The Advent Wreath – Preparing for Christmas

Advent Wreath

If you enter a Catholic church or home during the weeks leading up to Christmas, you are likely to find a wreath with three purple candles and one rose candle. This tradition of the Advent wreath goes far beyond decoration. It is a teaching tool for the people of God, and a way to prepare and participate in the coming of Christ.

At the center of the home during the season of Advent there is anticipation, waiting, decorating, singing, and preparation. This (should) all be for the coming of the long-awaited Christ child. Beyond the hoards and hoards of sugar glazed cookies and strained bank accounts, Advent is a time of preparation. Our hope mounts until it is met with its greatest joy! Children wait to place the baby Jesus in his manger in the nativity scene, they wait to pull back the last window of the Advent calendar, and they wait to light the final candle of the Advent wreath. These wonderfully symbolic traditions help in preparing our hearts for Christmas. They are visible signs of the spiritual movement taking place around us.

Tradition

The Advent wreath has long been in the tradition of the Church, symbolizing eternal life and the infinite nature of God. The wreath’s circular shape and evergreens are both reflective of these. The four weeks of Advent, leading up to the Christmas celebration, are symbolized by the four candles. The first, second, and fourth weeks are represented by purple candles; this color symbolizes the prayer, penance, good works, and preparatory sacrifices the soul makes in readying itself for Christ. The third week of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday and is represented by a rose candle. Gaudete Sunday symbolizes joy, particularly the joy of being halfway through the waiting and preparation period. It is a time of rejoicing in the midst of the focus on penitential preparation. A white candle is often placed in the center of the Advent wreath, to be lit on Christmas, symbolizing Christ “the light come into the world.”

Advent prayers accompany the lighting of the candle, and the haunting refrain of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” echo the call of the Israelites for ransom from their God, transporting the Christian to the biblical times of our ancestors.

Everything seems to glow dimly during the season of Advent; from the calm flicker of the Advent candle flames, to the lights on the Christmas tree in the darkened family room. There is a peaceful mourning, and a reminder that we must prepare for our own death (memento mori.) A time out from our busy days to assess the current state of our soul, and its readiness for eternity.

Incorporating Scripture

When our family chose an Advent wreath, we decided to incorporate as much scripture into the practice as possible. We found a wreath that follows the tradition of the Jessie Tree, which reviews biblical events leading up to the birth of Christ. Jesse was the father of King David, and is seen as the “root” in the genealogy of Christ. “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Is 11:1).

Learning these songs and stories begins to connect us more fully to one another and to Christ. With houses and churches and radio stations bustling with traditions and tunes recalling biblical scenes, even the most distant heart begins to long for something more. And it’s not just Lifetime and Hallmark getting into the heart-warming, do-good, abundance of angels mood. Those age-old classic Christmas records and movies still grace our hearths, longing to instill that same love in our own children. Yes, perhaps the most beautiful thing about Advent is the “bringing back.” Even the most distant fallen-away soul might find the sensation of longing…and find their way back.

“Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel!”

Purple Candle: prayer, penance, good works, and preparatory sacrifices
Purple Candle: prayer, penance, good works, and preparatory sacrifices
Pink Candle: joy in proclaiming the word and the opportunity for grace and salvation
Purple Candle: prayer, penance, good works, and preparatory sacrifices
White Candle: Christ “the light come into the world”

(Make Your Own Jessie Tree)

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