I grew up in what would be called a Christian home, but it was only later in life that I understood the significance of Christmas, beyond the tree, the decorations, the presents and lots of eating.
My challenge this December is to move beyond the traditions I have always observed to find meaning in what we do over this period.
One such tradition is advent, which is what I understand to be four candles in a wreath, each candle lit on the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas. Or even 24 days of little boxes filled with goodies to count down to Christmas. As I contemplate decorating my own house, I thought: “Let me make an Advent wreath this year, I think it will look nice on my lounge table.” Only this year, I need to find meaning in tradition. So this is what I have found out.
The word advent refers to the anticipation of an event or coming. In this case, we are counting down the days in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Advent: Anticipation and Preparation for the Celebration of the Birth of Jesus.
From my reading, I have decided to incorporate more of the meaning in my celebration this year. It turns out; it involves much more than just the lighting of candles on Sunday. Initially adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages, it was part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. During this season there was much remembering, fasting, preparation of homes as if a special visitor was expected and also the anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. Each culture builds its own traditions, but the goal of Advent is cheerful preparation, while we do expectant waiting, for the anticipated arrival of the day when we remember Christ’s birth. It includes all the anticipation in the Old Testament, where they waited for the Messiah, as well as the celebration of all that came to fulfillment at His birth.
Everything about the wreath and candles represents something about what we believe. The process of lighting one candle each Sunday is an opportunity for discussion as well as heart preparation for the celebration.
The wreath itself, made of various evergreens, signifies everlasting life we have in Jesus. The circle, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ. Even the individual evergreens that make up the wreath have their own meanings that can be adapted to our faith.
The candles also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.
- The first candle is called the “Prophet’s Candle” symbolizing the hope the prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, foretold the birth of Christ and waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. We wait in hope for Christ’s return as the risen King, and in relationship with Jesus, we are always able to hope. It is usually purple which symbolizes royalty, Jesus’ royalty as king.
- The second candle called “Bethlehem’s Candle” symbolizes faith. The prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David. The second candle is also purple to symbolism preparation for the coming king. The remnant who remained in faith after the exile, looked to Bethlehem for their Savior to come. We now enjoy a faith as believers as we trust God for our lives, our eternal lives and seeing the fulfillment of all promises to us.
- The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s, the angels announced that Jesus came, and the shepherds who were humble, unimportant people in society rejoiced. The pink colour, represents joyfulness and rejoicing. We, as believers, also have joy in our salvation, in our relationship with Jesus, and joy in our eternal future.
- The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace-“Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14) He came to bring peace between us and God and peace between people. This colour is also purple to represent the culmination of love through the Messiah.
- The more modern traditions add a fifth candle which is usually white to represent light, purity and victory and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle of the wreath and is lit on Christmas Day.
The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
No matter how we choose to celebrate the season of Advent, it is important to remember the reasons and meanings behind our traditions. Jesus entered our dark, broken world on the first Christmas long ago, and He’s working even now to restore light, peace, and life.
As I work this understanding into the celebration advent in my family, I have decided to make Sundays a special time of preparation and celebration in our household. Spending Sundays with family and friends as we share joy, hope, peace and love with people around us. Advent is also more than decorating and visiting with people, there is also the work of the heart and in my heart understanding the significance of joy, hope, peace and love that is fulfilled in Jesus is a task for my bible reading this December before Christmas.
Thank you, Jesus, that in you is the fulfilment of all the promises of the Old Testament and reconciliation for all humanity. Thank you that we now know and experience Your love in a deep and meaningful relationship. Thank you that we have the joy of our salvation, and the joy we experience as a child of God and a member of the body. Thank you for the hope that we have, both in our daily lives and for eternity. Thank you, Lord, for peace with You, available to all mankind through Jesus. Help me to make this years celebration of Christmas, a celebration of You.
- Have you considered the traditions you usually partake in during this season, to investigate the spiritual significance behind those traditions?
- Do you practice advent in your household? The time allocated to the joyful preparation for the celebration, that includes preparation and anticipation in your heart.