Throughout December, Glendale Church of the Brethren, and churches around the world are celebrating the season of Advent. Simply put, advent means waiting for the arrival of something very special. For Christians, the season of Advent is looking forward to the birth of Jesus, the one who brings light into the world. Each Sunday our scripture reader reads part of the Christmas story and lights one candle. Each Sunday an additional candle is lit and by Christmas Sunday all four candles, and the Christ candle at the center will light up the sanctuary. The slow lighting of the candles and the incipient light that follows symbolizes the fulfillment of our waiting, and also symbolizes the light that Jesus brings into the world.
There are many ways to countdown to Christmas each year; one year, when I worked in a Fuller Seminary office my coworker brought each person a Trader Joe’s chocolate countdown book (I think it was more about knowing when vacation started then when the birth of Jesus was scheduled to be celebrated). And, I have seen storefront countdown signs letting people know how much longer they have till Christmas day, putting an emphasis on what we buy and who we buy for during the holidays. There’s also the sight of Christmas tree pop-up stores at CVS and in Ralphs parking lots, the sounds of Salvation Army bells ringing, and the constant stream of Christmas music on the radio and in stores. It seems that Americans are all about “counting down” to Christmas.
However, the church pushes back against this “count down”, instead we are “counting up”! A new candle is lit each week, a new part of the Christmas story unfolds each week, more light is brought into the world. Love, hope, joy, and peace are shared for a new way of life; life that is ordered by Jesus where the “poor in spirit, receive the kingdom of heaven” Where “those who mourn are comforted” Where “the meek inherit the earth” and the “ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled” Where the “merciful are shown mercy” and the “pure in heart, see God”. Where “the peacemakers are called children of God and those persecuted receive the kingdom of heaven.” These are Jesus’s order for our new way of life, or the Beatitudes as they are commonly referred to. So we counting up to the time when our savior, messiah, Lord, and redeemer is born so that all can be put right in the world.
We celebrate with Mary the blessing of being chosen. We celebrate with Joseph compassion and grace. We celebrate everyone being welcomed into the Kingdom of God; from the elite, educated Wisemen to the salt-of-the-earth hardworking Shepherds. Most of all, we are counting up to Jesus’s birth. In December, I hope we will learn with greater clarity that each of these stories is about Jesus.