We are well into the church year now. Past Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ and anticipating the beginning of Lent. So why talk about Advent now?
Well, because in these drear January days, any light is welcome, and it is never a bad thing to remind oneself of the light of Christ, the coming of the Saviour! During Advent itself we have the dark purple hangings—we don’t have a blue set!—and honestly, there are NO great Advent hymns. We have great songs of praise for Christmas and Easter and even Pentecost, but the offerings for Advent—? Yawn. (hint to any musician reading this—now is your chance to get your name into print in hymnals for decades to come!)
One of the traditions associated with Advent is the Advent wreath. It’s usually made of evergreens, reminding us of life in the season of dormancy. The circular form is said to represent the unending nature of God’s love for us. It’s a delightful tradition, not one that has come down to us from medieval times, but it was introduced from Germany in the 1830s. Some Lutheran churches have a candle per day…Anglicans thriftily settle for five.
The first candle that we light at the beginning of the Advent season symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. To live without hope is the darkest of darkness. We all need that flame burning in our lives, especially when personal difficulties threaten to overwhelm us.
How central to our existence as Christians is the second candle. It reminds us of our faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” The old prophets had foretold not only the coming of the Messiah, but that he would be born in the City of David, of David’s line. We live with our faith, and trying to live up to that faith, every day of our lives. Yet doubts creep in. Even as great a soul as Mother Theresa went through long years questioning her beliefs—finding a God shaped cavity at the centre of her being. Doubt may be part of the human condition. I know it’s been part of mine! What do do? Live in hope and pray without ceasing!
The pink candle amidst the purple represents joy—a favourite of mine for obvious reasons! It may be called the “Shepherd’s Candle”. Why? Because the shepherds were the first to hear the angels announcing the Saviours’s birth. Imagine—all the kings and chieftains and politicians…but it was the humble shepherds who were the first to pay homage in that far off stable. Joyful tidings indeed! (In liturgy, the colour rose signifies joy.)
Ah, the fourth candle. It represents peace, the peace that we pray for week after month after year and which always seems to elude us. Quell strife in one area, it reasserts itself in another. Peace in the world? Maybe not. Peace in our hearts? Definitely! The fourth candle is the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace--He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
In the centre of the wreath is a white pillar candle which is lit on Christmas Day. It’s the Christ candle which represents light and purity and all the others—joy and peace, faith and hope, all wrapped in the tiny babe born two thousand years ago. The first and greatest Christmas gift.