As our young families gathered on the first Sunday of Advent, the buzz of excitement was undeniable. Our parish hall was transformed into an Advent workshop where they created their very own Advent wreaths. Before me lay a sea of long tables at which the families worked, chatted, collaborated, and prayed. Christmas music harmonized with the hum of warm and friendly conversation; the atmosphere was most certainly alive with joy. Together, our families wove the greens into circular forms, added ribbons of purple and rose, decorative gold balls, and pine cones. For the final act, they inserted candles into their cradles. Every wreath is unique and beautiful. That morning I heard many families sharing Advent memories: “I remember lighting our Advent wreath when I was young. We haven’t bought one for our family yet. Now, we have one that we made together!” A tradition experienced a revival. While they worked, I shared the meaning of this splendid tradition with them.
Advent is a time of preparation, a time to contemplate with loving expectation the gift that is Jesus Christ. On each of the four Sundays of Advent we light one additional candle on the wreath, praying with joy and thanksgiving as we do. Each week’s candle represents a part of our Christian story. On the first Sunday of Advent, we light a violet candle. Prayer evokes the hope of the people of Israel that God’s covenant and promise will be fulfilled. We light another violet candle on the second Sunday of Advent. This candle reminds us of the faith of Mary and Joseph, their profound and willing “yes” to God’s call, and their journey to Jerusalem. On the third Sunday, our joy overflows on Gaudete Sunday. We anticipate the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, the joy of sharing Christ, and the joy of Jesus’ promise to all humankind. We hear echoes of the news of great joy that the angel brought to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. The rose-colored candle reminds of this joy. Finally, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the last candle, which is violet in color. With heightened excitement, we feel God’s peace that cloaked the earth on that special night—“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)
As we pray over our wreath at home with our family, we remember our parish family with gratitude. As we light the candles, each burning flame reflects the light of Jesus in the world (John 8:12) and serves as a fitting reminder of the expectation and hope we feel as we await the coming of Jesus. Circular in form, this wreath which we have created has neither beginning nor end, mirroring God’s eternal love for all humanity. Woven through with evergreens, fresh and green all year, we realize God’s everlasting life and the newness of life that we now share through Jesus Christ. We hear an echo of the prophet Isaiah: “The sun shall no longer be / your light by day, / nor for brightness shall the moon / give light to you by night; / but the LORD will be your everlasting light, / and your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19)
Advent is indeed a hope-filled anticipation of the coming of God’s gift to the world—his only Son, Jesus Christ. What are some of the ways that you mark that time?