In a little bit of detail I want to tell you some information about the traditional Advent Wreath.
The Word: “Advent” derives from the Latin verb “ven” which means to come. Beginning on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew, one week after the Feast of Christ the King, and encompassing four Sundays, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Christ. One of the most familiar traditions of the season is the Advent wreath, profuse in symbolic promise. Though the word Advent is of Latin origin, the tradition of the wreath is probably Germanic.
Historically: The wreath is possibly of pre-Christian Germanic origin when people lit candles and placed them on wreaths during the dark days of December as a sign of hope for the light to come with spring. Likely during the Middle Ages, the wreath was adapted by Christians, to spiritually prepare for Christmas. Christ is called (among other names) the “Light of the World”. The celebration of Advent using a wreath gained popularity in the 19th century and was brought to America via German immigrants in the 1900’s.
The Wreath Shape: Christ is eternal; with neither a beginning nor an end. We can say the wreath itself reminds us of Christ’s eternal presence with its circular shape. As far back as the seventh century, wreaths were used in baptism and wedding ceremonies.
What it’s made of: The tradition began with evergreen wreaths and we might safely assume that people used what was available. Evergreens, plentiful and pliable, would have been a logical resource. Evergreen also symbolizes life because it remains green and alive even in the dead of winter.
About those Candles: The flame represents Christ as the Light of the World. As the season progresses, church folks become more hopeful and expectant as more candles are lit to indicate that the light of the World is ever closer. The light casts away darkness.
The Colors: Typically, an Advent wreath has three purple and one pink candle. The white Christ candle is also included. The three purple candles represent prayer, penance and preparation and are meant to remind us how our hearts should reflect the season.
My favorite is the pink one which represents joy! The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete" means rejoice, and we do so because we realize that we are more than halfway through our Advent journey. Tra-la!
The Ritual: Traditionally, the Advent wreath is blessed at the beginning of the season.
So, let’s do that – let us pray:
The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. Today, we begin to prepare, through prayer and actions of love, for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Let us ask God’s blessing upon our wreath that we will use to mark the days until the coming of the Christ. Creator and Lord of light, bless our wreath of evergreens and candles. Be present among us as we come together to celebrate the coming of Christ. May our hearts and minds reflect the lights of these candles, that Christmas will find us joyfully ready to receive Jesus Christ. Amen.
At the end of Advent: After four weeks have passed, it is Christmas Eve and the Christ’s presence is assured. We’ll light all the candles as our reminder that there is One Great Light to know and praise. That is when we light the White Christ Candle. In medieval times, Christ was customarily represented by a burning candle in the center of a laurel wreath which kept burning throughout the Holy Night and each night thereafter during the holy season. The tradition has been carried on over time and in many forms around the world.
This week we are looking at the first candle and the concept of “Hope.” Some people feel a little hopeless lately, so this is a perfect time to have the conversation.
Let me ask you a question and please do feel free to respond here this morning. Let’s do a dialogue. Here’s the question; how do you maintain hope when life is not going well? What do you do to feel hopeful? What do you stop doing in order to feel hope?
For what does the prophet Isaiah long in the scripture read today? Listen to Isaiah 64:1-9 again, for the answer:
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Creator; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
Just like a kid at Christmas, Isaiah wants a lot of stuff! He wants God to come down and be with him. He wants to be made clean again. He wants things to go back to the way they were in the past and he wants God NOT to be angry with us for our mistakes. He wants to be understood as just a person. You know, you have heard people say that, right? Especially when they do something they know is wrong they say “Well, I’m just a person!”
Now think about God as a potter or sculptor. That is an act of creation, right? God is the ultimate creator and when something is made, a sense of pride and attachment to it happens. God is proud of us. God is attached to us as we are to God. That’s just how the creative process works.
During this Season of Advent, I am going to ask you to suspend any disbelief you might have from right now, today, up through Christmas. I would like to ask you to get excited about the coming of the Christ just like our little kids get excited about the arrival of Santa. Savor that feeling of hope within you. Do something super nice for someone you don’t know in the next four weeks. You can do it anonymously or let them know it was you, either way is fine. Give yourself and someone else the gift of an unexpected surprise. It doesn’t have to be a physical gift of any sort. Just take a leap of faith and let go of some of your less positive ways of dealing with people, giving others around you hope that things can be better if we all make an effort to make them so. Maybe try not complaining to someone about taking out the garbage or emptying the dishwasher. Take time out to practice holy discretion in order to create a sense of peace and hope in your home or place of work.
Hope spelled h-o-p-e.
H = hold your judgements and be kind to others.
O = open your heart a little wider from now into Christmas.
P = position yourself as the person others can count on
E = is for excitement. Get excited about the season and your life which is given to you freely by the one who loves us all, all the time.