Advent Week Two

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, 
whose coming forth is from of old, 
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

Bethlehem Candle: Faith

As I researched the meanings of the advent candles, I found some differences—based on faith traditions—in the second and fourth candles. The second candle lit during the Advent season can represent either faith or love. In some traditions, the second and the fourth candle (representing peace) may be interchanged.

Whether faith or love, the second candle is called the “Bethlehem Candle” and reminds us of the promise made in Micah that another ruler would come from Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. It also reminds us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

It took faith for Mary to receive the word of the angel about her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit and the coming birth of her son. It took faith for Joseph to receive the word of the angel to take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant with a child not belonging to him. It took faith for Mary and Joseph to make the journey to Bethlehem because of a governmental edict so late in her pregnancy. It took faith for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus according to the laws of the God they worshipped and trust the promises made by the angels. (See Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-21, Luke 2:1-7)

The world of Mary and Joseph was in turmoil. They lived under the oppression of a military power, their people were heavily taxed, and their faith, even though tolerated by authorities, was considered odd because they worshiped only one God, rather than the plethora of gods in the culture of that day. But they trusted God and continued following him according to the traditions of their faith. (See Luke 2:21-24, 39-40)

The candle’s purple color symbolizes the preparation for the coming king, Jesus, as foretold by the angel to Mary. (See Luke 1:32-33) During this second week of Advent, we anticipate not only the birth of Jesus, but the return of Jesus, when he comes to reign and set all things right. There’s so much that this promise entails. In fact, descriptions of what it means fill the entire Bible and is summed up toward the end of the last chapter. (See Revelation 21:1-5) Let’s look forward with faith and with the joyous expectation of the season.

And he who was seated on the throne said, 
“Behold, I am making all things new.” 
Revelation 21:5
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 
Hebrews 11:1
And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.
Matthew 21:21

“This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:12

A Christmas song to stir our faith during the season: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Grace and Peace

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Advent Week One

Therefore the Lord himself 
will give you a sign: 
The virgin will conceive 
and give birth to a son, 
and will call him Immanuel. 
(Isaiah 7:14)

Prophecy Candle: Hope

Do you have hope this Christmas season? In our crazy world, often hope is the first to go. And not a hope that works like a wish, but the deep abiding desire that somehow in someway, God will set all things right.

The first candle—which is purple—symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” or the “Prophet’s Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of the Messiah. They waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival to save, restore, and redeem the people of Israel. The candle represents the expectation we have in anticipation of Jesus’ coming at Christmas, as well as his promised return. The purple color represents repentance and fasting as we anticipate the Lord’s coming and it also symbolizes the royalty, kingship, and reign of Jesus.

Let’s light the first candle of the Advent wreath and as we do so, let’s remember that our hope is in Jesus, the one promised by God.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
    I wait for God my Savior;
    my God will hear me.
Micah 7:7
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, 
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:5
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
Psalm 62:5
My soul faints with longing for your salvation, 
but I have put my hope in your word.
Psalm 119:81
 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for 
and assurance about what we do not see. 
Hebrews 11:1
The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12
For in this hope we were saved. 
Now hope that is seen is not hope. 
For who hopes for what he sees? 
But if we hope for what we do not see, 
we wait for it with patience.
Hebrews 8:24-25

A Christmas song to bring the Hope of Jesus into the season: because Hope has a Name.

Grace and Peace

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Advent Celebration

And the Word became flesh 
and dwelt among us, 
and we have seen his glory, 
glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
John 1:14 (ESV

I love the Christmas season, the decorations, the food, the traditions, and most of all, celebrating the birth of our Savior.

For those in Christian faith traditions celebrating the liturgical calendar, this coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. For the non-liturgical traditions, Advent can be a beautiful and rich addition to Christmas Season traditions.

I’ve never had an Advent wreath in our home and this year I decided the candle light and the long practiced observe would help me focus on the true hope of Christmas. I shopped around locally only to discover that the actual Advent wreath is hard to find and I didn’t want to take my chances of ending up with something cheap by shopping on the internet.

Thankfully, Hobby Lobby came through for me. I gathered all the parts of the wreath and put it together—keeping the wreath simple and focused on the candles. I also did a little research on the history of the Advent wreath, because that’s what I do.

The word advent traces back to the Greek word parousia meaning the presence, the arrival, or the official royal visit of a king or emperor. In Latin, parousia is translated into the word adventus, meaning “coming,” which in English becomes advent. The Advent Season as we celebrate it today is the time of anticipation and expectation of the arrival—the birth—of the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. The birth of Jesus.

The idea of Advent had its first mention in the 4th century at a meeting of church leaders— the Council of Sargossa—and continued into 5th century as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians. It developed into a season of waiting and anticipation of Jesus’ birth, eventually extending throughout the entire month of December and ultimately focusing on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

The wreath became a prominent symbol among Lutherans and Catholics in celebrating Advent in 16th century Germany. The wreath’s original purpose was meant to bring focus on what Advent symbolizes—waiting not only for the birth of Jesus, but also anticipating his final return.

It’s said that a Lutheran minister working at a mission for children in Germany created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring and lit the red candles on weekdays and the white candles on Sundays, marking the days leading up to Christmas.

The wreath eventually became the Advent wreath we know of today, with five candles of different colors—purple, pink, and white, lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. We’ll cover the symbolism of each color in the coming weeks as we light each candle.

In setting up an Advent wreath with my Christmas decorations, it’s interesting to note the other meanings of each part. Which is the main reason I kept mine simple. The continuously green evergreens used in the wreath represents everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle of the wreath depicts the idea of no beginning or end: God’s unending love, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we have in Christ. The holly and red berries symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross—the shedding of his blood for our sins. The four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, each stand for a thousand years, totaling the 4,000 years that passed until the birth of Christ, the Savior. And finally, the flickering of the candle flames depict Jesus, the light of the world.

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 
The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5 (NIV)

Join me again on Sunday, as we light the first candle of the Advent wreath and explore what it represents.

Grace and Peace.


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Christmas Cookies Mysteries Anthology

Another fun anthology for the holidays, Christmas Cookies Mysteries, filled with tree decorating, gift giving, cooking baking and…murder and mayhem! Christmas Cookies Mysteries features author and friend, Kelly Irvin, along with 14 other amazing authors.

What better way to ring in the Christmas spirit.

“Join in the fun this season and create a new holiday tradition with mysteries from more than a baker’s dozen of award winning authors—all inspired by the songs of The Oak Ridge Boys’ Christmas Cookies CD.” (As described on Amazon.)

I asked Kelly to answer a couple of questions about her book because inquiring minds want to know.

How did you get involved in the anthology, Christmas Cookies Mysteries?

A group of Seymour Literary Agency “sibs” who write mystery and suspense get together once a month for a Zoom gathering. We collaborate on virtual events, share tips, and have speakers on topics such as social media and marketing. Our agent Julie Gwinn suggested we consider doing an anthology together. We brainstormed ideas and zeroed in on a Christmas anthology using Christmas songs as the springboard for the mystery or suspense stories. Kathy Harris, an author in the group, is also Joe Bonsall’s agent. He’s one of the singers in the Oak Ridge Boys. She suggested approaching them about using the songs on one of their Christmas albums as the basis for the stories. The band agreed to let us use the Christmas Cookies CD and Joe agreed to write one of the stories. I love the idea of marrying music and mystery. My story is based on “Jingle Bells,” and is called “Murder All the Way.”

What’s been the best part about being included in this anthology, Christmas Cookies Mysteries?

The best part is working with such a talented, enthusiastic bunch of writers. Everyone is invested in the success of the anthology and supporting each other. Bringing together such a wide range of authors under the umbrella of mystery and suspense gives the readers a wide array of writing styles. We worked with the agency’s Ally Press. Dineen Miller designed the fantastic cover. I also loved the challenge of wrapping up a mystery in a short story no longer than 750 words. That’s tough for a writer like me whose novels are rarely less than 100,000 words. And the entire project was fun!

What would you like readers to know about this anthology, Christmas Cookies Mysteries?

Readers should know these stories are good, clean fun. Most would qualify as cozy mysteries. The anthology is perfect for giving as a Christmas gift to a family member who likes to read mysteries. It’s also a chance to discover new authors and explore full-length books they’ve written.

Thank you Kelly Irvin.

Christmas Cookies Mysteries is available on Amazon in kindle and paperback.

Visit Kelly Irvin on her website and check out her many romantic suspense and amish romance books.

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It’s a Wonderful Christmas: Classics Reimagined

A beautiful Christmas gift—for others and for yourself. It’s a Wonderful Christmas, an anthology of novellas retelling well-loved Christmas classics. A perfect read for the holiday season. It’s a Wonderful Christmas includes stories by authors Julie Cantrell, Lynne Gentry, Kelli Stuart, Janyre Tromp, and best of all my friend/critique buddy, Allison Pittman.

Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

“To celebrate, five bestselling authors have joined together to create this enchanting set of holiday novellas. Nothing jump-starts Christmas nostalgia quite like the movies. With stirring images of snow-covered hills, crackling fireplaces, and happy families gathered around the decorated tree, these silver-screen tales capture all the magic and wonder of the season. Inspired by some of their favorite holiday films, each of these novelists has paid homage to the classic stories we all love, crafting an eclectic collection that delivers something for everyone.” (As described on Amazon.)

I asked Allison to answer a couple of questions about her involvement in It’s a Wonderful Christmas because inquiring minds want to know.

How did you get involved in this Anthology?

I joined up with several other authors to host a facebook page called Her Novel Collective, which is a place to reach out and find new readers for ourselves by keeping an on-going book chat on the page. And then…one of us (not me) had the idea that if we put ourselves together in an anthology, we would reach each other’s audiences. So after a million messages back and forth, we came up with a theme that would work for everyone! We all have a favorite Christmas movie, so writing novellas in tribute to them seemed the perfect fit.

What’s been the best part about being included in this Anthology?

The best part has been how much I’ve learned about independent publishing. Some things are like: wow! This is super easy! I would totally do this again. Other parts…not so much. But, really, being able to link in to the specific super powers of Lynne Gentry, Julie Cantrell, Janyre Tromp and Kelli Stuart — there’s just such a WEALTH of experience and knowledge there. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but when you’re working together for a common goal, those strengths can sometimes wipe the weaknesses away. I’ve also found so many new followers on all of my social media platforms, particularly Book Bub which, in this industry, is such a huge factor in finding success.

What would you like readers to know about this Anthology?

Readers are going to find such a variety of stories and writing in this! Kelli’s story is a straight-up fairy tale. Mine is a romantic comedy. Lynne’s is all Christmassy and warm, Julie’s and Janyre’s get a little deeper. There’s a story for every mood and whim, because we all followed our hearts. The book is a collection not only of stories, but of reading experiences.

It’s a Wonderful Christmas is available on Amazon, in Kindle and paperback.

And if you’re looking for more:

Last Christmas, Allison released Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on A Christmas Carol. Another great holiday, curl up next to the fire with a cup of steaming cocoa, read. Especially if your a Dickens fan.

Keeping Christmas is also available on Amazon in Kindle, hardback, and audio.

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