Christmas is just around the corner. Many people will decorate during this season with Christmas lights on houses and trees. Some will even include candles, and perhaps even an advent wreath. During the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, Advent reminds us of the hope, peace, joy, and love that invaded our world when Jesus… “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The light from the burning candles remind us that Light of the World, Jesus Christ, now shines in the darkness. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
For those who are unfamiliar with the church calendar, the Advent season can be confusing. What’s the meaning of the 4 advent candles? And how did they become such an important symbol of the Christmas season?
Here’s what you need to know:
The History of Advent: What do the Advent Candles Stand for?
The word “Advent” means coming, derived from the Latin adventus, and reminds us of the anticipation and longing that God’s people had in the Old Testament for the coming Savior. The earliest Advent tradition originated between the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain.
At that time, Advent was the season during which church leaders prepared to baptize new Christians during January’s Feast of Epiphany – the celebration of God’s incarnation on earth, represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his first miracle at Cana, and his baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.
During this preparatory season, believers would spend 40 days fasting, praying, and paying penance to prepare for the upcoming celebration. At that time, there was little to no connection between Advent and Christmas.
During the 6th century, however, Roman Christians connected Advent with the coming of Christ, specifically his second coming as the judge of the world. By the Middle Ages, the Advent season had pivoted to celebrate Christ’s first coming – the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
Today, Christians around the world recognize Advent as the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This roughly month-long period is celebrated as a time of anticipation leading up to the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. To mark Advent, churches put up Advent wreaths and participate in ceremonial candle lightings each Sunday of the four weeks of Advent.
The 4 Weeks of Advent and the Candle Lighting Tradition
Are you wondering how to identify the 4 Sundays of Advent? Simply count back four Sundays before Christmas. Advent begins the first Sunday, which typically falls between November 27th and December 3rd.
The Ritual of Lighting Advent Candles
The 4 Advent candles (placed together in a wreath formation) represent the four weeks of Advent and are traditionally lit in a specific order. Three candles are one color – typically violet or purple. The final candle is usually rose-colored, although it can also be pink or white. While the meaning of the four candles can vary from tradition to tradition, at Hope, we are reminded of hope, peace, joy, and love.
The candles are placed in a wreath with the pink, or rose, candle placed third. In some traditions, people may also place a white candle in the center of the wreath formation. The pink or rose candle represents rejoicing, while the white pillar candle in the center of the wreath represents Christ, and the peace he brings to his followers.
While purple and rose candles are traditional, some denominations may use different-colored candles to represent the Advent season’s specific values. For example, some Lutheran churches in the U.S. will use four blue candles to communicate hope, celebration, and expectation.
In addition to representing the four weeks of Advent, there’s additional symbolism to the four candles: the three purple candles and one rose candle each represent 1,000 years. Together, they represent the 4,000 years followers waited for the Savior.
Once the candles are arranged, here’s how they are typically lit:
- On the first Sunday of Advent, we focus on hope by lighting a single purple candle with Scripture reading and prayer. That same candle will be lit each consecutive Sunday.
- The second Sunday, which focuses on peace, includes the lighting of the first and second purple candles.
- On the third Sunday of Advent, the rose candle is lit along with the candles of hope and peace. This candle is pink because it represents joy in the midst of the heaviness of Advent’s longing and anticipation.
- On the fourth Sunday, all four candles are lit, with the fourth candle focusing on love, reminding us of the love that God has for us that He showed in sending His Son to redeem and reconcile us to Himself.
Some families enjoy holding the spirit of Advent in their hearts and minds by pairing the lighting of the Advent candles with a biblical reading each evening.
Bringing the Advent to Your Household
While the Christmas season is full of welcoming traditions, the lighting of the four Advent candles with Scripture readings and prayer are especially comforting to many Christian families. Advent wreaths are an excellent way to mark the holiday season and get each family member involved in celebrating and observing Advent.
We look forward to the Christmas season and would love to welcome you and your family to our congregation. To learn more about the church, please contact us at 774-708-2098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.