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The Prequel: Walking Toward the Light

November 21, 2016

Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5)

This Sunday when we begin our advent journey to Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), we will light the first candle on our Advent Log. Our family uses an Advent Log to symbolize our annual pilgrimage to Jesus’ saving light and grace. A friend from church made the log for us about 25 years ago, when our children were young. It’s a cherry log, stripped of bark, with candle holes for each day of advent. We decorate it with artificial greens and place it on the coffee table in the family room. The first night of advent we light a candle at one end and have a short devotion. The second night, we re-light that candle and light a new one at the opposite end of the log. We use white tapers for Sundays and Christmas Day, and red ones for the other days. This year there will be 29 candles—5 white ones and 24 red ones. We continue to light a new candle each night on alternate sides until we come to the center white candle, the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Day.

On the first night the room is dark, lit only by one candle. But by Christmas Day all of the candles are ablaze, and the room is bathed in light. It is a metaphor for our journey from sin to the forgiveness and love of Christ. Paul reminded us last Sunday “He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13).

By Christmas Day, the candles on the ends of the log have been burning for about 20 minutes a day for a month, and are short. The candle height gradually increases on each side of the log to the tall white Christ candle in the middle. When we keep Christ in the center of our lives his light shines from above illuminating the area all around us. The light of Jesus shining on us keeps us above the fray and lifts us up: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills.” (Isaiah 2:2)

Instead of beginning with Jesus’ birth, our Scripture texts[1] take us hundreds of years before his birth to Jerusalem, where Jesus died. We begin our Advent journey here to remind us how his life on earth was prophesized and anticipated, and why his death and Resurrection changed the course of history. Advent is a prequel to the life and Resurrection of Jesus.

David invites us to worship together joyfully. Psalm 122 is a psalm of ascent—one of the psalms sung by pilgrims during their ascent up the mountain to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). David is thrilled to be coming to God’s house in Jerusalem to worship: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122: 1-2). In Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent, Josh Moody puts the Psalm in today’s vernacular: “That means that when I say, ‘Let’s go to church,’ you are glad and you go. You don’t think, ‘Oh, that means I miss some extra sleep,’ or ‘I won’t be able to watch the game on TV.’ You are glad, excited, thrilled, motivated. Church . . . is certainly not meant to be boring! It is something that is intended to make you glad.” (Moody, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent (2013) Crossway, p. 42). David encourages us to begin our journey in the church, where we can enjoy the love of a community of believers. “Church is a tent big enough for all God’s people. There are different tribes with different styles and tastes, but all gather for church . . . It is God’s house, not my faction’s rallying point . . . the Lord’s Table, not my private dinner for my group.” (Id).

Isaiah tells us to look to the future of Jerusalem—when all nations will stream into the temple. Referencing this passage, Jesus reminded his disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47). But Isaiah warns us not to wait passively for the future; we are to “walk in the light of the Lord” now (Isaiah 2:5). It is the only reference in the Old Testament to the phrase “walk in the light.”

We continue our walk toward the light with Paul who tells us that it’s time to wake up: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13: 12).

Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem was foretold 500 years before it happened by the prophet Zechariah, who Jesus quotes in this week’s gospel: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 62:11). The king whom the ancient texts foretold has arrived. It is in Jerusalem where his purpose on earth became known through his death and Resurrection.

As you string Christmas lights in and around your home and admire the lights on neighboring homes and buildings, remember that Jesus came into the world to light the way. He will lead you from fear and darkness into the light. If you are already on the pilgrim path, invite someone else to join you for the journey. If you haven’t begun your trip, jump into the prequel. Accept the open invitation from your local parish to join other sojourners on their advent journey to the light of Jesus. You will be joining a throng of pilgrims who have made the journey through the ages, and who continue to walk in Jesus’ light today.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Advent are Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 21:1-11.

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