Advent is a time of quiet contemplation and reflection but also a time of restless expectation and journey. My favorite practices, like Advent calendars and Advent wreaths, are ones that give me day-by-day opportunities for reflection but also activate my senses. They emphasize the juicy paradoxes of Advent–like light and darkness, “already there and not yet, flesh and spirit, stillness and movement, faith and fear, sorrow and joy, despair and hope. Advent asks us to rest and go inward but it also propels us forward to a future of “God with us” in a new way.
Advent in Jerusalem was on my calendar for 2020. Advent in Florida is where I am. Except for two years when we lived in Florida a few decades ago, most of my Advents have been in colder places with bare trees and leaves on the ground. I’m learning to appreciate the dense jungle greenery of this almost-tropical state, even in November. The saber pines, cedars, water and live oaks, palmetto scrub, and palm trees are home to the raccoons, possums, woodpeckers, and squirrels we see almost every day (or night) in our yard.
Using local plants and greens seemed like the logical choice for this year’s Advent wreath. Since I have divided loyalties between blue and purple for the candles, I’ve have two wreaths. I put the candles in the holders, placed them on a table, and with haphazard delight walked in my yard and neighborhood to gather local flora. The wreath with the blue candles has cedar clippings and Brazilian pepper plant (invasive, I think, but pretty). The wreath with the purple and pink candles has saber pine, cedar, pinecones, water oak, and a puff of Spanish moss. (I wanted to use more Spanish moss, but I over boiled it in an attempt to get rid of the pesky red bugs that sometimes live in it.).
The candles of the Advent wreath mark the four Sundays and four weeks before Christmas. The traditional color for Advent, purple, represents reflection, repentance, and royalty. Some churches and people prefer blue as a symbol of hope, joy, expectation, and Mary. The colors purple and blue claim their own paradox. Advent, as preparation for welcoming and receiving Jesus, includes both hope & expectation AND self-examination & repentance. So hang a little purple; hang a little blue, if not literally then at least in your heart and in your mind’s eye. Pre-Christmas time can be overwhelming and depressing. On those days, focus your eyes on the blue. When you are overloading your car with presents and decorations and carping at everyone around you, focus on the purple.
The colors are a visual reminder of Advent messages in Scripture.
Blue: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NRSV)
Purple: “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” (Matthew 3:1-2, 7b-8 NRSV)
Some people like to use a pink candle for the third Sunday of Advent to mark the halfway point to Christmas.
Light the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent, November 29. Say a prayer, recite a passage of Scripture or sing a song. With small children, a short and repeatable scripture verse might keep their attention and help them to learn some words of Advent. Use the same prayer or line of scripture all during the first week. On the second Sunday of Advent light the second candle as well as the first. As the weeks pass and more candles are lighted, the darkness of Advent is infused with the anticipated brighter light of Christmas.There are dozens of Advent Wreath lighting devotionals available online. The website Building Faith has many ways to celebrate the weekly ritual.
If you missed my Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany book, you can still order it in Paperback or on Kindle. Click on the photo below. It offers other examples of Advent Wreaths and many ways to celebrate the whole Nativity Season at home. Many of the activities incorporate praying in color.