Today is the second Sunday of Advent—the yearly celebration that invites us to look back to Christ’s first coming in a manger, and forward to Christ’s second coming in glory.
That the season of Advent comes to us in December is no accident; in fact, its location in our yearly rhythm serves to make the experience of Advent that much more powerful. As the days grow colder, and the nights grow longer, we light candles on the Advent Wreath to push back the darkness with warmth and light.
The Advent tradition invites us to acknowledge the darkness in our lives and our world. In 2015, there have been 335 mass shootings in the United States; France was just recently wracked by terror and violence; Syria is in the midst of an ongoing civil war, which has created the greatest refugee crisis in recent history.
While these events make news headlines, what is so often forgotten is the sheer weight of sorrow in our daily lives, and the overwhelming weight of smaller injustices in our community and around the globe.
Against this backdrop of darkness and despair, the Advent Wreath is more than just a religious symbol: it’s a declaration to the world that our King is coming, and when He does, He will come with a sword, by which He will make all things new. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,
The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message, but is, first, frightful news for anyone who has a conscience. And only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor. God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And, in judging it, He loves us, He purifies us, He sanctifies us, He comes to us with Grace and Love.
Put simply, Advent reminds us that this isn’t how the world was supposed to be, and that humanity is still plagued by sin and death. It reminds us that our King is coming—a King who says to us,
“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Each week we light a new candle, and in accumulating the brightness, we signify our hope in the coming light of Christ that will ultimately extinguish every force of darkness—in heaven, on earth, and below the earth. Lighting these candles, then, is no mere act of religion or sentimentality; it’s an act of war against those forces of darkness that hold sway in our world.
By lighting the candles, we declare ourselves to be people of hope, who believe that though so much has yet to be put to right, there is a Coming King who will end the reign of darkness and usher in a New Kingdom of Glorious Light.
By lighting these candles, we enact our faith in the words of John:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
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How long, O Lord, must we suffer under evil and darkness? Shine Your light on us this day, that our lives would point to the coming dawn of Your glory, by which the world will be healed and your people set free through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen.