Anticipation! Appreciation! Awe! The season of Advent leading up to Christmas Day is going to be so different for me this year. I have often wondered why the four outer candles of the Advent wreath stand for peace, joy, love and hope. Those are nice words, good words, desirable words even, but why those words? Why not have the candles represent Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wisemen, with the Christ candle in the center? Or why not rotate in other words like patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, grace, mercy, faith or righteousness? Why is it always peace, joy, love and hope? Finally, after 43 years of celebrating Christ’s birth, I understand! These words, represented by the candles, tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell - or in this case, in a wreath.
Usually at Christmas, we look to the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke for the story of the baby Jesus. But this year, along with those treasured verses, God has led me to the Gospel according to the Advent Wreath as found in Romans 5:1-11. Gospel means “good news”. And what amazingly good news it is! I pray that the power of these verses will add meaning to your own Advent celebration, whether it is in your home or in your church.
The Peace Candle
Romans 5: 1-2a (NIV)
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
The word peace has various connotations from stillness to absence of war, from a state of mind to a state of relationship, from warm fuzzies to international treaties. We often think of peace in human terms, between nations or individuals. Or sometimes we use the word peace to describe a scene in nature. These all represent peace on a horizontal plane, an earthly plane. Yet the perspective in these verses is different. This peace is vertical peace, a spiritual peace between God Himself and man. Christ’s purpose in coming into the world was to achieve just such a peace. That’s why Christ is called the Prince of Peace.
Of course, bringing peace implies that there was previously a lack of peace. Wrapping your mind around the facets of this truth brings out the beauty of the peace candle. In the preceding chapters of Romans, Paul has explained that all people are guilty of sin. There is not one perfect person from Adam to the present, except Christ. The consequence of that sin is spiritual and physical death. And as a result, the God of Love gets very rightly angry that His most treasured creation, humanity, is choosing destruction and death over goodness and life with Him.
To put it in a human perspective to which we can relate, consider a mother and her teenage son. The mother has loved and nurtured and cherished her son from infancy to the teen years. The mother wants only good for her son – good friends, good health, good career, good wife, and good strong family bonds. But then the teenager chooses alcohol. Chooses drugs. Chooses suicide. The mother is devastated, angry and hurt. Her love now has no outlet. Her son, who had so much potential, is gone. This mixture of heartbreak and anger is only a tiny drop of water in the ocean of what God feels for us. His wrath comes because of His great love. His wrath is not vengeful and cruel. It is the righteous anger of a holy God who loves deeply and desires everlasting relationship with His children. It is anger at the sinful choices those children are making, choices that take those children into bondage and death. Such wrath requires action on the behalf of the beloved.
But God is also a God of justice. Sin must be punished. God cannot just ignore our sin as if it doesn’t matter. That’s not justice. He can’t let us “get away with it”. That’s not love. So what does a just and loving God do? He provides a way for justice to be fulfilled and love to be satisfied. He provides justification through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Justification is that act of paying the legal penalty stipulated by the court for the injustice done. That’s what God did for us. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the death penalty for all sin, for all people, for all time – for those who believe. Justice has been fulfilled through Christ. The consequence for sin has been paid. Sin is defeated and out of the way. Because of Christ’s action on our behalf, there is no longer any reason for God to be angry. His children are free again to be connected to Himself, to live holy lives. Reconciliation has taken place. God and the believer are at peace – forever!
This is the peace of Christmas. This is the foundation of all peace.
The Hope Candle
Romans 5:2b-5 (NIV)
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
In today’s world, the word hope has been watered down to mean “wishful thinking”. I hope I get a raise in pay. I hope we don’t have meatloaf for supper. I hope she likes me. There is no guarantee that any of these wishes will come true. These “hopes” are merely statements of personal desire. If this were the meaning of hope in these verses, what would be the cause for rejoicing? The outcome would still be unknown.
The true meaning of the word hope is much stronger. Hope means a solid expectation that what is hoped for will indeed happen. Hope is an eager anticipation of an assured outcome. So “hope in the glory of God” is not a wish that we desire to come true but a belief in something we know will come true.
But what is the glory of God? God’s glory is everything about Him – His radiant appearance, His perfect character, His righteous actions, and His Glorious Presence. Therefore, “hope of the glory of God” means that we can anticipate with assurance that someday we will see God face to face in the splendor of all that He is. And we will share in the glory of His perfect character. The fulfillment of this hope is a guaranteed benefit of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We should be keenly looking forward to it, fervently waiting for it to happen, and wholeheartedly rejoicing over the prospect of it.
Actually, we see some fulfillment of that hope even now. When we see a piece of God’s character lived out in our fellow Christians, we see a glimpse of the glory of God. When we see the poor fed, the lonely visited, the discouraged encouraged, the unlovable loved, or the ignorant taught, we see a glimpse of the glory of God. When we see joy in the face of one going through a tough situation, we see hope in action and we get a glimpse of the glory of God. When we see God’s handiwork, we see a glimpse of the glory of God – in a sunset, a flower, frost on the trees, or a rainbow. Anything that God is in or works through or sustains gives us a glimpse of Him. But the full revelation of His glory will be when we see Him face to face. What a day that will be! What a day to anticipate with expectation!
Hope is also something that grows. Trials will come while we live on this earth. Hope in the glory of God will carry us through. Each time we persevere, we come to understand another little piece of God’s character. And hope grows stronger. As we learn His character, our character is molded more and more to reflect His. And our anticipation of the glory to come grows. We become more and more assured that His great love will never let us go. We become more and more assured that we will one day see Him in all His splendor. It will not be just a glimpse but the full magnificence of who He is. And we will live in the Presence of this Glory – forever. Such hope will not disappoint us!
This is the hope of Christmas. This is true hope.
The Love Candle
Romans 5:6-10 (NIV)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Such love! Can you really wrap your mind around it? In our world we may say we love someone but in reality we have a tendency to love what the person does for us, how the person makes us feel, or how they add to our own life. We rarely love someone simply for who they are. God’s love is so much more than our present-day understanding. God didn’t just send His Son to die for the ‘good’, the ‘lovable’ people. He sent His Son for everyone. He loved every single human being from all of time so much that He withheld nothing. He gave up His one and only Son so that all of us could come back into relationship with Him. And He did this while we were still ugly with sin and stubbornly walking away from Him.
Imagine this…you’re walking along the street. Suddenly a man steps out of a building onto the sidewalk in front of you. You recognize his face from the news. He’s the guy wanted for abducting, raping, and murdering several young girls. He’s evil. All you want to do is get away before he sees you. But then you notice the approaching sound. A transport truck is coming down the side street. In the blink of an eye you realize this evil monster of a man is about to cross the road in the path of the oncoming truck What do you do?
Do you watch as the truck crushes this evil and say, “He deserved it?” Or maybe you assume he’s feeling so guilty that he wants to end his life and so you gladly let him do it? Or do you run after the man, shoving him out of the way to safety while you yourself meet death? This is only the tiniest of tiny drops of what God did for us. We are all sinners. There is no degree of sin. There is no such thing as a ‘little’ sin or a ‘big’ sin. Sin is sin. None of us even come close to measuring up to God’s perfection, and yet He threw Himself in the way of eternal death, dying for us, so that we might be saved. He did this even though we didn’t acknowledge Him, or know Him, or even want Him to do it. He loved us that much!
This is the love of Christmas. This is the Love above all other loves.
The Joy Candle
Romans 5:11 (NIV)
“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
When you put the peace and the hope and the love that God offers us together, how can you have anything but joy? In the beginning of time, God created Adam and Eve perfect. They knew the glory of God’s character within themselves. They knew the pleasure of sharing their lives with God. Joy was their constant companion.
But then they chose sin. Since that moment of disobedience in the Garden of Eden, all of mankind has been born under sin, and under God’s wrath. Sin has made a mess of life, destroying relationships, destroying morality, destroying integrity, destroying freedom, destroying humanity. But God still loved so much, so much, that He made a way for men and women, you and me, to be restored in relationship to Him. And now we have the hope of the glory of His character within us again when Christ returns. We have glimpses of it even now as we relate to one another in the church and in the world. But when Christ returns, it will be a full-fledged, perfect glory in each one of us.
Since all that God has done for us is for now and forever, joy can be our constant companion as well. Oh we may not be happy in every situation. But under the pain there is always the joy of knowing God, knowing who He is, knowing what He’s done for us, knowing He will never leave us, knowing we are safe in His care. What a great joy!
This is the joy of Christmas. This is unending joy.
The Christ Candle
And in the middle of it all, in the center of the wreath, at the heart of the whole story is Christ Himself. Without Christ we have nothing. With Christ we have it all. He came that we might be at peace with God, reconciled to Him forever. He came that we might have the assurance of eternal life. He came that we might know joy regardless of all that is around us on this earth. He came for each one of us. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him.
All the peace with God, all the hope of glory, all the love of His heart, all the joy we could imagine and more - it is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. And it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we gain access to God and all these benefits. Praise God for sending His Son as a tiny baby who grew up to be the Savior of all.
This is the Christ of Christmas. This is the Christ who came for you.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Advent Wreath. Listen to it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Share it. And have a blessed Christmas!
Article by Janice Giesbrecht, 2006
Janice has a variety of outlets for her energy and time but her greatest desire is to see others come to embrace the relationship with God for which they were created.