One of the most familiar symbols of Advent is the Advent Wreath. Advent was first mentioned in the 300’s at the Council of Sargosa. The wreath begins to appear in the 4th and 5th century. In 1839 a Lutheran pastor working at a mission for children, developed a wreath from a wagon wheel. He put twenty small red candles around the edge and four large white candles on the inside ring. The small red candles were lit on weekdays and the white ones on Sundays. The children could visualize the coming of Christmas.
Eventually the wheel was replaced with evergreen boughs that represented life in the midst of winter when everything looks dead. The circle tells us of God’s eternal love and eternal life. The candles flickering show how light overcomes darkness.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
If pinecones are used, they point to the new life that Jesus represents and red holly berries stand for Jesus’ blood that will eventually be shed for sin.
Churches will assign different meanings to each candle that is lit but a common understanding is that the first candle is “hope” or the Prophet’s candle as prophecy fulfilled gives us hope as we face the future.
The second candle is the “faith” candle or “Bethlehem Candle” as Bethlehem as the birthplace of the prophesied Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament and was considered the home of King David.
The third candle is the “joy” candle, is usually pink, and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle” after their joy in hearing the angels’ news.
The fourth candle is the “peace” candle or the “Angel’s Candle” declaring Jesus’ mission to bring peace between God and his creation.
On Christmas day the central white candle, “the Christ Candle” is lit representing light and purity. True victory.
This is the historical symbolism but I have seen candles in a straight line. The shape is not important. The spiritual discipline of taking time to light candles, reflect and pray is important. Light three candles tonight and name what brought joy to your life today and thank God!