The church calendar year begins with the season of Advent. Advent is a word that means “arrival.” It is a four week period in which the Church looks back to Jesus’ first coming, and looks ahead to his promise to come again to make all things new. The Christian Church has observed a Christmas season since the 4th century. There was always a period of preparation before Christmas Day, which varied from 3 to 7 weeks. In the 10th century the 4-week pattern was finally settled. European Christians used greenery and candles to enhance the season, and, in recent years, that practice has caught on in the United States and around the world.
The Advent wreath itself is a tradition that is centuries old. A candle is lit each week until Christmas Eve when all 5 candles are lit. Three of the candles are purple, which is a penitential color, a symbol of self-examination and preparation. The other candle, which is lit on the third week, is pink to symbolize joy. The final candle is white for the birth of Christ.
The 1st Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle” reminding us that Jesus is coming.
The 2nd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
The 3rd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of
the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.
The 4th Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace with the “Angel’s Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
On Christmas Eve we light the “Christ candle,” reminding us that it is not all “preparation.” Christ really came, and he will come again!