OCIEANNA FLEISS | GUEST
Christmas music played softly as I leaned on the counter at the Christian bookstore where I worked alongside my new husband.
“Advent?” I said. “Isn’t that when churches light candles around Christmas time?”
We were in our twenties, still establishing our own family culture, and had been dabbling in some of the Christian traditions we hadn’t explored before.
“Yeah, but I heard you can also celebrate it at home,” he answered.
“I’m not sure, but I think we should start with an Advent wreath.”
I agreed, and after some shopping, we settled on a gorgeous wooden wreath decorated with a Celtic knot that would sit nicely on our coffee table. It had four candles—three purple and one pink—to represent the four weeks of the Advent season. Later we added a white one, the Christ candle, to light on Christmas Eve.
With joy I set it up in our California apartment, and each Sunday in December, as the sunshine filtered through our windows, we lit the candles and read the accompanying Scriptures for each week. The weekly Advent themes of hope, preparation, joy, and love nurtured a rhythm of worship our hearts needed—and have continued to need.
We didn’t know then how, over the years, these themes would play out in our lives.
A few years after buying the wreath, that first theme, hope, took on a deeper meaning. About five weeks before Christmas, a home pregnancy test showed that we were expecting our first child. The joy and mystery of a new life fit perfectly with the Advent season. But, sadly, at our visit to the midwife, we found out that we had lost our little one before we knew her. We named her Hope, and as my husband lit that first week’s Advent candle—the hope candle—tears warmed my cheeks. Yet the candle’s soft light also pointed to my only source of hope, and with it, a deep comfort, the comfort that comes from the One who understands suffering like no other.
Two years later, after two miscarriages and many months of negative pregnancy tests, the Lord blessed us with our firstborn. Soon followed three more beautiful children, and our Christmases rang with happier sounds. During those years, Christmas was all about preparation. The short December days were spent thinking about buying the perfect gifts, finding events to embrace the season, hosting friends and family—all to make Christmas amazing for my loved ones. In all the busyness, it was easy to lose sight of what I was really preparing for: the celebration of the Savior’s birth. By this time, our Advent-wreath tradition had become an after-dinner activity. Each night we snuggled with our kids on the couch, lit that week’s Advent candle, and read from a devotional that included a Scripture reading, a short message, and a hymn. This quiet tradition anchored me back to Jesus at the end of each hectic day.
As they grew into teens, one of our beloved children fell into a deep depression. Twice he was hospitalized to keep him safe from himself. Darkness filled his waking and sleeping. My heart was crushed—aching for his pain, lost as to how to help, drowning in guilt. After several years, though, Jesus reached into his bleakness, grabbed his hand, and pulled him out. Our boy fell into Jesus’s arms. The first Christmas after my son’s spiritual re-birth, our Advent wreath rested in its honored spot on the coffee table, while joy filled from my heart watching my son’s face as he strummed his guitar, leading us in our Advent hymns.
Another year, a week after Christmas, with the Advent wreath still resting on the coffee table, candles burned down, my husband and I made our way up to bed. There, while we were watching TV, my heart seized—a cardiac arrest. My husband gave me CPR, saving my life. I was in a coma for four days, but thankfully I woke up. That year, the Advent wreath’s final theme of love seemed to linger long after Christmas. During those weeks of recovery, I learned more about giving and receiving love than ever before: the love of a church, the love of family, and most of all the love of Christ.
As we once again enter this bustling season, light your own Advent candles, rekindling the flame of Jesus’s birth. And, I pray you would be warmed by the hope, preparation, joy, and love of our Savior.
Editor’s Note: Ocieanna’s new book, Awaiting the Manger: Whispers of Advent in the Old Testament is available now. Click here to learn more.
Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash