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Episode 24 - The Tradition of Advent


Date: November 21, 2018
Run Time: 16:51
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Prof. Justin Holcomb
From the Series: The Trip Wire of Tradition

Program Notes

As Protestants, we’re perhaps most aware of our traditions when the holidays approach. But where did these traditions come from? And how do calendars, wreaths, the Jesse tree, and lighting the candles help our families remember Christ’s birth? In this very practical episode, Dr. Justin Holcomb discusses:

  • The story of Advent
  • How tools in the toolbox of tradition can help parents teach their children about the true meaning of Christmas
  • Why Epiphany celebrates the unveiling of the Messiah for the world

This week we recommend: Thirdmill’s series on The Apostles' Creed and Dr. Justin Holcomb's books, Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics, published by Zondervan.

This month, we have the pleasure of conversing with Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida and the author of two volumes in the Know Series published by Zondervan — Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, speak regularly to offer hope and healing to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and have co-authored Rid of My Disgrace and Is it My Fault? as well as the children's book, God Made All of Me. For more information about Dr. Holcomb, visit justinholcomb.com.

Related Materials

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 24: The Tradition of Advent
Guest: Dr. Justin Holcomb

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.

Welcome back everyone. We’ve been having a terrific conversation with Dr. Justin Holcomb about the Trip Wire of Tradition.


As Protestants we’re perhaps most aware of tradition when the holidays, or “holy days,” approach. So, Justin, many of us have strong family traditions wrapped tightly around Christmas. Some of our listeners might be familiar with some aspects of Advent, like wreaths and candles and calendars, but I’m sure most of us don’t know how or why Advent developed in the church. Tell us a little bit about the story.

Justin: Yeah, well, they have to go back and listen to the whole thing about Scripture and tradition.

Go back to the beginning?

Justin: Talk about tradition! This is a great story about tradition. So Advent comes from the Latin word meaning adventus, which means “coming,” which is the translation of the Greek word “parousia.” So it’s the coming of our Lord. Now, the first time, most people think of Advent as incarnation, focus on the incarnation — we’re looking for the incarnations.

Christmas, yeah.

Justin: Most people… It started, actually, thinking about the coming of the Lord in judgment.

The second coming.

Justin: So you’re preparing. You’re preparing for baptism. You’re preparing for the celebration. That’s how that got added into it. Early on in the third and fourth century in Spain it was first tied to the baptism of Jesus, the preparation — an incarnational focus. And so, you actually had this time where you’re doing preparations. So it was actually 40 days of penance and preparation for baptism, fasting. So it had a penitential tone to it. That’s why the colors are actually blue or purple, which is actually a Lenten color in the Anglican world. So then, it was in the sixth century when they started adding to it the coming of our Lord in judgment also. So you actually have Advent as doing two things: It’s looking with remembrance back to the incarnation and looking with anticipation to the future second coming of Jesus Christ. So the Advent we celebrate now is actually from the third century baptism preparation and looking forward to Epiphany (the revealing of Jesus to the world) and preparing for baptism, and then later on is added the advent of our Lord in coming in judgment to make things right. And then after that we actually have Advent doing both. So the first two weeks of Advent look in one direction, the second two weeks look in the other direction. So you’re celebrating… So Advent is high (to use a fancy theological term) high eschatology. This is when you’re talking about hope, longings, aspirations, hope of a Messiah that Israel had, the fulfillment of that Messiah in a baby, in the humility of a baby, and then the hope that we have after incarnation, after ascension, but in his coming back to make all things right, to judge the world, and to bring us home. So you have a lot built up into four quick weeks.


Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Advent, then, looking backwards and forwards. We have some tools in the toolbox, and I think some of our parents who are listening are really going to want to sort of look at these tools to help their children really focus on the true meaning of Christmas or the true meaning of Advent in both of it’s senses. I think some of our listeners have heard about calendars and wreaths, maybe even the Jesse Tree and the candles that we light at Christmas time or at Advent season. Help us understand how these tools work and help our parents understand maybe how they can use them to focus on Christ.

Justin: Well, there’s two different tools. I recommend picking one to focus on, because you’ll be lighting a wreath over here and then doing a Jesse Tree. And so the Advent wreath, the shorthand I use when I talk to parents… My children right now, my daughters are eight and nine, so that’s the wheelhouse of where I am right now. And we’ve been doing the Advent wreath just because it’s fun to build one and get the candles and light them and all that, and do it at home. The Jesse Tree is something we’ll start doing. But Advent wreath is like your systematic theology. It’s the concepts of the personal work of Jesus. The Jesse Tree does the biblical theological trace of God’s faithfulness with his covenants and the story of redemption and what he’s been doing. So let’s do the Advent wreath first.
The first one is called the “prophecy candle,” and this one is a purple candle, and it represents hope and expectation of the Messiah. So this one represents that the Messiah has come, so you light it first, and it’s getting smaller and smaller each week as it burns down slowly. So that’s kind of like the fuse candle, you know, like you’re watching it; like we’re getting close; it’s getting short; we’re almost there. So it actually has built into the candle melting (get melting ones) in anticipation of seeing how it’s almost done. But it’s the expectation of the Messiah. But also it has this expectation of the return of Christ also, because it’s almost done.
The second one is called… it can be called the “Bethlehem candle” — that’s what some people have called it — and it represents love, both God's love for us and our love for others. God’s love should trigger, cause and magnify our love for other people. But the reason it’s called the Bethlehem candle is because it’s highlighting the humility of our Messiah who, though he’s a king [and] should have had fanfare all over the place, ends up being born in a manger in Bethlehem with shepherds.

That’s why I’ve heard it called the “manger candle.”

Justin: Manger candle is the other candle. Bethlehem or manger candle is one. So he’s born into poverty, born into a manger, and all because of his… He is a description of God's love for us, both in his incarnation and particularly in laying down his life.
The third candle can be called the “shepherd’s candle” or the “joy candle.” So again, the first one was hope, the second one was love. This one is joy. This one is celebrating the joy of the shepherds when the angel announces what’s happening, where there’s singing and they’ve experienced that Christ is born. And now you’re at the point where Advent is half over, you’re almost there.
And then you get to the fourth candle, which is the “angel candle.” This is another purple candle, and it represents peace, that the Prince of Peace has actually come. Now, just like Isaiah, is peace at … The imagery from Isaiah is actually war imagery, so that’s important to have in mind. So Wonderful Counselor is a war counsel. Mighty God is the forceful one who goes to battle, the divine warrior. Prince of Peace is the one who wins peace because he has conquered. And Eternal Father, and that one is the king who now reigns and as a king rules as a father.

So this is a peace that has been won and will be consummated in the second coming.

Justin: Yes, this isn’t a sentimental peace. This is a peace that things have been wrong with the world, and this baby in a manger is going to make things right. So this is the angel candle, the peace candle, that Christ brings peace to the world through the display of exploitation and violence on him, at his expense. And then in the middle you have the Christ candle, the white candle which is lit on Christmas Eve, and it’s white because it represents the purity of Jesus — the perfect sacrifice, the precious blood of the Lamb that was without blemish or wrinkle. So it’s his perfection and his sinlessness and his purity of who he is. And he’s come to take away the sins of the world. So if you do the Advent wreath, you’re proclaiming the good news to your children and yourself, and you get to see it. And kind of going over those themes briefly, depending on the age of the child, their questions and understanding, can be really helpful.

So promise, and love, and joy, and peace, and then purity of Christ. And you light each candle. You light them on the feast day, not the fasting days, right? We talked about Advent. So the light comes on the Sundays, and you light each one in succession through the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve when you light the fifth candle.

Justin: What I do… In our tradition we actually have prayers for each week. So when I do them we’ll just say, hey, here’s the printout. I’ll actually print them out and have one of my children read. You know, week one, read the prayer for that week. Week two, we read the prayer for week one and week two, and then we light the second one. And then they go back and forth, you know, week three we read all three. And then by the time we’re at Christmas Eve they’re prayed out, and we’re reading five prayers, and I usually just give them the Christmas Eve prayer at that point. Gotta go with wisdom on this sometimes too. I don’t want to bore them.

Age appropriate.

Justin: Yes. But that’s Advent. So we’re going to look at genealogy, the Jesse Tree.


Yeah, so the Jesse Tree. Tell us about the story. This is the story, right?

Justin: This is the story. So the Jesse Tree comes from Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” So similarly you can actually have just like a tree, like a genealogical tree of Jesus, and you can actually hang ornaments on it. And that’s how the Jesse Tree has been done. So week one is basically an extended genealogy that tells the entire biblical story of redemption. So you have ornaments for representing God, Adam and Eve, Noah, Isaiah, Abraham and Jacob, the doozies of the Old Testament. I mean, like these are…

The heroes of the faith.

Justin: So you’re going for the big ones, right? Week two is you’re continuing the story of Christ’s family tree, and you start it through God's work through Joseph and Moses, Israelites, Gideon, Samuel. So it’s more of the lineage celebration. Then week three it takes a little turn where it goes to how often God's people failed. I mean, you’re actually telling the story of failure in the middle of this… That’s what I love about these traditions.

So it’s a human story.

Justin: It sure is. So you have the story of David, and Hezekiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Elijah and Nehemiah. God's people have not always been faithful, and they ended up in exile. But the God who lets his people go to exile doesn’t leave them exile. So we turn to week four which is you have hope in sight. That’s the idea of… It takes a positive turn with the arrival of the ones who pave the way for Christ. And those would be Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and then the Magi and Mary. So you actually get back to the Christmas story, the fulfillment of true Promised Land. We’re no longer in exile. Jesus goes to exile so we get the Promised Land. All of that is built into the Jesse Tree. So you get to tell more Bible stories of the entire scope of the biblical narrative with the Jesse Tree.

So the Advent wreath and candles really focus on themes, and the Jesse Tree really focuses on the story. But both help us to look at both Advents or comings of Christ: his incarnation and his coming in judgment to set the world right.

Justin: Yes. And the key, which I love doing with my kids, is I just tell them, from Paul, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1), and so it’s also a gospel proclamation, right? Final judgment for you is already done in Christ, which is now. So final judgment… it’s fun telling a little kid and being reminded — I cry just thinking about it — that, the good news, that we don’t have the fear of final judgment. Of course we need to be vigilant. Of course we need to test and see the fruit, yes, yes, yes, but we don’t have the fear that the hammer of God's wrath is going to crush us because it already crushed Jesus, and because of that there is now no condemnation. We’re celebrating that in Advent. That’s the message of Advent, is that hope.


Amen. And then, just to come back, I’m thinking about when I was a kid, and I didn’t really appreciate tradition, and yet I’m thinking of how relevant the Lottie Moon Christmas offering was for Advent because now I’m coming to the realization that Epiphany — Christ sort of revealed to the world, to the Magi, to the nations — is the beginnings of the Advent tradition. Tell us about Epiphany Sunday just to make the circle come around there.

Justin: We were talking about the coming of Christ and the Messiah. That has an insider feel. It’s like, okay, our Messiah is coming. Our Lord is coming back to make things right. Well, right after… I mean, this is the… You have the twelve days of Christmas, so you have not just one day, but you have a whole bunch. I told my kids part of being Anglican is you get twelve days of this. Enjoy it. Same thing with Easter. You get seven weeks of Easter.

It’s the great feast, isn’t it?

Justin: It’s a celebration. And then you have Epiphany. Epiphany is the unveiling or the revealing of the Messiah for the world, hence, the name of this ministry and this podcast — Third Millennium, 4 the World. Epiphany is a picture of that when you actually had Gentile astrologers and wise men coming to worship Jesus, a toddler, an infant… a toddler…

The King of the Jews.

Justin: The King of the Jews. Bowing down… And so it’s a picture of this redemption of the coming Messiah is not just for Israel but for the world. Well, that message is in Isaiah. That’s the hope of Isaiah. This is what the apostle Paul was talking in Romans 15 when he’s saying, and in Acts when he said, “Well, I’ve been called to bring this good news to those who haven’t heard it yet. I’m going to the Gentiles.” So the call for the Gentiles isn’t a new thing. It’s actually early on in Isaiah. I believe it’s Isaiah 49…

Yes, indeed. A light to the Gentiles.

Justin: Isaiah 49, Acts and then Romans 15. So the trajectory of the message of Jesus Christ for the world is actually in the DNA of Christianity and the biblical story from the very, very beginning, and the hope of what God… He’s restoring his world. He’s calling his world back to him, and he’s going to renew all things. He’s making all things new.

So Christmas is not just about receiving God's love. It’s about sharing it with our neighbors. Justin, it’s been a real pleasure to talk with you this month about the important resource of tradition, that it really can be healthy words, a pattern of sound teaching and health to us. But it can also trip us up sometimes if we make it on par with Scripture. But you’ve made it very practical. I have to ask you if we could have you and your wife Lindsey back sometime maybe after Advent and the New Year. We’d love to meet Lindsey on 4 the World. Do you think that might be possible?

Justin: Oh, we would love to do that.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Our guest for this series has been Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. You can find his books and articles, as well as resources for your Advent celebrations at justinholcomb.com. This episode marks the close of our 2nd season. We’ll return with season three on Wednesday, February the 6th. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, listen to our other episodes with guests like Dr. Richard Pratt, Dr. Steve Brown and Dr. Vincent Bacote. And don’t forget to tell your friends about 4 the World! Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. And our Director of Communications is Darlene Perry. Production assistance is provided by David Zoeller and John Cook. And I’m your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Have a meaningful Advent season and a joyful Christmas!