Today we mark the start of Advent - the month long preparation for Christmas.
I can't believe we're almost at the end of year ... but here we are.
What a year 2021 has been! We started out at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic ... we were in another lockdown, having already experienced nine months of restrictions. Christmas last year was a bit of a washout ... we couldn't gather in numbers, churches were shut and shops pretty much closed. Back in January coronavirus numbers were still very high, there were many many sick people and, sadly, many people were dying.
In January this year there was a little hope on the horizon. We were just beginning to see a glimmer of light with the news that the first COVID-19 vaccines were beginning to be rolled out, certainly in the British Isles. And here in Jersey those first vaccines were being delivered by the end of January.
Today, at the end of November and as we step into Advent, many of us (in developed nations at least) have either been privileged to be vaccinated or at least have the option to be vaccinated and although Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is still around and people are still contracting the virus, the widespread roll out of the vaccine means that, at the moment, fewer people are getting sick and deaths appear to be lower than at the height of the pandemic. Let's pray that continues!
So today, on the first Sunday of Advent, it's appropriate to talk about hope!
Each year during this season running up to Christmas and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, many churches and individuals use candles to mark this holy time. The Advent wreath is often used as well ... and this usually includes four candles which are lit on the four Sundays in Advent. Sometimes there's a final fifth candle which is placed in the middle of the wreath, and which is lit on Christmas morning (Dec 25).
Did you know that in some religious traditions, each of the Advent candles represent something different?
And the first candle - the one we will light today on this first Sunday of Advent - symbolises HOPE.
It's called the "Prophet’s Candle" and links Christmas today to the prophets of the Old Testament, who foretold the coming of the Messiah, the one to be sent from God who would save the world. Christians believe that person is Jesus Christ and yet many centuries before his birth in Bethlehem at the time of the Roman Empire, the prophet Isaiah told of the birth. In Chapter 9 (v 6) in the book of the Bible named for him we read this:
The Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival and often the first candle in Advent is purple which symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting.
This Christmas hope is still in the air. Hope that humankind will come through this dreadful pandemic. Hope that people will be drawn together through adversity.
And from the Christian perspective ... Hope that people will recognise Jesus this Christmastime, as he comes once again to our world, to bring everlasting peace and joy and to make life beautiful and full of promise and love.