by Joanie Butman
While writing this week’s Advent post, the news from San Bernardino hit the airwaves. Oddly, my message became even more relevant in the aftermath of yet another senseless massacre and the subsequent provocative Daily News headline “God Isn’t Fixing This.” Nothing sells news better than an inflammatory headline! The fact that it’s the most retweeted of the year for the news organization proves my point.
God may not be fixing things as quickly or in the manner humanity desires – He never has. His is an upside down Kingdom where the first become last, the weak become strong and kings serve. His plan of salvation defies human logic, and isn’t something we will understand until it is complete. In his book Café Theology Michael Lloyd suggests, “On that day, it will be abundantly clear why He acted in the way He has, and that He is utterly righteous in the ways He has acted – and in the way He has not acted. We shall see then what we cannot see now, which is the interaction between His action, His inaction, and His love. “
But not yet. For now, the celebration of Advent and Christmas serves to remind us of His faithfulness and His promises of ultimate justice and restoration. It is in His promises that our hope resides, which is what we embrace as we light the first candle of Advent.
Traditionally, an Advent wreath has been part of Christian observances. Each candle symbolizes a different aspect of the Christmas season. Week one is the “Prophet’s Candle.” It represents hope and anticipation – not for the gifts we find under the tree, but for the only gift that can offer hope in the face of the evil surrounding us that seems to be growing exponentially every day. Spiritual preparation for and commemorating the birth of Christ is certainly an integral component of lighting the Prophet's Candle. But we also light this candle anticipating His second coming and His final victory when, “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4) It’s a glowing reminder of who wins in the end despite appearances to the contrary. A message desperately needed in a world darkened by sin and terrorism.
Sadly, our familial experiences with the Advent wreath weren’t always promising or hopeful. Aside from the occasional flame mishaps, my beautiful porcelain nativity figurine candle holders were chipped and broken over the years during the sibling squabbles over whose turn it was to light the candle. This rivalry continued LONG after you’d expect children to age out of such behavior. By that time, the angels had been de-winged, Mary and Joseph were missing limbs, and one of the Wise Men was beheaded. I finally surrendered and decided it was causing more angst than blessings and left it in the closet. In hindsight, this was probably not my wisest parenting choice because it’s in the midst of conflict that we need the hope of Christmas to shine the brightest.
Therein lies the Advent message this week. We can choose to let conflict and fear reign our lives or choose to turn in prayer to the only One who will eventually put all things right. Political pundits may perceive the offer of prayer as platitudes, but for most of us it’s the only choice available. By choosing to lift up the victims, their families, our country, our world and our leaders in prayer – for comfort, compassion, protection, wisdom and guidance, we keep the candle of hope burning brightly amidst the darkness. Additionally, we need to pray for our enemies’ hearts to be transformed. Only love can cure hatred, and that’s God’s specialty. Personally, these are exactly the times when my faith in God’s providence and justice becomes the lifeline I choose to cling to, allowing my soul to be comforted by trusting that God IS Enough – which enables me to be peaceful amidst chaos. I doubt that will ever make headlines.
Sometimes the only light we can hope to bring into someone else’s life is simply to stand with them and bear witness to their pain. The candlelight vigils that have covered the news in San Bernardino and in Paris just a few weeks ago are a perfect example as the world mourns with the families of the victims. Those candles bring the light of Christmas right where it belongs – in the midst of unbearable heartache.
A candle is a symbol,
It speaks of light, hope, warmth and love.
A candle is a sign,
It reminds us of the prayer of God’s people.