This past Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season of expectation, preparation, and waiting for the birth of the Christ child. The First Sunday of Advent is also the beginning of the new church year, and so we turn the page on a new year with expectations and hope for the coming year.
Traditionally, candles are lit during each of the Sundays of Advent. Each Sunday has a theme: hope, love, peace, and joy, all of which lead up to Christmas Eve, when the Christmas season begins. In the past, Advent was a penitential season, much like the days of Lent are leading up to Easter. Time would be spent in prayer and meditation to prepare ourselves spiritually for the arrival of Jesus in the manger.
But Advent is also the season of light. As Christians, we are called to bring the light of Christ into the darkened world. The candles we light each Sunday represent, in an authentic way, that light. Each week, more light is brought into the world to lighten the darkness. Each week, the darkness diminishes just a little until, finally, light has overcome the darkness at Christmas. But this requires us to be that light in the world.
This year we are bringing even more light into the world as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah. Hanukkah is also the season of light, and each night a candle is lit to dispel the darkness for eight nights. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple in the 2nd century B.C.E. and the miracle that took place during the rededication.
The miracle of Hanukkah was that the single pot of oil that was supposed to last one day lasted eight. Therefore, candles are lit on the nights of Hanukkah not to illuminate the house from within but to illuminate the home from without so that those passing by will remember and celebrate this miracle.
It is fitting that this year Jews and Christians celebrate this festival and season of light together. If there was ever a time to bring light into the world, this is the year. Our world so desperately needs the light of hope, the light of love, the light of peace, and the light of joy. This year, we can join forces and bring that light to the world.
But this light is not static, remaining in only one place. We have to bring that light and be that light in our world that has grown so dark. The lighting of the Advent candles and the Hanukkah candles is the symbol. It is our job to take that light and let it shine bright in the world. We can accomplish this by adopting the themes of the season in our lives, and then it will naturally spread out from there into the world.
Blessed Advent and Happy Hanukkah!
By the Rev. Dr. Peter-Michael Preble
The Rev. Dr. Peter-Michael Preble is pastor of St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull and the bereavement coordinator with the Brockton Visiting Nurse Association.