Advent is a special time of the year in which we (are supposed to) slow down and reorient our lives to Jesus during this season of expectation and hope leading up to the celebration of his birth.
Having grown up in a non-liturgical tradition, I have really come to appreciate the Christian year calendar and the rhythms it gives me by which to live my days. These various seasons allow me to live into the Christ story for the sake of my own formation.
Each week of Advent is marked by the lighting of a different candle around the Advent wreath. The four candles around the wreath are representative of hope, peace, joy, and love. In the middle of the wreath stands a lone white candle, larger than the rest, which represents Christ. The Christ candle is lit on Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve, and signifies the end of waiting, the realization of expectation.
While this candle is not lit until the end of Advent, it looms large throughout the whole season. It is the candle that the other four candles center on. They are there as a result of this candle. Christ at the center means hope, peace, joy, and love. To remove Christ is to quickly dispose of the others.
As I’ve been reflecting, I’ve concluded that most of us fail to realize that there is an Advent wreath in all our lives. An unholy Advent wreath.
The unholy Advent wreath works in reverse. Rather than waiting to light the candle in the center, we light it first, rushing ahead to take matters into our own hands. You see, it is not the Christ candle we light, it is the me candle. The Christ candle has been displaced from the center of the wreath, an accurate reflection of Christ being displaced from the center of our life.
The unholy Advent wreath represents our life, our world. In this world, we are at the center.
The result is tragic. With the me candle at the center we must remove the candles of hope, peace, joy and love, and replace them with the candles of despair, violence, sorrow, and hate.
This wreath represents a terrible cycle that never stops. An orbit of tragedy caught in the gravitational pull of our desire to be the center of the world.
When we are the center of our lives, we quickly discover that we are more powerless than we would like to admit. There is little that we can control and this impotence leaves us without hope. Plunged into a sea of despair, we become violent in the hopes of regaining control.
Have you ever seen someone drowning? They become so frantic that they often violently take down the person who is trying to save them. This is what happens when we feel hopeless. We act mad.
Have you looked at our world lately? It is mad. Rape, murder, suicide, school shootings, movie theater shootings, mall shootings, police shootings, acid attacks, car bombings, you name it and this world of despair is experiencing it.
This despair that leads to violence then leads to sorrow. We are a people who must grieve the loss of loved ones and mourn our condition. Violence leads to sorrow, but sadly the cycle doesn’t end and the sorrow sets in and hardens, propelling us further along the cycle towards hate.
In the unholy Advent wreath, despair leads to violence and violence leads to sorrow and sorrow leads to hate. We hate our condition (despair); we hate others (violence); we hate our loss (sorrow). The cycle keeps thrusting us forward without any hope, peace, joy, or love.
The cycle must be broken but it can only be broken by a displacement of the candle at the middle. The me candle must be displaced by the Christ candle. This is what repentance is really all about–letting go of my agenda and embracing Christ’s agenda. I must realize that my agenda for the world, along with everyone’s else’s agenda, leads only to despair, violence, sorrow, and hate. Christ’s agenda brings hope, peace, joy, and love…because Christ is love.
Left only to ourselves we are a people trapped in a vicious cycle from which we cannot be freed.
Thus we wait…
And once again Advent draws our thoughts towards the One who will free us.