Tradition and Intentionality

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

By Jamie Harms

With winter comes darkness as the days get shorter. We wake up in the cold and dark and go to bed in the same way. In my family, we count down until the days start to get longer again and spring is just around the corner. But in the darkness, in the month of December, we start to see glimmers of life giving light on the houses in our neighborhoods, on trees in our living rooms, and from advent wreaths on our tables. Even in darkness, we cling to the life and hope that comes with that light.

When we read in Isaiah of those walking in darkness who have seen a great light, we note that the prophet is not just talking about literal darkness but about the darkness in the hearts of the people. Yet, even those stuck in darkness see the stark contrast of the light dawning around them. A few verses after Isaiah 9:2, we see that this light coming into the world is for us:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulder, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. — Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus is this child, coming as the light of the world, to rid us of the darkness in our hearts and give us new life. He is the one, God coming incarnate, who makes Himself known to us and shows us how we can be with Him now and forever. It is this that we celebrate this advent season. Our God, our light, has come to bring us the hope found only in Him. 

For centuries those who follow Jesus have been celebrating His coming as a baby — and look forward to His coming again — with a wreath filled with candles. Many have used these advent wreaths at Christmastime to mark the different elements of the story of His coming — to remember, to teach, and to celebrate the amazing gift we have in our God. If you have never used an advent wreath as a way to focus your heart and mind on the coming of Christ and what that means for us as Christians, I invite you to give it a try. It is a fun way to slow down during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season and remember our greatest gift — Jesus. 

To celebrate this season with an advent wreath, you only need a few items — some greenery, four tapered candles, a pillar candle for the center, matches, your Bible, and maybe a hymn book or song printouts. Set up the four tapered candles in a ring with the pillar candle in the center, and place the greenery around the candles in a wreath shape.

Each Sunday night, you will light one more candle, working your way around the ring. The center candle is lit on Christmas morning. When you light the candle with your family, there are some Scripture passages to read aloud and a few songs to sing together. You can conclude your time in prayer. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes it is fun to have mugs full of hot chocolate or a plate of cookies to accompany the lighting of the candles, but that is not necessary. The goal, like Lew said in his sermon a few weeks back, is consistency. Pick something simple that you can and will do, and do it with intentionality and fun!

Below you will find a short outline of each week with the Scriptures and songs if you want to give it a try with your family this year.

Sunday, November 28 — The Prophecy Candle symbolizing hope

As you light the candle, read Isaiah 9:1-7.

Sing or listen to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” 

Sunday, December 5 — The Bethlehem Candle symbolizing preparation

As you light the candle, read Luke 2:1-7 and 3:4-6.

Sing or listen to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a Manger.”

Sunday, December 12 — The Shepherd Candle symbolizing joy

As you light the candle, read Luke 2:7-20.

Sing or listen to “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks.”

Sunday, December 19 — The Angel Candle symbolizing love

As you light the candle, read John 3:16-19.

Sing or listen to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels From the Realms of Glory.”

Saturday, December 25 — The Christ Candle

As you light the final candle, read John 1:1-14, 29.

Sing or listen to “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World.”

If you have smaller children in your home, another fun and easy idea to engage them in the story of Christmas is to read the passage of Luke 2, while they act out the story with a nativity set. You could read the same passage and act it out every week, and it will not get old. Another option can be found using the Jesus Storybook Bible to read the creation through the creche story with your kids. Clicking the link will take you to a reading plan and some printouts to color to make your time together fun and meaningful.