I am not sure when I understood the meaning of Advent. The Baptist church I grew up in did not celebrate Advent. That was over 50 years ago; so much may have changed since then. Our personal celebration of Advent began shortly after Mary Lou and I were married and joined the Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville. They remained our church family for over 40 years until we retired to Auburn.
The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and a time to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Over the years, I grew to love and embrace the season of Advent. Candles are lit each successive Sunday representing Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Three candles of purple and one of pink, followed by the Christ Candle lit on Christmas Eve. That last candle is white, signifying the purity of Christ.
The first candle of Advent, recognizing Hope, was lit this past Sunday at our new church home, Auburn United Methodist Church. Our Sunday School lesson referenced the first five verses of the second chapter of Isaiah. Written 750 years before the birth of Christ, it was a challenging time for the Jewish people. They were oppressed by the Syrians in brutal ways. It was a time of widespread despair.
The text talks of the days to come. “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Wow. That last verse were words of hope for an oppressed people, but they remain words of hope for people almost three thousand years later. Dare we hope for a time when nations are not threatening conflict, especially with weapons infinitely more powerful than those of the time of Isaiah?
Hope does not have to be on such a grandiose scale, however. We all have needs, wants, and desires. Our prayers lift requests of all sorts and measures. Some may seem frivolous, and some may seem petty. Yet, all seem real in the hearts of those holding out the request; the hope.
I have always held up the first Sunday of Advent in a more personal way. Hope is a desire to make your life better in some way. It combats hopelessness. It encourages happiness. Hope reduces stress. Hope improves our quality of life, no matter how long that life may be destined to be.
God often speaks directly to us when we least expect it and yet are most in need. This past week, I learned of serious health issues of two people that are important in my life. At nearly the same moment, I saw a candle being lit that symbolizes the hope for mankind. That can also be the hope for individuals in their own personal time of need.
Hope in general means a desire for things to change for the better, and to want that better situation very much. I believe that prayer is a real and meaningful way to foster that hope. God knows our needs and listens to our prayers. I am fortunate to know that in my own life.
As powerful as an individual prayer can be, it seems to work best when the voices of many of the faithful are lifted in unison. It is the power of hope. It is the symbol of the first candle of Advent.
In my many years of writing columns I have never made a request of those who read my words. On this week celebrating hope, I ask you to lift up those two friends of mine who face challenges unknown to them just over a week ago. At the same time, lift those many others that should be on your own prayer list. Pray for healing. Pray for the doctors that work to heal them. Pray for their families and friends.
Pray for hope. It can work miracles.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com