--A note for the reader by Lukas McCamden.
A seeming eternity has passed since I was last called on to write, and much has happened. Advent has come and gone. Celebrating it with Alynn was a joy. She set up holly everywhere and placed candles at every window. It has been years since St. Anne's Monastery has looked so joyous.
Most of those reading this, however, may have never heard of Advent, let alone celebrated it. The Author tells me that it is a dying art, celebrated by the Catholic church and some Protestants while being briefly acknowledged or even ignored by others. Since my childhood, I have loved the season of Advent. It spans the four weeks before Christmas and is symbolized by the Advent wreath. It is a circle of evergreen boughs with four candles, symbolizing Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The fifth candle, the Christ candle, is not lit until Christmas itself.
Hope is a curious thing, for it has two meanings. There is simple hope--hope for the rain to stop, hope for spring to come, hope for a successful harvest--and there is Christian hope. Christian hope is less desiring something to come and more expecting and waiting for what is promised. In this light, I with all the saints hope for heaven.
Love is another word with two meanings. Several of the monks who were here before me told stories of the women they loved before their conversions. Recalling those stories, much of that love was based on physical qualities. Appearances change--I had hair once--and the love of the world changes with it. Christ's love, not based on appearance, action, or intention, is a repeated choice to do what benefits the other rather than what benefits one's self. Love can be as simple as lending a cloak or as sacrificial as taking an arrow.
Joy is irrational. Paul, in the book of Philippians, exhorts others to rejoice more than he does in any other of his epistles. He wrote this book in prison. Joy, I have learned, does not depend on circumstances but rather on Christ and the Holy Spirit within us. We do not strive to be joyful; it is a fruit produced by walking with Christ. This joy causes laughter in the dark, and high spirits when all seems lost.
Peace, like joy, is not dependent on circumstance. I am a man, and I fear as all men do. I fear being alone, and being killed by the Norse, and for no discernable reason I fear swimming underwater. But in the midst of my fears, I call to God, and He answers with His peace which passes all understanding. I am safe in the peace of God.
Christ is all, and is in all. Without Christ, we would have no hope, no love, no joy or peace. Without Christ, there would be no Christmas. And without Christmas, I should have never known--among other things--the versatility of holly, or the beauty of stained-glass windows reflected on snow when lit within by candles.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.