Advent: Looking Forward, Looking Back
You may be familiar with advent calendars or wreaths as a way to get ready to celebrate Christmas, but Advent isn’t just about looking back at the birth of Jesus. This season reminds us that we are in the “last days” and helps us look forward to Jesus’ second coming just as Israel looked forward to His first.
What is Advent?
Advent is a season of preparation that lasts for four weeks, starting at the end of November and continuing through Christmas Eve. Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.” During Advent, Christians remember how the nation of Israel anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, just as we anticipate His second coming. Not only does the Advent season prepare us to celebrate Christmas, when Jesus came to earth as our Savior, but it also helps us prepare for the time when Jesus will finally come to earth again as King.
The Advent Wreath & Candles
People observe Advent in different ways, even non-Christians. For example, you may see many varieties of advent calendars in stores to help count down the days of December until Christmas. These calendars often contain 25 compartments or small gifts, one to open each day until Christmas. Advent wreaths, however, are a little different. An Advent wreath traditionally holds four (sometimes five) candles. The first is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, and one new candle is lit on each following Sunday until Christmas. Lighting the candles is often accompanied with a special prayer, Bible reading, song, or message. Each candle has a special meaning to think about that week. Let’s look at the first two candles on the Advent wreath.
Week 1: The Candle of Hope
The first candle is called the candle of hope and is lit on the last Sunday of November to kick off the Advent season. The candle of hope is also sometimes called the prophecy candle because it helps us remember the time when Israel eagerly waited in hope for the Messiah whom the prophets spoke about. While lighting this candle, you might read one of Isaiah’s prophecies about Jesus, such as Isaiah 9:6: “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” (NIV). Traditionally, this candle is the color purple to symbolize both somber repentance and royalty. Repentance is a part of Advent because in order to hope for a Savior, we must first recognize our need to be saved. Advent hymns like O Come, O Come Emmanuel help us imagine what it was like for believers in Israel to wait eagerly for the Messiah, but it can also symbolize how believers now wait eagerly for Christ to return and finally heal the brokenness in the world.
Week 2: The Candle of Peace
The second purple candle, called the candle of peace, is lit on the first Sunday of December. It’s also called the Bethlehem candle to commemorate the part of the Nativity story when Mary and Joseph travel to Bethelhem, where Jesus would be born. One of the names Isaiah gives the Messiah is Prince of Peace. Jesus fulfills this in two ways: First, His birth, life, sacrifice, and resurrection freed us from the burden of our sins and allows us to have peace with God. Second, when Jesus comes again, He will bring true “peace on earth.” We know our current world is far from perfect, but we can have peace knowing that God has promised to make things right.
With the first two candles of advent, we look forward to both the Christmas celebration and Jesus’ second coming, just as believers looked forward in hope before the very first Christmas. In the next blog post, we’ll talk about last three candles of Advent: the candle of joy, the candle of love, and the Christ candle.