And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV
I love the Christmas season, the decorations, the food, the traditions, and most of all, celebrating the birth of our Savior.
For those in Christian faith traditions celebrating the liturgical calendar, this coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. For the non-liturgical traditions, Advent can be a beautiful and rich addition to Christmas Season traditions.
I’ve never had an Advent wreath in our home and this year I decided the candle light and the long practiced observe would help me focus on the true hope of Christmas. I shopped around locally only to discover that the actual Advent wreath is hard to find and I didn’t want to take my chances of ending up with something cheap by shopping on the internet.
Thankfully, Hobby Lobby came through for me. I gathered all the parts of the wreath and put it together—keeping the wreath simple and focused on the candles. I also did a little research on the history of the Advent wreath, because that’s what I do.
The word advent traces back to the Greek word parousia meaning the presence, the arrival, or the official royal visit of a king or emperor. In Latin, parousia is translated into the word adventus, meaning “coming,” which in English becomes advent. The Advent Season as we celebrate it today is the time of anticipation and expectation of the arrival—the birth—of the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. The birth of Jesus.
The idea of Advent had its first mention in the 4th century at a meeting of church leaders— the Council of Sargossa—and continued into 5th century as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians. It developed into a season of waiting and anticipation of Jesus’ birth, eventually extending throughout the entire month of December and ultimately focusing on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
The wreath became a prominent symbol among Lutherans and Catholics in celebrating Advent in 16th century Germany. The wreath’s original purpose was meant to bring focus on what Advent symbolizes—waiting not only for the birth of Jesus, but also anticipating his final return.
It’s said that a Lutheran minister working at a mission for children in Germany created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring and lit the red candles on weekdays and the white candles on Sundays, marking the days leading up to Christmas.
The wreath eventually became the Advent wreath we know of today, with five candles of different colors—purple, pink, and white, lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. We’ll cover the symbolism of each color in the coming weeks as we light each candle.
In setting up an Advent wreath with my Christmas decorations, it’s interesting to note the other meanings of each part. Which is the main reason I kept mine simple. The continuously green evergreens used in the wreath represents everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle of the wreath depicts the idea of no beginning or end: God’s unending love, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we have in Christ. The holly and red berries symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross—the shedding of his blood for our sins. The four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, each stand for a thousand years, totaling the 4,000 years that passed until the birth of Christ, the Savior. And finally, the flickering of the candle flames depict Jesus, the light of the world.
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 (NIV)
Join me again on Sunday, as we light the first candle of the Advent wreath and explore what it represents.
Grace and Peace.