The custom of the Advent Wreath has been around for many years and has changed somewhat over the years and remember, this is an adiaphora, something neither commanded nor forbidden, yet this is a custom as are all customs which is to be celebrated with proper respect and decorum for the Lord’s house. Although some would suggest that the candles should be white, for many years the candles were purple with one Rose candle. Recently, the color has been changed to blue, to distinguish the season of Advent from the season of Lent which makes use of the color purple as a symbol of passion. Blue is the color of hope and reminds us not only of our hope in Christ as we look to celebrating Jesus’ birth, but also as we hope for His return on the last day, or our returning to Him at our passing.
By now you know, every year I like to take the time on Sunday mornings to walk the children through the various parts of the Advent wreath, the fact that the foundation is round which reminds us that God is our foundation and God is eternal, without beginning and without end. Also, the foundation is wrapped in green reminding us that God is alive. Three of the four candles on the outside are blue, which is the color of hope and reminds us of our expectant hope of our celebration of the Messiah’s first coming which we celebrate each Christmas, but also our continued hope of His second coming when He will gather us, robe us in His robes of righteousness, and take us to be with Himself and all the saints in heaven. And by now, you know how every year, each week during advent, I talk about each specific candle, what it is called and what is its significance, well, this evening I want to walk through the five candles all at once.
The first candle is the Prophecy Candle or the Promise Candle as I like to call it because I believe it is easier to say and to remember and that is what the Advent Wreath is for, a nice way to remember, explain, and prepare ourselves for our Christmas celebration. The Prophecy Candle serves to remind us of the prophets throughout the Old Testament, which God sent, to announce the coming of the promised Savior. One such prophecy is Isaiah 9:6-7a, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” This prophecy was given to Isaiah as he spoke to the people of his day.
The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle and reminds us that the place where God promised to fulfill His Promise or Prophecy to send the Messiah was the town of Bethlehem. The prophet Micah tells us, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem was the birthplace and the city of David. Jesus was an ancestor of David and truly our King of Kings.
The third candle is the Shepherd’s Candle. The Shepherd’s Candle is the rose colored candle which signifies joy and reminds us of the joy of the shepherds as they were told by the angels of the birth of the Son of God, the Messiah. When the shepherds heard the good news from the angles they left their flocks in the fields and went with haste to find the newborn child, the One who was to be the Savior of the world. After seeing Him they returned to their flocks telling others along the way of what they had heard and seen.
The fourth candle is the Angels Candle. The Angels Candle reminds us of the angels who worked so diligently during that first advent season. It was the angel who announced to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. It was an angel who announced to Mary that she was highly favored and selected by God to be the mother of God, even the Savior. It was an angel who told Joseph in a dream that it was okay to take Mary as his wife. And now, it was an angel and a multitude of angels who announced to the shepherds that God was fulfilling His promise to send a Savior.
So, as we “read” the advent wreath, if you will, we are reminded that the God promised to send a Savior, that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, that the shepherds were the first to hear of the birth of the Savior and that the angels were the ones to announce the birth of the Savior.
Which brings us to the last candle, the fifth candle, the center candle. The center candle is the Christ Candle and reminds us of Christ, the Messiah. It is to this center candle that all the other candles lead and about which the other candles speak. We light the Christ candle reminding us of the birth of the Christ, the Messiah on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This Christ Candle is the same candle that remains after the advent wreath is removed and we continue to light this Christ Candle until the day of His ascension. We light this Christ Candle reminding us that Jesus is the Light of the World. Even our text for this evening reminds us, “19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21).
The advent wreath is one wonderful tradition of Christmas. It is indeed the story of Christmas wrapped up in one easy to see symbol which tells the story quite succinctly. Not only does it tell us the story, but each week it helps us visually heighten our anticipation as one candle after the other is lit as we get closer and closer to our celebration. And lest we forget, Christmas, as in the Twelve Days of Christmas, does not begin until Christmas Day and lasts for twelve days, until January 6 which is Epiphany and our celebration of the coming of the Magi to see the baby Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise made first in the Garden of Eden and reiterated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David and so on through Israelite history. Jesus is the much anticipated, hoped for and longed for Messiah. Jesus is the Son of David, truly King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the One who came for all people, from the greatest of kings to the lowliest of shepherds. Jesus is the One who deserves the announcement of His birth by the angels from on high. Each week as you look at the Advent Wreath may it remind you of the truths of God’s Word and even more fill you with hope and anticipation, not only for our celebration of His first coming, His birth in Bethlehem, but also for His second coming when Christ will come with the shout and will take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.