This week we lit the candle of Love. But did Love abound, or anger and animosity?
Last week we lit the candle of Joy. But did Joy fill hearts, or angst and depression?
The week before that we lit the candle of Peace. But were we at Peace or entangled in combative attitudes?
Before that, the theme had been Hope. And was it a time of hope? Or did our hope depend on whether an anti-Covid vaccine would be released, or a human government would issue monetary benefits to the populace? And then how big and general and uplifting and lasting a hope would it be?
At the time when we lit that Hope Candle, I was reading national surveys showing a growing percentage of the population was suffering a “loss of hope,” resulting in growing cases of depression, even suicide.
Back when we lit that Peace candle, I thought of the words that had lifted off the page to me from amid the morning’s scripture readings, in 2 Peter 3:14 NET, about the (second) Advent still to come, admonishing believers, “Dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace…” And I felt a pang.
What pained me was how much lack of peace was wracking even the Christian population. We seemed more “at war” than “at peace,” our striving not aimed toward peace, but against one another, toward “winning,” in matters worldly and political, and toward asserting perceived personal “rights.” Like the author of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” I could have found it tempting to mutter cynically, “‘There is no peace on earth’—even in the church,” and wonder how to be at peace, surrounded by so much strife.
What about Joy? How does one drum up joy amid pandemic, economic crisis, social upheaval and violent clashing?
And all this time, what about Love? While “perfect love casts out fear,” fear has a tendency to cast out love. Fear breeds animosity, even hatred. Personally, how do you love when your angst has been heightened by all that’s transpiring?
What we need here is a focal shift. A 180 turn in fact. Looking again at the opening sentences at the top of this page, we might note the order there of the candle themes: “Love, Joy, Peace…” Do those lovely words, in that order, ring a scriptural bell?
Hint: In scripture the list continues: “love, joy, peace, (longsuffering) patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance (what we like to call ‘self-control’)”
Stronger hint: Galatians 5:22-23
All those states of heart and soul are… what? The fruit… of… the Spirit. Whose Spirit?
Now, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, those of us in some Christmas traditions will light a candle in the center of the Advent wreath: the Christ Candle. Everything Advent has been leading up to this focal point. Indeed, should Christ not be the center of everything Christmas, and everything Love, Joy, and Peace? Should He not be the center of our very souls?
So may the focus of our minds, hearts, and prayers center there, on the Christ, if it hasn’t rested there all along. Let us keep “looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him…” entered into our world, during very troubled times, entered into poverty and homelessnes, as a lowly human baby, to go on and “endure the cross”—for our sakes: Christ, Whose Spirit is even now, even amid our own troubled times, with us. Drawing near to Him and letting His Spirit fill and and lead us is the means by which its fruit, His fruit–the Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope we long for–will “come to us,” and “abide in us.”
Truly, it isn’t easy times. And a simple platitude isn’t an end-all answer to complicated problems. But depending on our own feeble skills and abilities surely isn’t enough, either. Looking to Christ, spending time apart with Him, asking Him to work in and through us, and then getting out of His way and allowing Him to do it, is surely a good beginning.
So, here’s wishing you, dear reader, a Christmas Day, and a whole New Year, filled with renewed Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope.