Is it okay to break away from tradition at Christmas? Perhaps that depends on which tradition. For our family, it was time to step out and try something new with advent candles.
When the vision of a new advent candle scene came to mind, I felt a little guilty, like I was breaking a rule or something. It felt legalistic. Sacrilegious. Freeing!
Earlier this month, I had an unexpected and disgusting surprise in our attic (via post Christmas Shocker!). One thing we couldn’t keep was our advent candle wreath, so we started from scratch.
I could have bought a pretty or ornate one, but when I stopped and thought about it, after all the years of my life, I still cannot recall the 4 meanings/Sundays of advent (in order nonetheless). I asked my husband if he could – and he couldn’t. Somehow this left a hole in our holidays.
What have we been doing wrong all these years that traditional advent doesn’t stick?
Will it be the same for our children when they have their own homes to decorate when they are grown?
God is far more interested in a relationship with us rather than religious observances for the sake of tradition, so I asked Him what we could do as a family to make advent more real to us. Reading back through Luke, and contemplating what God was revealing to me, I focused on the aspects of Christmas that were just as raw back then as they are now.
This is the product of a precious journey with Him…
Here’s what it all means to our family –
The first Sunday is the black candle and black candle holder. This is for TRUST. Looking at Scripture, there were many people involved in the birth of Christ who were asked to trust God when it was scary and downright dangerous. Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, shepherds, wise men, and all of the prophets who announced Jesus’ coming centuries before.
The enemy of trust is fear. It’s no wonder the angels who spoke to Joseph, Zechariah and Mary each said, Do not be afraid. Fear paralyzes us. Trust frees us. Fear pushes us away from God. Trust draws us to Him. Each person surrounding the birth of Christ was asked to believe the unbelievable. To trust the impossible. We, too, are asked to trust God when the way is dark. Lonely. Unknown. Trust forces us to give up control. That can be very hard to do. But with trust comes peace. Peaces musters up the courage we need to take a deep breath and utter the words, I trust You, God. Your will be done.
Mary could have been legally stoned to death for being an unwed mother. Joseph risked his reputation, Mary’s reputation and the reputation of his family. Zechariah had long lived with disgrace of his wife being barren. He was old. She was old. His doubt caused him to live the remainder of Elizabeth’s pregnancy being mute. I suppose that gave him a great deal of time to contemplate things.
The shepherds forfeited their flocks and sleep to trust there was a stable that housed a young, poor family whose baby is the Christ child. They risked being shunned by anyone they may have met along the way because of their filthy state and humble status. The wise men risked their community reputation as they set off to seek the Messiah. They, who studied stars for a living, held a very high rank in their communities. Can you imagine what people must have thought as they left their families, packing extremely expensive gifts, to set off for an unknown destination, for an unknown length of time, following a star hung in the sky? I’m sure some where amazed at their quest, but surely others thought this was a risky, if not crazy, idea. A black candle and holder seemed the most appropriate color for trust as we follow God wherever He heads even when we can’t see His end plan.
Psalm 56:3-4 – When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Psalm 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Luke 1:38 – “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
The second Sunday is the blue candle with an ivory holder. This is for HOPE and FAITH. Once we took a deeper look at what it means to trust God, even when we can’t see His plan, the next step is to act on it. Thus, with hope, we live out faith. The ivory holder and twine remind me of what they may have worn back then. Simple. Unassuming. The blue candle represents the days they had to walk putting one foot in front of the other in sheer faith that God was leading them on the path He planned.
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Psalm 62:5 – Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Isaiah 40:30-31 – Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
2 Corinthians 5:7 – We live by faith, no by sight.
The third Sunday is the white candle and glass holder. This is for JOY! When the angels proclaimed the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, and Jesus had drawn His first breath in this world, holy joy was breathed into the world as fresh as when life was breathed into Adam’s body and Noah’s dove returned with a dry branch in its beak. Even a multitude of angels transcended through the spiritual realm into the earthly atmosphere to proclaim this good news. However, this small family of 3 was in the dark. In a cave. Surrounded by animals. Rejected by people. Shepherds didn’t win the lottery and buy a new car. They had jobs to go back to after witnessing the Messiah. Lonely, smelly, lowly jobs. They were – the outcasts still. Wise men merely set out that night on their quest to seek the Savior by the light of the brightest star. They didn’t reach Him by daybreak. In fact, Scripture tells us they found Jesus, by then a toddler, in a house. Think of how long their journey must have been! Then, after beholding the Christ as a child, they set off for home. They had jobs to return to. Families. Community responsibilities…and a long journey back.
Despite, the appearance of circumstance, unspeakable joy ignited in all of their hearts because their hearts were forever changed by Christ!
We, too, can have that same unmovable, unshakable, unchanging joy – even if our present circumstances don’t change. Even if we are stuck in dead-end jobs, are praying for wayward children, are suffering silently in a lonely marriage, are overwhelmed in school or aren’t sure how to pay the car loan. Joy, true joy, is a gift from God. It is not the same as happiness. Happiness is a feeling – an emotion – that changes like the wind. God’s joy is of another world, and thus this world cannot steal, squash or snuff it out.
Luke 2:10 – But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Isaiah 51:11 – The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Nehemiah 8:10 – Nehemiah said, “…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
1 Peter 1:8-9 – Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The fourth Sunday is the red candle and wooden candle holder. This candle symbolizes the love that God has for us. John 3:16. Jesus was love wrapped in flesh – His love and the love of the Father. The wooden holder represents the manger, or feeding trough, that was Jesus’ first bassinet. It still takes my breath away that Someone so beautiful, resplendent, and perfect could be cradled by such a humble abode.
Psalm 36:5 – Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Psalm 119:76 – May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.
Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:16 – God is love.
The fifth candle is lit on Christmas day. It is majestic gold and symbolizes Christ Himself! I was on a search for just the right candle and holder to represent the glory of the Lord. Turns out, it took 2 holders! They were different colors, so I spray painted them gold. The candle is gold as well. Together, all 3 elements signify the reason Christ was born…it was so that He could die in our place on the cross.
Luke 1:30-33 – But the angel said to (Mary), “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Phil 2:6-11 – Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Hebrews 9:27-28 – Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
So, what has this new advent candle set up done for our family? It has changed everything! Whereas before we simply read the designated Scripture and the definition of the candle (which we can’t recite). Now, all 5 of us can tell you 5 elements of Christmas both for those who lived it then and those who believe it now.
All 5 of these components: Trust, hope & faith, joy, love and salvation are completely relatable to our lives.
As a family, we talk about these and give examples of both those in the Bible and in our lives. It has been utterly amazing how rich the conversation has been! I have learned things about my children’s lives I never knew before about how God has worked in their lives to strengthen their walk with Him. This alone was worth the change in how we participate in the advent season.
I am sure there are purists who would disagree with our candles, holders, and some of the spiritual elements, and that’s okay. Traditions have their place. For our family, we needed something that helped us draw closer to Christ in a season of life that is crowded with work, homework, and commitments that taunt us to tell Jesus there is no room for Him in our present-day Christmas.
When He knocks on the door of my heart, I don’t want to be so busy with the “stuff” of Christmas that I don’t recognize His voice. I don’t want to be so tired that I don’t answer the door. I don’t want to find too much value wrapped up in things either under the tree or on my calendar that I miss the opportunity to invite Jesus into my Christmas.
Is there room for Christ in your Christmas?
If you need a change, feel free to use our advent ideas for your home. After all, it’s not the glow from the candle that counts. It’s the fire in our hearts for Jesus that illuminates the dark world around us.
Let His light shine in you this Christmas!
Post note – I thought I would include information about the things pictured in the photo in case you’re interested.
- The tablecloth is from Crate & Barrel (Last year’s after-Christmas clearance).
- Chargers are from the Dollar Store. (99 cents each)
- The nativity figures are from Hobby Lobby. They were 50% off. They look like wood, but are resin which are easy to clean and will last a long time.
- The black, ivory, and wooden candle holders are from Michael’s. (Using coupons!)
- The glass candle holder and unscented white pillar candle are from WalMart.
- The black, blue, red and golden cross unscented candles are from Hobby Lobby. (On sale!)
- The two candle holders spray painted gold are from Hobby Lobby. The smaller one actually looks just like a crown with crosses on the sides of it.