We have been focusing a lot on the tradition of the Advent Wreath and Advent Candles this year.
Trish Faro was inspired to yet again provide these symbols of the season as kits to be available in the church office and I have been using one as a theme for this year’s Advent Children’s Sermon series.
One of things I like most about this tradition is that it is, well, a tradition! It goes way back and anytime you take part in something that people have been doing for generations, it is deeply meaningful.
Advent wreaths began in the 16th century but really only gained popularity in the mid-1800s in Germany. They didn’t make it to the United States until the 1930s when they then quickly spread in popularity in churches and, subsequently, in private homes.
Their purpose has always been to mark the weeks leading up to Christmas and to provide devotional meaning to those weeks.
The meaning of the four candles (for the four weeks of Advent) vary by tradition. In the United Church of Christ, they represent Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. Some traditions move those themes around by week; particularly flipping the order of the Love and Joy candles.
An alternative meaning of the candles in some traditions is 1. The Prophet’s Candle (accompanied by readings from Isaiah), 2. The Bethlehem Candle (accompanied by the passage from Micah foretelling the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem), 3. The Shepherd’s Candle (honoring the first to receive news of the birth of the Messiah), and 4. The Angel Candle (honoring the heavenly beings who announced Christ’s birth).
In modern times, people have taken the liberty of developing their own meanings for the candles to give them personal significance as well.
The final, Fifth Candle, is always the Christ Candle. It sits in the center of the wreath and remains unlit until Christmas Eve when Christ’s birth is celebrated.
The candles are always surrounded by a circular wreath which symbolized the unending love of God. That wreath is made of evergreens which symbolize the new life that is always available through Jesus.
Maybe the thing I like most about this tradition is the progression of light. December is the darkest month on the calendar and there is great meaning in the act of adding light each week to the deepening darkness prior to the winter solstice. It is a great reminder of the light of God that cannot be overcome no matter how challenging things may become.
So whether in our sanctuary or on your dining room table, I hope you will take advantage of this old–yet modernizing–tradition that will enliven your connection to both Advent and Christmas.