Advent Turns from Inward Reflection to Joyful Anticipation

Advent Peace
Colorful, decorated letters spelling out PEACE. Image by Rachael Keefe.

We began Advent with Hope and Peace. We carry these promises with us as we enter into Joy. You are invited to continue the journey to Bethlehem with Living Table.


Historically, we don’t know a whole lot about how Advent was observed. We do know that it is an ancient practice. In the very early church the Advent season was about eight weeks long and it was preparation for people joining the church on Epiphany, January 6.

In modern practice, Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas and traditionally the themes are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The Sunday of Joy is the only surviving Advent tradition from the early church. Originally it was called “Gaudete Sunday” meaning “Rejoice Sunday.”

This Sunday is marked by the pink candle in the Advent wreath and reminds us that soon we will experience the joy of God breaking into the world once more. Up until this point we have been more about reflecting on hope and peace in internal, spiritual ways. This will change this week.

As we move from Hope and Peace into Joy, we begin to cultivate a kind of joyful anticipation. We invite the Spirit to open us to the ways in which God has already come into the world, and the ways in which God will continue to come into the world. We celebrate the fact that God is with us and is always coming to us in unexpected ways.

As we prepare for Joy Sunday, we must remember that joy and happiness aren’t quite the same. Joy goes deeper, and is much more likely to endure through all things. Joy is most often experienced when we have a sense of our connection, our relationship with the Holy. Where do you experience the Holy in your life? How might you celebrate that in the coming week?

We are nearly halfway through our Advent journey to Bethlehem. There is time to join in if you haven’t quite found Hope or Peace. Joy is waiting for all of us to enter in and celebrate God’s presence and the promise of that continued presence. We are not alone. Through the joy of Christ’s love for humanity we are connected one to another. This is worthy of celebration.
How might you share your joy?

About Rachael Keefe

Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ. She was called to Living Table in 2015 after serving in many varied ministry settings since her ordination in 1992. She holds graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Seminary at Yale (formerly Andover Newton Theological School). Her ministry and leadership often center around advocacy and accessibility. Her writing has been published by Chalice Press, The Christian Century, Red Letter Christians, Working Preacher, RevGalBlogPals, and others. She is grateful to be in ministry with Living Table today.

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16 thoughts on “Advent Turns from Inward Reflection to Joyful Anticipation”

  1. Advent was a big deal in my bio family when I was growing up. We had a 24 candle wreath and had a nightly family worship service with singing, a story, and prayers. The 4 of us kids rotated who got to light and put out the candles, who picked the story, and who set up the manger scene for the day. It was a production filled with tradition.

    But I don’t remember connecting it with hope, peace, or joy.

    Did or does anyone else have traditions around Advent?

    • Thanks, Sandy. I didn’t grow up in a family that had any Advent practices, though the church I attended did – and it was all about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I look forward to reading what traditions other folx share.

  2. My family didn’t have any Advent observances at home but we did attend church regularly and it was part of church observance including Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The four candles and wreath also were present at church and I remember they were referred to as being a norther European custom. What I remember most about Christmas was the Christmas Eve service which was quite beautiful and full of music and the church was packed with people.

  3. My family has a 5 candle wreath. When I was a kid we would light the candles associated with the week theme and say a short prayer or quote right before we ate our dinner. We would all take turns lighting the candles along with my 2 older brothers.

  4. My most vivid memory of Advent is the time Uncle Theo ran (pretty good speed for an old farmer!) to put out the flame when hot wax from a candle lit the Advent Wreath on fire.

    • I remember in the Spirit of the Lakes warehouse, when 2 young boys accidentally kicked over one of those candles in a bag and caught some stuff on fire. Fortunately it was a cement floor and fairly close to the door. Things can go up so fast with fire!

  5. I was always enamored with the Santa Lucia celebration. It’s not exactly or directly about Advent, although it does occur tomorrow actually, December 13, during Advent. It is a Christian Feast Day, and Lucia has something to do with bringing the Light of Christ into darkness. As with many Swedish traditions, why it’s done is lost whilst how it’s done is meticulously maintained, and it always seemed so cool to me in the photos I saw of the Swedish cousins with lighted candles on their heads…

    • Erika,
      I got to play Lucia in a 12 Days of Christmas performance once. It was really nerve wracking to have lit candles on my head and be walking around.

  6. I grew up in a small town in SW Minnesota and we were part of a ELCA Lutheran church community.
    The funny thing is that I don’t remember the traditional advent candles. I do have fond memories of the Christmas Eve service with the beautiful music, especially the individual candle with the paper part to catch the drips! That little candle in my hand and everyone around me with dimmed lights while we sang Silent Night is my favorite memory. To me that brought the entire Christmas story to life. To only have candlelight and quiet, meaningful singing was just perfect.


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