Why is the Advent wreath part of our Advent liturgies? Having candles and evergreen boughs in church during this time of year is pleasant, certainly But should these things really have a place in our worship service?"
If members of your congregation are asking questions like these, you may want to spend some time at the beginning of this Advent season explaining some of the beautiful symbolism behind this Advent worship tradition. Understanding the symbols that the German and French Christians who developed and first used the Advent wreath had in mind can heighten the meaning of this part of your Advent liturgy.
The Symbolism of the Wreath
The Advent wreath is large and circular in shape. The circle has no beginning or end, reminding us of God's unending love for us. The wreath is suspended from the ceiling or stands high enough so all can see it.
It is made of fresh evergreens, which are a sign of life in an otherwise lifeless winter. They point to new life and the hope of eternal life that we find in Christ. They also remind us to pray for the restoration of all of God's creation.
The five candles contrast darkness and light. They are lit in succession, one more each week as we count the Sundays in Advent, waiting for Christ's birth. We are also reminded of those who waited thousands of years for the Messiah. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the fifth candle—the Christ candle—is lit. Jesus is the light of the world, and the darkness has not put it out. The full blaze stands for the fulfillment of the promise.
The candles are usually purple, the traditional color of royalty and of penitence, used in the seasons of preparation—Advent and Lent (although blue candles are also appropriate in Advent to symbolize hope and expectation). There may be one pink candle, lit on the third Sunday to represent joy and to mark the breaking of the fast that was kept in early times. It suggests the Rose of Sharon. The Christ candle is always white and is larger and taller than the others. It is placed in the center of the wreath.
The focus of the candle lighting should be on the increasing light rather than on what each candle represents. However, you may wish to use each candle to think about some of the people, events, or meaning of the Advent season.