Many churches celebrate the season of Advent during the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a time when we remember the people who waited for Jesus’ first coming, preparing our hearts to celebrate Christmas. As I mentioned last week, it is also a time when we look forward to the day when Christ will return.
Advent was a big deal in my family. In early December, my mom would fill the house with Christmas decorations – garlands around the windows, a snow village on the mantle, and of course a manger scene. I loved decorating the house. I loved choosing an advent calendar from the pile we had at home and opening the doors one at a time to see Bible verses relating to the Christmas story. But my strongest Advent memory is of the advent calendar that we would light before dinner once a week. (That is, in theory. We didn’t always do it as consistently as we’d wanted to.)
The Advent wreath had four candles – one for each week before Christmas. Each one had a different symbolic meaning, and a story associated with it. This hymn has one verse inspired by each week of Advent. I go into more detail about each verse below.
Child of Heaven
Children of Earth await the child of Heaven
Throughout a thousand thousand empty years.
The mountains’ weight is piled on their shoulders.
The ocean’s waves are salted with their tears,
But in the dark, a single candle shining,
Proclaims, “God comes to banish all your fears.”
The child of Heaven without an earthly father
Within a virgin’s womb enfolded sleeps.
While fragile flesh enfolds eternal spirit,
His loving mother patient vigil keeps.
May we as well, courageously submitting,
Yield ourselves to the father’s love so deep.
Now as we hear the child of Heaven approaching
We leap for joy to honor Earth’s true king.
A barren woman pregnant with His herald,
From frozen ground, hope’s tender bud shall spring
He lifts the poor while casting down the mighty
Ashamed no more, His humble servants sing.
On Earth’s bare planes, a voice of heavenly power
Tells poor and powerless shepherds not to fear.
Their awestruck eyes behold bright hosts in glory,
While songs of worship echo in each ear.
At peace, Creation joins the holy chorus;
To make Earth whole, the child of Heaven is here.
The first candle represented hope. On the first Sunday of Advent, we spoke about the prophets and others who waited for thousands of years for God to send the promised Messiah. I tend to associate this week with the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” So during the first stanza, I tried to evoke the sadness and darkness of the world we find ourselves in, in which God’s promise, like a single candle, provides us with the hope we need to go on.
The second week, we talked about love and the Annunciation. The two are connected because of the love that Mary, like most mothers, had for her child. But I also wanted to point out that the greatest love shown in this story is God the Father’s love in sending Jesus in the first place.
The third week was one of my favorites as a child, because it was the only time when my name was mentioned in our Sunday School lesson. That week, we talked about Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who had been barren but was now pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, John leapt for joy in her womb, which is why the third week is about joy. Following this incident, Mary sang the Magnificat, a song about how God has lifted up the humble and cast down the proud.
The last week celebrates the angels telling the shepherds that the baby Jesus had been born. The theme for that week is peace, because they sang, “Peace on Earth, good will to men.” The last line plays on the Hebrew concept of shalom. Usually translated as “peace,” shalom is actually a state of wholeness and flourishing. As I point out in the last line, Jesus came to give that kind of wholeness to the whole world.