I can’t believe it. Possibly for the first time ever, we actually remembered to light our Advent wreath candles each week this year! Every year we start out well. Sunday #1: check! Sunday #2 is hit or miss. But by the time Sunday #3 comes around I completely forget, and then if I do remember Sunday #4 it seems silly because I’ve already forgotten at least half and I just throw up my hands in defeat. And forget about Christmas day itself. That has never happened.
But this year it did. It probably helped that I set my slightly disheveled wreath and mismatched candlesticks in the center of our dining table for the first time. It’s easier to remember things when they’re right in front of your face. However, it can also be easy to stop seeing them after a week or two, so I’m thankful that my husband reminded us come week three that it was time to light the candles, which were smack dab in front of me and I’d forgotten about. Again.
It was so nice to have family devotions each Sunday of Advent. Good to be reminded of the four traditional words of the Advent wreath, and lovely to have focused on them at church as well. As a result, I’ve thought a lot about Hope, Peace, Joy and Love over the past four weeks and those are concepts worth pondering.
HOPE: As Christians we hope for that which we have not seen. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Scripture uses the word “hope” but it’s not a “Gee, I sure hope I get what I want for Christmas” kind of hope; rather, it’s a “hope” that is faith-based assurance that that which we hope for will indeed come to be. Hope is confidence. It is, “hope as an anchor for the soul.” (Hebrews 6:19) Our hope is in the Lord, and we have that anchor of belief that he is who he says he is.
PEACE: The Scripture verse about peace which springs most readily to my mind at this time of year is Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Peace is a great thing. Pretty much everyone wants peace. Even beauty queens know that the proper response to the question, “What would be the best gift you could ever receive?” is “Peace on earth”. It’s true that peace, both personal and corporate, national and international, is worth pursuing. I’m pretty sure, however, that until the Prince of Peace returns, world-wide peace will remain a pipe dream.
JOY: Joy to the world! Joyous Noel! We see the word all around us at Christmastime. Even Mr. Scrooge is urged to be joyous. “What right have you to be dismal?” asks his nephew. “What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” The truth is, of course, that riches don’t ensure joy. Nothing really does, other than adherence to the source of all joy, God himself. “You make known to me the path of life;” writes David in the Psalms, “you will fill me with joy in your presence….” (Psalm 16:11) The presence of God brings joy. Now that’s something to contemplate.
LOVE: According to the Bible Gateway web page, (NIV version) there are 686 references to the word “love” in the Bible. Kinda seems like an important concept, doesn’t it? “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16) We know what love is because we know what Jesus did for us on the cross. His death is the epitome of love. The whole point of his birth at Christmas was his eventual death. The tiny baby in the manger personified love in the world. Any love we give is because of the love he gave. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
It’s a lot to ponder, these four words. But, like Mary, I’m choosing to treasure them up in my heart. To ponder them. Perhaps I should make this my new year’s resolution: that Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love may grow more and more in me as the year progresses. Probably I should narrow that list down. Choose one to focus on. But which one? They’re all worth pursuing.
I guess I’ll have to ponder a little more.
Happy New Year! May your 2018 be filled to overflowing with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.