Last week I started a reflection on the text from the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” The text was written by William Williams in the 18th century (read more about him here). The second stanza reads, “Open now the crystal fountain where the healing waters flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The biblical imagery is stark. The fire and cloudy pillar refer to the symbolic objects that God used to lead Israel in their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 13). You might not realize it, but the Paschal candle in our sanctuary (the tall, white candle with the cross on it, near the baptismal font) is designed to recall this biblical image. It is a tall, white pillar, like the cloud that led Israel. Just as the cloudy pillar symbolized God leading Israel into their liberation from Egypt, so does the Paschal candle stand at the baptismal font, reminding us of God’s endless provision for our freedom in Christ.
The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.
The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.
There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).
The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.
First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)
- Reading – Isaiah 9:2
- Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”
Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)
- Reading – John 3:16
- Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”
Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)
- Reading – Luke 2:10
- Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”
Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)
- Reading – Luke 2:14
- Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”
Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)
- Reading – John 1:14
- Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”
I’ve been experimenting with some simple environmental projection at our Wednesday evening Taize services at Faith. Opposite of the screen (which is a loop of icons of Jesus), I put a huge flickering candle on loop. It is projected on to the wall which has raised bars. Environmental projection is simply the idea that you project images and loops on some surface other than a screen. The railing and table are full of votive candles, so the large projected candle ties in with the rest of the room. I’ve also added two LED lamps throwing purple light beneath the cross.