During my childhood, the church we attended never did the traditional advent wreath. The churches I later attended did do an advent wreath, but my only understanding of it was as a countdown to Christmas. However, this Christmas I did a little 'investigating' into the background and meaning of the lovely evergreen wreath with candles that seemed to me an odd choice for a Christmas tradition, and was very touched by what I found. I shared this with our church for 'Kids Sunday' on the first Sunday of advent, explaining all the different meanings and significances, and now we will keep touching on it as we light each candle on the remaining Sundays between now and Christmas. I thought I'd also share it with you, and if your church doesn't do this, maybe you'd even like to consider doing with your own family.
As you can see, the wreath is made of evergreens in a circle with 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and the large white center candle. Early Christians missionaries, and even back to Martin Luther, often used things in nature to explain spiritual principals. The evergreens were often used to explain the concept of eternal life. This concept is also represented by the circular shape of the greens. The earliest observances of the Advent period itself was not merely a countdown to Christmas, with all the hustle and bustle as we know it. In fact, it was quite different.
The four weeks before Christmas were actually a period of spiritual reflection and repentance, with a focus on Jesus' coming...not just as a babe, but as a returning King. This included times of prayer and fasting. This period is represented by the 3 purple candles, one lit each Sunday, beginning with the Sunday closest to November 30th. The purple color represents royalty. These three weeks remind us that we are to be remembering and preparing for the coming of a King. Direction for the preparation for this King was given by John the Baptist long ago...a baptism of repentance and forgiveness.
The fourth week, a pink candle was lit. The pink candle is representative of joyous celebration. How very much we do have to celebrate...not just the Jesus came as a baby, and because of that we can have forgiveness for sins, but that he is return as the Prince of Peace and King of Kings, to reign over the whole earth.
Lastly, the largest, white candle, placed in the center, represents Jesus himself. He is the pure and holy one, the Light of the World, and He is the be the very center of our lives and all we do. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to burn as a reminder, all throughout our celebration, that he is TRULY the reason for it all, and we celebrate in honor of Him.
I know there are 'traditional' readings that often are read with each candle lighting, but we have decided that for our church gatherings, especially with having so many small children, that just discussing the significance, incorporating simple and clear verses is the most effective. I personally have found new meaning in the tradition that I always regarded as merely a Christmas countdown. Now, each time I think of 'advent' (which literally, the word means 'coming') I am reminded that I am also preparing the way for a second coming...and that preparation begins in my heart.