By Melinda Mattson
Christmas is my favorite season by a mile. I love the shimmering decorations, the mugs of frothy goodness, the anticipation in the air, and how everything is softened by the glow of tiny lights. I love how each December twenty-fifth marks the passing of time like no other day on the calendar.
Each year I wonder how in the world Christmas came around so quickly again, and I reminisce about Christmases gone by. Preparations for Christmas start around Halloween in the retail markets, but as believers in Christ we can prepare our hearts most intentionally during Advent, the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Some of us grew up in churches where ceremonial candles were lit on particular Sundays, while others of us have no idea what Advent really means. I fall somewhere in the middle.
Although I’ve seen candles lit on wreaths in December since I was a child, I’ve only recently come to understand the rich heritage behind these traditions. As a little girl I always thought pink and purple were a welcome color palette for Christmas décor. Now that I understand the colored candles’ significance, I have yet another reason to love this season—one wherein we gather to celebrate all that God has already done and what He has yet to do.
The five candles on the Advent wreath each have unique significance and serve as visual reminders of the journey of our life in Christ. Though the colors and order can vary based on denomination, Advent wreaths always include candles, and each one represents a tenet of the Christian faith. I love that a glistening light is the invitation to reflect on what Christ has already done in coming to earth for us and to look forward to His return in sweet anticipation.
The first candle is traditionally purple and represents hope. A hope we can rest in because God keeps His promises and will come again, as promised. It is lit on the first Sunday of Advent and every Sunday thereafter through Christmas.
The second candle is traditionally purple and represents peace and preparation. It serves as a reminder for us to prepare our hearts to welcome Him. It is lit on the second Sunday of Advent and every Sunday thereafter through Christmas.
The third candle is traditionally pink and signifies joy. The same joy about which the angels sang at His birth. It is lit on the third Sunday of Advent and every Sunday thereafter through Christmas.
The fourth candle is traditionally purple and represents love. He came because of His great love for us. It is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent and every Sunday thereafter through Christmas.
The fifth and final candle is traditionally white and signifies Christ’s purity. It reminds us that Christ is the unblemished lamb whose sacrifice takes away all of our sins. It is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, along with the other four candles, to welcome Christ’s birth.
Every childhood memory I have of Christmas Eve is bathed in warm candlelight. Our church’s modern design never looked more majestic than in the flicker of candlelight, both on wreaths and in our hands. It was the one time that everyone, regardless of age, was given a candle to hold. An usher carried a lit candle to the end of each pew and lit the candle of the person sitting there. That person turned and lit the candle of his neighbor, and so on until we each held a flickering flame in our hands. This ritual represents so much of what I want my life to be about—sharing the beauty of the season’s message of love and light with those near and dear to me.
Yet sometimes, even amidst the radiance, the season can feel empty and dark because of what or who is missing in our lives. If our current circumstances don’t readily lend themselves to the notion of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” then reflecting on God’s past faithfulness can inspire us to look to the future with hope.
Looking back on God’s provision in our lives is a great exercise at Christmastime (or any time). When we recall that He has always been with us, even in the darkest times, and we consider His faithfulness, we can be greatly encouraged in the midst of difficulty. We can also rest assured that even in sorrow He is there, although we may not readily feel His presence.
Though no season is free of struggle, He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. And beyond our life here, He promises to return for us and give us an eternal life in His glorious light and presence.
Light a candle, bask in the glow of all that He has done, and prepare your heart for what He has yet to do. Merry Christmas indeed.
Melinda Mattson will follow any sign that leads to the promise of vintage décor and repurposed treasures. As a wife and mom to two dear daughters, her home is filled with equal measures of sugar and spice. She loves kindness and Jesus and is glad they’re meant to come as a package deal. She aims to embrace both with equal fervor. Melinda blogs at www.melindamattson.com.
Photograph by, Otmar Scholl.