When Tim and I began the discussion about how we would celebrate Christmas in our family, I suggested that I would like to have an Advent wreath because I grew up lighting one at school and at home, and I thought that having one would help prepare me for such a special day with the reminders of allocating weeks for Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and at last, the Christ candle. Together, we made the wreath, and as we’ve been lighting candles, I’ve wanted to write something devotional each week to reflect because that’s usually how I process my thoughts. Each week, I have wanted to write, yet I have not.

I wish I could blame not setting aside time in my schedule, or even complete spiritual negligence, but I won’t claim either. After every sermon I hear, I find that I have more questions than uplifting seasonal reflections to express.

With Hope the first week, I nearly laugh. I wonder how people stand to hope for anything. How can they dare to think anything should get better? In what or whom do they trust? After wondering about this candle, being the first, I conclude that there should be a “pre” Advent candle called Faith because there is no way you can hope for anything without first believing your hopes will one day be recognized and actualized. By the time I have recognized this, the first week has passed.

In the second week, I think of Peace, and I am brought to tears at the complete absurdity of thinking such a thing exists at all, whether reading about the pools of blood collected in the muddy streets of Syria after an air raid, or the aftermath of a madman gunning down a primary school. Even on a more intimate level in situations I know, often I agree with Charles Appleton Longfellow as he witnessed his country in the midst of the Civil War: “There is no Peace on Earth,” I say.

After two weeks of disappointment, at lunch I gaze at the pink candle we call Joy, and I almost wish I could skip right past it and concentrate on Love because at least that is one that I see and know on a very basic level. It is personal and I can spend the rest of my days trying to do it. Joy, however, I often find to be the exception and not the rule in this life.

Unlike Joy, Love seems easier to hold onto, something I can really hope to practice, but I know that it is only because so many other people get excited by the prospect of finding a cure-all. As a subject and a word, usually Love is volleyed between vacuous conversations of sex and occasional comforts that fail to challenge or to teach us anything. Occasionally, Love can be found to mean something in a familial context, but often its fragility and rarity can be so disheartening that it fosters its opposite, and hate is born of our bitterness of not having found Love in the state we wish it to be. Hence, it is probably the most difficult to truly grasp because we’re all so willing to trade real love for the knockoffs all because we want that so badly.

After the candle called Love, only the Christ candle remains.

When I realize that this is it, that I might run into getting through the entirety of Advent wondering what to do about these abstract (albeit important) concepts, I come to the center. The center focuses on the one truly strange man who could bring Heaven to Earth, preaching and dying for Love. He said that there is “no greater command,” and when I remember this, I realize that this year, it might have done me well to buck tradition by beginning with lighting the fire inside if I want to know Love enough to have Joy, Joy enough to spread Peace, and Peace enough to have Hope.