The season of Advent is the beginning of the church year. If you follow the lectionary readings for this season you will find that they are accounts of prophets proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom and anticipation of the coming of the messiah. We re-live this anticipation through these texts, our music, and even the way creation enters more deeply into darkness until the passing of the winter solstice.
History and Symbolism
The Advent wreath has its roots in northern European pre-Christian practices where people sought the return of the sun in the darkest time of the year (at the winter solstice) by lighting candles and fires. By the middle ages, Christians used fire and light to represent Christ's coming into the world. Using this same symbolism, the Advent wreath developed a few centuries ago in Germany. The advent wreath signifies waiting and hopeful expectation, looking forward to both Christ’s birth and to Christ’s coming again at the end of time. The circular shape of the wreath represents eternal life. The evergreens signify the faithfulness of God and the lighted candles reminder us of the light of Christ in the world.
Making an Advent Wreath
Symbols of God's promise of life speak clearest when they are drawn directly from our daily experience and environment. Use natural materials to make a wreath such as evergreens, holly, laurel, or other green shrubs which retain their freshness. The size of the Advent wreath should be appropriate to the size of the worship space. The wreath should not draw attention away from the font, table, or ambo (pulpit), but it should be large enough to make a strong statement about the meaning of the season. It may be hung or placed on a table or stand.
There is no prescribed color for the candles. Four natural colored candles are always appropriate and symbolize the light for which we wait. Four deep purple candles, a sign of the penitential nature sometimes attributed to the season, may be appropriate. Congregations that use blue (symbolizing hope) as the liturgical color during Advent would be consistent to use blue candles. The older practice using a pink candle on the third Sunday in Advent is no longer consistent with current lectionaries.
One candle of the wreath is lit each week in Advent. The candles may be lit simply before the service when other candles are lighted or as a part of the gathering. Prayer and song may accompany the lighting of the wreath.
The Advent wreath is also appropriate for daily use in home devotions. The making of this wreath can be a family activity, using materials gathered from the yard or garden.
Briehl, Susan. Come Lord Jesus: Devotions for the Home. Advent/Christmas/Epiphany. Augsburg Fortress.
Purchase a wreath or candles: Marklin Candle Design