Here we are again, THAT time of year when Christmas looms around the corner and it feels like another year has seemingly flown by in a flash. As we get older time really does seem to pass so much faster than in our youth!
But in fact, it’s been another difficult, drawn out year for many of us, coping with the aftermath of Covid lockdowns and the continuing uncertainty of what might flair up in the coming weeks and months as we advance through winter and the season of colds and flu…..
Nonetheless, the thought of Christmas can offer us a welcome lightening of the spirit, and thereby we hold on to the promise of Hope for better things to come; for each of us, for all nations and for the world around us in the grip of climate crisis and anxiety for the future.
On 28th November the season of Advent began; traditionally a period of penitence and reflection when we prepare for the coming of the Christ-Child once more into our lives, with all the promise of renewal and new life as we move from darkness to light.
In the church, we move from the green liturgical colour of ‘ordinary time’ to the purple of Advent, which it’s sombre connotations of pain and suffering alongside the royal welcoming of a new King.
For many people the more secular aspects and celebrations of the Christmas season have long since dominated this period which actually points irrevocably towards the season of Lent and Passiontide. In our churches we prepare the Advent Wreaths, with their candles of purple, pink and white to light us through each week of December. Each colour represents a specific element of spiritual preparation for Christians awaiting the birth of Jesus. The purpose of Advent each year is to prepare anew our own hearts; to make changes and commit to make room in our lives for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day.
The countdown begins with lighting a purple candle set within a circle of evergreen foliage which symbolises God’s eternal Love present in all creation. Purple symbolises fasting and repentance, which aligns with the spiritual discipline of self-denial and allegiance, first and foremost, to God above all things. Some churches may use a blue candle instead of purple, in order to distinguish Advent from Lent more specifically, some might see in the colour blue a reference to the waters of Creation in Genesis 1.
Whether blue or purple, the first candle is known as the Prophecy candle, or the light of Hope. The second is the candle of Preparation, or the Bethlehem candle, which is the same colour. On the third Sunday, the pink or rose candle is lit; this is Gaudete Sunday, corresponding to Mothering Sunday in Lent, and representing Joy. As the light of the Advent season increases this marks the shift away from penitence towards a sense of coming celebration and thanksgiving. Some people know this as the Shepherd’s candle, perhaps prefiguring happiness and the gift of the baby Jesus to Mary. The fourth candle is also purple and is sometimes called the Angel’s candle- it symbolises Peace and is lit on the last Sunday of Advent. If there is a fifth candle included in the ring, this is white, placed in the centre of the circle, and is lit on Christmas day to represent the arrival of Christ as the Light of the World in our midst.
For Christians, the ritual and symbolism connected with the lighting of the Advent Candles is a lovely way to reflect and ponder once more on the true meaning of Christmas in our own lives. What do we need to prioritise, what clutter do we need to clear, what kind of hospitality and welcome are we preparing to offer once more to the newly revealed Christ-Child in our hearts and homes this Christmas and in the year ahead?
Love, Joy and Peace to you all this Advent and Christmastide