The Protestant reformer, Martin Luther began the custom of Advent in 16th-century Germany among Lutherans and Catholics. Advent marks the four weeks prior to Christmas, spiritually preparing us for the Celebration of our Messiah's arrival. In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the Sunday closest to November 30 and lasts through Christmas Eve, December 24.
My husband was familiar with the tradition, but my childhood did not include the practice of Advent. When our children were small, the church we attended introduced me to this Season of Anticipation. Colorful candles among a bed greenery captivated my desire to worship the Savior, adding substance to the celebration which has become so secular. People in our the congregation submitted poems, stories and art which were collected, printed and distributed to all who wanted to participate in family devotion times. A year or so later, I found an Advent wreath holder for votives that we placed on our kitchen table on top of a plain green wreath. Now we could light Advent candles during our family devotion time.
The Advent wreath, simple or elaborate, consists of circular greenery and four (or five) candles. Each attribute signifies an aspect of spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the light of Christ into the world. There are several versions with no right or wrong way to worship our Lord.
The green wreath symbolizes the eternity of Elohim and our life with Him through the provision of salvation. The candles colors vary, but typically include four purple (or sometimes blue) candles, one for each week of Advent. Some replace one of the purple candles with a pink one. The blue or purple represents the holiness, royalty of our LORD. The pink candle represents peace and salvation brought by the arrival of the Messiah. Some wreaths include a central white candle symbolizing purity.
Advent begins with the lighting of the first purple candle, the "Prophesy - Hope" candle representing the waiting and expectation of the world for the Messiah's birth, our hope for a lost world. The prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, foretold the birth of Christ: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NIV) Other verses include Isaiah 9:6 and Jeremiah 33:14-18.
On the second Sunday, the second purple candle is lit to represent Love. Often called the "Bethlehem Candle," reminds us of God's great love for us in the fact that His Son would leave His heavenly throne to become human through a humble birth: "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:12 NIV) Reading the full passage of Luke during the devotion time. John 1:1-14 NIV reminds us of the deity of Christ.
The third week, "Shepherds" and third purple candle signifying Joy proclaimed to the Bethlehem shepherds in the field. There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:8–11 NIV
The fourth week, our family uses a pink candle to represent Peace and is referred to as the "Angels" candle. It is a reminder of the message brought by the Angels to the shepherds: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." Luke 2:13–14 NIV
When a white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath, the "Christ" candle symbolizes the purity of the Savior. This candle is lit on Christmas day, reminding Christians that Jesus is the light of the world, the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Those who receive Christ as Savior will be cleansed from all unrighteousness: "Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 NIV
I encourage you to prepare your own Advent wreath, if this is not already a tradition in your home. Four candles in a circle with a bit of greenery will prompt your family to stop and reflect on this wonderful season. There are many suggestions on internet craft sites with inexpensive supplies from discount stores. Complete wreath kits are available for purchase at book and card shops. Whatever you decide, use this Advent season to set aside a time of worship, reflection and elimination of the hustle and bustle of the season. Help your family focus on the love our Father demonstrated by sending the Light of the World, John 3:16-21.
During this next week leading up to Christmas Eve, the Chalk Borders posts will discuss portions of the Christmas story to offer insight from Hebrew word pictures, history and vocabulary. The Bible, being an ancient Hebrew and Greek text, is literature, full of symbolism, prophesy, and word pictures written by Jews and early Christians. As Americans we think with a Western mindset, appreciating lists, definitions and facts. By placing our modern interpretations of an Eastern culture and text we can misinterpret or overlook the intention of what was being communicated. This Advent season, I urge you to prayerfully consider our discussion topics, the symbolism and word pictures in hopes of receiving a deeper understanding of this beautiful story.
Holy Father God, Advent provides an opportunity to slow the pace of the holiday season so we may reflect on Your lovingkindness. We do not deserve Your gift or comprehend the depth of Your grace and mercy for us. Sending a King to be born in a manger and walk the dirty roads of this life to redeem us to Yourself is not what we would have expected. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are Your ways higher than our ways and Your thoughts than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIV) Open the eyes of our hearts, O LORD, so we may see Your majesty and the wonderful gift that came from Your heart. Draw us to Yourself so we may appreciate Your sacrifice as we dedicate time with our family to experience the wonder of Christmas anew. Thank You, LORD, for sending a Savior, Jesus Christ our Messiah. Amen