What Is Advent and How Is it Celebrated?

advent wreath and candles with black background

Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas movies are ahead of us, and the lights, decorations, and music that fill our homes and communities are rapidly appearing. Some of us had lights up well before Thanksgiving was even over (I’m looking at you guy down the street), but it is not truly Christmas yet! In fact, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” you have probably heard about actually begins on December 25th and carries on into January.

So if we really start celebrating Christmas on December 25th, what are we celebrating until then? This space in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas is known as Advent; a Latin-based word that means “arrival.” The four weeks of Advent are in part the celebration of the arrival of Christ into our world, but Advent is also the anticipation of his next arrival.

Just as the ‘weary world’ awaited the arrival of a Savior up until his birth in Bethlehem, so we now await the coming arrival of that same Savior as he returns to make all things new. Advent encapsulates both the joy of his first arrival and the longing for his return. It is a time of joy fulfilled and joy anticipated.

This last month of the year is perhaps the most emotional. It is a time for songs, for friends and family, for reflecting on the year that is winding down and planning for the year to come. So many moments of our lives are tied into “Christmas Past”, and the season itself seems to take on a unique nostalgia unlike any other time of the year. Celebrating Advent is a perfect way to bring all of these thoughts and emotions in submission to Christ, create lasting memories, and build opportunities to focus the season on the truth of a Savior who was, and is, and is to come.   

The Advent Candles

Perhaps the most beautiful part of Advent is the candles! The beauty of candles burning brightly as we read Scripture, pray, and focus our hearts on Christ holds a beautiful symbolism as we worship the Light of the World. There are various traditions surrounding the candles and their meaning, but the most accepted versions are below. There are five candles altogether, three that are traditionally purple, one pink, and one white. If you are using an Advent wreath, the white candle would be in the middle with the other four surrounding it.

The Hope Candle

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” - 1 Peter 1:3

The first Sunday of Advent is when the first candle is lit. This first purple candle represents Hope, and is sometimes called the “Prophet’s Candle”. It represents the hope of a lost world awaiting Messiah, as foretold and promised by the prophets of old. Jesus fulfilled our hope in his first coming, and we continue to hope in his second coming. We have hope in him and only him as we face the trials of this life, and just like the prophecies of old, we can trust in him to be faithful and true. As you celebrate Advent throughout the week by taking a moment to read Scripture, perhaps a devotional, and spend time praising God, this first candle is lit every night of the week. O Come O Come Emmanuel is a great carol to sing this week.

The Love Candle

“For 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.” - John 3:16

The second purple candle represents Love, and is sometimes called the “Bethlehem Candle”. This candle, along with the first candle, is lit on the Second Sunday of Advent. This week we reflect on the love of God shown to us through Jesus, and how that love impacts how we live and interact with those around us. Both candles are lit throughout the week as we spend time each night in anticipation of Christmas! Jesus Loves Me is a great family carol to sing this week.

The Joy Candle

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20

The third candle represents Joy, and is also known as the “Shepherds' Candle”. This candle is one that is traditionally pink and is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent along with the previous two. Just like the shepherds of long ago, who “went away praising God” for the things they had seen and heard”, so we rejoice in knowing that Jesus has made a way to peace with God! We rejoice in his provision, his presence, and the knowledge that this world is not all that there is; there is a heavenly kingdom that gives us so much reason to rejoice. A perfect carol for this week is, quite obviously, Joy to the World.

The Peace Candle

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

The fourth candle represents peace, and is also known as the “Angels’ Candle”. This candle is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent, along with the first three. This week we continue on thanking God for the peace that we can only know in Christ. Jesus told his disciples that they would have true peace in him, and that promise carries on today.

The Christ Candle

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

The fifth candle is lit on Christmas, along with the previous four. This can be on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on what works best for your family. As the name suggests, this candle represents the birth of Christ and works to focus our hearts and minds on the moment when God became one of us, born as a man and living a holy and sinless life in a sinful world. Jesus is the only perfect human being to ever live, and being fully God and fully man, he alone can bring us true and lasting hope, love, joy, and peace.

It’s Never too Late!

As you are reading this, Advent may have already begun. It is never too late to pick up at whatever week it is and start there!

Obviously, it is always the right time to celebrate the birth of Christ. The miracle of God taking on humanity, entering our existence as a poor child in a stable of all places, should bring us wonder not just once a year but in every moment of every day. Advent helps us to end the year on that note, and hopefully enter the next year on the same note. As we anticipate the celebration of our Savior’s birth, let us also eagerly anticipate his return!

Photo credit: ©Sparrowstock

Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and member of the worship team at matthias lot church in St. Charles, MO. He spends his free time hanging out with his family, exploring new places, and writing about the experiences. Connect on Facebook or at JasonSoroski.net.

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