What Is the Meaning of the First Week of Advent Candle?
You may not have grown up lighting an advent candle or know what the word “advent” even means. You can still take part in this centuries-old tradition that teaches us about the central themes of Christmas. The first week of Advent is the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and is a beautiful way to reflect during this busy season. The first week of Advent this year starts on November 28th, 2021.
Where Does the Advent Wreath Come From?
As Laura Richie explains, advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.” Christians began celebrating an advent time of fasting and prayer sometime in the 300s, the period of early church history where Constantine made Christianity legal. In his book The Living Wreath, Teddy Colbert writes that Christians in the German Lutheran church started making advent wreaths of various kinds in the 1600s. However, the advent wreath we know today was invented by Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839, taking an old cartwheel and putting 20 red and four white candles on it. With 24 days leading up to Christmas Day, Wichern could light a new red candle on each weekday of December and a new white candle on each Sunday service, finally lighting the last white candle on Christmas Eve. Eventually, people began making evergreen wreaths to circle the candles, and different traditions developed about how many candles would go inside the wreath.
How Many Candles are in the Advent Wreath?
Depending on which country you live in or the denomination you belong to, you may see several different versions of the advent wreath. The simplest and most common advent wreath contains five candles, each with a special meaning:
Candle 1 (“The Prophet’s Candle”) is purple, lit during the first week of Advent, and symbolizes hope.
Candle 2 (“The Bethlehem Candle”) is purple, lit during the second week of Advent, and symbolizes peace.
Candle 3 (“The Shepherd’s Candle”) is pink or rose-colored, lit during the third week of Advent, and represents joy.
Candle 4 (“the Angle’s Candle”) is purple, lit during the fourth week of Advent, and represents love.
Candle 5 (“Christ’s candle”) is white, lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and represents the advent child, Jesus.
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The First Week of Advent Candle
Advent Candle 1 stands for hope, and specifically the Israelites' hope that the promised Messiah would come. They had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries, wondering what he would look like and what he would do when he arrived. When Jesus was born, that hope was finally fulfilled – “a prophet like you” (Deuteronomy 18:15) had come. How Jesus fit the prophecies the Israelites had been reading for centuries would become the critical conflict of His ministry – whether He fulfilled them and whether people had been reading them correctly.
Why Is it the Prophet’s Candle?
Candle 1 is the prophet’s candle (or “the prophecy candle”) because multiple Old Testament prophets had told people about the Messiah’s coming for a long time. Alfred Edersheim figured that 456 Old Testament passages reference the Messiah. Most scholars conservatively estimate that there are over 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, some going back to Genesis. The prophecies gave specific details about the Messiah, details like:
- He would be born to a virgin mother (Isaiah 7:14)
- He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
- He would spend time in Egypt (Hosea 11:1)
- He would come from the house (i.e., the family line) of David (Ezekiel 37:24)
- He would start his ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2)
- He would be the figure that Daniel referred to as “the Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13-14)
- He would teach “hidden things, things from of old” (Psalm 78:1-2)
- He would be holy, a rock that would make people stumble and fall because they didn’t believe in him (Isaiah 8:14)
- He would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
- God would call him, “my son” (2 Samuel 7:14) (Psalm 2:1-9)
- He would gather the Israelites back together (Isaiah 11:12)
The fact that the prophecies described God calling the Messiah his son and also that he would be called “mighty God,” became especially important. To be God’s son and called God himself would mean that the Messiah wasn’t just a new prophet like Elijah or an ordained warrior like David. The Messiah would be a divine figure. Since falsely claiming to be God was blasphemy, anyone claiming to be the Messiah had pretty big shoes to fill.
What Was Hopeful about the Messiah?
As a nation, Israel began as a collection of slaves who had just gotten out of bondage. God’s covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai started by emphasizing that He was the one who had freed them (Exodus 20:1-2). Hope in coming freedom continued to be important to Israel throughout the centuries. Judges like Gideon freed Israel from invaders who had taken over their land. Prophets like Jeremiah told Israelites in exile that their sin had caused people to invade and capture them, but to hope in the future when God would bring them back home. The prophecies about the Messiah affirmed that like Moses, David, and other important figures, he would be an instrument of God’s salvation. God would send the Messiah to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1).
Since Israel was controlled by the Roman Empire when Jesus was born, many people expected the Messiah to be a political savior. Like Judas Maccabeus fighting against the Seleucid Empire, they expected the Messiah to raise an army and kick out the foreign invaders. Multiple prophecies described the Messiah as a king, which was taken to mean that he would rule Israel after he had helped it achieve independence. This explains why King Herod was concerned when the Three Wise Men said the Messiah had been born and tried to have Jesus killed.
Jesus was the Messiah, but not the one that people expected. He came as a suffering savior, to die as the ultimate Passover lamb (Exodus 12:1-51), a sacrifice for people’s sins. He was rejected by those he had come to rescue (Isaiah 53:3), and killed by them. As Isaiah 53:7 predicted, he was “led like a lamb being led to the butcher.”
Prayer for Advent Week 1
Sometimes having special prayers for Christmas helps us refocus on themes we have forgotten or shows us things we have forgotten. Here is a prayer for the first week of Advent as we remember the theme of hope:
Lord Jesus, so often during this time of year, we are tempted not to focus on you. We have so much to do and prepare for, and the stress is often more challenging than we can bear. We are tempted to think that nothing will work out if we do not have control of everything right now. Remind us that in the end, our hope is not in the little things we do now. Our hope is in your, the perfect lamb of God, who was prophesied for hundreds of years and came exactly when you were supposed to. You were there before the world was created, you died on earth and came back to life, and sit at God the Father’s right hand today. Help us remember our inheritance as your followers and that regardless of our circumstances, that inheritance does not change. Show us how to put our hope in you this day, and find the long view of reality we need. We ask for these things in your name, Amen.
Photo credit: ©Crosscards.com/BethanyPyle
G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,000 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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