Meaning of Advent
Advent meaning of Advent Candles
Often called the Hope candle, the first candle represents the hope born out of all that God has done and will do for humanity. In some traditions, hope is commemorated by looking ahead to the day when Christ will come again. For others, hope is best embraced by looking back—by reflecting on all the promises God has kept and all of the ways God has protected and preserved the world. For this reason, the first candle is also known as the Prophet’s candle, as it invites us to celebrate the words of hope and provision prophesied by those like Isaiah.
For the first week of Advent, it is common to read Scripture passages such as 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...”) or New Testament verses such as Matthew 1:22, which refer Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophet’s words.
The second Advent candle is frequently called the Peace candle or the Bethlehem candle. Reflecting on the peace promised by Christ’s birth and the faithfulness of those who played a part in the Christmas story—from Joseph and Mary, to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to John the Baptist preparing the way for the Lord. In lighting this candle, we celebrate the restoration of creation and wonder of God’s Shalom lived out here on earth. We honor the examples set for us by our sisters and brothers in God who trusted the Lord and acted out of faith to help spread the peace of Jesus to all.
In this spirit, the second Advent candle is typically accompanied by readings of John 3:16, of the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, or of the birth of John the Baptist. All of these readings highlight the faithfulness of God and encourage us to embrace Jesus Christ’s promised peace now.
The third Advent candle is referred to as the Joy candle or the Shepherd’s candle. In those traditions that have three purple advent candles and one pink, this third candle is designated as the pink candle. The third week of Advent celebrates the joy of Christmas day and, not surprisingly, often focuses on the declaration of Jesus’ birth by the angels to the shepherds. Their words of rejoicing, calling us to give “glory to God in the highest”, stir up our souls to give thanks for the miracle of Christmas. Likewise, the immediate reaction and response of the shepherds highlight the Christmas story as something active and dynamic; the miracle of Jesus moves us.
In addition to the Luke 2 passage about the angels, some traditions take this third Sunday of Advent to reflect upon the figure of Mary and her unique role throughout the Christmas day story. Reading Mary’s song of joy (also known as the Magnificat), this approach to the third Advent candle invites us to sit with Mary as she ponders the mystery and wonder of her son’s birth. When she declares that her soul is filled with joy, we empathize lift up our voices in harmony with her song.
The candle for the fourth Sunday of Advent is the Love candle. Love is at the very core of the Christmas story—Mary’s love for her son, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s love for each other and for John, the love and respect of the Magi and Shepherds for Jesus, and God’s love for all the world. Also known as the Angel’s candle, the fourth Advent candle picks up where the Shepherd’s candle often leaves off—with the angel’s declaration of the Good News of love.
Lastly, there is the fifth and final candle, the Christ candle. While not all Advent wreaths include this additional candle, the center candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, celebrating the arrival of that which we have been anticipating. Jesus is born and our season of waiting is at an end. With the lighting of the Christ candle, we remember the Light which shines in the darkness—the source of our hope, champion for peace, reason for our joy, and giver of love.
Taking part in the season of Advent enables one to walk through the Christmas season with fresh eyes. We reflect on the miracle of Christmas each day and remind ourselves that the birth of Jesus has real and lasting upon all of creation.
The tradition of Advent wreaths helps us to visualize this journey to the manger more clearly and invites us to await Jesus with hopeful anticipation.