This past Sunday two candles were lit.

The first candle lit was in many of our churches for the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks that precede Christmas.

Though we usually understand Advent as a season of waiting and preparation, we often view Advent with “Christmas lenses,” seeing it as a time of waiting for the birth to happen. We treat Advent like the eighth month of pregnancy, when the only thing we can think about is, “When is this baby finally going to arrive?”

But Advent is not about preparing for the initial coming of Jesus. Rather, it is about preparing for the Second Coming. Advent is about joyfully anticipating a time when all things will be made new. Advent invites us to prepare our lives to be aligned with God’s inbreaking Reign.

So when we lit that first candle, the candle of hope, we lit it in anticipation of how God continues to come to us in Jesus, even as we await that time when we are all gathered home with God in Jesus.

The other candle lit on Sunday was for the first of the eight days of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Hanukkah recognizes the uprising of the Jewish people against the Greek dictator Antiochus Epiphanes, when he sought to outlaw the Jewish religion and force the Jews into pagan practices. Led by Judas Maccabee in 166 BC, the Jewish people succeeded in driving out the Greeks within two years. You can read about these events in Roman Catholic Bibles in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

In response, Judas Maccabee led the people to cleanse the Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah — the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night. The miracle of Hanukkah occurred during that rededication. There was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, but the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

For each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, another candle is lit, another reminder that God is with God’s people. The light of the menorah shows that the light of God’s hope, the light of God’s love, can never be fully extinguished. As one meme on Facebook reminded me this week, “That’s a whole lot of light shining in the darkness, y’all!”

The lights of Advent and Hanukkah challenge all of us to bring the light of God to bear upon a world that seems darkened too many times. They invite us to join in where we see the Spirit at work, where God is preparing a way. They invite us to see and live out works of love, peace, mercy, and justice.

The lights of Advent and Hanukkah invite us to look beyond the cynicism and despair of the world and to see where hope is breaking through. We do not have to be defined by hatred and division. We look to the God who loves us and makes us one, to see how the former things are passing away and the new is coming.

The lights of Advent and Hanukkah invite us to realize that we do not live in scarcity but in abundance and so we live generously into that abundance.

The lights of Advent and Hanukkah invite us to continue to know how we can be a community experiencing wholeness through God’s love.

So let us light our candles and shine the light. Let that light reach across our divisions and our differences. Let that light bring hope and love and peace to us and to all who see and know that light. For when we do, we will be living out the meaning of what both these traditions are all about.

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The Rev. David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers.

Contact him at pastor.david@conyerselc.org.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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