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The Christmas season, for many, is a season of hope. We hope for that special present. We hope for snow (or no snow…Scrooges). Our Christmas songs are tinseled with words of hope for peace, joy and love.

For many of our churches, the Christmas season has become synonymous with Advent. Advent is the time we light sequential candles in church and watch the flames dance as we sing the familiar songs of the season.

As a child, I was always dazzled by those flames. However, I didn’t truly understand what they meant.

Historically for the church, Advent and Christmas have been two separate seasons. Christmas is a celebration of the Son of God’s arrival as a baby in Bethlehem. At Christmas, we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises, salvation through the Messiah and the Light of the world who penetrated the darkness.

It is because of Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of hope, joy, love and peace.

Yet there is no celebration of hope without a season of unfulfilled longing;

no joy without a season of sadness;

no love without a season of isolation;

no peace without a season of war.

Advent is that season.

For centuries, the people of God anticipated the arrival of the Messiah – the Savior who would restore all things and redeem His people. Every page of the Old Testament pulses with the heartbeat of a broken, sinful world and the promised Christ of restoration.

Their faith, like a candle, illuminated the darkness around them in anticipation of this Savior. They longed with great hope, and this hope was their faith.

The arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, is the fulfillment of that hope.

Today, in Christ, we have joy; we celebrate His love; we rest in His peace.

Yet we too long for a day when all things will be made new.

Like Abraham looking to the stars, we know we are people set apart by a God who keeps His promises. Jesus’s words in the closing verses of Revelation linger with every sunrise, “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20).

Yet like John, our response echoes with every sunset, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

During the Advent season, as we light candles, read from the Scriptures and sing songs of Christ’s arrival, let us do so at the highest level of bittersweet.

Our song is sweet because Jesus has come! The gospel is true, and God is faithful!

Our song is bitter because we still walk the fallen path of sin and rebellion and anticipate the glorious Kingdom to come when Christ returns.

Hope. Love. Joy. Peace. Christ. This is the season of Advent.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.