I’ve just finished making this year’s advent wreath as the time of advent is about to start and soon it’s again time to light the first candle.
“I know nothing about the tradition of advent wreaths!” was the remark of a sister in Christ at our church, who is a fairly young believer. “I simply didn’t grow up with it.” So, it’s a good opportunity to explore a little and see what advent is all about, and what we are waiting for…
As with many symbols applied in churches around the world, the advent wreath has nothing really to do with our faith in Christ. Certainly, one wouldn’t find an advent wreath described anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, it’s coming more from a northern European/Scandinavian tradition. The round shape of decorative greenery is a symbol of continuous life, combined with the light of candles sending rays of hope into a dark and cold winter season.
Like the “Christmas tree,” the advent wreath was brought into the church long ago to make it easier for the new Christians in Europe to “warm up” with the new religion they’d encountered, while holding on to cherished traditions of old.
Soon enough the wreath was redefined to symbolize the eternity of God and immortality of the soul. Different types of evergreens were determined to represent things like victory over persecution and suffering, immortality, or strength and healing. Different colors of the candles were also chosen by the organized church. The first candle to be lit would be purple and stand for hope.
The second candle would also be purple and represent faith. The third candle, this time a pink one, would symbolize joy, and the fourth candle, purple again, would stand for peace. In some traditions there is also a fifth, white candle in the middle of the wreath called the “Christ candle.” representing the life of Christ, with white representing purity. Some churches substitute the candle of love for the candle of faith, and the order is not always the same.
Now you may or may not enjoy as all these material – and color-codes. Ultimately, however, advent can and should remind us of the arrival of Christ in this world.
In some traditions not all of the four weeks before Christmas are actually spent to remember the birth of Christ in the little town of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Instead, the first two weeks (albeit somewhat counter intuitive) are not dedicated to the first but the 2nd coming of Christ. Only the last two weeks are dedicated to Him being born as a small, helpless baby in a stable.
We therefore belong to the believers in an eternal, righteous and faithful God who are looking both to the past and the future for the event of the Messiahs coming into this world. And so, may I encourage you in these coming weeks to not only look at the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Savior, or the Gospel accounts around Jesus’ birth.
Instead, do also open up your bibles to the book of Revelation and study again that second coming of Jesus, this time not as a helpless babe, but as a victorious and judging King of kings and Lord of Lords.
Grace and peace,