Dec 14, 2020
Join us as we explore God’s ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
The third week of Advent arrived. Christmas draws closer. Some of you may keep an Advent Candle tradition in your home or church and know the meaning of the various colors and symbolism of each candle. For those that might not know, the term advent can be found as early as the 4th and 5th century among early Christians as they await the coming of Jesus' return. It eventually spread across the entire month of December until it took the shape it does today.
The first Advent wreath came from a Lutheran minister doing missionary work among children. He formed a wreath around a wagon wheel and placed twenty-four candles around it. The children would light a new candle each day, twenty red ones on weekdays and four white candles on Sundays. Later, people formed wreaths of evergreens to symbolize Jesus giving life since, in the winter, evergreens remain alive while all other plants turn brown and die. The circling evergreens also depict God's never-ending love and eternal life we have in him.
Today's most common tradition includes an evergreen wreath surrounding five candles; a white center candle, three purple candles, and a pink candle. The first candle represents hope, purple in color, and is called the Prophet's candle. The color purple symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting.
The second candle represents faith and is called Bethlehem's candle. It, too, is purple. This candle recalls the prophecy where Jesus would be born. The third candle is pink. In the liturgy, the color rose symbolizes joyfulness and rejoicing. The third candle represents joy, called the Shepherd's candle, remembering the great joy with which the angels announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds.
The fourth candle is purple and represents peace, remembering Jesus came to bring peace to the world. It is called the Angel's candle and is also purple. The fifth and final candle is white, the Christ Candle. It is lit on Christmas day and signifies pure light and victory.
So, there it is, a short history of the Advent wreath and its meaning. This week, the third week of Advent, we light the Shepherd's candle, reminding us of the joy the Messiah brings into our world. The Angel's song announcing Jesus' birth to that group of shepherds on the Judean hillside filled them with awe and wonder and joy at all they heard. It was a great time of rejoicing as they came into the humble cave where the child lay attended by his mother and father.
But what about us? Here we are in the middle of a COVID crisis. Hospitals filled to capacity across the nation and around the world. Our politics are on the brink of collapse. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits and electoral college vote or anything else that might happen in the next month or two, the country's divide has grown so deep; no one will likely heal it in the next century.
We see social unrest already stirring as factions begin to realize a Democrat government can do no more to fix the nation's societal ills than a Republican government could. No one can legislate morality. Every country that has tried has failed. So, unrest is once again building because of likely broken promises that no one could keep.
As long as we require social distancing, the economy will slide in a negative direction. Unemployment will rise. The government can't fix it. Sending checks to everyone only means someone must pay for those checks. A little math tells me if you took the total income of the entire 5% at the top people keep harping about, that pays those checks for maybe a month or two, and then what? Then what is that the rest of us foot the bill. Printing money doesn't fix the economy.
We face a lot of uncertainly in this Advent season, so what do we have to be joyful? The answer is a lot. We approach Advent with all those problems, much like the early church approached their life. It wasn't a bed of roses for them, either. Most in the church lived in poverty. If they had possessions before they became Christian, many lost those possessions because of their faith.
Their politics were far worse than ours. At least, we don't get our heads put on poles along the road if we say something disparaging about the opposing party. Try doing that with Caesar, and that's what happened to you. Rome had plenty of enemies, but the emperor also had plenty of people on his payroll to find and destroy them. He ruled with fear as his most potent weapon. The soldiers stationed around the empire remained there because of the unrest.
And uncertainty in the early church? Could you eat tomorrow? Was the person you invited to the meeting another one of Rome's spies? Could you trust your neighbor to keep quiet about the number of people coming to your home every few nights to gather and pray? Would your employer suddenly fire you because he found out you weren't worshiping Caesar's image in the temple? How long might it be before the state came and took your children away from you as an unfit parent?
Still, Paul could write these words in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica:
Always be joyful. Continually be prayerful. In everything be thankful, because this is God's will for you in the Messiah Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Do not despise prophecies. Instead, test everything. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace himself make you holy in every way. And may your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—remain blameless when our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, appears. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will continue to be faithful. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 ISV)
Always be joyful, prayerful, and thankful, even in the middle of all the bad things that might be going on around you. Despite the political upheaval. Despite the danger to health and life. Despite the economic woes that might head your way. Despite anything that might press against you, Paul told the early Christian community to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful because this is God's will for you in the Messiah Jesus.
Keeping up those attitudes isn't always easy, though. The world will do its best to drag you into its mold of despair, discouragement, hopelessness. But as Christians, we know this is not the end. Jesus showed us death does not win. He burst forth from the tomb and promised a new heaven and new earth for those who believe in him for salvation. He promised to build a place for us and come to take us to that place to live with him eternally.
Hope allowed the early Christians to remain joyful, prayerful, and thankful despite their circumstances. And it is that hope that can enable us to have that same attitude despite our circumstances. The unrest and uncertainty of the present age do not dictate our emotions when we allow God's spirit to direct our lives. The hope of a future with him where death no longer touches us, where pain no longer cripples us, where sorrow no longer has a grip on humanity allows us to keep the joy and peace Jesus promised as his legacy alive in our hearts.
So, what should we do during the rest of this Advent? Spread joy. If Jesus' spirit lives in you, spread his joy to those around you who need to see some joy in these dark times. His spirit avails himself for just that purpose, to give hope, faith, joy, and peace when the world around us tells us we should feel something different in our circumstances. But we know this isn't all there is to life. We know the giver of life and that there is more than the few brief years we spend in this fragile shell of flesh and blood now. We know there is something more for those who live in Christ.
Let the pink candle, the Shepherd's candle of joy, remind you in this third week of Advent that Jesus came to bring joy into the hearts of all men and women who believe in him. He came to give life everlasting. He came to rid us of the guilt of sin and pay its penalty for us that we might have abundant life and real joy in living. Let his joy live in you and spread through you to those who need to see it lived out now.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked ISV are taken from the INTERNATIONAL STANDARD VERSION (ISV): Scripture taken from INTERNATIONAL STANDARD VERSION, copyright© 1996-2008 by the ISV Foundation. All rights reserved internationally.