3. Joy Arising Through Gratitude
Light the candles.
Read Psalm 100
“The Lord is good and his love endures forever.” We have many reasons to celebrate because of God’s unfailing, merciful, gracious love. When we consider ALL of the blessings we have from God, our hearts DO rejoice and praise God- and we feel abundant joy in doing so! I imagine God delights in our praise and joy , because God knows we are appreciating and accepting God’s gifts, so freely and generously given.
Begin naming the blessings you have received from our generous God of love. Write a note of thankfulness and joy to God in response for all you have been given.
2. Joy Springing From the Desert
Light the candles.
Read Isaiah 35
A reminder of our first week’s desert focus, Isaiah describes how the desert, parched land and wilderness will be glad, rejoice and even blossom! The sand will indeed become lush and full of life. The redeemed will sing, and gladness and joy will overtake them. What a wonderful promise: joy found springing forth out of the desert wilderness.
Have the cares and responsibilities of daily living left you parched and dry? Are there concerns that seem to be robbing joy from your life? How do Isaiah’s words bless you this week?
Just as life is hidden deep in the desert, joy is deep within our souls. What obstructions or attitudes might you remove in order to let the joy bubble up?
The Third Week of Advent: JOY
You’re welcome to layer any items that symbolize joy for the third layer of the wreath. Add festive ribbons, little ornaments, angels, bells- any items that remind you of joy and celebration. Deep, abiding, God-given joy is offered to us for all times of our lives- sometimes surprising us even during our difficult or sad moments. Place the candles on this layer. The Christ candle remains in the center, as usual.
Joy Resulting From Our Brokenness
Light the peace and hope candles.
Read Nehemiah 8:1-2, 5-6. 9-12
As the Word of God was being read, surely the Israelites were made painfully aware of their sinfulness. Hearing the law and commands of God, their tears flowed out of remorse and regret; their obvious sorrow for not living as God had intended them to live. And yet, Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites instructed the Israelites NOT to grieve, but to celebrate! They were assured, “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (vs. 10)
We receive many blessings from the Law of God. Certainly, when we follow God’s laws, we gain wisdom for our thoughts, words and actions- and much less regret or guilt. But we are also blessed even when we fail to follow God’s law. Our tendency to be self-centered or self-reliant may lead us to forget or ignore God’s commands. Then eventually- and painfully, regretfully- we realize our inadequacies and sinfulness. It is when we recognize our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our sinfulness, that we recognize our desperation for a God who loves and forgives us, always. And at that moment we receive the gift of joy- in knowing that we have such a God, through Jesus Christ, God’s son. Those times when we humbly know just how sinful we are then become opportunities when God can truly work in us; times that become “sacred days to our Lord.”
Have you been reminded of or shown your particular mistakes or shortcomings recently? How do these reminders make you feel? Are you able to find a gift in the awareness of your flaws?
Can you recall a time when you were so grateful to be forgiven, either by a person or by God? Did you feel relief? Did you feel humility? Did you feel joy?
Today remember that “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” especially during our humbling imperfect moments.
The greenery, berries and other items remind us of new life all around us, even in our harsh, cold winter seasons or times of life.
We know that underneath the snow and ice, new life is waiting to spring forth when warmer weather returns. What appears to be desolation is really an incubator preparing the seeds for sprouting when the time is right. The life layer is a reminder that our own desolate moments will prepare us for new life at the proper time. We recall the story of Joseph. New life was brought out of his personal hardship.
Like Elijah, we find our sustenance in God’s abundant gifts. The life found in the greenery and berries symbolizes how God provides for us through all seasons of life. The evergreen, the red berries, and other plants remain vibrant throughout the winter season. They are unchanging, even in harsh winds and icy temperatures. God is our constant, never-changing source of life. We can bear the changes and fluctuations of life as we worship our constant source of life, God.
The life layer also reminds us that in our baptism, we are called to die to ourselves, and in doing so, we find new life. As we were told in the words of Isaiah, we receive life and healing when we offer life and healing in service to others. The second layer is a symbol of the new way of life found in our baptism and the Spirit’s call to become servants of God.
Place the rest of the candles on this new layer of greenery and life. The candles are now up a bit higher, beginning to shine over the edge of the pan. Like the candles, our spirits are lifted as we become closer to “receiving”- revealing the newborn Christ in our hearts again.
When all outward appearances may speak of winter and death, we know that new life and resurrection are always promised, not only for the spring, but for each and every day. We know that God is able to provide and to bring new life out of all difficult winters we endure.
The second candle among the greens then becomes our symbol of hope.
Light the second candle.
Read Luke 1:39-45
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. (Luke 1:45, NRSV)
The expectant Mary went to see Elizabeth, who also was pregnant. Perhaps she was hoping to have a mentor, a female companion who would share the same experiences. Perhaps she was excited to share her news with a beloved relative. Perhaps she needed a word of encouragement in those early months of pregnancy. Mary had “died to herself” by accepting God’s loving plan for her life, but she was still waiting for new life to birth.
When Mary and Elizabeth greeted each other, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped in her womb” and the Holy Spirit came upon her. Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s blessedness and the blessedness of the child she carried. Elizabeth strengthened Mary’s hope. Elizabeth realized that Mary was blessed by her trust in God’s word being fulfilled. Mary would bear this waiting time with hope given by God and by loving companions.
During this Advent holiday season, we may have many opportunities to gather and celebrate. As we meet with family and friends, we find life and warmth to share in the love of God. We need one another as mentors and encouraging companions for all the times of our lives. When we visit these dear ones over the holidays, let’s hold a special thankfulness in our hearts for the life and hope they bring to us.
Let’s also spend time with God. We can trust God’s promises of new life to us and for all seasons of life. God’s word was fulfilled in the gift of God’s son, Jesus, and God’s word is fulfilled in our daily lives as well. We need to be patient. Like Mary and the tiny new life developing within her, we need to bring our buried dreams to God for growth and development. As Mary sought out Elizabeth, let’s seek out friends for mentoring and encouragement, while trusting God’s promises of new life. Here we will find our hope- as we patiently wait out any difficult winter season.
Focus for the rest of this week:
Pray for the hope found in God’s promise of new life and resurrection. Thank God for the hope given us in the birth of Jesus and the resurrection after his death. Be thankful that God’s word is always true, God’s love is constant. Spend time with a dear one who encourages you; offer encouragement to someone who needs hope.
You will need any items that symbolize joy for the next layer: ribbons, bells, small ornaments, etc. Anything that makes you smile! Perhaps something whimsical!
3. Sharing the Warmth of Love in the Midst of Winter
Read Isaiah 58:6-14
In this passage, Isaiah speaks for the joy, delight and healing we receive when we reach out with joy, delight and healing to those in need. Our light will break forth like the dawn; we will be like unfailing springs of water; we will ride upon the heights of the earth. Our busyness and full schedules often make us hesitate to take time for others. Yet, all around us people are desperately in need of justice, healing, nourishment and warmth.
Is there someone you may have been overlooking who needs a listening ear or a helping hand? Isaiah notes that sharing our food and home with those in need is the truest worship. Whom might you serve this week?
2. Fueling Ourselves in the Midst of Winter
Read 1 Kings 19:1-13
Elijah ran to the wilderness, weary and fearful. He had given up, and he had even asked the Lord to let him die. But when he had fallen asleep, an angel of the Lord came to him. The angel first encouraged Elijah to eat and drink, in order to regain his strength.
Are you feeling overwhelmed or tired these days? What healing and body-tending do you need to strengthen yourself? What activities rejuvenate you and bring you life?
Each day this week take time to care for yourself- eat well, go for a walk, read, nap, pray or reflect… try any activity that will nourish and strengthen your body for service.
The second layer of our wreath is made of evergreens and berries to remind us of life and resurrection. In deepest winter snows, we are still able to see signs of life all around us, such as evergreen trees or holly. This layer is about the times we are able to see new life, even in the cold, harsh, difficult times of our lives. This layer of your wreath may be filled with any items that remind you of life and resurrection. Place only the candle of peace on the greens at this time. The Christ candle also remains.
Finding New Life in the Midst of Winter
Light the peace candle.
Read Genesis 37:3-4, 26-28; 45:4-15
As the favorite son of Jacob, Joseph faced difficult trials and imprisonment when his brothers became jealous and sold him to become a slave in Egypt. In the end, there was a tearful reunion filled with forgiveness- and enough food stored to save them all from famine. Joseph endured the harsh, empty times and ended up bringing new life to many people. God also worked to bring new life and a joyful reunion for Joseph’s family.
What “winters” are you facing right now?
~Do you struggle with the season itself- the discouragement that might come during long, gray days of cold and snow?
~Are you facing a particularly harsh winter season of life- trials, concerns- at this time?
~Or, as a seed lies buried under a layer of snow, do you have a dream or goal that currently is hidden or waiting to bloom under better conditions?
Even as Joseph struggled, God was at work to make good come from Joseph’s situation and to use his abilities for greater good. God’s promise of new life is for us, here and now. God will make good of everything we may currently be enduring or delaying or hiding away.
What reminders help you trust that God always brings new life and resurrection? Can you recall previous times of healing, or when new life was restored to you or others? How wondrously this was shown to us through the resurrection of Jesus!
God already knows our buried dreams, hopes and goals. But we can entrust them to God by uncovering them, bringing them into the open (while still imperfect and undeveloped), and asking God to foster our own growth- along with our dreams and goals- and also asking that all we do will be for God’s glory.
We have our bracelets! Most of you have seen this, but I just wanted to share the link again. This is from my son, who says it better than I can. The bracelets and website have been created by dear friends of ours. Thank you for sharing!
If you’re like me, and you’re feeling unsafe.
If you’re not like me, and you want to be an ally.
If you’re just ready to be an agent of love in a dark hour.
My friend just started a project to help get us all through this crazy time, and show support for our vulnerable neighbors.
The project is called I’m With You. And it’s a nonprofit effort to be visible, as an ally, and a loving person, available to talk and take a stand if needed, by wearing a bracelet that reads “I’m With You.”
God bless the safety pin folks, but we (especially our LGBT+ friends) know that visibility is PARAMOUNT. Where safety pins are a bit quiet, this project is about loudly SHOWING you’re a safe, loving person to those who might need it. (And can be worn in addition to a safety pin. 😀)
These Buddy Bracelets are a gender-neutral, glow-in-the dark green, and are only 50 cents ($3 shipping). All money left over is being donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center (whose mission is phenomenal).
So please order one, share this post, share this page, and show your support for everyone who needs it so desperately.
We CAN make a difference for good, one person at a time!
Touch the sand in the wreath pan. Consider the desert. Consider your own desert times in your life and in this week.
The desert is a place without abundant vegetation or life; the desert is a stark reminder of what we would lack if not for God. The desert is not our normal place to be. Recall Abram’s way of building altars in the wilderness to worship and thank God. Our sand-desert times become moments of humility and gratitude, as we recognize that all of life and its blessings come from God.
Recall Moses hearing God speak from the burning bush in the wilderness. The barrenness of our sand-desert times helps us to be more able to notice and to recognize the desire of our hearts; to reduce our distractions and busyness; to allow God “space” in which to work. In order to be more attentive to God, we choose to live with more simplicity.
Recall God’s words through Isaiah, promising to do a “new thing.” Place the candles on the wreath. At this time, the four candles are lower in the pan and not easily seen. The Christ candle on the center flute reigns above all. The candles remind us of our lowliness and meekness. We put our trust in Christ.
When we acknowledge our own barrenness, we become humble. When we recognize our abundant life-giving God, we are grateful. When we choose a simpler way of living, we become more attentive to God’s work in our lives and God’s voice in our hearts. When we seek to follow God’s lead, we recognize our lowliness and meekness and let Christ reign over us. Even if we are called to venture into new, unfamiliar territory, we can trust that God leads us, guides us and loves us.
The first candle in the sand then becomes our symbol of PEACE.
Light the first candle. Read Mary’s story. Luke 1:26-38
“Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)
Mary was specially called by God to enter new and unfamiliar territory- her own desert journey. With the angel’s surprising news, Mary’s life changed completely! Mary was going to give birth to Jesus, son of God. It certainly seems this would not have been part of Mary’s plan for her life. The angel’s words were a holy interruption to the life she knew and expected hers to be. She, too, was called to enter a desert of uncertainty.
Imagine what Mary may have wondered… Why me? Why now? How will this happen? How will I explain this to Joseph, my family, my friends? Will I be able to provide for this child? How should I prepare for this baby? But Mary’s reply is trusting, lowly and humble, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Her example of complete, trusting obedience brings peace.
May we be aware and attentive to the “holy interruptions” that surprise us. Like Mary, we have our own desert times of changing or uncertain futures. We have times when our holiday preparations or even our life plans are interrupted. But we can reply to God, “Let it be with me according to your word.” No questions asked. We can journey forth through each day, allowing the interruptions, taking time to notice God at work, and building an altar of gratitude at each resting place. We can heed and obey God in lowliness, trust and humility. Remember Mary’s words this week.
Focus for the rest of this week:
Pray for the peace found in pure, trusting, humble obedience. Try to simplify one area of your life, or fast from something that distracts you in these next few days. Be aware and grateful for the empty times or empty feelings that have drawn you closer to God.
You will need greens for your next layer- holly leaves, evergreens, or any other greenery (I use artificial). If you’d like a little color, get some berries, too!
3. Venturing Into the Desert- Leaving Our Fears Behind
Read Isaiah 43:18-19
We may be called to journey into the desert wilderness, but we will never go alone. We may face uncertainty, but we need not be afraid. God plans to do a new thing. God will make the way for us and provide refreshment for our souls.
What are some fears you may have about entering the barrenness or emptiness of the desert? Ask God to show you your inner fears. Then ask God for the loving trust only God can provide. We are in good hands.
Spend some time in “desert” solitude this day to be still with God- and to attentively listen and trust. Find a quiet corner or a special place to just be in silence with God, even if only for ten minutes. End your quiet time with a prayer of thanks for God’s constant presence.