The Annunciation: [hansmemling.org]
The Meaning of Advent and The Advent Wreath
By Fr. Dr. Michael Petty, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee, FL
“[The Season of Advent, within the Church Year,] consists of the four weeks before Christmas Day. Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” During this season, we have a dual focus in worship: On the one hand, we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s historical advent or birth in Bethlehem. On the other hand, we anticipate Christ’s final advent, as the world’s Lord and Judge at the end of history. The celebration of Advent helps us to place ourselves within the context of God’s redemptive purposes: We live after the coming of Jesus Christ, as the Messiah promised to Israel, and before the coming of Jesus Christ to bring his work to its ultimate fulfillment.
This season is intended by the Church to help us keep a proper focus during what has become, in our culture, a frenzied time with a heavy commercial emphasis. We spend this season most fruitfully, not by counting down the days to December 25, but by preparing ourselves to celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God and by amending our lives in the anticipation of his promised return. Advent is a season to slow down, to reflect and to meditate on the great mercies of God. To aid in this process, you may find it useful to read Scripture regularly during this season. Scripture readings for every day of the Advent Season can be found on page 937 and page 939 of The Book of Common Prayer.
The Advent Season comes to an end with the first Eucharist of Christmas, on Christmas Eve. This Eucharist ushers the Church into the Season of Christmas, which lasts until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (the Twelve Days of Christmas). Because we observe Christmas as a distinct season, you will notice that we do not make use of Christmas music during Advent.
Advent has been observed by the Church since the sixth century and, over time, many traditions have become associated with the season. One of these traditions is that of the Advent Wreath, a circle of greenery, with four blue candles on the circumference and a white candle in the center. The Advent wreath is a sign of hope; it is greenery displayed during the winter and candles lit, as the days grow shorter.
On each of the four Sundays of Advent a different candle is lit:
The first candle is the Patriarch’s Candle, reminding us of the Old Testament patriarchs who anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises.
The second is the Prophet’s Candle, reminding us of the Old Testament prophets who foretold the Messiah’s birth.
The third is the John the Baptist Candle, reminding us of the prophet who proclaimed Christ’s Advent.
The fourth is the Virgin Mary Candle, reminding us of Mary’s faithfulness in responding to God’s call to be the Mother of the Messiah.
The final candle, the Christ Candle, is lit on Christmas Eve. As the winter darkness gathers, the light of the Advent Wreath increases and reminds us of the Light of God, shining in the darkness. The lighting of the Advent Wreath is an act of lived hope as the Church remembers Christ’s birth and anticipates his return in glory.”