Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!
Advent, similar to Lent, is a season of spiritual preparation encouraging us to pause and reflect. Advent, unlike Lent, is more warm-and-fuzzy with less emphasis on repentance.
Instead, Advent is the preparation of our heart, soul, and even our world for a divine house guest. Advent is intended to be the removal of dust from our souls and cobwebs from our spiritual lives. Advent is intended to be a de-cluttering of our calendars to focus on God breaking into our lives.
Advent is the embodiment of awaiting with hopeful anticipation and expectation:
- the long-awaited Messiah promised to Israel;
- Jesus, as the baby in the manger; and
- Jesus, as the judge and jury at the end; but, also
- Jesus, as the one who appears, breaks in, and journeys alongside us daily.
Advent has rich traditions, which we will pause and reflect upon on Fridays in Advent (not Christmas Day). We begin with one of the most common symbols and rites in Advent. It is the Advent wreath.
Do you have an Advent calendar, or another means for counting down the days until Christmas?
- Perhaps, it is a store brought chocolate Advent calendar? YUM!
- Perhaps, it is a wooden one with little compartments with daily treats or gifts?
- Perhaps, it is fabric one with a little marker that finds a new pocket each day?
My childhood home had a cute little mouse that counted down the days.
Well, the Advent Wreath is our Church Advent Calendar.
It helps us to countdown the four Sundays until Christmas.
Although Advent Wreaths are common among Catholics and Mainline Protestants, it was not always. The Advent Wreath originated in 16th century Germany and was developed by Lutherans. Woot! Woot!
In the 19th century, a German Lutheran missionary (woot, woot) shook the dust from the Advent Wreath and introduced it to the impoverished children he ministered. Why? Similar to all children, these asked daily ‘how many more days until Christmas’. Thus, he used an Advent Candle Calendar with one candle for each day Monday-Saturday and special candles on Sundays.
That is a lot of candles! So, it was adapted into the modern Advent Wreath.
This Advent Wreath became widely popular in Germany during the 1920s and arrived in North America during the 1930s, however it was not popular in the United States until 1964 after appearing on Blue Peter, a popular children’s television program.
The Advent Wreath originated as a personal, family, and household spiritual practice, but it has become more commonly associated with public worship in congregational settings. Whether in private or in public, the candles being lit should be accompanied by Scripture, a devotional, and a prayer.
The Advent Wreath is an evergreen wreath, whether artificial or real.
The evergreen and circle are common symbols for eternity.
The Triune God has, is, and will always and forever be.
The increasing light with each passing week is symbolic of God’s divine light returning to the creation.
Western Christianity, such as Catholicism and Lutheranism, have Advent Wreaths of five candles:
three purple or blue, one pink, and one white.
Purple is the traditional color for Advent and these candles; however, it begun to be further associated with the repentance emphasis during Lent.
Blue is a modern option for Advent and these candles, because it distinguishes Advent from Lent and is associated with HOPE.
These purple/blue candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays in Advent. These are commonly associated with Hope, Peace, and Love,
but may also symbolize the Prophets, Bethlehem, and the Angels (Peace).
The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday in Advent representing Joy (or the Shepherds).
There is often a white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It represents Christ and divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love born into our world (again).
However, there are variations of the Advent Wreath.
The Advent Wreaths in the United Kingdom commonly have four red candles, representing:
- HOPE for all God’s People,
- Old Testament PROPHETS,
- JOHN the Baptist, and
- MARY, the Mother of Jesus.
The Advent Wreaths for Eastern, or Orthodox, Christian traditions observe a 40-day Advent, similar to the 40-days of Lent. Thus, their Advent Wreaths have six candles and in various colors to be lit on the appropriate Sunday.
- FAITH (Green)
- HOPE (Blue)
- LOVE (Gold)
- PEACE (White)
- REPENTANCE (Purple)
- COMMUNION (Red)
Faith Formation resource created by Pr. Melinda Gapen.
Originally published 27 Nov. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).