11 Dec

Why Do We Light the Candles on the Advent Wreath?

Photo Dec 08, 3 31 43 PMWhy do we light the candles on the Advent wreath? … Because lighting Pastor’s fingers on fire is only fun in Photoshop.

But seriously, what’s the Advent wreath all about? What’s with the blue (or purple) and pink (rose) colored candles… and that big white one in the middle? Why is this piece of sanctuary furniture only brought out of the closet once a year?

To get answers let’s first turn to a pastor who wrote the book on ceremony and celebration (why and how the church — at least the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod — does what it does). small cover imageOkay, maybe it’s not the book, but really, Rev. Paul H.D. Lang wrote his extremely informative book, Ceremony and Celebration, with the hope and prayer that it “may contribute something to that phase of Lutheran liturgy which is concerned about its ceremonies” in order that it may “help promote the welfare of the church and the worship of God in and by the church, especially the Lutheran Church.” (Ceremony and Celebration. Preface. iii) In other words, so others, like us, could learn about things like the Advent wreath.

Awesome!

Concerning the tradition of the Advent wreath that originally comes from Germany, he writes,

“The lighting of an Advent wreath during Advent Season is a Christian ceremony which has come down to us from about the time of Martin Luther. As before the birth of Christ the light of prophecy concerning His advent and his redemptive work became brighter and brighter, so the nearer we come in the church year to the feast of His Nativity the greater the amount of light from the Advent wreath. This ceremony is helpful for recalling, discussing, and teaching the significance of Advent.

Think of the wreath like a candle clock, kind of like a birthday cake. The closer we get to Christmas the brighter the light gets! The older grandma gets, the brighter and more dangerous the candles become on her birthday cake.

An Advent wreath can be made by tying evergreen branches to a metal or wooden hoop, thus making a wreath.

Or purchased at Wal-Mart, Target, or any other fine wreath retailer in your area.

The wreath can be hung from the ceiling or from a stand. In the church an appropriate place for it is before the altar if it is hung from the ceiling and high enough to walk under it. Otherwise, it can be placed on the north or south side of the chancel, preferably on the north side.”

He goes on to speak about the lighting of the candles, lighting one and then two and then three and then four with each passing week of Advent. What Rev. Lang doesn’t mention is the specific colors of the candles.

Weird.

Not really.

It used to be the common practice to have all white candles on the wreath. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the tradition of the Advent wreath included three purple candles and one pink (rose) one.

But, wait. I’m used to seeing the wreath with blue candles, not purple. That can be the case. The purple/blue candles match the color of the paraments in your church. If your church wears the color blue during Advent, like Christ Lutheran does, then odds are your wreath has blue candles.

Purple is the color of royalty. It was the most expensive color to create back in the day — no, not when you were a kid — in Biblical times. Liturgically speaking, purple represents penitence and self-discipline. Blue, in the church, is the color of hope and anticipation. An argument can be made for the use of either color during the season of Advent. That’s a blog post for another day.

The Altar Guild Manual - Lutheran Service Book EditionThe Altar Guild Manual, by Lee A. Maxwell states that the reason we don’t typically see all white candles on the wreath anymore is because “ecclesiastical supply houses have promoted the custom of using colored candles” instead of white ones. These same supply houses also promote “the use of the Christ Candle” which is in the center of many wreaths, like the one pictured above, but wasn’t part of original Advent wreaths. Traditionally, the use of the Christ Candle is discouraged because the Advent wreath was removed from the chancel or nave on Christmas. There was no need for it because it was just a take on the paschal candle (the big white candle by the baptismal font) that’s already in the church. Today we see a lot of Christ Candles in the center of Advent wreaths. Those wreaths typically remain in the church for the duration of the twelve days of Christmas.

So we know what the purple/blue is all about, what those colors represent. What about the pink (rose) candle? Pink (rose) is used to represent rejoicing, which is the theme of the Third Sunday in Advent. No, the acolyte isn’t messing up when he lights the pink (rose) one on the third Sunday. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s the week where we read Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” It’s a week set apart, especially if you use the purple theme of Advent, with a distinctly different, yet similarly couched focus. For a great article about all the rejoicing going on on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, and how it stands out from the rest of Advent, check out this article by Rev. Roberto Rojas Jr.

There are a bunch of traditions surrounding the Advent wreath. If you have a certain custom that you practice with your family I’d love to hear about it, just pull me aside at church or give me a call.  In the mean time may our Lord bless you this Advent season!

06 Dec

Kyrie Eleison | Sermon

Pastor Bramwell delivered this sermon on December 6, 2015 (The Second Sunday in Advent). The sermon text is Malachi 3:1-7,

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’”

The other readings for the day were from Philippians 1:2-11 and Luke 3:1-20. To know more about the news articles that Pastor referenced in the sermon read Mollie Hemingway’s excellent article by clicking here.

We’re certainly praying (Kyrie Eleison) for all those whose lives were impacted by the shooting in San Bernardino last week.

Visit our sermon archive to listen to more sermons.