A few years ago I was given a wooden cross that was designed and contoured to fit in the palm of a person’s hand. In contrast to the stark, 90 degree angles of a traditional cross, this wooden palm cross is curved and smooth. When I sit at my writing desk and feel my mind beginning to wander, or when I feel the anxieties of life threatening to crush me, I put this cross in my hands and allow my fingers to gently embrace it. I breathe and I pray, and I allow my mind to quiet as I cradle the cross of the one who was cradled by a feeding trough.
Throughout this season of Advent, I have approached each Advent theme (hope, peace, joy, and love) with trepidation. I have acknowledged the way the past two years have left me wrestling with what it means to hang on to faith in uncertain times, and I have brought these uncertainties to Jesus because he understands what it means to be human in an unkind world.
With thankfulness in my heart, I have found that bringing my whole self – my doubts and struggles and all – has not diminished my faith; it has strengthened it. Deconstructing what has gotten in the way of me living into the themes of Advent has helped me receive them a little more earnestly, albeit still imperfectly.
I hope that this Advent for Uncertain Hearts journey has been helpful for you, too. What I have re-learned more than anything is that my uncertain heart cannot stop the all-embracing love of God. It cannot quench the peace that passes understanding, nor can it stifle the hope that springs eternal. There is joy in this journey, even if there is also sorrow and heartache. And the day will come when joy is born anew in our hearts in a way that can never be silenced. We will cry out “Joy to the World the Lord is come,” and we will receive the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.
Advent for Uncertain Hearts Candle Lighting Litany – Christmas Eve
All four Advent candles have been added to the wreath throughout the season. On Christmas Eve, the Christ candle should be present as part of your wreath, whether you’ve had it in position all of Advent or have added it for Christmas Eve. I like the symbolism of the Christ candle being present the whole season, but if the candle hasn’t been present throughout, now is the time to add it.
Reader 1: When the emperor issued a decree that everyone should be registered, Joseph took Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child, and journeyed to Bethlehem. It was in that place, in the city of David, that Mary gave birth to a child.
Reader 2: Without the comforts of home, the Christ child was born.
Reader 1: Luke tells the story this way: “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). This Advent season, we have brought our uncertainties to God. We have offered them up and made room in our hearts to receive the miracle of the Word made flesh. Here, on this night, we wait with eager expectation.
Reader 2: Let every heart prepare him room.
Reader 1: Tonight we light the Christ candle in our Advent wreath. Even in the midst of our uncertainties and struggles, Jesus has been with us. We light the Christ candle this night not because it is in this moment that God has drawn near to us, but because we need to be reminded that we are not alone. <light the Christ candle>
Reader 2: On this holy night, we gather around the manger and look within. Into a world that seemed hopeless, Christ came in hope. Into a world without peace, Christ – the Prince of Peace – breathed his peace upon us. Into a world where joy seemed impossible, Christ gave us his joy so that our joy might be complete (John 15:11). Into a world in desperate need of love, Love came down and took on flesh. Love lived among us and showed us what love looks like.
All: On this Christmas Eve, we whisper our gratitude to you. You have met us in our uncertain places, and you have gone with us on this journey. Open our hearts to the miracle of your birth, and may your love find a home in us. Amen.
Other posts in the Advent for Uncertain Hearts series
Week 1 – When It Is Hard to Hope
Week 2 – When There Is No Peace