Third Sunday of Advent
"Today we light the third candle of the Advent Wreath. It is the candle of joy. Now three will be lit: love, peace and joy.
"There was a time, described in the Old Testament, when God’s people had been defeated by their enemies and the best of Israel, its leaders, were taken to Babylonia. There God’s people were without their Temple in which to make sacrifices to God. The point – from the enemy’s perspective – was to mix ethnic groups together and dilute their strengths, their religion, their history. It worked well. God’s people had drifted away from God and their faith practices.
"Enter the prophet Isaiah. He wrote about the Suffering Servant who would come out of King David’s descendants, who would save God’s people. From chapter 55, verse 12, we have a wonderful image of God’s people being led away from their enemies, and returning – with joy – to their homeland.
"'You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees will clap their hands.' (Isaiah 55:12)
"And God did bring forth a suffering servant. He was Jesus of Nazareth, destined to be the Christ of Calvary and the herald of Good News for all people. On the night the Babe of Bethlehem was born, the angel said to the Shepherds: 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'
"And today, 2000 years later, that joy which Jesus brought, continues to come into the life and heart of the Christian. How uplifting is it to hear the words from First Peter, chapter 1: 'Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.' (1 Peter 1:8-9)
"May the Joy of the Risen Lord be yours today and always."
This evening was also the church's annual Christmas concert and candlelight service. Music has always been an important part of the Moravian tradition, and it is not unheard of for a service to consist entirely of hymns. The candlelight service was the same as the core of the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and featured the distribution by children of beeswax candles tied with a red ribbon to all in attendance while the congregation sings. (Adults hold the trays, so the kids aren't out there by themselves, though since occasionally one of the designated tray-holders - such as myself - hasn't done this nearly as much as the children and there's a certain balance in figuring things out =))
After this, candles are lit from the Christ Candle on the Advent Wreath, and then the bearers of those candles light those of the people sitting on the center aisle seat in each pew, who then light the candles of those sitting next to them and so on until the end of each row. Then, led by another child, the congregation sings the antiphonal hymn, "Morning Star, O Cheering Sight," the lyrics to which seem to be a closely guarded secret not yet trusted to the Internet, though you can find the beginning here. During this, the sanctuary is lit only by the candles and the Moravian Star hanging in the front of the church. The service concluded with everyone singing "Silent Night" with candles held aloft. In the old days, people would have used the candles to light those in their home, thus passing the light of the Christ Candle even further.
The Moravian Church FAQ has a good page on these traditions, which were partially devised by Bishop John de Watteville for a children's lovefeast. (Some say "Morning Star" is a 19th century hymn, but that was just a reworking of a 17th-century original.) Moravians claim to be the first denomination to symbolically use candles in Christmas services. The Christmas Eve service is so popular that Glenwood Moravian is having two, which they don't even do for Easter.