You may walk into a church in December and see a wreath with five unlit candles: three purple, one pink, and one white in the center of the wreath. As the service begins with a full worship band, there will come a moment in the service where an individual or family from the congregation will come forward with a piece of paper, a lighter, and a microphone. They will then read a portion of the Bible from Isaiah, Matthew, or Luke, depending on the week, and light the candles which correspond to that time of advent. As the candles are lit weekly, adding candles until Christmas Eve, the reader states, “We light the candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of joy and the candle of love.” Only on Christmas Eve is the white candle, also known as the Christ candle, lit.
With every candle and every week, there is the call and response of, “Advent means coming; prepare ye the way of the Lord.” This moment of lighting the Advent wreath happens early in the service in order to guide and shape the rest of the morning. When we as a congregation are shown and reminded that this season is one of preparation, anticipation and increasing light, it shapes how we progress throughout the week. There is a great deal of anticipation in the Christmas season, though often it is not Christ-centered anticipation. Lighting the Advent wreath every week invites us into a moment where we reorient ourselves and pause, remembering the anticipation of Israel, the apprehension of Mary, the joy of the shepherds and the true shalom Christ brings us with His arrival.
In some Christian traditions, the observation of the liturgical calendar, a calendar that takes us through the Christian year through a series of seasons, has a prominent role. Each of these seasons reminds us of something important. Advent is one of these seasons and is the season that marks the beginning of the Christian year. During Advent, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ by remembering that Israel was longing for the Messiah. They were waiting for God to deliver them and we celebrate God’s deliverance through Christ. However, Advent invites us into more than just remembrance of the past. It also invites us to remember our own longing for Christ’s return and to prepare our hearts to receive him. Through Advent, we remember our own hope for the world to be made wholly good again by being brought back to God.