The Four Candles of Advent

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Advent is a time of hope and expectation as we both remember and anticipate. My favorite Advent hymn is Charles Wesley’s “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” because it captures the longing so well. I would like to highlight four ways or lens through which we should think about Advent. We often designate the four candles of Advent as ‘hope, peace, joy, and love.” (This is why the third candle is pink. It is the traditional color of joy. The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, meaning “rejoice” taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians). But, I would like to look at the four candles through a different set of Advent hopes.

First, Advent is the time we remember the hope of the Old Covenant. This is the first candle of Advent. We mostly recall the great prophetic promises of the Old Testament which anticipate the coming of a messiah into the world. The great passages in Isaiah quickly spring to mind. But this hope is not limited to the prophets. It also includes great passages in the Law (such as the great text in Deut. 18:15), or in the Psalms (such as Psalm 2 or 110). The first candle captures the entire hope of the Old Testament.

Second, Advent is the time we remember the hope of the New Covenant. This is the second candle of Advent. Here we not only have the 400 years of waiting after the book of Malachi before the coming of Christ, but the amazing ministry of John the Baptist and others like Anna or Simeon who anticipated the coming of the messiah. I love that Advent prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer: “O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare the way before Thee; grant that the ministers and stewards of Thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready Thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at Thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in Thy sight.” We as his ministers join in that important work of preparing the world to receive Jesus Christ, which brings us to the third hope.

Third, Advent is the time we remember the hope of the nations. This is the third candle of Advent. One of the lines in Charles Wesley’s hymn noted above is, “Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” We remember that there are over 2 billion people in the world who have never heard that Jesus Christ has come into the world. Jesus Christ is the deep desire of every nation, even those who have yet to hear his beautiful Name. These are the unreached peoples who do not yet even know that God has so graciously provided a savior for them. These are those who are longing for God’s visitation, not knowing that it has happened in Jesus Christ.

Fourth, Advent is the time we remember the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. This is the fourth candle of Advent. As noted earlier in the prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer, we are to make ready for the second advent or second coming of Jesus Christ. This is the great hope of the church. We eagerly look forward to that day when Jesus Christ will come again and he will set all things right. Wicked and evil will be crushed under His feet. Injustices will be reversed and set right. All lies will be silenced. All convenient compromises will be exposed. What has been whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. Truth will be honored. God’s word will be vindicated. The church of Jesus Christ will be gloriously invited to the marriage supper of the lamb. This is the Day we are all eagerly awaiting.

So, as we light the four candles this blessed Advent, may each of these truths be ours. May the Lord bless and grant each of you a very merry Christmas!

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