The season of expectation, called Advent, is upon us. Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and marks the start of a new liturgical year. This new year, which we begin on this Sunday, is noted as Year C, and our gospel focus moves from the Gospel of Mark (Year B), to the Gospel of Luke.
The four Sundays of Advent are also commemorated by the lighting of the Advent Wreath. According to information provided on Wikipedia[i], the concept of the Advent Wreath originated with the Lutherans during the 16th century. It was a way to mark time from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas. The original Advent wreath had 20 small red and four large white candles. A small candle was lit successively on weekdays and Saturdays and on Sunday a large white candle was lit. The use of the wreath changed to marking only the four Sundays in Advent, and some churches added a fifth white candle in the center, which was lit on Christmas. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany adopted the custom in the 1920’s and it spread to the United States sometime in the 1930’s.
Today, many denominations use an Advent wreath during Advent. The wreath is circular, representing eternity. Four or five candles are arranged on the wreath, depending on whether a center candle for Christmas is used. Set on the outer wreath are four candles: three are either blue or purple, and one is rose. One candle on the outer ring is lit each Sunday. Whether the wreath uses four or five candles, the idea is that the wreath, and the lighting of the candles successively each Sunday, represents the light of Christ coming into the world.
The first blue or purple candle that is lit is called the “Prophecy Candle”, reminding us of the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. This first candle represents HOPE. The second purple or blue candle that is lit represents LOVE. Some traditions have named this candle the “Bethlehem Candle”, representing Christ’s manger. On the third Sunday, the rose candle is lit. This candle is called the “Shepherd’s Candle” and it represents JOY. The fourth candle is often referred to as the “Angel’s Candle”, and it represents PEACE. On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents Christ coming into the world[ii].
Using an Advent Wreath at home is a wonderful way to mark the season. You can find advent wreaths in many craft shops, in Christian Bookstores, and on-line. There are also some available at the Cathedral Bookstore at St. Philips in Atlanta. The candles are often sold as a four pack, with three blue or purple and one pink or rose in the box. You can set the wreath on a plate or a charger, and then decorate the wreath with Christmas greenery. The candles can be lit in the same way we light them on Sunday. On Sunday evening, perhaps before dinner, light one or more of the candles, depending on which Sunday it is, and share a prayer of either thanksgiving (how has God blessed me this week), or a prayer of hope (what does it mean to you that Christ comes into the world?).
The Advent wreath is a home tradition that I adopted many years ago. It has infused an added level of spirituality and reflection in what would otherwise be a very hectic season. I highly recommend it!
Advent Blessings, Mother Liz+
[ii] “The Advent Wreath”, Terra Sancta Guild.