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Circle of Light: Four themes for use with the Advent wreath

Why is the Advent wreath part of our Advent liturgies? Having candles and evergreen boughs in church during this time of year is pleasant, certainly But should these things really have a place in our worship service?"

If members of your congregation are asking questions like these, you may want to spend some time at the beginning of this Advent season explaining some of the beautiful symbolism behind this Advent worship tradition. Understanding the symbols that the German and French Christians who developed and first used the Advent wreath had in mind can heighten the meaning of this part of your Advent liturgy.

The Symbolism of the Wreath

The Advent wreath is large and circular in shape. The circle has no beginning or end, reminding us of God's unending love for us. The wreath is suspended from the ceiling or stands high enough so all can see it.

It is made of fresh evergreens, which are a sign of life in an otherwise lifeless winter. They point to new life and the hope of eternal life that we find in Christ. They also remind us to pray for the restoration of all of God's creation.

The five candles contrast darkness and light. They are lit in succession, one more each week as we count the Sundays in Advent, waiting for Christ's birth. We are also reminded of those who waited thousands of years for the Messiah. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the fifth candle—the Christ candle—is lit. Jesus is the light of the world, and the darkness has not put it out. The full blaze stands for the fulfillment of the promise.

The candles are usually purple, the traditional color of royalty and of penitence, used in the seasons of preparation—Advent and Lent (although blue candles are also appropriate in Advent to symbolize hope and expectation). There may be one pink candle, lit on the third Sunday to represent joy and to mark the breaking of the fast that was kept in early times. It suggests the Rose of Sharon. The Christ candle is always white and is larger and taller than the others. It is placed in the center of the wreath.

The focus of the candle lighting should be on the increasing light rather than on what each candle represents. However, you may wish to use each candle to think about some of the people, events, or meaning of the Advent season. Some of the readings on the following pages are based on the variety of meanings people have attached to these candles.

How to Use the Wreath

The candle lighting should take place at the beginning of worship, perhaps after the opening hymn in place of the opening sentences.

Different people from the church family should light the candle(s) and lead the readings each week. Be sure to include a variety of people—young and old, black and white, men and women, strong and weak, rich and poor—representing all of God's children. You may wish to choose a family waiting for the birth of a child or a family who has recently been blessed with a child. In my congregation, this past Advent was particularly poignant as Nathan (which means "the gift") arrived for adoption two days after he was born, a day after his parents were told he'd be coming. In the same way that God invades our lives, Nathan invaded the life of his parents and of this church. We rejoiced with his family as they lit the Advent candles the following week.

Make this a special time of expectation and delight. You may wish to darken the sanctuary before the candles are lit to contrast the darkness and the growing light. Then take time, after the candles are lit, to wonder together about the waiting people and God's amazing gift.

The suggested reading? that follow are divided by number for different group readings. There are any number of options for groups 1 and 2: the worship leader and the congregation, the leader and a small group of people, the leader and a family, a mother and a father, and so on. If the congregation is not involved in either group 1 or 2, be sure to ask them join in on the All readings.

Consider having the congregation sing one or more of the following songs each week as part of your candle-lighting liturgy. They can be led by children or by a children's choir and/or adult choir. I suggest using Orff instruments in Armstrong's music and encourage rhythmic clapping and instrumentation in all three.

"I Am the Light of the World!" and "Look Up!" by June Fischer Armstrong in Worship Songs for Children. Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1991. Also available on cassette.

"Light the Advent Candle" by Mary Lu Walker in Dandelions. New York: Paulist Press, 1975.

Many congregations also encourage families to light the candles at home in a smaller wreath that they may make together or at a church Advent-preparation time. If possible, provide daily or weekly Bible readings and devotions for members to use at home with their family candle lighting.

ADVENT WREATH READINGS
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Advent 1 Based on Genesis 1:1-5

Group 1: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.
Group 2: A wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light."
Group 1: And there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
Group 2: God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
All: And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Advent 2 Based on Psalm 27

Group 1: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Group 2: The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Group 1: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Group 2: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage.
All: Wait for the LORD!

Advent 3 Based on Isaiah 9 and 11

Group 1: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Group 2: Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them has light shined.
Group 1: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Group 2: And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest on him.
All: His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

Advent 4 Based on Isaiah 59 and 60

Group 1: We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
Group 2: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
Group 1: For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples. Group 2: But the LORD will arise upon you, and nations shall come to your light.
Group 1: The sun shall no longer be your light by day nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night.
All: For the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

Christmas Based on John 1

Group 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Group 2: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.
Group 1: In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
All: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Group 1: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
All: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth.

FAITHFULNESS / HOPE / JOY / LOVE
Advent 1: Faithfulness Based on Psalm 100

Group 1: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Group 2: Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Group 1: Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
All: For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Advent 2: Hope Based on Psalm 130 and Romans 15

Group 1:1 wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.
Group 2: My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.
Group 1:0 Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
Group 2: Wait for the Lord; be strong, let your heart take courage.
All: 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.

Advent 3: Joy Based on Isaiah 35

Group 1: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
The Scripture references in this resource are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America; Tiwmas Nelson, publisher Used by permission.
Group 2: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Group 1: Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Group 2: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing.
All: Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Advent 4: Love Based on Psalm 103 and John 15

Group 1: The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Group 2: Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Group 1: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
All: I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Christmas: Light Based on John 1

Group 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Group 2: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.
Group 1: In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
All: The light shines in the darkness, and die darkness did not overcome it.
Group 1: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
All: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

PROPHETS / ANGELS / SHEPHERDS / MAGI
Advent 1: Prophets Based on Isaiah 9

Group 1: Isaiah was a prophet who spoke the word of God. This is what Isaiah said: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness—on them has light shined."
Group 2: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
All: "His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this."

Advent 2: Angels Based on Mattheiv 1

Group 1: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Group 2: "She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Group 1: When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
All: He took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Advent 3: Shepherds Based on Luke 2

Group 1: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Group 2: But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord."
Group 1: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth arid lying in a manger."
Group 2: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
All: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
Group 1: The shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
Group 2: So they went with haste and found Mary and loseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
All: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Advent 4: Magi Based on Matthew 2

Group 1: In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
Group 2: When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
Group 1: They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Group 2: Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when die star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,
All: "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
Group 1: When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
Group 2: When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.
All: Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Christmas: Jesus Based on John 1

Group 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Group 2: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.
Group 1: In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
All: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Group 1: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
All: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

LECTIONARY / YEAR B
Advent 1 Based on Mark 13:24-37

Group 1: But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power
and glory Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Group 2: When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. But about that day or that hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Group 1: Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
All: Therefore keep awake, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

Advent 2 Based on Isaiah 40:1-11

Group 1: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid. Group 2: A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Group 1: "Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
All: 'And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

Advent 3 Based on Isaiah 61:1-3, 11

Group 1: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed.
Group 2: To bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
Group 1: To proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
Group 2: To provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Group 1: They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
All: For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Advent 4 Based on Luke 1:47-55

Group 1: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Group 2: Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Group 1: His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
Group 2: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Group 1: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Christmas Based on Isaiah 9:2-7 and John 1

Group 1: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
Group 2: You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing the plunder.
Group 1: For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Group 2: For a child has been born for us, a son has been given us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Group 1: His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
All: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.