Saturday, December 5, 2015

Light of the World: Advent, Week 2

Last week, the 1st Week of Advent, we considered “The Prophecy Candle” or “Candle of Hope” (purple) that would be lit in the Advent wreath. This 2nd Week of Advent another purple candle is lit in the wreath (note: sometimes blue candles are used instead of purple ones). This candle is known as “The Bethlehem Candle” or “The Candle of Preparation”. 

Therefore, as we continue our Advent journey, we discover that this candle also encompasses two aspects: 1) the Road to Bethlehem, a journey that had not been initially anticipated, and 2) a time of preparation, anticipation, and expectation. For any woman who has experienced pregnancy, these concepts are well-known. Waiting for a baby stirs up great expectations, anticipation, and preparations (e.g., choosing names and acquiring essential supplies, such as a crib, diapers, and baby clothes). Mary was also in the throes of preparation, anticipation, and expectation as the birth of her baby drew near. However, instead of being able to complete the preparations in the familiar environment of her home, she and Joseph were required to take a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, for an obligatory Roman census. [See Luke 2: 1-5].

Like Mary and Joseph, many of us have also been on journeys that we would have preferred not to have taken (e.g., those of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature). Sometimes we have mixed emotions about these missions. When my husband, Steve, and I resigned from being Salvation Army Officers (pastors), he decided to complete his education, and he earn a doctorate in psychology. This decision entailed two cross-country moves in Canada. When his studies were completed, his career was the next focus. 

Eventually, he accepted a position as a professor at Southern Wesleyan University. Thus, our family began another long road-trip from Montreal, Canada to South Carolina. The journey was our most challenging, because we were leaving the comfort of our home, our support system (family, friends, and essential service providers), as well as the familiarity of the customs and culture of our country. Furthermore, we were travelling with two small children (one with special needs), and we had to take a couple of trains to get from Montreal to Greenville, S.C. The trains did not connect, so the first train left late in the afternoon, arriving in New York City around 10:00 PM, where we were required to stay overnight. New York at night is rather intimidating. So I definitely empathize with Mary and Joseph’s long and uncertain trek.

Yet, compared to the trip taken by Mary and Joseph, our challenging journey required less than two days of uncomfort. They had to travel approximately 90 miles (or 120 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Many mothers will remember how tired we felt as our pregnancies neared the final weeks. None of us would have planned a 90-mile journey trekking along dangerous and dusty roads on a donkey. 

Traditionally, many artworks portray Mary riding a donkey, which Joseph is leading. However, the New Testament does not include this detail. So, from where did this idea stem? I discovered that,” The Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145, Says that Joseph used a donkey to bring Mary to Bethlehem: (Protoevangelium of James:17) 

So we know that from very early times Christians had this image of the journey to Bethlehem. It actually makes sense—a healthy man could have walked approximately 20 miles a day, but a pregnant woman could not have done so, especially not one nearing her delivery date. Furthermore, the trip would have likely taken longer, because of the late-stage of the pregnancy, and the limitation of travelling by day to avoid the hazards of poor road conditions, wild animals, and robbers. The idyllic images of the journey on the road to Bethlehem are merely romanticized flights of fancy.

And, just when Mary thought she could go no longer and was ready to deliver her baby, the only place available was one in which animals were kept. Jesus, the King of the world was born and laid in a manger—the trough from which the animals ate. We view it as a ‘glorious night’, a ‘silent night’ even (thanks to the carol); but, again, the reality has been romanticized. Anyone who has visited animals on a farm knows that there’s nothing wonderful about the smell or the noise, and we would find the idea of laying our newborn in the animals feeding trough quite disgusting. But the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world (1 Jn. 4:14), and on that night the people who lived in darkness received the promised Light (Isa. 9:2).

Suggested Daily Scripture Readings:
Some Scriptures that speak of God’s preparations and that can help us prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of this Advent season.

Sunday, December 6/15 The Prophets (Isaiah and Malachi) Prediction of Jesus’ Forerunner Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1

Monday, December 7/15 John the Baptist’s Birth is Foretold Luke 1: 5-25

Tuesday, December 8/15 John the Baptist Fulfills Isaiah’s Prophecy Mark 1: 1-3; John 1:23

Wednesday, December 9/15 Angel Gabriel Prophesied John the Baptist’s Birth Luke 1: 5-25

Thursday, December 10/15 The Angel Prophesied Jesus’ Birth Luke 1:26-38

Friday, December 11/15 John the Baptist Prepares the Way for Jesus Matthew 3:1-12

Saturday, December 12/14 We Need to be Prepared to Defend the Hope that Christ has Given Us. 1 Peter 3:15

Elizabeth Hogan-Hayduk
Former Officer
Guardians of the Truth

Toronto, Canada

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