From the Nets of the Fisherman

ADVENT - EPISODE 1: THE ORIGINS & MEANING OF THE ADVENT WREATH

December 01, 2020 Tony Sturges
From the Nets of the Fisherman
ADVENT - EPISODE 1: THE ORIGINS & MEANING OF THE ADVENT WREATH
Chapters
From the Nets of the Fisherman
ADVENT - EPISODE 1: THE ORIGINS & MEANING OF THE ADVENT WREATH
Dec 01, 2020
Tony Sturges

In this short series on Advent, I would like to look at a few mundane aspects of this season, throwing some light onto the origins, reasons and meanings behind them.

 As a start, I thought we might look at the tradition of the Advent wreath and candles.

Show Notes Transcript

In this short series on Advent, I would like to look at a few mundane aspects of this season, throwing some light onto the origins, reasons and meanings behind them.

 As a start, I thought we might look at the tradition of the Advent wreath and candles.

 | DATE CREATED | Saturday, 28 November 2020
| DATE MODIFIED | 30/11/2020 10:10
| SERIES | ADVENT
| EPISODE | ORIGINS OF THE ADVENT CANDLES
| COPYRIGHT © | Bryanston Catholic Church 18 Sloane Street Bryanston

INTRODUCTION

After a year of unprecedented turmoil caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, we reach that part of the liturgical year which celebrates the birth of our Lord – Advent, the coming of a ‘new light’. Indeed, in many ways it represents new beginnings, the light at the end of the tunnel, a joyful hope for the future - let us also hope that the coming of Advent will signal a ‘turning of the corner’, not only concerning COVID19 but also in our own lives. A time to reflect and start anew, a time to give thanks for the many blessings we have received and the wisdom to share those blessings with others.

In this short series on Advent, I would like to look at a few mundane aspects of this season, throwing some light onto the origins, reasons and meanings behind them.

As a start, I thought we might look at the tradition of the Advent wreath and candles.


ADVENT & THE ADVENT WREATH

The Advent wreath, also known as the Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent. Although traditionally, it was a Lutheran practice, it has spread to many other Christian denominations. [i]

Advent itself is perceived as a period of Christian expectation, a light on hope as we celebrate the birth or ‘advent’, of our Lord and saviour. Traditions may vary among the different Christian communities of the world, but common ways of commemorating Jesus’ birth are through Advent calendars, wreaths, and candles.

Advent, besides being a time of joyful anticipation, is also a point of reflection on the time that has passed; a time to turn from those negative thoughts and actions and to return to the feet of the Lord. A time to leave the dark behind and to venture into the light of hope and joy.

Advent began as early as the 4th and 5th centuries as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians.[ii] The word “Advent” itself means “arrival” or “coming,” and so it reminds us to pause and reflect. The word is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which, in itself, is a translation of the Greek word Parousia. Most know Advent today as a time of anticipation and expectation of the birth of Christ – looking back at the first coming and looking forward to the second coming of Christ.

The first mention of Advent occurred in the 300’s A.D at a meeting of church leaders at the Council of Saragossa. It gradually developed into a season that stretched across the month of December. Contemporarily, Advent lasts for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The Advent season not only symbolizes the waiting for Christ's birth but also for his final return.[iii]

The tradition surrounding the Advent Wreath goes back many years in Catholic tradition, although its actual origin is uncertain. There is evidence of Germanic and Scandinavian peoples using lighted candles on a wheel to symbolically turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.[iv]

By the Middle Ages however, Christians had adapted this tradition and used Advent wreaths as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). 

By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.[v]

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pinecones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. Red berries, if present on the wreath, have been known to represent the drops of blood shed by our Lord, as He hung on the cross of salvation. Altogether, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.[vi]

Research by a Prof. Haemig of the Lutheran Seminary of St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor, as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century. During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made from an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. 

Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America. Professor Haemig's research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.[vii]

The Advent wreath is a symbol of the season, with a candle lit each of the four Sundays leading up to, and on Christmas Day. The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is: “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.”[1]

As I mentioned earlier, Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath. Additional decorations, like holly and berries, are sometimes added. Their red colour point ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross, shedding his blood for our sins. Pinecones can symbolize the new life that Jesus brings through His resurrection. The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles around the wreath. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple, while the third candle is rose-coloured. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

1.    The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the "Prophet’s Candle." The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. The purple colour symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting. 

2.    The second candle represents faith and is called "Bethlehem’s Candle." Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David. The second candle is also purple to symbolism preparation for the coming king. 

3.    The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the "Shepherd’s Candle." To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In the liturgy, the colour rose signifies joy, hence this candle is coloured pink to represent joyfulness and rejoicing. 

4.    The fourth candle represents peace and is called the "Angel’s Candle." The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace--He came to bring people closer to God and to each other again. This colour is also purple to represent the culmination of love through the Messiah. 

5.    The optional fifth candle represents light and purity and is called "Christ’s candle." It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. This candle is white to represent pure light and victory. [viii]


CONCLUSION 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come."

"It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope." said Pope Benedict XVI

And …

To quote Pope John Paul II, "To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously."

Advent then, is the pre-cursor to salvation, OUR salvation. Making use of the symbolism of the Advent Wreath is a natural way to satisfy the wonderful but excruciating urge of anticipation.


This is Tony Sturges for The Nets of the Fisherman – keep a lookout for the next podcast. 

Speak to you soon. Blessings.

 

 




BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.            Richie, L. (2020, Nov 9). Advent Wreath & Candles: Understanding the Meaning, History & Tradition. Retrieved Nov 28, 2020, from crosswalk.com: https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/christmas-and-advent/advent-wreath-candles-understanding-the-meaning-history-tradition.html2.            Ryan, J. (2019, October 4). What is an Advent Wreath? Meaning of the Advent Wreath and Candles. Retrieved November 2020, from Christianity.com: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/advent-wreath-meaning-of-advent-candles.html3.            Saunders, R. (2000). The History of the Advent Wreath. Retrieved November 2020, from Catholic Education Resource Centre: https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-history-of-the-advent-wreath.html4.            The Mission of Our Lady of Mercy. (2020). The Purpose & Symbolism of the Advent Wreath. Retrieved November 2020, from www.mercyhome.org: https://www.mercyhome.org/blog/sunday-mass/advent-wreath/5.            Wikipedia contributors. (2020, November 24). Advent wreath. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Advent_wreath&oldid=990416446   



END-NOTES


[1] (John 1:4-5). 


[i] (Wikipedia contributors, 2020)[ii] (Richie, 2020)[iii] ibid[iv] (Saunders, 2000)[v] Ibid[vi] Ibid[vii] (Wikipedia contributors, 2020)[viii] (Richie, 2020)