The Advent wreath has its roots in the pre-Christian practices of northern Europe. People sought the return of the sun in the dark time of the year (at the winter solstice) by lighting candles and fires. Using this same
symbolism, the Advent wreath developed a few centuries ago in Germany as a sign of the waiting and hopeful expectation of the return in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The wreath, a circle, came to represent the eternal victory over death through Jesus Christ. The evergreens were a sign of the faithfulness of God to
God’s people, even in death. The lighted candles were a reminder of the light Christ brought into the world.
There is no one prescribed color for the candles, although several traditions are current. Four natural colored candles are always appropriate and symbolize the Light for which we wait. Four deep purple candles, a sign of the penitential nature sometimes attributed to the season, may be appropriate. Congregations that use blue as the liturgical color during Advent would be consistent to use blue candles. The older practice using a pink candle on the third Sunday in Advent is no longer consistent with the current lectionary.
Liturgical renewal in the last decades of the century has shifted the focus of these four weeks to one of hope and expectation of the coming of the Christ. This hope looks forward not only to celebrating the child in the manger, but even more to Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time–-a continuation of the emphasis on the end time of the last Sundays after Pentecost. Candles in rich royal blue are symbolic of this hope. Coincidentally, these two colors, purple and blue, have long been associated with the same ideas: the symbolic colors of royal blood and of longing; the natural colors of the dawn before the sun rises and the deep shades of midnight.
As John the Baptizer reminded us of his call from God, in Advent particularly we are to“Prepare the Way” for not only the blessing of the birth of Jesus but also – as our Book of Common Prayer reminds us, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.