Why can’t we sing Christmas carols in the weeks before Christmas?
Why do we light the candles on a wreath?
What do those candles even stand for?
What exactly IS Advent?
Glad you asked!
Advent is a time observed in many Christian churches that encourages us to prepare to celebrate both the arrival of Christ as a baby born in Bethlehem and his arrival when he returns to earth at the Second Coming. It’s called Advent because the word means arrival.
Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas every year. And while technically there is no rule against singing Christmas carols during Advent (the Liturgical Police won’t arrest you if you do), we do try to keep it separate from Christmas celebrations to respect the idea of preparation it gives us. At LCC, while we don’t usually break out the carols until Christmas Eve, if you’re paying close attention to the Gospel Acclamation, the Holy Holy Holy and the Lamb of God, you’ll notice that we’ve snuck a few carols into those slots in ways that are appropriate to the message of the liturgical element while still allowing us to sing our beloved Christmas songs.
One of the favorite traditions of Advent is the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. It began among German Lutherans in the 16th century. As the story goes, a Lutheran pastor in Germany was trying to teach children how to wait for Christmas. Like kids in a car on vacation asking every five minutes, are we there yet? These children asked the pastor every day if Christmas had arrived. To teach them how to mark the time before Christmas, he created a large wooden ring made from a cartwheel. It had small candles for all the days until Christmas except for the Sundays. Large candles were reserved for the Sundays. Eventually this got whittled down to the smaller wreath we have today.
Today’s Advent wreaths are made from a circle of evergreens (to remind us of the eternal love of God) with five candles. Three of them are blue, while a fourth is pink. The fifth is a large white one in the center. At LCC, the center candle is the Christ Candle, which is also lit on Easter and the following Sundays, as well as at baptisms and funerals. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, we light a candle, sing songs and have a devotional litany, led by different families.
The reason for the different colors of the candles is to match them to the colors of the vestments used during Advent. The pink candle is always lit on the third Sunday of Advent.
Each week of Advent has its own theme. The theme of the first Sunday is Hope, the second is Peace, the third is Joy and the fourth is Love. The reason for the pink color for Joy is to set it apart from the other weeks. This is because in times past, Advent was actually a penitential season like Lent, but since Advent comes in the dark days of winter, it was decided to give the faithful a break from their penance and let them celebrate a little. Nice of the Liturgical Police, isn’t it?
So while you’re decorating your homes, buying your presents and enjoying the music of the season, why not consider preparing yourself for the real meaning of Christmas by making Advent observance a part of your preparations? One good way you can do this is by joining us every Wednesday during Advent at 6 p.m., or every Monday at 9:30 a.m., for our Advent Book Study. Each of the four sessions is led by Pastor Bruce, and this year we are studying Heaven and Earth: Advent and the Incarnation by Will Willimon. The Wednesday evening sessions are in the Conference Room and on Zoom (watch for the links in LCC Connect), while the Monday morning sessions are only in-person. You don’t have to read the book to participate, but if you’d like you may pick up a copy in the narthex or in the church office.
So, while you may be itching to say, “Merry Christmas,” and there’s nothing wrong if you do, why not also wish each other a Happy Advent as together we prepare to celebrate Christ’s arrival.