The circular wreath is traditionally made of evergreens, to remind us of God’s undying love for us, especially in this time of Covid-19, a love that has no beginning and no end, a Love that is incarnate in Jesus who is the Alpha and the Omega, and who is the same yesterday, today and forever. How do we respond to this love? Are we capable of loving others in the same way, at all times of the year?
Many wreaths are decorated with holly and pine cones too. The prickly holly leaves remind us of the thorns that crowned our King on his throne of the Cross; the red berries, of the drops of blood that our Lord sweated on our account in Gethsemane; and the pine cones, of the seeds of new life that He planted in the heart of His Beloved Disciple who saw and believed in the empty Tomb.
When we see red, or suffer the thorns in our side that others can be, or shed tears over them, are we prepared to die to ourselves to do what is right and just, even if it means to suffer rejection and misunderstanding like Christ? Do we sow seeds of wheat or weeds in the lives of ourselves and others?
The candles, three purple (to signify a time of prayer and reflection) and one rose (to signify joy) are for the four weeks that lead up to Christmas, when the Light of the World will be born.
- The first candle, symbolising hope, is called the Prophets’ Candle, because it represents the men and women of the Old Testament who waited, “hoping against hope” like Abraham did, for the coming of the foretold Messiah;
- The second candle, symbolising love, is called the Bethlehem candle, because those men and women who kept the faith were not disappointed – a Saviour was indeed born to them in Bethlehem – Love incarnate;
- The third candle, its pink colour symbolising joy, is called the Shepherds’ Candle, because by the third week, we rejoice that Advent is more than half way through, and that not long now, we too, like the shepherds long ago, will hear the Good News that Christ is come; and
- The fourth candle, symbolising peace, is called the Angels’ Candle because they heralded the birth of the Prince of Peace, and we too will soon receive in our hearts the Peace that the world cannot give.
Perhaps the candles can also remind us that we are called to be lights of Christ, bringing His gifts of hope, faith, joy and peace, and illumining others’ lives as:
- messengers of God, teaching and uplifting all the people whom God has put into our lives, not so much with our words, but with our love, like St Francis of Assisi who is said to have taught “Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words”;
- stars of Bethlehem, like St Francis Xavier whose feast day is on Dec 3, helping others to navigate the trials of life, giving them direction and ultimately leading them to Whom their restless hearts do not realise they are searching for;
- good shepherds, like St Andrew (whose feast day is on Nov 30) and the other Apostles, guiding the flock entrusted into our care to still waters and green pastures where they can somehow encounter Christ; and
- guardian angels, protecting them with prayer, together with the Queen of Intercessors, the Blessed Virgin Mary (whose feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on Dec 8), because we have been warned:
“Be sober and vigilant – your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Indeed, fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same, if not worse, sufferings because of Covid-19. But as we leave the old liturgical year behind and light the candles on our own Advent wreath, or watch them being lit at our church altars every Sunday, let us look back on the past year and offer everything, both good and bad, to the Lord, confident that He knows how hard we are trying to be good children, steadfast in faith and secure in His everlasting love that remains constant before, during and after this time of Covid-19.
Let us “Remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence” (St John Paul II).
After all, the root word of “advent” is also the root word of “adventure” – God calls us to a new adventure with Him every new year! What might yours be in 2021?