Preparing for and Reflecting on Christ’s Birth with Advent Traditions
Each December, my mom pulled a worn cardboard box from the closet. She fingered through the contents, through the layers of creased gift wrap and crumpled tissue paper and last year’s holiday greeting cards. Until she found what she was seeking—a glittery Advent calendar with thumbnail sized doors opening to mini images. An angel, a dove, a star... And, finally, on Christmas, double doors opening to the Nativity. Year-after-year she recycled the well-used calendar, just like the wrapping paper.
When I became a Mom, I, too, kept an Advent calendar, albeit different from the paper one of my youth. My Aunt Dorothy crafted a calendar of felt with pockets holding an angel, a dove, a star... My three kids would race downstairs in the morning to be the first to remove the felt ornament and stick it to the Christmas tree backdrop Dorothy designed. In their selfish haste, they lost the meaning of the calendar.
How often do we today, in the busyness of life, fail to reflect on the season of Advent? We’re too busy scheduling in concerts and parties, buying and wrapping gifts, planning and hosting meals. We are pressed for time and stressed and wishing for more minutes in our days, more days on the calendar.
In the secular sense, the word advent means to anticipate the arrival of something. In the Christian definition, Advent is the time period spanning the four Sundays to the eve of Christ’s birth. It’s a time of anticipation and reflection. A time of preparation.
For many, five Advent candles—often ringed by an evergreen wreath—provide a strong visual to prepare for Christmas. The Advent Wreath tradition dates back to the mid 1800s in eastern Germany, according to several sources. Whatever the historical details, of more importance is the spiritual preparation Christians embrace when lighting Advent candles each Sunday before Christmas.
Three of the five candles are purple, a hue liturgically connected to repentance and to the Lenten season. The color fits with Advent, too, as we connect the birth of the Savior, His eventual death and resurrection and the resulting forgiveness of our sins and salvation of our souls. What hope we have, what peace in knowing of God’s love for us in Christ.
A single pink candle, lit on the third Sunday of Advent, symbolizes joy. What joy there is in Christ’s birth, the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the promise of heaven.
Finally, on Christmas Day, a solo white candle shines the light of Christ. Pure. Holy. The Christ Candle centers the Advent wreath, its flame shining light and hope into a dark world. The white of the candle reminds us that Christ washed away our sins and clothed us in righteousness by His death and resurrection.
When I consider the selflessness of God, I consider how often I fail to express gratitude for His Christmas gift to me in the baby Jesus. The gift of eternal life. I get sidetracked by too many things to do in too little time. Rather, I should focus on the light—on the hope, peace, joy and love reflected in the candles of Advent.
Warner Press helps congregations prepare for Advent with a wide selection of Advent themed church bulletins. And for families, Warner offers a 48-page Get Ready for Christmas! Advent Activity Book geared for ages six and up.
About the author:
Although her kids are grown and long-gone from home, Audrey Kletscher Helbling still pulls out the felt Advent calendar each December. She is now contemplating passing along the calendar to her two-year-old granddaughter as another generation anticipates the celebration of Christ’s birth.