By Meadow Rue Merrill

This weekend marks the first Sunday of Advent, a spiritual season of preparation for Christmas. About this time, I usually thumb through my collection of holiday books to select a liturgical guide to read with my family each week to remind us that Christmas is about more than the gifts we’ll find under the tree.

Sometimes, we light Advent candles. According to, the tradition began in 1839 when a Lutheran minister in Germany placed twenty small red candles and four large white ones inside a wagon-wheel wreath to share the Christmas story with children. Today, many churches and families make a wreath out of evergreens with four candles representing the four weeks of Advent, and a fifth to light on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Each week of Advent has its own meaning – hope, faith, joy and peace. With all the troubles affecting our country and world, I can’t think of a better time to meditate on these virtues.  Hope: a feeling of expectation or optimism. Faith: a strong trust in God. Joy: a cause for great celebration. Peace: the freedom from trouble.

Perhaps the best place to ponder what these mean to the Christmas story – and to us – is in the narrative of Luke. In the first two chapters of this account of the life of Christ, an angel visits a young girl and tells her not to be afraid, she has found favor with God. As a result, she has been chosen to give birth to a son, who will be given a name that means “God is Salvation.” When the baby is born, angels announce his birth, shepherds rejoice and a priest calls the child, “a light to reveal God to the nations” (Luke 2:32 NLT).

During this dark time of year, particularly in our northern corner of New England, it is a comfort to set candles in our windows, to string lights from our rooftops and to dazzle neighbors with our electric displays. But such lights pale in comparison to the light God offers: a light to give hope to those overwhelmed by the kind of darkness that does not disappear with the flip of a switch; a light that assures us, when we are overwhelmed by doubt, that there is still a reason to trust in God; a light in the middle of great sorrow that says we still have a reason to rejoice; a light that promises a day when we will be free from all our troubles.

And so, this weekend, I will gather candles and set them on my kitchen table. I will gather my Advent books and my family, and together we will pray for our friends and neighbors and country as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books in the Lantern Hill Farm series, celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at