The Mississippi Baptist Foundation  |  est. 1943  |  Psalm 24:1
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      On the first Saturday of October, I visited a local home-improvement store that has a national presence. Upon entering, I immediately came face-to-face with numerous artificial trees that seemingly were positioned as “greeters” to alert shoppers that Christmas soon would arrive and that a nearly unlimited choice of tools, floor covering, paint, yard-and-garden equipment, and other spruce-up-around-the-house items could be purchased as a gift to oneself or for a special someone. I don’t know when the Christmas trees were placed in such a conspicuous spot, but I did quickly realize that many items focused on Halloween and Thanksgiving had been marked “clearance” or were jockeying with Christmas merchandise both for space and the attention of shoppers.     
      In the midst of hectic schedules and the “hustle and bustle” that typically occurs about this time each year, we can easily neglect the sacred event that Christmas really is. The season of Advent provides a unique opportunity to “pump the brakes” of our busy lives to prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas. Although considered by some to be liturgical or too “high church,” the season of Advent is a time of preparation. Derived from two Latin terms, the word advent means “to come” or “coming.” The message of Advent is that God in Christ is coming to the world. Christians celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus during Christmas and the season of Advent focuses on that holy occasion and the promise of Christ’s return. Thus, understanding and observing the season of Advent helps us realign our focus on this special time of preparation in anticipation of the coming of the Christ of Christmas.
      The celebration of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas with weekly worship experiences that include scriptural reflections and the Advent wreath. The purpose of the wreath is to deepen the understanding of Christmas. As such, this wreath is one of the most beautiful traditions of Advent and contains many symbols to remind us of the wonderful occasion of Jesus’ birth.     
      The circular base of the wreath symbolizes eternity and the everlasting nature of God. Included with the wreath are several candles which are lit each week producing light that reflects the arrival of Jesus as the light of the world (John 1:4-5). The three purple candles represent hope, faith, and peace while the rose-colored (pink) candle represents joy. The white candle in the center of the wreath is the Christ candle. The evergreens are added as a symbol of eternal life and the changelessness of God while the purple ribbons express the royalty of our Lord and His sovereignty as King of heaven and earth. Sometimes other symbolic elements include holly representing the thorn of crowns Jesus bore, red berries symbolizing Jesus’ blood that was shed as a sacrifice for our sins, and seeds and pine cones representing newness of life in Christ.

      The first candle, a purple candle, is also known as the Prophecy Candle in recognition of the Old Testament prophets who foretold the birth of Christ and thereby proclaimed hope for the world (Isaiah 7:10-14; 9:2-7, 11:1-5; Jeremiah 33:14-16). This candle represents the promise that God made to the prophets concerning the coming of a deliverer. Christians understand the fulfillment of this promise in the person of Jesus Christ as we live with the hope of his hasty return to earth. Thus, the season of Advent provides an opportunity to prepare our hearts for the true meaning of Christmas, namely, the coming of our Savior and King.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for sending your son Jesus into our lives. Thank you for fulfilling the promise made to the prophets of old. Thank you for their faithful proclamation of hope that has been realized through the arrival of the Messiah who was foretold. May my life and my priorities reflect the “reason for the season” through celebration of Christ’s birth and with eager expectation and anticipation of His glorious return. Amen.