A Simple Explanation of the Advent Wreath

Last year, our church observed Advent with the weekly lighting of coloured candles on a wreath and a reading for each candle explaining its significance. But a number of people have approached me since then and even now as we near Christmas to ask the question, “Where did all this come from and why are we doing it?”

Advent can simply be understood as a spiritual preparation for Christmas, a time when we reflect in a deeper way about the significance of the birth of Jesus. Since at least the third century AD, Christians have been engaged in traditions related to Advent. Monks from this time period engaged in a 30-day fast leading up to the day of celebration, where they would have amazing feasts.

As far as the Advent wreath is concerned, we don’t see this becoming a part of Christian tradition until the 16th century with the Lutherans. The current version of the Advent wreath—three purple candles, one pink candle, and one white candle—did not reach North America until the 1930s.

The first lit purple candle is meant to represent hope. Common readings include the many prophecies that point to a coming Messiah, such as Isaiah 9:6. They hoped for a Saviour for all people.

The second lit candle represents peace. Luke describes a legion of angels that appear shortly after the birth of Jesus singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” Peace is promised frequently throughout Scripture, especially by Jesus Himself.

The third lit candle is pink, and it is called the Joy candle. The gift of Jesus Christ—his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection—has brought more joy in the world than any other event. The reasons for it being pink and the third candle historically are not clear. What is clear is that for those whom the Bible writes about—the shepherds, Magi, Simeon, and Anna—they each experienced great joy in the knowledge that they witnessed the long-awaited Saviour of their faith.

The fourth candle, the love candle, is the third purple one. It focuses specifically on the love shared between Joseph, Mary, and their new baby boy. Because of their love, we strive to show that same love during the season of Christmas.

The final candle, lit traditionally on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, is the Christ candle, a taller, white candle in the centre of the wreath. Quite obviously, the goal is to centre everyone’s heart and mind on Jesus Christ, the One to whom we owe all this celebration. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of all Lords!

There are many variations of this tradition, and certainly not all Christian churches observe Advent in this way. There is nothing in Scripture that commands us to light candles during the Christmas season. It is simply a way for followers of Jesus to bring additional meaning to their worship expression in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.

We love Jesus. That’s what Advent is all about.

Pastor Scott