Candlelighting in the Shadows of Advent

Advent begins with one candle flickering in the shadows. It is then that we start to pay attention. It is when that match strikes that we start to notice the fullness of the shadows. It is not just dark or there would not be shadows. The light never disappeared. It was always there for we know that “the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

When we really start to look, we see radiance and depth in the darkness that has not yet been overcome.. It feels like it might be glowing and then something shifts ever so slightly giving us pause to wonder where that light is shining. Where is it coming from? Can we perceive it? 

We might notice that the darkness that we had thought devoid of color and wonder is full of shapes and movement.

Before the newborn light of Christmas morning, it is enough to slow down and notice what it is that is here in this deep darkness because this is where birth begins. God begins the work of liberation and hope in the shadows. We will go to find God there knowing that we will find more than we ever imagined we could.

Four candlelighting prayers follow for the four weeks of Advent. Each one begins with a word from scripture which might be read by one voice or omitted. The following sentences might be shared by two or three voices as if in conversation before the whole congregation shares in a moment of contemplative silence which leads to shared acclimation on claiming the light from the shadows.

First Week of Advent

Genesis 1:1-5

That is how it starts. It is the beginning but it is not really the first thing. There was something before that moment when everything changed. 

It wasn’t nothing. In that first beginning before creation came alive, it felt empty. It felt like there was nothing there.

Nothing seemed possible before God introduced light into the shadows. That is how it feels to us because we can’t imagine anything before we begin. It all starts with that first thing. 

Shadows begin with light. That is when we notice them. What might we see in the shadows if we stopped looking for the light?

Silent meditation.

Together, we light one candle and wonder about how hope burns within us.

Second Week of Advent

Luke 21:25-28 

We were frustrated by what we couldn’t yet see. In the shadows, we were confused by what we only saw in part.

But, there are signs in the sun and the moon and the stars and it might be our temptation to skip over this part. It is this part that is so distressing and beyond confusing but it is also where real change comes. It emerges from the shadows. The work of redemption happens when there are only hints of light.

We want the glory and fantastic so that we miss the way light shifts ever so slowly. Each subtle movement is a wonder to behold. Each tiny change shifts what we might see with new radiance. How are the shadows changing what you see in the light?

Silent meditation.

Together, we light one candle to relish in the promise of change.

Third Week of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

Mary will sing of such possibility. She’ll raise her voice over every oppression and belt out a hymn of praise, but not yet. Before that can happen, she asks a question that has been asked so many times before. 

She’ll ask how this can be when everything she thinks she knows to be true is put to the test. She’ll ask the angel who tells her something she knows is impossible. There is some kind of explanation but not the kind we might want. It doesn’t explain everything that still feels so uncertain and and unknown in these shadows. 

Somehow, it is enough for Mary to say that she is ready. She will step through the shadows and bear the Light of the World. How are you choosing to bear Christ in these shadowy days?

Silent meditation.

Together, we light one candle to praise all that we do not understand.

Fourth Week of Advent

John 1:1-5

All things came into being with God. There is room for all of it. Nothing is exempt from it: not the pregnant teenager or the poor ones in the field working long nights to put food on the table. There is room for things that go unmentioned and unnamed in this good news. Room for the violence that comes even to children, corruption of leaders of all shapes and sizes and there is that tiny bit of disbelief that anything will change with something as tender and precious as newborn hope. 

All of the things that make life the wonderful, confusing, awful heartbreaking truth that it is — all of those things begin in this story of birth.

There is room for all of it if we are just brave enough to look where the light is hidden. What feels like it needs spaciousness right now?

Silent meditation.

Together, we light one candle to make room for more love in this world.

These mediations were adapted from things that ended up on the cutting room floor in the collaboration of Vibrant Church Communication’s newly released Shadow and Light.

This visually stunning resource leads through the season of Advent with scripture, song, prayer and practices to wander through this season looking for light. I commend it to you personally and to use with your churches. 

I am working on a series of prayers for the season that will be available for purchase in the next week for all the last minute planners out there. Or at least, I have an idea to make this happen. If you are excited about this, please drop me a comment and cheer me on enthusiastically.

I hope you know, dear pastor, after all the prayers we’ve shared in this pandemic, I’m cheering for you too.

One thought on “Candlelighting in the Shadows of Advent

  1. These are truly wonderful and, indeed, the “shortness” of them is really what we want in these days of Advent. Interesting … though how my northern hemisphere perspective encourages that feeling.


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