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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Story of the Advent Wreath

I have never really liked the term "Black Friday".  Not being a fan of shopping, the idea of going near a store on this, the retail extravaganza of the year, is incredibly horrifying to me.  To follow a day of giving thanks to our Heavenly Father for all His good gifts by such an extreme commercial act just seems the wrong way to start Christmas somehow.  We have made it our tradition, instead, to drag out the Christmas decorations, tree, etc. and transform our home.  It is the official start of the Christmas season at our house.

That is what the word advent means... the beginning, commencement, onset.  It is a season of waiting.  For Christians, we celebrate not only the ancient coming of the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, but we also anticipate and prepare for His ultimate return at the Second Coming.  The advent season begins with the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which coincidentally just happens to be the Sunday closest to my birthday (November 30th).  Thus, it is always easy for me to remember.

Advent is a season of expectation and anticipation.  It should be a time of preparation and hope for the Messiah who will bring peace and righteousness into the world. The advent ring (wreath) is designed to reflect the Christmas story and the promise it holds to all people. 

The wreath is a circle which reminds us of God Himself.  He is eternal, without beginning or end.  The life and salvation He offers is also eternal which is symbolized in the evergreens woven into the wreath.  As the winter comes and the leaves die on the other trees, the life remains visible in the evergreens throughout the long, cold months.  Candles symbolize light.  Jesus brings light into a world of darkness and sin.  And when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are called to become the light of the world.  As more people become Christians, the light shines brighter and brighter and spreads.

The four candles in the circle are for the four Sundays before Christmas.  Three are purple and one is pink.  Purple is, of course, the color of royalty, as Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The pink candle is used on the third of the four Sundays, and is the joy candle.  In some circles it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice".  The pink represents a change of emphasis, for one week, from the repentence before the Lord, to celebration and rejoicing at the coming of the King and the salvation that He will bring.  The fourth week marks a return to the preparation phase and a purple candle acknowledging His royalty and Kingship.  The four candles, or weeks, represent a time of waiting, and represent as follows:
  1. Prophets - Hope
  2. Bethlehem - Love
  3. Shepherds - Joy
  4. Angels - Peace.
 The first candle is lit the first Sunday.  An additional candle is lit each succeeding Sunday until all four are lit on the final Sunday before Christmas representing how the light and love of Christ spreads gradually throughout the world.  A large, white candle stands in the center of the wreath.  It is white for purity and righteousness.  It is the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  It reminds us that Christ is the center of our celebration and brings light into the world.  For many, the candles will burn through Epiphany (January 6th) or the twelfth day of Christmas.

As we enter this advent season, it will be my sincere desire to put aside busyness and the commercial trappings of the Christmas retailers and examine my heart in preparation for the Coming King.  Who will join me in the pursuit of a pure heart as we seek to find the hope, love, joy, and peace that only Christ the King can bring?

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