Advent and symbolism

I love symbols and symbolism. I love being taken away in meaningful rituals and to discover the meaning of gestures and images.

An accessible church is stripped of everything you don’t get at first glance. That has great benefits. When you visit the first time you don’t feel excluded, you understand what is happening. But I miss the mystery, the discovering. There remains so little to ask and there are so few starting points to tell something about.

The people of Israel build altars and set up large stones to remind future passers-by to what has happened. In our cities we have statues of important people or plaques on the wall: ‘here lived… ‘. But our modern churches seem to have not much to tell. ‘What you see is what you get’ and that isn’t a lot. My church doesn’t even have a cross to assemble at the feet.

Once in an empty modern church building someone asked me; “how can I tell this is a church?” For some this may be a great compliment, but I would rather have explained why the cross is there, or what that crown means. We used to have a crown in front of the church. With a high DIY level, but the first time I set foot in that church it struck me. ‘Yes, indeed, Christ is King!’ And when you are a little depressed, such a symbol can be an enormous encouragement.

advent-wreathWe race towards Christmas, a festivity we seize as a church to put on an impressive display to get people acquainted with the church and the real story of Christmas. The result is that advent has gotten a strange implementation. We mostly are preparing for the Chrismas churchservice(s) and less on the coming of Jesus Christ. Last Sunday (November 27) was the first Sunday of advent. In a lot of churches an advent candle is being lit. The congregation pauses for a moment at the coming of Jesus and the expected second coming. The congregation reflects on darkness and on the Light that overcame the darkness.

Symbols and special days help us remember and help us pause. According to me they are very relevant in these hectic times. I think there is a great need for rituals that give moments of contemplation and hope. I think there also is a need for a form of mystique, the experience of something bigger that yourself, the knowing you don’t have all the answers, but that that is okay. Because you are being carried by the love of God and the community.

Lets light a candle next Sunday or perform an other ritual and pause at the why of the coming of the Messiah. And lets invite as much people as possible to our wonderful Christmas services.

The meaning of the Advent wreath

The circle of the Advent wreath, without a beginning or an end, symbolises God’s unending love for us and reminds us of eternity. The evergreen leaves represented growth and hopes of eternal life.

The four Advent candles mark the four weeks before Christmas, with one more candle lit each Sunday as a symbol of Christ being the light of the world.

Purple symbolize penitence as well as preparation. Purple constitutes royalty, which is fitting for the King born to us.

On the first Sunday of Advent, a purple candle is lit in remembrance of the prophets and as a symbol of hope. The coming Messiah had been looked toward with great anticipation, foretold by the ancient prophets. Christmas is a fulfillment of that ancient hope.

The second candle is a purple candle as well, representing Bethlehem and becoming a symbol of love. It was here, in Bethlehem, where the love of God was played out in a child resting in a manger, the very source of our hope as Christians.

The third candle is most typically pink or rose, representing the shepherds and depicting joy. It was to the shepherds that the heavenly chorus lit up the sky in resplendent celebration as they brought forth “tidings of great joy” that the savior of the world was born.

The fourth candle is purple again, representing the angels and becoming a symbol of peace. It was, after all, part of the angelic pronouncement that the birth of our Lord would eventually come to herald a reign of God promising peace on earth and good will to those upon whom His favor rests.

Finally, the fifth candle: the Christ candle. This candle is white, glorious in its purity and splendor, and the pinnacle of the celebration of the Advent story. This is lit on Christmas Eve in celebration of the Messiah entering the world. It is in Him that we find the fulfillment of these emblems promising hope, love, joy, and peace.