Looking Back: Advent Candles

Advent Candles probably are the most common Advent symbolism of looking back to the days of waiting for the Messiah God had promised.

Various helpful schemes of symbolism can be attached to Advent candles, their number, and color. But here are the basics—one candle for each of the Sundays of Advent, and if you wish, a fifth for Christmas Day. Some people have a special candle holder arrangement, a wreath maybe. That’s nice but not necessary. The only requirement for using Advent candles is candles.

On the first Sunday, only one candle will be lit, then two on the second, and so forth. That’s the ritual. But if we want our Advent candles to be more than a centerpiece, we have to ask ourselves, “What makes these more than wax and wick?”

The flame is a symbol of the one who is called “the light of the world.” We who follow him “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

But we need to remember that our very young children will see only candles. No matter how much we explain the symbolism, they need some more years before they can comprehend it. That’s why I usually incorporate a manger scene into our Advent candle arrangement. Tangible is my guiding word. What children can see and touch, they might understand a little more clearly. It’s helpful for us adults as well. These candles are pointing us toward God’s gift of Jesus.

On Advent Sundays, we Pipers gather at the table for a meal and hear a word from the Bible before lighting the next candle. When the children were younger, each week’s passage probably would be one part of the Christmas story from Matthew or Luke. As they grew older, we expanded to include Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. Then on other days, whenever we sit at the dining room table where the candles are the centerpiece, we light that week’s number of candles.

The light, brighter by the week, points us toward Jesus who has called us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

(Adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions)

Noël Piper (@noelpiper) is wife of John Piper, mother of five, and grandmother of twelve. She is author of Treasuring God in Our Traditions.