by Katie Julius

As a child, I have fond memories of both our church and family celebrating Advent with the lighting of candles on an advent wreath. When we changed churches as a teen, there was not as much emphasis on the liturgical tradition and it kind of faded away.

As an adult with my own family, I wanted to start the same tradition mostly for tradition’s sake. I made my own advent wreath and searched for a family-friendly weekly devotional to use as we lit the candles in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Despite all the years of carrying on this tradition, it was not really until this year – and everything that 2020 has brought – that the themes of each candle that represents each week really began to resonate with me. Words that I have heard and meditated on every December found new and profound meaning in the context of the chaos of this year.

In the advent tradition, hope remembers that of the Israelites as they earnestly anticipated and hoped for the promised Savior. We now hope and pray for the second coming of Christ. Hope in 2020 is what has gotten many people through the year. Hope of a cure, hope of a vaccine, hope of a return to a normal life again.

Maybe it got you through the first few months of homeschooling – hope for the freedom that home education can offer your family. Hope for a chance to experience the community that so many homeschool families always share about.

God promised that his Son would bring peace on earth. Turning on the news any day this year could certainly cause anyone to be filled with anxiety and fear – the opposite of peace! Whether it’s news of the pandemic, unrest due to social injustices, or chaos in politics, life in this world brings nothing of peace.

You may be uneasy about being a homeschooler for the first time. You may be wondering if you are doing the right thing. Are your children learning? Are you going to “mess up”?

When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the field announcing the birth of Jesus, they did so with jubilant praise and much joy. Once the shepherds made their way to find the baby, shared what the angels had told them, and returned, they did so “glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.” The Savior that had been prophesied had finally arrived. It was cause for great joy.

It can be difficult to find joy in our current circumstances. Much has been lost this year. Of course, the greatest loss has been the loss of life, and is to be mourned. Other losses such as ceremonies and time-honored traditions, especially for kids and teens, can also rob us of happiness and joy.

The greatest act of love was the gift of God’s Son (and later, the ultimate sacrifice). God’s love for us is beyond our understanding. The celebration of Christmas is a reminder of that indescribable and unconditional love that God has for us, His unique and prized creation. His love is an example for us as we are commanded to love God and others.

This has been a challenging year to love others. There have been many points of disagreement – and it’s sharp division between each “side.” From politics to the pandemic, people have clung strongly to their beliefs and views, sometimes in ways that have been hurtful or unkind to others. It can be difficult to love those whose views are so diametrically opposed to our own. Being quarantined with family members for nine months has possibly brought about some of your not so best moments, even within your own home (I know we’ve had a few in our house this year).

Not always part of the Advent tradition, the final white candle represents Christ. This candle is lit, typically, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It celebrates the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the long-awaited and much anticipated Savior. The King of Kings. The Lord of Lord. Emmanuel. God is with us.

We live in a fallen world. It has been a hard year. Words like hope, peace, joy, and love would probably not make any list describing 2020. Despite the challenges we have faced, globally, nationally, and personally, there is a way that these words can be what we remember from this year. Christ. It is only through Christ that we can experience true hope, peace, joy, and love, not only this holiday season, but year-round.