The season of Advent.  A much-anticipated time when we, as Christians, prepare for the celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas.

Advent Liturgy and Practice

To balance remembrance and anticipation, the first two Sundays in Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.

Advent is intended to be a season of fasting, much like Lent, and there are a variety of ways that this time of mourning works itself out in the season.  Reflection on the violence and evil in the world causes us to cry out to God to make things right – to put death’s dark shadows to flight.  Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus.  And our own sinfulness and need for grace lead us to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew His work in conforming us into the image of Christ.

Advent Wreath and Candles

The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839.  Eventually, the Advent wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death as the evergreen is continuously green.  The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and the eternal life He makes possible.

The most common Advent candle tradition involved four candles around the wreath.  A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.  Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple, the third candle is rose-colored.  Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white.  Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s Candle.”  it is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day.

The Four Weeks of Advent

The four Sundays of Advent each have a specific theme or focus.  The purpose of each theme is to spend time reflecting on the true meaning of the season – the life of Jesus Christ.  The goal should be to come before God with a sincere heart and to worship Jesus Christ.

Week 1:  Hope (or promise)

The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.”  The prophets of the Old testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.  Reference Isaiah 9:2, 6-7.

Week 2:  Preparation (or waiting or prophecy)

The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.”  Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.  Reference Isaiah 40:3-5.

Week 3:  Joy (or peace)

The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.”  To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too.  In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.  Reference Matthew 2:10-11.

Week 4:  Love (or adoration)

The fourth candle represents peace and is called 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.  Reference John 3: 16-19.