Advent wreath, candles symbolize anticipation of Christ’s birth

Although the symbolism of the Advent wreath and Advent candles is more clearly seen in Europe and Northern America, they can also be meaningful to us.
In northern countries, plants and trees shed their leaves as winter approaches. It is the season of the Advent and Christmas, when nature looks bare and lifeless except for the evergreens, the only green signs of life in nature. A Filipino experiencing his first winter in the US told me: “These Americans don’t know how to take care of their plants. All the trees are dead!”
The evergreen of the Advent wreath reminds us that amidst death and sin, there is life, and hope.
The circular shape of the wreath also reminds us of divine life which has no beginning and no end. Amidst the cold dark winter, there is a sign of life: hope for the Savior. The wreath is a symbol of renewal in Christ.
This symbolism is also applicable to the situation of the modern world. Amidst overwhelming sin, selfishness and greed, in the midst of destruction, violence, and a materialistic pleasure-seeking world, there is Christ and his Church sustaining life, giving us hope for renewal.
The four candles stand for the four Sundays of Advent, leading up to the birth anniversary of Christ on Christmas Day. Three are purple or violet for the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. Purple is a royal color and the color of penitence.
The first candle to be lit on the first Sunday is the purple candle opposite the pink one. It is the candle of hope, related to the patriarchs. The second Sunday, another purple candle is also lit: the candle of peace, related to the prophets. For the third Sunday, the pink candle is added. It is the candle of joy, related to John the Baptist. And finally, on the fourth Sunday, the last purple candle is lit. It is the candle of love – related to Mary the mother of Jesus.
Some people add a white candle at the center of the wreath for Christmas and Christmas week. It is the candle of Christ – the light of the world. It is lit on Christmas Day; the other four candles are removed.
Since the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath is a devotional practice, there are several ways of using it. The wreath can be blessed either by a priest or a layperson. Each week or day of the week, the candle can be lit followed by prayers and reflections on Advent readings in group meetings or in families such as before dinner. The Entrance Prayer and the Readings of the Mass can be used for reflection and prayers.
This way we can come to a fuller appreciation of the season of Advent to truly prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas.
Come, Lord Jesus!