Advent for a Novice


I grew up in a church that did not observe religious traditions such as Advent or Lent. Although we observed Christmas and Easter, our leadership sort of skipped over other liturgical events, so when I began attending a church that followed the liturgical calendar, I had a lot to learn.

The twenty-four days preceding Christmas is the time during which we celebrate Advent. The word derives from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” We await the coming one—the Messiah promised throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. 

The waiting period symbolizes the eager anticipation with which Christians mark the days before the designated birth date of Jesus Christ. During this time, people make many preparations for Christmas Day. Some people have Advent calendars to mark the passing days; others celebrate with Advent wreaths.

Most of these wreaths consist of four candles in a circle with a fifth candle in the center and surrounded by an evergreen bough. Although the colors are not prescribed, most people use three purple and one pink candle for the four Sundays before Christmas. The center candle, called the Advent candle, is white. 

Advent wreath

The first purple candle, the Hope candle, represents the hope that God will continue to be with his creation. Isaiah 9:6-7 (“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”) is often read at the lighting of this candle. 

The second purple candle, the Peace candle, celebrates God’s purpose of peace and redemption through the birth of Jesus. Verses about Joseph and Mary’s visit to Bethlehem often accompany the lighting of this candle. 

The third candle, the Joy candle, is the pink one. This represents the excitement and dynamic spirit surrounding the promised Messiah’s birth. Christmas carols such as “Joy to the World,” “Glory to God in the Highest,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” sound the happy anticipation of the Advent season.

On the fourth Sunday, the last purple candle, the Love candle, signifies all the love surrounding the birth of Christ. Mary’s love for her son, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s love for their baby, John the Baptist, the Shepherds’ loving commitment to find the birthplace of the Christ, and even the Magi and their symbolic gifts all represent the pervasive love in the Christmas story. New Testament scriptures accompany the lighting of this candle.

Finally, the fifth candle, the white one, is the Christ candle. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, fulfilling the promises of the previous twenty-four days of anticipation. Christmas is the highlight of the entire Christian calendar. Without the hope, peace, joy, and love commemorated through the candles, the world would be a dark and hopeless place. 

As we enter this season of Advent, I hope we can find our ways through the myriad problems in our world. We face violence, anger, war, disparity, disease, and political upheaval as well as the issues within our own families. These difficulties may overwhelm us, but we must rest in the promises of God.

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

One comment

  • Thank you, Nancy. I did not grow up in a church that observed these rituals, so your article was very informative for me.


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