A few years ago when the boys became old enough to participate, we started to keep a more regular practice of lighting an Advent wreath at home–and I say this with all the necessary qualifiers about what “regular” means in our home.
But this has become something we all look forward to in this season, and of course the boys enjoy permission to handle fire, however small (and with adult supervision).
We’ve also done our best to talk through what each of the candles represent, which, as so often happens when teaching children, Audrey and I have found difficult to do.
How does one explain to a child what hope is? Or peace?
What is joy, to a child?
And how can we possibly summarize love?
In a sense, this is an impossible task. But it is one that we attempt all the time as the church, for instance, whenever we talk about God.
God is utterly beyond language, and so whatever words we use to describe God are, at best, symbols–signposts pointing us to God.
Not that the language we use isn’t important, because it absolutely is. Sometimes the language the church has used for God points us in the wrong direction. Other times it can open us up to new roads we never knew were there. If we fall too comfortably into a pattern of using the same language, we run the risk of limiting ourselves from experiencing the fullness of God.
The interstate is efficient, but if that’s all you drive on, how incomplete–deprived, even–would your understanding of this beautiful land be?
When it comes to this kind of holy speech, fullness is approached through practice. Through ritual, through repetition. In a sense, everything we say or do or offer in worship points us to God. And when we do these things week after week, our vision is expanded, slowly.
The same is true for these four themes of Advent. The more we speak of them, and the more language we use when we do, and the more we couple it with reflection and action, the more we round them out in our imaginations.
In our home, hope is “looking forward to something good,” which may be the real magic of this season.
Peace is “when everything is as it should be,” followed by a deep breath (even if just by Audrey and me).
Joy is “when we are soooooo happy,” usually paired with a big bear hug with whomever is closest.
And love is “what makes all these other candles possible,” which we ponder together in silence for a beat.
These aren’t summaries, but starting points, to a journey we take a few steps down each night around those candles, and a few steps more when we gather with all of you in worship. And every year, without fail and no matter just what “regular” comes to mean, we end up just where we hoped to go.