Advent at Central Hope Church
For many of you new to Central Hope Church, this might be your first year celebrating “Advent” together in church. That was the case for me when I started attending several years ago. Every church I had grown up in planned a Christmas series and special events, but none of them called it “Advent.” The 4 weeks of Advent are really a beautiful time that roots us back in the history of the church, and I wanted to explain a brief history and what is represented each week when we have a scripture reading and light one of the candles.
Advent, a Latin word, means “to come.” In this case, it is the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ.
In the early church, Advent was associated with the 2nd coming of Christ as they looked forward, but over the years it shifted to a time in the liturgical calendar of the celebration of and remembrance Christ’s birth.
Weeks 1 and 2 historically were associated with fasting and penitence. As Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote, “The Celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Why a wreath and candles?
Well, as best as I can find, it originated among German Lutherans in the 16th century. It increased in widespread popularity in the 1800’s by a Lutheran pastor and mission worker to the poor. Each day, the children would ask if Christ had arrived.
So, the early wreaths initially had 20 small red candles and 4 large white candles as a visual representation.
This tradition spread throughout Europe and was eventually traced in the United States in the 1930’s.
The wreaths have taken many forms and colors through the years (the colors largely varying by denominations), but the circular wreath represents God’s infinite love, and the evergreen leaves represent the hope of eternal life brought by Jesus Christ. The candles represent Christ as the eternal light of the world.
Week 1, a purple candle (signifying royalty) is lit which represents Hope.
Week 2, another purple candle is lit representing Peace.
Week 3, the rose candle is lit. This comes from Gaudete Sunday (meaning “rejoice ye”, which are the first words of the ancient liturgy on that Sunday. This represents Joy and is a different color.
Week 4, the final purple candle is lit which represents Love.
Often, there is a white candle in the center which is lit on Christmas (known as the “Christ Candle”).
So, is advent a time to look back or forward? Yes. We do both.
I love this quote from Karl Barth: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise…then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.”