Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Wreath Helps Prepare Mind and Heart for Christmas Season

Prepare for Christmas With Advent Wreath - Photo by Andrea Schaufler at Wikimedia Commons
Observing Advent can help draw one's mind and spirit toward keeping Jesus Christ at the center of the Advent and Christmas seasons. In the Christian church, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and continues the approximately four weeks before Christmas. Observing Advent through the use of an Advent wreath may be done in the church, home, or other setting and might include very simple to quite elaborate pieces.

Advent Calendar with Candles © Katrena
Advent Colors and Candles

I recall being so excited to see the purple, or violet, liturgical colors up front during Advent at my church. After all, purple was my favorite color when I was a kid! Each liturgical season features a color to help focus one's mind and recall symbols handed down for many years.

It is interesting to note that purple in the Christian church often denotes penitence and mourning while also symbolizing royalty. Some churches use blue during part or all of the Advent season. Learning more of the history and meaning of this season can deepen one's knowledge of the Scriptures and continue a tradition begun many years before.

One Advent tradition at churches I have attended is the lighting of the Advent wreath, which often four purple purple candles placed in a circle, often placed with greenery to make a wreath. Some churches and individuals may use other colors for the candles. One popular choice is to have a pink third candle. Blue, white, gold, or red candles have also been used in Advent wreaths for the outer candles.

Advent wreaths may include a white Christ candle, located in the center. This candle might be larger or taller than the four candles surrounding it. The wreath may be placed on a pedestal, suspended, or put on a table or altar.

One candle is lit on the first Sunday in Advent. On the second Sunday of Advent, the first candle and another candle is lit. On the third Sunday of Advent, the third candle, which is pink if used, is lit in addition to the other two, and all four outer candles are lit on the fourth Sunday of the Advent season. All candles, including the center Christ candle are lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Advent Wreath May be Elaborate or Simple - Photo by Immanuel Giel at Wikimedia Commons
Advent Symbols and Scriptures

Scriptures or reflections are typically read as candles are lit each Sunday during Advent. Sometimes people in the congregation are invited to participate in the lighting of the Advent wreath, and families might coordinate this into an activity that involves everyone as well.

Advent is typically a season in which people focus on the theme of return or arrival. Many churches recall the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and New Testament scripture verses about the birth, or arrival, of Jesus. Advent also focuses on preparations for the predicted second coming of Christ.

The wreath itself tends to be green, which typically symbolizes life. The circle shape often is used to represent no beginning and no end, something that continues, such as a love that continues despite all circumstances.

I have seen a variety of themes used for the four Advent candles, the most common focusing on themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. The candles might simply represent Christ as the light of the world. Other themes focus on prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels as each candle is lit.

ChristianYear.net offers a detailed history of the Advent wreath with examples of scriptures and prayers for each week. The PCUSA offers children's readings for the lighting of the Advent wreath.

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