The celebration of Advent across the centuries has been rich in symbolism and tradition that are delightful to explore. Because Advent includes a preparation for Christmas, children are usually eager to be a part of the daily Advent celebration.
The beginning of Advent has long been celebrated by the hanging of the greens, as in churches and homes people hang wreaths and boughs, and bring in evergreen trees to symbolize the unending, eternal life that we have in Jesus Christ.
The Advent Wreath is a much-loved custom dating back to Germany in the 16th century when it was eagerly welcomed by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Advent Wreath was brought to America by German immigrants in the 19th century and has become a very meaningful way to express and celebrate the meaning of the season.
An Advent Wreath is simple to prepare at home, or you can buy one at most Christian bookstores. You will need five candles and some evergreen boughs to form into a circular wreath. Four of the candles are placed around the wreath and one candle placed in the center.
The Advent Wreath uses many symbols that help us to think about Christ and his first coming. The circular wreath symbolizes God in his eternity, without beginning or end, and never ending in his love. The evergreen of the wreath speaks to us of the life that Christ gives, new every day and fresh. The four candles around the wreath witness to us God’s one true Light come into the world, and the Christ Candle in the center represents Christ at the heart of our lives and celebration. Here in the darkest season of the year the Light of Christ shines brightly.
One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent and each day of the first week. Two candles are lit on the second week of Advent, three candles on the third week, and all four candles are lit during the fourth week. The Christ Candle in the center of the wreath may be lit on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The progression of light through the days of Advent represents the darkness of sin and death giving way to the coming of God’s light into the world. Many people prefer to light the five candles each day from Christmas Day all the way through to New Year’s Day to express their faith that the light of Christ goes with them throughout the year.
In the home, the Advent Wreath is often placed on the dining table and the candles are lit at mealtime, with a devotional and Scripture readings accompanying the lighting of the candles. Children delight in lighting candles, and including them in the readings and prayers can help establish them in good daily practices and pass on to them the faith.
Advent this year comes at a time of economic uncertainty, unemployment, political discord, and anxiety about the future. It is not easy to hope when times are hard, or to experience peace in the midst of turmoil. But by taking some time each day to be still in God’s presence, to reflect, and to pray, we can better experience God’s peace, and stay focused on things eternal.
Let’s decide to make room in our lives for Advent this year as we ponder Ann Weem’s poem:
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem bound
we experience our own advent as his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angels’ voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending the sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of the shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gifts of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angel’s wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places.
By Ann Weems