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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Story of the Advent Wreath

I have never really liked the term "Black Friday".  Not being a fan of shopping, the idea of going near a store on this, the retail extravaganza of the year, is incredibly horrifying to me.  To follow a day of giving thanks to our Heavenly Father for all His good gifts by such an extreme commercial act just seems the wrong way to start Christmas somehow.  We have made it our tradition, instead, to drag out the Christmas decorations, tree, etc. and transform our home.  It is the official start of the Christmas season at our house.

That is what the word advent means... the beginning, commencement, onset.  It is a season of waiting.  For Christians, we celebrate not only the ancient coming of the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, but we also anticipate and prepare for His ultimate return at the Second Coming.  The advent season begins with the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which coincidentally just happens to be the Sunday closest to my birthday (November 30th).  Thus, it is always easy for me to remember.

Advent is a season of expectation and anticipation.  It should be a time of preparation and hope for the Messiah who will bring peace and righteousness into the world. The advent ring (wreath) is designed to reflect the Christmas story and the promise it holds to all people. 

The wreath is a circle which reminds us of God Himself.  He is eternal, without beginning or end.  The life and salvation He offers is also eternal which is symbolized in the evergreens woven into the wreath.  As the winter comes and the leaves die on the other trees, the life remains visible in the evergreens throughout the long, cold months.  Candles symbolize light.  Jesus brings light into a world of darkness and sin.  And when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are called to become the light of the world.  As more people become Christians, the light shines brighter and brighter and spreads.

The four candles in the circle are for the four Sundays before Christmas.  Three are purple and one is pink.  Purple is, of course, the color of royalty, as Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The pink candle is used on the third of the four Sundays, and is the joy candle.  In some circles it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice".  The pink represents a change of emphasis, for one week, from the repentence before the Lord, to celebration and rejoicing at the coming of the King and the salvation that He will bring.  The fourth week marks a return to the preparation phase and a purple candle acknowledging His royalty and Kingship.  The four candles, or weeks, represent a time of waiting, and represent as follows:
  1. Prophets - Hope
  2. Bethlehem - Love
  3. Shepherds - Joy
  4. Angels - Peace.
 The first candle is lit the first Sunday.  An additional candle is lit each succeeding Sunday until all four are lit on the final Sunday before Christmas representing how the light and love of Christ spreads gradually throughout the world.  A large, white candle stands in the center of the wreath.  It is white for purity and righteousness.  It is the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  It reminds us that Christ is the center of our celebration and brings light into the world.  For many, the candles will burn through Epiphany (January 6th) or the twelfth day of Christmas.

As we enter this advent season, it will be my sincere desire to put aside busyness and the commercial trappings of the Christmas retailers and examine my heart in preparation for the Coming King.  Who will join me in the pursuit of a pure heart as we seek to find the hope, love, joy, and peace that only Christ the King can bring?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Lucky Tree

People call it The Lucky Tree.  It stands outside of Wichita headed Northwest on K-96 in the big curve in the road just a little bit past Maize and not quite to the Bentley exit.  It is an easily recognizable landmark along the highway and people honk as they drive by for good luck and safe travel on their way to many destinations.  This cottonwood has been a Kansas tradition for a long time. 
Some folks have told me that their grandparents honked at this tree or that it was a family tradition growing up.  High school teams traveling by in busses are careful to never risk their fate by not paying homage as they pass.  School colors are often seen tied to the tree as well as yellow ribbons for the troops.  And after September 11, this tree proudly wore the American flag.
While everyone agrees that they must pay their respects to the tree, correct protocol seems to be a matter of individual taste.  Some say its a honk and a wave or a tip of your hat.  Others say you honk once for each person in the car or once for each year of your age.  Did you remember to hold your feet off the floor as we passed?  Or close your eyes and shout?  Just make sure you don't forget the next time you drive by.
Once, in the 1990s, KDOT thought about cutting down the tree to reroute the highway.  This did not set well with the local community and so Hutchinson Rep. Jan Pauls worked in Topeka to get a Safe Tree Order into the highway plans so the tree would be protected.  Much of Kansas breathed a sigh of relief.  The truth is, this tree has become so popular, it now even has its own Facebook group "We always honk at the lucky tree outside of Wichita!" with over 3000 members.  (A group I just joined, by the way!) 

I may not be a Kansas by birth but I have lived here many years and this is a tradition I have embraced wth great enthusiasm.  Perhaps my grandchildren will someday go on Facebook and say, "My grandmother honked at this tree!"   I hope so.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Saving The Morning Light

While serving as U.S. ambassador to France in 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested to the Parisians that by rising earlier, they could make use of the morning sunlight to accomplish more of their daily tasks thus saving on candle wax.  Way back then, the Parisians were known for sleeping well past noon.  Though Ben never actually suggested changing the time on the clocks, he is often credited with inventing daylight saving time as well as the phrase, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

The idea to actually change the clocks was proposed in 1895 by a shift worker in New Zealand named George Vernon Hudson.  Because Hudson did shift work, he had extra time in the evenings to pursue insect collecting.  George Hudson proposed that the clocks be moved two hours in the summer to allow for additional sunlight time in the evenings so that he could pursue entomology.  The clocks could then be returned to 'standard' time in the fall to bring the sunlight back to the morning hours.  Though this was never implemented in Hudson's lifetime, he did go on to become a famous entomologist. 

In 1905, a builder named William Willett began proposing the idea in England but Daylight Saving Time never became a reality until WWI.  It was implemented in 1916 in Manitoba, followed shortly by Germany and its allies and then a little later by Britain and her allies.  It was intended as a means to conserve coal (and incandescent lighting) during the war.  Russia followed suit and implemented in 1917 with the United States finally coming around in 1918.  While it is still practiced today and continues to provide extended sunlight in the summer evenings, it is quite controversial and the debate continues over whether it ever actually helped to conserve any energy.  It remains the subject of much lobbying in our nations's capitol.