“The morning star is so perfectly marvellous these days. It hangs in the dawn like a great globe of silver fire. Of all the images of Christ it seems the one that is almost more than an image – it is so utterly like Him in its pure glory. And it sets one’s heart crying for the promise ‘I will give him the morning star’ – the revelation of Himself to the watching ones.” 16 January 1899
First Sunday in Advent. The church had been “greened” for the season and the first candle had been lit to focus on the role of the prophets in the preparation for the coming Messiah. Children gathered on the steps of the platform for their story before departing to Junior Church.
“Does anyone know what a prophet is?” the story-teller asks, pointing to The Prophets’ Candle on the Advent wreath.
One boy eagerly raises his hand. “It is what you make when you sell something and get more back,” he answers.
Needless to say, his guileless mistaking of “profit” for “prophet” elicited laughter from the congregation! But many of us commented, as we walked out of the sanctuary that Sunday, that he may have been closer to the reality of the season than we might want to admit.
The initiation of the four-Sunday Advent Celebration at our church was the legacy of W.O. Ragsdale, who concluded decades of ministry with a two-year stint as minister-of-visitation in our Lake Wales’ church. He shared his growing frustration as the Christmas season was launched earlier with each passing year. His spirit recoiled at the expanded commercialism with businesses peddling their products before the Thanksgiving dinner was cleared away. He related his thwarted efforts to counter this trend by preaching against the consumer mentality triggered by this supposedly sacred day.
Then he was introduced to the concept of The Advent Season – preparing one’s heart the entire month of December, focusing each successive week on a unique aspect of the Christmas account. Instead of focusing on the negative – the futile attempt to suppress the secular trappings of the holy-day – he was liberated to focus on the positive anticipation of the long-awaited Messiah. All month long.
His challenge resulted in our congregation’s Advent Celebration, corresponding with four candles – Prophet, Bethlehem, Shepherd, Angel – representing significant elements of the Christmas story and culminating with The Christ Candle to be lit on Christmas Eve. While there are a variety of approaches to this commemoration, all have this in common: increasing light, week by week, candle by candle, illuminating hearts as the church anticipates the wondrous event of the coming of the Christ-Child to earth.
“What is the meaning of the Prophets’ Candle?” asks the minister. The congregation responds, “The Prophet’s Candle stands for the light of the hope of the prophets.” As we light the first candle we see the first flicker of hope – light in a dark world. At first the prophets – even the angels! – were mystified by the exact nature of that “hope.”
Progressive revelation was God’s chosen means of making His purpose clear. The gift of a Messiah, a Redeemer, was revealed bit by bit – like pieces in a puzzle – each added element of information a clue to the unfolding “mystery” which we now know to be Jesus Christ. Early “clues” – or prophesies – were deliberately vague but each shed greater light in a world darkened by sin: Genesis’s cryptic promise of the ultimate defeat of Satan; promises to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that through their offspring “all nations would be blessed;” prophets revealing ever more details of a Messiah King – even to the very place of birth. Over the centuries, clue upon clue, light upon light, a pattern emerged until the world was ablaze with light: the birth of Christ! Light of Life.
This is a busy season, commercialism notwithstanding. There are houses to decorate, cards to write, presents to buy, wrap and send, programs to attend, food to prepare, people to host. But we do have a choice: to counter the busyness (craziness!) by deliberately preparing our hearts during the Advent Season. We can join with believers weekly to focus on the coming Christ through liturgy, prayer and song. We can continue that commemoration through daily readings – perhaps even the lighting of ones own Advent candles.
“Profit” or “prophet”? Commercialism or commemoration? Holidays or holy-days? The choice is over to us.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain…
a light shining in a dark place…
until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Painting: fragment from Diary 16 January 1899