Reflections of Our Savior
Dear members and friends of Our Savior:
“Jesus is the Light of the World.” This Biblical statement influences our customs of celebrating Advent and Christmas. The following article first appeared in the Advent 1972 issue of Focus on Worship, a former publication of WELS Commission on Worship. It is copied here for your info, and also to put the focus of our Advent worship this year on the Advent Wreath and Candles. In our Midweek services, each sermon will about one of the candles-what it represents, and how it draws our attention so some aspect of our Advent preparation for the coming of the Savior.
The Advent Wreath — History and Tradition
The Advent Wreath is a combination of two very common symbols: light and the fir tree. From the early centuries of Christianity it has been the practice to represent Christ by a burning candle. The fir tree has a long history of religious use. One of the most popular of the medieval "mystery plays" was the story of Paradise. The Garden of Eden was indicated by a fir tree hung with apples. In the Eastern churches December 24 was the feast day of Adam and Eve. The custom of putting up a paradise tree in the home on December 24 decorated with apples came into Europe from the East. In Germany there was also a custom of burning a Christmas candle placed on top of a wooden pyramid decorated with evergreen twigs. In time the wooden pyramid was replaced by the paradise tree decorated with apples and candles.
No doubt the Advent Wreath was suggested by the Christmas tree. It seems that the Advent Wreath originated a few hundred years ago among the Lutherans of eastern Germany. A wreath of evergreens, made in various sizes, was either suspended from the ceiling or placed on a table. Four candles representing the four Sundays of Advent were fastened to the wreath. Eventually the use of the Advent Wreath became wide spread and moved also from the home into the church. The general symbolism of the Advent Wreath lies in the growing light of the wreath, increasing each week as we approach the birthday of Jesus, the Light of the world.
There is no uniform practice regarding the color of the candles used. This should not be surprising since the season of Advent is itself a mixture of differing practices. The color of the candles in the Advent Wreath will be dictated by what emphasis is given to this season. In the Lutheran Church it is common practice to use the color violet all through Advent and so emphasize the penitential character of the season. This would suggest that all the candles should be purple. Currently blue is sometimes used as a reminder that Advent is a time of hope as we name the light (white) of Christmas. In the Roman Church pink instead of purple is permitted as the color of the third Sunday in Advent. Therefore some use a pink candle for this Sunday. In some churches the pink candle is deemed more appropriate for the fourth Sunday, when we stand in joyful anticipation on the very threshold of Christmas. The white candles, which reflect perhaps the widest tradition, stress the joyful rather than the penitential character of the season. The color of the candles will finally have to be a matter for individual decision.