“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” — Isaiah 7:14
With the close of Thanksgiving Day, we will turn our attention to Christmas. And very quickly the Advent season will be upon us.
My first experience with Advent occurred right after seminary when I pastored my first church in northeastern Pennsylvania. The area was a predominantly Catholic community, and the largest protestant denomination was Lutheran. Both celebrated Advent as part of their Christmas season worship experience. The priest of the local Catholic church and the pastor of the local Lutheran church were kind and patient with this young Baptist pastor to explain about this special observance. They told me how it helped their congregations to keep their focus on the real meaning of the season in spite of all the secular distractions.
Thinking this might be a special way to celebrate the birth of Christ in our congregation, I prayed about the possibility the next year. Searching the Scriptures and seeing nothing unbiblical in it, discussing it with our church’s leaders, and after much prayer, we agreed it might be something our church members and community would benefit from. We moved forward with the plan to celebrate Advent that year and see where the Lord led from there.
An Introduction to Advent
If you are like me and did not grow up celebrating Christ’s birth with Advent, let me tell you the basics of this beautiful observance.
The word advent comes from a Latin word that means simply to come. So it refers to the coming of Christ into the world. Since Christmas literally means the sudden, surprising coming of Christ–the Messiah, the celebration of His advent at Christmastime is certainly appropriate.
Advent is traditionally observed the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day in preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day itself. The purpose is to keep our focus where it should be throughout that month–on Him. Many churches use an Advent wreath during this time, and often families use them in their homes as well. We did both when I was a pastor, and used it in our home after I was no longer leading a church.
The Advent wreath is traditionally a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath are holders for four candles, with a place for a fifth candle in the center. Throughout the season of Advent, one candle of the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services at church and/or a devotion time at home. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. There are three purple candles and one pink candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.
On the first Sunday of Advent, one purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the Prophecy Candle in remembrance of the prophets (primarily Isaiah) who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
An additional candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day.
The second Sunday of Advent, we light a second purple candle.This candle typically represents love and preparation for the coming of Christ. Some traditions call this the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing the manger–the birthplace of Jesus.
The third Sunday of Advent the pink (or rose-colored) candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the Shepherd’s Candle, and it represents joy.
The last purple candle is lit on the fourth Sunday. It is often called the Angel’s Candle and represents peace.
On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is lit. This candle is called the Christ Candle and represents the light of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow. Those of us who have the light of Christ are to let His light shine brightly in our lives and our marriages. When His light shines through us, He will draw others to Himself.
Celebrating Advent during the weeks prior to Christmas Day is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of the season and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.
We used an Advent wreath in our church from that first year forward as long as I was a pastor. Our Christmas Eve service that culminated with the lighting of the Christ candle was always highly anticipated and the church was packed. People loved to celebrate the coming of Christ with their physical and Christian families. Sabra and I also observed Advent in our home, lighting the Christ candle after reading the Christmas story every Christmas morning before opening our gifts. It helped us keep our focus on what Christmas is all about. (Remember–focus is crucial.) This special celebration had a great impact on our children and on our marriage.
Please Join Us in This Celebration
We pray these Advent teachings over the next few weeks will remind us all what Christmas is really about and greatly impact our marriages and families.
Remember what Jesus taught His disciples when the other ten became angry at James and John? They had asked Jesus to be able to sit in the places of honor to His right and left when they got to heaven. Mark 10:41-45 tells us: “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
The very coming of Jesus to earth, His difficult life, and His ultimate death on the cross, demonstrates the truth of His teaching. It is an example for us, especially in our marriages. Remember men, we are called to love our wives just as Christ loved the church; not to be served, but to serve–beginning with our wives; and to give our lives–beginning with our wives. And wives, you also are called to love your husbands with the same sacrificial love. Jesus must be at the center of our marriages, and Advent is a beautiful way to keep Him at the center of our celebration of Christmas.
Our Couple’s Bible Study weekly posts will offer devotionals directly connected to the Advent observance. They will continue to include God’s Word for marriage, but they will also apply to and be appropriate for everyone in the family.
As the Advent season begins on Sunday, we will post the first week’s teaching tomorrow so you can have it available for the first week’s observance. Even if you don’t have an Advent wreath, you can still use one candle and light it each Sunday. And there are many variations to the traditional Advent wreath. I’ve put some various styles on an Advent Pinterest Board (see it here.) What is important is the message behind the celebration.
We pray you’ll be blessed by these posts and that they will help keep you and your family focused on Christ throughout this Christmas season. Our prayer is that this will be one of the most meaningful Christmas seasons ever in your marriage and family. May Christ truly be honored.
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways, and may you have a joyous, Christ-centered Christmas season,
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Header photo by mike.bendetti via flickr (CC BY-2.0), text added
Candle photo by geralt via pixabay (CC0)