In the midst of pitch darkness, the light from one solitary candle breaks through the blackness and pierces through with clarity and brilliance. For nearly four-hundred years, the people of Israel had heard no word from the Lord. He who had cast down mighty Egypt, gave them the Promised Land, and ruled over them through mighty kings and prophets was silent. The Spirit of prophecy had left Israel. Now, a fledgling nation under Roman occupation, all hope seemed lost and there was nothing but silence… and darkness.
Enter Zechariah, a faithful servant of God who came into the Temple to make an offering of incense. It was as if all the prayers of Israel from Abraham until now were swept up in one pillar of fragrant smoke as God, through an angel, spoke the words all creation had been longing to hear, “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son… to make ready for the Lord, a people prepared” (Lk. 1:8-17). Before this fateful day was over, it was no longer God who was silent, but Zechariah for his lack of belief. It was Zechariah’s son, John, who was going to prepare the way for Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.
God’s Word breaks through darkness and penetrates the confusion and chaos of the world. It may seem like the tiniest glimmer from a candle in a blackened room at first, but it will grow into an overwhelming flame of brilliant light for, just as John said later, “he who is mightier than I is coming… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk. 3:16).
The season of Advent is a season of waiting, a season of expectation, a season of hope. We like to troll out “Joy to the World,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” a little too soon just like little children who would rather tear through that “pretty paper” long before December 25th. Advent teaches us to wait, to listen for God, and to long for his promises.
Israel waited through four-hundred years of silence (and two-thousand years before that) for the first coming of Messiah. They waited through one desolation after another, one foreign occupant after another; at times, all hope seemed gone and all faith in God seemed misplaced. But God spoke at last. In the darkness of the Temple and through a cloud of incense, God spoke to Zechariah and said, “at last… Messiah is coming.”
Just as Israel waited those long years of silence and darkness, we too wait in a world that seems darker and more confused everyday. Advent reflects this yearning. Before the joy and brilliance of Christmas which boldly declares “Christ has come!” We wait. We watch. We pray. We are not ignorant of the fact that Christ has indeed come, we are not shunning the celebration of his birth or the glory of the incarnation; but we are pointing to another advent, another coming, when all the promises of God will be manifested in their fulness through the appearance of Lord in the clouds as he comes to consummate all things.
We light the first candle on this first Sunday of Advent remembering the promises of God in the midst of darkness, remembering that God is faithful, and looking forward to the fulfillment of all things in Jesus Christ. That solitary light serves as a reminder, that no matter how bleak the darkness of the world may seem, there is a ray of hope, a light shining in the darkness. This light cannot and will not be quenched until it at last consumes all things in fire and judgment.
So instead of heartily belting out, “Joy to the World,” too soon, try this traditional hymn for the First Sunday of Advent.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
“Even so, come Lord Jesus!”