This is week 3 of 4 of our Advent blog. We are unpacking the meaning and significance of Advent.
In my first post, I attempted to answer the questions: What is Advent and what’s it all about? Last week, we looked at the colors of Advent. This week we are looking at the candles of Advent. I will also be talking about the Advent wreath where the candles are arranged. Now get ready! This is very, very cool!
The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches. The circle, like a ring, has no beginning or end and reminds us of God Himself. He is the alpha and Omega, the first and the last. It also reminds us that his mercy, love, and grace are eternal. The evergreen branches symbolize eternal life. Unlike most trees, evergreens never fade, so it is a beautiful picture of the new and eternal life that Jesus gives to those who, by faith, receive Him as Lord and Savior.
Typically, four Advent candles are set on the wreath with one in the center. The four outer candles represent the four weeks of Advent, which represent a period of waiting. Though I cannot say with certainty, it is believed that the candles represent the 400 years of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the Birth of Christ. By silence I mean, there was no new revelation. The Old Testament was complete. As a result, there were no more prophets until John the Baptist. So, each candle represents a century of waiting in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.
Of the four candles on the wreath, three are purple and one is rose-colored or pink. (See my previous post on the meaning of the colors of Advent.) The light of these candles symbolizes the true light that is coming into the world. Just as God’s revelation progressively unfolded in the Old Testament, pointing us to Jesus, each week, a new candle is lit, thereby adding it‘s light to the others. With ever-increasing brightness we know that God is near. The progressive lighting of the candles also reminds us that Jesus’ second coming is drawing near as well.
The candles also represent various virtues of God. Historically they are Hope, Faith or Peace, Joy, and Love. The first candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah. The third candle has traditionally been rose color or pink, representing Joy, but some churches use it on the 4th Sunday of Advent. The candles can also represent various aspects of the Christmas story, ie. John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, and the Magi.
The white center candle or Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminding us that Jesus, the light of the world, has come. It also reminds us that Jesus Christ should always be in the center of our lives!
Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas, but Advent is for all of us. It is a time for each of us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. I hope having a deeper understanding of Advent will help you have a richer and more meaningful Christmas this year. I also hope it will inspire you to be on mission with God in 2018, as we eagerly await His promised return. Next week, I will share some closing thoughts.