Advent Wreaths and Christmas Traditions: Glorious and Trifling Attempts to Shine the Light in the Darkness.
During Advent, we light the candles of our Advent wreath at our family meals. Each week a new candle added and a new theme explored. It is a visual way to remind us of the true reason for this season when the busyness of our lives could prevent us from seeing the LIGHT. Though the symbolism, number, and colors vary according to faith tradition, we all light our candles to hold onto the truth of Christ's words from the Book of John: "The LIGHT has come into the world" and "I am the LIGHT of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
The light of our candles also intensifies the darkness around us, reminding us that there are those who do not have "the Light of life." For many the days of December are long, dark and cold with little hope; the festivities heighten the loneliness; the memories of Christmas past bring sorrow. So we light our candle to hold onto the truth of Christ's words to us, "You are the light of World." This is not only a season for our own spiritual preparation, but a time to let His Light shine before others. And so we attempt small acts of kindness for our neighbors, a sidewalk of snow shoveled in the darkness of night, a pumpkin loaf with a pretty ribbon, candy snowflakes ornaments made by the children, a plate of cookies, a simple invitation to Lessons and Carols. We also plan, purchase and wrap gifts for families and friends (even if they are gifts they don't really need) just as a way to show love and to celebrate The Gift of Light.
Christ's entrance into the world is such a gift it fills and overwhelms until we have so many traditions surrounding its day of remembrance: presents, stockings, greenery, parties, feasts, lights, pageants, cookies, decorations, stars, concerts, angels, and crèche.
I grew up knowing people who thought all of this was not of God; no carols, gifts, trees were allowed. But I see these small attempts both glorious and trifling as an outpouring of the celebration of the Gift of Light and Love, an attempt for fullness of God:
"Christmas is coming--for the children, the most wonderful time of the year. And for the children of Light, it should be the most wonderful, wonderfull time of the year, because to the Church, it is the year's beginning. No one but God could have made such a beginning, so full of beauty and glory and sheer magic as this." (Newland p. 3)
So we build a community and culture where everything around us, our food, our activities, our decorations, speak to this amazing mystery of our faith,
God became Flesh. God ate food. He worked. He went to parties.
And so, as Nancy Wilson writes,
"Christian people are the only people on earth who can truly celebrate Christmas, even though we do so inadequately. But we can't help ourselves. We've heard the angels singing and the shepherd's announcement. We've visited the manger and heard Mary's song. So we celebrate by making a great feast. We buy the best wine and cheese that we can afford, and our ovens are bursting with Christmas delights. And the gifts! The stockings are loaded, the closets bulging with gifts stored up for the day they go under the huge, glorious tree. The silver is polished, the linens are pressed, the china is standing by. And the month of Christmas seems too short for all the singing and celebrating we want to do. This is the way it should be for God's people. Each year should be a better feast than the last, with more of Christmas each year, more food, more presents, more delight. We are growing in our sanctification and learning how to rejoice around our tables with more exuberance, more reverence and fear, more holy awe." (H/T Kendra)
So may the party begin; may we become more and more children of the LIGHT.
P.S. Our advent wreath was purchased many years ago now, but this year the children will participate in advent wreath making at our church. They will be so proud for us to use what they made and feel even more a part of this tradition having done so. We are so blessed to be members of this wonderful church!
Here is a tutorial for making your own.