The Candle of Hope

By DANNY MINTON

Until recently, the congregations I of which I’ve been a part have never had the Advent tradition. However, when I think about the meaning behind the practice, I realize that I have practiced its basic principles yearly and month after month. During this time of year, attention revolves around four central thoughts. Many churches will light a new candle each week between now and Christmas as a reminder of what Jesus stands for in the minds of many this time of year. The candles of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace describe essential elements of what Jesus puts into the hearts of each person who desires to be like Him. I’ve seen different orders of lighting the candles, but the themes are the same. I’ll share thoughts on the four themes for the next four weeks.

The “Candle of Hope” is often referred to as the “Prophet’s Candle.” The “Hope” of God’s fulfilled promise is a theme that makes its way through the writings of the Old Testament prophets. It was this expectation of God fulfilling His love for mankind that kept hope alive.

Sergeant Lloyd Ponder was in the Army Air Force during World War II. He was captured and made a prisoner of war for several years. He decided early on to do everything he could to survive the ordeal. It would be difficult, but he had the determination to make it through. Many would give up, but Lloyd knew that he had to have hope to survive. “Hope makes a difference; if you don’t have hope, you’re gone. Having hope can get you through anything.”

The birth of Jesus initiated the fulfillment of the promise that the prophets had spoken of centuries before. His coming was the hope that they expected to come to a reality. In the same sense, his coming brings another hope: eternal life with Him. As Sergeant Ponder said, “Hope makes a difference.” Expecting something greater gives us the strength to make it through anything we face in this life. The anticipation of a better life exists in our hope in Christ. Without this, the hope of life would be empty for us all. 

Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:18-19 (NIV2011) He encourages the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV2011)

Life is not always an easy road to travel. We face things every day that can challenge our stamina. Sometimes our issues are seen outwardly, while at other times, they exist deep in the quiet of our hearts. Buried in our concerns and needs lives a small glimmer of light called hope. It’s a gift that Jesus presents to us. To those who follow Him, he provides a light that leads us out of darkness. 

In a prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi, he mentions all the elements of Advent. Each one finds its origin in Jesus, who lowered Himself and came down to this tiny planet delivering a message of hope. It is within the hope that the other elements find true meaning. We seek peace because of the hope we want all men to share. We love one another, seeing Jesus as the prime example, wanting all men to have hope in life to come. We find joy in the hope that we know Jesus has given us in a world where we often find despair. He is a light that brings hope. His pardon of our sins offers the grace that fulfills our hope for a better future. And our faith in our Lord helps us realize that hope offers a better life and is a reality for all who follow. 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Although he does not mention the word hope, the second portion of his prayer alludes to the outcome of living a life of hope by how we present ourselves to others and God. It is our giving that we receive the fulfillment of our hope.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” From the Diary of Anne Frank

(Info on Lloyd Ponder is from an article by Staff Sgt. Erin Trower, “WWII, POW Survivor Shares Tale of Hope, Determination, Resilience” 8af.af.mil)

Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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