There is a glorious dwelling place provided by Jesus Christ for all his believing people. The world that is now is not their rest: they are pilgrims and strangers in it. Heaven is their home.”The practices of Advent are an invitation to declare that darkness doesn’t have the final say. Click To Tweet
This challenges me to recognize the tension of the Christmas season—the now and not-yet reality we’re living in. This world isn’t my home, but I’ve been given a place to inhabit where the kingdom can be realized on earth. The practices of Advent are an invitation to declare that darkness doesn’t have the final say.
The candles, lights, wreaths, and glitter of festivities and presents are gentle reminders that the dark of night has been pierced by the true Light. Christ came most unexpectedly, disarming all the principalities of darkness, taking on the limitations of humanity to live the life we couldn’t.
I invite you to slow down and reflect. Light a candle, and notice the places of light as you move through this season. There are many traditions to embrace and celebrate with those you love. Before you do, consider these three truths that offer hope for the longing world.
Remember the Silence
We often become uncomfortable in a time of extended silence. Take any small group conversation with a thirty-second pause, and you’ll notice people squirming in their seats. It’s helpful to remember the world lived in silence for 400 years. Twenty generations lived in the intertestamental period from the end of the book of Malachi until the birth of Jesus.
God’s prophetic Word ceased, but he continued to work. There must’ve been countless times people lost hope, questioned, and doubted God, yet he remained faithful to his promise (Isa. 9:6–7). Reflecting on this allows us to cultivate faith when he hasn’t answered our prayers in the way we’d hoped. He’s always at work in our waiting.
Sit in the Darkness
One of my favorite practices in the Advent season is sitting in the early morning darkness before the household awakens. I’ll turn the Christmas tree lights on, and an illuminating glow cascades through my living room. The light bounces off the ornaments, and a glimmer of light reaches into the darkness. It reminds me that without embracing darkness, we can’t feel the relief brought by the light.
This translates well to our spiritual life. The practice of looking deeply at ourselves and acknowledging the depth of our depravity gives way to receiving the forgiveness of God. We revel in the depth of his mercy when we understand our great need (Eph. 2:4).During Advent, as the sun sets on your day or breaks forth in the morning, may you embrace the invitation to see the light of Jesus. Click To Tweet
Watch for the Light
God made a way to be with his people in the flesh with the birth of Jesus. His name is Immanuel, God with us, testifying that rescue had arrived. We see this in the second chapter of Matthew when the star announces his arrival to the wise men. Their response was to come and worship. Jesus’s life and ministry were a continual proclamation that his reign and rule were at hand.
As we live now, we see glimpses of the kingdom as we walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). We just have to notice and name them. This Christmas, cultivate a heart like the wise men and pray you’ll recognize the light of Jesus breaking through. Watch for the light, and worship him in response (Matt. 2:2).
During Advent, as the sun sets on your day or breaks forth in the morning, may you embrace the invitation to see the light of Jesus. He continues to be the answer for all our longings and darkness. May you experience that anew this season.