Alecia Greenfield
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What is Advent? Why do we celebrate it with a wreath and candles? Why don’t we just call it Christmas? 

The church has seasons, in the same way farming has seasons, that draw our attention to what God is doing in our lives through the life we share in the world. So as the world gets darker in our hemisphere, and the noise of Christmas shopping increases, we slow down and wait with anticipation for Christmas. Christmas for us starts on December 25th and goes until January 6th, leaving us this time we call Advent to think, wonder, and encounter the hopefulness of God in the midst of our dark and celestial nights.

The origins of the Advent wreath are complicated, with many interpretations and assumptions about style, purpose, colour and meaning. At its core it is a device to tell time, in that the candles burn down over time which is a physical reminder of time moving towards a goal. But what is that goal? Well, in the wreath there are five candles of different colours. The colour is less important than the meaning, however, because the meaning of the candles are a reminder of the light of Christ which we are preparing to receive again at Christmas. It is for this reason that the centre candle, which we call “the Christ Candle” is the largest of them all -- because it is our goal. It is the Christ candle because we light it only on Christmas day and the days which follow until January 6th as we give thanks for the coming of Christ, the anchor of our hope, at Christmas.

The four candles, sometimes called the “weeks” have just as much folklore around them as they do meaning. While the colour has been correlated to interpretations of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, looking more deeply to the meaning of this season helps us anchor these weeks. The church through scripture, attributes to Jesus the titles of Messiah, the hoped for king, the saviour of the world, the wonderful counsellor *hums bars from Handel's Messiah* We gather to celebrate the ways God in Christ comes to us in all the aspects of our lives in hope for what is possible in an often impossible world, which is why we plant our beacons of hope -- our advent candles, in an evergreen ring.

The hope of evergreens go beyond just aesthetic design, they point to the eternity of God's presence in our world and lives. Combinations of Cedar (for healing); Holly (for the crucifixion); pine and yew (for immortality); Eucalyptus (for purification) make up our wreath. All of which is formed into an unending circle of love we know as Gods time in the advent ring. 

In this Advent wreath, its foliage and shape, we are reminded of the nature of new life we encounter at Christmas in the baby Jesus. A new life which asks us everyday to give up our sense of isolation, control, arrogance, war, and phobia, to embrace the kingdom way of life which is about building communities founded on love, a love without any boundary on gender, sexuality, race, or economic status. God's love is for everyone, without exclusion for all time, which the circular wreath reminds us of as we prepare for Christmas.

What about the coloured candles? Why are some purple or blue, and pink and white? Why do they matter?

  • Purple has long been associated with royalty, given its historically expensive production costs, it was only reserved for the most prestigious (like a king). Purple, therefore, connects us to the reality of what power really means, in the power Christ lives in the world. In the kingship of Christ, we meet the sacrificial nature of power, which is for the benefit of the other- rather than our own comfort. It is this sacrifice which we reflect more deeply on in the give weeks leading to Easter, which we call Lent. 
    • Blue is a newer addition to the wreath, often connected to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and devotion to her.
  • Pink, a colour of joy and celebration, is our third candle because it reminds us that we are turning a final corner towards Christmas. The readings on this Sunday are all reminiscent about the joyfulness one feels at the end of a long journey. 
  • White/Gold are the colours of resurrection, new life, and the kingdom of God, which becomes real in the baby Jesus we meet afresh in the manger at Christmas.

So how do we make one at home? You will need a few things:

  • 6 or 8 inch round waterproof dish with a block of wet oasis in the middle
  • 5 candles, tapers, tealights, or block candles -- whatever is easier for you.With appropriate holder to ensure there is no fire risk since you are working with real greenery which can become flammable. 
  • Some fresh evergreens of any combination you like 
    • Try some pine, eucalyptus, cedar and holly 
    • 1 spool each of purple, pink, and gold ribbon

How do we assemble it at home?

  • Taking the waterproof dish with a wet oasis in the centre of it, make a hole in the center big enough for the Christ candle to fit. 
  • Put sticky tack on the bottom of the Christ candle and affix it to the plate through the oasis. 
  • Start to trim and insert the various greens into the oasis in such a way that it both covers the plate as well as offers a sense of fullness to the display.
  • Position the four candles either around the inside edge of the dish, amongst the greens, placing stick tack on the bottom of each of them.
  • Taking the tealights, place stick ytack on the bottom of each light and place them ontop of the coloured candle posts.

How do we use it at home?

  • The wreath is used at any family gathering, which is usually Sunday dinner time. Sundays mean different things these days, so whatever day you are able to gather with your family for a meal -- would be a good time to light the advent wreath.
  • The wreath may be lit after dinner is served, as everyone will be focused and at the table, with a prayer from the attached booklet. Each week has a different focus and prayer, so progress with the prayers as the weeks progress.
  • As each week progresses, we light the previous candles as well as the new one. So for Advent 1, we light the first purple candle. Advent 2, we light the first purple candle and the second purple candle. For Advent 3, we light the first 2 purple candles and the pink candle, Advent 4 we light all 4 candles together. On Christmas we light all 4 candles and the Christ candle.
  • The wreath may be lit throughout the season of Christmas, but should be discontinued on January 6th- the feast of the Epiphany which is the end of the Christmas season.

Want to know more? Join us every Sunday at 10:30am in Advent and throughout the Christmas Season to learn more about how the wreath symbolises the journey we take together towards the new life of Christmas.

All are welcome!

No previous experience is required!