Tradition, one of the four pillars of the Wesleyan quadrilateral along with scripture, reason and personal experience is perhaps never more important and meaningful than during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Tradition keeps us centered and balanced. It connects us to the past, to the Saints that have walked the journey before us and to the universal Church. Tradition celebrates John Wesley’s catholic spirit and gives meaning to the cherished elements of our worship services.
Treasured tradition of the Church and of the United Methodists is the Advent Wreath. It is rich with symbolism, keeps us focused on the centrality of Christ’s birth and is a ceremonial way to measure the time set aside for this special season filled with the spirit of expectation, anticipation, and longing. It helps us prepare our hearts and spirits to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to anticipate his second coming.
The wreath itself is circular to represent the eternal nature of God, which has no beginning or end. It is made of evergreens which represent the eternal life offered through Christ to the world. Four candles placed in the circle of the wreath are lit each Sunday in Advent. As the new candle is lit and the previously lit candles glow also, the accumulation of light shows us the growing expectation and joy in anticipation of the Christ Child’s birth and the lighting of the center Christ candle on Christmas Eve.
Three candles are traditionally purple, the color of royalty and recognition of Christ as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. One candle is pink, a mixture of purple and the purity of white as a symbol of joy. The Christ candle in the center of the wreath is the largest and is white, standing for the sinlessness of the Savior, the Light of the World.
VOn the first Sunday of Advent the purple candle representing the patriarchs is lit to focus our attention on the spirit of expectation of Christ’s coming. Another purple candle, often called the prophet’s candle is lit on the second Sunday in Advent to center our hearts on the hope in which the Jews waited for the Messiah and the hope of the Church as we wait for His second advent. On the third Sunday in Advent, the pink candle is lit and joins the first two candles as the church experiences the joy of the Messiah’s birth as proclaimed by the shepherds. On the last Sunday the Mary candle, the fourth candle, is lit to concentrate our devotion toward the purity of Christ’s birth and life, and the purity of the Church.
The center candle, the Christ candle, is lit with all the others on Christmas Eve to signify that the light of the world is come to be with us.
All the traditions of the Church and especially the tradition of the Advent wreath give us a way to wait, to remember, to hope, and to rejoice in the birth of the Savior.
Reflection – Focus on the meaning of Advent Christmas traditions and worship.