Advent: Anticipation to Celebration
In the second half of the Advent season, we celebrate the events leading up to the first Christmas and rejoice, knowing that God keeps His promises. The first two candles of the advent wreath recognize the darkness in the world and look forward in hope and peace to a time when Jesus would come to make things better. For Christians, hope is a powerful response of confidence in God’s Word. We don’t feebly wish that God will keep His promises; it’s a sure thing. As we move into the last two weeks of Advent, we know the Lord will keep His promise to bring peace on earth. Looking back at the first Christmas, we see how He kept His promise to Israel in the past by being born as a baby in manger in a town called Bethlehem to parents from the tribe of Judah, as a blessing for all nations. Hopeful and peaceful anticipation turns to celebration, joy, and love as our hopes are realized.
Week 3: The Candle of Joy
On the third week of advent, the candle of joy is lit. Unlike the other three purple candles, the third candle is usually pink to symbolize the joy that accompanied Jesus’ being born on earth. It’s also called the shepherd’s candle because the shepherds were the first to come see the baby Jesus in the manger and rejoice with Mary and Joseph, knowing what the birth of the Messiah would mean. While the shepherds watched their sheep one night, angels appeared and said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10, NIV). After the angels’ visit, the shepherds were so excited and filled with joy that they immediately ran to find Jesus and celebrate His birth. During Advent, we share in that joy when we recognize the wonderful Christmas miracle of God becoming human to save us from our sin.
Week 4: The Candle of Love
On the last Sunday before Christmas, on the fourth week of Advent, the candle of love is lit. Like the first two candles, this one is purple. It’s also called the angel candle and represents the participation of the heavenly host of angels who proclaimed the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. (Note: Some churches call this the candle of peace instead of love and name the second week’s candle the candle of faith.) When you think about it, love is the whole reason for Christmas. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV). Without that great love, we would have been left without a Savior and with no way to have a loving relationship with the Father. That’s why the angels’ message was such good news.
Christmas Day: The Christ Candle
In addition to the three purple candles and one pink candle, many churches and families will place a white candle in the center of the advent wreath. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and represents Christ and His birth. This is what the entire four week season of Advent has been leading up to. Finally, after a long time of anticipation and preparation, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
Before closing, I should note that Advent traditions can vary. Some people use red candles or other colors instead of purple and pink, and sometimes the order or name of the candles is different. However, the core ideas of Advent remain the same: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Faith. As we remember the different parts of the Christmas story, we can have hope like the prophets who foretold Jesus’ coming, peace like Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem, and joy like the shepherds who first heard the good news from the angels. Finally, we can praise and thank God for loving us so much that He sent Jesus as our Savior and look forward to the time when He will return again.