What is the Third Week of Advent Candle's Meaning?
Each candle in the Advent wreath has a significant meaning, but the third candle of Advent has an unusual place. In most advent wreaths, it is the one candle that is a different color than the others. There is something unique, more spontaneous, and celebratory about the theme of the third week of Advent compared to the others.
What Does the Third Week of Advent Candle Stand for?
The advent wreath has had many variations since it was invented in 1839, but the most common version has four candles inside a wreath. The first advent candle (“The Prophet’s Candle”) stands for hope. The second candle (“The Bethlehem Candle”) stands for peace. The fourth candle (“the Angel’s Candle”) stands for love. The third candle, also known as “the Shepherd’s Candle,” stands for joy. Each candle is lit on a different Sunday leading up to Christmas Day. Some Christians also include a fifth candle, a white one representing Jesus himself, in the middle of the Advent wreath and light it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
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Why Is the Third Advent Candle a Different Color?
In most advent wreaths, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple, but the third candle is pink or rose. Various writers have given different explanations for why the third candle is pink. Generally, there is a consensus that the colors connect to the different candles’ themes. Purple or violet is associated with contemplation and fasting, particularly in Catholic Lent celebrations that influenced Advent celebrations. Thus, candles 1, 2, and 4 are purple and are occasions to contemplate hope, peace, and love.
In contrast to purple, pink or rose represents joy and celebration. Susan Clement writes that one of the ancient church’s popes gave a citizen a pink rose on the third Sunday of Lent, symbolizing the moment of joy amidst Lent’s fasting and penance. Therefore, when Catholic priests modeled Advent celebrations on Lent, they wore rose-colored robes and set the third Sunday of December as the time to remember joy. The pink or rose-colored advent candle is lit on that third Sunday.
It’s also worth noting that more so than the other three Advent themes, joy is something we associate with spontaneous action. Hope, peace, joy, and love are all things that God places in us and should be ongoing attitudes in our lives. However, hope and peace are generally seen as inner qualities that we cultivate by meditating on ideas like God’s provision. Love is something we do, but also something we cultivate and meditate on. Joy tends to have a more spontaneous effect. Joy can motivate us to celebrate or worship with glorious abandon (like David did when he danced in front of the ark of the covenant). In that light, it’s appropriate that the advent candle representing joy is a different color, highlighting the different nature of joy compared to the other advent themes.
Learn from our How-to Guide on Advent Wreaths for celebrating this Christmas season.
What Place Do Shepherds Have in the Christmas Story?
The third advent candle is called “the Shepherd’s Candle,” and the shepherds’ section of the Christmas story is very much about joy. The shepherds are mentioned in Luke 2:8-20. In this scripture passage, they were watching sheep in their pastures when an angel appeared to them. As many people in the Bible reacted when angels showed up, the shepherds were frightened, so the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). The next moment, a whole group of angels appeared around the first one, praised God, and then disappeared. The shepherds immediately entered Bethlehem and found Joseph and Mary with their baby. After meeting the Messiah, the shepherds told others what they had seen and then returned to the manger, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).
The shepherds serve as witnesses to Jesus’ birth and emissaries of joy. They received a message of joy from the angels and passed that on to other people after seeing Jesus. They even returned to see Jesus again and praise God. In other words, their response to Jesus’ birth was very joy-filled.
Why Do We Say That Christmas Is a Time of Joy?
In Biblical terms, having joy means being happy about something good that has arrived or is coming. Like hope, it has a long-term view of life, emphasizing the good that will come. However, it has a component of great happiness, rejoicing at the good news. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus with joy when Jesus said he would stay at Zacchaeus’ home (Luke 19:6). Jesus tells his disciples to have joy in their sufferings for their reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:23). As noted in the section above, the shepherds who visited Jesus were both given a joyful message and acted joyfully.
People could have had joy before Jesus came, but his arrival was the culmination of a special promise. Ever since sin entered the world, humanity had been broken. Creation was also broken by sin, and since that time, has been crying out with groans for relief (Romans 8:22-23). Jesus’ birth fulfilled prophecies that the Messiah would come and break sin’s hold, starting a new phase of God’s redemption plan. As Jesus said multiple times during his ministry, the kingdom of God had come now that he had arrived. Sin continued to be a reality after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but Jesus broke its hold.
Thus, at Christmas, we joyfully celebrate that God’s greatest promise was fulfilled: God’s kingdom has come. The final movements in God’s plan (the last battle against Satan, the resurrection of the dead) are still to come. As some scholars have put it, we live in the “already/not yet” phase of God’s kingdom, where it has arrived, but the final effects haven’t come yet. However, with Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, the definitive move in the battle against evil was struck. More skirmishes will follow, but the war has, for all intents and purposes, been won. That is definitely something to be joyous about.
Prayer for Advent Week 3
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into the world to pay the price for our sins. We do not always appreciate how high a cost you paid, and how your birth made good on promises that God the Father had made. Thank you for your great love, for your sacrifice and victory against evil. Thank you that while we know hard times may come, your kingdom has come. Thank you that while battles may come, the war against evil is effectively finished. Help us to never grow tired of that truth, to discover it anew and see how great it is that we can know it. Show us how to have joy every day, how to rejoice in your love and provision time and time again. We ask these things in your name, Amen.
You may also enjoy this list of Bible verses about joy.
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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 1,200 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.