Building Anticipation

Advent gives us an opportunity to look back on the first coming of Christ, and also look forward with hope to the time when King Jesus will come back to rule and reign over his kingdom forever. 

When the Son of Man first came to earth, Israel had been abused by their kings, enslaved by their enemies, and led astray by apathetic religious leaders for generations. They were longing for their promised Messiah King to rise up and lead them as God’s chosen people. 

During Advent, we acknowledge that we are just like Israel—heavy with anticipation, and waiting for our promised King to come. However, we can also give thanks, trusting that because Jesus came before, he will come again. Advent reminds us to hope, so that as anticipation builds, our hearts can shake off the heaviness, and take on a posture of joyful expectancy for Christ’s glorious return. Lighting the candles one by one reminds us that though we are waiting, we are waiting with a hope that will one day light the whole world.

The Evergreens

The Advent wreath is typically made up of evergreen branches. The colour green alone symbolizes the hope of renewal and potential for new life, but the use of evergreens serves as an even sweeter reminder to us of the promise of eternal life we have access to through Jesus Christ the Messiah. 

The Circle

The traditional Advent wreath is arranged in a circle, with no beginning or end, to symbolize that God’s goodwill toward man, brought about by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, will never cease. Christmas is the time of year when we get to celebrate the miracle of the Word of God becoming flesh through the birth of Christ. However, the circle of the wreath reminds us that this miracle came to pass because of God’s endless love and mercy for us. 

The Candles 

Four candles sit around the ring of the wreath, each one pointing us to a different aspect of Advent. 

The first candle, sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle,” symbolizes the hope for a saviour we see in the prophets of Israel, and begins the season with a spirit of anticipation for the coming Christ. 

The second candle symbolizes the peace God promises to all mankind through the Messiah. 

The third candle symbolizes the joy of the good news given to the shepherds in the fields by the heavenly hosts at Jesus’s birth. 

The fourth and final candle in the circle of the wreath symbolizes love, and reminds us that the ultimate act of love was God sending his one and only Son into the world to eventually be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. 

The centre candle is traditionally white and called the Christ Candle, lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to symbolize the arrival of Christ and his light in the world. 

The Light

Isaiah 9 contains one of the Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ, and it compares his arrival to a great light coming on the earth:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”
Isaiah 9:2

The continuous lighting of candles on the wreath throughout Advent signifies the increase of light pouring into the world as Christ’s arrival draws near. Lighting the candles one by one over the four weeks symbolizes the posture of anticipation we adopt in this season. The flame of each candle pushes back the darkness, and by Christmas Day, the fully illuminated wreath radiates a brightness to serve as a reminder that the Light of the World came to defeat darkness forever and dwell with his people.