The Advent Wreath
As with many long-standing customs, the origins of the Advent wreath are somewhat debated. Some histories of the advent wreath say that Christians simply adapted an even earlier custom from pre-Christian Germanic tribes. Supposedly, then, these pagan people tried to break the darkness of winter with candles and invoke the sun god to return with the warmth and light of spring. In addition, the evergreen wreath would remind them that there is still life and the circle of time would again come back to spring.
According to this viewpoint, Christians later placed new and Biblical meaning to the old customs. Now the candles pointed to Jesus, the Light of the world (John 3:17-21.) The evergreen wreath now reminded believers that our Savior God grants new and everlasting life in Jesus. The wreath was also a symbol of victory, for a garland wreath was often placed on victors in contests or conquests. So naturally, a Christian can think of the crown of life that Jesus has won for us. The four candles in an Advent wreath would then emphasize the four week period of penitence and preparation during Advent, as we eagerly await the coming of the Light of the world to bring new life and hope.
The advent wreath became quite popular in homes in post-Reformation Germany. It seems pretty certain that in many German homes families had a custom of lighting four candles during advent, candles placed in a wreath of evergreens. When these candles were lit, Scripture and prayer was part of the custom and the family devotion time was a time of instructing the children about Christ’s coming. Later, the custom crossed over different denominational lines and other faith traditions adapted its use. Today, you can find Advent wreathes in many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.
THE MEANING OF THE ADVENT WREATHMost Advent wreaths use three colors – purple, pink, and white. However, some may use blue in place of the purple.
- 1st CANDLE – (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
- 2nd CANDLE – (purple) THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem. Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD! “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)
- 3rd CANDLE – (pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And 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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)
- 4th CANDLE – (purple) THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angles announced the good news of a Savior. God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
- 5th CANDLE – (white) “CHRIST CANDLE” – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth! “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29) “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.‘” (John 3:1-8)