Reflections on the Advent Candle: Faith
The second advent candle stands for “faith.” Without doubt, Jesus proclaimed “faith-in-God” as the foremost character trait of the believer:
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:19-20 NASB).
In the birth narrative of Jesus, the whole plot is improbable. It’s difficult to read with a modern mind and think anything other than, “How can this be possible?” Mary of Nazareth is impregnated with the “Word,” through the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth’s yet-to-be-born son, John, “leaps in her womb” over the presence of the pregnant Mary. Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias, is struck dumb in the temple after being visited by an angel. Joseph is also visited in a dream by the Lord, and is told to wed Mary regardless of her condition and the accompanying shame. The baby is then born in a manger in the Judean hill country outside of Bethlehem, and promptly visited by shepherds, Persian Magi, and a choir of angels. Let’s face it: none of this makes sense to a reasonable, modern person. But isn’t that the point?
The Problem with Faith
The only way that this narrative can be understood as a real, historic sequence of events is through faith. The real problem is that most people in the Western world have had the “faith” educated out of them in favor of reasoned, empirical verification. Of course, this too is a problem. Reasoned empirical verification is limited and can only hypothesize — or worse, “make a guess” — about abnormal or paranormal experiences. Once an experience someone has is deemed to be outside the boundaries of rational discourse or empirical investigation, that person is dismissed as “foolish,” “mentally incompetent,” or even psychotic.
In his early teachings, Jesus made some difficult claims about the Kingdom of God, and many of those who were following him began to question what he said:
But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:61-69 NASB).
It is the twelve who are left with Jesus and Peter articulates the heart of the matter: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” Faith, growing in the hearts and lives of the twelve disciples, had born witness to the very truth of Jesus. They could believe the words of Jesus because of their growing faith. If you will remember, it didn’t start that way. In Luke chapter 5:1-8, Peter has serious doubts about Jesus’s instructions to take his fishing boat back out after a long day to fish a bit more: “Simon answered [Jesus] and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’”
God Plants Faith
Here is the key: once you and I set our sights upon Jesus, the grace of God plants faith in our hearts, and it slowly blossoms to the point where we can know and understand that which the mind of reason and sensory perception cannot know or understand. Faith, as a crucial dimension of human existence, not only complements our reason and physical senses, but in time must come to a place of primacy over those faculties. It’s the only way we can embrace and embody the truth of the gospel and carry out the mission of loving our neighbors and our enemies. It is the only way we can minister to the sick, poverty stricken, thirsty, hungry, and imprisoned. It is the only way we can know and exercise unconditional love.
The great hymn writer Ira Sankey captures this sense of faith:
1. Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise,
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.
Faith is the victory!
Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory,
That overcomes the world.
2. His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath,
Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield.
Let Faith Blossom
The enemy is death, the banner is love, and faith is the means by which we live in love and overcome the fear of death. Believe this Christmas season! Let God’s grace plant the seed of faith in you and water it daily with prayer. Feel the faith grow in your life and heart, and let it blossom into an irrepressible love!