“In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.”(Jeremiah 33:15)In the name …
The first candle of the Advent wreath symbolizes the promise and hope of this season.All by itself it doesn’t offer too much light.There’s still the assurance of more to come, but to get there the candle of promise itself has to be depleted.In three more weeks when we light the fourth and last candle of the Advent Season, that fourth candle will be brand new, but by then this first candle, the candle of promise, will be reduced to about half its size.There’s a lesson in this symbolism for us, not only of its first light, but of its lasting light.
Advent is the time when we wait for the promised coming of Jesus Christ.The four Sundays of Advent symbolize the 4,000 years between the time of Adam and that of Jesus, the time when the world awaited the coming of her Saviour.If we jump back in time, written language first appears around 3,000 B.C. in the ancient Middle East.This is the beginning of recorded history.To the ancients an additional millennium on top of this recorded beginning of history represented the very beginning of all creation.It was as far back as the mind could hope to imagine.This is the time, according to these ancient traditions, of the first human beings.This is the time of Adam.
6,000 years ago is a drop in the bucket in the story of creation, but it contains most all of our recorded history.These traditions of human origins are the ancient world’s attempt to explain where they came from but also who they were.So almost as soon as we hear of Adam’s creation, we also have to hear of Adam’s Fall.There had to be an explanation for why life was so difficult, why people had to work so hard to try and stay alive, and why they so often failed.And so the story tells us that the first humans, Adam and Eve, that they sinned against God and that as a consequence they were expelled from the mythical Garden of Eden, a place where there was no want, no suffering, no hardship.Once expelled from paradise, the woman was cursed with “pain” in childbearing as we hear in Genesis (3:16), and the man was compelled to “toil” (3:17) against nature in his constant search for food.Both words of “pain” and “toil” in the storyteller’s original language are one in the same.They reflect the perspective of both male and female that human life is unfortunately filled with hardship and struggle.
But that’s not all there is to the story.When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, this prevented them from eating of the tree of life.This meant that they were no longer immortal, that they would eventually die.But the sin of Adam and Eve did not pertain to this tree, the tree of life.Instead, the Fall was based on their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the temptation to eat of this forbidden fruit was that their eyes would be open and that they would then become like God knowing the difference between good and evil.That original sin, the first sin, is just like all of the sins that followed it:We would try to play God.We would insist on replacing His way with ours.God would say one thing and we would choose to do another.But as the story goes, once we ate of the tree of wisdom, we truly were like God in that we had the freedom to choose good and evil.With that unique wisdom that belongs only to humankind, morality was born. With this knowledge, we became different than all the rest of God’s wondrous creation.So even though we were expelled from the Garden, according to the story, we left with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil forever a part of who we are.
And just like the Greek story of the Fall told in Pandora’s Box, along with all the evil that rushed into the world through Pandora’s curiosity, so also came the gift of hope for those not too timid to look back into tat box.Wisdom has given us the heavy responsibility of morality, but it has also given us the incomparable privilege of morality, the hope to be like God, not to replace God, but to be like God.The same fruit of wisdom that expelled us from Eden also provides the way for our return.We were no longer instinctively followers of God after eating of the forbidden fruit, but with wisdom we could choose to follow God.In our awareness of good and evil, we could choose to be moral, and thus return to God’s presence.This is the promise that follows us throughout our lives.This is the promise of the first candle.And this is the symbolism also of the first candle’s depletion.Promise cannot be achieved without perseverance, without the struggle of morality.
This is the message Jeremiah shared with his people five centuries before the birth of Jesus when he foretold God’s word of the coming Messiah, the fresh branch that would emerge from the stump of the family tree of King David, and that this coming Messiah would do what is “right and just in the land.”He told this to his people just as their nation was about to be destroyed and they were about to be sent into exile to there languish without a country to call their own.But still promise persisted.This is the same promise shared by Jesus with all of us who call Him Lord when He promises of His return in glory and power at the end of time.At the final judgment some will face punishment but we who have chosen to follow God can “stand erect and raise our heads because our redemption is at hand.” (Lk 21:28)We will have persisted in the promise.
From Adam and Jeremiah and Jesus to our lighting today of the first candle of the Advent wreath, we are reminded that promise requires perseverance.By the end of Advent, today’s freshly burning candle of promise will be worn down to half its size, but without its first light of promise that will have persevered throughout the season, we could never get to the Christ Candle of Christmas.The promise is real, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.But that it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it’s not real. Remember this when life is difficult.The promise still remains. Let us hold on to this promise that has always been a part of our human condition, that has always assured us even in the most difficult of times that there is purpose in life and paradise in God.For this trust in the promise of our faith, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)