The four weeks traditionally (within the Church of England) focus on the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary.
Each Sunday in Advent we light a candle (purple for weeks 1, 2 & 4 and pink for week 3, which we call 'Gaudate' Sunday) and on Christmas Morning we light the central white candle. Some people have moved the themes of the Sundays to focus on Love, Joy, Peace and Hope - but I'll keep to the traditional stuff as I think it looks more at the Bible and less at the fluffy!
The readings today point to the promise of a Saviour. Would you expect anything different considering the time of year it is?
Many churches will be featuring this great hymn:
This is an opportunity for us to get our spiritual (and physical) houses in order as we prepare for Christmas day.
On the physical front, many people will be thinking about Christmas day and the menus and the guest lists (and the the alcohol!) and will start tidying the house. They will be clearing their 'public' rooms, often by filling the private rooms with the clutter from elsewhere) so that they look presentable to their guests.
Advent is a time when, spiritually, we do the complete opposite and set about clearing the private inner rooms in preparation for the coming of the baby Jesus. This is a time when we examine ourselves and throw out the things that make our spiritual lives untidy and unwelcoming. To do this we think about jesus' coming - corporately in the Advent courses which many church run and privately in our own prayer and study - and examine ourselves.
The Jeremiah reading, coming at a time of great trial and need, says it all:
'The days are coming when I will fulfil the promise...' says God
And of course, fulfil it He does in the coming of Jesus, ' A righteous branch who will do what is 'just and right'. The problem is that as we enter the run in to Christmas (or as I like to call it 'Argostide') we can find ourselves far too taken up with gifts and menus and the like. We take for granted the conflicts and the natural disasters; the things that make us realise that where we are and the gimme in which we live is not running as God's plan might have it. This was exactly the same for those to whom Jeremiah spoke. And the answer is that as we celebrate the birth of Jesus some two thousand years ago we also look to His return as Messiah and King.
Which fits in nicely (lucky or what?) with the Gospel and the 1 Thessalonians reading as they ask us some really important questions?
Are we living in the expectation of the 'then' (Jesus' return) in the 'now'?
Does love increase and overflow?
Do you see the ways in which the world is pulling itself apart and gaming creation and those who live (near and far) on our planet?
When was the last time you knew you were living a blameless and holy life?
Some challenges I face as I prepare to celebrate jesus' coming to this earth as God made man; as a vulnerable and innocent child. Perhaps you'd like to take them up too?
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Have a read of the passages below and have a think about what they mean to you:
Jeremiah 33: 14 - 16
“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’”
1 Thessalonians 3: 9 - 13
“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
Luke 21.25 - 36
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable:
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”