Unpacking the meaning of the Christmas advent wreath candles happened in my recent talk at our church MOPS program. I was asked to talk, and I prayed about it. The prayer went something like this, “Lord, if you want me to say ‘yes” to the MOPS talk, just give me something to talk about.” Immediately, my DIY modern advent “wreath” came to mind. It became clear that I was supposed to deliver a message that unpacked the meaning of the four candles representing hope, peace, joy and love.
Before I share the talk with you, I want to clarify there are different advent wreath traditions. Families in Faith has preparation instead of peace. In the Catholic tradition, there is the Prophet Candle, Bethlehem Candle, Shepherd’s Candle, and Angel’s Candle. Today I am representing a more Protestant version that focuses on hope, peace, joy and love.
Here’s my MOPS Talk – as is…
Unpacking the Meaning of the Christmas Advent Wreath Candles
Hello Everyone! Thanks so much for having me here to share.
As mentioned, I do have a website called Meaningful Mama, and I began that website because I was struggling as a mom. I thought parenting would come more naturally, but every day felt like a battle as I was re-defining myself in this new role, dealing with a child that had some more extreme emotional needs and losing some of my independent and selfish nature.
I started Meaningful Mama to inspire myself to be the kind of mom I wanted to be. I also wanted to encourage and come alongside other moms on this journey. Part of the goal was to become more intentional in my parenting, thus the name “Meaningful Mama.”
Christmas is a great time to be purposeful with your kids. Although busy, it is a season that naturally feeds into presenting meaning and teaching kids the deeper truths in life.
One way I found to be intentional during the Christmas season is in the lighting of the advent wreath. As I went online to try and find a wreath that I could purchase to do with my kids, I came up empty handed. I have a bit more of a contemporary or modern aesthetic, and the traditional ones didn’t appeal to me. Therefore, I came up with a simple “wreath” idea that I could make available to anyone. I used mason jars that could be opened each week leading up to Christmas. These jars are simple to make using a printable found on my site as well as mason jars, salt and a candle. Each candle represents a different component of what Christ offered when he entered this world – Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. I want to take the rest of our time together today to unpack these words and talk about how they relate to life and family.
THE CANDLE OF HOPE
The first candle is hope (light candle). The verse we find on the inside lid is Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s look at HOPE together. There are worldly things we can put our hope in. As moms, we can be drawn to put our hope in our children – what they are accomplishing, how they are growing and the happiness they provide. Many also set their hope in marriage. There are countless things to put your hope in outside of God – health, family, fortune, professional achievement, politics, position or society as a whole.
These can be good things, in and of themselves, but what happens when we put our hope in these things, and they crumble? What if your kids move away and don’t return home for Christmas or rarely ever? What if they rebel? What if you go into financial crisis where your worldly security is stripped away? What if a loved one dies or a spouse leaves you for another woman?
Where our hope lies becomes apparent when suffering invades. Tim Keller, an amazing pastor out of New York city says, “There is no way to get through life unless you know how to get through suffering, and there is no way to get through suffering without a living hope.”
Suffering is inevitable – whether you are a Christian, an atheist, agnostic or any another religion. It is unavoidable. Within the Christian faith, however, there is hope even within our suffering.
Romans 5:3-5 states, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint.”
You see when you know Jesus, He provides hope. Your suffering has purpose – to produce endurance, character and hope within us. Our hope is not reliant on things that can disappear – money, family, career, health, but our hope is in God, who is alive and active and good and loving. It is a hope in a God that says, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future.” That promise is found in Jeremiah 29:11. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I love object lessons, so let me give you a better picture of this. Here are two balloons. They look identical from the outside. Same color. Same texture. Same shape and size.
However, look at the difference when they are released. One might look pretty on the outside – it seems like it has it all together, but when the stability around it is released, it falls to the ground. This represents the person who has put their hope in things that the world offers.
Let’s look at what happened to the other balloon. It soared. It is filled with something more. That “more” is hope. It is hope in a Savior that is working amidst the struggles. He can work together all that happens to us – all the struggles – into something good and beautiful. It’s also a hope in a future beyond this earthly existence. It is hope in a God that has conquered this world and all the despair, pain and hurt you see within it. When the things of this world crumble, we have Christ within us that continually provides hope (object lesson source).
THE CANDLE OF PEACE
The next candle is peace. The Bible verse is, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, good will toward men.” ~ Luke 2:14
I know I’m talking to a bunch of moms, and if your home is anything like mine, peace isn’t quite how you would describe it. Your home might be filled with laughter and tears, stories and requests, playing and fighting. My kids have BIG PERSONALITIES. They are strong, creative and opinionated. I’m pretty sure I’m raising two lawyers, and my son only has one volume – loud. The other two like to talk, sing or home…all…the time… I am sure I will really appreciate those qualities – some day. Peace is illusive in my world.
Peace can be circumstantial. That moment after the kids have stopped coming down for the 100th time for more water, another potty trip, a last thought of the day or a question that just occurred to them as they were lying in bed. Ah. That moment of peace. Can we all just close our eyes and imagine it for a second? It might be getting a massage, reading a book, sitting at the beach or listening to quiet music. These things are wonderful. They are peaceful moments to cherish.
The peace I want to address today is the peace that rises above the circumstances. It’s an inner peace that is available despite the chaos whirling around you.
Would you say peace is a trait that describes our culture? That’s not what I see. I see growing cases of anxiety. I recently had a mild case of anxiety. It was awful. I had weird tingling in my hands. My mind couldn’t rest. My heart was racing. I couldn’t eat. Was I trusting God during that time? No. Not like I should. It was only after He faithfully got me through the circumstances that I was able to say, “Man. I wish I had faith from the beginning.” I could have rested in HIS peace during that time.
At DoSomething.org I found this quote: “Surpassing even depression, anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the United States. It’s estimated that approximately 10 percent of teenagers and 40 percent of adults suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind.”
I see people stressed and whirling about – especially during this Christmas season. I hear more of discontentment, of pressure and a never-ending to-do list.
The opposite of anxiety is peace. The Bible has something to say about that. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~ Philippians 4:^
Peace has to do with a confidence that God has got this. The key – the secret – revealed in this verse is thankfulness. It’s a trust that all God does is good. So, when we present our requests to the Lord we remain thankful – whatever the outcome – easier said than done, right? But it’s the key to that peace. God is bigger and knows all. When we trust that and thank Him – peace is the end product.
Here are some more scriptures:
- I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
- Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
- And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7
Peace isn’t automatically granted like a wave of a magic wand when you become a Christian.
So, what’s the trick? We already talked about thankfulness, but I can tell you another thing that has really worked for me. I’m the kind of person who really feels the moment. When there is chaos around me, my mind goes to a place of feeling overwhelmed. When there is negativity around me, I start to despair. I not only despair, but I spiral into a pit of negativity where all things are connected. It doesn’t make me a pleasant wife, mom or human being. Does that sound like peace?
I have a life verse that I have had to claim when my mind and body starts to spiral.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the GOD OF PEACE will be with you” (Philippians 4:8)
Here’s a candle. When we know God, we can have peace, represented here by the light. Here are things that might begin to surround us. (Pour in water) These are things that cause stress and anxiety – marriage conflicts, kids’ bad behavior, money worries, deployment stresses, etc. When we open ourselves up to God, these things might surround us, but we still have peace. However, when we (cover with cup) lose focus on Him and instead focus on these worries, peace eludes us. Our worries take over. It’s only when we open ourselves up to the things of God –and focus on the things that are, true, lovely right, and admirable – that we can get this light and peace back.
C.S. Lewis says, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” The world cannot offer this peace to you. Only God can.
THE CANDLE OF JOY
The next candle is joy.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great JOY for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’” ~ Luke 2:10-11
There have been so many times in parenting where I feel like my kids are stealing my joy. I was letting my circumstances rob me of God’s gift of joy.
At times in parenting, the challenges have been real and intense – day in and day out. I have shed more tears, feeling like I’m trying so hard and failing at this important job I have been given. It gets exhausting, and I let it steal my joy.
I was relying on my situation to bring me happiness. When my situation was less than ideal, my contentment was quenched. Again, I wasn’t tapping into the joy God has to offer.
Where can joy be found? In worldly things.
In Money? No. Not in money, Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
“Researchers have found almost no correlation between income levels and happiness. Between 1957 and 1990 income levels in the U.S. doubled. Yet at the same period, people’s levels of happiness did not increase. In fact, reports of depression actually increased tenfold. Incidence of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse also rose dramatically.”
Can joy be found in Atheism? No. Not in unbelief, Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type, and he wrote: “I wish I had never been born.
In pleasure? No. Not in pleasure, Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
In fame? No. Not in position and fame, Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both position and fame. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
In glory? No. Not in glory, Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent because, he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
I know those are all examples of ancient people, but it just takes a glance at Hollywood to see a more modern version. It is easy to witness how money, godlessness, pleasure, fame and glory won’t bring joy. Among celebrities, the news is riddled with drug use, addictions, depression, sexual allegations and suicide.
Where then is real joy found? The answer is simple, in Christ alone.
“There is more joy in Jesus in 24 hours than there is in the world in 365 days. I have tried them both.”—R. A. Torrey
The world is going to lie to you to tell you joy can be found in different things – in shopping, in looking a certain way, in having the perfect family, in having our house look a certain way, in our children, in our spouse, in popularity, money, friendship or fame. The truth is, God wants to be our source of joy, and He is the only reliable source that can be tapped into at any time. All of those other things are fleeting and undependable.
His word says in Psalm 94:19 “When I am filled with anxiety, Your comfort brings me joy.” It’s just a matter of tapping into this abundant resource.
THE CANDLE OF LOVE
The final candle is love, the ultimate gift.
“For God so LOVED the world that gave his only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16
The world offers a different version of love. This verse says God so loved that he GAVE.
God’s love is different than man’s version of love.
Here is one example: I went to the altar and made all kinds of promises in my vows – to love, honor and cherish. We all do that. We are in love, and we are excited to be a wife to this man.
Over time, what happens? Where once we felt content being all about the other person, our natural tendencies toward selfishness creep in. Suddenly, we are not content.
I have helped in an amazing marriage ministry at our church called ReEngage. If you are in a tough spot in your marriage, this is my quick plug for that ministry. Something I saw there was that a common marriage battle that presents itself is each person feeling like they are doing more.
I know that in my life when my husband would get home from work every day, I felt some resentment toward him. I had been home with the kids all day. I had dealt with fights, and dishonesty, and tantrums. I had cleaned, cooked, done laundry, run errands and paid bills. He was going to come home, get fed and then get a chance to sit down? I don’t get to sit down. I felt like handing him a baby right when he walked through the door, letting him know that another kid was in timeout on the stairs and another was up in their room “cleaning up” AKA playing with their toys and making more of a mess. I then was going to leave the house and go have alone time. I deserve a break. I – I – I.
Part of the problem here is that I hadn’t walked in his shoes that day nor taken the time to imagine what his life was like. He has non-stop pressures at work that I can’t begin to comprehend. He has a to-do list a mile long that taunts him every night. He makes it a priority to be home with us as a family. He isn’t forcing me to not sit down. I do that to myself.
It still remains that we both feel like we are contributing more. We become annoyed and discontent. I always want the best for ME, and when my husband is not loving ME or serving ME the way I want then I get annoyed. How many people are leaving their marriage because that person just doesn’t make them happy anymore? They aren’t getting what THEY need out of a marriage? The numbers are staggering.
That’s only one small example of how my kind of love falls biblically short. God’s love, on the other hand, is flawless. It is giving. It is serving. It always wants the best for the other person. It is complete sacrifice. God’s love isn’t based on merit, and it is not conditional. Romans 5:7-8 says, “ For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There was a very unusual military funeral in California in December of 2013. Sgt. First Class Joseph Gantt, who fought in both World War II and the Korean War, was laid to rest. He had been captured in Korea in 1950 and died the following year. But his body was not returned for many years, and his death was never confirmed by the North Koreans.
His wife, Clara, waited for decades for her husband to come back. She regularly went to meetings with government officials seeking information about what had happened. Clara even bought a house and had it professionally landscaped so all Joseph would have to do when he came home was go fishing. She was ninety-four years old when his remains were finally brought home for a military funeral with full honors. It wasn’t the homecoming she dreamed of, but she finally knew his fate. Clara told a reporter who interviewed her, “He told me if anything happened to him, he wanted me to remarry. And I told him ‘No, no.’ Here I am, still his wife, and I’m going to remain his wife until the day the Lord calls me home.”
Love—true, godly love—is not temporary or transient. Love is a commitment that is meant to last. Love is not based on everything going right or always being happy. Love is not an emotional feeling but rather a choice of the will. Casual commitments do not produce a foundation for deep and meaningful relationships. Instead we should love others as God loves us—with an unfailing love that never ends (source for above story).
That love that Clara demonstrated reflects more closely God’s unending love.
God’s love is perfect. He loves you – adores you – right where you are at. He wants the best for you, and part of that best is a relationship with Him. He is the source of true hope, peace, joy and love. He wants to lavish those things on you – in the midst of whatever circumstances that you are dealing with in life right now. His love flows endlessly and abundantly if we will only accept it.
I’m a Christian, and I still struggle with these things – hope, peace, joy and love. When I do, it is because I’m not tapping into the ultimate and only source for these things. I’m overjoyed that some day, I will be living with Christ forever, and I will experience these qualities to their fullness. Until then, I am confident that I have the origin of these traits living inside me, and I am growing in these qualities as I walk through life.
You, too, have the opportunity to experience hope, peace, joy and love in a way the world cannot offer. It only takes faith. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Did you hear that? That is good news. Many think they have to do good – be good to come to God. It’s not true. You get to come how you are, simply with a desire to turn your life to God, and then He gives you the free gift of salvation. As you get to know Him more and tap into him more, you experience more of His hope, peace, joy and love.
We have all experienced a free gift. You go under the Christmas tree and read the labels. You find that box that has your name on it. It has been given, not because of the things you have done, but because you have someone who loves you. That’s exactly how it is with the gift of salvation. The creator of the universe who is all-powerful, all knowing and all good loves you. He is offering that free gift to you today. It’s a matter of reaching out, grasping onto His free gift of salvation and saying YES to Him. Would you like to do that today? If so, pray this prayer with me…
Dear God – I recognize that I need you – your hope, your peace, your joy, your love, your forgiveness. I invite you into my life now and accept your free gift of salvation. I ask you to be my Savior and my Lord. Thank you for dying for my sins. Take over my life and help me to be the kind of person you would want me to be. – AMEN