by Rev. Tammy Mitchell, Associate Pastor
While the storefronts and festivities are declaring the arrival of the Christmas season, the Christian calendar says otherwise. In truth, we are currently in the season of Advent. According to our history, sometime after the 6th century, the Christian church designated the four Sundays before Christmas as Advent. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical calendar. It was never meant to be seen as extending Christmas. The actual Christmas season begins on Christmas day and lasts for 12 days until Epiphany (January 6). The reason for Advent was for people to be solemnly aware of the coming of the Messiah – full of longing and hope for the Promised One. It was often seen as a time for prayer and fasting, similar to Lent. However, Advent always held that inescapable sense of “joy”. The season of Advent is a time when Christians are encouraged to focus on the four comings, or “advents,” of Christ: the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the presence of Christ in the hearts of believers, and the second coming of Jesus.
Today, Advent is celebrated by the lighting of candles on a wreath. This has become a visual expression of an invisible reality. The wreath is a circle without a beginning or end, symbolizing the Jesus’ divinity, his Incarnation and his unending love for us. The evergreens, a sign of life amid the starkness of winter, point to Christ’s redemptive gift of life, now and forever. With the assurance of this gift, we can eagerly pray for Christ to return and to restore all of creation. Sometimes there are red holly berries which point to Jesus death on the cross; or pinecones which symbolize the new life we will receive when he comes again. However, the candles on the Advent wreath help us see the contrast of the light that comes into the world in Jesus. It is when we light the candles that we see the contrast between the darkness and the light; between our sin and God’s promised salvation.
The four Advent candles in the wreath are lit successively, one candle the first week, two candles the second week, and so on. On Christmas the center Christ candle is lit. This tradition of increasing the number of candles each week sharpens our anticipation as it reminds us that we are getting closer and closer to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Jesus announced himself as the completion of Isaiah’s promise of “a great light” when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV). The full blaze of light in the Advent wreath on Christmas represents the fulfillment of this promise.
Most churches use purple candles as a sign of royalty and penitence, as we do in Lent. The Christ Candle, which is in the center of the wreath is always white, a symbol of holiness and righteousness. Many churches will store away the wreath and the advent candles and keep the Christ Candle lit for the remainder of the Christmas season.
Advent is a wonderful time for personal devotion as well. Many families have their own Advent wreaths and celebrate each week with either singing carols or reading scriptures each time they light a candle. Here at PCJH, it is our hope to encourage everyone to take some time each week and give our intention to the Advent season. Whether or not you have a wreath, we are offering free devotionals available for your use. This year, the devotional is entitled, Moving Toward the Manger: Reflections on the writings of Frederick Buechner. There is a short daily reading with some scripture. We trust that these readings will bring renewed depth and significance for your Advent.