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ADVENTures Before Christmas, Week 1

Much of the information came from the web, where it has been reposted many times, so I’m not sure of the original author, but the site used is

Advent means ‘coming,’ so it is the time of preparing for the coming of Christ. While it is most closely associated with Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, for many Christians it is a reminder to anticipate and prepare for His second coming.

Interestingly, the original purpose of Advent was merely a countdown to Christmas, and that’s all. However, just as no modern evangelical pastor can conceive of a sermon that isn’t three points starting with the same letter, people expect everything in a ritual to be full of meaning to bursting, so meanings began to be assigned to various parts of the celebration. As a result of this ad hoc approach to liturgy, there is actually a lot of variation in both symbols and meanings, as you will see.

The primary symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath. Instead of being hung on a door, it is laid on a table with four candles standing around the wreath, amongst its boughs, with a fifth candle in the center of the ring. Usually, three of the four are purple (or sometimes blue) and the fourth is pink (though some traditions have it as the third candle) with the fifth candle white. For the first week of Advent, a purple candle is lit, with an additional purple candle lit each Sunday. The pink is for week four and the white, the Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve.

Surprisingly, the first two weeks of Advent are for Christ’s second coming, while the last two are for His first coming, as the Bethlehem infant.

The evergreen wreath symbolizes both eternity and life, and thus is also symbolic of God.

Purple represents both royalty and suffering, so it is symbolic both of Christ as God and King and His role as the suffering servant. This ties Advent to Lent, which is the season of preparation for Easter—Christ’s death and resurrection. Furthermore, it is a reminder to us of our sin before the King, which resulted in His suffering. So while Advent is a time of joy, it is often in some traditions (notably Eastern Orthodox) a time of fasting and penitence leading up to the joyful celebration of the Birth.

Each of the candles has been assigned meaning. The first candle is the candle of expectation or hope, and even sometimes prophecy. Each of these meanings are tied together, as the prophecy of the arrival of the Saviour creates an expectation and hope. As one neither expects nor hopes for a saviour if they are righteous, the lighting of the first candle is a very tangible symbol of people living in darkness first hearing of a path of deliverance from that darkness, kindling hope in their hearts. As each candle is lit and the light grows brighter, so does the sense of expectation grow as its time for fulfillment nears.

It is entirely appropriate here in America that we celebrate our Thanksgiving the week before Advent begins. As our hearts are turned to gratitude and in gratitude then turned to God, we begin to look for His hand to move in our lives, and Advent is entirely about His coming to do just that in the most profound way imaginable.

An appropriate Scripture passage to read for the first Sunday is Isaiah 60:2-3.


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