As we enter Advent, when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we enter more deeply into the Church’s symbolic language and liturgy.
You will notice that the liturgical colour changes to purple, which I always remember as:
“Purple, the colour of kings
And getting ready for things.”
Of course purple is also a penitential colour, so we examine our hearts as we journey towards Christmas. In doing so, we release the burdens that we inflict upon ourselves and others.
This second part is an important component of Advent preparation that is often overlooked – the making of peace for the birth of the Prince of Peace.
You will also notice, no doubt, the arrival of the brightly coloured Advent candles this weekend, usually arranged in a wreath. There are several traditions about the meaning or theme of each candle. One of the most common of these is:
Advent candle 1: The Patriarchs
Advent candle 2: The Prophets
Advent candle 3: John the Baptist
Advent candle 4: The Virgin Mary
Christmas Day candle: The Christ
Each of the four Advent Sundays thus reminds us of those who prepared for Jesus’ coming.
“The Patriarchs” are typically Abraham, our father in faith, and David, the ancestor in whose city Jesus was born.
“The Prophets” candle gives us an opportunity to reflect on the way the birth of the Messiah was foretold.
John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who proclaimed the Saviour, and Mary, who bore him in her womb, complete the Advent picture.
And then on Christmas Day the final candle is lit to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
However, my favourite theory about the candle themes is that we started using the candles historically to mark time, and then gradually started to add meanings to them because we have both a sense of the impending incarnation mystery and a desire to make meaning.