A Season of Preparation
“This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” – Matthew 3:3
Each year, beginning with the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, the season of Advent begins. And, each year we faithfully light the candles on our Advent wreath as a part of our Advent season Sunday worship services. The growing crescendo of light points us to Jesus, the Light of the World, who is coming into the world. But how much do we really know about advent, the wreath, and its meaning? Allow me to take a moment to offer a little teaching about Advent and the wreath in this Christmas issue of our “Grace Notes” newsletter.
Advent itself is a season of anticipation and preparation for the Christ who came and will come again. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus which means “arrival,” “from,” or “beginning”. With eagerness we wait to celebrate the arrival and coming of Christ into our world and into our hearts anew. And even as Jesus has already come to earth some 2000 years ago, in truth, we are still waiting for God’s promises to be completely fulfilled and for the reign of Christ to be totally realized. Thus, the season of Advent rehearses and reminds us of the fact that Jesus’ reign is not yet complete – both in our world and in our lives. So, we eagerly await the anticipated arrival of Jesus afresh into our lives. And, we seek to “prepare the way for the Lord” and make room for Him anew in our world, church, families, and hearts.
The Advent wreath is circular in shape. The circle has no beginning or end, reminding us of God’s unending love for us. The wreath may be suspended from the ceiling in some churches, but it is always placed in a visible location so all can see it. The wreath is made of fresh evergreens, which are a sign of life in an otherwise lifeless winter. They point to new life and the hope that we find in Jesus Christ. They also remind us to pray and work toward the restoration of all God’s creation. Our wreath is typically placed front and center on our communion table.
The five candles contrast darkness and light. They are lit in succession, one more each week as we count the Sundays of Advent, waiting for Christ’s birth – the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. We are also reminded of those who waited thousands of years for the Messiah. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the fifth candle – the Christ candle – is lit. Jesus is the Light of the World, and the darkness of this world can never overcome the True Light of Jesus Christ. The full blaze stands for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Three of the four perimeter candles are usually purple, the traditional color of royalty and of penitence, used in the seasons of preparation – Advent and Lent (although blue candles are also appropriate in Advent to symbolize hope and expectation). There is usually also one pink candle, however, lit on the third Sunday of Advent to represent joy and to mark the breaking of the fast that was kept in early times. It suggests the Rose of Sharon. The Christ candle is always white and larger and taller than the others. It is placed in the center of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, symbolizing the birth of Jesus.
The four perimeter candles of the Advent wreath have been given various meanings over the centuries, and there is no one “right” or true biblical meaning. Some prefer to think of the four candles as representing faithfulness, hope, joy, and love. Other’s say they represent the prophets, angels, shepherds, and magi respectively. Still others use the candles to contrast darkness and light. Whatever meanings a particular person or church attributes to the candles, however, the focus of the candle lighting is to be on the increasing crescendo of light rather than the particular and various meanings attached to each candle. At Grace Church we have attached various meanings to the candles over various years. All are acceptable.
As is our custom, we will once again have various persons and families light the respective candles at the beginning of our Advent services over the next four Sundays. We do this at the beginning of worship to set the tone and backdrop for the entire worship experience. If you or your family would like to share in the lighting of the candles, please see me and I’d be happy to accommodate your request. I hope this article will deepen your understanding and appreciation of the Advent season. And, I hope this Advent would be a special time for you personally, your family, and our entire church family as we once again celebrate, prepare, and anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ into our world, church, and lives!
Anticipating Jesus’ Arrival with You,
Pastor Dave Van Netten